How can I remove the barriers that exist for my students?
This question has been rolling around in my head for a week, after my superintendent, Dr. James Merrill, asked it during our South West Area Kickoff (which was some really excellent PD).
There are three types of barriers I see for my students: social, personal and academic.
I try to remove social barriers by being really intentional about making all students feel welcome in my classroom. I want my kids to feel safe and included from the moment they come through the door, so I make it a point to post images that represent different cultures and points of view. This continues every time select artists to share - we have to include the diverse contemporary artists of today if we want our content to be relevant and accessible to our kids.
I also leave much of the walls empty. This is not a space I want to be a hommage to my art skills - it's for the community that we build together.
I try to remove personal barriers by building a relationship with my students. I make it a point to get to know them individually, asking them questions and figuring out what's important to them. When I notice a student is resistant to following behavioral expectations I start by asking questions, not lecturing or punishing.
"It seems like you're having trouble following the rules today. Is everything okay?" always gets me further than "I'll see you at lunch detention."
I remove academic barriers by making content personal and relevant for my students. I teach them to use their own ideas, differentiating content and support individually to make sure that happens. Instead of planning what they'll make and showing them the steps I teach them to be the decision makers.
All these things work together to make a classroom culture that's student centered, positive and empowering.
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.