It’s always hard to say good-bye to students on the last day of school. But this year was especially emotional. I am leaving the fifth grade classroom where I have taught for four years and will be taking on the new role of Instructional Coach. For the past few months, I have felt such a pressure to “get it right,” knowing that this might be my last time in the classroom. I felt that I had to leave some lasting lessons with these students. I also felt that it was time to experiment and try some new things. So now, at the end of the year, I am left wondering: What did they really takeaway from our year? What will stay with them?
After reading Alan November’s book Who Own’s the Learning?, I was inspired to give students more independence. They took on jobs such as researchers, lesson planners, tutorial designers, and global collaborators. I had a student connect with several authors and even organize a Skype chat for the class – completely on her own. Imagine my delight when I received an email from Caroline Starr Rose, author of May B., asking me when would be a good time to Skype! Other students created Show Me presentations to teach math skills or independently researched current events and shared with the class. I realized that I didn’t have to know all the answers – they could find the answers for themselves. The classroom truly came alive as students were guiding their own learning, based on their interests.
Then, I read an eye-opening blog post entitled “What Students Really Need to Hear” by Chase Mielke. This article forced me to think about what school is and what it should be. As educators, we spend so much time designing units, planning lessons, meeting the standards, and grading assessments. But, maybe there are other things we should be focusing on too…things that are just as important, maybe even more important! As Chase writes,
Yes, algebra, essay writing, Spanish, the judicial process — all are important and worth knowing. But they are not the MAIN event.
The main event is learning how to deal with the harshness of life when it gets difficult — how to overcome problems as simple as a forgotten locker combination, to obnoxious peers, to gossip, to people doubting you, to asking for help in the face of self-doubt, to pushing yourself to concentrate when a million other thoughts and temptations are fingertips away.
I had to ask myself: Are my students able to succeed at the MAIN event of school? Will they be prepared to face these difficulties? More than anything, I want my students to not give up, to not be afraid to fail, to have grit. I also want them consider all perspectives. Of course, I want them to be life-long learners, too! To focus on these important skills, we started having SOLE -time each week. I was inspired by a passionate co-educator, Sean Walmsley, after seeing his students taking initiative through SOLE-time. SOLE stands for Self-Organized Learning Environment and was created by Sugata Mitra, 2013 TED prize winner. It is a time where students could research any topic or develop any skill, independently. They received feedback and guidance from their peers and presented what they had learned at the end of the quarter. The students faced many hardships along the way, but were able to push through them because they were passionate about this authentic work they were doing.
So, on the final day of school, I shared some Takeaways from the year, lessons that we have learned together and that I hope will stay with them for years to come.
As I was cleaning up the classroom, after all the students had gone home, I found a post-it stuck inside one student’s desk:
Even if they don’t remember the formula for calculating area or the definition of an electromagnet, if they can remember these lessons, I know they will be okay.
What are the big takeaways you want your students to remember?