The Caring Classroom

Last week I had the privilege of attending a professional development workshop as part of the PEP grant at my school. I had gone to the first session of the series last year as a student teacher, and it felt good to be back. It was so nice to have a day away from school where I could reflect more completely on my practice and think about what I do that’s successful as well as my areas for improvement.

The workshop was held in the endlessly charming Milwaukee K-12 school Golda Meir–which is an unbelievably remarkable place with, no doubt, the cutest kids in the city. (But I digress). The presentation was led by Laurie Frank, author of the book Journey Toward the Caring Classroom: Using Adventure to Create Community. [You can view an extensive preview of Laurie’s book by clicking here.]  I was impressed by her warmth and wisdom.

The seminar focused on techniques and strategies for creating active, brain-based learning using constructivist teaching methods. (Quick review: constructivist means that students and teacher are working together to construct understanding, beginning from what is known and familiar, moving to the generation of ideas and products, then revealing the underlying general concept, and eventually applying that knowledge in practice…)

Much of what we talked about included things I’ve heard of before, but I was newly reminded of how important it is to design instruction that accomplishes a few very important things that are so often overlooked in teachers’ efforts to “get through the content” or even “get through the day.” Some of these important things, which I know that I need to refine, reinforce, and newly commit to are:

*Consciously and transparently building compassion, trust, and open-mindedness into classroom instruction.

*Engaging the senses, including utilizing physical movement in instruction. Allowing a controlled goofiness to occur once in a while.

*Celebrating baby steps, and allowing students to attempt a new strategy multiple times before expecting it to run smoothly.

*Teaching, practicing, and assessing procedures as well as content.

*Reinforcing instruction with hands-on, interactive activities.

*Using brain-research to inform constructivist lessons.

*Realizing that the environment, both within and outside the classroom have a significant impact on student performance.

Talking about all these things set some new teaching ideas swimming about in my head, which was wonderful! But much more wonderful was the heightened sense of commitment I began to feel. Hearing stories from many other educators from the city, I noticed that the theme running through the discussions was that of a sincere devotion to teaching, and a fierce, almost protective, zeal for giving kids the best, safest, and most enjoyable education possible. It pumped me up to get back in the classroom and keep building that community that teachers and students create, piece by piece, hour by hour.

We’ve got a lot of work to do.  Let’s get crackin’!

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