Updated: Oct 2, 2019
Okay. So, I have been in a lot of classrooms. Like, a lot. I dream about other people teaching more than I ever dreamed about my own classroom. That kind of a lot.
As a teacher, I got to participate in peer coaching and mentoring programs and I got to observe some of my amazing peers and colleagues in their own environments. (if you don’t have this at your school, stop reading right now, go find your administration, and badger them until they get this in place. I promise I will still be here when you get back.)
As a coach, I have visited more teachers in their classrooms and have observed more lessons than I can count.
And oh man, I have seen some of the most inspiring, vibrant teaching. I have met some of the most energetic teachers and students. I have watched some of the most engaging lessons. Those have been the sweetest days of my career.
Of course, sadly, I have also witnessed some of the worst lessons out there. The best of those were simply apathetic and the worst of those resulted in students who felt belittled, mentally beaten-down and utterly defeated. Those were the days that left me questioning my career.
And I have definitely seen everything in between. I have seen some beautiful things. Some terrible things. Some crazy, mind-boggling, wondrous things. Buy me a drink and I might share one or two of the funniest things with you (names changed to protect the innocent, of course).
The point is, I have been in a lot of classrooms
So, because of that, I often get asked by colleagues, “What it is that sets those awesome ones apart? What is it that makes a classroom successful?”
The million dollar question, right?
Honestly, when I first started teaching, I kind of had this weird idea that you either were or you weren’t a good teacher--you just “had it”--like blue eyes or a sixth toe. It wasn’t something you could obtain. (Yeah, I was pretty green and not so keen on reflective practice in those early, infant stages of teaching. I cringe to think of it).
Of course, as I grew in my practice, I started to realize that wasn't remotely true--that a successful classroom was intentionally created. Even after coaching for a bit though, when I first started getting this question, I faltered. I couldn’t quite pinpoint the What or the Why of it.
So I started to look more closely. And after being in literally hundreds of classrooms to observe, to watch my colleagues hone their craft, to watch students react and dive in, I started to see some patterns emerge. I started to study those patterns and I started to notice three common themes--essentially three elements that strong teachers have in place to support kick-ass learning environments. These three elements are relationships, engagement, and systems. Get those elements in place and bam--learning! So simple right?
Yeah, well, okay not quite.
Like I said, a kick-ass learning environment is intentionally created. As educators, we could spend our entire careers honing and sharpening our skills in just one of these elements in itself. But by even just starting the work and turning your focus onto these three things, we can grow and get stronger.
And once you have a few solid systems established, once you start deliberately reflecting on student-teacher relationships, and once you start exploring and unpacking what engagement really looks like, you’ll see it--a brilliant sweet spot right there in the middle of those three elements. That sweet spot right there? That’s your successful classroom.
Start to think about where you are really killing it and where you want to spend a little more time. I have tried to organize this website so you can explore each of the elements to find more insights, articles, strategies, and ideas to support you as you start to dig in.
Have fun exploring! And when you need a break, come back and find me and buy me a drink. Because I have stories...