One instructional practice that my principal has focused on this year is bell-to-bell learning. Thankfully, he doesn't define this militaristically — students at their desks grinding from start to finish. Instead, he strikes what I call the gentle urgency balance, which I think is key for signaling Credibility to students.
- Urgent: on the one hand, school time is a sacred trust, and that trust isn't being honored when students mill around aimlessly for minutes on either end of a class period.
- Gentle: on the other hand, learning can look a lot of ways and our students are whole souls; most of class ought to be aimed squarely at growth toward mastery in the teacher's discipline, but some of class time can most certainly be dedicated to things like cultivating a strong classroom community.*
So the other day, my principal shared a video with our staff about “optimistic closures.” (Here's a link that works.) I watched it recently while ironing my pants, and I found it super helpful.
I immediately felt that this was a good area of experimentation for me this month. Those final, finicky moments of class have proved tricky for my students and me this year. It seems like they are more distracted than they have been historically, more eager to pack up, more fixated on what's next on their schedules. I don't begrudge them this — I get it — but I also don't accept the whole lining up at the door aimlessly thing.
So, here's what we did last week. I called it the circle of power.
- Three minutes left on the clock: “All right, students, that's a good closing spot for today. Do me a favor and pack up your belongings right now and let's form into a standing circle.” While they're doing this, I'm walking around gently reminding them of the task. (It's new, and I know they're prone to distraction right now.)
- Two minutes left on the clock: “All right! In honor of Thanksgiving, I'd like to hear from ten different folks: one thing you're thankful for. Go.”
- When the bell rings, I share one thing I'm thankful for that relates to what we learned in class that day. E.g.,
- I'm thankful to see you working so hard at growing as writers.
- I'm thankful that none of you worked in coal mines when you were eight.
That's it. The Circle of Power — a really fun way to mix things up during those final, finicky moments of class between now and the winter break.
Teaching right beside you,
*We've got a whole chapter dedicated to building strong classroom communities in Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Middle and High School ELA.