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What would you fight for?

September is a month of getting-to-know-you for teachers and students.  Establishing relationships with students and among students is, among other things, a key lever in the complex recipe for student achievement.  There are many ways to begin to learn about your students (please share your favorite tips for this!), and I’d like to suggest this conversation starter as a subtle way to learn what the students are passionate about.

This Monday pose the question: What is something that is unfair that you would fight for? 

I like this question because it tells you not only what students are upset about but also what they are so upset about that they would do something about it.  Moreover, it opens up an opportunity for the important life lesson that there are many things in life which are unfair, but only so many we can fight for/against.  In short: pick your battles.  (But goodness, please do battle for those which you pick – another critical teachable moment!)

Children are acutely aware of the unfair.  As they age they grasp a sense of injustice and feel compelled to action.  This conversation, therefore, can be approached with students of all ages.  Try these questions for littler ones: What is unfair?  & What is the most unfair?

I can’t wait to hear what they come up with!

Hugs,

-AK

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Write your own rules

I decided to turn the tables on my 8th grade students this year.  Instead of reading to them the rules of my room, I told them the job was theirs.  You should have seen their faces!

As you know, safety in the classroom is most important for me.  In fact, rule number one has always been: this is a safe space.

But, as I began to think about the annual first-week-of-school routine of reading the rules and practicing class routines, I wondered how safe students felt.  Consider the jolt that is back-to-school (routine, uniform, new material, new teachers, etc., etc.).  Add to that a catalog of rules specific to each class/teacher/cafeteria, and safety isn’t the word I’d use to describe that.

I thought about another belief I have about children: they always rise to the occasion.  Give them responsibility and they will do a good job.  Treat them like they are mature and they will respond maturely.

To begin my relationship with my students with the expectation that they didn’t intuitively know how to behave and how to prioritize their education, would not provide a safe opportunity for them to showcase their maturity. 

So, I changed my strategy.  I had my students write their own rules.

Guess what?  They out-did anything I could have come up with:

Our Principles

1. Keep it loyal & honest; be trustworthy

We are teammates, family and friends.  We show our loyalty and commitment to one another by being honest.  We work honestly, speak truthfully and act loyally.

2. Be responsible

Being responsible means being prepared for class and doing your homework.  It means leaving a place cleaner than you found it.  It means taking responsibility for your learning and asking for help when you need it.  If something comes up we take responsibility and discuss those circumstances with the teacher.

We know there are no excuses in the game of life.

3. Be relentless

Never give up.  Never give up.  Never give up.

4. Be self-critical

At the end of the day the winner will be the one who was the most self-critical.  Who identified his own weaknesses and every opportunity for improvement.  The winner will be the one who didn’t stop working until all of those weaknesses were strengths and until each of his skills improved.

There’s always room for improvement.

5. Respect one another.

Respect is the foundation of good relationships.  Without good relationships with one another we won’t be able to get through the difficult challenges we will face in 8th grade and beyond.  We respect the chance to learn each day.  We respect one another’s needs, ideas, questions, words and space.  We listen when others speak.  We encourage.

We respect these principles.

If you are interested in having your students write their own rules, sign up for my email subscription.  I’ll be sending out the lesson plan this week.  And, in case you are wondering, yes, it’s CCSS-alinged :)

Hugs,

-AK

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Teachers who care

Many teachers will begin the school year surveying their students.  If they’re like me, they’ll ask about favorite snacks, a student’s ideal day, and what did and didn’t support that child’s learning last year.  I’m always impressed by the clarity with which students can reflect on the learning habits and styles that work for them.

Recently, a colleague suggested I add another pair of questions.  I want to share these with you and I want to encourage you to begin this conversation in your classroom.

Finish these sentences:

  • Teachers who care about me…
  • Teachers who don’t care about me…

As we know, if students aren’t sure that we care about them, there will be an ocean of mistrust between us.  Children are intuitive, emotional creatures.  They thrive in safe, routine and secure environments.

The knowledge that they are being lead by adults who care about them can be the very difference between a child who is willing to take risks and one who opts out.  In other words: caring is paramount.

I suggest this conversation begins on paper.  Give students a chance to do a brain dump and get as many attributes down on paper as they can.  Then, ask them to share how they feel.

Because it’s the start of the school year and because this can be delicate and confrontational, be sure to model with your own answers.  Recollect stories from when you were a student and share when you felt cared for and other times when you felt unsupported.

After this conversation, you’ll know how to act and what to say so that your students know without a shadow of a doubt that you care about them.  As a bonus, they’ll know a little more about you and the struggles you faced when you were in their shoes.

Let me know what they come up with!

Hugs,

-AK

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What is your dream school?

As August nears, many are preparing to head back to school.  Something I’ve done with colleagues which effectively focuses the team and inspires a fresh outlook on the year ahead, is brainstorm what our dream school looks like.  Some focus on the aesthetics of the building, while other dig in and reenvision the curriculum.  By beginning with the dream school in mind, the team can better make decisions about whats most important for the coming school year.

I propose asking kids the same question:

Tell me about your dream school?

This question is ripe for incorporating multiple intelligences.  Consider encouraging students to answer creatively using pictures or video.

The point of starting this conversation is two fold:

  1. To learn about your students’ priorities when it comes to school
  2. To give students the opportunity to practice advocating for what matters to them

For younger kiddos try asking:

What should we learn in school?
or
What should school look like?

Can’t wait to hear what they come up with!

Hugs,

-AK

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