Step back for a moment, if you will, from curriculum mandates. Away from Common Core and inauthentic assessment. Away from parental angst about getting their children into the “right” next school. Take a birds’ eye view at why we teach. Isn’t the point to transform and be transformed? To support and witness children growing in competence, confidence, and kindness? To see them grow into thoughtful, compassionate citizens of their class, school, local community, and world? And, more selfishly, to be transformed ourselves…which is what happens when our classrooms are themselves intentional learning communities where children learn who they are by being who they are, by challenging themselves, by persisting in the face of frustration and by learning how it feels to belong to their community.
If these are the goals, our responsibility as teachers is to ask (and really listen to the answers): Is what we are doing in the classroom going to get us there? Are my young students learning to make decisions as citizens must? Are they learning to negotiate through social conflict when it occurs as caring community members must? Are they challenging themselves and developing awake minds as perennial learners must? Do they perceive their classmates as family, who mostly enjoy each other but also must learn how to resolve conflict in a way that satisfies both sides?
In my opinion, these are the basics. The truth is, when all this is in place, academic learning comes so much easier, so much more efficiently. Recently I have witnessed hard-working, dedicated and incredibly frustrated teachers trying to meet academic requirements who feel their only resort is to exert even more control over their young students, which confuses and dulls the senses of the children and leads to even more frustration by the teachers. I’m not even sure they know that they are frustrated or that they don’t have to be.
Nearby, one Kindergarten teacher, facing the same mandates, is finding a way to do both…to meet district requirements while honoring what the children really deserve. It’s been hard work for her this year, co-constructing this community of learners with me (as consultant), but she’s seeing the fruits of her labors. The children have developed a sense of agency. They are learning what feeds their (individual) intellects. They choose to work collaboratively. Their language (and nine of the children are English speakers of other languages) is blossoming. Their myriad moments of brilliance are transforming this teacher’s image of the child and her image of herself as a teacher.
I’m working on an ebook that describes our collaboration on this teacher’s journey. But, on this Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t resist writing ahead about my wonder and love for this process, for this act of teaching as transformation.