July 2, 2012

When students and teachers collaborate

One of my Twitter friends (pictured above) tweeted this at me, in response to an article I posted at the ASCD EDge blog, called Top five reasons to eliminate classroom rules. She later amended "rules" to "expectations." Here is my response to her tweet.

Collaborating with students on creating a learning community

Any classroom will run smoothly, when students see that their teacher values their input. This doesn't mean using assertive discipline, in order to manipulate students into creating your rules. In fact, there's no place for the word "rules" in a high-functioning results-only classroom.

Here are a few simple guidelines for involving students and building a successful learning community:
  1. Begin with collaboration: Tell your students that you want their help. "We need a successful learning community, free from disruption. Let's brainstorm some guidelines for this kind of environment." Now, get out of their way and let them work.
  2. Listen to all suggestions -- even the crazy ones: Don't easily dismiss seemingly-wild ideas. Something like "Let us go to the bathroom anytime we want to" can go a long way in building the class that you want, when all parties agree on how to make it work. I did this once, and the students created a remarkable policy of signing out, taking the classroom pass and leaving whenever the urge hit them. They loved and respected the policy, because they created it.
  3. Remember the ultimate goal -- learning: When ideas are unreasonable, simply remind students that, "We are setting guidelines for a successful learning community." There can be chaos, but it has to be good chaos. There are times for movement and noise, and there are times for quiet contemplation. Discuss how to distinguish between the two.
  4. Emphasize mutual respect: Be sure to discuss what this means (let them talk about it with each other first). You can always fall back on respect, when something goes awry.
Start your year this way. Revisit the conversation often, and you can throw out the rules and consequences.

Don't miss ROLE Reversal: How Results Only Learning Will Change Education as We Know It, due in early 2013 by ASCD, the world's top educational leadership organization