As a teacher, one of the most important lessons for me to teach was intentionality. I wanted my students to know that they had the power to be purposeful in their choices.
In the classroom
Our classroom was a blank slate - some felt covering the bulletin boards, a real-life calendar at the front, desks, a library full of books and somewhere a table (I never used a teacher's desk, I just kept a chair at a table near our document camera). Together, we made intentional choices about where anchor charts might be posted, how to organize supplies and how the space could help us maximize learning. I made the choice to reveal the library piece-by-piece, starting first with the basket of recommended books from last year's fifth graders; each basket was explored with purpose. This continued as we began creating - writing, reading, math, science, social studies, wonder. We discussed where to post each piece, who wanted to write a description, who wanted to share a reflection. As we learned about our levels of ownership we found a place for those to live, same with our levels of responsibility. Everything had a purpose. The classroom was often questioned by colleagues for being "modern." I remember once, a few years ago a colleague (and friend) came into my classroom on the night of our open house. My classroom looked as it had all year; current learning on the walls, QR codes that link to videos, genius hour stations, art and writing displayed proudly, student created iMovies on iPads, favorite books on each child's desk, etc. She commented that it didn't look any different than a normal school day. I took this as a huge compliment. The students were thrilled to share their learning, their work, their thinking - why would we need anything else? This sense of purpose was empowering. It empowered the students to take ownership over their learning and their environment - every day.
A few years ago I saw Lucy Calkins when she came to Chicago. If you have seen her before, you can imagine how much I felt, learned and grew that day. We were discussing a short text and she asked us to consider the names of the characters. As we analyzed the irony in the names and personalities of the characters she reminded us that this was no accident. Authors do everything on purpose. I have carried this lesson with me ever since. This lesson has allowed us to analyze texts in such deep, thoughtful and (you guessed it) purposeful ways. This lesson has inspired us to connect with authors - we have started conversations authors on Twitter about choosing names, settings, colors, met with authors in person and then practiced making purposeful choices in our own writing. It changed us as readers and it changed us as writers. Last week, I had an opportunity to go to a book reading at a small, independent bookstore in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. I was with my family and we were meeting an author who wrote a mystery novel based in the very small Wisconsin vacation town that my family has been visiting for generations. Someone asked her about if the name of the protagonist was based on someone she knew. She answered that the name wasn't based on someone she knew but that she wanted the initials of the protagonist to match the initials of the setting - to make another connection between the character and this place. At that moment, I wished I had a classroom of students to email and share this exciting piece of information with. I realized that even without a classroom of students I still need to practice this lesson. Do everything on purpose. Starting with how I organize my office, I need to remind myself to make intentional choices - even in short emails or quick meetings. Carrying this lesson with me again has given me a new energy, curiosity, a sense of empowerment and more ownership over what I do every day.