Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back-to-school business

Today as I was visiting two buildings, one elementary and one middle school, it struck me how much teachers build on the work of each other and how profoundly that can help students.

I walked into Paul and Sheila Wellstone at lunch time. There is no better time to witness the muscle that goes into the work of teaching than to visit a building at lunchtime. Lessons pour out of every corner: five teachers leaving the lunch room teaching each class of students sequencing, taking turns, and respect simultaneously and in Spanish, another three teachers are bringing their classes to the lunchroom while walking backwards and teaching the same lessons, and in adjacent classrooms teachers are teaching students how to focus on the lesson in the room rather than the classes walking by outside their doors.

That sequencing will come in handy during reading lessons, taking turns while teaching patterns, and respect absolutely everywhere it can. The focusing and routines they are learning these first days of school will be built on each year after that, which was entirely evident when I walked through some classes later today at Washington Technology Magnet. One classroom had students working in small groups. When I approached them to ask what they were doing they rattled off exactly what their small group work was, in the order it was to be done. They explained their complex math problem to me, explained what they had to do once they solved it and then explained how they were going to explain it with the materials they had. Sequencing.

Another room I walked into was setting up expectations for the year by completing a T-graph with “My Job” (for the teacher) and “Your Job” (for the students). A great lesson to not only establish routines and expectations for the year, but to infuse the language of career and responsibility in a very relevant way into their vocabulary. The teacher shared, then students shared, the teacher shared and then students shared again. Taking turns.

I walked into another classroom, jam-packed with students—not a desk or square inch of floor space to spare—and the teacher ushered me to the front after finishing his explanation of what he wanted students to do for the last 5 minutes of class. As he and I spoke quietly and surveyed his classroom of students everyone was working right up to the bell. Respect and focus.

These teachers and these classroom experiences were not accidental. Our teachers know the importance of creating the right classroom climate and establishing routines right away. Today, I had the privilege of seeing how it all comes together to benefit student learning in the long run. The expectations set at each grade level, are set for the next grade or class, too.

It’s clear that our teachers intend to make it a great year for our students. I am once again humbled by their work.

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