I started this school year with a master teacher whispering in my ear. We all have teachers we remember for their lasting impact on us. We find ourselves emulating their voice, channeling their spirit. I was recently inspired by a documentary about Fred Rogers which brought up all sorts of old associations for me. I am currently speaking with a softer voice, smiling more, and being very honest with my students. Hoping to demonstrate just how masterful a teacher he was and how he continues to inspire me, I organized this post based on Charlotte Danielson’s ENHANCING PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE: A FRAMEWORK FOR TEACHING. Specifically, I am focusing on Domain 2: The Classroom Environment.
Component 2a: Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
Mr. Rogers was always a model of respect. He never talked down to kids. He treated kids as people who could understand things – they just had to have things properly explained. He talked about divorce, death, art, music… all kinds of deep and important subjects. If a student wants to talk to me about a divorce or death in their family, I don’t shy away from the topic, though I may ask their permission to involve the counsellor. Also, if a kid isn’t understanding something, I try not to blame them and instead question how I can better explain things. Finally, in a previous post I wrote about how I respond to questions about my being a man who has a husband.
Component 2b: Establishing a Culture for Learning
The content of the show was always worthwhile. He approached his material in two chief ways: directly with guest speakers and “field trips,” and indirectly through incorporating relevant topics into the story lines for his Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I make sure the materials I use are of high quality, whether they be folk songs or songs we make up ourselves. I always approach material from as many directions as I can think of, catering to visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning needs.
Component 2c: Managing Classroom Procedures
Danielson lists several subcomponents under each heading. For component 2c, 4 out of 5 of the subcomponents map perfectly onto Fred Rogers’ running his TV show: management of transitions, management of materials and supplies, performance of non instructional duties, and supervision of volunteers. In the classroom, I try to move from one activity to the next with the same engaging sense of fun that he had. Also, it takes a village to support a music program, and I am fortunate to have the staff at our school on board with helping it all happen.
Component 2d: Managing Student Behavior
Can Mr. Rogers be said to have managed student behavior without being able to see his viewers? I recently showed part of an episode of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD to all of my students, K-5. The room went quiet as all were drawn in to his way of talking and the songs being sung. With no flashy, distracting effects or sounds, his even tone and kind smile still command a room of students. Equally important, he modeled how it was OK to make mistakes when doing your best. When I am frustrated, or when the current behavior of a class is unacceptable, I often start to talk more quietly, making them lean in and listen. Also, when my attention getters are not working, I take my tall stool to a specific spot, sit on it, and ask everyone to take a breath with me. Calm and quiet are good for us all.
Component 2e: Organizing Physical Space
Everyone familiar with the show can close their eyes and picture where the door is, the steps, the trolley tracks, the aquarium, Picture Picture’s spot on the wall… The safe and predictable nature of Mr. Rogers himself was reflected in the safe and predictable nature of his house. His rituals associated with his space helped with the sense of safety and feeling welcome there. Changing his shoes, feeding the fish, welcoming the trolley, answering the door… I open classes with a greeting at the door, take attendance by singing students’ names and having them echo me, and close class with a discussion about how it went. Also, I’ve learned to choose my surprises carefully. You can have the intention of spicing things up, but can just end up throwing everything off kilter, such as when I gave the Kinders instruments before clarifying expectations of how and when to play them. Oy!
Interestingly, when I showed the video of him to my students, he was familiar to them, even though only a handful had ever seen him before. I kept hearing, “That’s like Daniel Tiger!” When I showed Mr. Rogers singing the opening song of the show, they sang along. Now these kids watch DANIEL TIGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD, Daniel being the animated version of one of Mr. Rogers’ puppets from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The teacher’s voice continues to be heard.