Who is working hardest?

After spending some time in John’s Year 1 classroom, we had a chat about how he felt things were going. He thought that he had a great relationship with his kids, I agreed. He thought they were enthusiastic, I agreed. He felt worn out, I wasn’t surprised. 

It was a buzzing, busy classroom, but my question, “Who is working the hardest in your room?’ pulled John up short. From my perspective, it was clearly him. I wondered what he thought.

John pondered and finally admitted that it was probably him. I agreed. I pointed out the number of children he had interrupting him to check their progress with him, to ask what to do next and to ask where work should be put. I also told him that he was being extremely kind and thoughtful and answering all of the student’s questions, often in great detail, often repeating himself, a critical piece in every decision occurring in the classroom. 

I asked if he was doing their thinking for them? 

‘Oh shit!” was his response.

John agreed to try simply bouncing the student’s questions back at them. ‘What do you think?’ was to be the first step in changing the dynamic and classroom culture. 

A couple of days later I was back in his room, and impressed by how diligently John was encouraging students to answer their own questions. Already the dependence culture was moving toward a thinking culture. 

John was impressed by the ideas students had too. One student had made a ‘Put Work Here’ sign and shown the rest of the class. That was the end of that question. 

We talked about other systems he could put in place to reduce the reliance on the teacher as ‘the font of all knowledge’ in the classroom. John had already been thinking about this and we came up with a number of things to try:

  • making short iPad video recordings for work stations, giving students the task instructions. These instructions could then be replayed as often as required, and needed no additional input from the teacher once set up. Later John moved to having students make the videos for others, and this was an important step in building more student voice in the classroom.
  • assigning 2 students a day as the ‘Ask Me’ people. These students could give permission for one at a time to leave for the toilet, help find resources, find a partner to help explain something and be the first level problem solver supporters.
  • wearing a hat when he wasn’t to be interrupted, except for emergencies. Guided reading involved uninterrupted sessions when he wore the hat. The class enjoyed making the ‘Teacher wearing the Hat’ rules, and getting clear on what was and what wasn’t an emergency that it would be okay to interrupt him for.
  • feedback about problem solving and independence as part of end of session debriefs. In addition to sharing learning that had occurred, students were asked to acknowledge peers who had helped them, to come up with systems that would make the classroom run more smoothly and to celebrate their own thinking and problem solving.
  • using a small whiteboard with 2 columns for students to write their questions and name in the first column, so that other students could help out if they knew the answers. The helper would write their name in the second column and tick off the question if it was solved. This gave John information about what challenges students were facing, without having to hear them all himself.
  • toilet tags were added later, students were able to go to the toilet if there was a tag free. They’d hang their name tag on the hook and take a toilet tag. At a glance, John knew who was where, but didn’t need to manage the process. The class meeting talking about the new system and what responsible toilet behaviour looked like, set students up with a successful new routine.

What systems do you have in place to increase your students' self management capabilities?

At his end of the year performance review, John talked about the massive impact, ‘Who is working the hardest?’ had on his teaching skills, his thinking and his enjoyment of his work. He was well on the way to involving students more fully in the planning of class systems and routines and continually impressed by what 5/6 year olds could come up with. He was having uninterrupted teaching time, and loving it. He was enjoying sharing power with the class and collaborating with them to create a thinking culture. A great success story - a great teacher moving to brilliance!