Yesterday, I watched with awe as the little leaguers from Jackie Robinson West were celebrated in Millenium Park. How terrific to witness young champions, highly able baseball players, enjoy recognition and love. I listened to speaker after speaker talk to them about honing their talents, their gifts, for the future. Stern, I thought, this is what school should look like. Students should work hard and celebrate their accomplishments.
How often are student strengths celebrated in a classroom? How often do we let students do what they do best at school, i.e., choose to study something they find interesting or create something they imagined using their talents? Too often we ask our students to participate in standard lessons, read standard texts, or take standardized tests. The purpose of school is to help students develop their unique interests, not promote standardization.
Ask your child about this. Does he get to use and celebrate his talents at school? My guess is that the answer is “no.” Students lacking in athletic talent are rarely celebrated or given the opportunity to show their talents at school. According to the 2013 Gallup Student Poll, less than half (600,000 in the sample) reported that they get to do what they do best every day, leading to boredom and frustration as their greatest talents go undeveloped.
The school year is just beginning (or just around the corner). Focus on the positive (there will be plenty of time to remediate weaknesses). Make time to celebrate learning and student accomplishments. Broaden the curriculum to cover materials that interest students. Start by supporting student choice and voice. I used to have a “Talk Back Board” outside of my classroom and students loved posting photos and newspaper articles, with their own editorials attached. “Resident experts” in my classroom would spend the last five minutes posing provocative questions, talking about their favorite artists or reporting on a period of history that was personal to them. One of my students taught an entire class on the Japanese Internment, bringing in a book written by a family member. When we finished that interdisciplinary unit, we had a party on the blacktop. Remember, learning is an active and interactive process.
When teachers take the time to build relationships and foster strengths they motivate their students, spark interest, and make classroom management a no brainer. In a recent meta-analysis of more than 100 studies (Marzano, 2003b), we found that the quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management. In fact, our meta-analysis indicates that on average, teachers who had high-quality relationships with their students had 31 percent fewer discipline problems, rule violations, and related problems over a year's time than did teachers who did not have high-quality relationships with their students.
Students are too engaged to act out.
Books that will make your primary students smile and dive into learning idioms: Ted Arnold's Parts, More Parts and Even More Parts.
Should behavior issues arise, books that won't put students on the spot: See Elizabeth Verdick's collection, including Words Are Not For Hurting.
Make it a great year!