Some of you may not know that I come from a family of teachers. Not my immediate family, but there’s a few extended family members floating around that work in both the primary and secondary sector, in various forms from retired to currently teaching to studying. It always makes family get-togethers interesting, because no matter how hard we try to avoid it, there’s always a bit of shop-talk (that quite often involves the non-teaching members of our families to roll their eyes!).
Today we went out to celebrate my Nonno’s 85th birthday, and it’s always a lot of fun.
I had an interesting conversation with one of my aunts, who retired a few years back after nearly 30 years in the classroom. It didn’t start out as school related – we were talking about science-fiction movies, and how the future is often depicted as quite bleak – when she asked me:
How do you teach your kids about the world?
This may seem innocuous enough, but it was really about how I address the issues in the present day world that kids (and adults) find distressing. We live in a world where there are a lot of things happening that our students are confronted with.
I have a class that loves to chat – about anything, at anytime and to anyone – so it should come to noone’s surprise that we have a lot of good conversations about things. And I’m not just talking about conversations about what we’re learning.
I’ve been known to lose who sessions of pre-planned lessons because some thoughtful soul in my class asked a provocative questions and we’ve gone down the rabbit hole trying to find an answer, or debating an answer… or found more questions we wanted to unpack.
In this day and age of teaching, where lesson planning is deemed a crucial part of daily life and documentation MUST be had, it may sound a bit flippant when I admit to losing ‘lessons’ of ‘preplanned curriculum’ to chat, but the reality is that my students (no matter their home circumstances) don’t have the opportunity to sit and explore their thoughts and ideas on topics of their choice with a big group of people very often.
And it’s SO important.
I learn more about my students in these conversations than I do in something that’s been carefully prepared. Why? Undoubtably there’s an element of ‘well you haven’t got pre-prepared answers floating in your head’ there, but also, when you allow students’ licence to just talk, they show you what they really know – more than a worksheet or game might ever tell you.
What have I learnt from this:
Every child learns from it – not just the ones talking. Often those students who don’t participate are absorbing all the information their peers are sharing, and they’ll join in when a topic is more closely aligned to their understanding.
Young children need an outlet to talk about the ‘bad’ things happening in life. Not just the things concerning them, but also the things they might see on the news or overhear the grown-ups in their lives talking about. I’ve had incredible conversations with 6 and 7 year olds this year on why lockdowns are important to practice (because even though our gun violence in Australia is really low, we still prepare and practise). We’ve talked about the reasons why we are respectful during Anzac Day preparations and services. We’ve wondered about why different parts of the world have seasons, what an axis is and why Earth has one and why some parts of the world have minimal daylight hours during the year and how does this affect living things.
6 and 7 year olds want to know this stuff.
And yes, it’s important to be sensitive about some of the more hard-hitting things – it breaks my heart that my young students are aware that oversees some schools witness gun violence (it breaks my heart that it even occurs) – but school is a safe place for them to discuss these things with adults who can help them understand in kid friendly language.
If nothing else, I want my students to know that their questions and thoughts and opinions matter. They’re worthy of discussion. These are the people who will one day shape the future and being able to take turns, acknowledge other people’s opinions respectfully and to clarify will stand them in good stead.