Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's a Culture Thing

The change began several years ago for me after reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Rafe Esquith. He spends a lot of time talking about teachers giving up as much time as possible to their students. He is a firm believer that schools would be better if teachers would increase the contact time they can give to their students. Have time during lunch? Start a book club. Have extra time after school? Start a guitar club. His theory is kids will learn better if they have more opportunities to practice the skill.

As a sports guy, I completely related to this statement. If I have a player who needs to get better at free throws, I have them shoot more from the line. If I have player that needs to improve their dribbling skills in soccer, I make sure they increase their touches on the ball. Have trouble turning a double play in baseball? You got it! We are spending extra time on that part of the game...

I immediately found time during my school day to take students: lunch time. My school is still a walking district where students can go home for lunch. As a result, we have one hour for lunch everyday. I decided this would be the time to use and increase my contact time with my students.

Since that day, I am proud to say, I have created a solid culture of learning in my classroom. I go down to the lunchroom Monday through Thursday to take a group up to my room. This group has been as small as two or three and as many as standing room only. The students come back to my room to work on redoes/retakes or to do corrections. The students have also used the time to retake quizzes or tests that they would like to show improvement on. Also, the students may need to get extra help on a topic. I have found this to be a great way to get to know the students outside of the classroom setting. This smaller setting provides an environment where some students are more likely to ask questions. It gives me an opportunity to see where they are going wrong and help them correct it.

I did not realize that my practice was getting noticed until my Superintendent pointed it out to me about a year ago. He informed me that he overheard Fifth Graders saying to their friends: "That will be me going up next year." That had a profound impact on me....

What if we all made decisions based on how it would impact learning? What if every decision by every teacher was centered on this very question? Would we all have the same classroom? NO! That's the beauty of what we do. We all would have different styles or techniques that we would use to get the most learning out of every student that entered our room. We would push ourselves to focus on what the students are learning instead of what we are teaching!

Whether you are a teacher that uses project-based activities or hands out worksheets, if you make every decision about creating a positive culture of learning, you will have a positive impact on your students. That kind of culture is contagious. Students want to be in that kind of environment. They crave for the classroom that invites them in and challenges them while they are there. Our students deserve that opportunity!

I think as educators we get so caught up in the latest "buzz-words" that we forget that the most important thing a student wants is a teacher that is excited to be in the same room as them. A teacher that gives 100 percent everyday. A teacher that works hard at creating an environment that focuses on learning and all the ups and downs that go along with that.

I am still looking at ways to improve as a teacher. I am constantly looking at changing my questioning skills, pacing or grading practices. But the one thing that will not change is the culture we have created in the classroom. I will not agree to anything that will disrupt this. My students, and myself as well, are better because of it.

What are you doing to create a positive culture of learning for your students? Please share your ideas/practices. I would love to hear what others are doing!

1 comment:

Ben Gilpin said...

I enjoyed your post Jim. You hear the saying, "You've gotta walk before you run." I think it relates to this topic. Educators need to create a learning culture before deep learning can take place.

My favorite part of this post was: "I think as educators we get so caught up in the latest "buzz-words" that we forget that the most important thing a student wants is a teacher that is excited to be in the same room as them."

Love that and Believe that! As educators it is critical to model and share our love of teaching. Thanks for sharing with me. - Ben