Getting It Right: child-centered learning in the first days of school

On the third day of school, I walk into an elementary school and watch children sharing their creations in response to reading the book “It’s not a box.” I marvel at the children’s unique creations and find joy in their demos — especially the “box” turtle. Such creativity!

I love the energy, the activity, and the warmth of our elementary schools as we are all in start up mode. As a result of our focus on responsive classroom, mindfulness, maker work, project and problem-based learning and redesigned spaces to support active and comfortable learning, I see our kids engaged in social curricula on equal footing with academic curricula.

They are afforded choices of where to work and how to orient in space.

They are given opportunities to work together or find spaces to work in solitude.

I see resources and activities that tell me cultural responsiveness is important to building relationships and connecting learning. Sometimes kids are in direct instruction, sometimes they are in inquiry work, sometimes they are reading or writing or researching using old tech (books and paper) — or new tech (mobile devices or active monitors).

Sometimes they are consumers of content and sometimes they are creating, making, designing, or building as a path to learning — and snacking as they as work.

Arts and music and dance and play and recess and physical education — children engage in activities that bring delight and enthusiasm to the learning day. And, we’ve redesigned cafeterias where kids eat their lunch family style around a table chatting together rather than lined up at long stretches of tables, institution style.

All this tells me that child-centered, active learning is winning the day over the worksheet-driven and dominant teaching wall test-prep movement of the last few decades.

Of course, I still see practices that I’d like to see less of. Principals and I talk as we walk about what they’d like to see more or less of in the work that children do. However, I value as we walk schools together, that we observe many, many examples of children who are both happy and learning. We notice teachers who are both joyful themselves while bringing joy to our children. What more could we want for our young children in school?

Nothing creates a school culture that’s valued more than when people are positive and happy despite the stresses which we all feel on some days. I wish more people had a chance to see our teachers at work. I am inspired by educators every day. And I am fortunate to know the stories of children who succeed as learners in life because of teachers.

No profession on earth remains more valuable to civilization.

Educators make their mark every day through their influence on children who grow up to thrive as family members who serve their communities well. Teachers advance the world and I am fortunate to have the chance to see our profession pay that forward every day.

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