Celina Brennan

Inspire the Whole Child

Establishing a thriving learning environment is instrumental in students obtaining personal success. We must be strategic in how we develop our classroom communities at the beginning of a new school year. The setting must support the whole child, adapting to the needs of the group as everyone settles in for the yearlong learning journey. The environment must specifically be designed to support the health and safety of our students, strengthening the emotional well-being of each individual. Providing an atmosphere that supports learning endeavors from every angle offers students many opportunities to be truly engaged and challenged.

But how do we guarantee that we WILL develop a solid foundation that supports the whole child?

I recommend intentional inspiration:

  1. Engage. Find a meaningful way to reach your learners. Identify colors, symbols, and a motto that supports the yearlong learning theme. Allow this inspirational concept to reach learners from all avenues. Use this theme to connect learners' thinking and experiences across the content areas. Infusing a foundational concept that motivates students to rise to the occasion will make an incredible difference and establish the tone within your learning community.

  2. Connect. Meet your students where they are. Take the time to get to know each individual. An understanding of your students' academic strengths and challenges should be balanced with knowledge of their personalities and interests. Consider specific entry points that will capture their attention and allow them to make authentic personal connections to the classroom community's learning theme. Establish a daily routine with significant rituals that build camaraderie and celebrate the diversity within the student learning community.

  3. Personalize. Allow the environment to rise up and greet your students each day. This space should be their home away from home, truly providing comfort, with resources that meet their personal needs. A foundation should be established for the development of independence by way of individual goals. Each child should have a personal map to guide them along the path of his or her learning journey. Daily experiences should motivate them to celebrate their strengths and attack challenges. Above all, your students should deeply feel and believe in your promise of providing them a personalized learning experience.

  4. Empower. Embed the five strategies of choice, reflection, self-assessment, students as teachers, and voice in all aspects of your daily routine. Inspire students by allowing dependable rituals to exist, but ones in which their thinking is stretched and enlightened by engaging processes. Provide unlimited opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning, and design plans and activities that help them reach their own goals.

  5. Believe. Take a step back, genuinely let go, and believe. Your students will ultimately rise to the occasion when they are inspired to be themselves and a solid platform allows them to stand strong. A real sense of trust develops when you have provided a variety of resources and you allow those options to be accessed with students' own discretion during the learning process. A huge part of trust is when students know you are there to catch them when they fall. So step out of their way, but do so with your arms wide open.

By embracing this initiative, students will identify with one another and make authentic connections to their peers, teachers, and the world around them. They will recognize the role they play within the learning community, and how the environment will meet their needs as learners. Seeking out resources that best fit them will become second nature, because they will truly understand the purpose of the learning process. Actually meeting students where they are on their learning journey signals to them that we are advocates for their personal growth, success, and well-being. We want them to aspire to be amazing each and every day as attentive learners, incredible thinkers, and thoughtful collaborators.

Intentional inspiration is the key to creating an atmosphere that fosters the personal development of each individual. Using these strategic ways to inspire students will establish a foundation that reaches the whole child, while revitalizing the learning environment and supporting the success of all individuals.

Celina Brennan is a 3/4/5 multi-age teacher at Salnave Elementary School in the Cheney (Wash.) Public Schools district and recipient of Washington State ASCD's 2011 Outstanding Young Educator Award. She is a district leader in literacy and has opened her classroom to educators as a model of differentiated instruction that meets the social, emotional, and academic needs of all learners. Connect with Brennan on the ASCD EDge® social network and on her blog, written with her teaching partner Ann Ottmar.

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