What Does It Really Mean To Re-Imagine Teaching And Learning?

Yesterday, we had our first PA Day of the school year, and we spent our morning looking very closely at the new Board vision — “curiosity, creativity, and possibility” — and the five priorities it includes. Much of our time was spent in our P.L.C.s (Professional Learning Communities) exploring the first and second priority — “positive culture and well-being” and “student learning and achievement” — and what they mean for us in the classroom. Just this morning, Bill Forrester, an instructional coach with our Board, shared his blog post on his PA Day reflections, and his comments made me think again about areas that continued to grab my attention yesterday.

Todd White, the Chair of our Board, discusses the new vision in this recording below. It’s his comment at about the 1 minute and 46 second mark that I continue to think about.

Our Board is really emphasizing the importance of “positive culture and well-being,” both for staff and for students. As a Kindergarten teacher, I reflect on our team’s decision to really make the beginning of the year about “building relationships.” Students need to feel safe, loved, and respected in order to learn. Adults need to feel the same way. I’ve taught all grades from JK to Grade 6 in some regard, and I’ve heard this comment about “relationships” in every single grade. But then I think back and wonder, until last year, did I ever really spend the time on creating this “positive classroom culture,” or did I just quickly move to academics?

As we sat in our Learning Community teams yesterday and discussed this first Board priority, I couldn’t help but realize how many of our student concerns link back to academic areas. Children’s “mental health” and “feeling of success” seem to be currently tied to how well they do in reading, writing, or math. Looking back now at the detailed description of this first priority, I can’t help but wonder if as educators we feel the same way. Back in Bill’s post, I see his description of the “what,” and the number of ideas that link with “student achievement.” What would the ‘what’ be for “positive culture and well-being?” Does it differ from “student achievement,” or do these ideas need to be linked?

This morning, I find myself sitting in front of my computer and re-reading this blog post that I wrote early in the summer, where I start to question my own success from last year. I knew that our students improved tremendously in social skills, problem solving skills, and self-regulation, but many students were still below in academic areas. If my results were flipped, would I question my success as a teacher, or celebrate the strong reading, writing, and math scores? While it bothers me to say so, I have a feeling that I would do the latter. But in the long run, if the results were flipped, would the children continue to succeed, or do they need these other skills in order to do so?

I’m an educator. In my 16 years of teaching, I’ve helped hundreds of students learn to read, write, and understand different math concepts. I’m not their sole teacher here. Parents support this learning. Other educators support this learning. Peers support this learning. And a variety of resources, used at different strategic times, have also helped with this learning. I know that students need these academic skills to meet with success in the future, and I also know the importance of developing these skills early. As the gap widens, the ability to narrow it becomes more difficult. But I also know that most students won’t take risks unless they feel safe enough to do so, and know that they’re surrounded by people that believe in them, support them, and will continue to encourage them as they try, fail, and try again. I also know that a classroom is not conducive to learning unless it’s calm enough for students to learn in it. If individuals don’t know how to self-regulate, they will ultimately struggle with learning. Finally, I know that basic needs have to be met first (I think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here) before academics can be addressed. So how do you create an environment that is conducive to learning with students that are ready to learn? Do you merge these first two priorities (i.e., “positive culture and well-being” and “student learning and achievement”), do you keep them separate, or do you do something different entirely? When schooling almost seems to be synonymous with “academics,” I wonder about some possible changes that might have to happen when the first Board priority is not an academic one. What do you think?


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