I teach in a building with others who really work hard to do what’s best for kids and who try daily to meet their needs, and so I feel pretty lucky about that. One of my first grade teachers and I have found some pretty cool ways to work together over the years to do that–things like comic book vocabulary work for extremely high readers, merging her kids into a fifth grade group for math centers, and this year, accelerating one of her kids into a 3rd grade math group. That’s been a mind blowing experience, as this kid is probably one of the smartest I’ve ever seen. She also attends my after-school wiki club with 4 others (ranging from 1st-4th grade), where she has learned much about coding and learning together, with and from others. (She had already completely created a wiki at home, which included embedding home videos, inserting various kinds of media into tables and labeling those so her reader will know what’s going on in each.) She is grasping coding with html, and teaching it to other kids. She is finding plug ins and widgets to add to her wiki. She figures out stuff for herself–like how to change the background of widgets she finds on the web. I am consistently amazed at her ability to work independently (but ask for help when she needs it), setting goals for herself and going after the knowledge she needs to accomplish those goals. I love it when she says, “Ms. White, I want to…. Can you help me?” Then we sit down together and I get to watch her thinking processes and see what she already knows as we figure out together how to accomplish her set task.
I once was sitting beside her and we were, together, trying to figure out something and I backed up a step (talking to myself, but thinking aloud to let her see my process) to say “We first have to…. ” and I began searching to try to figure it out. She pretty much snapped at me, saying, “I know how to…” and instead of rebuking her for her tone of insolence to an adult, I simply said, “I know you know how to do it– I’m asking for me, not for you.” That seemed to be a turning point…up to that point in working with her, she was constantly trying to show how smart she was–but not now after that incident. She clearly heard that I was learning and that I also respected her knowledge as well. In my class, it’s not about having to prove how smart you are (although it certainly is about being smart)–it’s really about knowing how to learn and knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do–having strategies for figuring things out, and using those to become smarter.
So many times in a classroom we forget to honor prior knowledge, and I constantly hear from kids about how dissed they are in “normal” classrooms, and how much time they waste doing things they already know how to do. I’m coming to believe that not allowing for kids’ expertise and helping them find time to work on their passions or explore new ones is one of our fatal flaws in education as it stands today.
I keep going back to my kindergarten roots as I struggle with being a resource teacher for my staff. I keep thinking how resilient young learners are and how thirsty they are for knowledge and growth. I wonder where we kill that attitude and why we adults (for the most part) don’t exhibit that in work situations…why we feel, like my young student, that it’s all about “showing how smart we are” instead of opening ourselves to honest, self-reflecting dialogue. Kids who feel like they have to prove themselves–heck, PEOPLE who feel like they constantly have to prove themselves–can’t listen because they’re trying so hard to be heard.
My principal wants us to become more of a “STEAM school,” centering on teaching with design thinking in mind as we set up lessons and experiences. In reflecting on that, I’m already into thinking about next year…how we develop as a schoolwide community of learners. As we consider our PLC questions–
- what is it that we want all kids to know, understand and be able to do?
- what will we accept as evidence that learning has occurred?
- how do we respond when kids come to us already knowing how to do those things?
- how do we respond when we’ve done our teaching but learning hasn’t happened?
- what does our teaching look like to support important and effective teaching and learning?
I think we also need to center on finding competence rather than incompetence, that we need to honor what kids do (and what we do as teachers, too) and we need to reflect on the following questions:
- We’ve been working with these PLC questions for years- How do we grapple with those differently next year than we have this year?
- Do these questions just apply to 12 and under, or should they apply to everyone 21 and older in the building as well?
- If the PLC questions apply to all as we learn how to teach and learn better together, are these paths disparate or do they converge and diverge? How do we see those “in the moment” and differentiate for all learners, no matter the age or job?