I started teaching in 1999 at Heritage Middle School in Lansing, IL. As a 24 year old, I was the youngest fifth grade teacher in the building by 20 years, and for almost all my students, I was their first male teacher. My vision for my 5th grade class was not a classroom of students, but a family. Looking back on that time this weekend with some of my former students and parents from that class, I realized that there were many simple invitations to learning I provided that produced positive results that are remembered today. Due to many of these invitations, the vision I had for my class was realized to great extent. It started for me taking the perspective of my students and mentally walking into school each day.
Here are some simple but significant examples of invitations to learning for my students.
- I shook the hand of every student before they entered the classroom and when they exited for the day. The message in the invitation says, “you are welcome and respected here.”
- I left the door open to my room. The message in the invitation says, “come in and participate.”
- I wore a tie every day. And I never wore jeans. The message in the invitation says, “your learning is so important that I will dress up for you.”
- I sent a postcard to every student before the start of the school year. The message in the invitation says, “I cannot wait to meet you and be your teacher.”
- We walked in rows through the hallway rather than in a crowd. The message in the invitation says, “we respect the other classes and their learning.”
- I rarely gave homework to my students. The message in the invitation says, “you are 10 years old and you should enjoy being 10 years old.”
- I would provide an agenda for the day, with the understanding that agenda could change if our time together took another path. The message in the invitation says, “we are all driving the learning.”
- I encouraged students to ask “why?” we did things in certain ways. The message in the invitation says, “always ask why because maybe the teacher does not really understand either.”
- We tried to go outside for an extra 20-30 minutes of recess everyday. The message in the invitation says, “play and socialization is important.”
- We took time to read every day after lunch, including myself. The message in the invitation says, “reading is important.”
Notice something about the list? No mention of technology, or apps, or curriculum. These are invitations that make a classroom a family. Therefore remove these invitations and you have just another classroom focused on data and tests instead of experiences and learning.
Was my classroom perfect? No. There are some things looking back now I would do differently. Yet simple invitations like these created an environment where I have connected with students 16 years later and we still talk about our shared experiences.