In her book, Teaching Children to Care, Ruth Charney clearly outlines the need to spend the first six weeks of school setting the stage for successful learning. This "Learning to Learn" unit is written for the students in fourth grade and above. By teaching these lessons over the first six weeks and throughout the year, educators will help students to understand the mindsets and actions that set the stage for the important attributes of student success as outlined by Michael Fullen:
- critical thinking and problem solving
- collaboration and teamwork
- creativity and imagination
The challenge is when and how to fit in all these critical lessons. I generally include these lessons in the learning/teaching program in the following ways:
- Impromptu conversations and class meetings
- Introductions during the first few minutes of a lesson
- Open circle meetings
- Integrated with curriculum goals.
In the year ahead, I hope to include these lessons and others in the following ways:
| Lesson Type || Topic|
| Impromptu Conversations|
- Coffee for families and invitation to spend the day??
| Lesson Introductions|
- Routine and Ritual
- How do you learn?
- Everyone can learn - Diversity
- Growth Mindset
- Architect Learning
- Learning Disposition
- Optimize Learning
- Deeper Learning
- Self Discipline
- Creating learning paths including goal setting, assessment, reflection, and revision
| Open Circle Meetings|
- The respect for differences requires that students think about all the ways that we can be different and the same. It's important to highlight and define the categories of race, ethnicity, culture, language, socioeconomics, gender, sexual orientation, learning styles/interests, physical and mental capacity, and others in order to promote honest, informed discussion and conversation. (Including "I Am Not Black Video)
- School System Core Values including this important value, "Demonstrate a concern for the well-being of others is part of one's civic obligation."
- What is a "safe physical and emotional environment"?
| Curriculum Integration|
- Collaboration (in conjunction with Global Cardboard Challenge)
- Class Constitution, Core Values, Rights and Responsibilities - School Citizen, Digital Citizen, US Citizen
- Mentors - Integrated with Kindergarten Buddy Program
- Video Introductions: Name - What I want you to know about me. . . .goal is accurate pronunciation of name and an introduction to each child for entire learning community.
- Regular student reflection and share
- Student portfolios, online and offline
I also want the teaching to fit district wide goals, goals that I believe are well written and targeted at optimal teaching and learning.
How do you take the collective vision and core values of the system or organization that you work for and make that vision and those values visible?
This is an important question for every educator as they think about the school year ahead.
Below I share the wonderfully challenging Core Values from the organization where I work and cite a number of ways that I can work on my own and with others to make those values visible.
To make the Teaching/Learning Core Values visible, I'll do the following:
- Make this notion visible "Teaching and Learning of ALL Children is the Fundamental Role of the Teacher."
- Read, post, and discuss this idea with students, "One's ability is not predicated on differences in race, ethnicity, culture, language, socio-economics, gender, sexual orientation, learning style and physical and mental capacity."
- Teach learning-to-learn skills and an optimal learning disposition/mindset to promote lifelong inquiry. Embed these lessons and foci regularly into lessons, open circle, and classroom conversations.
- Reflect with colleagues about the work we do, work together to develop our craft through conversation, reading, and research on site, online, and via conferences, classes, and workshops.
- To narrow achievement gap, focus on the opportunity gap. Ask ourselves the questions, Does every child in our charge have the opportunity they need to succeed, and when that answer is no, look for ways to find a solution.
- Help every child to chart a course and move towards mastery in all identified targeted areas of learning.
- Look carefully at the learning/teaching program to make sure that children have time to "explore interests, refine skills, and receive needed academic support."
The classroom focus on TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More fits nicely with the system goals for collegiality, goals that can be met in the following ways:
- Be unafraid to embark on responsible risk. I am proud that the school system regards this as a worthy endeavor.
- Our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), faculty meetings, grade-level planning meetings, and committee work give us plenty of opportunity to support collaboration, planning and professional conversations about teaching and learning. The key here is to listen to one another and work together to reach best resolve with regard to student engagement, empowerment, and education.
- There are limitless opportunities to participate in professional opportunities to improve instructional practices and expand pedagogical skills, and the key in this regard to to identify the best professional learning events that match goals, interests, and need with lead time to afford the opportunity to attend the events and learn and grow from them.
- There are a few opportunities for classroom teachers in-house to share expertise via leadership roles. One is to take the course to become a mentor teacher. I may take that course this year. Last year we had an unconference and that provided opportunity for leadership too. The Union allows lots of opportunity for teacher leadership, and is, in fact, looking for more people to take on a role in this regard. Further there are often stipended or non-stipended committees that provide this kind of role. One will be the mandated ESSA implementation team that, I believe, is required by the new ESSA law.
- It's great that our system has put into writing its commitment to support educators with regard to "make decisions about curriculum." This is a key ingredient to honoring educators' experience and education with regard to student-centered, responsive education.
The values for Respect for Human Differences is crucial at this time of interconnectivity and exchange in human history. Our lives on a global scale intersect more than ever which means that it's more critical than ever that we make the time to educate children and teach each other with regard to the respect for all human lives. In the classroom and school, these values can be made visible in the following ways:
- The respect for differences requires that students think about all the ways that we can be different and the same. It's important to highlight and define the categories of race, ethnicity, culture, language, socioeconomics, gender, sexual orientation, learning styles/interests, physical and mental capacity, and others in order to promote honest, informed discussion and conversation. I've seen no video better than this one with regards to promoting this discussion:
- To institute practices and supports that recognize and address how our differences can influence instruction begins with listening--it's important that we reach out to one another to hear each others' story and note what each other needs to teach and learn well. With regard to young children, it's important to reach out to their families to ask, "What does your child need to learn well, and How can I be sensitive to your child and family as I teach--what's important in this regard." Similarly with regard to colleagues, we can be sensitive to in terms of asking questions such as:
- How do you like to be addressed?
- In terms of working together, what is important for me to know about your needs, interests, and desired ways of collaboration?
- We also need to understand as much as we can about the people we work with and children we teach in order to maximize our respect and effect.
- To learn about the different ways children learn begins with the parent-child-educator conversation, observation, and asking questions. This effort also includes regular professional reading, research, and collaboration to identify the best supports, practices, and efforts to help every child achieve with happiness and success.
- It is a great goal to continually examine our understanding of different ways students of diverse backgrounds receive and understand instruction to achieve high expectations. It's also so easy to fall into patterns of teaching the way we were taught or like to learn rather than truly broadening our repertoire to appeal to the many diverse students we teach. This goal is one that demands reflection and care as we seek to teach all well.
The number one reason that I've stayed in the system where I teach for so long has been the community that supports the system--a community dedicated to quality education. I honor that our Core Values prioritize community and will utilize the following efforts to exhibit that value:
- We'll start the school year with the acknowledgement that every member of the school is a part of the school community, and with that membership comes both rights and responsibilities. We'll discuss rights and responsibilities, make a chart, and refer back to that chart throughout the year.
- We'll also discuss the fact that "communication fosters strong community," and as a class community we'll talk about what that means. For my own part, I'll continue to develop my ability to communicate with care, respect, empathy, and clarity, and I'll also continue to advocate for transparent, inclusive, regular communication within and amongst all community members as one way to foster a high-quality education for every child.
- Model a positive environment for all people--we'll work together to be a positive, inclusive learning/teaching team.
- Students and I will discuss this statement and how we will model it in our day-to-day teaching and learning lives, "Demonstrate a concern for the well-being of others is part of one's civic obligation."
- Together students, colleagues, and I will discuss what a "safe physical and emotional environment" for students, staff, families, and residents looks like and how we might contribute to that. This will be an ideal topic for an early Open Circle with the guidance counselor.
- We will talk about what it means to be responsible to family, school, community, and the world including the natural environment. We'll talk about what that looks like and what we will do to model that.
- We will model and utilize effective communication patterns including the regular TeamFive newsletter and website. I will foster students' regular reflection and share with family members to regarding their academic goals, interests, and general school needs and successes.
- On my own, I'll continue to encourage support of public schools through my Union work and writing. Locally, by doing a good job, I'll continue to support our collective need as educators to work in well supported schools and systems.