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The Transformation in Room 253

This week I started reading Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. I've wanted to read this book for some time now. The book shares what happens when students own their learning. This school year, I have tried to make small attainable shifts to an innovative classroom and I am convinced I can transform Room 253 if I allow myself time to read, reflect, work with others and blog about my journey.

This week I took some time to reflect on how music is going with my Kindergarten students. I see them for music twice a week for thirty minutes. I can name each child by name and my puppet friend, Sebastian, greets them every music class with a hug or high five. I already love these little guys. They love to laugh, and they are up for anything fun. With that said, a classroom of five year olds can be hard to manage at times. At any given moment, I have the ability to lose their attention which can quickly turn into chaos. I don't like those moments. I don't like those moments at all.

Let me explain how my lesson with Kindergarten went yesterday. <sigh> It didn't go so well. The first time I lost their attention, I went straight into teacher panic mode. I tried praising children that were doing the desired task and many of them went back to the desired task. However, the second time I lost their attention full teacher panic ensued. I gave my best disappointed look and firmly asked children to stop what they are doing and join the group. It worked. They stopped. I got the control back but the engagement I had going was interrupted. It wasn't fun trying to get them to comply. My classroom management was hard for those 30 minutes and while that doesn't seem very long, with Kindergarteners that can be a long, long time if you don't have them engaged.

The book, Empower by John Spencer and A. J. Juliani, talks about how teachers can change their mindset from compliance and engagement to empowerment. I couldn't help but think about my lesson earlier that day and how often I was asking the kids to comply. While compliance isn't explicitly bad, it's not how I want to teach every day. My kiddos need more from me.

I know there is an even better lesson plan out there. I also know that I am not going to be able to purchase a lesson plan that will give me the answer. Sure, I can read books about empowerment and I can read inspiring stories about how others have transformed their learning space but no one is going to solve this problem for me.

So, today I decided to try to change my mindset and start with some empathy. I didn't want to resort to the disappointed teacher face if I could help it. I asked myself how could I give the kids more choice in the lesson I already had planned. What would I want to do if I was the student? Did everyone have to do the activity the same way? I started to notice where I could offer some choice. For example, instead of telling kids where to put their instrument when they saw the quiet signal, I asked "How could you rest your instrument when I show the quiet signal"?

There were some parts of the lesson that needed compliance. For example, one activity involved playing rhythm sticks with a song. How could I make this task fun so they were willing to comply and play their instrument on the words "quack, quack, quack" but not during the rest of the short song? I chose to challenge my students to a game to see if I could trick them.

These small shifts in my lesson made all the difference. Kids couldn't wait to show me how they were going to rest their instrument. The simple challenge of trying to trick them was all I needed to get them to comply. Many of them made it a point to tell me that I couldn't trick them. It was a win-win.

In the forward to the book, Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, George Couros shares that he sees compliance, engagement and empowerment as a continuum. After this week, I am starting to see what he means about this continuum. I do my best to make my lessons engaging for all my learners but I notice that I slip into compliance more than I want to. Today I learned that the switch to empowerment isn't so hard to obtain. I didn't have to scrap my lesson. I just needed to change my mindset and have a little empathy.

I have so much more to learn but I realized this week that student ownership is within my reach. In fact, there are times I know it is happening in my room. So, the journey continues with next week's lessons. I'm sure the more I think, talk, read and blog about empowerment the more shifts I can make in Room 253.

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