Class Visitors

Posted: September 18, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about what happens when visitors are in the classroom. On Wednesday I had visitors from outside the school.

Dr. Thomas Lickona from SUNY  Cortland’s Center for the 4th and 5th Rs came with a student of his from Japan. They were coming to look at the character education program at our school. Several years ago I wrote an article (it’s towards the end of the issue, you have to scroll down a few pages) for the newsletter that The Center puts out. What he was coming to see our class work on our class compact. This is a document that we create together that guides our actions. It is divided into two big categories: things we do so that students can to their best, most creative work, and things we do so that students can feel welcome, safe, and respected. Under each of these categories we have the following sub-categories: students will, students will not, teacher will, teachers will not. For the visual learners out there, this is what the blank document looks like:

Our visitors watched and listened while we reviewed some general behavior type stuff that we had already talked about and then as we worked on our compact. Our work was divided into two parts: the brainstorming part and the editing or trimming part.

I set up 8 stations around the room with one of the 8 sections of our compact at each station. Students worked in pairs or threes for 3-5 minutes. Then each group rotated to the next table, adding ideas to each list. We did this 3 or 4 times. Then we talked about how to edit down to a short, manageable, reasonable list. (Easier said than done, as it turned out.) Students rotated another few times working to edit each list. Finally we came together to write a draft of our shared document.

The point here is that it was not exactly a quiet activity. There was talking and moving and debating. This was all part of my plan. I am not really about passivity. I have no interest in standing in front of a bunch of people of any age whose brain waves are flat-lining. I am never sure if others will appreciate the liveliness of the discussion, the inside jokes that we are making, or the fact that students are not really still.

What I hope visitors see is students who are talking with each other about ideas, sharing opinions, disagreeing respectfully, changing their minds, keeping with a lesson for an extended period of time, and having a decent time in the process. Even though I spent some time giving Tom the background on what he would be seeing, it’s really hard to condense even a few days of preparation into a few minutes. He’s a pro, so I am fairly confident he got it.

I guess I have a somewhat biased opinion, but I like other people to be as impressed by my students as I am.

  1. My colleague Ryota Yaginuma is a professor of moral education at Japan’s National University; he spent a year as a guest scholar at our Center in order to learn more about U.S. approaches to developing good character. Shipley’s implementation of the Smart & Good “best work, best self” model was the most helpful of all our school visits. Our time in Wendy’s class showed us a wonderful way to maximize thinking and participation when developing a classroom Compact for Excellence. Breaking the Compact into 8 parts, one to a table, and having the kids rotate to a new table and then add further suggestions, seemed to us an optimal way to generate the raw material for the Compact. We were also glad to be able to observe Wendy’s deftness in conducting the group editing process. I’ll be sharing her approach, with a grateful acknowledgment, in our future work with this tool. — Tom Lickona, professor and director of the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs, SUNY Cortland (www.cortland,edu/character)

    • mseiteljorg says:

      Tom, thank you so much for your feedback and comment. I don’t think I had used this strategy before with the compact, but I’m not sure. We voted on what other adjectives to use for our compact ( “in our creative, _______, _________, classroom” . . .). The top three choices, a three-way tie, were mind-boggling, phenomenal, and successful, so that’s what we have. We also have had a conversation about consequences and problem solving. The class decided that they would like to have a few class peace-makers. We are taking nominations now.

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