Friday, October 14, 2011

An Exceptional Day

I've been thinking a great deal lately about consciously and consistently creating an environment of collaboration and what that might look like in our school.  I know that one thing we are weak on is taking full advantage of the knowledge and skills of learners.  This has required a personal shift in focus where I no longer see students, but teachers.  These are people who can teach others and I am beginning to deliberately plan for this. "Who can teach so and so how to ....?" is a question I now ask several times a day.  It also frees up my time to work with those who actually need help.

Today the teachers in 62 taught Mrs Dunford's grade 3 class how to use The Commons.  They were exceptional - I heard careful clear instructions, I heard encouragement and celebration, I heard cautions on working in a public space and creating a positive digital footprint.  It occurred to me how often we baby things down for learners.  A common task in school is to have students write instructions on how to do something inane - like make a sandwich or tie a shoe.  Why not just put students into situations where they have to give useful instructions for real tasks? As soon as something is not explained precisely, the learner must respond and give a more accurate and thorough explanation. The work of giving instructions becomes real.  Feedback is immediate. Success is observable.

At the end of computer time the grade 3s knew how to use and post on the commons and the 6's felt proud of having taught them.

I had an equally exciting day with my grade 7's - probably one of the best days of my teaching career.  I've written previously that I know my 7's very well and that there is a strong relationship of trust between us.  This has allowed us to enter into new territory.

One of the things that we are learning to do very well is reflect on not just our learning, but on the whole process of learning in our classroom.  Today was Friday, so we took the time to discuss issues. What's going well? What's working?  What do we need to pay attention to?  I have to say they caught me by surprise.  There was an adult level of discussion and they were frank and honest in their assessments.

They began - not with what they don't like, but with what they feel is going well. It turns out, quite a bit:

They like that
-they have freedom and are able to move around
-that they can go outside of the room to find a quiet space
-that they can go to the lab
-that they are allowed to work in ways that match how they learn
-that we talk openly and honestly about what really matters
-that there is a relaxed environment - they don't feel stressed in our room
-that they are given large chunks of time to work on things
-that they can choose when to work on things or take a break when needed
-that we use technology
-that there are clear expectations most of the time
-that we actually talk about how we are learning and what gets in the way of learning
-that there are no assigned seats
-that they can choose different tools to represent what they have learned
-that they feel listened to and respected

Issues -

A. We have two projects on the go - one a reading assignment and one a writing assignment
My 7s had lots to say about this. There were two camps.

1. Preferred to have only 1 major assignment because
-could be more thorough
-time management is an issue
-they're not sure how to prioritize
-feeling overwhelmed so procrastinate
-not sure of the expectations

2. Preferred multiple projects because
-they get bored only working on 1 thing
-allows you to switch
-more interesting to be learning about different things.

We ended up having a great discussion about how to handle this. For the students who feel unable to focus or overwhelmed, we decided to let one project drop by the wayside and do a thorough job on the other.

The students want a more visible tracking system in the classroom so they can see where they are at and don't have to try to remember when they enter what they need to work on next.  They will design the system - not me!

B. Taking advantage of quiet unsupervised work spaces.  Some students admitted that they have been taking advantage of this, so we came up with a plan. They want specific assigned quiet spots and they would like to be monitored a little more often when they are in them

C. Videos that we watch in class. One student mentioned that she finds it hard to understand everything that is in them and would like the opportunity to view them AHEAD OF TIME (flipped classroom!!!!) So we've agreed to create a livebinder of all videos.

D. Not enough school connect computers, which interferes with their ability to work at times.

What happened next was interesting.  Having analysed carefully the learning process in the room, students were ready.  They worked solidly on task for the next 60 minutes. I had to supervise no one.  I directed no one.

This gave me time to sit with one student who was feeling overwhelmed and teach her how to use her agenda to plan work so that she incldues free time, family time and homework time. She planned her next two weeks based on her family schedule and left quite happy that this would allow her to meet her goals.

I was able to meet with another student and set specific goals for completing a project. What was interesting is that he, based on his self-identified issue,devised a plan that he is comfortable with.  All he needed was encouragement to follow his instincts. This student then worked quietly for an hour and for the first time ever, I had to ask him to stop working.

One of my students articulated how everyone was feeling. She said, "It's as if we're not kids in here," to which others agreed.

I'm trying to find words to describe the atmosphere in the room and the only thing I can think of is we all felt lighter. It was an exceptional day indeed!


  1. Amazing! I wish I had you as my teacher when i was in school. Although if I had, I may not be in the profession. I chose the job because I wanted to help as many kids as I could feel appreciated and capable of achieving success at school. Those are things that I did not feel until my twenties. Your students know how important they are to you and how much you believe in them. Bravo!!

  2. Beautiful!! I wish I had you as one of my teachers when I was that age. Although if I did, I may never have ended up in the profession. The only reason that I got into teaching was to try to make sure that I could help some people enjoy school more than I did. My goal was simply to try to ensure that I helped as many kids as I could feel appreciated and feel that they were capable of successfully learning at school. Those were not feelings that I enjoyed until my twenties. Your students definitely feel valued and empowered. Bravo!

  3. Once again, thanks for your kind words. That's interesting, James, that it is also the difficulties that we encounter that send us in new directions. The idea of learning from failure and challenge is equally important.


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