Respecting the Learner

Well, I am officially settled in my job for the year and I’m very excited to say that I’m staying in the classroom I started up this September. It feels great to already have a good start at relationships with these students and, even though I’m in the middle of the craziness that is setting up a classroom at the end of September, I’m really excited for the year to come with these 6th graders.

This year has already started off with two experiences of me, the teacher, being fully immersed in the role of a learner. As is common with teaching and professional development, this role of being the learner is comfortable and familiar. Over the years I have become more critical of the opportunities in which I am the learner – partially because I have high expectations as to what a learning environment should look and feel like, and partially because my time feels a lot more precious these days.

I have started my Master’s degree this year which will be 6 weekends each term in classes and then online coursework in between. My first weekend was an incredible learning experience. Our cohort was immersed in the practice of Appreciative Inquiry, where we built a dream statement (or mission statement) for us in the cohort. One of the most valuable practices we started was the check in (here is someone else’s explanation of it). With the check in we are each given the opportunity to explain where we are at or how we are feeling by answering a question. This process is something I have experienced before but it felt even more valuable in this situation with a new group of people, all willing to jump in and be vulnerable with one another. After our first weekend of coursework I truly felt respected as a learner.

The second experience this year was at a district wide Pro D event. While the idea of having a district wide gathering was exciting to me and I embraced this opportunity of bringing everyone together, the actual event was much more of an information session. My high expectations of what coming together could mean for our district left me feeling let down at the end of it all. It’s not that the information or presentation was bad, it’s that I don’t feel that same respect as a learner when I’m being talked to without having the opportunity to contribute, engage or ask questions. A friend and I were discussing how it was a good start at creating a district wide culture of collaboration but needed a more engaging format. There was so much talent and knowledge in that room and it wasn’t put to good use. As David Weinberger says, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” We weren’t given the opportunity to make use of this brilliance, to feel respected as learners.

This got me to thinking about the ways in which I respect the learners in my classroom. How do we let our students engage in meaningful ways? How do we let them be a part of the learning? How do we utilize the strength of diversity in our class?

Here are some of the ways I’m trying to show more respect to the learners in my room:
1. Check In’s – This process allows us to work together in a more effective manner and allows for students to share. We are doing this at least twice a week right now.
2. Inquiry Based Learning – I love this post full of ideas to use inquiry in the first week (or weeks) of school.
3. Brain Breaks – By allowing the students to suggest when they need a brain break they are able to take more control of what they need in their learning (although I do have final say… they are in middle school and we can’t have a brain break every 5 minutes!)
4. Growth Mindset – By teaching more about Growth Mindset I feel that my students are starting to take more of an ownership over their learning. This is something we will continue to work on specifically once a week all year, and it will be talked about and incorporated into most things we do.
5. Appreciative Inquiry – This week I’m going to adapt the Appreciative Inquiry process to create our dream/mission statement for the school year together (that will be another post in itself!)


2 thoughts on “Respecting the Learner

  1. Great post, Meaghan! I love the idea of class check-ins. Also – sadly – it does seem that one of the most reliable take-aways from Pro-D is that we need to put ourselves in the students’ shoes (or, more to the point, in their often-uncomfortable desks and chairs) much more frequently.

  2. Love this post! After I did my Master’s I also started check-ins with my class – we did this every morning for Advisory. It was amazing how it transformed our class into a community of learners who cared about each other deeply. At the end of the year the kids said things like “this is the first time I felt heard” and “I’ve never felt sad for the school year to end but this class was so amazing”….it was in huge part due to these daily check-ins.

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