Solutions Work Better when We All Have a Say

Back when I was a little baby teacher, I had several occasions to work in another teacher’s classroom. That’s how it is, we guest with an older teacher, we learn so much from the things that they do well. Sometimes we learn from the things that they don’t do well, too.

On one occasion, I heard an experienced teacher get frustrated with her students and say something that really stuck with me as what not to do. “I worked so hard on this for you, and this is how you thank me?” she asks of the room full of seven year olds, their faces confused, but savvy enough to look chagrined.

The activity was complicated, and had involved a lot of prep for the teacher in question. I remember thinking at that very moment, “Did you ask them what they wanted?” I realize how hard she worked on something she thought would be fun for her kids, and how frustrating that response can be. Even so, without that input of interest — of working with her kids, that a teacher’s big ideas can go so wrong.

It’s in that spirit that I went home on Friday, worried about my babies. I’d had a couple of surprising meltdowns over the past week, and it’s become clear to me that my students are stressed more than usual. They’re doing their best to have fun in a messed up world, they’re doing their best to pay attention, to be eager, to try, and they’ve just got that extra layer of Covid-difficult settled over everything they do. For all of the normal things that can stress out your average ten year old, these kids have an added dimension.

This morning, for morning work, I wrote this on a large piece of paper, “If we could do anything to improve our class, what would you like us to do? Write as many ideas as you can think of, serious or funny.”

During this time, some kids wrote down a dozen or more ideas. Some weren’t sure what they wanted. When a few said to me that they couldn’t think of anything, I responded, “Wouldn’t a smoothie machine make things better?” I mean, I can’t put in a smoothie machine, but bad ideas can lead to brainstorming, so I don’t care.

When we went over the ideas later in the morning, I collected 53 ideas from my kids. There were some repeats, and some answers that were a little silly, but I got more than a dozen solid ideas. Even the ideas that were kind of silly — Disco Lights! — and the ideas that would be tough in Covid times — could we have couches and meeting tables back in our classroom, could you bring doughnuts — are things that I can work with, and things that I can spiral off of.

And so all of this group brainstorming has given me some quality fixes that I can do with my students, rather than Internet sourced ideas that I can do for my students. I have the benefit of knowing that this is actually what they want. It also sends my students the message that I care about them, that their input matters, and that this is our class.

My next steps are tightening up the list, and starting to schedule some of their changes. Working together, our second semester is going to be a good one.

I teach kids, snuggle with cats (mine) and dogs (when I can). I eat plants, draw pictures, ride bikes, and I like to read and write. @MagicPantsJones on social.