Sunday, October 28, 2012

Intentional Inspiration in a Concrete Way

 How do we make Intentional Inspiration a reality in our classroom?  Read on:

1.        Engage- Find a meaningful way to reach your learners.  Identify colors, symbols, and a motto that supports the yearlong learning theme.  Allow this inspirational concept to reach learners from all avenues.  Use this theme to connect learners’ thinking and experiences across the content areas.  Infusing a foundational concept that motivates students to rise to the occasion will make an incredible difference and establish the tone within your learning community.

 For example, we have chosen to use trees as a metaphor for our students’ growth this year. We have decorated our classroom with blue, green, and brown tones to create a calm and homey feel. Our classroom motto of “Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth” is a direct link to our collective growth mindset. There is also a large banner on the wall outside our classroom that states: “Learning is Growing!” Working with this idea, as we each measure our own growth toward our personal goals this year, we will constantly make connections to our self as a seed planted into our classroom environment, being nurtured each and every day during the learning process. Our students are not only focused on their own personal achievement, but rather the entire forest of learners.

2.       Connect- Meet your students where they are.   Take the time to get to know each individual.  An understanding of their academic strengths and challenges should be balanced with a knowledge base regarding their personalities and interests.  Consider specific entry points that will capture their attention and allow them to make authentic personal connections to the classroom community’s learning theme.  Establish a daily routine with significant rituals that build camaraderie and celebrate the diversity within the Student Learning Community.

 Each morning we meet our students in the CC, the Community Center, of our classroom.  This is the space where students come together as learners to partake in daily rituals.  Each morning starts with a Brain Breakfast. As each child enters the CC and meets with their peers, they are focusing their brains on thinking critically and creatively with a prompt that varies from quotes to poems, to songs or pieces of art, but always links in some way to our process of learning, communication and infusion of information.  Here, students take time to reflect and connect to the prompt, then turn to discuss with a partner before sharing with the whole group. This ritual is so natural and welcoming to our students that they often suggest quotes and create art to inspire future Brain Breakfast prompts.  Each discussion allows the students the opportunity to share their creative thinking, to make connections to like and unlike concepts, and also to be heard, appreciated and supported by the community.

3.       Personalize- Allow the environment to rise up and greet your students each day.  This space should be their home away from home, truly providing a comfort in resources that will meet their personal needs.  A foundation should be established for the development of independence by way of individual goals.  Each child should have a personal map to guide them along the path of their learning journey.  Daily experiences should motivate them to celebrate their strengths and attack challenges.   Above all, your students should deeply feel and believe in your promise of providing them a personalized learning experience. 

Celina and I believe in a Students First approach, where the classroom goals and expectations are centered on meeting students where they are, providing what they need to move forward with success.  This means we have created a classroom that celebrates individual strengths and differences, which develops a disposition within our students of self-direction with their learning.  Students set goals around their own needs and access a variety of resources suited to their own learning style and level of understanding in order to build on their knowledge base. While goals may be similar between students, the ways in which they need to gain that information are entirely unique to each child. Large and lofty standards and essential questions are often posted to expand the sense of direction and possibility within our classroom, and to connect student learning to the larger purpose of collective understanding. Daily experiences within our classroom encourage students to share and relate to their peers, learning from them and teaching as necessary. Around our classroom displays of their artwork add color to our room, rather than commercial posters or pre-printed materials, so that students see they are valued.  They are the reason we are here!

4.       Empower-  Embed the 5 strategies of choice, reflection, self-assessment, students as teachers, and voice in all aspects our your daily routine.  Inspire students by allowing dependable rituals to exist, but ones in which their thinking is stretched and enlightened by engaging processes.  Provide unlimited opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning and design plans and activities that help them reach their own goals. 

Students must feel that they direct the learning process, which is essential to independence.  Celina and I guide rather than direct.  We know that the best learning comes from finding the information on one’s own, connecting to prior knowledge (which is different for each child) and being actively engaged from the beginning to the end.  By enabling our students to choose their resources, goals and learning path, they are empowered to "own" the learning. Routine reflection helps our students to learn from each other and be critical thinkers of their own process. Self-assessment keeps students accountable to their personal goals and active in their responsibility as a learner within our community. Students take a dynamic and engaged role when they have the chance to teach their peers and community members about what they are learning.  They use their voice in positive ways to expand the knowledge of others and to be recognized and included in the community. Lifelong learning is a process of empowerment, but the seeds of it start now with the learning experiences students experience when they are young.

5.       Believe-  Take a step back, genuinely let go, and believe.  They will ultimately rise to the occasion when they have been inspired to be themselves, and when a solid platform has been built to allow them to stand strong.  A real sense of trust develops when you have provided a variety of resources, and then you allow those options to be accessed with their own discretion during the learning process.  A huge part of trust is when students know you are there to catch them when they fall.  So step out of their way, but do so with your arms wide open. 

It is often said that high expectations provide top-notch results and elementary classrooms are no exception.  When children feel that their unique needs and styles are allowed and appreciated they can begin to find their own true voice and move forward with confidence.  This required Celina and I to step away from the traditional model of teaching we had used in the past.  No longer are we the fount of knowledge within our room.  We became the “active guides at the sides”, encouraging and cheering our students on to greater levels of trust within themselves as learners. Our classroom is often a busy hive of chatter as our students are continually communicating and challenging each other to grow. Students are thinking critically about what they are learning, their approaches to accessing information, and their direction in terms of the overarching standards and essential questions. They think creatively in ways to solve problems, connect their understanding and showcase what they know. They collaborate constantly, from teaching each other, working in groups, creating team projects or supporting each other in learning. 

 Intentional Inspiration is possible in all classrooms, and essential for the future of our students. Learning is not a passive activity but one of true engagement.  We do our students a disservice if we ignore or snuff out their genuine curiosity about themselves and their world.  Why work against the tide?  Why not create an environment that generates excitement, ownership, enthusiasm and ideas?  The world of their future will not need a herd of drones who can only recite but not think. Why not engage in students being teachers, reflecting, sharing their voice, assessing their own level of understanding and making choices about their learning?  Information in today's world is constantly evolving, and students must be adaptable, reflective and motivated to keep up with the everchanging world around them. Why not develop students who feel connected, valued, appreciated and heard?  Don't we want that for ourselves as well? Isn't that the true measure of community? Why not build confidence and self-direction, passion for learning and capacity for self-determination?  The students of today will experience a world we cannot begin to imagine and we fail them if we do not help them to be critical thinkers, reflective observers and active participants in gaining knowledge. Why not inspire them now?  ~Ann





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