being me, classroom expectations, role model

All Hail the Rambunctious Girls – What Will Ever Come of Them?

“Mommy, mommy help….” Thea is hiding in the house and has managed to get herself stuck.  I free her and off she runs; things to do, mommy, things to do.  I look at my little girl, the picture of energy, rambunctiousness, and vitality and I wonder what will school do to her?

At her daycare now she is one of few girls.  She plays with the boys, which suits her perfectly as she likes to climb, explore, and run around.  She also likes to read books and play with dolls but only sometimes.  Most of the time she is on the go, unstoppable, invincible and always headed for adventure.  She is not good at sitting still and being spoken to.  She sometimes wants to help but it does not come natural to her. And yet in two years when she enters school she is expected to embrace quietness, helpfulness, and eagerness to please much like any other girl in our society.  And if she doesn’t, she will be flagged.

We speak of how our school system fails boys, much like Josh Stumpenhorst just did in his excellent post, and yet we forget that by making these statements we push girls into the subservient roles we expect of them.  Our traditional classrooms call for quiet compliance and buy-in to whatever we propose.  Girls are trained quicker to fit this pattern than boys.  From an early age society expects girls to be selective with their words, complacent, and eager to help others.  We expect them to do their homework on time, to do whatever we ask of them and to give us whatever we need.  We don’t think girls will mind when we take away recess, or when we suggest quiet reading time rather than an activity.  We don’t think girls will mind always being the ones we ask for help, mind that they are the ones tasked with mothering other students, mind that we have them so far squeezed into a role that we do  not understand when they fight it.

And yet, Thea is not that girl, and I love her for it.  I see myself in her and I see her personality as a great thing.  She is not one to be quiet, she is nice yes, but she would rather be outside than sit and wait for someone to tell her what to do.  She has ideas, grand ones, filled with ambitious building and tearing down.  There is no plan, she is not meticulous in her details and perhaps she never will be.  How will she fit into the traditional role of a girl?  How will she cope with the pressures to conform that we all place on her.  Boys are not ever viewed as being naughty when they are loud, they are just being boys.  But girls are undisciplined, unruly, when they buck against the traditional role.  Girls confuse us when they don’t sit quietly and say please and thank you.  We have such high expectations for our daughters and our female students but maybe we should reevaluate them and stop thinking that all girls are naturally compliant.  Perhaps instead we should wait and see how they turn out and then embrace their personality. Let them be wild, let them be loud, let them be free.

being a teacher, change, classroom expectations, our classroom

What Dreams Reminds Us Of

Last night I lost control of my class.  It was a dream, of course, it being Sunday today, but I have had this dream before.  The students are older – nothing likethose  older students to be disrespectful.  The classroom is crowded – poor teaching conditions.  The task is simple and yet they don’t understand.  They talk amongst themselves.  They get up and move around to talk.  They are too busy, too bored, to listen to me.

So I raise my voice and I yell at them.  Except in this dream I always start to lose my voice thus leaving me  feeling powerless.  The students proceed with their misbehavior.

They rush into the task I have created, they do it wrong.  I signal for their attention by yelling but I cannot yell over the crowd.  They ignore me and we do not get through what we need to.

They start to answer my questions but they are doing it all wrong and the frustration increases until finally the bell rings; class dismissed. the students are upset, I am ready to quit teaching, and my heart is pounding.

The first time I had this dream I thought it was a reflection of me and it was; how I used to be.  How I used to control my classroom.  Yet this dream is nothing like my now classroom.  The students are the perfect age for me, they are moving around because they learn better that way.  They pay attention when they need to and I barely ever raise my voice.  Instead I wait until I get their attention and then provide them with the task.  But the biggest difference; the task itself.  In the dream the task is meaningless, not tied into anything, and totally controlled by me.  In reality our tasks are building blocks, shaped by the students and with a bigger purpose.

So I wake from  my nightmare shook up but aware that i have changed my reality.  That I no longer thrive on controlling my students but relish the freedom they have in my room.  Relish the community we have built.  relish the learning happening.  My brain may be playing tricks on me but it does serve a reminder of why I changed my classroom philosophy; I did it for the students.

being a teacher, being me, choices, classroom expectations, classroom management, Student-centered

Why Trusting Your Gut Can Be the Best Classroom Management Course You Ever Take

A year and a half ago, I went through a radical change in the way I am as a teacher. The whole foundation of what my classroom was was discarded and re-born, all on the basis of my gut instinct. It told me that to increase student motivation and increase buy-in that my method of teaching and, indeed, the whole feel of my classroom had to change.  That to see motivation increase and excitement build that the old method I was using was so far away from what I wanted that it simply should not exist anymore. So instead of dismissing what some may have viewed as a crazy whim, unsafe territory if you must, I pursued, I went there and I took the chance of implementing it into my classroom and my unsuspecting students.  
I trusted my instincts and my own desire for how my schooling should have been; projects, team-work, choices.  And now in the second year into this implementation I am the proof that it works.  I am the proof that if you believe in your students, if you believe in their ability to make great choices, to work together as teams rather than as individuals their learning will benefit.  I have students who love coming to school, and not just those 50% that love you no matter what they do.  I have kids that had given up, that believed that they could not succeed, that they were not smart enough to go to school, now tell me that they love coming, that they cannot wait to learn.  That they cannot wait to be challenged.  They may not ace every single assignment but they try and they grown.  They may not get the grades that others get but they participate, they share and they know that their voice is just as important as those who used to be the top-kids, the stars of the room.  They smile, they belong, and they own the community.  School is a place they want to come to, not somewhere they have to go.  
I cannot take credit for all of this because the students trusted me as well.  They trusted me with their dreams of school and of learning.  They trusted me with how they want to learn, how they see themselves as individuals and the paths they want to take.  That speaks a lot of the relationships we have created.  Those children trusted me enough to let me in, and to make our classroom their second home.  So my classroom is the proof that these strategies work, even if you do not know that is what you are doing.  My classroom is the proof that sometimes following your gut is more important than following any college class on classroom management. My classroom is the proof that even though your mentor does it one way, it is ok for you to do it completely different. We can change the way we do school and we can make school all about the children.  We just have to be willing to change ourselves.

classroom expectations, classroom management, life choices, Student-centered

The Story of the Child that Changed Me

If I could go back and undo what I did to a child some years ago I would.  This child, who so desperately needed to feel in control of something in their life, came to me and only got more of the same.  Less control, more demands, more punishment, rather than a safe haven to feel like they was ok, like they belonged, like they were listened to.  They say you learn from your mistakes, and this is one of those kids I have learned from the most.  

    Peter wasn’t always unhappy, as evidenced by the smiling pictures I saw of him from younger years.  By the time he reached the third grade though life had gotten in the way and those smiles were far and few in between. The first time I met him, his mother dragged him into my room late for orientation and started to tell me how I would have a hard time with this one because he was lazy and didn’t care.  I don’t think any child’s shoulders have ever slumped more than that.  As I nodded through his mother’s complaints, I swore that I would be different, that Peter would start to love school again, that I would help turn this kid around.  Looking back, I see now how failed this notion was given the constraints I had placed myself under in my classroom.  I was a novice teacher, someone who still believed that I should run my classroom like those who had come before me, like people I had read about in textbooks, like they had taught me in college.  I believed that the teacher was the power, the one with all of the knowledge, and the best way for students to learn was to listen to me dole out wisdom.  Sure there would be fun, we would have parties and rewards for homework turned in and good behavior.  There would also be punishment for those who misbehaved or dared to not hand in their homework.  Grades would be motivation and threats would be the norm.  Nothing like building a relationship with a child by telling them if they don’t comply they will get an F.

    So Peter put his trust in me and at first I got him to smile, to open up a little, to have some success.  Days passed and I thought I was helping, I was fixing, I was changing this child’s life.  That is, until he didn’t do his homework.  I didn’t take the time to find out why, I didn’t ask any questions, but just told him to put his name on the board and to stay in for recess.  During recess he worked so slowly, punishing me for calling him out in front of the class, that the next day his homework was still not done.  Again, I didn’t ask any questions but just called him out, embarrassing him a little and then told him again that recess would be mine until this math was done.  Again slow and painful work meant that he barely finished.  What I didn’t know was that our power struggle had just begun and it would last the whole year.  Me in the role of enforcer, as supreme teacher that took away instead of gave, that punished rather than asked questions, that wanted more control rather than let him have some.  You see, I think all Peter wanted was control.  He wanted a space where he could come in and feel that he had a voice, that he mattered, that he belonged.  But by removing control from the classroom and even more so for him, I didn’t let him find his voice.  I didn’t let him invest himself into the classroom.  I didn’t change his mind or change his ways about school, I just let him live up to what his mother had so thoroughly predicted; that he was a no good troublemaker.

    Peter made me almost quit teaching because I saw what I had done to him.  I saw by the end of fourth grade how my decisions to run my classroom in a traditional sense had taken all of his pleasure out of learning.  I knew that summer that I had to change and one of the biggest things to go was the passion for control.  Students had to feel they belonged because they had to feel it was their room.  They had to have a genuine voice that listened to their needs and let them shape the classroom.  They had to have room to grow, to fail, and to embrace each other’s strengths through collaboration and hands on exploration.  No more teacher as the sage on the stage, but rather shine the light on the students.  Had I given Peter classroom like the one we create now, he would have had a reason to speak up, to get invested.  He would have loved the choices, how his voice mattered, and how his creative side could be explored.  He would have perhaps taken a small leadership role to show the other kid that he was worthy, to show them that he did belong on the team, he would have cared.

I run my classroom now with the mantra of students first in everything I do.  Their voice matters, their choices matter, and their opinions matter.  I do not punish and I do not reward.  Students work together when we can and always have a choice in how they do things.  They sit wherever they want and we try to eliminate homework.  If you work hard in our room you do not have to bring the work home.  They belong, they own the room, it is theirs and that is what I should have done from the moment I started teaching. I realized it isn’t about me, but about them.  I can never undo what I did to Peter and those other students before him but I can make sure I never do it again.  I have changed my teaching style because of this child and for that I am grateful, even if he will never know how much he influenced me.
being a teacher, being me, classroom expectations, classroom setup, hidden rules, our classroom, student driven, systems

No Size Fits All – Some Thoughts on Prescribed Systems in the Classroom

I am sometimes asked what system I used in my classroom; which system do you prescribe to to get them to act this way, which system do you believe in for your philosophy.  I always feel like a disappointment when I tell them, “None.”  It is not that I am pioneer within education, or a maverick, but rather that I don’t believe in systems.  A system to me means prescribed, a system means rigidity, rules to follow, and scripts to use.  I tried that for 2 years when I first started teaching and it failed, horrifically and miserably.  My classrooms doesn’t work that way, it doesn’t fit into a book description.   So while some people may say I fall under whatever system they think, I always giggle a little because the truth is much simpler.

I follow the Pernille system.  The one that says to listen to your students, give them a voice, get out of the way, and then change your mind when needed.  The system I use has no book or no guidelines but only common sense and a lot of reflection.  I don’t manage my children, they are not stress I must constrain.  I guide them, they guide me and we trade spots more often than I can count.   I do not read a book to see how I should train my students the first week of school; they are not circus animals getting ready for a performance.  Instead we get to know each other and we laugh a lot because laughter is a key ingredient in my life.   I do not hide the “real” Pernille from my students because I believe education must be authentic to be meaningful.  My students share their emotions and opinions whenever they can.

I know that if I wanted a book-deal or masses of followers I should call my system something, my husband jokes about that all the time.  That way people could refer to it and ask themselves, “Well what would Pernille do?”  And then they would be confused as to why my system wouldn’t work as well for them, because  a system has to be as personal as your classroom.  You borrow, you steal,  you get inspired by others, but in the end your voice and that of your students is the one that needs to  shout the loudest and it needs flexibility and adaption skills.  So trust in yourself, sure read the books, ask the questions and then reflect; what will you do and what will your students do?  Hint:  It requires conversations with your students to create your own system.  Good luck.

being a teacher, classroom expectations, classroom management, student driven, Student-centered

This is My Room – How Controlling Ones Classroom Can Send the Wrong Message

I used to be the ruler of my universe; my classroom, the queen of the systems.  You need to sharpen your pencil?  There’s a system for that.  You need to leave the classroom?  Here is the system for that.  How we walk down the hallway, how we get our jackets and backpacks.  How we act when others come into the classroom, how we borrow books from the library, how we borrow supplies.  Don’t answer the phone, don’t sit in my chair, don’t eat your food now, don’t, don’t don’t…Everything had a protocol, rules to be followed, always designated by me, and I was exhausted.  I was so busy keeping track of all my check out sheets and reminders that I forgot to just enjoy what I was doing with the students.  I was so wrapped up in managing my space that I lost focus on what was important and instead wasted time getting upset when my system wasn’t followed.  It was time-consuming, overcomplicated, and downright ridiculous.

Yet I feared what I knew had to be the opposite of my contrived systems; chaos.  I feared what would happen if I just let a kid check out a book without having them sign it out and leave it in their desk at the end of the day.  I feared what would happen if I didn’t know who had which manipulative, or how many pencils someone had borrowed from me.  Add that fear drove those systems forward until they got me so lost that I didn’t know the teacher I was anymore.

So I stopped the endless control.  I “let” students borrow books from my library and take them home.  After all, the worst that could happen if a book was lost was that another child might read it.  I showed the students where I kept all of the supplies and let them grab what they wanted.  I had them unpack and come in from the hallway in the way that suited them best; some need one trip, some need more.  I stopped obsessing over our systems and gave the room to the students instead.

And the result?  Not chaos as I had feared, but ownership.  It turned out that these students knew exactly how to take care of our space and actually were a lot more invested when they felt it was theirs.  They no longer come into my room, but into our room.  They no longer ask permission to use a stapler or use some tape, they just do it.  They fight me over my chair, and take pencils when they need.  They now welcome others to our room, answer the phone with their name, and take over the space every day.  I don’t manage them, but instead focus on our learning.   Giving back the classroom to my students righted a wrong I didn’t know I had committed; I had taken their space from them.  I often remind myself that teaching is not about me but all about them, and now our room reflects that.  Does yours?