How September Start Up Would be Different

About a week ago, my sister Kelly and I exchanged some texts. She’s going back to Grade 4 after a maternity leave. She was at school getting ready, I was on a lengthly drive home from Quebec City.

We used to work at the same school and I miss that a lot. In fact, one year we were even grade partners! It was great because although we are opposites in many ways, we balance each other out but and have the same values and beliefs when it comes to our students and learning.

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Our conversation got me thinking. I’m continuing my role as an Instructional Coach this year, but if I was going back to the classroom, what I would do differently in my set up now compared to three years ago? What have I learned and what would be different? I have been reading a few blogs by Pernille Ripp that have made me think about this too.

1)  Technology – BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). From the get go I would be thinking about the clear guidelines that I would want to establish. What message am I going to send from day one? I would want to ensure equity, making sure all students have access to tech in my classroom by signing out extra equipment as needed or creating groups to share certain devices. I would think about citizenship (not only digital, but in general) that I would want to reinforce all year long. I really think digital citizenship is about building character on and offline. I would let my students use their devices for sure. Perhaps it’s outdated, but I would gradually release that responsibility – starting with times that they can and cannot use them.  The schools I’m working in have Learning Commons – how would I use this space? How could my trusty librarian and I partner?

2) GAFE (Google Apps for Education).  Three years ago, I knew nothing about it. I first learned about all things GAFE in my first week of coaching training. I immediately wanted a Grade 8 re-do. I would use a lot less paper and do much more online. I used to send out “getting to know you” surveys, and now I would do them online.  Probably a whole bunch of short ones with different focus to help me get to know my students and their interests better. There are a few things I would still send home on paper.  For instance, my letter introducing myself to parents.  That used to be a long manifesto, now I would keep it short and sweet.  I would also get rid of the “learning styles” inventory.  I have read articles that highlight that students get stuck on thinking they can only learn one way, when in fact we learn many different ways.  Not sure if I would use a class website.  Depends on the grade.  I might use Remind or Google Classroom instead. Would I use Twitter?  Communication with students and parents needs to be worked out in advance and convenient for all.

3) Reading.  I’ve been reading “Reading in the Wild” by Donalyn Miller and she has some great strategies about tracking what students are reading, goal setting, creating “buzz” around books, and developing what she calls “wild” or  what I used to call “vigorous” readers that will continue doing so outside of your classroom, and most importantly, after they leave your classroom.  It has been a great confirmation of what I was already doing in my classroom when it comes to setting up for a new school year but also has some great ideas that would help me tweak my classroom library and make reading in my classroom better. One thing that she challenged is getting rid of some of the books and weeding out the ones that are not being read.  I have a hard time with this, but she’s right.

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4)  Ice breakers that are not embarassing or forced.  Pernille Ripp is really on a roll.  In another blog, she mentioned an idea that can also be found in the “Wild Readers” book.  What about asking students to bring a picture book that is meaningful to them as a “get to know you” excercise?  When I go to workshops, I am not always in the mood to do silly stuff with strangers.  I’m betting many of our kids feel the same.  How can I help build community and inclusiveness that is meaningful and not superficial?  I would be thinking about that.  I think this is so important in those first few weeks of school.  There is so much relationship building between students and teachers that is vital in the first 6 weeks.  Studies show that building a strong rapport and establishing clear routines in the first 6 weeks helps with behaviour but also helps you get to more curriculum and learning.  What you do in the first 6 weeks must be so intentional.  What am I going to do to “hear” introverts better?  What will I do to reinforce classroom routines to get things moving smoothly?  Set clear expectations and stick to them. What are you willing to negotiate and determine with students?

5) No more wallpaper. Being a French teacher, I had verb conjugaison posters everywhere. Orderly and neat, they lined my walls and were rarely used. Now, a couple might go up if we were fine tuning a particular verb and it has come up in their writing, but I would work toward the students not needing it, and then it would come down.  No more posters that are up all year long. I would be a bit more “Reggio” if you will.  More neutral colours, less “scholastic” wall paper.  The wall would be mostly blank because students will help me create the space.  What could I do to make my class more comfortable with different spaces? Would I set up “SOLE” centres for instance?  How can the environment reflect the kind of differentiated learning that I want to take place?

6) I wouldn’t assign a math textbook to each student. I would hand them out from time to time, but I would pick and choose what best hits big ideas and curriculum from the book.  Instead of more questions and website practice to reinforce math skills, I would be starting “Number Talks” from the get go.  Using them to reinforce and develop addition, subtraction, multiplication and division strategies as needed through the year.  And you know what?  I would be introducing my students to computer coding through my math program.  I know it would expand to other subject areas, but I would start here.

7)  Social Studies and Science would be more about experiences and less about textbooks and questions.  What experiences could I create that would help teach the big ideas or inspire research and even better … action?  Dave Burgess has a ton of ideas in his book “Teach Like a Pirate”.  What language and inquiry skills would I want to my students to learn through these experiences?  There’s an election going on!  You don’t have to teach Grade 5 to teach civic responsibility.  Sign up for Student Vote!  If there is environmental big ideas in Science and Social studies, what are they and how can I help illustrate them for my students all year long through modelling my own actions and through the curriculum for my grade?  What issues do my students care about?  What issues do I care about (ahem… Blue Green Algae in Lake Erie)?  How can I model inquiry of my own for students? Perhaps a Genius Hour…

8) Fun Factor.  A wonderful French teacher that has just retired made me think of this one.  We would get together once a month for a French book club and from time to time we would do some planning together.  She would always ask the question:  “Where is the fun factor?”.  What can I do to infuse some fun into the first few weeks of school?

Undoubtedly, there is more I could add to this list.  While I don’t have my own classroom at the moment, I do have teachers calling me to collaborate in the first few weeks of school, so I have no doubt that I’ll get my fix!

I can’t help but think how much other teachers have inspired me for the list above – both on Twitter and in real life!  Thank-you! Feel free to inpire me more in the comments below. What are you rethinking?

And if you would like to check out Pernille’s blogs for yourself, you can find them at www.pernilleripp.com.

4 Responses

  1. Mme Hartman at |

    Bien fait! I can relate to being an introvert & wishing that teachers would have considered how uncomfortable it used to feel when we were “forced” to get to know classmates through ice breakers. This year I am asking students more about what they want out of their classroom & school. Also using STEM challenges to develop team work skills, it’s the fun factor! Thanks for your great post!

  2. Jen at |

    I agree Mme! Making presentations in front of a room you are not completely comfortable with or having to do something in front of a “whole group” can be intimidating too.

    Best wishes for your start up! Bravo on letting students have a voice.

  3. Sue Dunlop at |

    Great reflection, Jen. So many interesting ideas. I love the first days of school.

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