So here are a few confessions and some truths:
- I have a lot of anxiety about being away
- Many of my students share this anxiety
- Often, I choose not to be away even when I should be because it just seems easier all around. I have a few oh my, my, my stories from previous years that contribute to this feeling.
- While my students are delightful, happy and excited about learning, many of them could also be described as impulsive and as finding change challenging.
- The reality is that when a lot of the magic of a classroom is based on relationships, and someone new comes in in a leadership role, things can go off course. Normal “substitute” stress that has nothing to do with the capabilities of anyone. It’s just the way it is.
But, this year I have decided that I need to be human. And sometimes I am sick. And sometimes I have to go to the dentist. And sometimes I have an exciting learning or teaching opportunity elsewhere. I need to be away sometimes. My students need to be able to manage.
So I decided to involve my students in the process more. When I was away at the end of September, we planned for a Guest Teacher collectively. Did I think this would ensure that all would go perfectly smoothly? No. I have young students. Impulsivity, anxiety and change is still impulsivity, anxiety and change no matter how prepared one might be. But, did I think our collective ownership of the day would lead to the day having more potential for calm, happiness and learning? Yes!
And so over the course of about a week, we spent a little of every day planning for our guest. Everyone, including adults who might be in the room wrote an introduction sticky note. (** We are the self named Harmony Class because when we talked about what it meant to have three grades in one room, one brilliant child observed, “It’s like a harmony.” And the name has stuck! :-))
Each child took a moment to share something special about themselves and that helped us to remind each other that not only are all of us special and unique but that the teacher would be too. We had a chance to meet someone new.
I put up a blank day plan that had times and activities using large chart papers. Everyday we spent a little bit of time filling in details together. For example, what should we do in math that would be successful? The students chose to play Gridlock, a game they had played before to practice coordinate systems. Everyone voted that this would be an activity where we could be engaged and independent.
Eventually, our day plan looked like this. While I filled in the chart, student input was included for each activity. They reminded me of routines, important details and special instructions.
For some procedural details, students added their own sticky notes to elaborate on our directions. I love the lunchtime directions, particularly this one:
“Stay for a bit but not a lot to make sure we are calm.”
So . . . the verdict?
Well, some things went beautifully . . . I received this tweet from one of the Support Workers who spends time in my room:
— Erich MP (@ErichMP) September 25, 2013
The note from my Guest Teacher started like this:
“Thanks for the day plan. You have a very sweet group of kids. Everything went as planned.”
It ended like this:
“I enjoyed my day with them.”
In the middle it referred to an “incident” – I’m okay with that. Truly, even when I am there, we often have an “incident” 🙂 Or two . . . Perfection was not our goal. The beginning of owning the day together was. As was respect, building community and learning how to welcome guests into that community.
The next day in Writing Workshop we had two prompts: Think about your day with the Guest Teacher, write about something you felt proud about and share a “work on for me” thing. Many students shared that they were proud of their hard work, that they were kind and polite to the teacher and that they did many activities as planned. A general “work on for me” theme was about improving listening, and being more quiet at carpet time. One little guy said he needed to work on being more patient. The noise at times had frustrated him. Students were honest and reflective.
So would I do this again if I am know in advance I am going to be away? Absolutely.
My reflections would be this:
I felt proud of my students for working together to plan a day for a Guest Teacher to share the room with them. A “work on thing” for me would be truly relaxing and knowing that we did our very best to prepare for a smooth day. I mostly relaxed whereas in the past, I never did. Again, the goal was not a perfect day but rather working towards developing more responsibility and independence. That road is a long one and we need to travel it one step at a time. This collective planning allowed us to sprint ahead here and there!