Every classroom that has been in full swing for four or more days probably appears like a well-oiled machine. It amazes me how quickly teachers and students alike adopt procedures, rituals and routines with lightening speed and quickly move into the content.
We all give heavy thought to developing relationships with our students and, I believe, work very hard to build those student to teacher relationships. However, I think we may need to reflect and re-evalulate.
Are we changing how we facilitate and coach how our students interact?
We all agree there is more emphasis on group work, “talk moves,” collaborative learning and peer feedback, as it should be. We all agree that WE, the educator in the room, have worked to establish a community of trust and respect… but, dare I say, WE direct that so it is about the teacher to student relationship, not the student to student relationships. In fact, many times the classroom will have the “look” of a student-designed and led learning environment, but when we peel back the layers it is very much teacher directed and led.
As I reflect on this, I know I may be upsetting educators by my questions. I am fully aware of the pressures and the dense curriculum and content breathing down the necks of classroom educators that must be delivered in a finite amount of time with data that reflects critical thinking visibly, depth of knowledge and a transfer of knowledge across disciplines.
Consider, though, if we are wanting students to think in deep and creative ways that must come from a deeply personal place. If students own their learning, then the feedback and input of others, particularly peers, can be profoundly scary if there is not the relationships and trust built between students.
We are asking students to get in front of their peers and present, sit with their peers and share their ideas and thinking, create solutions and products with other students passionate about the same ideas via PBL opportunities, but are we facilitating a “Ropes course” approach to building those teams of learners within the walls of our classroom?
If you are wanting to create an environment of self-driven autonomous learners that thrive in their learning community, then I challenge you to reflect and re-evaluate.
Here are a few questions I would ask myself to be sure the relationships are just as much about the student to student relationships as they are about the student to teacher relationship:
1. Does everyone in the class know everyone’s name with ease (first and last)?
2. With getting to know you activities have they first been shared with a small group, then, when sharing out the “get to know you” facts someone other than the student in the group shares with the class?
3. Can students share with each other why another student’s presence with specificity is essential to the entire team (class) learning? (What makes them uniquely important to this particular class?)
4. Can students in your class share with passion what the community agreements or norms for learning are and why they are essential to the classroom?
5. Do your students see your classroom as an opportunity to practice democracy? (Are you training them to live in a democracy when they grow up, or are you giving them the chance to live in one today?- Alfie Kohn, TRIBES by Jeanne Gibbs, p. 25)
As educators, I know that we are risk-takers and want to encourage our students to be risk-takers as well. To do that, in the classrooms of today, we can no longer be the only relationship builder, we must intentionally coach and facilitate positive relationship building between students. They need to be sure of not just the safety of learning with the teacher, but with their peers.
Lauren. “My Still Small World.” The Loveliest Hour. N.p., 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2014.
How are you ensuring a learning community that is developed, driven and passionately protected by your students for their peers?