From First Impressions to Lasting Ones – Three Ways to Keep Students in the Center of Our Classrooms

Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts, 2019 CCIRA Conference Presenters

Researchers from Princeton University discovered that first impressions are created within a fraction of a second after seeing someone’s face. Within milliseconds, we form ideas about the other person’s trustworthiness, competence, and likeability, all based upon reading the face they put forward.

CCIRA 2019, an annual literacy conference in Denver, creates an excellent first impression. From the moment we left the taxi cab and entered the convention, we knew we were in for a great conference. The face of this conference is warm, professional, full of information. From the moment the conference begins, it is clear that our learning is the drive behind this gathering of educators. CCIRA is a conference that puts teachers first.

We left the conference full – our notebooks full of new thinking, bags heavy with new books and our phones filled with new contacts. We left remarking on how CCIRA mindfully and deliberately creates such a teachers-first space, informing, inspiring and innovating our practice. In fact, this year’s conference theme was Inspire!: Championing literacy from conference to classroom.

We craved a way to bottle up the energy of this conference and bring it back to our classrooms on Monday morning. On our flight home, we realized we could study CCIRA 2019 like a mentor text – closely studying the ways this conference creates such a learner-first culture.

We noticed CCIRA does three powerful things in the design of the conference that welcomes, nurtures and inspires their learners – us! And isn’t that what we all want to do in our classrooms? To welcome, nurture and inspire our students. We share these three ways with you, whether you attended the conference or not, so that you can take a little bottle of CCIRA with you into your classrooms this week.

  1. Craft an environment that tells a story.

Pay attention to details, big and small. From the layout design of the entire conference to Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 7.16.26 AMthe little signs sitting at each coffee table, the details of a space tell a story to participants and create powerful first impressions. Each of these details had purpose. Each space of the conference held details that are functional, inspirational and informational – clear session titles, inspiring quotes and live digital Twitter feeds teaching us as we walked from one space to the next.

Take a brief moment before students arrive or a right after the kids leave for specials and let your eyes drift around your environment. What story do the details tell your students? What details in your environment are functional? Inspirational? Informational? Find one small space you could attend to this week – a corner of your library, a section of your classroom wall, a part of your writing center. Take “before” and “after” pictures to get a visual reward of your work!

  1. Create lots of ways for learners to learn.

Walking down the hallways of CCIRA, you’ll notice lots of different ways teachers experienced their learning. Some sessions were intensive, exciting crash courses in research. Some were filled with examples of student work to study and learn from. And some sessions created lots of time for teachers to experience their own literacy practices.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 7.16.33 AMLook across a class period, a day or a week. Study the different ways kids experience
content alongside you. How many times are you a professor, sharing lots of cool, new research with kids? For example, Donalyn Miller brought the audience to their feet with layers and layers of reading research to support independent reading practices. Perhaps you are teaching a nonfiction reading unit and you begin class by sharing the research on how much false information was spread on social media over the past two years. How many times are you a coach, coaching students to get active and practice writing and reading? How many times are you an artist, encourage students to study the work of others so they can improve upon their own work? Have an eye on not just what we teach but how we teach it can help engage learners in their journey with you across the year.

  1. Put kids first.

Simple and obvious, we know. But in the midst of the school year, this can get lost. There are so many pressures facing our students and ourselves as teachers each day. From high-stakes tests to high-stakes mandates to high-stakes data, there are days that we find ourselves talking about everything but the little people in front of us.

One of the grand hallways in the conference hall was filled with huge reminders of why Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 7.16.39 AMwe all left our classrooms and gathered together as teachers. Local elementary schools gifted attendees with huge replicates of favorite book covers. These handmade banners hung above our heads, reminding us of the recipients of our learning – our students. The banners depict each of the nominees for the Colorado Children’s Book Award, a unique award where students actually nominate and vote for their favorite books!

Look around your classroom this week. What signals could you send your students that lets them know they come first. Perhaps it is something handmade, like a chart or letter. Perhaps it’s an excerpt of a piece of student writing or a photograph of a student reading.

CCIRA helped us find a place to belong in their learning space by offering small details, packed agendas and student snapshots throughout the background and foreground of our day. Here’s to finding a small way to make a big impact as we move from conference to classroom this week.

by Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Roberts

Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts began their teaching careers as middle school teachers in urban centers — Kate in Brooklyn, Maggie in Chicago. They both felt a natural fit in the energy, intensity and humor of early adolescence. After their graduate education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Kate and Maggie became literacy consultants with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for nearly a decade.

Over time, Kate and Maggie have become known for their concrete solutions to tough situations, their humor, and their strong curricular, pedagogical and personal support of teachers, administrators and students. These strengths shine through during their presentations and social media presence, such as their blog, indent, Twitter accounts, and their video series for their latest book, DIY Literacy.

Check out their website for more on their publications – from blogs to books – and dates for upcoming presentations. They can be found on Twitter @TeachKate and @MaggieBRoberts.



Author: CCIRAblog

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