Saturday, July 23, 2016

If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?

Photo from http://hamiltonmusical.wikia.com/wiki/Aaron_Burr,_Sir
As a literacy coach for the past four years, I participated in numerous conversations with teachers and administrators around what they believe about kids and learning.  I listened.  I asked questions.  I worked with teachers to help them make sure their classrooms and their practice reflected their philosophies.  Of course, I thought about my own beliefs as I had these conversations, but I didn't always have the capacity to carry them out in the same way as if I were in a classroom.  Of course, my beliefs about kids and learning colored my coaching choices and conversations every day, but I wasn't in a position where I could just say "Hey, you need to do things THIS way" (which would not be effective in any case).

But now, things have changed.  I'm headed back into the classroom, and my philosophy will be the foundation of everything my students and I do each and every day.  I am far more cognizant of this than I was 23 years ago when I first stepped foot in front of a class.  Yeah... I had to write a paper about my educational philosophies in one of my very first ed classes, but then I didn't give it much thought outside of interview questions.  I was so overwhelmed with learning to teach, with finding a permanent position, with becoming a grown up.  Now, though... now I know how important it is that I keep that philosophy front and center and think about it every day.  And I know that as I learn and grow, what I think and feel will evolve.  Very few things in life are written in stone.

Here's what I stand for:
1.  Kids deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
2.  Kids deserve to have their voices heard daily.
3.  Kids deserve to have the opportunities to make choices and take ownership of their learning daily.
4.  Kids deserve the opportunity to be independent.
5.  Kids deserve an environment in which they feel safe to be themselves and take risks.

Notice something?  Kids come first in every single one of those statements.  Not me.  I am not and should not be the center of our classroom.  Yes, I set the tone; I lay the foundation.  I have to follow the curriculum adopted by the District.  But more than anything - more than ever - I believe that kids need to be the center of all I do.  In allowing students to make choices - and own the consequences both good and bad - I am allowing them the opportunities to make mistakes and to learn from them.  In co-creating an environment where students feel safe to take risks, I am also, hopefully, co-creating an environment where students feel safe to ask questions.  Hard questions.  Questions about why we do the things we do and why the world is the way it is.  It is here, in classrooms across the country, that our future voters and leaders MUST learn to ask hard questions, formulate multiple solutions to problems, and work together to make and carry out plans.

This work is not easy.  Stepping back and trusting students to do this kind of hard thinking and work at 8 and 9 years old is a risk.  It would be EASY for me to go to Teachers Pay Teachers and pay for packets of "morning work" worksheets that would keep kids quiet and busy.  It would be EASY for me to put the desks in rows facing the whiteboard and to info dump on kids all day with a PowerPoint presentation full of text projected behind me.  It would be EASY for me to have my voice be the only one that will be heard.

But I can't do that.  Not anymore.  Not ever again.  I know better now.  I have a second chance to be in the presence of children daily, to read and write and talk with amazing young people who have big ideas and want nothing more than to share them.  I have the opportunity to foster curiosity and creativity and independence.

I have a shot at shaping the future.

And I am not throwing away my shot.