Friday, September 2, 2016

Three Little Words

New year presents new opportunities - Happy New Year!

As we begin lets reflect on three ideas that could enhance all of our own learning and that of our students. They are relationships, rigor , and relevance.

This month's Educational Leadership is entitled, Relationships First. You may access the issue here. Once we reflect upon it, it seems obvious that as adults we do not learn from people we do not respect or who do not like or respect us. As teachers it can be a challenge, a welcomed one, to like each and every student. Here are just a couple of evidenced-based ideas that work. My own practice was to ask parents to write to me telling me about the child that they were sending to me. These letters were very informative and helpful. They were the direct result of having had a younger brother who was a cancer survivor and my own parents' struggle with deciding when to inform his teachers or not. A couple of years ago  Kyle Schwartz, a third grade teacher in Denver, Colorado (@kyleswartz #I wish my teacher knew) started asking students to complete the prompt, I wish my teacher knew.... Use these or create your own. These relationship foundations can easily be connected to teacher effectiveness standards, as well as getting everyone off on a very positive first step for a success-filled year.

Rigor insists on a belief that all of our students can achieve at high levels of success. Do you believe that all students can and will write well this year? What does that really mean day-to-day? Will all the students reflect on higher-order questions and explore deeper learning? How will I support all students and how will I know when we have done enough?  Rigor insists on a willingness to revise our work and our knowledge and skills, an atmosphere of not-until-the-learner-is-satisfied or the project is complete. Rigor insists that we share our own learning and bumpy-road-to-learning stories, that we model writing, that we model our passion for our content and that students have lots of opportunities to judge examples that they can classify as exemplars and non-exemplars and articulate the differences. All of this requires significant planning on the part of the teacher. Use the What to Look For resources to reflect on day-to-day rigor in the classroom. They have been developed for every grade level (K-8) in literacy, mathematics and science as well as for the sheltered English immersion classroom.

Relevance helps us connect our work to our lives. It makes classroom work more engaging and meaningful, motivating students to work longer and harder. Teach for transfer. Plan units and lessons that will develop toward a final performance-based assessment that requires solution of a novel problem or application of knowledge and skills in a new situation. Many of the model curriculum units exemplify this type of teaching and learning. See model units in all content and grade levels here. Assessments like these demonstrate to students, as well as to teachers that the learning has been deeply integrated.

Each of these takes hard work on the part of the professional educator. Students are taking cues from their teachers every day from the ways they seek positive relationships with them and their families, from the ways they challenge themselves to develop and support rigorous classroom lessons and learning, and from the relevance that teachers demonstrate and facilitate as students put learning into action.

May your year be the most successful yet. May your challenges spur curiosity and creativity. May every day be filled with positive relationships, rigorous lessons and deep learning, and relevant work for every member of your classroom community.