The first week of school is exhilarating, exhausting, and full of surprises. My thoughts about school bounced me out of bed at 4:45 in the morning all week (not typical for me at all). I fell in love with the child labeled as "difficult" by previous teachers (very typical for me). I'd forgotten how long it takes to sort through a box full of emergency cards, medical forms, student handbook acknowledgments and countless other papers . . . but I realized that I could still watch a rerun of "The Big Bang Theory" and take a half hour to make sense of colorful papers and forms stacked in my take-home tub while laughing with my husband.
With all of the opening day jitters, paperwork chores, and that landslide feeling that overwhelms teachers after the calm of summer, the first week of school holds so many gifts for students and teachers. The greatest teacher gift of all is being present for those connections created with students during those first weeks of a new year. You just never know when and how connections will happen. These moments can occur as you share a favorite book, or go hunting for milkweed leaves with Monarch eggs or caterpillars in the nearby field. Connections start to form as you eat lunch together or surprise the kids by letting them take off their shoes and spray their feet with the garden hose after a sweaty recess. You just never know . . . but connections through technology? Was that possible?
New Beginnings with Technology
I started the school year with the mindset that technology and many creative tools would play a critical part in our learning community. Starting the first day of school, I vowed to introduce one small tool, resource, or process each day, building technology right into our work habits. This seemed as natural as introducing my classroom environment, building new friendships, and modeling my expectations for learning. In the past, I saved the tech introductions for week 3 or 4 of school. Not this year. I took a risk and starting Day 1, I planned to introduce technology to help my students gain membership in our learning community. Learning how to use technology had very unexpected results.
The first day I reviewed how to remove a laptop from the charger, how to power-up, and how to log on to the district's network. Each child was issued a "business card" with his/her username and password. I modeled how to remove a laptop from the charger, carry it, open it, turn it on, and log on to the district network. After I modeled my expectations, the kids walked me through the process, telling me what to do step by step with a student laptop. Finally, it was their turn. I observed each child as they removed a laptop from the charger, hugged their computer closely to their hearts, and found a place in our classroom to work. Students were expected and encouraged to log on and explore the applications loaded on the computers.
This sounds like a uniform process, but just like any other event in a classroom community, every member had unique levels of expertise and confidence. Some kids were powered up, logged on and ready to go in 30 seconds or less. Others needed encouragement and support, but were able to follow the step-by-step process for opening their computer posted on the classroom Smart Board. A select few needed 1:1 assistance, almost as if they were afraid of the computer and just could not fathom the process of connecting with their laptop.
The greatest gift on Day 1 came five minutes into the exploration. I had just finished helping one student who would only accept my assistance and seemed afraid of the computer. I was able to help her get over her worries and explore the applications waiting for her on her computer's desktop. I closed my eyes for a moment and took in a deep breath before looking up to scan the room. Was this tech lesson on the first day a good idea? Was I going to break a sweat and be overwhelmed by so many children who were stuck and needed only me? Was my new building principal going to arrive in my room at that moment and wonder what I was thinking to jump into technology on Day 1?
I opened my eyes and scanned the room. I saw seven tech-savvy kids moving child to child, checking in and assisting their peers as needed. I watched kids high five or hug each other when they successfully logged on. I observed another tech-savvy child writing the log-on steps on the back of a child's business card. "Here are the steps so you can try this on your own." He then powered down the computer and made the hesitant child try to log on while he stood behind his peer and kept quiet, coaching only as needed.
Trusting in the implicit goodness of children is one of my core beliefs, but I had not expected to have this belief validated by watching my students logging on to computers. What was happening in my classroom? This was more than learning how to log on to a computer. This was a fascinating opportunity for me to connect with my students. This was an opportunity to gather information about my students that would assist in building a supportive, yet challenging learning community for my kids. Which students were comfortable with the computer and could be our resident support techs? Which students hesitated, but took risks and step-by-step logged on to the computer for the first time slowly, but independently? Which children needed the full support of a tech-savvy peer or wanted only my assistance? This short tech adventure told me so much about my learners, their confidence levels, and their ability to take risks. Already this class was a community, helping one another and celebrating accomplishments. I never expected these results.
What a gift for me on the very first day of school!
When everyone was logged on, we took a break from the computers and gathered in our community area before proceeding to Step 2 of "Exploration Time." I asked my students: What did you learn today? I heard the following:
- You trusted us with the laptops.
- I learned something new and I could do it!
- I found out that Zach is a kind helper and he didn't make me feel weird when I was stuck.
- You asked me to keep trying, and only gave me hints rather than doing it for me.
A shy hand, half-raised, gave Reisha the chance to ask me: "What did you learn Mrs. Smith?"
I smiled. Those spinning 10 minutes of Day 1's Tech Adventure held so many moments and surprises to savor. I discovered who was comfortable with peer assistance and who needed me today. I saw that my students were on their way to building a caring learning community. I had seen the true goodness of children on the first day of school. How could I answer Reisha so my excitement made sense to my third- and fourth-graders?
"I discovered that you are a cooperative bunch of risk-taking learners, so this year is going to be filled with adventures. Are you ready to try something new?"
Met by boisterous cheers, we gathered ourselves together, energized to move on to a new adventure, happy to know that we are already moving together as a fledgling class community.