“As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve but to unleash their talent. If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.” -George Couros (The Innovator’s Mindset)
Anyone who knows me well knows I love structure and uniformity. I love predictability, and I love organization. Then I decided to take a hard left turn from my uniform practice in the classroom. Though it took a lot of energy to get past some old habits, I absolutely love now watching my students grow their sense of self and independence. I have worked hard trying to leave the ALWAYS uniformed past, and I am now on a journey to a more student choice and workshop based environment.
Just like the classic Normal Rockwell picture, I loved what I was doing and for the first 10 years of my career students walked into my room and I ran the entire show. I told them where to sit, what to write, what to read, and how the craft will look in the end. I had all of the control.
Today, if you walk in my room I have shifted my energy to empowering students more to find their voice, independence, and learning styles. My 5 and 6 year old kindergarteners from day one of school are encouraged to express their ideas and find joy and passion with interest based choices. I still set the academic bar high, teach both NGSS and CCSS expectations, and use district adopted curriculum; but I learned that I do not have to be the only voice in the room. I taught in a very direct manner for many years. When admin would come in my room I would hope for silence, and little heads down hard at work. Yet, all this time I was not told what I now feel is the most important piece to the puzzle…
Student learning should not be just the consumption of knowledge, but instead we need to let students make the learning their own.
We are asked to produce critical thinkers, creators, and students with a deep understanding of the world, yet I was doing all of the thinking for them. I used to think I had to give my students a writing prompt each day, hand them the reading material needed to get to that expected reading level, and even tell them where to sit. We also made cookie cutter crafts that were as uniform as my room. We were about as neatly organized as one can get in kindergarten. Until…
I slowly I began to share the “control”. My class started to become a magical room of authors, storytellers, readers, and problem solvers. Every morning now students find their “best learning spot”, and embrace their independence.
We build stamina for reading by choosing interest based books, and write about whatever is on our mind. I am no longer tied to controlling every movement of the day. Because of that I now have more time to individually conference with kids, and give them the direct instruction they need.
It’s fast paced, lively, and fun!
Did my class still learn in my previously very uniform environment? Yes! I take pride in my students accomplishments, and what they were able to do through the years. The difference now is I still take great pride in their achievements in reading, writing, and math; but I take even greater pride knowing that they are learning about their voice, independence, and what motivates them to work toward their personal best.
So today if you walk into my room I may not have students in nice little rows, or perfect pods of 4; and you will never hear a cricket chirp due to the silencing of students working for extended periods of time. The uniformity has been replaced with student choice in seating, lots of movement, different groups working on different things, and the noisy sounds of busy little bees deep in their learning.
I am still a work in progress, no doubt, but I have grown a lot after deciding to push myself out of my comfort zone. I still am what some would consider OVERLY ORGANIZED, and don’t think I don’t have complete control of the orchestra of events going on all at once. I have just learned to focus more on having full control behind the scenes, which then allows for my students to have more choice in the moment.