by Scott Bricker
Expert Educator Columnist, USA
The more years that pass, the more I am aware of just how sincerely I want to belong and have a purpose in everything I do in my life.
The irony of this awareness is that, as I approach my 40th birthday in early 2015 while also wrapping up my 16th year in education, my strong desire to belong hasn’t changed much from my days as a K-12 student, when I was slightly more idealistic and admittedly much more willing to let others take control of situations than I am today. Back then it was about who I joined on the playground, what group I followed to the lunch tables and who I could talk into being my date to Homecoming. Along with my entire circle of friends, I just wanted to find common interests with people who, at the end of the day, helped to put a smile on my face and kept me laughing, knowing that we all meant something to each other and each had a place in the group. If we learned something along the way, well, that was a bonus.
Have things really changed all that much, for me or for us as we have moved into our respective roles teachers and administrators? For 99% of us, I would guess we all still have that same desire to belong and have our self-worth validated as often as possible.
Along with our colleagues from our own departments and elsewhere around campus, we benefit from working with professionals who share common interests and knowledge, we love positive feedback and hearing that we are doing a good job and, in the end, we all want to know that we are making a difference, however large or small, in the lives of our students. Sounds just like we are back in high school, right? The validation that comes from being a part of a community is truly powerful and never really fades away.
It is that idea of our innate desire to belong that has led me to work every day to become the kind of teacher that builds community in my classroom, for and with my students. The curriculum is important, let’s not be mistaken about that, whatsoever. We will have plenty of time to discuss ideas of Common Core, curriculum development, rubrics, assessment methods and so much more in future columns. But first and foremost, I feel very strongly that students need to have a connection to each other and to their teacher, long before they can have the kind of connection to the curriculum that will make their learning outcomes more relevant than ever before and prepare them for the next steps in their educational, professional and personal endeavors. Each year I start with a few simple principles that lead to a classroom environment that is a safe place to both succeed and make mistakes, encourages collaboration, and stirs an enthusiasm for learning and caring for people of all types, that I hope my students will carry with them for a lifetime to come.
So now the million dollar questions…how do we achieve that sense of community for and with our students? What are those few principles that help build a positive classroom environment? How can we help “Build Our Relationship Infrastructure on Campus?”
The answers to those questions involve a lot of soul searching, reflection and discussion, as well as trial and error to find the right mix of ingredients that creates the perfect dish for each individual teacher. I am looking forward to sharing with you my thoughts, experiences, funny stories, big successes and even a few epic, face-plant failures that have helped me create a classroom full of lifelong learners who will one day realize that their quest to belong and be a part of something special never really ends.
Scott Bricker is the Director of Instructional Technology at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Orange County, California. SMCHS was recently named a Microsoft Showcase School for 2014-2015 and we are in the first full year of our One-to-One Tablet PC Program.