Twohundred and Fifteenth Asic- A Day to Remember

I sit in my classroom, monitoring my students writing an essay. Since my students write in a language that is not their first language, I thought it fair to do the same… I write in MY second language, English, when they write in Swedish… Here’s my text on the topic ”A Day to Remember”, but I guess in my example it will spread over more than just one single day:

It had been a tough start filled with unexpected events and flight delays, but one memorable Monday morning in October 2003, I met up with the others in a group of Swedish teachers who had the great opportunity to meet the legendary principal Dr Lorraine Monroe for a four-day-long conference about School Development, Instruction and Teaching in NYC. During the flight I gave Dr Monroe a thought. What would she be like? According to her book, Nothing’s Impossible, she had first worked as a teacher, then she had become a principal, changed the way of teaching and instructing in her actual school and that had, in the long run, led to overwhelmingly good results in schools in Harlem, New York City. Dr Monroe’s ideas about school development were very focused on learning and in a way very strict and not at all negotiable ( Please read Dr Monroe’s book for more information!).

Nothing's impossible

We have a very democratic way of teaching in Sweden. We ask our students for their opinion in many different situations an ordinary day in school and lessons often has an element of discussion or mutual understanding. It is not meant to be a one-way-communicated ”lecture”. Learning is a joint effort…  At the time when I was in NYC I was taking a University course and thought it might be suitable to interview Dr Monroe for my project. She accepted and that was probably ”THE” most interesting talk I have ever had with anyone about ”teaching and instructing”… But let’s go back to the first meeting… The skyscrapers on Manhattan were taller than I had expected and being in NYC was fantastic! Meeting Dr Monroe in person was way beyond every anticipation I had before. She was, apart from being intelligent, also a born entertainer, wittily telling jokes. The conference was of high quality and we met brilliant teachers, devoted principals and engaged counselors from different schools in Harlem NYC. In comparison with the interesting lecturers, Dr Monroe was still outstanding. 

We made a few visits to schools in Harlem. I thought I’d check one of the things that Dr Monroe had said the day before. She had claimed that in her schools I could ask any student I liked if they could answer the question ”What did you learn during the lesson you just left?” Every student I asked, could share with me what they had learnt and since we had monitored the lessons the students were referring to, we could tell that they actually learned. The other teachers in my conference group had the same experience and we said this would be the first thing to ask our students back home! I think many students in the classes I taught back then would answer ”I don’t know… What do you mean? What did I learn??? I don’t understand your question!” At that point in my career, in 2003, I didn’t understand how important a META level is in learning… Now I try to help students gather information, draw conclusions, spend time thinking and reflecting and thus allow them to understand and comprehend. After that day in October 2003 I try to keep my lessons very strict in content. I also try to wrap it up at the end of a lesson, in order to help students to organize their thoughts. The students in my classroom now will more likely have a correct answer to the question about their learning…

My interview with Dr Monroe back in 2003 again, started off with my question ”In what way do you negotiate with your students?” She seemed to be hooked on my QUESTION, as if it was wrong… and repeatedly said ” I don’t negotiate with my students!” I thought, being Swedish and speaking my second language, that I had said something that was difficult to understand… Therefore we had a long interesting chat about what the WORD negotiate meant… Obviously we both agreed on the meaning of the word, so I again asked my question, but surprisingly enough still got the same reply! Later on, after half an hour of discussion I understood… I had taken for granted that  of course Dr Monroe did negotiate with her students, but HOW?  But, the point was taken. She actually did not negotiate with her students…simply because (and she explained that) some things aren’t negotiable… 

Ever since that day I have always thought about how different RESULTS we may get in schools were ”everything” is negotiable, compared to schools were very little is… Anyone can understand that students who never ever question their teachers have a different school situation than those who constantly say to their teacher: ”Why are we supposed to to this?”, especially if the teacher is used to give such a question an answer… Dr Monroe said many times during that week in NYC: Focus on learning! The interview with Dr Monroe was an eye-opener for me as a teacher. I didn’t change everything when I returned to Sweden, but I did change a lot. I didn’t even change it into ”The Monroe Doctrine” but I did borrow a few of her ideas and I am forever grateful to her for being there in that interview and very patiently letting me understand her thoughts about negotiation (or not!) and about teaching and instruction in general. In my teaching career meeting her was absolutely A Day to Remember



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