‘Twas the Night Before School Starts

‘Twas the night before school starts
And the classroom was bare
Nothing was set up yet, not even a chair

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The schedule empty, no activities planned
And typical first-day-of-school worksheets are banned

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This year will be different, a first time for me
Where the classroom is set up, not by I, but by we
Instead of hours spent planning without voices of students,
This year, I think, including them is most prudent
They are the ones who will be using the spaces
Letting go, in return for happy minds, hearts and faces
Yet although I know this is what I believe in my heart,
I am nervous and scared for this school day to start
So although I won’t sleep, I tuck myself into bed
While visions of floor plans swirl in my head

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I’m not sure how it will go, yet my hope remains
For a first day of school where the kids take the reigns
So, on Risk-taking! On Failure! On Doubts and on Fear!
Happy first day to all, and to all a good year!

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Reaching Out to Families

The beginning of school is still a week away and since I don’t need to spend any more time on classroom set-up, I have decided to instead invest my time building a strong foundation for relationships with the parents of my students.

I want the parents of my students to know they are an important part of this learning community. I want the parents of my students to know that I value and respect their input and perspective about their child’s education. I want the parents of my students to know their voices matter and are welcome.

As usual, I sent an initial email home to parents introducing myself. But this year I also decided to share the same information via a YouTube video to hopefully reach those parents who are unable to read English or who prefer millennial forms of communication.

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In this email/video I invited the parents to schedule a pre-school year, informal, get-to-know-you style meeting with me, where we can discuss their hopes, dreams, goals and fears for the upcoming year. If parents are unavailable to meet face-to-face I also offered options to schedule a phone call or complete a Google Form.

Whatever the method, I am hoping to ask the following things:

  1. What would you like me to know about your child?
  2. What are your hopes for your son/daughter this year?
  3. What do you need from me to support those hopes?
  4. Is there anything you are nervous or worried about this year?
  5. Is there anything you would like me to know?

I’m not sure how many families will take me up on my offer, but I hope most – if not all – do! I think this would be a great way to start the year as a team and I think this will help  me get to know my new students better.

I’m optimistic that this will be a much more rewarding use of my time the week before school starts than decorating the classroom ever was…

Wish me luck!

Classroom (un)Set-Up

In my previous role as PYP Coordinator I shared my perspective about why I think it is important to involve students in setting up the classroom. Now that I am back in the classroom is it time to practice what I preach!

This does not mean I plan to arrive the same day as the students, turn the key for the first time and say “have at it”. That would mistakenly be along the same lines as the common misconception that inquiry teachers do not plan. We do plan, we just do it a little differently…

So instead of spending the days before students arrive setting-up the classroom, I will instead use my time unsetting-up the classroom. And equally as important, thinking deeply and purposefully about how I will support students in the task of working together to set up our learning space once they arrive.

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This process have involved three simple steps: Purge. Sort. Wait.

The first thing I did was go through EVERYTHING. I took everything out of drawers, out of boxes, and off shelves. While I was doing this I was careful to purge things that were in poor condition, out of date or no longer needed.

Then, I sorted things into piles in different areas of the classroom.

I temporarily tucked away the desks and chairs…

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I put all the books in one place…

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I put all the furniture that could be used to display frequently used things in one place…

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I put all the furniture that could be used to store rarely used items in one place…

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I put all the bags, bins and boxes that could be used for organization in one place…

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I put all the learning resources in one place…

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I put all the consumables in one place…

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Now I wait. I wait for students to arrive so they can take ownership over the rest of this process and hopefully design a learning space that meets their needs as learners.

The cherry on top? This took 4 hours start to finish. In the past, setting up a classroom has taken me at least 20+ hours.

So what will I do in my spare time? Think. Think about how to orchestrate the process and support students to make this a success.

Will it be a success? I have no idea. I’m terrified… but also excited and hopeful!

Wish me luck! I’ll be sure to share how it goes along with my reflections on the process, what I learned and how my thinking changed after actually trying this will students.

An inquiry into my students…

This year, I am really hoping to create a classroom learning community that is inclusive and culturally responsive. I know that in order to do that I need to really know my students. So for that reason I have decided that the first inquiry of the year will not be theirs… it will be mine! I want to approach the first weeks of school as an inquirer – inquiring into my students.

My goal is to be able to fill in this student profile chart by the end of the first two weeks.

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Here is how I plan to do it:

Tuning in – What do I already know about my students?

Since I have been at this school for the past three years in a variety of roles I already know many of the students or at least the students’ families, so first I want to make sure I tune in to what I already know about them – or think I know about them. To do this I will try to fill in as much of the student profile as I can before the year starts.

Finding Out – What do I need to find out about my students?

Once I have documented as much as I can about my students I should be able to see the gaps and figure out what I still need to find out. This will be helpful because I will be aware of certain students or certain aspects that I need to focus on more intentionally.

Sorting Out – How am I going to keep track of what I learn?

I plan to use this post by Kath Murdoch and these examples from my colleagues to structure an inquiry-based first few weeks of school where students can actively participate in learning, playing, exploring and setting up the physical space and daily structures and systems. While they are actively engaged in these learning experiences, I plan to be actively engaged in observing them, talking with them, learning with them and playing with them. Then at the end of each day I will take time to reflect on what I learned and document my new discoveries about my students on the profile.

Going Further – How can I push myself to learn even more about my students?

In order to build a strong learning community I plan on designing an opportunity for students to inquire into each other – what they want to know about their classmates, how they can find out, how they can record what they’ve learned and how and with who they plan to share what they’ve learned. In order to dive deeper into my own inquiry I plan to participate in this alongside my students. This will give me a chance to hone in on what I still need to learn about my students and provide me with the time to do so.

Making Conclusions – How will I share what I’ve learned?

I’m not sure about this stage yet. I want to share my discoveries with my students, but I don’t have a concrete plan yet as to how I want to do this. My original thinking it to have an individual conference with students and show them what I’ve learned about them to gain their perspective and give them them the chance to correct any misconceptions I may have and tell me more about themselves.

Reflections – How will I reflect on my inquiry experience?

Expect a reflective blog post coming soon!

Taking Action – What will I do with what I’ve learned?

After I have the completed student profile, my intention it to use it as a guiding document each and every day to inform my approaches to planning learning experiences and offering social, emotional and academic support for my diverse and unique group of learners. I hope to “live it, not laminate it” as the saying goes, and amend and update it throughout the year as I learn more about my students – and also as my students grow and change.

For me, this plan is less about filling in boxes on the spreadsheet and more about being purposeful and committed to really understanding my students as humans. It’s about holding myself accountable for getting to know all of my students and ensuring that none of my students fall through the cracks or become overlooked. It’s about intentionally spending time in the first weeks of school getting to know my students and intentionally building in time for my own consolidation and reflection about what I have learned and how it will help me support their needs holistically throughout the year.

How do you inquire into your students?

What feedback and suggestions do you have for me about my plan?