Thank you for your feedback and comments following my first post on the Levels of Ownership. The intent of the Levels of Ownership is that they are never used in insolation. So much work goes into creating a classroom culture that supports these levels - rather than using the levels creating the culture itself - still with me?! These are some of the steps that I take to establish a classroom community that supports feedback and practice.
Talk about our brains
I am fascinated about the how and why of brain function. One of the best things I did was introduce my students to some of John Medina's brain rules. This helped support our classroom practices with the concrete, scientific why. I ask you to put your eyes on the speaker because vision trumps all senses. It empowers students by providing real life context. We talk about our brains and how they work. I often think aloud about my own thinking processes and students practice the same. This helps develop a reflective culture.
I am honest with my students. I use things like not knowing an answer or making a mistake as teachable moments (I wasn't always this way, I was terrified of making mistakes or not knowing in my first few years teaching). I goal set with my students and ask them to hold me accountable. They are involved in decision making processes. We create and nurture our feedback loops. I have mentioned this before, but our classroom walls are blank until student work begins to go up. Charts are all created together so some have scribbles or cross out marks when I make a mistake or we change our thinking. As our room evolves, we evolve and we do this together.
In my first year of teaching, as I was establishing classroom routines, setting high expectations and following-through I had several students tell me things like: I hate you, You are the meanest teacher ever, My teacher last year was better. This crushed me. I knew, deep down, that this was a necessary step in teaching students self-control and working towards success, but the words still hurt. I saw teachers around me who seemed to be friends with their students and was jealous, very jealous. But we persisted, practicing routines, correcting mistakes and growing together. My students needed to see that I believed in them and that I would help them move forward. I set high expectations but eventually, they set even higher ones for themselves.
Build authentic relationships
With the amount of time elementary teachers spend with their group of students each day, this seems like this would happen naturally. But it takes work. Every morning I greet my students at the door to our classroom (at the threshold) make eye contact, smile and say good morning (thanks Doug Lemov). It almost serves as a reset button - whatever has happened before school can be reset before entering the classroom. This also allows time for me to see each student, notice a haircut, ask about a book or blog post, offer a word of encouragement. There are days where I don't want to do this. Maybe I haven't finished writing the schedule on the board, or wish I could make one more copy or finish a conversation with the teacher across the hall. But I do it anyway.
The next thing we do is a greeting. We sit in a circle and greet each other by name with a smile and eye contact but in a different language every week, starting with languages that are spoken at home. Quick and consistent - we do this everyday, no matter what. I review our schedule, leave time for questions and make the occasional announcement so we all start our day on the same page.
As teachers we all get to know our students but showing them that you know them is critical to creating classroom culture. Suggesting book titles, asking about important events and noticing growth and risk taking are all part of this. This relationship has to be reciprocal. It is important for my students to know me. In my first few years my students knew I went to Syracuse, was from Chicago, had one sister and studied abroad in Italy. And that was it. This isn't being "friends" with your students or sharing information that is too personal but rather allowing students to know what motivates you, areas of interest or things you are curious about. In the interest of transparency - this realization was the result of a happy accident.
The first time I taught the Teachers College Non-Fiction Feature Article unit (which has since evolved into opinion/argument writing) one of the texts we read was about people who have tigers as pets. This has always been a very bizarre area of fascination for me - not because I condone it - but because I find it so outrageous. I was obviously very engaged and invested in this topic. I thought I was showing equal enthusiasm for each topic but my students kindly informed me that they could tell right away that this article was different for me. They loved being a part of something that I was so interested in.
Now through inquiry, choice and discussion we share our interests with one another. I love when students recommend books or share Dogo News articles with one another because they know their classmate will love the content. It helps us feel connected, known and important. I know that when I feel those things, I feel more confident, motivated, and engaged in learning and that is how I want my students to feel.
We practice. And reflect. And practice again.