Teachers have this network thing going on. Most of our social circles include other teachers (yeah, we like to hang out with ourselves), where we get to talk about our practice and share ideas. We have countless message boards, blogs and websites to hover around. Basically, we can't stop searching for something ‘new’ to bring to our classrooms.
This summer I spent a week in Nantucket with an eclectic group of friends, none of whom were teachers. But like any addict, I needed my fix, and so between vicious games of Hearts or Scrabble, beach trips, bike rides or eating (oh my, the eating!), I managed to lure almost everyone into a chat or two about their child’s education.
And I realized, spreading good ideas doesn’t stop with teachers. Parents can share the love too.
Back home, St. Louis enjoys an education culture rich with creativity and purpose, as showcased below.
Community Based Pen-Pals
An enthusiastic, creative and oh-so-organized teacher, Jen, began a pen pal project with her fifth grade students at a local charter school that grew as the year progressed. Using this forum as ‘an authentic approach to teach letter writing’, she paired each student up with members from the local Senior Ministry.
The children and seniors exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. In addition to excellent letter writing practice, the students developed relationships with and were allowed a glimpse into a generation different than their own. To end the experience, a brunch was set up, during which the pen pals met for the first time. Jen worked with her kids on proper etiquette, right down to the little details, such as side table manners and how to have a conversation. She even turned her classroom into a café to practice, using fake candles, tablecloths, and flowers. “I wanted to show them that letters are similar to conversations, they should have a back and forth,” said Jen. “The kids loved it”.
Animals Lend a Paw
To help her inner city second graders with sturggling reading skills, Becky invited PAWS For Reading, a program that brings dogs into St. Louis classrooms or libraries. The pets are specially chosen and trained for working with children, allowing students who may otherwise hesitate to read aloud to build confidence. After all, dogs don’t judge a stammer or mispronounced word! The program offers incentives to classrooms and services students in grades first through tenth. “It was the one thing my kids looked forward to every week, all year long”, says Becky. “Kids who weren’t motivated to read would do almost anything for a chance to sit with our girl.”
A Quest for Answers Leads Kids on a Journey
Ever attend a field trip? Kids love them, but they’re a lot of planning and work. Laura, a teacher for a small private school in St. Louis, doesn’t scare easily. In conjunction with a unit of study titled ‘Where Does Your Food Come From?” Laura is taking the kids on several field trips to local farms to dig sweet potatoes, view urban farming (at City Seeds), and get up close and personal with corn.
Drawing on her own commitment to sustainability, Laura wondered with her students “why this whole sustainability thing is really important and how do we teach that to our children?” With the goal of developing a true understanding of surrounding ecosystems coupled with developing a genuine love and affection for where we live, Laura fully immersed her students into local farms to form a better understanding of where our food comes from.
“This week,” said Laura, “we'll take it to the next level with a camping trip in which we'll take an honest look at nature and its inhabitants; who lives among us, and like us, what do they need to live?”
You heard me right….braving the elements, overnight, with kids, and tents, and bugs. And all day the next day too.
“We all have a responsibility for our future," Laura explained, "and what that future holds depends on what we do now and what our children learn to value. Let's promise them a solid, healthy place they can continue to call home.”
I heard several great ideas on my summer trip, but I hold strong to the knowledge that St. Louis houses the most talented, creative and innovative teachers around. In my job, I see it every day, and as parents you do too. So feel free to give your child’s teacher props and share a great idea with us.
By Sharon Linde, Education Blogger for SmartParenting