I think Friday may have been the most important day of the year in my classroom. It was day three of the new school year and the day that we built a framework for how we want our class to look. When I say “we,” I mean the students and me. I set up the discussion, served as facilitator of the discussion, and took notes, but the ideas came from the students. I didn’t start with a checklist of things I was hoping that students would say–they had complete control of the conversation. The picture below shows the guidelines that one of my classes came up with. (Yes, I have one of these for each of my classes. It wouldn’t work any other way.)
The framework is based on school-wide guidelines for success. You can see those running down the left side of the graphic. I asked students to define what those things “look like” in our classroom as they relate to the students AND the teacher.
“What is accomplished by this?” you might ask. And why might this be the most important day of the year? (Since this is the first year I’ve done this, I can’t talk about results, but I can address my thinking behind my choices.)
When we created this document, we all sat in a circle and discussed expectations as equals. This was a powerful communication that we are on the same team. In my class it will not be student v/s teacher–we’re working together toward a common goal. I believe that this sets us up for success throughout the year as students gain the mindset of working with each other and with me.
The second thing accomplished by this activity is a redefinition of the role of the teacher. Some might wonder if I haven’t already lost respect by asking students to provide expectations for me. In one sense, this might be true. They aren’t going to unquestioningly follow every direction that issues from my mouth. But, in my view, that’s a good thing. I’m not in the business of producing mindless automatons; I’m molding citizens of the democracy–I want them to think, question, and negotiate.
This activity also helps reinforce in my mind the maturity of my students. Nothing was brought up that was so far off track that it was discarded from the document. No one suggested that a teacher demonstrates respect by providing ice cream every day. All the students took the activity seriously. How many times have we heard experts say that our kids will surprise us if we just get out of the way? This activity verified that for me.
Once again, this activity showed me that the desire for respect is universal–and that it’s not that hard to give. Students want what we all want–they want undivided attention when they are talking to someone (me included). They want to be noticed, and they want to work in a classroom where they don’t have to worry about embarrassment.
Oh, one more thing–they want me to remember their names–all 120 of them (and they want me to grade assignments quickly.)
As you start your year, why don’t you ask your students what they expect of you? You may be surprised.
It’s going to be a great year–I wish you and your classroom the best as you start on this journey.