It has been a few weeks since I last blogged (is that a verb?). I haven’t been away or really not even too busy to write. Perhaps I was waiting for the perfect topic. I am not sure. What I do know is that it is hard to write when I am distracted or when it does not feel purposeful. I need to give the time to myself and clear space in my mind. I need to be confident that what I write will have meaning to an audience. In other words, I guess it needs to feel relevant.
As I continue doing school improvement/leadership coaching, I think a great deal about how difficult it has been, this school year (and the end of last school year), for teachers and students. In particular, how difficult it has been for students to feel engaged in their learning and for teachers to embrace and support instruction with so many different expectations. One thing that we know about student engagement is this; students will engage in their learning when they understand what is expected, have an opportunity to be part of setting goals for the outcomes and when the lessons and tasks are relevant to their everyday world. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “relevant” as connected with what is happening or being discussed. For example, it might not be “relevant” for me to include this picture of the snow on my back deck if I didn’t explain that I live in eastern Canada and it is now winter weather (and I may be starting to tire of it!).
Too often, building relevance in to the task at hand is out of a teacher’s control. For example a state or provincial assessment arrives with a question that is truly irrelevant to the student- for example- students live in a downtown, high poverty area of a large city and have had little or no opportunity to travel are presented with a mathematics word problem describing a corn maze. It might not be the mathematics that cause the students the issue but trying to work through the concept and visualize the problem as part of a corn maze when they have never seen one or experienced this. Other times, teachers have full control over how they present content to students and assess student learning. They have full autonomy, to consider the examples that they provide, the text that is read and how students might see the learning task through their own real life experiences. And, as great as this sounds, it has been a challenging year, with many students only able to learn through a virtual platform, for teachers to feel confident as they build engaging opportunities for students.
Rising to this challenge (and many others) is what teachers do. And, it is my absolute pleasure to share a video with you from a third grade team at Samuel Walker Houston Elementary School in Huntsville, Texas. “Out of the mouth of babes”… just listen as the third graders explain how “relevant” the learning is for them. It may seem like a young age to introduce this content to them but when you hear the excitement and enthusiasm in their voices, we know how engaged that they have become in their learning. And, during this year of so much stress, grief, sadness and frustration for many teachers, what a gift this third grade team is giving all of us (and, especially their students). Principal Natasha Simmons is bursting with pride and she knows that high expectations for learning are alive and well in her school. Teachers feel empowered to be creative and stretch their thinking while at the same time ensuring that they are teaching grade level essential learnings. COVID is no excuse at SWHES (or anywhere in Huntsville Independent School District!) as these teachers were able to think outside the box and truly find a relevant way to engage their students.
Watch, smile, laugh and just know that behind the masks of these young students, they are smiling. back at you with a love of learning. Here is the link and a tremendous thank you to Ms. Simmons and her teachers for allowing this share. Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/11-YVuGCzHCvszz0zoHVTrhwpcdt0Njbu/view?usp=sharing
Have a great week!