Whoops! Meant to post this one before the end of the school year but time just got away from me!
A few weeks ago I noticed something very interesting during a class conversation. I was off to the side listening in while my students were having a conversation about diverse books. Suddenly I hear a student say, “Wait! I’m noticing that some people at the carpet aren’t paying attention to our conversation and now they are missing out on learning.” After that she prompted the class to return to conversation by saying, “sorry I interrupted, I think that ____ was talking.” I was in shock! Those were my exact words. I was always the one to call the students out for not paying attention and suddenly the students were calling each other out. A little while later in the same conversation a different student redirected the class for starting to get off topic. My students are finally running the classroom!
This proved true again when yesterday during Morning Meeting. I received two phone calls during morning meeting yesterday and both times a student hopped up and led the rest of the meeting. During the greeting a student (different than the two previous) got up and had the students do our Thursday Twist. Then right as share was starting another student stepped into my role and led our class share! I am so proud of how far my class has come this year! It is also bittersweet that the end is near and we are finishing our time as a learning community together.
Each year my goal is to have my students take on as much of the leadership in my classroom as possible. Throughout the year I slowly put more and more responsibility on my students and they step up and take it on. This year has been full of different challenges and new obstacles and I wasn’t sure if my class would ever get to this point. As I think back on what I did to create this classroom environment I have a few ideas to pass on.
1. Students are responsible for EVERYTHING. They are truly responsible for everything in the classroom. I don’t clean up after them, I give very limited reminders to follow class procedures, and I don’t hold their hand when they do things on their own. Students quickly realize that they are the ones who control our learning environment. Once they realize this, slowly more and more responsibility is put on them. Certain years classes have more responsibilities than others because of what they can and cannot handle. Knowing that we are all responsible for our classroom creates a team effort where every member is important.
2. Students are always held accountable… by each other. In the beginning of the year I often make announcements saying things like, “I’m noticing that there is paper all over the floor in the back of the classroom” or “I’m noticing someone used the sink and now water is everywhere.” When I make announcements like I simply notice something. Students catch on very quickly that I will not be cleaning up after them and it doesn’t matter who did it, we can all fix the problem. In late October students start coming up and asking if they can make an announcement. Of course they can! They call the class to attention and make an announcement themselves, “I just went to get a post-it from the drawer and someone had ripped apart an entire pad and now we can’t use those post-its” Once the students start making announcements and holding each other accountable the classroom community strengthens and starts to build. They even specifically call each other out on behavior and no one gets upset, “I’m noticing when you stand in line next to _____ you talk. Do you want to switch spots with me?” That was actually said in my class this year! Sometimes we are not directly involved in the problem but we are all a part of the solution.
3. Our classroom community is supportive, loving, and forgiving. When a classmate is feeling down we talk it through with them. Students often ask if they can have a moment to talk with a classmate who is upset. If the student wants to talk they can sit at the table and talk it out. We encourage each other when we struggle. Just this year a few kids formed a Crayfish Support Group for a friend who really wanted to move a crayfish but was too afraid. The group had her practice with rocks, cheered her on when she struggled and celebrated when she finally did it! The group met with her for over an hour during science one day. At one point I thought it had gone on for long enough and went to tell them someone else had to move the crayfish. They were upset! How dare I try to take a learning opportunity away from someone who was almost there! Another 25 minutes later and the crayfish was finally moved. We celebrated as a class and had a 5 min. dance party. Most importantly we forgive each other for mistakes. I make mistakes all the time, we all do. It is important for students to know that we move past their mistakes together and give them another chance.
4. Students are encouraged to take risks. Due to our community norms risk taking is ok and it is expected. Students make mistakes in front of each other ALL THE TIME and they don’t feel bad or stupid because of it. In January a student went to the board really excited to share his thinking on a math problem. It was one of our struggling mathematicians. As he wrote his work on the board we started to realize that he had made a mistake. As a teacher I got nervous that someone was going to call him out on it but everyone just sat quietly waiting for him to realize it. A few even started to jot down where he went wrong on a dry erase board. When he stepped away from the board saying, “Wait… something is wrong” we held our breath. He noticed his mistake and the class complimented him! We celebrated making a mistake and we celebrated fixing the mistake. This holds true for all risks that students try out in the classroom. We are here to support you, try it out!
5. As a teacher I model EVERYTHING I want students to do. I have realized that my biggest teaching failures are often due to the fact that I didn’t model what I wanted in a way students could understand. All the behaviors I expect from my students I also expect from myself. I am not a commanding authority figure in my classroom. I facilitate learning and I am a member of the community just like everyone else. That is why when I get a phone call, or have to talk to someone who just popped in the room students can pick up where I left off. Students have facilitated morning meeting, have continued a read aloud, and have even prompted conversations all on their own. We are equal members in our community and we can’t learn without the other.