Who’s Running Your Classroom?

Aug 25, 2014 | by Janice Smith

high-street-guilford-conn-007 At a conference several years ago one of the speakers (Alan November) completely revolutionized my thoughts on classroom communities and student ownership of them.*  He started by discussing communities from many years ago, when we didn’t have giant superstores like Walmart and Target.  Instead, everything a community needed had to be produced within that community.  Food, services, products.  All of it came from the people living there.  While perhaps not as efficient or cheap as the way we do it now, it gave every member of the community a sense of belonging.  You couldn’t survive without also developing a skill or talent that could sustain your family, and benefit those around you.

This speaker proposed that we apply this very same concept to our classrooms.  What if every student knew what their unique contribution could be, and had a chance to offer it daily or weekly?  What if we could actually cut down on absences because students knew exactly how the community would suffer without them in it, if even for only one day?  What if students began to take pride in their classrooms because they had helped to not only create them, but also run them?

And on top of all that, what if it just made your life a whole lot easier and allowed you to spend your energy on your most valuable contribution- teaching.  If you’re not handing out papers or collecting them, maybe you’re spending that 30 seconds checking in with a student who has had a rough start to class.  If you’re not grading exit tickets, you’re planning rigorous questions for the next day’s lesson.  And when you would normally be planning that lesson, you’re now analyzing the data from the exit tickets to address any misconceptions that were present in what you saw.  Rather than managing the flow of books from your library, you’re spending that time checking in with students about their books, or reading out loud with a struggling reader.  The possibilities are endless.

First lets hear from Suzy Hall talking about the WHY of handing over classroom responsibility to her middle school students.


Next up, I’m excited to share a little of Ms. Cirino’s class, perhaps the queen of classroom jobs.  Let’s take a look first at her explanation of how and why she does it, and then check out one of my favorites from her room.


Why We Love It So Much…

  • We are constantly thinking about student investment in school and learning.  This is one more way to get and keep them invested.
  • Teaching is hard.  Like really hard.  So if we can find ways for students to do some of the work for us, we’re making it a bit more manageable.
  • Plus, with all that newfound time, you can spend more energy working one on one with students, or doing the work that can only be done by you.
  • My former school leader once suggested that when our students chose to join gangs, perhaps this was a reflection on our work at school.  It was a cry for belonging- a sense of community, family, and purpose.  By intentionally designing ways to build this at school, we are providing students with choices about where they find that.
  • All students, but especially middle schoolers (from my experience) crave attention and recognition for their individuality and personality.  By intentionally designing and selecting jobs that highlight what they do best you’re recognizing what makes them unique, what makes them special, and you’re doing it in a public way.  Everyone else now begins to see and value what it is you see and value.  They more reinforcement they get for these things, the more apt they are to continue to develop them.
  • It’s just plain fun.  In my 8th grade classroom one of our jobs was ‘Opener’ and ‘Closer’.  They led the class in reading the day’s objectives and agenda every day as we opened class, and then wrapping up at the end of class.  Those selected were always my most boisterous students who craved attention from their peers.  When given a productive way to really express that, it was not only helpful for the rest of the class but SO. MUCH. FUN. to watch what they did with it.  Marquese and William will always be remembered for the way they entertained and rallied the class.

I know there’s more reasons classroom jobs are awesome than this, and way more ways to integrate them.  Please share your own!


*And despite digging through a dozen old notebooks, I was unable to come upon his name, or where you can find his own writing about it.  If this sounds familiar to anyone and you know more, please feel encouraged to add in the comments!

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