Creating an inspiring environment for my children as an elementary teacher is essential not only for positive development through the year but more importantly, to encourage children to become committed and engaged adults that view learning as a life-long process. My goal is to support children who will be joyful in life, creative, critical thinkers, patient, kind and respectful to all living organisms, hold a willingness to try new things, and possess the character to stand up for others. To do so, I must expose them to a variety of experiences that connect them to the classroom, school and community. These are not characteristics that a child is born with, but learned through modeling and practice. In a safe, stimulating and imaginative environment, children can begin to develop these skills. As their facilitator and guide, I must present opportunities where they can apply these interpersonal skills, as practice does not make perfect, however, it ensures that good habits are being formed.
There are three elements, which I believe are conducive to establishing a classroom community that allows children to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically and socially:
1. Teacher planting herself as a guide and facilitator
2. The encouragement of budding classroom to community connections
3. Rooting respect for all things and all people in daily activities
Teacher Planting Herself as a Guide and Facilitator
When my role is to guide, providing access to information, the children’s search for knowledge is met as they gradually learn to find answers to their questions independently. With an emphasis on observation, documentation, discussion and reflection, children begin the journey into the inquiry process, building on their schema in a developmentally and learner appropriate manner. I believe that students build new ideas based upon prior knowledge and as a guide, I serve as a source to enable them to learn at their optimal level. As students seek to create new knowledge cooperatively, they will develop critical thinking skills while progressing as collaborative learners, both of which are essential to a child’s growth. To achieve a more democratic classroom, where each child’s thoughts and ideas are heard and respected, I believe in alternative forms of assessment. The use of portfolios, self-reflective journals, classroom meetings and observation allow me to assess individual children’s strengths and weaknesses and take the appropriate steps while embedding state standards and utilizing school curriculum.
The Encouragement of Budding Classroom to Community Connections
When children are given the opportunity to both take part in and contribute to the community, they are able to discover information for themselves and practice new skills in authentic and meaningful situations. Place-Based Learning and Project Centered Learning present opportunities for students to grow as learners and as individuals. These experiences and investigations engage all of the senses and can be facilitated through gardening, service-learning projects, community member visits and restoration efforts but they always have a similar outcome. The children are engaged in the act of learning and giving, while spending time working as a team and spreading their roots locally. Family involvement is encouraged in every aspect of the learning process as parents are viewed as partners and the home is an extension of school and not separate from it.
Rooting Respect for all Things and All People in Daily Activities
I believe that for children to give respect, they must receive it. When children are surrounded by people who are honest, positive, trusting, fair, polite, reliable, and caring, they are experiencing what it is to be respectful. As their guide, I believe that it is my role to model respectful behavior, to set realistic goals and rules and to allow for mistakes but to utilize those mistakes as teachable moments.
Another area of respect that is near and dear to my heart is a respect for the natural world. Children are inheriting a beautiful planet, yet a planet that has been mistreated. We need educated and compassionate individuals to take on the problems and create a healthier world for future generations. I believe that students need to be given ample time to explore, learn, play and work as a team outside of the four walls of the classroom. Once students are aware of the connections in the natural world, their eyes are opened to the delicate hands necessary to protect and encourage growth. Respect will develop, not as they are shown films of the destruction of the rainforests, but as they recognize that they are connected to the environment they are observing.