As teachers go back into their classrooms preparing for the new school year, many educators spend an inordinate amount of time decorating their classroom. The will use terms like “our classroom”, yet they will be the only ones who have had the options of what it looked like. My first year of teaching a fourth grade class, I remember spending a ton of time making little basketballs and placing every student name on one of them outside of the classroom as a way to welcome them. Imagine if you were a student in my class that year and you hated sports. You were probably thinking, “A year with this guy?!?!?”
I was reminded of this reading this post, “How Teachers Can See Students’ Identities As Learning Strengths“, and in particular, reading this passage about a teacher trying to better understand his own students:
For example, Sirrakos had spent a lot of time and his own money to decorate his science classroom with posters and quotes he hoped would inspire his science students. In a dialogue, one student told him that his class environment was boring. Sirrakos was confused and pointed out all the decorations on the walls meant to liven up the room. His students explained those images represented him, not them. Sirrakos was still confused, but he asked his students to help him fix the problem.
Students started bringing in their own posters, including things they made. The one rule was it had to be related to science in some way. Immediately students were more cheerful. “They have to be part of the solution,” Sirrakos said. “That’s where we talk about having these co-generative plans of action.” In this example, the solution didn’t require a big shift, it only required that Sirrakos recognize he wasn’t achieving the result he thought he was, and be open to students’ owning their classroom space.
Not only would this save you so much more time, but it is so much more meaningful to the students. This is not simply about choosing what goes on the walls, but seeing the classroom as a reflection of themselves (the learners), not simply the teacher.
What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?
Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.
Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?
If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them. There actually should be a balance. Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.
These little things show students that they are an essential part of our community. Their voice is needed to create community, ultimately showing them that they do not have to wait to make a difference; they can be leaders today, in our own classrooms. Empowering them now, will lead them to be the world changers we hope them to be.