Last week I spent an evening with Teresa, an old friend of mine who just happens to be a fabulous grade six teacher at a nearby school. As it always does, our talk eventually turned to two of our favorite subjects––teaching and whatever good books we’ve read lately!
One thing I always admire about this friend is her ability to take an idea and run with it in the classroom. She inspires, elevates and motivates her students! Teresa often bases interesting lessons for her grade sixes on some little item she’s found in the newspaper, something she’s heard on a radio talk show or something that comes from a good book she is reading herself. She has a knack for recognizing something small that is full of potential. She often takes one of these small ideas and then develops it into an in-depth theme that continues to grow over weeks in her classroom. I’m always amazed at how she is able to do this so creatively and (yet, it seems to me!) so effortlessly.
Once, years ago––1996, I think––she heard about a boy from Ontario who had just started a social activist campaign called “Free the Children.” When she learned that Craig Kielburger was 12 years old, her ears perked up; that was the same age as the students she taught. Very quickly she had her class researching and learning about Craig and his valiant (Level D) crusade to eradicate child labor across the world. Eventually, when she learned that Craig was planning a fundraising trip to our province, she and the class invited him to speak and join their families for dinner, thus making learning come alive in the truest sense!
This past year she had another good spur-of-the-moment “back to school” idea that I thought I’d share, for others who teach older students and might like to kick off their school year in a meaningful and exciting way. (It would also provide a way in which to reinforce Level D concepts––taking initiative, taking personal responsibility for happiness, character traits of perseverance, determination etc. etc.)
Teresa is an avid reader. Last summer, when she finished reading The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams by Randy Pausch, she saw great potential for using this book with her grade sixes as a way to encourage goal-setting at the beginning of the school year. After sharing parts of the book with the class and having them watch the presentation of Pausch’s incredible speech, she had the kids go home and interview their parents.
She had them ask their parents about their childhood dreams: Which ones had they achieved? Which ones had slipped away? Naturally, after all this discussion and thinking, the kids were really well prepared and primed to do a thoughtful job of writing their own goals––for the school year and beyond.
When Teresa and I were in university together, we had a Social Studies Ed. teacher who often recommended, “Whenever you learn something interesting yourself, share it with kids.” I think that Teresa learned that lesson well from our prof!