This week I sat down to watch footage of Tamesha McGuire’s Kindergarten at Uncommon’s Kings Elementary in Brooklyn.
Now, technically I’m supposed to give Tamesha feedback first before I post anything–she’s a TLAC Fellow and that’s part of the program–but, honestly, I loved this clip so much I couldn’t wait. So with apologies to Tamesha, here’s a clip I just absolutely love.
The clip shows the power of clear What To Do directions and carefully crafted Procedures and Routines and how they make the classroom a productive learning space. But just as much, they show how those things result in a warm and caring learning environment where relationships flourish.
The clip starts before Tamesha has even begun teaching. The girls in the class are coming back from using the bathroom. The boys are sitting and waiting and enjoying a little downtime.
But notice how well Tamesha has taught them what ‘down time’ looks like. They can relax and chat but they know they have to stay in their seats and keep their voices at a certain level. And because she’s been really clear about that, the setting is warm and happy and Tamesha can chat with her scholars while she gets ready. Notice how bright and welcoming her constant smile is. Everyone is happy. This is one of the great outcomes of strong procedures. When students know how to use their autonomy you can give it to them more freely. (As an aside this clip–which shows students who know how to rest–reminds me of a colleague’s recent reflections on the importance of rest).
Tamesha’s kids know what it means to be independent in the classroom and they know how to come back from independence. With two quick claps–an attention routine–they’re back and attentive and ready for instruction. When your kids come back as sharp as that, you can give them downtime anytime they need it. No fuss; no muss.
Notice the economy of Tamesha’s first direction after the clap: “Tuck your chair.” It’s perfect What to Do, describing exactly and precisely the next thing to do for a student t be successful in as few words as possible. This ‘economy of language’ ensures that she’s clear and students focus on the most important thing. Nothing in her words distracts students from the task.
Next watch the girls come in. They know just how to do it-again they’ve practiced. Because of this–it’s both cause and effect–Tamesha’s voice is warm and positive and cheery. More smiles. It’s easy to smile when your kids know how to be positive and productive.
Instructional time is preserved; positive culture is built; happy students start the day.
One of my other favorite moments is when she whispers, “Tuck your chair, baby,” to one of her scholars. As a dad I hope my children are always reinforced in doing productive things for their learning by teachers as loving and warm as Tamesha. A caring correction is a beautiful thing. And when the direction is clear you can be more confident kids will follow it. So you can smile like Tamesha does. (Also if you smile you increase the likelihood that kids will do what you ask so it’s chicken-and-egg stuff).
Same goes for her academic feedback on letter writing. Caring and useful and delivered with absolute precision of language. Over and over, the clarity of her directions lets students follow them right away and feel good about it.
After the timer goes off, Tamesha plays a little game with her class to reinforce the procedures she’s so carefully built. She’s going to turn around and if they’re perfect they get a ‘post it’ to track their success (and possibly some reward down the road for enough of them).
This is a tricky moment. For many teachers it’s all or none. They feel obliged to give the reward if things are even close to standard or to scowl and scold if they are terrible. But that doesn’t really help to uphold the sort of very-high-standard that makes Tamesha’s class so warm and orderly. But Tamesha turns around and lovingly says, “Not quite.” She’s not mad at them. They’re good. But to earn a praise point from her, the bar is very very high. You can uphold standards exactingly, Tamesha shows us, with grace and warmth and without chastising.
Then she’s off to teaching. A little ‘attention routine’ [‘I have a question!’ ‘What’s your question?’] signals to kids that we are started and then she’s into teaching, in that warm sing-song voice. With every scholar locked in and ready to learn.
It’s beautiful stuff and reminds us that when you have strong procedures and when you discipline yourself as a teach to give super clear directions, kids are successful and can have freedom and autonomy and learning can be highly prized without sacrificing caring and love.