2018 was an amazing year of personal and professional growth for me, spent with a wonderful class and filled with so many fantastic learning experiences and achievements (you can read about it here). A year like that will certainly fuel your passion and enthusiasm! I wanted to maintain that momentum and for 2019 to be even better. I engaged in more professional reading over the summer holidays (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc books, of course 😉) and even though all seven of the books I read were awesome, the two that inspired me the most for my direction and goals in the classroom this school year, were ‘Learn Like a Pirate’ by Paul Solarz and ‘Lead Beyond Your Title’ by Nili Bartley (you can read my blog post about how this fantastic book resonated with me here).
I had so many notes and ideas from reading these two books that it took me some time to organise my thoughts into a plan. The more I began to plan though, the more I began to worry about whether I could pull it off. You know how some years you have a class that just get you? Well, that was my class last year. We had such an unbelievably good year, that I started to wonder if I could be that lucky two years in a row. Would I be able to make the same meaningful connections with my new students? Were my expectations too unrealistic? Would my new students be able to reach the heights I was aspiring too? I know that our students can do phenomenal things when encouraged, supported and guided by a caring adult who believes in them, but those doubts still lingered in the back of my mind…until the end of the first week of school!
As I was driving to work on Friday morning in my pirate costume (more on that later), I was reflecting on my journey last year and my goals for this year. I never really, truly believed that things happen in our lives when they are meant to (probably because I’ve been impatient and wanted them when I wanted them) but I can honestly say that I now do. The students in my class last year were perfect for the journey I was on then – they were kind, caring, eager to learn and they truly touched my heart – which is exactly what I needed after recent experiences and at this stage of my career. I also now genuinely believe that the students in my class this year are perfect for the journey we are about to embark on together – they are kind, caring and eager to learn too, but they also have a drive, depth of understanding and maturity that will be needed on our voyage.
So, what happened this week to make me believe this?
Our school focus for the first week of the year was ‘Know Me Before You Teach Me’ and our goal was for all students, teachers and parents to build positive relationships to support future growth and learning. Formal curriculum instruction and testing was put on hold and the time was protected to focus on relationship and team building, establishing class culture and social and emotional learning. We know that these aspects of schooling are vitally important, yet we often have to fight to find the time to devote the attention to them that they deserve. That’s why it was so exciting to be given ‘permission’, and actually expected to commit, to engaging in these important practices.
It was during the course of engaging in the variety of experiences I’d planned for the week that I gained insight into the personalities of my students. Activities such as playdoh models of our favourite things (thanks Dave Burgess!), #REALyouSnaps (thanks Tara Martin!), I Wish My Teacher Knew, and a Book Tasting event helped me begin to identify student interests, strengths and vulnerabilities. Team building challenges and group discussions about our School Rules and School Pledge gave me the opportunity to observe how students interacted with each other, which students seemed to naturally take the lead, who required encouragement to join in, and how students reacted when they were challenged or experienced failing. But it was when we completed our “One Word” activity and created our Class PIRATE Commitment that I really started to see how ready these students were for this journey, and I began to envision how far we could travel.
Our One Words
After explaining the ‘One Word’ concept and sharing my One Word with them (you can read about my One Word, Authentic, here), each student identified their 'One Word' to guide and drive their actions this year. I was blown away and had goosebumps as I was reading through the words each child had chosen and the reasons why. It is obvious they thought deeply about, and showed such maturity, with their choices.
Class PIRATE Commitment
On day one we’d already discussed that our class was the 4K Kindness Crew, and what being a pirate meant in that context (thanks for your pirate definition Dave), as it was the foundation of the class culture I was establishing. One of the ‘Know Me Before You Teach Me’ requirements was to collaboratively write a class commitment that all students agree to follow and adhere to, to ensure that each class is a safe and respectful environment. Of course, our commitment was going to centre around the word PIRATE (thanks Nili Bartley!). First students brainstormed in groups about words for each letter that would suit our mission as pirates - not all words matched this instruction, but some demonstrated a lot of thought. Then, when we started discussing which words to choose and why…wow! This is when I knew we could do it, and that this was going to work! The awareness, deep understanding and wisdom these students demonstrated blew me away. This is what we developed:
I’ll explain each in a little more detail, as each word encompasses more than one concept.
Persue our dreams and goals, and strive to be the best we can be in all areas of our lives.
Persist when things get hard and we are challenged; persist when our friendships hit a rocky patch; persist when we make mistakes.
Impact others in positive ways – show kindness, encourage others, be role models; impact the world by working to make it a better place – look after the environment.
Include others – be a friend and a team player; stand against bullying.
Use our Imagination – be creative; dream; think big.
Reflect on our learning and behaviour – set goals; take responsibility for our actions.
Respect – treat others how you would like to be treated; respect ourselves – look after ourselves, be healthy, stay safe.
Adventurous Learners – we’re willing to have a go; take risks; have fun.
Try Together – we are stronger together; be part of the crew.
Everyone Matters – everyone means everyone.
Thanks to Paul Solarz and the ideas in ‘Learn Like a PIRATE’, at the start of the week I had explained that as a crew, we were all leaders in our class and all responsible for the successful running of our classroom. I haven’t allocated class jobs this year, as we are all responsible for carrying out those tasks – some have taken this on board more than others, but I’m hopeful everyone will start to pull their weight soon. I introduced our attention getter for the year, a version of Give Me Five in the form of a call and response: ‘Kindness Crew’ , ‘Eyes on You’. I explained that this was not only for me to use, but anyone in the class who had something important they needed to share. At this stage, a couple of students have given this a go (after some gentle encouragement) when it’s been time to transition, but we have only been at school for four days – I’m positive they will become more confident as time goes on and they truly take ownership of our class.
What was in the box???
This box was sitting on a shelf at the front of the classroom when students entered on the first day. It took a while before anyone commented on it, but gradually more students began to ask me about it. In true 'Teach Like a PIRATE' style, the mystery bag hook was very effective in piquing everyone's curiosity. First thing Thursday morning they asked if we could open the box, but we had specialist lessons, so they had to wait until after first break...talk about building the suspense. When we were finally able to open the box they were bursting with anticipation. They'd been dying to know what was inside for two and half days...
The main item, amongst some pirate booty, was this letter...
So this is just week one! Last week I was excited about my ideas and plans for this year. This week, after meeting my students, I’m even more excited about making those plans ours and generating new ideas together!
Now, about that pirate costume…that will have to wait for another blog post! 😉