I am a few days away from starting my 12th year in education. As I think about my goals for the 2016-17 school year, I am keeping it simple: Be interesting.
I’ve always been a curious person. When I first began teaching, I often kept all non-education curiosities separate from my life as a teacher in the interest of being professional. I hate to admit, but sometimes I would even choose generic interests in order to forge connections with students. My students picked up on that so connections made were superficial. Knowing that relationships have to come first, I knew I needed to make a change. I slowly began showing interest and curiosity in things.
Many of my non-education curiosities found a place within our classroom. I am fascinated by people who try to keep wild animals — tigers, specifically — as pets and used that to drive nonfiction writing choices. I follow college basketball, which inspired “post-it brackets” — a method evaluating our best thoughts about a text. I am deeply curious about knowing the way things work and modeled that through science and math topics by deconstructing objects and tackling problems with a scientist mindset. I love storytelling and music so we created a pop opera, where we experienced the Revolutionary War by re-writing pop songs from the perspectives of key players.
As I became more interesting, I also became more interested. I asked more questions, made connections to student interests and learned about what fascinated my students. Every Friday, we started with The Morning Paper activity in which students had the choice to share an article from the news that stood out to them. Dogo News, Scholastic News and Time for Kids are great resources for this. Students were more engaged and felt comfortable sharing their interests and taking risks.
We built a stronger community of individuals, and yes, they even performed better on assessments. Students were connecting to one another more, not because they liked the same things, but even better because they recognized the interests of others. They were different yet they were thinking about one another, asking questions, showing empathy, interest and support. And finally, I was so excited to get to work everyday. I was more curious and aware of what was happening in the world around me, noticing things that I thought each student would be interested in or might want to discuss. And then I read this article by Austin Kleon, and it supported everything I had felt.
I would like to work on this goal with you. Let’s be interesting. If you are interested in something, find a way to connect it to your classroom curriculum. How incredible would it be to introduce a Revolutionary War unit using “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton? If you aren’t sure what fascinates you, be transparent in the journey to find out. Share your interests, be curious, explore what fascinates you. Listen, read, discuss and encourage students to do the same. Become a community of interesting learners.
Taylor Meredith is a Chicago-area teacher with a policy degree from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Service. Taylor received a master’s degree from Hunter College while a member of New York City Teaching Fellows. Passionate about student ownership of learning and thinking, action research, and theory of mind, she learned from the best at a public school in East Harlem, N.Y.
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