How, What, and Why

I was there by accident. Well, maybe fate.

Over the course of a day I visit many classrooms. I like to take my laptop and a yellow legal pad and put myself in the lively learning spaces where the real work (and play) of a school takes place. Being in classrooms allows me to see students elbow deep in science labs and putting on ties and blazers for mock trials. I get to see kids taking notes and engaging in class discussions, flying model airplanes they’ve designed, acting out scenes from Shakespeare, and painting flowers on canvas. I like to zigzag across campus to see a variety of subjects, following a math lesson with some time in a coding class, and then a visit to a PE class followed by a discussion of the Shays’ Rebellion in US History.

Today my travels took me into a College Readiness class, where I had the eye opening opportunity to watch as a group of really bright students discussed the best way they could approach in-class tutorial, and what they wanted on the form they filled out before coming to class to work on a particular topic. They spoke about the way they learned, the reflection they needed to do to be prepared to engage with each other and the material they were studying, and how best they could use their time to learn. I wish I’d taken a video to share with my staff.

Encouraging conversation about teaching and learning is a big part of my job as a principal.

I hear teachers talk about learning often, gathering around lunch tables and in by the mailboxes to share what’s working and what isn’t, sharing something they heard at a conference or district workshop, or spending part of their prep visiting another teacher’s classroom. These discussions are vital to sustaining a vibrant learning community, and go a long way in helping teachers know that it’s okay to take risks, try new approaches, and even fail as part of learning in a safe environment.

It’s a discussion that we’ve broadened to include parents, through events like Family Math Night and our Diegueño Book Club, and I believe that as more members of our school community can listen to each other we create a strong and cohesive school family.

The next big step, and what I’d consider a bellwether of a shift from good to great, would be for discussions about how we learn, what we learn, and why we learn to go on between students.

Many students earn high marks in school because they’re able to play the school game, though if push came to shove they might not be able to answer that “why?” question. I’m interested in helping to create an environment in which the perspective that comes when “why are you learning this?” is a question every student can answer, and even have a hand in deciding.

To promote this discussion among students, and between teachers and students as well, will take focused effort to show the importance of students understanding their role in their own education, and time as a school community to make these conversations happen. I see the beginnings of such reflection and engagement across campus, and as we begin a second semester at Diegueño, I’ll be working to nurture it even more.

Back in that College Readiness class the teacher sat down with a students and looked at a high school tutorial form. She asked her students if they were interested in using this form instead of the one they had been using. She pushed them to explain why, and the 7th and 8th grade students in the class debated everything from font size to wording. Finally one 8th grader said: “If we can just tweak it a little bit, I think it could work for us.” At thirteen, she spoke with startling wisdom and perspective.

When kids are conscious of their own learning, the how, what, and why of it, they have the possibility of doing more than doing school; they have the potential to truly learn.

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