This morning, I started off my day as I always do, by reading Doug Peterson‘s most recent blog post. His post today talks about reflections, and taking some time, as educators, to reflect on what we did to make things better for students. At an emotional time of the year, when students are getting both excited and/or anxious for summer break, and both my teaching partner and I are working on packing up our classroom and moving to new schools, it’s nice to focus on the positive. As suggested by Doug, here is my list of 10 things that I did to make things better for kids.
- I listened to the students. When I say that I listened to them, I didn’t just listen to what they said, but I listened to what they did. I realized that their actions were telling us what they needed, but also what they didn’t need. It was due to the students that my teaching partner and I re-examined our classroom schedule and re-looked at the need for full group instruction and what that would look like. Carpet time no long exists as it used to, and we’re all better for it!
- I listened to my teaching partner, and I relied on her expertise. For years, I’ve been used to teaching on my own. While I’ve been part of large grade teams, I’ve never shared the classroom with somebody else before. It was a learning curve for me to move from making my own decisions to collaborating with somebody else to make decisions. My teaching partner, Nayer, comes with incredible experiences and a wealth of knowledge, and listening to her helped me see many things differently. I think that the students and I both benefited from Nayer’s suggestions, as her ideas helped us meet children where they’re at.
- I admitted when I needed help. This is my fifteenth year teaching. It’s my ninth year teaching Kindergarten. I’ve taught at six different schools during this time, and I’ve had a number of different experiences that made me think that I knew what I needed to know in order to be successful in the classroom. This year though, I realized what I didn’t know, and when I needed to ask for help — whether from my teaching partner, from administrators, from our instructional coach, from our Learning Resource teacher, from parents, from fellow educators, and from consultants — in order to help with planning and program delivery. This was a good reminder for me that we can always learn more, that we don’t need to work in isolation, and that when we ask for help (and really listen and respond to it), our children benefit!
- I learned to “let it go!” As I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, sometimes we need to decide what really matters. I have learned, and continue to learn, not to sweat the small stuff … and maybe a lot more is small stuff than we think. By giving students more control and not intervening on everything right away, our children have not only learned how to solve more of their own problems, but some richer, deeper learning has happened as a result. Maybe we just need to give kids more opportunities to be creative!
- I took the Foundations Courses through The MEHRIT Centre. These Foundations courses gave me a better understanding of self-regulation, and as a result, I now view students and behaviour differently. My final project allowed me to reflect more on Self-Reg in a classroom context — both in terms of my own needs and student needs — and I think about these reflections a lot as I contemplate how to respond to children and why they might be making the choices that they’re making.
- I stopped worrying about benchmarks. This was a hard one for me. I’m a numbers person, I know curriculum, and I enjoy analyzing data. My goal has always been to have my students meet or exceed benchmarks. I still care about student growth and success, but I realized that when I became focused on benchmarks, I sometimes stopped focusing on students. Now I spend the time really getting to know our students. What interests them? What motivates them? What scares them? What do they need to move forward? Connecting with kids, matters, and this year, I’ve spent more time making these connections.
- I took the time to focus on social skills, including self-regulation, before academics. This was a challenge for me, for many of the same reasons that I mentioned in point #6 above. I realized though that for children to meet academic expectations, they need to be calm and ready to learn. I went public with my scary plan, and with the help of my teaching partner, I’ve stuck to this plan. We’ve definitely noticed that many children have become ready to learn because they’ve developed these other skills.
- I laugh lots! Laughter’s contagious, and there’s something so wonderful about being in an environment full of laughter. I love that our students make us laugh, that we make each other laugh, and that you can almost always hear laughter — including fits of giggles — in the classroom. On even the most challenging of days, I think it’s good for all of us — educators and students included — to be able to share a big smile and a good laugh!
- I (We) created big blocks of learning time. This is not a decision that I made alone, but instead, with my teaching partner. We realized how difficult transitions are for our students, and that learning becomes richer and deeper, when children have longer blocks of time to learn. We re-looked at our schedule, and figured out ways to reduce transitions and create a more fluid movement between indoor and outdoor learning … and learning in our classroom and in other areas of the school. The children are so much calmer as a result.
- I connected with parents. I’m a big believer in the benefits of parent engagement. I also think that all parents want to help their children — sometimes it’s just a matter of showing what’s possible and creating those positive home/school connections. From phone conversations, to face-to-face discussions, to classroom visits, to a nightly blog post and email, my teaching partner and I have come up with different ways to connect with parents, and we see that the learning that’s happening at school is being extended at home. Relationships matter!
As I look back over this list, I realize that it’s been a great year of learning — for me and for our students. I hope that I’m not alone in taking Doug’s challenge. What’s your Top 10 list? Hopefully educators, administrators, and parents will take the time to reflect, for all of us really do try to make things better for kids!