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  • Laura Sarsten & Pam Koutrakos


This post is written by teachers Laura Sarsten and Pam Koutrakos

Many of us can relate to the often rushed, multi-tasking whirlwind of teaching. For some of us, the idea of being present may seem mysterious, elusive, or even luxurious. A sense of peace and full commitment to “the moment” might feel far away from our current classroom routine. However, we believe that being fully present in our practice is empowering, energizing, and essential to productive, authentic learning. Further, being more present in our work can lead to greater personal and professional fulfillment. A question we have been recently pondering is How can we become and stay more present in our work and inspire our students to take that risk along with us? In this post we each share a few examples and strategies we use with our students.

Learning Alongside Students: Showing Our Own Presence in the Classroom & Making Learning Matter (Laura)

“I love that you always do this with us.” – 5th Grade Student.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a reading partnership, sharing the way that I chose to journal about a piece of text. After I was finished, the student’s eyes gradually wandered over to my notebook and he quietly made the comment, “I love that you always do this with us.” My choice to engage in the work along with my students has always been an important aspect of my presence in the classroom, however to hear a student take notice of that effort was certainly fulfilling. It made me realize that students not only take notice of our decisions and presence in the classroom, but they value our choices too.

One of the most powerful things we can do is learn alongside our students. Sit with them, share their space, and engage in the learning right instep with them. I often express to the students that although I am your “teacher” I am also very much a learner as all of you are teachers too. The impact of this message has the ability of transforming the entire learning environment for you and for your students. When I thought about this reader’s comment more, it made total sense why he showed appreciation to my notebook entries. If I was encouraging them to be bold independent readers and writers, then how can I be hesitant or absent in my own reading and writing presence?

It is not enough for us to simply tell our students the work they are doing is important, we need to show them that it is. Having your own notebook, personalizing it, and participating in the work is unequivocally a necessary piece to expressing to them, “Let’ do this together!”

Planning to be More Present: Encouraging Students to be Mindful & Purposeful Learners (Pam)

Encourage students to take risks.

When students feel ownership of their learning, classrooms buzz with excitement and authentic engagement. This process can be a little loud, a little messy, and possibly a bit unpredictable. This is where the magic happens! By promoting student-guided learning, classroom participants are more likely to take risks, push themselves outside of their comfort zones, and become more present in their work. Students need to feel safe to do this work. We can begin building this kind of classroom day one. Here’s a few books you may choose to share and discuss with students.

Close-reading images and discussing quotes in morning meeting also promotes a culture rich in risk taking. Asking students their thoughts and feelings about risk-taking is another possible conversational starting place. Finally, minilessons on risk-taking help students learn actionable steps they can take to become morepresent in their daily work. Some artifacts from this work in my classroom are below.

Promote HOW ELSE thinking.

There are many possible ways to achieve the dynamic outcome of flexible thinking. When students experiences success, they need to understand the results were not due to luck or chance, but instead their own (fully present) choices and actions. When students internalize this causal relationship, it is more likely they will transfer and apply all they know. Furthermore, when students think about and try out multiple methods to achieve a specified outcome, they learn to be more flexible in how they approach future tasks. Students become better prepared for new challenges, and as a result, are more intrinsically-motivated, present learners. As students discover successful processes and practices, challenge them to consider other possibilities by simply asking, “How else might you have achieved these results?” “How else could you approach this challenge?” or “What else might you try in a similar situation?”

Teach partnerships to coach one another.

The power of the peer should never be underestimated! Students can encourage and coach one another towards being more present in their daily work. Partners can share strategies and experiences. Peers can work together and nudge classmates to become more present. Knowing a friend will be checking in and/or expecting full collaboration is sure to to promote accountability- without teacher “interference.”

Reflect & celebrate.

Taking the time to reflect, celebrate progress, and think about next steps is mindful in itself. Risk taking and mistake making is FUN! Fostering a climate of presence isn’t something else to fit in; it is already interwoven into all we do. This work allows students to become more active participants in their own learning journeys and is always worthy of celebration.

What Matters Most?

For those of us who are regulars on the revolving roller-coaster of constant multi-tasking, we likely sense our productivity, energy, and enthusiasm waning. Becoming more professionally present as teachers helps us find our own professional spark and renew our presence in our craft. Naturally our minds want to learn, and if we can reawaken that part as educators we can also feel the joy of being more present in our practice. It sometimes seems that in the midst of our chaotic day that it would be impossible to find the energy to do so, but if we can look inward and find the inspiration it can lead to irreplaceable fulfillment. By doing so, we also model a valuable life skill and offer a tremendous gift to our students and ourselves. Until next time. . . “Wherever you are- be all there.” – Jim Elliot

Laura taught 5th grade in Hohokus, NJ and is now a literacy consultant for Gravity Goldberg, LLC. She can be reached at or on Twitter @laurasarsten7.

Pam taught 3rd grade at Hillside School in Allendale, NJ and is now a literacy consultant for Gravity Goldberg, LLC. She can be reached at, or on Twitter @PamKou (professional account) and @MrsKoutrakos (classroom account).

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