Over the past seven weeks I have shared some foundational work in Urbandale to transform our school system. I began with “The Power of Why” and moved forward with “A Sense of Purpose,” “Motivation,” and most recently shared about the district’s vision to “Be a school district that brings learning to life for everyone.”
The foundational work, as shared in previous blogs, is important as we move forward. Strong theories and beliefs establish the basis for actions that will serve to transform our district at the most fundamental level. These beliefs and theories guide our work and help to create a constancy of purpose in what we do. Urbandale has a strong foundation and now it is time to “get busy” doing the right work.
Ashley Mobley’s first grade classroom at Valerius Elementary is focused on this transformation. In order to break down barriers that may exist between children, each day begins with a “morning meeting.” During this time children greet and share with one another, engage in a team-building activity, and then receive a morning message from their teacher that includes a review of the day’s schedule. The morning meeting is necessary for work in a cooperative environment. Developmentally, young students are egocentric. Our goal is to help them learn how to engage with one another in a positive and productive manner. We want them to learn how to ask for something that they need and we need to teach them how to communicate when they are frustrated. In short, the morning meeting is a time when the teacher AND students are establishing the “tone” for the day, for their classroom, and for their learning.
To create a constancy of purpose, students engage in the goal-setting process and, yes, first graders are capable of this task! The aim is to create students who are capable of constantly improving with the mindset that they can always get better. Consider the impact of this process as it molds young minds and profoundly impacts motivation. This teaches students they can have control over their learning.
The children in this classroom do not operate under a list of teacher-created rules. Rather, the children help to establish what they call a “code of cooperation.” A “code of cooperation” is a list of statements created by the class, which identify the factors within the classroom necessary for a high degree of cooperation. All of the students develop this code collaboratively. As a result, the “code of cooperation” becomes a living document that guides behavior for the purpose of creating a classroom environment where students know how to cooperate in order to learn.
One would be surprised to walk into Ms. Mobley’s classroom and find no student or teacher desks. Rather, a visitor would notice tables that do not have seats assigned. The goal here is to drive out fear and create an environment that encourages children to work together. Consider the message we send to students by assigning them individual workspaces, we call “desks.” This isolates children from one another and promotes learning as an individual activity rather than a collaborative one. Our work as educators is to facilitate and promote high learning for all. Working in community supports this belief.
In this classroom, students are encouraged to provide feedback to the teacher for the improvement of learning. Ms. Mobley uses a tool called a “Plus -Delta Chart” as seen here:
Children have the opportunity to let their teacher know what’s going well (Plus) and what they believe needs improving (Delta). Ms. Mobley uses this feedback to improve learning opportunities for her students and helps them to see that their voice in their learning is important.
Finally, Ms. Mobley promotes “student-led conferences.” Prior to these conferences, students have been preparing to share with their parents what they have learned and what they hope to learn. In this setting, children know how they are doing, for they are kept abreast of their progress by monitoring it with their teacher. There are no surprises for these students for they are highly engaged contributors in their own learning and when it comes time for conferences, they are able to explain their learning to their parents, of course with a little help and coaching from Ms. Mobley!
This type of classroom is an excellent model for demonstrating quality learning tactics and what is meant by a learner-centered environment. Classrooms across the Urbandale district are implementing innovative tactics that empower students to actively engage in all aspects of their learning experience.
Much is happening in Urbandale, and in two weeks I will be sharing transformation tactics from the middle school level.