Class Intentions and Values

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Using the book Troublemakers, the Search Institute, the UDL Guidelines, and as many relevant inspiration as I possibly can – I am hoping to stir up students immediately into collaborative community building. In the past I can say with confidence I did a decent job at things the first few days of school – but I can also say with confidence I quickly plummeted into boringness and irrelevancy. So I am back at it again, planning those first few weeks with intent.

I am looking hard at the practice of building community. Often I find that I am the magnet – students do well with me but not always with each other. I’ve heard them ask each other their names months into class or be surprised where their peers are from months in. This breaks my heart and I no longer want it this way. I also want to ensure I’m hearing from every student, not just the loud ones.

So here’s how the first week went. My intentions and my impact were not always equivalent, at least not yet. But I really did intend to co-create (thanks Christie Nold !) our expectations and intentions for the space and courses; introduce a variety of tools students can use while in the space and some they can bring with them elsewhere; and to create a collaborative environment where everyone’s voice is heard in a variety of ways. Here’s the slideshow for the whole week. 

Monday’s Plan:  Introduce Myself using same format as I asked students to give me information; Answer some questions about what art is to me; use QFT for students to ask loads of questions.

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Monday was an interesting day being the first day of school. I was nervous and anxious about many new things and the normal first day nervousness. My students were lovely and set me at ease immediately. They filled out the What about me papers in each class and shared things that they thought were important. I also shared the same things for each class and students really seemed to appreciate that reciprocity. Then we watched the short video on What is art? which helped me explain that videos are one method of giving information in the space and it’s important to pay attention as much as you can. Then we dove into QFT as groups. I love this protocol for asking questions and this year’s students seemed to dig it too. They asked really great questions – many could be essential questions (I say this everytime I do this) and it really shows me what they want to know.

Tuesday’s Plan: Start by asking students to write down why they are taking the course with no judgement for the answer; Visualize a successful learning environment for themselves as learners, as a teacher, and in the environment; Choose words that describe that successful learning environment individually and then as small groups; Discuss those words in context as a whole group in a circle.

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This day was incredible and incredible to reflect on afterwards as well.

Students really thought about the words that described their successful learning environment and had some great conversations about what those words mean to them in their context. The classes placed stickers on the words to demonstrate their priority to the group and looking at the sticker placement really spoke volumes about the needs and expectations of the groups. Some classes really were demonstrating their readiness to take control of their learning while others demonstrated they really expected to lean on me as the teacher for their learning. Almost all the groups demonstrated that they wanted a safe environment but didn’t clarify what that totally meant. My intention after the day was to go home and write out intention statements for the classes that we could agree on the following day, but that felt really wrong once I was back home without them. So I decided to have the students write those intention statements.

Wednesday and Thursday Plan: A Rotation through a variety of activities: 1) Create a list of squad names for the class period (any good community has a name) 2) Choose from a group of quotes which quote will be “our” quote (any good community has a quote or mantra behind it too) 3) With your group, use the papers with the stickers on them, write our powerful sentences that describe our community intentions 4) Using the ipads and Flipgrid, introduce yourself and share one thing I should know about you (this was to HEAR them say their name and further our connections) 5) Using the chromebooks, log into our Google Classroom and answer the question posted: What is one thing you are proud of accomplishing?

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These two days were good. I think they could’ve definitely been planned better – I expected the squad names and quote decisions to take longer, but the students got along so well that it happened so quickly. While the flipgrid videos were amazing in the end, it took awhile for kids to get over their initial shyness or ridiculousness about taking a video that only I would see. The students shared some great things in the Google Classroom which continued to help give me insight into who they were. By Thursday though, students were tired (getting back into a routine is HARD! and school is long!) and they were struggling to find the importance of these activities.

Friday Plan: To share what UDL is; Have students brainstorm ways that they can hold me accountable to providing options; Learn about or expand their understanding of Growth Mindset; Learn about the course outline and ask questions; and Reflect on the week overall.

This day had great intentions. All the best of intentions. But the impact fell pretty flat overall. I didn’t think enough about the context of 5 days of school, the routine of getting up early, the idea of listening, the fact that maybe they had never thought about each of the elements of their own learning, and that reflection after a week of reflection and sharing might be too much. Nevertheless, I did go over these things with students anyways, but I gave them some options and ended up focusing on Self-Regulation and Executive Function. We talked about our use of fidgets and the spaces in the rooms. I shared with them where they might find information about what is to come and important dates. Students seemed open to the idea of options although it was all very new overall to them.

Moving Forward

As I move into the following weeks, the feedback I’ve heard is stop talking so much, which is always an issue the first week(s). And in the past I feel like I allow the boring stuff too much time and let the community start to fade, I’m glad I focused this week on the community and will extend the co-creation of community through the following weeks. This coming week will be all about collaborative opportunities to create, to explore materials, to hone or learn techniques in drawing. I’m excited and hopeful.

Here’s some resources from my favorite educators about their thoughts on the first day(s):

https://crawlingoutoftheclassroom.wordpress.com/2018/07/21/on-compliance-shifting-the-narrative-from-day-1/ (if you only read one of these resources, read this one!)

6 Messages Every Student Should Hear On The First Day Of School

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