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  • Pam Koutrakos

Shifting Our Lens: Focusing Attention on What’s in Place (Students)

A·ware·ness əˈwernəs/ Noun knowledge or perception of a situation

The start of each school year is like a first crush: highly anticipated, exciting, and INTENSE. We may begin the year starry-eyed, but once the initial blush of love and rush of adrenaline wear off, reality sets in. We may reminisce and long for the days in the spring, when we had a room full of learners who had internalized the routines, trusted one another, “got” us, exceeded our expectations, and were a full year older! In June, our perception is that students came in to our class pretty close to how they left. As teachers, we tend to look back to LAST September and remember only the positive.

I sometimes think this is why, regardless of the September spark, our perception of the current group of learners entering our classrooms may be a bit Between the very real stresses of starting a new year and our recollections of June, we may look at these learners and see what’s not (yet) in place. We may look at students and feel intimidated by the “work” that lies ahead in developing their potential. In this moment, I challenge you to shift your awareness. Let’s look at the curious, hopeful, ambitious learners entering the room and see what is in place.

How can we shift our lens? Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Talk to your students and get to know them beyond the walls of the classroom. Donald Graves said we need to know ten things about each of our students before we can teach them anything. Ask students to share something about themselves that might surprise you and/or ask students to share what they are most proud of.

  • Challenge yourself to find something you have in common with each student: A similar interest? Trait? Hobby? Goal?

  • When looking at beginning-of- the-year assessments, don’t dwell on deficits. Instead, seek out strengths! What brave risk did a student try? How is the student sharing a part of themselves with you? Plan “next steps” and decide on instructional priorities using what IS in place.

  • Once or twice a day, go kid watching. Pause, look around, and focus on what students ARE doing—right there in that moment. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

  • Challenge the class to do something kind each day. Model this yourself. Then, be on the lookout, ready to notice each act, both big and small. Celebrate. Think about how lucky you are to work alongside these special, caring people.

Students feel and internalize our perceptions. They need us to see their strengths, knowledge, and areas of readiness. By shifting our lens and bringing our awareness to what IS already in place, we celebrate all these students are ready for!

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