Back to School Questions

Harvard Education
Aug 27, 2016 · 3 min read

By Jessica Lander (originally published, in part, on Usable Knowledge’s blog from 8/2015)

As I hang colorful posters on my classroom walls, write up lesson plans, and organize student folders, I’m amassing a list of questions I hope to consider. Here are a few:

How can I structure assignments to encourage my students to think deeper and drive their own learning? When lessons are student-driven, interdisciplinary, and relevant to student lives, they can have a transformative effect. With HGSE Asscociate Professor Jal Mehta, we examined the tools, mindsets, and practices that shape critical thinkers and engaged learners. Can I successfully weave these ideas into my lesson plans and class projects?

How can I best support students who have fled raging conflicts across the globe? Nearly 30 million children around the world have been forced from their homes. Too often, their formal education is chaotic, erratic, or non-existent. In classes with Sarah Dryden-Peterson and visiting experts from international aid organizations, we learned about the challenges of nurturing, and reclaiming the childhoods of refugee students. How will I best be able to support them in the classroom?

How can I best work with and learn from my fellow teachers? The best school systems in the world invest deeply in their teachers, they devise rigorous training and professional development, and they develop regular opportunities for collaboration. In discussions with Pasi Sahlberg we identified core practices that effectively support great teachers and healthy teaching communities. Will I be able to tap the knowledge of my fellow teachers?

How can I create successful partnerships with the parents of all of my students? Partnering with parents is shown to be critical to fostering successful schools. With Karen Mapp, we talked about the importance of listening to our students’ parents, reaching out to build partnerships, and intentionally creating welcoming schools. Can I successfully build meaningful collaborations with my students’ families — and perhaps with the greater community?

These are just a few of the ideas I hope to weave into my teaching this year. Classes start in less than a week. In the meantime I’ll keep on creating lesson plans, dreaming up projects, and hanging world maps on the walls of my new classroom. There is a lot of work ahead.

For the confidentiality of my students, their families and my school peers, all identifying details will be altered. The focus of this blog is the testing of ideas, rather than the telling of individual stories.

Jessica Lander writes regularly about education for the Boston Globe and other outlets. She is also the author of Driving Backwards, an exploration of the changing ways and enduring values of rural life in the 21st century. She received her master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2015. Follow her on Usable Knowledgeas she describes what happens when research ideas and best practices meet the real world. And follow her on Twitter at @jessica_lander.

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