Thursday, 27 September 2012


By Marie Lardino
Voice Integrative School

     Now here’s something different and unconventional!  Some time ago, our teachers took a break from morning classes, leaving the students to carry out their schedule, rotate independently, and lead their own lessons. Yes, every teacher went for coffee at the nearest Distillery District cafĂ©, leaving behind plans on their desks and a whole lot of trust that their students would take over.  Our VP stayed in her office to tend to other duties. Our main office staff pretended the morning was as usual. Only Ms. McCullough, the grade 4/5 teacher, stayed behind to grade assignments, allowing her fourth and fifth graders to run the class. None of our teachers taught a thing on that particular Thursday morning! Why? Because we wanted to find out if our students could be independent enough to take over the rotation schedule and  run the classes; and more likely, because we trusted that they could.  
When the plan was announced at 9:00am, our students showed a mix of perplexity and confusion. But the confusion lasted no more than a few minutes. By 10:00am, each class had gained a sense of purpose.   Leadership was underway.  Plans were being followed. Groups were collaborating.  Discussions were “on task”.  While some kids were listening attentively, others were teaching. And when the clock turned to “rotation time”, a simultaneous, orderly and controlled flow between classes took place. It was no different than the usual rotation that takes place when teachers wait in the halls for their classes to arrive.  Amazing? Yes! Surprising? No. Not to us!
When the teachers arrived back at school at 11:15, most students didn’t even notice. We held an assembly in the Movement Studio to reflect on the morning. I arrived to find seventy-eight junior and middle school students sitting on the floor, eyes on each other, most of them, likely involved in some form of purposeful reflection about what had taken place.   There was a “Shhhhhhhhhh….” that came from the front of the room. It was James D., one of our fifth graders, taking charge of the chatter. Within seconds, everyone was paying attention. So I asked myself: “how can my job be this easy?
When my questions began, all kinds of hands went up: “we were able to run the morning on our own because we are trusted”.  “We could do it because we felt respected”.  “We tried because we feel proud of ourselves”.  Feeling pride in ourselves is more important than knowing that adults feel proud of us”; and, among many other insightful comments, someone said: “We succeeded because we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it”. I asked myself more questions: is there any other attitude that lends more meaning to learning than this one?  Is there a motivator more powerful, than the knowledge that others trust in our abilities? 
As it stands, on this particular Thursday, I picked up a few extra lessons from our students. I re-evaluated teaching and learning as a relationship bound by mutual, equally important (human) needs. I reflected on systemic needs and the pressure inflicted on our children to achieve prescribed, often unrealistic learning outcomes. I re-established my own belief that kids succeed - or want to succeed - when they feel empowered, and when given a safe place to experiment and engage in learning that is meaningful to them.  And I was amazed that while our students fully admitted that leadership and guidance (in other words, the presence of teachers) in the classroom are essential, they said that they learn best when teachers “respect and trust them as people first, and as students second”.  I have once again been reminded that my job as an educator is to consistently pay attention to what kids say they need.  

 Charlie S. ended the reflection period by telling us the following: “In school, kids are not just ‘kids’ (or students). They're people who can do a lot more than they're given credit for”.  This lesson from our students is ongoing!