A while back I took an online class through Coursera entitled "Effective Classroom Interactions: Supporting Young Children's Development." The class was taught by several professors at The University of Virginia, and was free and open to the public. This class was hands down the most valuable training I have received as an educator. Furthermore, the information shared in this class has also outweighed everything I have read about teaching. I can not give this course enough credit for my development as a teacher or my growing theories on education.
Lately I have been considering the need to interact with students outside of instructional time. I feel that a personal relationship with my students would deepen the learning experience. For example, as I get to know my students better I may learn that English is not their first language at home. Or I may learn that a student has a passion that connects or relates to the work we are doing in the classroom and that in return may deepen their engagement with the material. I believe that relationships have a huge impact on learning. I find that I am more comfortable asking questions once I know how a teacher will respond to my questions. I feel more at ease expressing myself when positive communication has been established.
This strategy of spending time with a teacher outside of instructional time was first brought to my attention during the previously mentioned online course. The idea was called Banking Time, and you can learn more about it by reading clicking here.
Banking Time however, only addresses relationships with students who are disruptive in the classroom. I believe that all students deserve one on one time with the teacher. As a well behaved student, I would have been upset that the trouble makers were receiving special time with the teacher. This would have created a frustration, and perhaps hostility in me. I love the idea of giving students free time with a teacher, I just have trouble with the inequality of who gets the time.
I have been considering what this free time would look like and how it might be implemented. As a dance studio teacher, I saw that my first classes of the day often went more smoothly than the rest. I feel that this is partly because I was able to spend time with the students in a more relaxed environment before class began. I would strive to arrive 15-20 minutes before class began, and would play, read together, and have conversations with my students. The students who consistently came early for class and had this bonding time did better in class. It allowed the students time to be heard and engaged without an agenda. The students felt closer to me from this shared experience, and in return were more open in the classroom. I was able to teach the students better because I had spent time with them. In the classroom we are leading, teaching, and asking questions of our students, but I feel strongly that there needs to be a time built in that is more neutral. When we engage our students in a different environment we are able to see other facets of who they are.
So how can we as teachers make this happen in our already limited teaching time? While I am not an elementary school teacher, I love the idea of teachers setting aside one hour before school starts for each student. Students would be encouraged to schedule a "play date" with their teacher. This free time would be spent in the classroom, between the student and teacher, and would involve whatever safe activities the student wanted. For example, a student could bring a favorite book from home to read together or an art project could be done or you could just eat lunch together. Just like banking time, the teacher would not lead, teach, or question the student. Not only would this give the students time to adjust to the new classroom and lay of the land, it was allow them to establish a positive relationship with their teacher before school started. I strongly feel that investing one hour in each student at the very beginning would make a HUGE difference in the success of the classroom. I recognize that this time would be difficult to carve out, and would require the support of administration.
I am still sorting out all of my thoughts on free time- and I suspect that I will be writing about this more and researching strategies already in place. For the time being, it's dinner time :)