Saturday, September 7, 2013

Building a Community of Learners~ The First Six Weeks

As I worked to build our classroom environment I thought about the kids and how they would move comfortably within the space, where they'd sit to work with peers or independently and where we would gather as a class. Beyond the physical space I thought about my students as members of a community. Teaching first grade has many rewards and a few challenges. Enabling young kids to take risk, to try when things are challenging, to work in a large group and develop empathy are big jobs in first grade and skills that are essential for success.

As I get to know my kids, just a person, not as numbers or even students but, as a young person I watch to see how they interact with others, who they seek out in work and play, I watch to see how they learn classroom routines and how they respond to others. Through this observation I plan our days to be enticing and to invite them to want more. We read great books, write about our interest, explore math tools and we celebrate everyone and everything!  It's important for the kids to see school is a fun place to be, a place where we learn and share, where everyone is their friend.  Our classroom is a place to try new things, make friends, a place where everyone is welcome and everyone is valued.

In getting to know my kids I don't look at files, or listen to comments shared by previous teachers (and sometimes even parents) I want my kids to have a CLEAN slate, I want to form my own impressions about this young person as an individual and as a member of our learning community.

Building a classroom community where students know and respect each other, where students see mistakes as opportunities and are willing to try hard each day is fundamental to a child's success. This year has presented challenges in establishing these skills. This year (for reasons beyond my control) my young first graders are being assessed in the first 3 weeks of school. I now know data before I know my kids as kids or learners.

I work to buffer the impact of early assessment, I know I have to make it work because kids aren't given a second chance. We get one chance to build our community, one chance to show kids what school is and what it is not. But as I watched their innocent faces it was obvious they knew they were being judged on their performance.  There is no undoing this feeling, the kids now own that embarrassment and worry. I struggle to find the benefits of early assessment. Assessing students before they've developed relationships and established routines seems like a "pop" exam before the syllabus is passed out.  I understand and value timely pre-assessment but, how does assessment in the first 3 weeks enable a student to feel valued and respected, both of which are necessary for their success?

   So this weekend I revisited the Responsive Classroom  searching for strategies to continue our work in building a classroom community where students hold an open mindset . As I look ahead I worry about the missing pieces of our first six weeks and how they will affect us as learners and as a community. 

    As educators we need to understand our kids, our community and ourselves. In a previous post I wrote about my belief statements and as I reflect on them today It's clear the ball is in our court. It will be our performance that moves kids past this infraction. Now more than ever we are  charged to work to enable our kids to see past the assessments and see themselves as learners who do hard things, we have to make this work, we don't have a choice because the kids don't have a choice.

   Previous post illustrates  power of MindSet in students.  


  1. Deb,
    Thanks for the reminder to stay focused on what is most important in these first week's of school: "Building a classroom community where students know and respect each other, where students see mistakes as opportunities and are willing to try hard each day is fundamental to a child's success."

    These words stayed with me, "I now know data before I know my kids as kids or learners." I'm a little saddened by the truth in this statement. Normally I spend the first six weeks discovering and celebrating all they know. I spend the first six weeks positioning learners to take the next steps in learning, creating an environment were risk taking is comfortable, and mistakes are, as you said, seen as opportunities. Instead there have already been numbers placed where promise used to rest.

    It is my job to look beyond that and to help my students (and their families) look beyond that. Kids are not numbers. They are learners with amazing potential.

    Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for your post. Your thoughts help me to find the center again today as I stop and reflect. I find it ironic that a first grade teacher feels the same way a fifth grade teacher does about testing and as Cathy pointed out the truth about data.

  3. Thanks for these wise words. I've been wanting to write the same sentiment since school started. I feel like I'm missing a huge chunk this year and I'm trying desperately to not let it completely slip through my fingers. "I know my data before I know my kids," is a pretty powerful statement. We need to hang in there together.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post and I also reopen my highlighted responsive classroom books each August to review:) I too am struggling with the never ending data that has to be reported before I get to really know and connect with my learners. I wonder how the end of the year data would be affected if I just hit the ground running with community building and instruction? Thanks for reminding me "that we have to enable our kids to also see past the assessments and see themselves as learners who do hard things..." Loved that!

  5. Oh my goodness -- too many of us and our little ones are feeling this stress and anxiety. Your words "for reasons beyond my control" resonate all too much. It's hard to follow "orders" and do what doesn't feel right at all. Best wishes to all of us!