Choice. We all want the freedom and power to choose what and how we learn. Because we know ourselves better than anyone else.
The Better Together: California Teachers Summit, a free statewide day of learning, embraces the notion of choice – for teachers and students alike. Nothing is pre-determined beforehand. You choose what topics you want to discuss, where you want to go, and whether you will be an active listener or guide others.
Like the Summit, I instill choice in my classroom. As a third grade teacher and a mother of two, I know that children have much of their lives dictated to them. What time they wake up, what time they go to bed, what they will or won’t eat, and so on. My classroom is just the opposite – students choose where and how they will sit in the classroom – at a desk, on the couch, on the floor, or at a table. They may also choose to use a wiggle seat, an exercise ball, a chair, or a cushion. They can chew gum and use fidgets to help them stay focused. Bringing choice and movement to traditional classroom settings sends more oxygen into their brains, which in turn, makes them more engaged in what they are learning.
I want my students to believe they are capable of great things and I love watching them grow in a nurturing, supportive environment, both intellectually and socially. By implementing these tailored strategies in my classroom, each child learns who they are as an individual, rather than feeling pressured to fit a specific mold. Whether a student has special needs and needs sensory input tools, different colors of paper, or technology, they know they are valued in my classroom. These individualized learning tools are available to every student, with or without learning disabilities.
Personalizing instruction can be as simple as playing baroque music, which has been proven to simulate brain waves and make learning more dynamic. It can also mean turning off some lights, offering flexible seating or offering water bottles to students – given that 80 percent of your brain is water, staying hydrated is very important.
Just like our students, every teacher learns differently. This fact became clear to me during my Masters in Teaching Leadership program this year at Saint Mary’s College of California. While we were all driven, hardworking, passionate teachers, my classmates each came with different perspectives, experiences and learning styles.
On Friday July 27, I’m excited to attend the fourth annual Summit at Saint Mary’s, one of 31 locations across California. The Summit offers seasoned, new and aspiring teachers a chance to connect, engage, encourage, and push each other to try creative, innovative ways personalize learning in our own classrooms.
Not only does the Better Together: California Teachers Summit give us choice, but it also gives us voice – an opportunity to sit down and have meaningful conversations with our peers, share ideas and resources, and re-energize ahead of the school year. It’s an opportunity you won’t want to miss.
Jill Watson teachers third grade in San Ramon, California. She served as a moderator at the 2017 Better Together Summit at St. Mary’s. To learn more about Jill and the Summit, go to cateachersummit.com.