- The schools that parents want to entrust their children to_________ (fill-in-the-blank).
- The schools that students want to be invited into __________ (fill-in-the-blank).
Fill-in-the-blank questions are some of my favorites. While they remain on the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy (comprehension and understanding), they are relatively easy to write (as a teacher) and relatively easy to answer (as a student). It seemed almost like cheating when the teacher was kind enough to provide a word bank off to the right of the list of questions. And, one can use deductive reasoning when down to the last two or three questions. Fill-in-the-blank questions often serve as a litmus test for learner comprehension. There is little room for guessing and learners must know the information in order to show that they did comprehend the information.
The questions in the title are important ones, a litmus test of sorts for classroom teachers and administrators. Stop for a moment and fill in this blank from the perspective of the parents who are investing their resources, with a deep hope that your school will meet their litmus test. Now answer the second question (note there is not a word bank for you to choose from!). What classroom culture or school wide culture can be created so that students really want to come to school? How can such a culture be created? A few practices for your consideration:
- Greet students at the door. Consider the difference between someone standing at the door, awaiting a high five, fist bump, handshake or just a hello and walking into a room where the teaching is sitting at his/her desk prepping for the day. This habit reminds us of the unique privilege that we have to teach, to be entrusted with God’s image-bearers and called to the task of guiding and unfolding God’s world to each one.
- Have something going on – music playing, a video streaming, games to be played, brain teasers, question of the day – make that first moment invitational. I love to walk up to schools and hear music playing in the courtyards or reading the rotating display boards when the content includes encouraging quotes, celebrations of learning as well as information.
- Ensure that the first interactions with parents and students are positive ones. This means you cannot wait for that first interaction to happen. Waiting is like landing on the Chance drawing card space of Monopoly. You could Advance to Go and pick up the $200 or Take a walk on the Boardwalk only to find out the owner has a hotel and you are now bankrupt. I love the practices of preschool teachers who spend the week before school doing home visits, getting to know the family and child in their context. However, even a phone call prior to Day One can ensure the first interaction is a positive one.
- Design your classroom with your students. This is very difficult to do in the early grades as teachers take incredible pride and ownership of their space. There are so many learning centers and visual cues needed in our classrooms but let’s leave some space for the classroom becoming “our space”, for their work (in draft form and in finished form), and for their physical creativity to flourish. And, from a win-win perspective, it will save you a bunch of time at the beginning of the year!
- Love them unconditionally. There is no substitute for modeling love in our classrooms, the kind of love that is new every morning. The kind of love we receive from the Father. The kind of love they will remember for a lifetime.
As you fill-in-the-blank on these two questions, leave some room for more than one answer but don’t guess or deductively reason. Discover the answers through inductive reasoning and invitational practices. Ask these questions directly and indirectly of your students and parents. You will have parents who desire an orderly space for their child while others will want some messy areas. You will have students for whom you will certainly need to show love that is new every morning and others who will give you that unconditional love for when you miss the mark. Our ability to allow multiple answers is our invitation to be part of this school and this classroom. Our ability to enfold their answers into a school wide culture that is invitational through practice will make the difference.
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.