Unleashing Deep Learning

Set the Tone

I really enjoyed listening to Brené Brown’s Daring Classrooms Keynote. Her message of vulnerability is so powerful.  In particular, these words really stuck with me, “Make the world a better place. The revolution will not be televised, it will be in your classrooms.” These words are so powerful because they are true! Teachers really do have the power to make a huge impact right inside the walls of our very own classrooms! 

Her thought-provoking message also sparked lots of past teaching moments to come to mind for me. The good thing is that I think I am doing a pretty darn good job of teaching vulnerability to my students. I think this is actually one of my strengths as a teacher. I build a loving, classroom environment that feels like one big family. And it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes intentional decision-making skills and time. 

All humans need to feel connected. (Photo by Sidharth Bhatia on Unsplash)

Building a classroom community with a dialogical learning approach that is filled with humility, love,  faith, hope, and critical thinking are essential to developing strong relationships with and amongst students. I set the tone for this work from day one in a variety of ways including a careful selection of read-aloud books, getting students connected through Morning Meeting, and getting students working in collaborative groups through games like Breakout EDU. The more students interact and connect with one another, the more likely they are to feel comfortable enough to be themselves in the classroom.

Students work together to solve the puzzles in a recent Breakout EDU game.

Some of my favorite beginning of the year read alouds are Each Kindness, Raise Your Hand, The Day You Begin, Say Something, and All Are Welcome. I choose these books for their messages. Messages of humility, love, faith, hope, and critical thinking. Messages I believe are important and hopefully, messages that students will hear and believe in, themselves.

Teaching vulnerability is done through both the big and small actions of a teacher. Doing things like taking a stance on unkind behaviors such as name-calling, using Restorative Circles,  sharing personal experiences, and listening to students, all contribute to creating a classroom environment that feels safe.

Allowing Yourself to Be Vulnerable

One of the biggest ways I’ve been able to connect with my students is by showing them my vulnerabilities. By showing students that I am vulnerable, they see that I am a real person with feelings, insecurities, and fears. Students appreciate this honesty.

During a recent Opinion Writing Unit,  I modeled how to write an opinion essay using my own example. This was my thesis statement and reasons: I need to have more confidence in myself because I worry about what others think too much; there are times I want to speak up and I don’t, and I have skills I could share with my peers.

Writing this essay in front of my students allowed me to share my own insecurities with them. Many of them were surprised to hear that I get so nervous to speak in front of my peers or that I am afraid to speak up at times. Some students connected to these feelings so much that they shared times when they felt the same way. Because I showed vulnerability to my students, they felt a sense of relief to know that adults have insecurities and things they struggle with just like children do.

My Personal Essay

My personal essay that I shared with students for our Opinion Writing Unit.

Here’s Some Humility

Another way that I’ve been able to connect with students is by showing humility. In Paulo Freire’s Five Ideas for Dialogical Learning , he describes humility as the ability to learn from and understand students (humble approach), rather than taking a more directive approach. 

This is the story that comes to mind when I think of how I’ve shown humility in my classroom.

In my classroom, students can earn team points by transitioning quickly, working together, being helpful, being kind, and many other ways. I keep track of the daily winners on a color-coded calendar in the classroom that teams fill in at the end of each day if their team won. At the end of the month, the team with the most days won gets recognized in class for their efforts. I take a picture of the team and hang it on the “Wall of Fame” along with their team flag. They also get a small reward such as eating lunch outside, extra recess, or extra tech time.

Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

For a few weeks, I incorporated a few rounds of rock, paper, scissors in the last 3 minutes of class for fun. Students could win extra points for their teams if they won the round. On occasion, winning rock, paper, scissors could lead a team to victory for that day, meaning they got to color in the calendar square.

One student really did not agree with this strategy. He felt like it wasn’t fair; especially since his team had worked hard all day and then they ended up losing because of rock, paper, scissors. The day after this happened to his team, he politely walked up to me and handed me a handwritten 5 paragraph essay title, “Why We Shouldn’t Play Rock, Paper, Scissors for Points.”

He had obviously put a lot of thought and time into writing this essay for me. He had strong reasons and evidence, used a convincing tone, and was respectful at the same time. After reading the essay, I could see his point. He felt that I might be discouraging students from trying hard if they would end up losing in rock, paper, scissors. A game that had nothing to do with teamwork, kindness, or being helpful.

What did I do next?

Love

I asked the boy if I could share what he had done because I wanted all of my students to see how important it is to SAY SOMETHING when they do not agree with someone, even if it is an adult. He agreed.

During our Morning Meeting, I shared the story with my students and let them know how proud I was of the boy for speaking up. I shared how his essay helped me see that my choice in using a game towards team points wasn’t the best idea. I shared how his actions were able to help me learn and grow as a teacher.

What I really appreciated about this boy’s courage to write an essay to his teacher stating why he disagrees with a choice I made, was that he felt safe enough to do so in the first place. That’s love.

I think it all really boils down to love. Teachers who truly love kids are some of the best. If you really love kids, you enjoy your time each day with them, you work hard for them; you stick up for them; you advocate for them, and you show you appreciate them. They will notice this. They will love you for it. They will respect you. They will work harder for you. This is why I teach.

Author: Andrea Goodrich

I am an international educator working in Hanoi, Vietnam. I have been working overseas for the past 13 years. I started my career in a bilingual school in Guayama, Puerto Rico as a fifth and sixth-grade reading teacher. Then I moved to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and taught fourth grade for two years. While living in Ecuador, I met my husband and we moved to Seoul, South Korea together. In Seoul, I taught fifth grade for two years and then moved into a literacy specialist role. We are now teaching in Hanoi, Vietnam with our two Korean rescue dogs.

3 thoughts on “Unleashing Deep Learning”

  1. Hi, Andrea!

    I love reading your posts; I always feel so inspired! What a great strength you have by being able to create loving classroom environments for your students. It is so important, and as you mentioned, it takes some conscious decision making (and courage) to make it happen.

    Our Elementary School is strong in Responsive Classroom, and Morning Meetings helped improve the transformation of the environment to make them even more loving. I took the Responsive Classroom training, but our Middle School schedule makes it challenging to implement it.

    I am passionate about Escape Rooms, so I insisted until my school got us a subscription and six physical kits from Breakout Edu. Sadly, we haven’t been to campus for almost ten months. I still use the digital Escape Rooms they offered, and the results are so good at collaboration.

    I already bookmarked all the books you mentioned. One of my favorite picture books of all time is The day you begin. It is such a powerful book. I remember reading the name of my country, Venezuela, and having tears in my eyes.

    I think that if I keep writing, this comment is going to be longer than my post.

    Thanks for sharing all the fantastic work you do!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Luis! I hope your school is able to get back to in-person learning soon. It must be so challenging for all of you. I am so blessed to be working in Vietnam during this time.

      I love Breakout EDU too. We just did a fun one before winter break. Digital games are also a good alternative during home learning. Let me know if you need any help or advice once you start using the physical boxes.

      The Day You Begin is a great book! That’s so awesome that you are familiar with the book too. I think it is so important to find books that match the cultures we teach. Even something as small as your country’s flag being represented can mean so much to a child or even an adult!

      Good luck with your final project!

  2. Hi Andrea!
    The presentation of Brené Brown about Daring Classrooms is touching and makes you revise your teaching principles. I watched it a few times and looked for another ones. As a language teacher, I always knew that my job is to create the comfortable atmosphere that allows my students to be risk-takers and speak a foreign language, not be afraid to ask “stupid” questions and make mistakes. But as a parent, I know that not each class looks like this. I realized that we need to teach our students strategies to resist, be brave, and not give up.

    I do agree that building a classroom environment using the dialogical learning approach allows for developing a versatile personality. The students are children that are growing in a system that can put shame on them. I believe we need to encourage our students to be vulnerable. We also need to improve the system and create a better world filled with love and care, at least in schools.

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