I have a pretty open door policy in my classroom. Any visitors are welcome to swing by and observe, participate and contribute to the activities that my students are engaged in. When somebody of the caliber of Ewan McIntosh walks in however I would hope to be found teaching my students in some profound way. When Ewan McIntosh himself did in fact walk into my room unannounced last week I was not teaching my students, I was learning about them.It was Valentine’s day and the schedule had been altered to accommodate a party during the last hour of the day. The 5/6 teachers host a talent show during this party and my teaching partner, Rick Joseph, and I strive to get 100% participation from our students. While some kids love the opportunity to perform, others find it can be a bit of an ordeal. Rick and I constantly ask our students to go beyond their comfort zone and take risks so that they can explore the barriers to their own learning and discover strategies to overcome them.
After lunch recess my students asked if they could have some time to rehearse for the show to overcome nerves and to problem solve with their classmates. Respecting their wish to prepare and figuring my shortened lesson on weathering and erosion would be soon forgotten in the ensuing sugar rush, I consented. Within minutes the room was filled with the sound of violins, keyboards, drums, singing and laughter. I floated around to see what my students had planned and I was amazed by their creativity and willingness to collaborate. Merrill had used You Tube to learn how to play a Cold Play song while David was figuring out his dance moves to accompany her. Ethan and Andrew, as M.C’s, were busy creating the running order and staging requirements. A group of girls were putting the final touches to a skit they had written while another group went outside to perfect their violin quartet. The confident were supporting and encouraging the not so confident and together they were pulling together as a team. Enter Ewan McIntosh!Ewan McIntosh is the founding CEO of NoTosh Limited, and he works with schools and universities in the Middle East, Australasia, Africa, North America and Europe to apply the ways of working in creative industries to the world of schooling. He is one of my educational gurus and I can’t really remember what we talked about for the brief time he was in the middle of my classroom chaos, but I do remember what I learned about my kids that day.I learned what motivates them, what interests them, how they learn, how they come together and how they face their fears.There is a performer lurking in every teacher and we also need to know our audience, know the whole child in order to meet their learning needs more effectively. Being a math and science teacher I’m frequently sad that I don’t get to share books with kids or read their stories and essays. These can often provide great insight into who our students are and in the hurly-burly race to leave no child behind, opportunities to really listen to and learn about our students can often be missed.
Later on that day lots more visitors arrived in my classroom as parents poured in to enjoy the talent show. We marveled together at the courage, flexibility, ingenuity, and levels of trust and camaraderie displayed by our kids. One of my first teaching mentors told me that education is like a three legged stool: parents, children and teachers. While classroom parties can often be messy, loud and seen as a distraction from the curriculum, they can also be seen as a rare opportunity for the three legs of the stool to come together to enjoy, celebrate and appreciate each other.I spent the rest of the week collating and analyzing mid-year assessment data about my students. This data will be helpful in making instructional decisions but no more so than the knowledge I gained about my students by taking forty minutes to let them teach me about who they are as people.