Changing it Up!!

Changing it Up!


“The potential possibilities of any child are the most intriguing and stimulating in all creation.”

Ray L. Wilbur

Cottonwood is flying through the late May air in Indiana symbolizing an end of another “school year” resting upon the heels of a quickly approaching one!  As I reclaim, reappraise and begin reflecting upon this 2012-2013 year and those of my teachers, and undergraduate students, a thought struck me this afternoon through my own casual assessment of courses and observations. While  looking ahead as 200 new graduate students will begin their classes and teaching experiences late summer and early fall, I mused  over   the singular importance of “engagement” and how this simple word, yet complex concept  drives attention, curiosity, and memory;  the three main ingredients for deep sustained learning.  We recognize this as educators and parents, but the more complicated question is “how.” How do we emotionally engage our students and motivate them in ways that their learning is not only personalized, but it becomes their DESIRED responsibility, as we move towards a notion where students  are generating questions- questions that create sustainable leadership, guidance, and yes… assessment in our classrooms and schools. This is student led, passion driven learning in its finest moment!

So where do we begin? We begin by taking a hard long look at our own thoughts and feelings about engagement and assessing what went well this school year and what were the blocks, the triggers that pushed a student away from their own innate ability to take a concept and question, develop it, or possibly see the relevance beyond a standardized test.

  1. 1.      Questions for the Educator

Was I enthusiastic? Did I demonstrate to “trust” my students’ mistakes, failures, questions, and conversations? Did I feel threatened, taking comments   personally to the point where my own ego interfered with constructive information that would be useful or will be useful in the future? What were the three greatest lessons my students taught me this year? Did I share this with them? Was I able to step away in a tense moment, looking beneath the behaviors for motivation and understanding? Did I thank them often for even the smallest positives and efforts? Did I allow them their “own” learning with specific feedback that was frequent and informative, noticing, not necessarily praising their finished product?

  1. 2.      Questions for Students

The end of the year brings an opportunity to assess in ways that reach beneath the frantic tumultuous ever changing moments during the school year. Although the questions I propose below need not wait until the end of the school year, but should be asked intermittently throughout the weeks.

  1. What were my best teaching moments? What were my worst? What assignments, topics, activities did you find most helpful this year? What topics, assignments, and activities frustrated you? If you were to sit with me and help me design our classroom for improved learning next year, what are three ways you would change it? Did you feel I was fair in how I implemented our class guidelines? Why or why not? Did I understand how you learned or were my expectations fair? Did I keep you interested most days? Was I aware and thoughtful to the best of my ability, of the stressors you encountered this year? If not, what could I do or change so that you would have felt I was tangibly present on most if not all days?


  1. 3.      Engagement begins with an emotional investment which occurs when we use inquiry, allowing students to teach what they need to learn.  I am not speaking of “whole brain” teaching where there is mimicry, movement and repetition. I am referring to the allowing of  students to :


  1. Create test questions/quizzes/ standardized questions / design assignments
  2. Predict what a lesson will be about with or without a partner or small group; explaining their reasoning behind the prediction.
  3. Creating a lesson plan and comparing it to yours ( the instructor) … looking for goals, benchmarks, and learning outcomes
  4. Assigning homework after a collaborative discussion on the purpose of homework, the appropriate amount, and how it will be assessed.
  5. Bring in each week or day,  a student’s expertise on a topic of their choice. There are a million and one ways to take their expertise and weave it into a standard and assessment.
  6. Co-teaching with a student could be one of the best ways to model engagement, instruction and assessment… once the format and expectations have been discussed and agreed upon.


“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”  Dr. Seuss

  1. A true and pure educational culture begins when students and educators mentor one another! I am excited to watch the development of relationships and connections when each school year begins- teachers and students, instructional assistants, custodians and building administrators develop a system of service reciprocity giving children and adolescents an opportunity to mentor their school leaders and teachers. When we serve another, we not only increase positive emotion, but our perspectives broaden and we become better problem finders, problem solvers, and creative thinkers. We also know from extended research on service that when we reach out so assist another, our own neurobiology shifts activating our frontal lobes fir creative thought and our immune systems improve, as we begin to look at our capabilities rather than our limitations! I watched this dynamic last Friday afternoon with a group of seventh grades students from an inner city school. I asked them to meet with me giving their input, feedback and thoughts about a software system that was implemented this school year to improve their focus and attention skills, therefore improving their academic outcomes. These young adults were simply and completely invested in our conversation and as I explained my purpose of meeting with them; asking for their support, they were enamored with doing so. This is a small example of student/ educator mentoring that not only builds community, connections, and trust, but allows personal expression, student expertise and the igniting of successes that lay dormant ready to explode at any moment.  Below are some examples of “service mentoring” building relationships and engagement.


  1. Service reciprocity in a classroom and school will only be effective IF it is presented and implemented in a way that is open and responsive to dialogue and mutual agreements on what the roles of mentor/ mentee look like while adjustments and flexibility are upheld along the way.
  2. What is the role of a student mentor?  Here are a few questions and thoughts to assign the student mentor who is sitting beside the teacher mentee-a student is given the task of giving feedback and input to the teacher as the days and weeks progress. Was the assignment difficult? Was the test fair? How would you arrange the class so that students are engaged? Was the instruction clear? What would you have done differently? “You seem sad or tired today Mr. …., what can I do this morning to help you? “ Our class seems angry, what can you and I do to get everyone back on track? These behavioral guidelines seem to be challenged every day; how can we change them? What are the students saying? What is frustrating them? What would be a fair and equitable change?


We typically and traditionally think of the teacher as the sole provider of information, discipline, and meeting the holistic needs of all students.  This year, I have seen and felt the hopelessness from teachers too, as the reform movements, policies, over packed curriculum, and challenges are tangibly felt.  As I reconsider the purpose of education, (to live outside the walls of school), I cannot think of anything more significant, powerful, and edifying than creating continuous dialogue, feedback and a building to classroom foundation of “teaching what we need to learn” in the cognitive and non-cognitive educational arena. When educators can demonstrate their vulnerabilities,  questions and challenges, modeling for students their  social, emotional and cognitive needs, desires and successes; we begin to create a culture where the diverse intelligences, unmet  “longings”  of all individuals are heard, expressed, pondered, and upheld without judgment, because each choice and consequence was previously discussed, reflected upon and shared.


I will be delving deeply into this concept this summer and next fall and would love to assist any and all classrooms, schools and educators in implementing this service initiative! If we are not passionate about the subject matter, invested in the process, while feeling relationally successful;  our brains, the social organ  shut down and go on automatic pilot, repeating worn out thoughts, behaviors and patterns of thought that keep us stagnated!


Leave a Reply

Verified by MonsterInsights