This entry is dedicated to friends and colleagues who are either commencing a new school year (i.e. those in the southern hemisphere) or teachers who are re-commencing their teaching after an extended and well-deserved holiday. Although I am sure many of you have set out lofty resolves for a successful new year, the purpose of this entry is to offer a few essential yet ‘hard truth’ reminders about the importance of carefully thinking about your classroom. I read once that a teacher’s actions and behaviors towards students in the classroom carry more influence that any policy or rule book. My hope is that these six reminders will invite you, either individually or with your colleagues, to reflect upon and be mindful of your actions and practice as you begin the important next stage in your student’s learning journey.
- Culture Counts!
Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” In other words, culture trumps good intentions in the classroom and beyond. Recent cross-cultural research underscores the reality that a students’ approach to and attitude toward education is significantly influenced by their culture and community. Thus, as you plan for students’ learning this term, consider ways in which you might adapt or adjust instructional and assessment strategies so that your students’ learning experiences are responsive of and relevant to their culture and community. As Sir Ken Robinson (2010), well known for his advocacy for the arts and creativity in the curriculum, tells us, children learn best when they are “in their element”. Teachers who successfully integrate a student’s culture into the classroom experience speak of higher levels of engagement and overall achievement.
- Each Child is Unique!
Culturally proficient teachers see students for what they bring to the classroom so that each child feels valued. Multiple research studies tell us that teachers’ personal beliefs about students, based on personal values, inner biases and/or past experiences, can lead to differential treatment and expectations for students and this finding is found to be especially true in international schools, characterized by their multi-cultural environments. The beginning of a new team is an ideal time to reflect and take stock of our beliefs, perceptions and existing attitudes towards our students. The increasing
diversity in classrooms today combined with our professional responsibility to create classrooms in which each child is successful requires teachers to be mindful of their thoughts and actions and strive for equitable classrooms which provide learning for all students.
- Look at the Evidence!
Teachers agree on the importance of data as a valuable way of informing their practice. Tangible evidence of student participation and progress speaks volumes when ascertaining the extent of student positive interaction with his or her learning to date. When working in international and culturally diverse settings, the careful and critical review of student data is particularly important so that you can be confident that the learning is meeting the diversity of student needs. The regular exploration of attendance, participation and/or achievement data can highlight possible flags for student progression, enabling teachers, individually and collectively, to reflect on their practice and adjust or modify as necessary.
- Celebrate Collaboration!
A hallmark of international schools is the diversity of nationalities found in the staffroom where teachers from all parts of the world come together to offer a unique learning environment for the students. Several recent educational studies confirm the value of professional collaboration as it contributes to school improvement and improved learning for students. When teachers come together, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience, and engage in discussions about how best to plan for and respond to student learning needs, the level of professional support and energy is maximized. Strong professional communities are the life blood of successful schools and for many teachers, these collegial encounters become a valuable way of seeking innovative ways to re-charge their practice.
- Technology is a Friend!
Education leaders agree that, over the next few years, information and communication technology will either creep or blast its way into our schools with the result that teachers will need to utilize new strategies and resources to support the learning process in the classroom. We know that technology can be a powerful tool in the classroom, yet many teachers are reluctant to move beyond their Smart Boards when considering the use of technology as a classroom aid. However, teachers who successfully integrate technology into their instructional repertoire are rewarded by engaged groups of students, keen to extend and share their learning. 2017 might just be the time you invest in your own learning, seeking ways in which you might integrate some aspect of technology into your practice; your students will thank you!
- Your Classroom is Important!
No matter how we phrase it, our task is to create safe and secure classroom environments for our students. Teachers agree that positive and trusting relationships contribute significantly to student learning. Similarly, teachers and parents agree that change is a constant for students today. For this reason, the security of the day to day routines and supportive relationships developed in the classroom can offer the necessary reassurance to students that they are valued and that their efforts will make a positive difference to their learning. Teachers who have had an opportunity to travel and enjoy good times and friends over the holiday period are wise not to fall into the trap thinking that all their students have enjoyed a similar holiday experience. We really do not know the reality of a child’s home situation. Similarly, most teachers in international schools have travelled across countries and oceans to assume their position, however, when thinking about the lives of your students, perhaps their relocation or migratory experiences, (e.g. immigrants, refugee, expatriate) have not left them so resilient or optimistic about the future. Knowing that a student’s behavior is a window to their lives outside of the classroom, above all else, remember to smile and offer a genuine welcome to each student as he or she walks through your classroom door at the beginning of the term!
These six reminders are by no means inclusive of everything teachers need to consider as they plan for a successful new school year or term with their students. However, perhaps they might spark an unexpected or surprising reflection or personal awareness.
To my colleagues and friends in international schools and in both hemispheres, thank you for all that you do for your students! Best wishes for a successful 2017 in the classroom.