I am up early on a Sunday planning my week ahead for school. Our first day will be Tuesday!
Most years, I begin with an eye toward setting the tone for the course. I have them work from the moment they enter the room. I have the seating chart already set from day one. We are certainly happy to see each other and excited in our tones, but I make it clear we are here to learn. I remember a former colleague told me she expects the kids to hate her after that first week or two because it sets the no-nonsense tone for her classroom for the rest of the year. I have never been that extreme (I certainly do not want kids to hate me), but I understand her motivation.
This year, though, I am changing my approach. Our state has asked teachers to welcome students back into our buildings with care and opportunities for connection during the entire first week of school, and to hold off on content until the second week. For some students this will be the first time they have stepped inside a school building in over a year and a half. There is obvious trepidation and anxiety, and a week of establishing relationships will benefit all of us. Though I am not required to follow these guidelines from the state, I decided the people that made these recommendations know what they are doing – so I am going to do my best to honor their request.
I am nervous myself. The reality of COVID-19 stirs so many emotions for me. I am also concerned about setting the wrong tone in my class. I do not want to give the impression that my care for my students means we just do what we want when we want (actually this is not a real fear of mine, just one I have heard expressed to me from others). I am pretty sure that when I implement this correctly we will be working and learning in no time!
Changing the subject a little, there are other aspects of my teaching that are different than I expected. Like many other teachers, I was a good student. I understood how to get good grades and did not need to work too hard for most of them. School performance came naturally to me. When I envisioned teaching, I only knew from my own experience as a student. I certainly had ideas of what I might do differently, but most of my expectations of my role as an educator were framed from my perception as a student. Teachers lecture, students take notes, homework is given, teachers walk around and help those working, etc. The process worked for me as a student and I was certain it worked for everyone that just followed the formula.
School has changed since then, and I am so glad! I figured this out quickly in my teacher preparation program. My eyes were opened to all of the flaws of the system described above, and the opportunities for educating differently. What worked for me decades earlier does not work for the majority of students today. So, I do things differently.
One of those differences should be obvious to my frequent readers. I take students outside. From 8th grade to senior year, my students expect they will spend some time in our outdoor learning environment. We participate in different activities out there at each grade level, but every curriculum includes time outside. One tool I started to work with last year was nature journaling. I am working to become more educated about the use of nature journals. My students will continue to use these tools this year and learn along with me. The BEST resource for nature journaling is https://johnmuirlaws.com. This site provides free videos, lessons, even books and curriculum! Check it out 🙂
I leave you with two suggestions as you enter or continue this year of education: 1. Do something different, and 2. Get students outside!
Good luck to all of us!