Book bags. Pencils. New clothes. Could it be back to school time already? Commercials for the new scholastic year have been airing since July 5th suggest it is and the blank page of a new school year has been placed before us.
As with all first drafts, there are amazing possibilities for greatness coupled with the inherent challenges of what to do first. Like most students starting to write, emotions overwhelm a teacher when it comes time to start preparing for new classes. The excitement of known experiences to be repeated and improved upon as well as the potential anxiety of one's best not being good enough.
But the page must be written on, the draft completed.
The first step is always a brainstorm. Brainstorms can look different for everyone, but the ideas are the same. Using what we know already, we put ideas on the page in no particular order. In this case, it's my list of what needs to be done: what supplies need to be purchased, what elements of last year's syllabus need to be adjusted, what the room will look like. It's a meditation on what learning is and how best to provide it to the students.
As I sit imagining last year's classroom and the modifications that will be made to make this year more transformational, I'm certain to consider where else I can relinquish control and empower the students. After all, this is their shared experience and I'm present to facilitate their growth beyond my need to orchestrate an agenda. The same way, I would direct them while writing; they must take ownership.
Here are the ways to consider making changes to allow student empowerment:
Leave the classroom unmade before the kids arrive. Use the first days of school as an opportunity to set up the classroom together. What should it look like? Choices should be made deliberately and with the kids.
Have an idea of what the curriculum should be, but allow students to see this plan and provide input for potential additions or subtractions.
In the #1st5days, establish that learning isn't about end grades, but rather about what student know and can do. Remind them that failure is to be celebrated as a part of the learning process and this environment will be one that is safe to fail forward in.
Listen to your students. Provide a Google Form about what students want to learn this year and what they perceive are their strengths and weaknesses. Give them time to thoughtfully fill these out.
Offer many opportunities for students to share their needs with you and with each other.
Teach kids to ask better questions - questions will drive their learning and they must be in the driver seat.
Allow students to grapple with the standards, rewrite them and then set goals, allowing them to track their progress throughout the year. Always remind them that school is essentially about developing skills to be better human beings.
Set high, attainable expectations appropriate for all students remembering that no two children are the same.
As with any blank page, it fills quickly. The ideas have flown from the brainstorm into a draft, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs. Although the words have situated themselves already, a first draft is always meant for revision and so too, will be the year.
One of the most important pieces of advice to be provided is to remember flexibility. Be comfortable adjusting as you go, rewriting the plan, rescheduling the pace, empowering the kids more. They may not be ready at first, but they will be soon enough, always be ready.
What will you do to prepare your students to take control of their learning? Please share.
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress on July 27, 2014