A week ago I was asked to present at Ignite 35 in Langley. Below is my presentation reworked into paragraphs, and due to this it may be all over the place. But one thing it is for sure is me and my beliefs. Enjoy!
Just a short few years ago, feeling unenthusiastic with my profession I found myself wanting out. I did everything teacher school asked of me except I was passionless. I was searching for something to run with. Now I am a grade 7 teacher. In other words, I have been bestowed the responsibility of steering the ship of hormone filled, media consumed, iphone possessed preteens. Yikes right! Wrong. Here is where I challenge myself. How can I get them so engaged in themselves, class culture and the learning process that they cant stop chatting about it to parents, friends, global peers and, if lucky, myself? I want them to love class so much that they almost need it like air.
I want to begin with a story. Alyssa, a grade 7 student in Coquitlam, and my niece. After failed forced commitment in both soccer and martial arts her heart led her to Track and Field, a choice that was fully hers. A year and a half later she is the provincial champion in 9 events and is the best in North America in 4. The choice of track was hers. Her passion, desire, need to learn and improve all stemmed from curiosity and is now evident daily in her confidence and voice. Her story captures what the learning process should look like, and mirrors what I attempt to accomplish. ‘Passionate, explorative, happy learner given every opportunity to follow his/her own chosen path.’ But when I tell kids that they have autonomy in their learning they love it, but then soon realize taking control of their own learning isn’t as easy as it sounds. The reason for this is a broken system.
From the moment a kid steps foot on a school ground they are bombarded with rules and expectations that promote and even encourage kids to blend in. Stripping the heart and soul from the student. Here is where we as educators can help.
We have the power to remove the trowel from their hands that willingly but not by choice they used to build up their protective wall. We can make them see that standing out is not a bad thing but rather an amazing one.
How do I accomplish this? I devote endless time and efforts getting into their heart. I know the importance of the informal moments so at recess and lunch I prefer to grab a tetherball rather than a sandwich. I coach so I can be present when they have stories that you need to see to believe and I even have tea with them after school discussing their hobbies, fingernail colours and even Caitlyn Jenner. Supportive autonomy needs to constantly be reinforced and that is why, just like the ’66 Coup de Ville that resides in my dad’s garage, I developed PRRR principles that underline my classroom. Passion, Respect, Relationships and Relevance.
Passion is a funny thing, as some find it easy to discover while others struggle to find it. It took me 5 years of teaching to find my passion and it may take kids that long too. All we can do is give opportunities daily while supporting their journey.
And when you give those opportunities magic can happen. Like Sage, the humanitarian, who wanted to better the life of kids in India, so during her Genius Hour project last year created a website, learned how to use her dads power tools to make wooden bracelets, created an Etsy account, advertise, and after 1 month she wrote a cheque to an orphanage for $730.
Respect… respect comes in different forms but none is more important than developing an environment where kids respect and even celebrate other kids and their differences. Ask Paul, a boy who stopped, in his words, trying to be “macho” and instead showed the class, that not like Zoolander, he can turn left on the catwalk.
Relationships… go with the mentality that you are never doing enough. Do something every day to improve relationships with every single kid. Meet them with a high five and a compliment. Never use a red pen and take time to hear those painful stories about nothing as funny enough that nothing is something to them. Be there for them when they fall and be present to hear them brag.
Relevance… I tell them to live your life, learn what you want to learn, and I will do all I can to make the classroom relevant for you. But I do tell them they need to do something for me. Don’t do anything to just fit in. I live by the idea that you don’t wait for change to happen if you can be that change. I also pass that message on to my kids. I don’t sugar coat what lies before them. I tell them life is hard and obstacles are everywhere. But passion, and I mean true passion, knocks down all barriers.
So building relationships and attempting to improve a child’s life is what I ran with. It took me 5 years and around 150 students coming and going to realize that where the heart is the mind will soon follow. And simply, lovers of learning are lovers of life. This year I have 28 kids in my room and the classroom is theirs. Forget the question, would you buy a ticket to your own classroom, and instead ask would you buy a ticket to theirs? Put their education back in their hands where it belongs and ask them to run with it.
Below is my Ignite35 PowerPoint presentation.