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!