In order to create the classroom culture you desire, it is essential to establish a consensus with your students about your fundamental beliefs:  What is school for?  Does it truly serve the needs of students?  If a class were perfect, what would it be like?  What would students do?  What would the role of the teacher be?

One way to prompt a meaningful conversation is to create a set of your own working assumptions about your job, about school, and about the role of students, and have them discuss whether they agree or disagree with you.  The more provocative the assumptions, especially if they are truly what you believe, the more interesting the conversation will be.

If you haven't done so already, you might want to read "Discussing Working Assumptions", an excerpt from the chapter on "Starting the Year" that describes such a list.  If you are already familiar with this strategy, here are some additional ideas you might use as prompts:

  • Making mistakes and learning from them are essential parts of the learning process.  Learning takes courage!
  • The purpose of school is not to transfer the contents of a textbook into the mind of the student; it is to prepare that student to live a satisfying, productive, and engaged life.
  • Cramming for a test, regurgitating what you've "learned", and forgetting it a little later is a complete waste of time.  It is not learning at all, even if it results in a good grade.
  • Our common purpose in this classroom is for every student to learn as much and grow as much as possible.  To that end, no one has the right to interfere with anyone else's learning.

There are, of course, many ways to express what you believe about school.  It is worth the time to explore and articulate them, particularly at the start of the school year.

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