Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Building Blocks to Success

Our building blocks to success have replaced our traditional "rules."  Our focus is now directed to acting responsible as a learner, making personal choices to be courageous and engaged, and taking the time to focus on and celebrate the growth that is being made in our community (and selves).  We begin the conversation with our students by stacking building blocks as a visual model, also relating this concept to SYSTEMS.  What happens if one of these 3 is not present?  The blocks will not be stable; the system will fall a part.  

So why is WORK HARD on the bottom?  Because it is the foundation of our system.  We must choose to make responsible choices on a daily basis to be a focused learner.  A learner who comes to the learning community with a purpose.  A learner who has the mindset of participating and choosing to be engaged each and every moment. 

BE COURAGEOUS is our middle block because it is what truly makes the difference for us as successful learners.  It holds the hard work and celebration together, as without having a growth mindset to endure challenges it is easy to give up.  

CELEBRATE GROWTH is the top block, as it represents the goals we are trying to reach.  It reminds us that moments of celebration are necessary and should be a part of our community.  We must take the time to recognize the success of each other through the learning process.  And as one of our students mentioned, "By taking the time to celebrate the goals we accomplish we just want to learn more and more and more!"

This year our students recognized PERSEVERANCE as the overall theme of these building blocks, as well.  As we focus directly on the 8 Mathematical Practices, Capacities of a Learner, and Habits of the Mind, we are currently making genuine connections to where perseverance applies in our daily life.  Our students instantly noticed that perseverance was a key ingredient deep within each of the blocks.

Our shift in thinking from such an intent focus on "following the rules" to "being an engaged/dedicated learner" has truly made all the difference.  We have had a higher rate of focus, participation, and excitement.  Through this perspective we are able to build a community within our classroom more quickly, establish a solid foundation for our learning environment, and offer challenges more readily.  But more than anything, these blocks provide our students with a clear purpose when they walk into their learning space.  They know the expectations are high, but we offer them an environment for individuality to shine, and a safe space for risks and challenges to exist because we will celebrate each other every step of the way together.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Starting the School Year with a Student-Centered Perspective

Poster found here.

Ann and I start the school year now from a completely different perspective:  We are facilitators in a student-centered classroom.  

Sure we can choose our color scheme (blue, black, and silver!), our concept of focus (SYSTEMS), our theme (Robots), and even a slogan ("Gearing up to learn...Sparks will fly!").  But those are just things we choose in the hopes that we will inspire our students from the moment they walk into their learning space.  Preparing anything beyond that is nearly impossible.  

Something wasn't feeling right as we approached the first day this school year, and we finally we realized what is was:  our kids were missing!

Then I was reading some of my favorite blogs the day before school started and came across a post by Pernille Ripp.  She too was feeling the same way me and Ann were.  In a student-centered classroom, you can only prepare so much for the first day of school; and the second day, and the third, and the fourth... for that matter.  The students drive our decision making on a daily basis.  In order to know the direction we will go, to make our lesson plans definite, to decide on specific materials and strategies, our kids must be present.  We must have countless opportunities to get to know their personalities, their strengths, their challenges, their interests and their ambitions.  

And as if it was meant to be, I came across the poster above created by Krissy Venosdale.  It put everything I have expressed and felt into very simple terms.  As educators with a student-centered mindset, we focus on one day at a time.  And everything we do is built on the premise of truly making dreams come true.

Here's to all the classrooms that whisper "you complete me" to students as they enter each day.