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Principal’s Corner: Learning that lasts students for life

Principal’s Corner by Nick Sofio

Nick Sofio

While visiting a classroom during math recently, I found myself reflecting on my personal school experience as an elementary student. As I reflected, I realized much of what I flashed back to revolved around a very structured and rigid classroom learning environment; desks placed in even, neat rows, silent work time, raise your hand for everything, everyone reads the same story during reading, and memorize math facts and spelling words. The fact that my initial reflection didn’t include memorable learning activities was quite disappointing. As a student in the 1980s we were often not given the opportunity to collaborate, share thinking, problem solve and/or learn from each other.

My brief reflection during this classroom visit wasn’t prompted because of a similar experience for our Lakeview students. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as students were taking an active role in their learning.

The students were gathered on the floor reviewing a problem that was displayed on the SMART board through a document camera. One student was standing in front of the class walking her peers through the process she followed to solve the problem, while the remaining class moved their hands in different ways to show whether they agreed or disagreed. Occasionally, the teacher would ask the students to turn and talk with a partner share their thinking with each other, before returning to the whole group. After answering a few questions from her classmates, another student was selected to share how he used a different strategy to solve the same math problem.

What is very clear in this classroom and so many other classrooms in our school and district, is that student voice, collaboration and problem solving are significant and powerful pieces of the learning environment. The scene described above is from the solve and share portion of our daily math work, but is also seen throughout the school day in other subject areas such as reading, writing and science.

As a principal, I am fortunate to be able  to visit a variety classrooms on any given day. What I enjoy most is seeing our Lakeview students engaged in learning activities that stretch their problem solving and critical thinking skills. In order to provide this type of learning environment, our teachers purposefully and diligently plan learning experiences for our students that focus on developing these skills. Moving from classroom to classroom over the course of the year, I am amazed at how much our students have grown academically and am confident their memories of elementary school will be filled by the exciting and engaging learning provided by their teachers each day.

Nick Sofio is the principal of Lakeview Elementary School.