As the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, you would serve as a spokesperson and representative for the entire teaching profession. What would be your message? What would you communicate to your profession and to the general public?
I think the scariest phrase in teaching should be, “We’ve always done it this way.” Education needs to be fluid and dynamic. I am thankful to not be teaching in a one-room schoolhouse with my kids reading off of hornbooks. By doing everything the same way year after year, we are doing a severe disservice to our students who are growing up in a much different world than any of us grew up in. We need to be growing and changing to keep up with our kids; we need to be lifelong learners.
Ms. Frizzle said it best, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” My message to teachers everywhere is to do just this. Be willing to take risks and try new things in your classrooms. Do whatever it takes to reach and engage your students. This comes with a message to administrators: cultivate a school environment where risk taking is encouraged. Too often teachers are afraid to deviate from the norm because they fear failure. This is exactly the kind of fixed mindset I’m trying to keep my third graders and other teachers away from. Failure is a good thing. Mistakes are proof that you are trying! Innovation is leaving something good for something that might be better.
I am demonstrating this through my deskless classroom. In the past, whenever I rearranged my students’ desks I always tried to get the most space possible so that my kids could work on the floor in small groups. Then I started thinking about what my room would be like if I got rid of some of my desks. I did a ton of research, wrote a proposal for my principal, and made a speech to my students’ parents at back to school night. I was fully prepared for my plan to fail and my kids to go crazy without the structure of desks in my room. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised and my deskless classroom worked great. It gives students the opportunity to make good choices and teaches them how to learn from their bad choices. And I don’t have to spend tons of time making seating charts. I’m so glad I tried something new and took a risk.