Twenty years ago, I had the privilege of being assigned to an Eighth Grade Civics teacher for one of my Education classes at Elizabethtown College. I had the opportunity to sit in his class twice a week and observe his classes. I had the chance to see how he organized a lesson, dealt with classroom disruptions and interacted with the children in his classroom. Hanging above the chalkboard was a sign: "No One of Us is as Smart as All of Us." This slogan was the cornerstone of the culture in his classroom. He used this strategy to engage students in discussions from the voting process to The Bill of Rights.
After some reflection, I realized I have not strayed too far from this same slogan. I do believe, however, I have taken a slightly different spin on it. I have used this slogan to constantly push for a Growth Mindset in my classroom. I passionately believe that ALL students can succeed. I believe that ALL students can learn. How is this possible? By creating an environment where all students are encouraged to complete retakes and redoes if they failed in their first attempt at learning. With this mindset, students do not give up because they understand that their teacher has created a system that allows for improvement in everything they do. Persistency is a key ingredient to a life-long learner.
Standards Based Grading (SBG) has been a huge help in creating this environment in my classroom as well. Here, students are "graded" on how they demonstrate their knowledge of the standards in the curriculum, excluding everything that is linked to behavior or habits. Do not get me wrong, behavior and habits are important, but they are on-going skills for my students to learn. I can not in good conscience punish a student with a lower grade because he or she does not have the home environment that is conducive to completing homework. Therefore, I must find other ways to let him or her show their understanding.
Administratively, I would apply this same Growth Mindset with my staff as well. Specifically, Teacher Observations are an excellent way to work with the teachers to reflect on the areas they do well and the topics they can show growth on. I believe that if this relationship is done correctly, teachers will be more open to frequent observations as long as the feedback is relevant, timely and concise. Creating an environment where teachers are eagerly looking to reflect and improve on their craft is a critical role of an administrator.
In the above paragraph, I have mentioned another key ingredient to my educational philosophy: Making and Maintaining Connections. The culture I have created in my room would not be possible if I did not take the time to talk and learn from my students. I spend extra time engaging them in conversations to find out things about them. I ask questions about a sports game, a play they acted in, a concert they sang or played in or a trip they recently took. I honestly believe taking this extra time to get to know my students sends the message that I think they are a key member of a classroom. My experience tells me students are more likely to work for a teacher who has taken the time to get to know them.
Social Media is another way I have made and maintained connections. I am a better educator now because of the connections I have made through Twitter. I am able to connect with educators from around the world to discuss things from Increasing Parental Involvement to Taking Steps to Eliminate Bullying in our Schools. Through these connections, I have been able to take control of my own Professional Learning. This is the most attractive feature of Twitter, the fact that I do not have to wait until a certain day on the school calendar when I can join a Twitter chat several times a week.
Lastly, I would also push for connecting with the families of our students. I would reach out to let them know I think they are a critical part of our school community. I would seek their feedback on ways to improve our school, while maintaining high academic standards. These connections might have to be done at PTO meetings, sporting events, band recitals or theater productions. Being visible is a great way to increase the chance of making a connection.
I am excited to see how my philosophy changes over the last half of my career. What new technology will allow me to keep growing and connecting with new people? Regardless of what the future might bring, I am looking forward to the challenges that I may face. My connections have allowed me to see that it truly takes a village, because "No One of Us is as Smart as All of Us."!