What do we really want for our students?

As educators, what is our end goal for our students? Do we hope that by the end of their schooling, they’ll be able to regurgitate the things that they’ve memorized or do we hope that they’ll have the skills to be ready to conquer the world? More than ever, I see the importance of helping students develop the skills needed to be successful in life instead of just focusing on the curriculum. I’m talking about knowing how to self regulate, how to make appropriate choices to further their own learning, how to be a leader, how to problem solve, how to be independent and confident, how to be life long learners, and I could go on.

This year, my teaching style has taken a drastic turn. I’ve taken big risks and am not always sure if these risks will pay off or if they’ll make me fall flat on my face. I now approach almost every situation with the mentality of “don’t do for others what they can do for themselves”. I know, I know, this almost makes me sound mean, but don’t take it the wrong way. I love my students, I care for them deeply, and want to help them, but they need to learn to do things for themselves! As an elementary teacher, I see it too often, and am most definitely guilty of doing this a lot before: teachers and parents do everything for students and don’t give them the chance to take responsibility for many tasks. What I’ve come to see is that students are capable of much more than we could ever expect, we just need to give them the tools and the chance to show us that can! This way of thinking has changed so much of my day to day life in class and I now approach situations by asking myself “how could my students take responsibility for this” and “how can I help them to be able to do this”.

The school year started off with a bang and everything was going so smoothly. I was in awe! I often thought to myself, “this was too easy, why didn’t I do this sooner?”. Then, the novelty wore off and we started running into a few problems. It’s only this week during student, parent, teacher conferences that I truly went full circle and was able to see that all my efforts (and the students’) are SO  worth it! I realized that yes, my class is louder because we are not following a compliance model where students have to raise their hand before speaking. Instead, we are learning how to respond appropriately when having conversations with one another. We are learning to listen to others and to wait our turn. We are learning to wait until no one is talking before adding to the conversation. We are learning to step up and step back, meaning that we get to share our ideas, but that we also have to let others speak if we’ve talked and shared a lot already. My class is also a little more chaotic this year. Students are leading and I’m learning to step back and let them figure out things on their own. So, if you walk by my class and see the students all gathered by the front of the class trying to figure out a problem, and you see me sitting back not intervening, it’s not because I don’t care. On the contrary, I care so much that I am letting the students think critically and problem solve, which is a beautiful thing!

There are so many other examples that I could come up with, but what I’ve come to realize is that all of the learning that is happening in my class is important even if it’s not directly linked to the curriculum, because the students are learning essential life skills. The students are working hard to kick old habits and to pay attention to social cues instead of simply following rules. So right now, my class is louder and more chaotic, but I just imagine what it will look like by the end of the school year when the students become more and more comfortable with the skills that they’re learning, and know that this is all worth it.

A special thanks to my students’ parents who helped me see this over the last two nights. I appreciate your support and the fact that you’ve all demonstrated that you trust me and appreciate my risk taking even though I’m doing things in the class that are not traditional. You’ve shared with me how you see these skills being brought home and how you are willing to continue at home and support the students in their learning. Through your positive comments, you’ve made me feel appreciated and valued and I’m so thankful to have such a great class of students and supportive families! Together, we all make a great team!

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