It's that season again. The chilly SF fog is rolling in, the days are slowly getting shorter, and the sidewalks are full of French tourists. It's back to school time, my favorite time of year. The weeks leading up to a new semester I start reflecting on what matters to me in the learning environments that I create with my students. Here are a few ponderings, as I prepare for the most important week of the term.
1. The Learners. Who are these people? I want to know about them, and I want them to get to know each other. By the end of Week 1 I will know all of their names, and I challenge them to know each else's names too. here are they from? What is their learning background? How long have hey been in SF? What do they love to do? We spend a full week learning names, with correct spelling and pronunciation, and doing introductions. And I introduce myself and share my hopes for our class. We will be together for 18 weeks. We are a Learning Community.
2. The needs. Why are they here? What do they need from this class and how will they achieve that? They collaborate to set short and long-term learning goals for the class and start to create their own strategies, for in and out of class, to meet their goals. In addition, we share our mutual needs for respect, for patience, for punctuality, for consistency, for friendliness, and we agree collectively on the kind of learning environment we are creating together.
3. The space. Right away I get the students out of their seats. They change partners, they form groups, they mingle, they stretch, we do yoga and we dance. As much as possible I want the students looking at one another and not at me. I try to move from the front of the room and meet them individually where they are, listening to them, supporting them, seated while talking to them if they are sitting, standing if they are moving around the room.
4. Engagement. How can I make the material meaningful for these learners, so they stay curious and engaged? What I have done in the past that has worked well? How canI update? What new ideas can I try? What new technology tools can I incorporate? How can I share what I am learning myself into this learning environment? These 2 weeks, before classes start, are my time to reflect and dream.
I tell my students the first day of classes that I have the best job ever. Being with a mix of people from around the world, learning a new language, taking time out of their busy lives to improve themselves...what a dream. After 26 years of teaching I still feel that way.