My best learning experience

My grade 4 and 5 teachers (Brenda Neil and Glenda Newson) taught me that I could be magical. They developed a writing program for our public school based on the idea that every student had a responsibility to write and that every student’s words were valuable. We had big green folders with different pockets for the various stages of our writing. We were given lovely chunks of time (frigid January afternoons were my favourite), where we could get lost in our imaginations as we poured them onto paper. I wasn’t a particularly confident kid but the praise and support of my teachers made me feel invincible whenever I sat down to write. They were simply consistent with their message and they took it very seriously. “You need to write. The world needs to hear your thoughts.” 

Unfortunately, grade 4 and 5 were the pinnacle of my K-12 journey in some ways. I am struggling to think of another experience that was empowering in the way that my time with these two teachers was. Most of the time, I found power by figuring out how to do as little as possible and still achieve decent marks. If I failed, it was no big deal because I hadn’t tried that hard anyway. Teachers constantly told me how much I could accomplish if I was more focused or if I cared more. But I can’t recall a teacher asking me what I did care about. My primary school teachers found a way to make my own thoughts and dreams the centre of my skill building. My high school teachers did not.   

Collaboration is the most important skill for our students and for us. I think it’s also the hardest thing to do properly because it is so contingent upon the relationship (or lack of relationship) between the people trying to collaborate. Adults are horrible at this. I’m often horrible at collaboration. But in the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to click with a few colleagues and build together. The power of this is startling to me and I’m eager to find more ways to make it happen. 

In my classroom, we use Harkness as our main tool to support collaboration. It is incredibly frustrating in the first 4-5 months of any school year until students learn to see the value in one another. As a teacher, it is really tough to watch the students be so frustrated. I have to hold myself back often from making it easier for them. Ultimately, I just remind myself that collaboration is about recognizing value in others; if we can help students do that well then I think we have a shot at turning the future around. 

Lindsey, Joe. Tour De France Stage 21: Celebration on the Champs-Elysees. Bicyling. Hearst Magazine. 27 July 2019. web.

Read 9 comments

  1. Hi Chellew!
    I am pumped to see you again, and to work and learn with you again! I hope that this year can be one that builds on your Grade 9 project, and where you can find some great resources – human, research, academic and otherwise.
    See you soon,

  2. Hey Erica,

    I have this theory that there are only two reasons why people get into teaching: 1) because they excelled at school and want to share that same experience, or 2) because some aspect of schooling frustrated them and they want to ensure that never ever happens again.

    “My primary school teachers found a way to make my own thoughts and dreams the centre of my skill building. My high school teachers did not.”

    I think you’ve identified both reasons here. I’m sure you already know this but this is the key to discovering your purpose in teaching. The power of collaboration, especially in co-constructing with your students, can make a huge difference in how those same students relate to you as their teacher.

    Also, watching students being frustrated means you are doing something right. You are challenging them at a developmentally appropriate level. If they weren’t frustrated, they wouldn’t be engaged.

    I look forward to co-constructing your action plan this year and, yes, frustrating you from time to time 🙂

    See you Saturday,

  3. Hi Erica,
    I love the message that your Gr 4 and 5 teacher’s left with you “The world needs to hear your thoughts” Whenever we can help to make another feel valued, important and that what they think needs to shared and listenened to…we make a difference, we build confidence and help to guide those students entrusted in our care. We have the opportunity to change lives!!! Aren’t we lucky. Looking forward to working with you this year!!
    See you Saturday,

  4. Great post Erica! Your last paragraph resonated with me as I watch students grapple with Harkness Table discussions. I try to “zip up” as much as possible so the students lead the conversation on their own. At moments, they are bubbling with enthusiasm and sometimes it is too quiet I can hear someone’s stomach growling (perhaps mine and probably in the period right before lunch!) It is definitely a journey but then you get moments were the students are all into it and someone says “Hey, what are we discussing next class, sir!”

  5. Hi Erica,
    I recognize the value in you and what you are bringing to the classroom! Collaboration is such an important skill to develop and I know the urge to help can be real but good for you for giving your students the time and space to figure it out. They will.

    I also wish I had your teachers in gr 4 and 5. What an important message to receive at a young age. I remember writing a lot of creative stories when I was young but I don’t see that anymore with my kids and I’m wondering where that has gone in the curriculum. Imaginations and voice should be nurtured and developed!

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