“Kids 1st from Day 1” is an excellent, step by step guide to creating a physical, emotional and academic space in which your students will thrive.
To begin with, the book helps you define yourself as a practitioner – what kind of teacher do you want to be? Define your learning and teaching beliefs with a growth mindset, while keeping empathy, flexibility, playfulness and reflection in mind.
The book then goes into useful details on designing a physical and emotional environment with children in mind and building a responsive and intentional curriculum, all based on your learning and teaching philosophy.
Although many schools this fall may not have a “physical environment” to design, many tips still apply to online classrooms. Just ask yourself: does my (online) classroom communicate my beliefs about teaching and learning? Already in July, teachers began posting resources for the first day of school. It is nice to be prepared but if you believe in building a strong community with children as meaningful participants, perhaps some of those could be made with your students instead of for them?
In the past, I saw this post from a teacher on one of the forums: “Does anyone have good tips on how to collect Choice Board work in an organized way and then grade it without it getting out of control?”
“Choice Board work.” I had such a strong reaction to putting those two things together. The purpose of Choice Board online should be the same as the purpose of Choice Time in a regular classroom. Definitely not to be organized and graded. Knowing what your children are choosing will help you get to know them better and build a stronger community but not if you make it yet another “busy work.” Why not ask the kids instead what they would like to see on the Choice Board and incorporate their good ideas every week? Why not chat with them about their choices to see what they picked and why? Why not have ZOOM sessions where they can recommend an activity they had done to their peers? Making choices leads to greater independence.
I agree with the authors of “Kids 1st from Day 1” – at the beginning of each school year your classroom should be a blank canvas. Your online classroom is no different. Always be mindful which resources could be made with the help of your students or even by them. When I created my first virtual classroom, half of my class wanted to make their own. If I brushed them off, I would have missed a huge opportunity to harness their excitement and turn it into hands-on learning. If you choose to make virtual spaces, instead of creating each room yourself, why not give guidance and let the children do it? If they help create their learning environment, they will feel a greater sense of ownership. Your community will be stronger.
I found the entire book useful, but in the face of the pandemic, the section on social emotional learning became my bible as it is all relevant to the online learning environment. Teaching listening skills, empathy, compassion, the importance of effort and self regulation instead of putting classroom management techniques in place will help build a stronger community and make for more effective learning.
Last but not least, if you want to learn more about anything mentioned in this book, you will find book recommendations on practically every page. In addition to helping me solidify my own teaching philosophy and giving me practical tips to make good teaching happen, I have built quite a library of contemporary teaching books.
“Kids 1st from Day 1” is not only a great, fast read but also a resource I will keep coming back to.