September 2021 Coaching Tip
I, just like all the teachers, administrators, parents, and instructional coaches I know, are wondering about schools opening. Yes, they are worried about new coronavirus cases and the surges with the Delta variant, but they are also worried about staff shortages, sick leave for teachers, quarantining if a family member is infected, wearing masks, vaccinations and ongoing covid testing, monitoring social distancing again, virtual learning in a live classroom, and a host of other fears that are anxiety producing and not yet answered.
Regardless of a personal state of worry, teachers need to plan for a beginning of the year that doesn’t ignore or dismiss the worries but rather helps students make plans for the year. Yes, teachers will have their curricula to follow and hopefully put into practice what they’ve learned from the last two school years about “What students need to know” vs. “What is nice for students to know.” (There is quite a difference in these.) They also need to take time and promote student agency… what ownership can students take in their own learning? How can students be architects of their own learning and make their learning more meaningful than in the past?
Catlin Tucker suggests that teachers should help students create a “vision board” with goals they can strive to achieve. It is a reflective practice and helps students give some shape and “control” with things that are important to them. Throughout these last two school years, control eluded most of us; we were worried about survival, not necessarily about flourishing in our classrooms. She cites the research from Ranganathan, Siemionow, Liu, Sahgal & Yue (2004), indicating that visualization has a positive effect on motivation, confidence, and physical ability… all things that develop student agency. Think, if you will, of the “If there’s a will, there’s a way” proverb. That is, if you are determined or motivated to do something, you’ll find a way to accomplish it. Extend this thinking to Catlin’s idea… if students put down on paper what they want to do, they are more likely to figure out ways to achieve those goals. But it’s more than that… these visual boards are a way of helping students become more reflective as they move forward; these boards are asking students to think, plan, design, explain, analyze, etc., things they want to accomplish, and create the means and ways to do that. This, by the way, is not completed in one class period. Students must be made aware of why an idea such as this is important and how they can accomplish it. It’s a works in progress, like writing and thinking, and learning… no hard stop here… learning is progressive, recursive, and iterative.
Catlin suggests that students need time to generate their ideas. Those ideas will populate their vision boards so they need that time to reflect on what they want to learn, how they learn most effectively, and how they can capitalize on what they have learned these last few years. This is also a great way to integrate some of the digital tools they used during their remote learning into their face-to-face environment. They could use a variety of formats to create this visual representation. This could be something new for both the students and the teachers who had not integrated technology into their bricks and mortar classrooms in the past.
But beware…sharing these vision boards could be intimidating for some students, especially if they haven’t been face-to-face in several months. If students could use some of the digital tools they experienced during their virtual experience in their in-person environment, two things are accomplished: they demonstrate previously learned skills and the fear of public speaking about some very personal goals are diminished because the mode of delivery is not threatening.
These visual boards are a creative way for teachers and students to get to know each other. But more importantly, it helps learning go from an amorphous, unstructured concept to a defined one and helps students design a plan and then work towards accomplishing that plan. It really gives some voice and choice to the students and at the same time, helps teachers understand their students as well. Of course, teachers could really connect with their students if they made their own visual boards and shared them with the students, too. That establishes a culture that says everyone in the classroom is a member in a community of practice and shared learning.