Three Thoughts on a Tuesday - Classroom Mantras

As the summer break has officially arrived, I’ve spent some of this time reflecting & relaxing.  Travel is a big part of my early summer schedule this year, with trips to Alabama, Milwaukee, & Boston & Acadia National Park already planned!  In addition, reading will be a HUGE part of my summer as well, having already finished In the Hurricane’s Eye and A Clash of Kings and have several education books on grading, school culture, gamification, and technology integration all part of my to-do list.

This post is all about having a set of mantras to fall back on as reminders for students when things get tough, or they seem to be struggling with anything, be it athletics/activities, schoolwork, or just life in general.  These are things I repeat often to students to illustrate the first three aspects of being a HIKER: Heart, Inspiration, and Knowledge. Let’s dive in!

Be Safe, Be Smart, Make Good Decisions

The first mantra is actually how I close each week with my students.  As we finish our activities on Fridays (or whatever the final student attendance day is), I complete the wrap up as the bell rings with this phrase: “Have a good weekend. Be Safe, Be Smart, Make Decisions.”  The goal here is to constantly remind students that I want to see them back in my class when we return, and that I want their time away from me to be filled with activities that are fun, but also that I care about them as people.  This is the essence of Starting with Heart. Notice that nothing is said about homework, projects, or anything academic. From the beginning, this mantra is all about Heart: Their safety is paramount and when that is achieved, I know they’ll be able to be back in our class for more adventurous learning!  The second part is all about using their time for what matters most to them. That may be my class, another class, or activities unrelated to school, but whatever it is, I want them to use that time in a smart way for their personal growth. Finally, we all know that our students are often faced with tough choices as teenagers, especially on the weekends or during long breaks.  My hope is that the last thing they hear from me for the day is a reminder that in those moments when they face tough choices, that they will make good decisions to avoid potential negative consequences that will affect their ability to achieve their dreams or return to class. No matter what, my students will leave my class each week knowing that I care about them as people first, and students second.

Be Epic and Legendary

The second mantra is often repeated whenever we start new units and projects.  I design my class to be as self-paced as possible, with students working on tasks, challenges, and Fortune & Glory quests throughout each day.  Therefore, each class is not truly a self-contained lesson, but more of an ongoing journey through our study of history, allowing students the freedom to explore our content and standards at a pace that suits them best.  When projects are introduced, we examine the basic structure of the task, review which standards are being assessed on the project and where resources and the rubric can be located, as well as the assignment in Google Classroom.  Following this, I remind students that how they choose to accomplish the task is entirely up to them, so long as they are epic and legendary in their creation. They are never assessed on their ability to use a specific app, but through my gamified class, I can reward that epic creativity with Experience Points, Items, Badges, or even our Wall of Fame.  So when students have great responses to our driving questions/standards, but ask “How do I put all this together?” I remind them of this mantra and then offer suggestions based on what I know about them. Yes, some still gravitate to apps they feel comfortable with, but when we reflect on the project, we look at other ways it could have been completed. Those that have chosen to embrace the opportunities to be epic and legendary have created amazing projects and most importantly, enjoyed the process along the way.

Be in Love with the Process of Learning.

The final mantra is repeated at the moment students start asking about points or grades.  While it is admirable to be concerned with your performance and what to do well on all tasks, I have found students to be under tremendous pressure to perform and when faced with feedback and a chance to revise, I am often asked about points and grading.  Early on, I provide some instruction on our class and repeat this mantra consistently, until students start to say it to each other, or have simply learned that the better question to ask is “How can I make this better?” This starts a conversation about learning and improvement, which is what makes deeper connections to content and skills, and shows again that I care more about who my students are as people than simply the content of my class.  During our reflections, I regularly ask about what my students learned most about themselves in addition to the content & skills of the project. The desire to improve and a focus on the learning process creates an environment where achievement can be applauded and celebrated, but also a place where the journey to that summit is just as valued as reaching it.

Feel free to use these in your own classroom, or better yet, design your own!

Keep Hiking!


Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out the leader of the #sblbookclub study group: Kathryn Byars. Kathryn is a world history teacher from California who has an amazing wealth of knowledge on both Standards-Based Learning/Grading and history in general.  Her website, http://mrsbyars.blogspot.com/ provides amazing lesson plans & insights on powerful teaching to engage and inspire students.  I’ve learned so much from her & definitely become a better teacher in the process. I encourage you to follow Kathryn on Twitter @mrsbyarshistory