Recently I've been reading A Beautiful Constraint, by Morgan & Barden, and have found myself reflecting on things I have perceived as barriers to truly reaching each and every child that I taught. Now that I am a principal, my current situation sees me out of the role as classroom teacher. I am hopeful that in the future I will be able to timetable myself back into the classroom for some teaching time, but as of right now, that's not the case. When I think about my time in the classroom, however, I can honestly point to moments when I used constraints as an excuse, as a crutch. I think about some students who I just could not reach, and realize at some point, I stopped trying. That's not easy to admit, because it's something we are never supposed to do, but I did. I still delivered the curriculum, I still treated those students with the same love and respect I showed the others, however I did not go that extra mile that I needed to make sure that 100% of my students were engaged in meaningful, rigorous work on a daily basis.
I'd invite you to think about all of those students you will be working with next week (or next year if you stumble across this in July or August), and think about their engagement level. Do you know that 100% of your students are engaged? If so, how? If not, how can you find out? When you think about your classes, think about the feeling you get when everyone is "on", when everyone is turned on to learning. Does it feel like that every day? Shouldn't it? If you can think of a student, or a group of students who you are not reaching, and they are beginning to fall through the cracks, imagine the following scenario.
You have a student in your class who is not buying into what it is you are doing in class, they just are not engaged, and their marks are reflecting this. To your surprise, you have been invited to this student's house for dinner, and when you show up their entire family is there, even many from the extended family. Small talk turns to school talk, and you are asked how the student is doing in class. After explaining that the student is struggling, you are asked, "what are you doing to get them excited about learning?"
As you sit with this students' family, what will you say? Many of you reading this will have answers, because many of you do go above and beyond for all of your students. Some of you may struggle with that scenario, and may feel like saying, "well, what about the kid? What are they bringing to the table?" This is one of the greatest constraints I feel we face in education, our own belief that kids these days just don't want to learn. I don't believe that, and it makes me think of two great quotes I have heard from two different colleagues:
If they could, they would.
If students can't learn they way I teach, I need to change how I teach.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you are reaching 100% of your kids on a daily basis.
Thanks for reading.
I had a chance to visit with a relative who is busy preparing for the arrival of their first child which is due in early July. She talked about planning the baby’s room, picking the perfect crib, getting those just right shelves, and of course selecting the best color scheme. It reminded me of the work that went into getting things ready for our kids, the paint, the crib, the shelves, the picture frames, etc. As we were discussing this, I could not help but think about the way we set up our classrooms and the way we are intentional in using the environment as the third teacher. Later this month, a teacher in our school (#WaldheimSchool) is working with two colleagues to look at her learning environment, taking time to reflect on the year and then plan for the future. As an administrator, I’m excited by this, but just a tiny bit nervous when I also consider the budget, but as a fellow administrator once said, “if you want to know what a school values, follow the money”.
Margie Carter wrote a great article on the learning environments we set up in our buildings, and in it there are several great quotes. What do these statements cause you to think about:
"More than the physical space, (the environment) includes the way time is structured and the roles we are expected to play. It conditions how we feel, think, and behave; and it dramatically affects the quality of our lives" Jim Greenman.
"Our thoughts as reflected in our designs, in turn shape children's beliefs about themselves and life" Anita Olds.
"The environment is the most visible aspect of the work done in the schools by all the protagonists. It conveys the message this is a place where adults have thought about the quality and instructive power of space" Lella Gandini.
"Every person needs a place that is furnished with hope”, Maya Angelou.
When you go back to your school, I’d invite you to take a second look at your environment and think about ways you have been intentional in your design. If you can make the time, take a walking tour of the classrooms, and ask your peers why they have gone the route they have. Think about ways you can make your physical environment the third teacher in your room.
As usual, I'd love to hear your thoughts.