I reviewed the slide show that I changed for Day 1, Semester 1, 2010 today to remind myself of the ‘different’ tack I am taking with students this year. That is to say, I decided that I wanted to commit myself to trying something outside of my comfort zone in terms of setting the tone in the class on the first day regarding classroom management and the class environment.
As I prepared for the beginning of the school year last August, I made this slide show, and if I were to paraphrase the difference between my Day 1 slide show / presentation of previous years, I think it might be summed up by me saying, “Here are the rules of the class: No _______, no ___________, no_________, etc. and if you break those rules, here are the consequences:…”
My decision this year, however, was to focus on the possibility of the positive; that is to say, “This is our class, yours and mine, and our target, our goal is for all of you to pass AND for all of you to do the best that you can possibly do in this course. And in order to create the best possible environment to do that, we all need to feel safe and we all need to feel respected — by students and the teacher. And the best way I know how to achieve that level of success and that level of safety, means we will be engaging in activities, fairly frequently that a) ask you to let me know how class is going and b) ask you to engage in activities so you can get to know me and your classmates a little better.”
Although I have engaged in community building activities in the past, I haven’t embedded them in class time as much as I did in Semester 1 nor had I used them as frequently as I did. This is something that I was rather anxous about — How would the students react? Would they scoff? Rebel? Be passive? — but, to my delight, students seemingly just came to accept these community building activities as part of the way the class runs. Indeed, perhaps I underestimated my students, and let a handful of negative experiences colour my feelings about these powerful activities.
Reflection on Semester 1: What I have this semester in taking this positive stance as opposed to a negative one, is that it felt like the goal of passing this course was not set by me but is set by each individual student. This removes from me, then, the shackles of being the slave-driving authority figure making them reach a goal they d0n’t want and instead positions me as a coach or facilitator there to help them attain what they want. Plus, this target of everyone passing gives credence to all of the community building activities, as well as graphic organizers, experiential learning, project-based learning, Multiple Intelligences, and, naturally, Differentiated Instruction because all of these approaches and strategies are research-based ways to create the best opportunities for student success.
Why is it important for me to know this? I suppose it is because I have had ‘push-back’ from students, parents, teachers, and administrators about the value of engaging in these activities which are a) time-consuming and b) perhaps ‘non-traditional’ and even ‘unorthodox’. As a fan of legal dramas on television and movies, I seem to recall one lawyer character saying something to the effect of ‘A lawyer never asks a question to which they don’t already know the answer’. This applies to me, becuase I don’t want to engage in these activities without knowing a) how to do them, b) what the research says about them, but most importantly, c) how these activities will promote the success of the students.
And I now want to reveal this to the students on the first day, as well as throughout the semester, why they are being asked to do things that may be a little outside their comfort zone.