September 25, 2017
Inspired Teaching spoke with Fellow Richelle Chapman (’15) this September to learn about how she begins the school year an Inspired Teacher and 3rd grade teacher at Else Whitlow Stokes PCS.
What is the thing you look forward to most about starting a new school year?
Getting to know the children! I love figuring out what type of personalities they have, and what they like to do; what they think is fun. I look forward to watching them grow and seeing how they grow throughout the year. I like forming relationships with people, so I enjoy getting to know my students better.
What is your favorite way to get to know your students?
In my class, we do a lot of activities so the students can express themselves. We do an “all about me” activity, where I get to know who my students are outside of how they relate to their peers. This is an individual assignment where they can just speak about whatever it is they want to speak about—and they can choose one part that they feel comfortable sharing with the class. This assignment gives them the chance to be honest. I learn what types of things make them sad, what they’re most excited about, what worries them. I learn about their family values and traditions; part of the assignment is to share what they don’t believe in – things like ghosts, the tooth fairy – so I get to know a lot about what their parents say to them when I broach these topics.
When students enter your classroom at the beginning of the year, what is the first thing you want them to know?
This is a place where they should feel comfortable sharing without someone making them feel bad for being honest about who they are. The first six weeks of the school year, while the curriculum is still growing, I take the opportunity to address any issues that come up in the classroom and put systems in place that allow students to share and have their voices heard. At the beginning of the year I stop the class for all behavioral issues to make sure it’s clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
How do you implement classroom norms as an Inspired Teacher?
By making sure that the student voice is the most important voice in the classroom – relying heavily on student as expert. The students create and vote on the classroom rules. And I ask them “how does that make you feel” and I constantly make sure they are given the tools to solve their own problems. I emphasize the importance of confidence, honesty, and integrity. When my students make norms, they often come up with things that surprise me- “its ok to make mistakes” “have fun.”
How do you view the role of changemaking in your classroom?
Ensuring that the classroom is a safe space for children to grow and be themselves, and holding them to the highest standard of behavior. I give them reasons for everything we do in the classroom so they understand why it’s relevant, and not that we’re doing something just because I’m in a role of power. They are human beings engaging with other human beings and they need to keep that in mind. They need to be careful with their words – they can hurt. They need to understand the weight of interacting with other human beings; it’s a huge responsibility.
How do you encourage and support yourself, as well as your students, to take risks in your classroom?
I think it is important to make sure the classroom is a safe place. To take risks, students must know that people won’t make fun of them, so I try not to be too critical. For myself, I try to be honest with them and talk about what I’m doing when I make a change. For example, last year I did not encourage students to share appreciation for their classmates for shares during morning meeting. This year I told my students that after reflecting, I thought it was important to show appreciation for our classmates when they share. Together, we came up with ways to show appreciation, like silent clapping, snapping, and golf-clapping. At the beginning of the year, it is necessary to set a certain standard in the classroom—I don’t need every system in place yet, but starting the year strong, the way I want to finish it, sets the standard for my students early.