As I reflect back on each day of school, I am amazed and excited about how much my students and I accomplished that day. We write, we discuss, we read, we practice, we study, and we learn a lot from each other every day. So as I think about how much we accomplished, I sometimes worry that students reflect on how long they had to sit in a desk all day. Time to refocus is a necessary piece to every lesson and every class period. A great way to be sure everyone is focused and ready, is to implement "Maintenance in Me" and Maintenance in We" breaks.
One of the many things I have learned from my time at PDS is how much boys move. They move in the morning, move in the afternoon, fidget in their desks, and run in the halls. Boys move all the time. While this was not exactly news to me, I used to think that students can only learn if the room is calm and quiet. Now I believe that every student learns differently and some, boys especially, need the movement.
This was the third time I read The First Days of School by Harry Wong and each time, I have had a different perspective and more classroom experience. I believe Wong guides the reader through several concepts that are important to successful teaching, but also believe that he falls short in key areas. In a way, his text binds the reader to his philosophy of structure and instills a mindset of anxiety and fear. Yes, he successfully conveys the necessity of preparedness and positive attitude, but he also led me to feel that if I did not follow every step of the three hundred plus page book, my first day and entire school year would be an exhausting failure. I felt overwhelmed by the idea of not saying the right thing or forgetting a procedure.
In his book The First Days of School, Harry Wong writes “if you do not structure your classroom, your classroom will structure you.” While the context of his comment is introductory procedures, it begs the question of how much must be structured on the first day.
What does it mean to be a team? This was the question that my fifth graders were posed with as we began to discuss collaboration in the classroom. Many of the students responses reflected an awareness of leadership, respect, encouragement, and comradery. Post- discussion, the students had the opportunity to practice being part of a team (and one with the very important task... Save Fred!)
I was recently posed with the question, what is teaching excellence? When I first heard the question, a million ideas flooded into my thoughts and I began to feel that this was an easy-to-answer question. However, when I began to reflect and compose my response I found the question to be much more complex than I had originally perceived. I hope to reflect on this question throughout my year as a Martin Institute Resident and the years after. For now, here is my perception of what teaching excellence might be:
Teaching excellence is a process that begins as a belief and becomes a way of life. The transition begins with having an understanding that in order to teach excellence, we must be excellent. This means that, as teachers, we are students of our profession and are dedicated to finding the most innovative and effective ways to engage students in learning. We must become immersed in discussion amongst other educators and continue to be reflective learners in our practice. Only when one is dedicated to being excellent can he or she can begin to teach excellence.
In this regard, teaching excellence becomes the way of life. It is a way of life that teachers pass onto their students through lessons, conversations, and discussions. To teach excellence means that teachers hold high expectations for their students; students are not just expected to excel academically, but also personally. Teachers must encourage students to be excellent both inside and outside the classroom. In order for students to reach these expectations though, we must serve as guides and model willingness and desire to grow. Teaching excellence also tears down the classroom walls and expands the learning into the local and global community. When teachers provide learning opportunities that connect students from the classroom to the real world, students are able to learn on a much deeper level and experience excellence.
Students who are motivated to learn, explore, and grow are the result of teaching excellence.
Now I ask you, what is teaching excellence?