Welcome! I invite you "own the call" and become part my journey--to engage in conversation and collaboration. This is a previously published post, but I recreate it here to remind myself of my purpose and re-center myself
Light Bulb II, Jasper Johns (1958)
I arrived the other night at a class I am taking. A normal event, yes. And really nothing out of the ordinary occurred except for one small thing.
The bulb on the projector was dead.
This seemed normal, too, but the message announcing its imminent death was up on the screen last week when a different instructor was present. It caused me to wonder: did she not tell the Tech Department of this problem? Or did she, and did they choose not to act on it?
Either way, it got me thinking about the question of responsibility and more specifically the responsibility of an individual member of a group to which they belong--because let's face it, isn't this what we all are? How easy is it to shirk one's responsibilities when others are present and equally capable of meeting them? And what causes one person to step forward, step up, and another to step aside--be stepped on, or over.
I see it in my classroom all the time: the paper or pencils on the floor, the garbage left on a table, the group projects that seem more the work of individuals. But I also see the contrary: the respect, the communal support, the willingness to be for one another. And I wonder: what creates “ownership” and how do we as educators foster this sense of commitment, within our students and within ourselves?
Modeling this isn’t enough. Creating “rules” or “laws” in an attempt to enforce behavior leaves me in the role of police (not what I want my job to be!) and defeats the purpose. And so, I fall back to looking at teaching as a means to engender more than a “sense of responsibility”--but an accountable life.
Classroom Pledges: Responsibility and Accountability
What does it mean to foster a sense of commitment and responsibility?
Early in my career, I used to make a set of classroom rules each year, ones that would guide the students toward my management plan. But I am finding that many of the things I used to do no longer fit. What I used to do did not create the sense of ownership for learning that I wished my students to experience. Then, a few years ago, I read a lesson plan that utilized Jean Fritz’s Shh! We’re Writing a Constitution and though the book was not something I ended up using, it did send me on a new path.
Now, I begin my year with this question: What does it mean to have freedom and responsibility? As the first few weeks settle in, we engage in a number of content-building activities: reading of David Catrow’s We the Kids and a discussion of what it means to “pledge”; watching an old recording of Red Skelton, a charming connection for students, for it takes the familiar Pledge of Allegiance and makes the sense of commitment and responsibility a serious question. We move on to synthesizing this knowledge within our own lives with an activity regarding family responsibilities, and bring the discussion back to the classroom as we create a list of personal needs for learning.
Each year the responses are different, but also very similar: “I need quiet,” “I need movement,” and so on. Though the desire to simplify this process (e.g., just use last year’s constitution) is strong, the act of creating the pledge to which we all sign is essential for the bond. We analyze the value of our different needs and evaluate which are more important. And in the end we make a promise, a commitment, to step up and step forward to support each other as learners and define what that means to us as a community in the creation of a classroom pledge.
This year, my students and I pledged to
Lots of models are out there and certainly younger grades seem to have all the fun (though they don’t have to be the only ones). Creekside Teacher Tales, for example, has a wonderful sample of a pledge in her second grade classroom and Mrs. Robinson’s third grade sets about this in a fashion similar to what I have come to use, with open questions and communally-created responses.
As each year proceeds, then, I am able to refer to this pledge whenever students make choices that do not support it: when they exclude someone from a game, when they are unkind to each other, when they want answers instead of struggling to learn. Slowly, we begin to see the connection between freedom and responsibility...and, at times, students even refer to the constitution in their dealings with each other. In addition, we have amended our constitution when students decided that what they had written was not sufficient for their needs.
Personal Pledge: Owning the Call
How often do we see a gap between our thoughts and our actions? If we teach our students to be responsible by setting firm expectations, treating each with respect, and modeling the desired mindset, we help to make apparent our mutual obligation. In modeling responsibility, I create assignments, they complete them, I grade them, and we set goals based on assessments.
How do we account for our actions, however? To whom are we accountable? How do we live accountable lives--those that answer the call? Assignments that are meaningful, completed with best ability, and fairly graded, ones that guide my instruction and their future actions--these are what result because we choose to be accountable to each other. And they are based in our obligation.
To “own the call” doesn’t even result in a Google response that relates--ironic, huh? But, to me it is a personal pledge--a belief, a responsibility--that teaching is, that it be, more than a job or a profession. It is a calling. And though it is sometimes overwhelming, I must respond--to step up, step forward. Yes, the balance of commitment is difficult to maintain, but that is the beauty of it, too. It is as much my classroom as it is theirs. And just as there is a world out there for which we are all responsible, we owe it to our students to experience this with them each day. I have seen many classroom pledges and students’ bills of rights, but I would like to end by borrowing from Red Skelton, who invites us to define the different pieces of the Pledge of Allegiance and make them our own. If I may, here are my definitions:
I ~ me; an individual; a committee of one
pledge ~ to dedicate myself to give without self-pity
allegiance ~ my love and my devotion
to my students ~ a community of learners, a place where there is respect, because our accounting to each other can create a place where “learning is everybody's job”
and my profession ~ I have obligations to improve, reflect, and continue to grow
as an educator ~ a voice and person who wishes to empower others for our future benefit
and to the families ~ who are different and individual
who offer me their trust ~ it takes a village to raise a child
in presenting multiple paths to learning ~ differentiated, scaffolded, and connected
with respect for the dignity of each student ~ since everyone has the right to try, fail, be confused, succeed, imagine, be taken seriously
to the best of my ability ~ as I seek authentic ways to engage my students as we understand together the importance in what we do
for All ~ for all: regardless of ability, personality, gender, or character
And so, the other night, I stepped outside my evening class and left a note for the tech department to replace the bulb in room 149. I continue to devise games for my students to make the cleaning up of the messes they create fun--they are children, after all. And I search endlessly for the best practices in what I am called to do, looking to all of you to offer your ideas.
Because learning is everybody’s job.