Posted by: ketheredge | August 4, 2010

A First-Class Education in the 21st Century

IMG_0054 On my return trip from Microsoft’s Innovative Teacher’s Forum last August, I had the fortuitous experience of receiving an upgrade to first-class.  In all my years, I had never flown first-class; needless to say, the experience was absolutely amazing!  As the flight began, I marveled at this new environment so unlike the “average” travelers’ experience.  I felt completely out of my element, but knew that I was going to enjoy the long flight across country.

When the flight crew began to attend to their passengers’ needs, the luxuries abounded.  Warm wash cloths before breakfast, six-foot cotton blankets, a pillow, free earplugs, a hot breakfast (and lots of it), a private restroom, spacious seating, milk and cookies, quiet surroundings, constant service with personal attention – the comforts of home on a plane!  Looking out at the clouds and enjoying the comforts of first-class, my thoughts soon shifted from the luxuries of first-class to my time in San Jose at Microsoft’s Innovative Teacher’s Forum.  As I began reflecting on the best practices displayed at the forum, I made analogies between first-class flying and first-class learning.  When I walked off the plane, the connections between the two seemed even more compelling.  Life was good, and, therefore, I felt more rested, less stressed, and more relaxed than I have ever felt after a four-hour flight.  To be honest, I was walking on air. 

I thought – Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my students were walking on air after a day of school?  If they felt invigorated and inspired rather than stressed and exhausted?  How do I achieve that feeling? 

I’ve pondered this question for quite a while (August to June), and I have hesitated to write anything until I felt I had a complete plan to achieve my goal of providing my students with first-class learning.  I finally realized, however, I don’t need a complete plan, and I can simply strive every day for students to leave my room walking on air.  So, here it goes, my thoughts on how I can create a “first-class” learning environment for my students:

Spaciousness.  First-class seating is spacious; I had room to curl up in my seat, stretch out my legs, prop up my arms, and work on my laptop without feeling cramped or fearing that I was invading my neighbor’s space.  Applying those concepts to learning is not about physical space; it is about giving students space to learn.  Instead of worksheets and lectures that cramp my students thought process and pigeon-hole every child to learn the same material in the same manner, I can provide students with the opportunity to learn according to their learning styles.  I can let them “curl up” with an idea and uncover it’s importance; I can let them “stretch out” and explore applications of their new found knowledge to the real-world; I can let them “prop up” each other by working collaboratively on a goal that is too large for anyone student to do alone, but achievable with many minds and many talents shared.  I can teach them that problems have many solutions and many avenues to solving them.  With spaciousness, students can be fearless to explore and try out new ideas because they know they are in a safe environment that promotes exploration and experimentation.

Personal Attention.  First-class flying allowed me to have my needs met quickly and consistently.  An attendant was near at all times and frequently checked in with me to see if I need anything.  Should my classroom be any different?  Absolutely not.  Every student receives my personal attention and their needs are meet in a timely manner.  I want to know each students strengths and weaknesses and work toward helping each student excel and improve in their on unique way.

Comfortable Environment.  Fresh, warm food, a warm washcloth, full size cotton blankets, fresh baked cookies and milk, free earplugs, quiet… oh, the luxuries of first-class! Calming, relaxing, invigorating.  How does that translate to learning?  Students should be allowed to explore fresh ideas; instead of simply learning about ancient and medieval epics, for example, I allow students to write their own epic using the elements they learned from their readings.  Moreover, I give students the resources they need to succeed on a project:  (1) Master Action Plans, a step-by-step process for reaching the end product, for every group project, (2) scaffolding resources to help students brainstorm, research, and analyze writing prompts, and (3) tutorials for new programs that I expect them to use.  I employ class management techniques and present material in an efficient, organized manner so that students can accomplish the goals set before them for the day.  Despite the size of the project, students will feel calm, relaxed, and invigorated because their learning environment is pleasurable.  They will achieve more than they ever imagined possible because of the guidance they were given along the way.

Since my my first-class flight, I thought many times about my desire for first-class learning.  All year, I have implemented all of the items above, but I wonder if I have implemented them on a consistent basis.  My goal for the future is that every day in my classroom is a first-class learning experience.  Every day, I want my students to leave my room walking on air.

The one difference between first-class flying and first-class learning?  First-class learning does not require the expense; it only requires my implementation of the best practices in teaching and my continual dedication to my students. 

As I begin my blogging journey, I plan to reflect back to this first blog to see if I am meeting my goal and write about the practical implementation of my goals.  What do you think?  How do you create a first-class learning experience for your students?  I would love to hear.


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