Why Do We Have to Learn This?

At some point you will hear (or have already heard) a loud refrain from a child in your class:  “Why do we have to learn this?!”

Instinct may make you defensive, but this is a valid question.  And the answer can’t be — because it will be on the test or because I said so.  Students must feel their work has meaning and is valuable to them. If a child struggles to see value, they may go through the motions of the work, but they may not truly learn. The content has to be relevant to them today.why

For example, most elementary students are expected to learn about U.S. Presidents or significant historical dates and places.  Is the objective to merely memorize trivia?  Or are we challenging students to learn about characteristics of leadership, the principles of a Democratic society or how governing decisions affect our lives? 

Instruction of this type can be more than fact-based; it can be an opportunity to instill values (such as tolerance, obedience, leadership, cooperation.)  It can also provide an atmosphere for developing analytical or discussion skills.  (Ask students to compare and contrast political candidates or the impact of a local legal decision.)  

Clearly there are some facts and figures that students just have to learn.  And making it immediately relevant can be tough.  In that case, you can make the work engaging by providing different modes of delivery: books, movie clips, experiments, student-led discussions, etc.

As the teacher you must model for them how to go about problem solving. Navigating a confusing lesson is a problem that must be solved.  Talk through the topic and show your approach: what questions do you ask yourself as you make sense of a difficulty?  Celebrate when they accomplish something, teach them positive self-talk, demonstrate it for them.

Help them see that all learning is an opportunity, not an obligation.  With these tactics in play, eventually the refrain will change from “Why do we have to learn this?” to “When can we learn more about this?”

 

 

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The Morning Meeting

The Morning Meeting.  Establishing routines is a key to accomplishing goals in the elementary setting.  For many children, school may be the first environment where they’ve encountered a structured schedule.   The more you can create rhythms, habits and routines, the more quickly your students will learn to self-regulate their own time and energy, follow procedures, and achieve learning objectives.f2755a29d5f2d21057d9fb6be5252123

I like to start every day with a morning ritual that includes a greeting, daily agenda, goals for the day, and a sharing time.

Set the Tone.  I take about two minutes to welcome the group and give them an overview of what’s happening that day.  Use a positive tone to start the day upbeat, but make sure you’re businesslike and professional so they know that it’s time to get focused. Your manner will help kids focus their energy from “arrival” mode into “learning” mode.  

Daily Agenda.  Depending on what you’re teaching, try to identify two or three specific goals to highlight.  If something unique is going on during the day (a fire drill, a guest, or special activity) be sure to mention that too and quickly remind children about rules or procedures that might relate.  Be brief and stick to the big picture items. Kids will lose interest if you detail every individual piece of the day.

Care to Share.  The morning is a good time to encourage your students to report on things going on in their lives (if something big has happened, a child will want to share it anyway, and it might interrupt a lesson later in the day.)  Have a “baton” (it could be a stuffed animal, toy or special object) that you can pass around from child to child; if they don’t have anything to say, they can pass it on to the next person.  If you have a class of introverts, you might create a schedule or provide topics or prompts for certain students to prepare for in advance.

 

Squad Goals

The life of an elementary teacher can be a lonely one.  In some schools, a solo teacher may be the only adult in their classroom and have little access to others.  If she or he is lucky, an assistant or college intern may spend some time in the room.  But it’s not uncommon for them to be the only adult in sight for hours at a time. New teachers, take note:  Being proactive in building a “squad” is an essential task.

Your “squad” should be a diverse support team assembled to make life easier, provide encouragement, and keep you sane when the stress of teaching builds.  squad

Look for immediate support in the form of other teachers (in your grade level and out) and the key staff members at your building (custodian, secretary, technology, nurse, counselor, cafeteria workers, etc.)  Sharing ideas and getting feedback is an obvious benefit, but just having friendly coworkers to chat with about life and outside activities is just as important.

Developing friendships outside of school is crucial too;  having a safe and objective listener to hear your concerns is vital.  This helps you avoid the temptation to “vent” to your fellow teachers or parents.  Those conversations are dangerous; they can quickly escalate into negativity, gossip or insubordination.

Develop a healthy and proactive rapport with parents.  You don’t want your first interaction with a parent to be a discipline issue or a discussion over a child’s poor performance.  Create consistent and positive touch points where you engage with parents early and often. (I will be posting more suggestions about this in a future blog post.)

At times teachers build a wall between themselves and the administration.  They see the Principal as the “enemy,” and prefer to keep their distance, believing that “out of sight, out of mind” is a smart strategy.  Working to include administrators on your squad may be tough, but it can have great rewards.  If your administrators are receptive, here are some ways to include them on your squad as well:

  • Ask the Principal or Assistant Principal to suggest some times when sending students to the office is most convenient.  During these times, you can make a regular practice of having children share their writing, journal entries, artwork, or special projects.  If a student is struggling in an area, getting help from the Principal or Assistant Principal can be helpful, and in some ways, it might even be a refreshing change of pace for someone whose days in the classroom are in the past. Administrators have things that come up unexpectedly, but for the most part, they are happy to set aside time for brief student visits.
  • Ask your administrator to come and read a story or share an experience with your children. This will not only make them feel closer to you, but it will also help reduce the intimidation factor for your students.  They will also have a chance to better understand what you are teaching and have an appreciation for your classroom management skills.  (And you probably don’t want your Principal’s first visit to your class to be during a formal observation, do you?)
  • If you have special occasions when parents or grandparents are “guest starring” in the class (like career day or a child’s birthday party), you might reach out to your Administrators to sub in for a parent whose work schedule prevents them from participating.  Being the ‘honored guest’ of those children helps build their self esteem. (The same tactic can work with other members of the staff too.)

Ask administrative assistants, custodians, cafeteria workers or counselors to visit your room regularly too. Students see their faces every day but they may rarely interact with them. Having them share with your students is a great way to open your classroom to a new world and build positive relationships.  Other adults in your school might be able to reach and impact a student’s behavior in a positive way that as the teacher you are not able.

Visitors Welcome

When I was a teacher, I wanted my Principal and Assistant Principal to come to my room frequently; I didn’t want their first glimpse of my teaching to be on observation day! I hoped they could visit often and see my students in action, to monitor and applaud their progress. I was proud of them and wanted others to share in that pride. I also wanted the leadership team to see my approach to teaching:Welcome-Mat.jpg if I coaxed two sentences out of a reluctant reader, I wanted them there to witness the moment and celebrate with the student.

When I became an administrator, I vowed to visit classrooms regularly.  My goal is to see the full spectrum of what’s going on in the class and look for strengths in my teachers, offer suggestions, or share a simple word of encouragement. In addition, I want students to be comfortable with my presence in the room.

Teachers should also be encouraged to invite fellow faculty members into their rooms.  The administrator should take the lead to build this habit into the school’s culture, either by subbing for an hour or two to allow the teacher to observe in another room or by hiring a substitute to clear the decks.  It takes some time and effort to coordinate, but teachers can gain real insight by watching their peers lead a lesson or engage with their students.