“I’m a teacher. I know what to do.” I hear and see variations of this phrase a lot. I even understand the thinking behind it. We’re teachers. We’re professionals. We can make decisions that best suit the needs of our students. Every day, I make these decisions, but I rarely do so alone. Here’s the truth: I don’t always know what to do. Many times, I don’t even realize that there’s a better way, until I share what I plan to do, and others share ideas. Sometimes these ideas aren’t even connected to my plans. Often times it’s through questions, resources suggested, and experience shared, that I really figure out what to do. Today was a good reminder of this.
I really wanted students to delve deeply into our vermicomposter, mini-marsh, and planting materials to share thinking, ask questions, and help us determine where to go next. I had plans of putting out materials, reviewing our learning goal, and giving students lots of opportunities to listen, talk, and write. I really wanted the focus to be on “sharing thinking.” That’s when I saw a tweet by Sumona Roy: a vice principal in the Halton Board. The addition of “thinking stems” gave my students more language to discuss their thinking.
As a professional, did I know that we needed to share more of our thinking? Yes. But without the ideas shared by others (stems that I didn’t even know about) I may have missed out on the opportunity to support more students in being successful.
It was shortly after this Science exploration this morning, that the students worked on feeding the worms in our vermicomposter. I’ll admit it: I was really disappointed in how this went. I thought that the class would do great since all of the students worked together to pick their jobs and decided on the additional tasks to complete. I was giving the students leadership — right? I thought so. But then throughout the feeding process, I had to stop multiple times to talk to different students. I kept feeling as though I was spending the time attempting to engage them. In the end, I actually asked the students if they wanted to continue “full group feedings” next week or try “small group” ones instead. They all chose the full class option, but needed a lot of prompting to articulate what they could be doing during the process. I was very upset. It was shortly after this feeding time, that my students went off to computers and I had my prep time. That’s when I watched the short videos that one of my students recorded during the feeding process.
I really looked and listened closely to each one, and I thought about what a Grade 1 teacher at another school, Lori St. Amand, told me about “student ownership.” It was my reflection on her words, coupled with my observations, that helped me figure out the problem: me. I thought that the students were in charge — and they all had jobs to do — but I was the one dictating the discovery. I needed to get out of the way. This morning, the students were incredibly engaged in observing and thinking about the vermicomposter because they were the ones in control. I just had an epiphany! And yes, it was ultimately my professional knowledge that led to my new conclusion, but without previous conversations with Lori, I think that I would have viewed the videos differently. I was blaming the students. The fault though was mine.
Then came the end of the day and my tweeting out of our Daily Shoot Blog Post. Shortly after tweeting the link, my previous vice principal, Kristi, wrote me back in connection with one of the tweets embedded in the post. Here’s a look at our conversation.
After thinking about my discussion with this student this morning, I knew that there were some flaws in his logic. I liked his ideas, but I knew that we needed to go back and find out more about snails. This wasn’t a case of just researching snails though. He had a particular interest, and I needed to help him find the information that would allow him to make more connections and continue to explore the problem (and a possible solution). How was I going to do this though? Kristi helped me figure out some next steps. She helped me possibly further this inquiry.
Yes, I can think. Yes, I can problem solve. Yes, I know my students, and I appreciate the many opportunities to use my professional knowledge and judgement. But I don’t always know what to do, and even when I do, my solutions are not always the best ones. I welcome the help from others, in the many different ways that it comes. Am I alone in this? Even as a professional, do you always know what to do? If not, where do you look for help? How do we make it more okay to “not always know?”
Thanks for the many times that all of you have supported me when I “don’t know!”