At the beginning of the new school year, it is common for teachers to establish rules and norms for the class that set the tone for the rest of the year. These are most effective when the ideas come from the students and are continually referred to throughout the year. But, this year, my co-teacher and I wanted to take it further.
As a school, we’re revisiting our guiding statements and everybody is offering their ideas and feedback so that the whole community feels ownership and pride over them. These aren’t meaningless words just to make the website look good. The mission and vision statements give us purpose and ambitious goals to reach for. They are the reasons we get out of bed each morning and teach, specifically at our school.
With the ownership and pride that came from that process, we applied the same to our class to develop a class mission statement that was created by the students using their ideas. This was the process:
Step 1: Questions to prompt ideas
We started with three questions and asked students to contribute their ideas to the shared paper.
1. Why do we come to school?
This sounds like a simple question, but it’s important for children to remind themselves. Everything in our mission is aimed towards these goals and being more successful in achieving them. We almost didn’t include this question because it seemed like we’d get the same shallow (yet technically correct) answer: to learn. But our students went deep and responded in ways that we didn’t expect. Collectively, they had all Five Essential Elements of the PYP covered (knowledge, skills, attitudes, conceptual understanding and action), just using slightly different words. They didn’t realise it until we pointed it out!
2. What will make us more successful?
With these goals established, they then had to consider what actions will help to achieve them. No real surprises here (listen well, help each other, work hard, etc.) but at least they knew the ‘why’. They wrote about behaviours and responsibilities that will help themselves and others to be successful regarding the first question.
3. What kind of learning community do we want to be?
As a class, they are going to be learning together for the rest of the year. A class is a community of learners (a family, you could say). Again, it sounds obvious, but the students need to be aware of this and make sure that their contribution is a positive one. Again, no surprises here, and that’s the point. All students want the same thing: to learn in a caring environment in which they are safe, supported and respected.
Step 2: Highlight the key words and phrases
After students had contributed to the questions, we shared the responses and took note of key words and phrases that appeared (usually repeatedly). These were displayed on the board to support the next step.
Step 3: Students draft their mission statement in small groups
This was an opportunity for shared writing. Students worked in small groups with large chart paper (so that the drafts could be seen clearly in the next step). The discussions at each table were meaningful and fruitful as students debated the most important ideas and how to write them clearly and succinctly. The words and phrases from the previous step guided their discussions.
Step 4: Display the drafts and choose the best ideas from each
Our initial idea was to choose the best draft, but we quickly dismissed that because we needed all students to feel ownership over the mission. Besides, every draft (not just these three) included excellent ideas. Therefore, we discussed them as a class and underlined important sentences that we would take forward to Step 5. Every draft had something unique to offer.
Step 5: Combine those ideas to create a final version
After school, in preparation for the following morning, my co-teacher and I combined those underlined ideas to create an almost finalised bilingual version. We didn’t add anything that didn’t come from the students and we did not reject any of the ideas that were chosen in Step 4.
Step 6: Confirm with students and make the final edits
Because we, the teachers, wrote the final version, we had to be careful not to lose the sense of student ownership. We took the time to refer back to their drafts and point out where every sentence had come from. It genuinely came from them. We just packaged it. Nevertheless, students had the opportunity to suggest final edits.
Step 7: Print and sign the class mission
We printed the final version on A1 so that we can later display it in class for all to see. First, students will sign at the bottom to show a commitment to the mission.
Before you go any further, take a read. Our students did a great job of capturing important ideas. This is far better than we would have written without them! This is how our Y4A1 students will create a wonderful learning environment this year.
Step 8: Write personal missions to contribute to the class mission
The students then thought about the class mission on a personal level and considered the qualities that they bring to the team. They created personal missions that will collectively contribute to the class mission.
This was also an opportunity to introduce our new Chromebooks and practise working on collaborative documents, something that I value very much. This is something that students usually find difficult at first, so I like to build in opportunities to practise early in the year so that the rest of the year can be smooth!
Step 9: Display the mission somewhere prominent
We haven’t got to this step yet, but we plan to display the class mission and personal missions at the front of the classroom. Students will be involved in this step too. They can help to make the display visually attractive to, again, feel collective ownership over it.
Step 10: Continually refer to the mission
Step 10 is ongoing and, arguably, the rest of the process is pointless without it. Just like our school’s guiding statements help us to make decisions and, as the name suggests, guide our school, the class mission should guide our students and remind them of both the ‘why’ and ‘how’. We will continually refer to our class mission to highlight concrete examples of when students exemplify it and also when they don’t. We fully expect students to make poor choices occasionally, but we can refer to the mission when they do and remind them that they are not honouring it. Going back to the first question, why they come to school, their poor choices impact their own success and the success of their classmates.
What kind of agreement do you make with your class and what does the process look like? I’d love to hear your ideas! If you use these ideas in your class, leave a comment below and let me know how it goes.
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I really like these ideas. So much more meaningful than giving the children a set of rules to follow! Great article.
Thanks for the kind message. Completely agree! This is about giving the students on ongoing mission to make the class as nice as possible every day for effective learning. Not telling them what to do and what not to do. Plus, it came from them. They own it.