Tag Archives: Student

Thirteen Tips to Start the School Year Strong

This is an improvement to a previous image. Th...
Back to School!

In these parts, the new school year is upon us. It is a time of excitement, anticipation, and above all, a time when setting the tone can make or break the next 10 months of your life. Starting the school year off “strong” takes a little more effort on the outset, but the benefits in doing so pay off in dividends throughout the school year. Here are my top 13 tips to start the year off strong – tips I’ve learned along the way from great administrators, educators and from my own experiences as a teacher and administrator:

  1. Create a variety of opportunities and engagements that will allow for your students to make meaningful connections with you and their classmates over the first days, and then continue this throughout the year. Send a communication (e-mail or letter) to students sharing some info. about yourself and things you did and learned over the summer. Share your hopes and goals for the school year and let them know you are both excited and nervous for the first day of school, too. Use the morning arrival time as “connection time”. (When I was in the classroom students had to give me a high five, a knuckles or a handshake before they could start the day.) Talk to your students about their lives outside of school. Connecting meaningfully with students builds trust!
  2. Schedule time to explicitly go over expectations, procedures and routines on the first day and over the first few weeks of school. Continue to practice and reinforce these on a regular basis until they are habit. (This may involve lots of “do-overs”.) Consistency with follow through is key to ensuring expectations and procedures are sustained throughout the year! If you are consistent, your students will respect you and strive to be consistent too! Essential agreements are also very effective for establishing classroom norms too (e.g. cooperation and what it looks, sounds, feels like; friendship, etc.).
  3. Give your students a voice by involving them in establishing essential agreements, procedures, routines and even some set up of the room. Ensure expectations and agreements are clear (e.g. We agree to respect each other. Respect looks like.. sounds like…feels like….). Prominently display them in age appropriate and student-driven ways to foster ownership. Plan to make time to review these many times over the year to ensure students understand and uphold them; refer to them regularly for redirection and praise students who diligently put the effort in to put them into action. Modify them as needed throughout the year to honour academic, social and emotional growth.
  4. Be the first to make first contact with parents; introduce yourself to parents before they introduce themselves to you. Send out a welcome e-mail (separate from any communication with students) and be the first to introduce yourself and shake their hand as they arrive with their child over the first days of school. If an issue arises during the school day, contact the parent before they pick their child up if possible so the parent is not blind-sided and can prepare to support their child. Make sure that you share positive news with parents too so that they know that hearing from the teacher isn’t just about the “bad and the ugly” but also about the “good”.
  5. Be responsive! Keep communication with parents, students and colleagues open and honest. Base your communication on what you know to be true and not on what you might assume (facts vs. inferences). Respond to parent contact or concerns in a timely manner, with the goal of response over reaction (do your detective work, or find out what you need to know before responding). If a parent seems frustrated or angry – do not use e-mail to communicate (even if they e-mailed first!). Take the extra bit of time to make human contact – it will help to alleviate the situation and most likely prevent it from escalating. The “human factor” trumps everything!
  6. Make the time for students to play games and have “silly” time in class. Observe how they interact, follow rules, share, take turns, laugh, etc.
  7. Build in time for mindfulness (e.g. deep breathing) or short physical breaks, especially where students are in the same space/with the same teacher for an extended period of time. Activity is not just for PE class! One of my favourites (and of my former students) was body wrestling. (Send me a message and I will describe!)
  8. Establish and commit to holding regular classroom meetings/communication circles. Not only is this a great time for group problem solving and bringing to light social issues or concerns, but also an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate each other.
  9. No matter what grade level, use picture books to support learning, stimulate discussion, enjoy some down time together, be inspired, imagine, wonder, and connect.
  10. Focus on effort, not achievement. Use clear criteria to set students up for success. Use the action cycle as a reflective framework for looking back, being “present” and planning forward.
  11. Be explicit; assume nothing!
  12. Being a teacher is 99% marketing! Sell your curriculum to your students everyday. If you are excited, they will be too! Brand your classroom to create a unique/distinct identify for your community of learners.
  13. Create a culture of inquiry in everything you do. Embrace opportunities to inquire alongside your students. For students to become effective inquirers, they need to see the adults in their world inquire and wonder, too!

What are your tips to start the year “strong?” Feel free to add to this list!

Advertisements

Action FROM Learning

It is not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.   Leo T. Buscaglia

Image

Action FROM learning is something a learner chooses to do because of what they are learning or have learned. This type of action is a spark ignited by passion. Action FROM learning ranges from smaller scale actions taken by a learner such as changing something they personally do to make the world better (e.g. turning the tap off when brushing teeth) to larger scale action that involves others and requires a plan to follow through (e.g. organizing a clothing drive for a homeless shelter). Action FROM learning happens because something the learner was exposed to triggered them to take the “what” of their learning beyond the 4 walls of the classroom and out into the wider world. The learning brought the learner to the realization that they have a responsibility and that they can DO something about it.

Action FROM learning needs to be modelled, encouraged and fostered within a school community. Learners need to understand intrinsically that action is a process and that when they engage in a cycle of action, not only are they doing something to make a difference for others, they are also creating an opportunity for personal growth and reflection. This process can be simple as a realization and making a simple lifestyle change, or it can be complex and involve many steps.  Each time a learner chooses, acts and reflects, he/she deepens his/her understanding of themselves and their connection to others. When a learner completely follows through with an action thought or idea, whether it’s as simple as holding the door open for someone or as complex as organizing a large scale fund raiser, their action helps them to  become a better person by helping others or the world. Ultimately they help themselves as their own outlook on the world changes or shifts as they create impact around them.

For the last 10 years I have had the privilege of mentoring young learners through the action cycle. I don’t see myself as a teacher of action, but as a mentor. I am there to help big and small dreams become reality by supporting students as they seek to change the world and create impact. Kids are big dreamers and when they are moved to take action, especially larger scale action, they are as Craig Keilberger calls them, “shameless idealists”. Sadly, reality has the power to crush even the biggest idealists.  As an action mentor, I support the idealists in also being realists so that they don’t give up on their action dream, because there is no greater reward than seeing the action process through with the knowledge that change was instigated either near or far.

Critical to action FROM learning is that it connect to an ISSUE. Taking meaningful action is not about an event, which is a common pitfall to look out for when mentoring students through the action process. So many kids come to me saying, “I want to have a bake sale” or “I want to sell bracelets.” My questions back to them are always “What issue is it that you care about/are passionate about? WHY do you want to do this?/Why is this important to you?” Those 2 questions have resulted in major shifts in the culture of action in the two schools where I’ve taken on the action mentor charge. Students no longer come to me with an “action event”. Instead, they come with a cause or issue and the action is born out of their passion for that issue. Most frequently, the issue connects to an issue they’ve explored in class or to something they’ve talked about at home, or even something they saw in the newspaper/news/on-line. Once the issue is clearly defined, then we explore the “doability” factor: “Is this action possible/doable? What is our goal? How can we make it happen? What might get in our way? What do we need? What is our timeline? How much support will we need from others? How much education/awareness raising needs to be done to gain the support of our peers’, teachers and/or parents? Are we willing to change our plan if we need to to ensure this action happens?” A nice byproduct about supporting and mentoring action in this way, is that students always raise awareness first because they naturally want to educate others about what they care about. For larger scale action, awareness within the bigger community is paramount to the overall success of the action.

When I mentor students through an action plan, we work under the following guidelines:

Central/Big Idea: Understanding issues that affect us, our community and our world can help us to take meaningful action to make a difference.

Lines of Inquiry:

  • Issues affecting us, our community and our world
  • Working together to make a difference
  • Planning for, implementing and reflecting on action/service

Guiding Questions:

CHOOSE: What (issue) will we take action for? (local or global?)

ACT: How will we achieve our action goal? What steps will we take?

REFLECT: How successfully did we achieve our action goal?

These guidelines help us to share a collective focus and ensure that the action our students follow through with has a clear and meaningful purpose and that it is highly effective. Successful action leads to more action – it becomes a part of the values of the school community and it is celebrated and honoured as an important part of the learning process.

Stay tuned for the next post: an exploration of “Action FOR Learning”

Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.” Tom Barrett

Our Grade 5s are currently inquiring into the concept of sound and its environmental and technological applications. As a part of their inquiry they’ve visited some concert halls to explore how sound is used in a carefully designed space for a specific purpose. As we collaborated in the creation of this new unit in our program we wondered how much the students would really understand beyond the traditional sound basics. Exploring the applications of sound opened the possibilities up quite wide and with 10 and 11 year old learners, we wanted them not only to understand the science of sound – those aspects of sound that don’t change, but also come to appreciate that sound can be harnessed and the harnessing of sound pushes people to new limits, boundaries and change. The summative assessment involves the students planning, designing, constructing and presenting some sort of concert/presentation space. This afternoon I strolled into Grade 5 and landed in the most beautiful form of learning chaos – students spread out across the room surrounded by plans and construction materials. The chatter in the room was buoyant as they created their own masterpieces and inspired each other with their creativity and knowledge. Words like “acoustic baffling” and “resonance” were common place as they truly had become one with their task. Every material chosen had a specific purpose connecting back to enhancing the sound they hoped their space would create. Ideas ranged from traditional to downright innovative. My favorite was a dual purpose flip stage – on one side the stage was padded so that gymnasts and acrobats could perform daring feats to music; on the other side the stage floor was wood and Neil Diamond (a girl after my own heart) was perched in the center ready to belt out “Sweet Caroline.” Inquiry is a beautiful thing – and sometimes, beautiful things require chaos before they emerge.  Learning should get messy, and as educators, we need to make sure that we provide a classroom community where that happens on a regular basis. When we step back and provide a learning environment that invites problem solving, innovation, and creativity learning becomes vibrant in ways we never dreamed!