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Classroom Collaboration Turned Catastrophe

I overheard a student in the high school talking on and on about a love triangle between her, her current boyfriend, and her ex-boyfriend. I couldn’t help but stop, introduce myself, and advise her, no matter what, to remain honest and classy because a damaged reputation can sometimes be irreparable. She and her friends were stunned by my boldness but nonetheless they stopped to share, listen and laugh about that conversation and much more. We parted ways and I thought that was the end of that. The following day, who showed up at my classroom door? You guessed it! To say I felt great is an understatement!

Taking the time to get to get to know my students (the ones I teach, as well as the ones I see in passing), and allowing them the chance to get to know me (transparency) nurtures their increased academic success and my sustained longevity as a highly effective educator, both in and out of the classroom.  One way I do this with students in my class is by devising collaboratively-formed class guidelines as a means of establishing how we agree to govern ourselves and interact with each other.

According to Rebecca Alber at Edutopia, “[d]eciding on group norms, or agreements, right at the get go will give each student a voice and provide accountability for all….a poster of the shared agreements can be displayed and when necessary, called attention to when a student or group needs a reminder.

My students have always appreciated the inclusivity of us collaborating to create our class’ rules. It’s a practice that I was taught in graduate school and one that has truly helped with relationship-building between me and my students. It’s serves not so much as a disciplinary tool but more so as a a gentle reminder of the expectations and standards to which all who enter our space hold themselves. It’s profound to see students holding each other accountable for adherence to the classroom guidelines. Very powerful, indeed.

The following are some of the classroom guidelines that my eighth-grade students from a few years ago and I created together. Threads of mutual respect, honesty, and integrity are woven throughout them. For example:

  1. One Mic (i.e., only one person talks at a time).
  2. Claim Your Education.
  3.  Have Your materials and Come to Class Prepared.
  4. Respect Yourself and Others At All Times.
  5. Put Your Best Foot Forward.
  6. Think Before You Talk.
  7. Be a Leader, not a Follower.
  8. Be Optimistic about Different Situations and Assignments.
  9. Have a Creative Mind.
  10. Respect Boundaries.
  11. Maintain a Sense of Self-Control.
  12. Keep Your Surroundings Clean.
  13. Respect Everyone’s Right to Learn.
  14. Be a Positive Influence  in Our Classroom.
  15. Take Pride in Your Work.
  16. Stay Focused.

These rules that kids created are ones that we could all benefit from incorporating into our schools,  our workplaces, our homes — and our government. Demanding that my students stand with a posture of respect is a very difficult sell when our government officials berate others openly. Encouraging my students to develop mindsets that are growth and solutions-oriented has become literally laughable when right before their very eyes they see the electoral college-elected leader of the free world making decisions that cut off and constrain the freedoms of so many with the simple stroke of a pen. How do I honestly explain to them why collaborative classroom guidelines are necessary when the concept of collaboration and democracy seemed to have vanished from our nation’s trajectory, seemingly overnight?

I still press towards the mark and do so, regardless, because I know in my gut that to live upright, in decency and peace with my fellow man, is what is required of me and of my students. However, I would be lying if I told you that it is an easy road to tread. I know that I don’t walk this road alone and that many of my fellow educators are perplexed about how to positively inform our students’ characters, when the characters they see paraded before them in our current government’s administration are more fit for the circus than the Oval Office.

What do you think?

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