Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Raising the Bar

As I write this I am sitting in grade 4 classroom during writing time, watching our students write opinion pieces on a topic of their choice. Some are writing why science is important in a person's life while others are writing about why we should eat broccoli. Being truly inspired by our student writers, I am going to do some writing of my own and show our students that adult writers can, like them, find inspiration and share their writing with the world.

We talk in schools about having higher expectations for students, but we rarely discuss what that actually means. To me, having high expectations of students is more about the beliefs we have for students and what they can do. Assumptions play an important role. Assumptions can limit our ability to take risks and push the boundaries of what we think is possible. It happens all the time and is completely normal, and often time we don't even realize we are doing it. But, if we are not mindful about our own preconceived notions or assumptions, we may be subconsciously limiting ourselves and others.

My last blog was about my "Word for 2016" and my plan to have the students and staff of Dexter Park choose a word. I must admit that I caught myself asking questions like "can our students choose one?" and "will they take it seriously?". Deciding to just go for it, our students far exceeded what I expected. Below is a word cloud with all our student responses. The bigger the word the more it was used by students:
Even better than the words were the conversations with students about why they chose their word. One student told me they chose "underestimate" be cause they don't want to underestimate themselves this year. Another chose "fearless"- how powerful is that?

I am not writing this because I feel that this is a deficit in our building but as I reflect on the "Word of 2016", it became clear to me that we all make assumptions each and every day. I then wonder, what would happen in all schools if:

-we were able to erase all assumptions we make about ourselves and our students?
-we give students the opportunity to have a voice and make responsible choices for themselves, such as the 4th graders choosing their own writing topic or letting them make decisions about where they sit in a classroom?
-we talked about and harnessed student strengths every day?
-we (staff, parents, etc.) took risks daily and allowed our students to take risks?
-we openly celebrate one another for taking risks and even failing?

To do this every minute of every day may be unreasonable but if we make a conscious effort in what we do, we would be amazed at the level of engaged students, the innovation that results and most importantly, the fine human beings we would be nurturing.

Thanks for reading :)

P.S. I changed my blog title...again! If you are wondering, "My View from the Balcony" didn't sit well with me, as it seems I am sitting above and watching. Spending 3 days a week in classrooms, working with students and staff on the ground, I thought my new title seems more fitting. You feedback is certainly welcome.