Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why are you doing that?

A big part of my professional development this summer has involved reflecting about the way that I automatically do things as a teacher - and daring myself to change when necessary.

A big part of mentoring new teachers involves this same intellectual stretching -
daring to ask them:

Why did you do it that way?
Was it successful? What were its drawbacks?
Is that what you hoped to accomplish?
Is there another approach?

Teaching necessarily involves being open to learning new approaches, taking risks in the classroom, and revising again. It is essential to have time and space for reflection about our teaching. It is so wonderful when teachers can be mirrors to one another, helping each other to reflect and to look at things differently.

A group of new teachers worked with a group of five year olds to create an "emotional continuum" - encouraging the children to think about their emotions, all the different things they feel. This was a fun, engaging, and creative curriculum idea - a lovely exercise at the beginning of a school year, or, in this case, summer program, to help young children get in touch with the range of their emotions and how we all feel differently at different times.

The group quickly came up with a few "tried and true" emotions -

Yes, happy.
Of course, angry.
Sometimes, scared.

The teachers were thrown a few "curve balls," when a free-thinking five year old said:

"I feel excitire." She wrote the word on the board for us, and explained that excitire was "when you are so excited you feel tired."

Another five year old suggested:
"I feel Chicken Wings!" and began to flap his arms as wings and move furiously about the room. We learned that Chicken Wings is a particular kind of silly.

Still another, feeding off of this creative surge in the brainstorming, added:
"I feel ezcere;" he, too, wrote the word on the board for us, and explained that ezcere means "you are trying to do something and really focused."

Everyone had a lot of fun dramatizing each of these emotions - both the "tried and true," familiar ones and the brand new creations by the free-thinkers. They acted them out as a class and I took photos of everyone - both students and teachers - "being" that emotion.

The next day, I came into the classroom to observe the new teachers. I saw that the emotion photos were printed out and posted along the meeting rug area - lovely! Throughout the summer program, the children will have a daily ritual of "checking in" in the morning ( and anytime they feel like it during the day) and then placing a clothespin (labelled with their name) on the emotion they are feeling.

But, on closer inspection, I saw:

the three "curve ball" emotions were not included in the emotion continuum.
I was puzzled.
I knew that we dramatized these wild creations - I remembered taking the photos myself.

Ahhh...I see...
Perhaps these made up words aren't good enough?

How often do we do this to children - trump their ideas with our adult beliefs?
How often do we ignore their playfulness or wit, in the interest of time? In the interest of accomplishing our own goals?
What is the value of including and running with children's own ideas in our curriculum planning?
Why might it be difficult to include children's ideas?
How flexible is the curriculum plan? Is there room for children's own input?
How might children's engagement in the topic be affected?
What is your intention as teacher - to fill children with your wisdom or to light a spark within, so that they seek to fill themselves?
What changes can you make in your planning so that children's ideas are more welcome?

This became a teachable moment for the new teachers about the value of using authentic student work. It was also a teachable moment for me, as I realized how suddenly and unexpectedly good teaching can be undone or stalled because we are focusing on time and efficiency, "getting the curriculum across."

Teachers need
time to reflect, and
colleagues who act like mirrors.

Why did you do it that way?
Was it successful? What were its drawbacks?
Is that what you hoped to accomplish?
Is there another approach?


  1. As usual, reading your blog centers me in my work - even though it is summer and I'm working with soon to be first graders instead of preschoolers, your entry has me jotting ideas down for September. I'm going to be in a new space too, but right now all of my equipment is piled onto a 15' square rug in the middle of the room. I'm overwhelmed.

  2. Thank you for this! Isn't it amazing how we move from that "overwhelmed" feeling to "action!" every year? Teachers are amazing this way! We always get through it.