I have been teaching for more than two decades and I still find the whole concept of school completely fascinating. A number of children who share ages and stages but not necessarily experiences and values coming together to form quite intimate communities where they will spend hours together every day. They will take risks, navigate conflicts and learn beside, from and in spite of each other. The adults involved will teach, guide and facilitate, yes. But they will also take risks, navigate conflicts and do the same deep learning (or at least they should).
Just like we don’t choose our families, in many ways we don’t choose our teachers or our students. We find ourselves together and we muddle through, figuring lots out along the way. Really, we spend more active, awake, engaged time with each other in our classroom communities than we do with our own families at home. 5 days a week. 10 months of the year. 6 or more hours a day.
Yet, when we talk classrooms, we spend LOTS of time talking education and learning. Motivation. Engagement. Challenge. Barriers. Supports. Achievement. Enrichment. Skill building. Independence. Progress. On it goes. Current buzz words and the consistent tried and true vocabulary of education.
But when we experience classrooms – as in, occupy classrooms for those 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months, it is mostly about relationships. Because none of that other stuff happens without them. At least not as deeply, meaningfully and wonderfully as it could. And should.
Talking about relationships is complicated. There is not a curriculum guide, performance standard or professional read that is going to provide the “how to guide” for each particular group of students and teachers. Each year, in September, we begin figuring it out and when we say goodbye in June, those of us that are honest know – there is still much to learn.
If we did spend more time talking about relationships, we might spend more time on questions like:
- What would be taught in Teacher Education about working with children? Not behaviour management but relationship dynamics and community building.
- What professional learning opportunities would continue to be offered in districts that focused on social emotional learning and making connections?
- What are the benefits of multi-age classes?
- How could we set up a school where every teacher loops classes of children so that we all spend 2 years together? Is this good practice? And is it good for our students?
- What are the most effective ways of building classroom communities – from the making of the class lists themselves to the way we begin our year together?
- How do we extend those strong student-teacher connections to student- other adult connections throughout the school?
- How do we encourage our learners to also be leaders and teachers?
- How can strong classrooms be enhanced by strong school communities?
- How can we build connections between classrooms?
- How do we make it okay to talk about the fact that if the mandate of school is simply to provide an education, we have forgotten that we are educating people? And growing citizens? And making a culture of care the norm, not the exception?
- What can and should a culture of care really mean?
- Why is care not as important as standards?
- How do we connect our communities to neighbourhood? To local and global initiatives?
- How do we celebrate and make room for happiness?
- What do we really value when we make decisions about children?
If we shared honestly and easily that building relationships and finding ways to work and learn together is where we really spend much of our time, would it be easier to share the challenges, the triumphs, and the worries?
Would we allow more time to connect throughout each day of the year and stop the mad dash curriculum racing so many feel pressured by?
Would we talk more openly about mental health? About stress? About trauma? About the barriers to learning that have nothing to do with learning itself and everything to do with our students’ capacity to manage in the world?
Would we more freely celebrate the things that we can’t measure on a test or a rubric? Like kindness and generosity. Compassion. Humility. Forgiveness. Trust. Happiness. Joy. And not as part of a token week, a flash mob event or a short lived theme. But anytime and any day that we see it?
Would we grant educators the time to address needs? Time to truly see children for who they are and what they are telling us with some of their unexpected and confusing behaviours? Would we put supports in place to allow us to be more responsive when we do uncover truths and hardships and struggles?
Not as stopping places. Not as excuses. But as starting places. So that we are building capacity, strengthening spirits and finding opportunities for children who need to heal to do just that as we also provide incredible situations where learning can flourish.
Classrooms. Places to be 6 hours x 5 days x 10 months. Classrooms are where we are figuring lots of life out. We’re supposed to be figuring out education. And we are. But, wow, wouldn’t it be great if we were also supported to do what we are already doing – figuring out each other? Who we are and who we want to be?
As we work amongst people for life?
Some of us stand tall in the land of relationships and shout about them and celebrate them. We talk about community. We honour it. We feel its weight and are lifted by its joy.
I love when teachers share about who their students are as they share about what their students learn. I want to hear it more often. I try to share, just this, in kind.
I am musing. And wondering. On a rainy Sunday.
Please join me and share your thoughts. Your musings. Your brilliance.