There are many ways to measure our success as teachers. In public schools today, some argue teachers should be measured by the test scores of their students. Others look at the “A-F Grades” assigned by our state to individual schools to measure success. Still others look at things like ACT scores and college acceptance rates. While all these measures might provide some insight into what is happening inside classrooms, I think the answer to a simple question might provide the most important clue. What do students say when we ask them, “Do you love school?”
My students love our school and our classroom, and while I have not conducted a formal academic study of this, I have my own ways of knowing this as well as explaining why it’s true.
My students would rather be at school than at home. Home changes frequently for my students. Sometimes it’s a shelter, sometimes it’s a motel room. Sometimes it’s a couch or bed at a friend’s house, and sometimes it’s a car. Our school provides stability and predictability for students. Our school is safe and it’s clean. Our schedules are predictable. Students know when they are going to eat, and that they are going to be able to eat good food. All of these things matter tremendously, and are a big part of the reasons my students love our school.
Students love learning in my classroom for other reasons beyond these, however. They know they have regular opportunities to have control over their own learning. Students generally have opportunities to choose how and where they want to learn. We “ditched our desks” this year, and have a variety of different learning centers around our classroom. Students can choose to learn with iPads, on computers, sitting on stools at a low table, sitting at a kitchen table, sitting on the floor on carpet squares, or in our reading nook. (The reading nook is a designed “no technology zone,” btw, not for punitive reasons, but because they are encouraged to explore the variety of fiction and non-fiction printed books we have in our classroom.) They also can choose a traditional student desk, since we still have three of them in the room. Most of the time, however, students choose other spaces to learn.
Thanks to our morning meetings and the intentional relationship building in which we’re constantly engaged, my students feel safe sharing intimate aspects of their lives with me and with other students in our class. They share these things with the knowledge they will not be ridiculed or judged for them, because other students live in similar circumstances and because our classroom culture is open, accepting, kind, and loving. This is absolutely vital, and is something I work hard to cultivate and develop all year long. As children move in and out of our classroom, because of their mobile and unpredictable lives, this is a continuing challenge as we add new members to our classroom community.
Students love our classroom and our school because they have opportunities to play. Many of my students have never had opportunities to play and to learn like we have in our class. Again because of their mobile lives, many of them do not have spaces to store or keep toys at home. They frequently move, and sometimes have little more than the clothes they wear to school. The importance of clothes has been driven home particularly strongly for me this year, because of one of the families we’ve had, and conversations I’ve had with both the parent and the students. Our school provides clothing for our students, and this is so important.
My students love playing with educational toys and tools they haven’t been exposed to or had a chance to use before at home or school. We have science and engineering tools in our class. We have “Maker Time” when students build and create, sometimes with recycled materials like cardboard, sometimes with commercial products. These include Dash and Dots, Little Bits, Legos, and other construction tools. We can learn so much when we play, and my students love these opportunities which our classroom and school provides regularly.
My students love our school and classroom because they are able to learn at their individual levels of developmental readiness. I don’t force my students to sit through lessons or work on assignments which are beyond their abilities. So many of my students come to school “behind” their peers in their grade level. At our school, we don’t force students to feel “stupid” because they are not at the same level as their peers. We use a variety of diagnostic and adaptive tools to measure student learning levels. These include Lexia Core 5, Dreambox, and the WRAT test. We are continuing to seek more tools like these, which allow us as teachers to truly differentiate learning for our students. While students wouldn’t describe their experiences with all these fancy educational words, they would be able to explain it to you. They are challenged and supported in their learning, and are not “made to feel stupid” by their teacher or their curriculum.
Because of organizations like Oklahoma A+ Schools, of which our school is a part, integrating music, art, and drama is an important part of classroom learning for my students every week. Students are encouraged to express themselves and learn in a variety of ways. This allows my students to not only pursue their interests, but also further explore and develop their unique gifts and talents within our classroom.
Students love learning in my classroom because “doing your best” is really important, and it’s something we expect. It’s OK to learn at your level. If students miss something, they are able to go back and try again. Our assessments are performance-based. We don’t assign typical and traditional grades and tests, which sometimes make students feel pressured, stressed, inadequate, and even like failures.
I love my school and our classroom, and I know my students do too. That’s something in which I take a great deal of pride. If we can help our students feel safe at school and love learning, we have succeeded. I’m very thankful that my school and those who support us make these kinds of classroom learning experiences possible every day.