Today I had an opportunity to visit another district and spend the morning walking through K-5 classrooms in one of their elementary buildings with my principal and PDC team. This was a school I had already heard incredible things about, and it did not disappoint.
Each classroom we visited was unique, different from the one before it. Some were tidy, some were a bit cluttered. Some were heavily Pinterest-inspired, while others were simply a collection of the necessary materials for working with kids. They were hot, cold, large, small, and everything in between.
In one way, though, they were all the same. Each and every classroom in this building was completely student-centered. Anchor charts on the walls were created by the kids. Students had set norms for meeting in book clubs. One classroom had a wall of student goals. In another classroom, a teacher had posted an answer and invited students to write a question to go with it. Student voice and choice were evident in every classroom, from the moment the students arrived and were able to select their own morning activities instead of being met with a worksheet, to the actual instruction in which children engaged in activities and projects that were driven by their interests and needs.
This school was not unlike my own building. The teachers I work with also put kids at the center of their instructional planning. Students at my school are beginning to have more and more choice in their own learning, from flexible seating to choice work times like Genius Hour and play workshops. Kids are consistently treated with kindness and respect, and it is obvious that their learning and growth are highly valued at my school.
But these classrooms were not very similar to the classroom I used to call my own. When I left the classroom six years ago, teacher-driven instruction was the norm. I prided myself on designing and implementing lessons that were centered on what I knew about the kids, not what the kids knew (or needed to find out) about themselves as learners. Though I did have my students set goals and gave plenty of choice and independence in reading and writing, I have to admit that I always regarded myself as the sole driving force behind the learning.
Next fall I will have my own classroom again. After six years of mentoring beginning teachers, my program is coming to an end and I am fortunate to go back to a position I absolutely love. But teaching has changed, and so have I.
As I sit and reflect on today’s experience, fueled by the learning I have done over the past six years, I can’t help but think What will I want my classroom to look like to anyone who walks in?
My previous teaching self would have answered: Fun. Cute. Creative. Focused. Well-managed. Filled with great teaching.
Many of those words do still apply, but today affirmed the words I want anyone who comes in next year to use: Engaging. Student-driven. Innovative. Collaborative. Authentic. Caring. Filled with great learning.
This morning, I thought I was only going to another school to identify great practices to bring back to my own building and classroom. Tonight, though, I realize this visit gave me a new perspective on the classroom teacher I can’t wait to become again.