It is amazing how much we can learn about our students if we pay attention. Listening to playground conversations or eavesdropping on conversations in class can open a window into what our learners are interested in. But these seeds of information are just gifts in their packets. You are the gardener; you are the one who decides if and how these seeds are sown.
I had been in the Cayman Islands for about five weeks. My wife and I had moved there after a friend of ours encouraged us to ‘take the leap’. I had been teaching in Saskatchewan for three years, while my wife had been working as a neo-natal nurse. We packed our bags and headed for paradise.
I was hired to teach fourth grade at one of the island’s top private schools. There were two forms of grade 4, and I had met the other grade 4 teacher just days before the kids were scheduled to arrive. I was very nervous, but she helped me immensely with my planning as she was a veteran teacher that had years of experience working with students from extremely affluent families.
The students began to arrive on day one, they entered the room in their brand-new school uniforms looking for their assigned seat. I had butterflies in my stomach the size of stingrays as parent after parent introduced themselves. These were powerful people on the island, and they sent their children to this school with high expectations for the best education possible. Yet here I was, three months removed from teaching my last senior woodshop lesson facing 24 students who had just been dropped off in BMWs, Range Rovers, Mercedes, and yes, even a Rolls Royce.
We spent time sharing stories of our summer holidays. Some of the students were new to the school and I wanted everyone to have an idea of who it was they would be learning with this year. I also wanted to get to know the kids and as they spoke, I began to feel my shoulders drop and my breathing move from my throat back into my lungs. The kids spoke about spending time with their family and friends. Time with grandpa and grandma. Time with aunties and uncles. Time spent connecting and having fun just being kids. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe tales of polo lessons or private dance classes. Stories of exorbitant trips on yachts or private jets. But that was not the case. They were just kids who were as silly and full of life as any group I had encountered back home on the prairies.
As result of learning about these youngsters and learning about their interests, I quickly pivoted from my initial plans that my partner and I created. Actually, she created them, I just copied them, thanking her with a bottle of wine, kind of an early Teachers Pay Teachers sort of transaction. The scaffold she created for me remained, but I quickly began to revise my lessons to allow students to bring their voice and their experiences to the classroom. In ELA we studied local myths and legends and in those classes, we began to hear other stories from students that moved to the Cayman Islands from New Zealand, China, The United States, South Africa, Scotland, and even Canada.
It is never too late to stop and think about the impact learning about your students has on your planning. It may be more work, but what are some of the benefits to pausing and adjusting your plan? How can that investment of time improve classroom learning, and in the end, make being part of your class a more robust experience?
What are something you have learned about your students? Where can that information live in your lessons? What are some other ways you can keep learning about your students?
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