The other morning before school started, our principal’s four year old son was sitting at his dad’s desk waiting to head off to playschool. He was in front of the computer, busily writing on post-it notes and sticking them down! It was the cutest thing, watching him work so seriously, trying to be just like his dad.
We know that kids watch us, that they pick up everything from the world around them, and that being a strong role model as a parent is paramount. When our daughter was born, mom gave me a bookmark with the poem “Children Learn What They Live” on it, and it hung on our fridge for years. I remember when our kids were very little, they would occasionally say or do something that would be out of the ordinary in our household and I’d wonder, “Where did they learn (or see or hear) that??” My husband and I had two very different childhood experiences, and that purposefully shaped our parenting decisions. An important one for us was that we consciously didn’t yell or swear in our house, because we didn’t want our kids to yell or swear back. It’s not a judgement thing – we all choose what works for us. But once in a while I’ll think of this when I’m out shopping. A kid is having a meltdown in a store and a parent is yelling at them to stop yelling. Ah, the irony. And when our kids came home from the babysitter or school with ‘new vocabulary’ there was a teaching moment in there too. Modelling doesn’t always work, I get that. My teenage son will not eat a single vegetable, and it wasn’t for lack of exposure or modelling, so it’s a strategy but not an infallible one!
In our school division, I often hear the expression “You cannot not model.” I can’t even credit where it came from, as I’ve heard it from many different people, but it is so true. When I used to teach band, modelling was the primary mode of instruction. I play. Now you play. Listen. Did it match? Try again. I play. You play. I’ll never forget trying to get brass players to match a pitch, when it’s possible for them to hit MULTIPLE notes depending on how tightly they buzz their lips. And those poor French horn players have it even harder. If you know a band teacher, they need lots of hugs and Tylenol in that first month with beginners!
So if you learn to play music by playing music, and my role in modelling is crucial, the same is true in other subjects. Recently I had the chance to facilitate PD sessions for fellow ELA teachers with two amazing educators, Michelle Lockinger and Charmain Laroque. Michelle modelled quick writes during a video and Charmain modelled ‘reading as a writer’ by annotating text. Some of the most positive feedback about the sessions were these modelled activities. As a teacher, it’s helpful not only to see strategies modelled in action, but it’s also good to remind ourselves what it feels like to be a student. Plus, if we are expecting students to do something, are we actually doing it ourselves?
And that is the most important modelling of all. If we are asking our students to take risks, we need to take risks. If we are asking them to be kind and respectful in their language and actions to others, we need to do the same. And if we are asking them to use a growth mindset and not say “I can’t” then we need to remove those two words from our vocabulary too. Or change it to “I can’t YET.”
This week we did some video-making in ELA where students were doing on-camera interviews. Some of them were very reluctant despite knowing that it wouldn’t be shown outside of the classroom. I haaaate being on camera too, but I partnered up with a student and we made our video. That was hard. I’m going to cringe inwardly when we watch it in class, but I’ll refrain from making self-deprecating remarks even though I’ll be thinking them…positive modelling…because I wouldn’t allow a student to put themselves down, so I can’t do the same to myself. In music class, I sing. It’s not amazing (and I’m always mindful that there are no cellphones or kids putting me in their snapchat stories) but if I have grade 8 boys that are willing to sing and perform, then I need to be modelling that same confidence.
This last week I was also fortunate to shadow an amazing administrator and observe some fantastic teachers at Rosthern Elementary. (It’s been busy lol.) One of those classes was a math class. As I sat and talked with different students, I had to remind myself not to say “I’m not good at math, or I don’t do math.” What message does that send if an adult doesn’t do math? And really, what adult doesn’t use math in some capacity? So I was cognizant to phrase it this way: “I’m not a math teacher, but I remember fractions. I actually use them all the time when I bake. Can you explain what they are asking you to do here?” And off the student would go, giving me a mini-lesson (sometimes complete with drawings) of fractions and decimals. And when they have the answer…So how do you know that’s an equivalent fraction? How do you know ¼ is smaller than ½? *How*do*you*know?* And off they go again, explaining their thinking.
So how do I know that modelling is important? I look at our school division’s leadership and know that they are models of lifelong learners. At meetings, workshops, and in their online presence, they walk the talk. I look at our school administration and think of the initiatives they have lead this year like instituting school-wide reading. It’s not just the realm of ELA teachers to talk about books or think about reading comprehension. We are now ALL reading role models. And I look at my own kids. I know I’m biased, but they have grown into good humans. Mostly lol.
As we start another week, it’s vitally important to model, give feedback, encourage, model some more. But it’s also important for us to be consciously making an effort in our ‘role modelling’ as well. Children learn what they live. They absolutely do.
p.s. I started with a quote by Jimmy Casas. I’ve just started reading his book Culturize and it’s awesome. I know I’ll be writing about that later!
Kiitos-Hiy Hiy-Thanks for reading!
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.