Friday, July 1, 2011

I believe learning is personal...

I believe that effective education is about people, always. We must reach people on personal levels to foster relevance in what they learn.
 flickr photo via epSos.de

My former principal, Mark Jones, confirmed this belief for me during our first meeting two years ago. I had just started my first administrative appointment as a vice-principal at Mattie McCullough Elementary School, a thriving K-5 school with a technology focus.  He told me my initial responsibility was to get to know the kids at our school and also their parents… sit back a bit and learn how things flowed in my new school. I took his advice and it proved to be the best advice I received during my first year as a school administrator, and very much aligned with my personal philosophy pertaining to engaging students.

In my previous placement as a middle school counselor before coming to Mattie, and as a teacher working with kids manifesting severe emotional and behavioral challenges before that, I learned the value of learning kids’ stories. I was eager to learn the stories of the people that represented the culture of my new school. I believe that every student has a personal learning story, and I think of that story as containing three main components: the student’s past; the student’s present and the student’s future. In a more specific context for me as the teacher, these components translate into the story I need to learn about (past), the story I need to help write (present) and the story with the happy ending (future). Our stories define us, and it's so important that schools are environments that encourage people to share them.

Before being transferred to a new school at the end of this school year, Mark was at Mattie McCullough since it opened eight years ago. He is a master at the art of engagement relative to his students, their parents and the neighborhood our school belongs to. The connections he built with every member of the school family were tangible and obvious. Newcomers to our school would pick up on it right away. We have the type of school that supply teachers want to come back to over and over again once they’ve had their first assignment; it’s just a great place to be. Mark’s daily interactions with students, staff and parents were genuine and purposeful. He knew the story of each one of our 465 kids, their parents and every staff member. Through the effort he became a collaborative and contributing author to each one of their personal learning stories. Mark exemplified my belief that education is about people by nurturing a family atmosphere at Mattie McCullough School; one that accepted everyone regardless of ability or background, and supported everyone by getting to know every one of the school's family members personally.

I believe students must feel a sense of empowerment and control over their learning. We all write the best stories about ourselves; our experiences, thoughts, feeling, actions and words. In order to allow kids to be the authors of their own learning, we need to give them the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the learning process. When they do by sharing their stories with us, we're able to personally support their learning efforts because we know more about their thoughts, feelings, actions and words... their personal perspectives toward learning, and how best they need to be supported. When we can reach kids on personal levels, we begin to understand their stories and the learning journey we travel together begins.

Helping write each of our student’s personal learning stories is a privilege and responsibility all educators must be proud to accept. I’m grateful for the wisdom of my principal in reminding me how important building collaborative relationships with our students, their families and the community we belong to is if we are to do this supportively and effectively.
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