Getting Back to Basics

Sometimes I find myself overcome with questions: Why am I doing this? Why did I decide to become a teacher? Is it really worth all of the time I spend planning, preparing, agonizing about what’s happening with my kids? How am I ever going to help them learn everything they need to learn so that they’re ready for 2nd grade? Will I ever be good enough to be the teacher that my students deserve? It’s perhaps not surprising that once questions like this start, they can quickly spiral on and on until I feel like I should quit tomorrow.

But then I take a step back and think about what really drove me to become a teacher. What is teaching really about at its foundation? When you take away all of the paperwork and emails and politics, what is teaching at its core?

The final two chapters of Opening Minds address these very questions. Our most critical task as teachers is to help students unlock the skills that will enable them to become democratic citizens working collaboratively to positively impact our world. It’s so easy to forget this with all of the pressure of performance standards and testing benchmarks.

So where do we start? An important step is to stop thinking about kids individually and starting thinking about what they can accomplish collaboratively. Teaching kids to think with others show an increase in reasoning ability, comprehension, expressive language, creative thinking, examining assumptions, willingness to speak in public, willingness to listen to others’ ideas, frequency of supporting views with evidence, quality of interpersonal relationships, confidence, self-esteem, persistence, and supportive group interactions (pg. 97). Obviously with so much at stake, teaching kids to collaborate and to do it well is critical in our classrooms.

Showing kids what this look like is key as well as working with them to establish a set of community norms. Johnston provides the following example in chapter 8 (pg. 105):

1. Listen and respect each other’s ideas.

2. Everyone gets to be heard.

3. We give reasons when we agree or disagree, and we ask for reasons when people forget to give them.

4. Everyone is responsible for group decisions, so we try to agree.

Helping kids to see that this structure not only positively impacts them individually but also the class as a whole will spark their engagement and respect for others’ ideas.

Our society is in dire need of change. That change begins in our schools. It begins in our classrooms. We must help our students to pave the way toward valuing the collaboration of diverse individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and desires. Only then can we truly begin to make the world a better place where all people can move closer to their potential and therein find their purpose.

We’re ready. Our students are ready. Let’s do it!





3 thoughts on “Getting Back to Basics

  1. Lisa, this is an absolutely beautiful post! I found myself “dittoing” every point you made. We chose a professional that is beyond difficult. It is hard to consistently stay positively about a job that does provide so much angst and self-doubt. But, as you said, if anyone asks why we do this, the negatives do not come out of our mouths. We do focus on the community building and life skills that we can, hopefully, teach our students. Arguably, building a community and collaboration skills are the foundation for anything we do in the classroom and in real life. Though I haven’t read it yet, I am excited to hear Johnston’s thoughts in the remainder of the book. I love how positive and uplifting your entry is! I will definitely re-read it before starting back on Monday. Lisa, you are wonderful and I wish I could spend a day learning from you in your classroom!


  2. Lisa, I’m left feeling so inspired after reading your post! I haven’t finished the book yet, but I am excited to. I also really think that I may make an anchor chart with the 1-4 example from chapter 8 that you mentioned. If students know and can see the expectations then I think we will all grow with a little more ease. I can’t wait to get started!


  3. Lisa, I think it would be DEVASTATING if you left teaching. I know that question swirls around in the minds of so many teachers- the pay, the pressures, the feelings of inadequacy that comes from parents and test scores… but that is not the stuff that matters! You are making the most important kind of difference in your students’ lives. You are showing them how to work together, to problem-solve, and to practice empathy and kindness. You are the kind of teacher that is a part of the change that we do so direly need. It is a rare teacher that prioritizes diversity, respect, and the development of social imaginations in her students over the test scores and pressures she faces. You said in your last line paragraph that you want to see a world “where all people can move closer to their potential and therein find their purpose.” If teaching is not your purpose, I would be very surprised! Thanks for all of the awesome blog posts Lisa. I’ve enjoyed reading them!


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