Throughout the summer months, I contemplated the type of learning community and culture that I wanted to develop with my students for the upcoming school year. One thing was clear as the vision for the culture was developing, relationships and their cultivation were going to be the foundation of our community. These relationships would not only be teacher to student but equally as important they would be peer to peer. The goal was to build a learning community where easy collaborative experiences could take place along with effective communication practices. Thus the seating configuration was changed dramatically and instead of rows which inhibited collaboration, tables were created with students sitting in close proximity to one another, ultimately promoting collaboration. Before students could establish relationships with each other though, I felt it was important that they establish an identity of their own that reflected their "mindset".
One of the first activities that was designed to empower students and foster their identities was the creation of personal motto statements. All students and teachers that play a significant role in our social studies classes were asked to develop an original motto or research one that resonated with them and adopt it as their own. Once they selected their motto they were asked to mount it on a piece of paper, 8.5 X 14.5 and prepare to present them to the class. The hope was that with each presentation we could learn what was inside of each others heads and hearts. As the presentations unfolded we learned a great deal about each others values, commitments, and passions.The various mottos left all members of our learning community feeling significantly inspired. Once collected, the motto statements were proudly displayed throughout our classroom for all to see on a daily basis. Upon their arrival on Back to School Night the parents had the opportunity to view the impressive compilation of student work, amassed as a result of the efforts of their children.
On Back to School Night my goal was to leave our parents with an understanding that I was committed to establishing a strong relationship with them and their children. That I was passionate and inspired about my role as an educator. That through confidence and success, all of our students would develop a life long love for learning. That empathy exists in my heart, and that we all want the same thing for our children. That academic and social growth, leading to productive and contributing members of our society is the ultimate goal. Furthermore we discussed the importance of empowering and engaging their children in instructional practices that will enhance their interests and stoke their passions. Although it was my 20th Back to School night my new families were meeting an educator that has been re-energized and whose passion for education has been reignited exponentially. As the night came to a close I felt satisfied that I had successfully communicated my message. I looked forward to the following day when their children would allow their peers and I to become better acquainted with them as a result of the presentation of their "culture boxes."
The "culture box" presentations required all of the students to collect five artifacts related to their personal and private lives. Once collected the artifacts were then placed in a container in preparation for their presentations. This relationship building experience did not disappoint as the students presented with a collective sense of pride in relation to their family histories, their ethnic backgrounds, their religious affiliations and their interests. Each presentation left their peers in the audience with a sense of curiosity and a desire to learn more about each other. The culture boxes presented by the teachers also led to the establishment of a stronger connection with the students as they were able to develop a deeper understanding of their teachers' backgrounds and interests. One of the greatest consequences of the activity is that it allowed our students to understand that while cultures can be studied from both an ancient and modern perspective, they can also be quite personal.
The student and parent surveys, the day one getting to know you interviews, the mottos, Back to School Night, the culture boxes, and the daily opportunities to engage collaboratively have allowed us to make significant strides in building relationships with all of the stake holders of our learning community. The enthusiasm and overall passion for learning that I have witnessed thus far and the warm welcome that was conveyed by our parents on Back to School Night has truly made this a " September to Remember". There have been many reasons to "Celebrate the Success of September." I look forward to continuing the building of a culture and a community in the upcoming months, where the interests of my students are always at the forefront.
(Teach to Change Lives Image posted by Wade Stanford on Twitter 8/23/14)