8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by chrisbb@prodigy.net

As I think that leaders should be able to describe what they are looking for in schools I have thought of eight things that I really want to see in today's classroom.  I really believe that classrooms need to be learner focused. This is not simply that students are creating but that they are also having opportunities to follow their interests and explore passions.  The teacher should embody learning as well.

Will Richardson recently wrote this in a comment on one of my recent posts on what teachers need to be like in our current day and the focus that needs to be on learning:

…we need teachers who are masters at developing kids as learners who are adept at sense making around their own goals. Teachers who are focused on helping students develop the dispositions and literacies required to succeed regardless of subject or content or curriculum

This moment is all about learners having an amazing new freedom to learn, not teachers having an amazing new freedom to teach. I’d love to see 2013 all about making that shift in our thinking around education.

Although technology is not the focus, it does give us many opportunities to magnify the opportunities I list below.  So with that being said, here are some things that I believe will help the learner of today be successful in our world, both today and tomorrow.

1.  Voice – Students should have the opportunity to not only learn from others but also share their learning with others as well.  We live in a world where everyone has a voice and if we do not teach our students to use this effectively, they will definitely struggle.  To me, this is so simple yet so essential.

2.  Choice – This is not only about how students learn, but also what they learn about.  How do they further their learning in areas of interests to them?  Throughout the first few years of university I did poorly, yet in my final few years my grades were better than they ever had been.  What was the difference?  I actually cared what I was learning about.  Strengths based learning is extremely important.

3.  Time for Reflection – Classrooms are an extremely busy place and I understand that many feel that they are rushed through the curriculum, but I think that taking the time to connect and reflect on what is being learned gives learners a better opportunity to really understand what they have learned.  I know many classrooms have DEAR time (drop everything and read), so why do we not have time to simply write and reflect?  This is not only for students, but for teachers and administrators as well.

4.  Opportunities for Innovation – Recently I visited Greystone Centennial Middle School during “Innovation Week” and saw students that created a hovercraft (not kidding) using things that they had around the house.  They were able to guide it around the gym and it was able to carry people around.  These kids were in grade 9.

When I asked the students about this opportunity, they had told me that they had saw something similar on YouTube but it was missing a few elements that they wanted to add.  They made it new and better.  I can only imagine what the students will do after they leave school because of this day, not in spite of it.

5.  Critical Thinkers – In the “factory model” of education, students were meant to be compliant and basically do “as they were told.”  This is not something that sticks with a child only, but goes into adulthood as well and it creates “yes” people who tend to lose all originality.  One of my best friends and my first admin partner, told me to never just let him go out on his own with his ideas without questioning them and sharing my thoughts.  His reason?  He wanted the best ideas, not his ideas.  He wanted me to ask questions.  He wanted to be successful.  It was not his ego that was important, but the success of his staff and students.  I have learned to ask the same of all those I work with and although it can turn into spirited conversations, it is was best not only for school but all organizations.  We need to have students that are able to ask questions and challenge what they see, but always in a respectful way.

6.  Problem Solvers/FindersEwan McIntosh has a brilliant Ted Talk discusses the notion of “problem-based learning” and how it is not beneficial to give students problems that aren't real.  Instead, he focuses on the idea that students need to be “problem finders”; being able to find some tough challenges and then being able to solve those problems.  Megan Howard shares a wonderful story of how one of her grade six students was able to see that there was a problem with classmates losing their school uniforms and then being able to use QR codes to be able to identify them.  Let's start asking kids to really look into finding what the problems are and giving them some purpose in solving something real.

7.  Self-Assessment – I don't think that I have ever heard a teacher say, “I can't wait until we get to write report cards!”  That being said, I think we spend too much time focusing on being able to tell others what our students can do and know, and not enough time helping students understand those things themselves.  Portfolios are a great way to share this knowledge and will actually have students develop their own understanding of what they know.  If you can write in a report card that a student can do something in October, yet they can't do it in January, is that report card still relevant?  I think that we should spend more time working with students to teach them how to assess themselves and not just do it for them.

8. Connected Learning – When I first started teaching, I remember really struggling with science.  It was a subject that I struggled with as a learner and that continued on as a teacher.  I now think that if I was in the classroom, that the best person to teach science wouldn't be me, but a scientist.  With most people that having a computer also having a Skype account, there are many that are willing to share their expertise in different areas.  This

does not only have to be via technology, but we should also be bring in experts from our community to talk to students.  I know many teachers have done this for a long time, but technology opens the doors to people that we could not even imagine being a part of our classroom even ten years ago.  Even Shaquille O'neal has made some time to  Skype with students in one school.

Now I believe that all of these things are extremely important to the success of our students in the future, but there is one thing that is important to all of this; that our students are good people.  One of the things that I have told my students over and over again is that it doesn't matter how smart you are if you are considered a jerk.  Treat others with kindness and consideration. Always.

Finally, let's start to really tap into the wisdom of our rooms and have students not only learn, but teach each other.  There is a saying from my time as a referee was that the best officials are the ones that you never notice.  Does the same hold true for a teacher?  I have walked into classrooms and have been unable to identify who the teacher was immediately

because they were, as Chris Kennedy would say, “elbows deep in learning” with their students.  Students were  also teaching others along the way.  If we start to acknowledge that everyone can be a teacher, and everyone a learner, I really think that you will be able to see more of the elements I have discussed in our classrooms today.

What have I missed?  I would love your thoughts and feedback.

Update: As David Wees points out, relationships are a fundamental in this classroom.  As I know that I talk about this regularly on the blog, I would agree with David that NONE of this happens without a loving and trusting environment.  Thanks Mr. Wees!

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35 comments for “8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom

  1. Gwyneth Nicholson
    February 1, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Great ideas – consider editing, though. “What I have missed?” You’ve missed some fundamental rules of grammar and usage. I will share these ideas with my colleagues but not this article.

    • February 1, 2013 at 5:54 pm

      Hey Gwyneth…thanks for the comment and I made the edit. I will be honest though, comments like this are probably part of the reason that teachers are afraid to blog in the first place. I always try to write my best but I am actually okay with my writing not being perfect, and as teachers, I think we need to be comfortable with making mistakes.

      I look forward to reading your blog so that I can have the opportunity to learn from you as you have learned from me.

      • Stephen Rahn
        February 3, 2013 at 1:33 am

        Excellent response, George.

      • Debbie Vane
        February 3, 2013 at 2:03 am

        I agree wholeheartedly that some teachers (myself included) are reluctant to blog because of fear of censure and harsh criticism. I have been reading your blog and I am always moved by your openness in sharing thoughts and feelings about complicated topics. Your response here shows me that you think before you respond.

      • Debbie Vane
        February 3, 2013 at 2:03 am

        I agree wholeheartedly that some teachers (myself included) are reluctant to blog because of fear of censure and harsh criticism. I have been reading your blog and I am always moved by your openness in sharing thoughts and feelings about complicated topics. Your response here shows me that you think before you respond.

  2. Kim Hanks
    February 4, 2013 at 2:11 am

    George,
    All of the 8 items you have listed are so important! They certainly follow the Danielson’s model of teacher evaluation we are using in most IL schools. These are the very things that for the most part the greater majority of teachers are just starting to do. It’s fun though to note that our early childhood programs and kindergarten classes are following this model very well. Students take the lead in making choices and deciding what will be studied. This is the exciting part of education today!!

  3. jo haynes
    February 11, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Can I add to that..teachers who are risk takers, willing to do something new, step out of their comfort zone and develop a deep understanding of what good pedagogy looks like in the 21st century. I invite you to share
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Listen-Joanne-Haynes/507064632648989?ref=ts&fref=ts
    A pedagogy of Listening

Comments are closed.