Saturday, March 25, 2017

Student Leaders in the Classroom

Where Do I Begin????

Dear Readers,

I have 100% embraced the idea of students teaching in my classroom. It provides them with countless opportunities to develop ownership over their own learning. You might be asking, HOW do I implement this? I can only speak for 7th and 8th grades, but I am sure it could be adapted to any grade level.

Building Relationships & Making Connections

It is essential to create a collaborative and safe classroom environment among all members of the classroom community. I started out the year by getting to know my students, establishing classroom routines and creating expectations.

I tried something a bit different at the beginning of this year in that I allowed my students to "set up" the classroom. This included stocking books in the book corner, filling the drawers with community supplies (and labeling them), deciding on and hanging up posters, choosing quotes for index cards, etc. 

My students know the classroom is our classroom and they have access to anything they need. In fact, one of my 7th graders probably knows where everything is located better than anyone. She is the "go to" person when someone is looking for something.

Creating Classroom Roles and Routines

As a Leader in Me School (Covey), classroom and school wide roles are an integral part of our culture. I implemented some basic roles to begin the year including attendance officer, Green & Clean, Jr. Trailblazers and librarian. As the year has progressed I have added more leadership opportunities such as Flexible Seating, Anchors of Appreciation (aka Thoughtful Thinkers), Reading Goal Bulletin Board and time keeper. 

As our roles were established, routines started to fall into place. I always leave a message on an easel or in Google Classroom to help them "get started". They independently do their roles if appropriate, on Mondays they #CelebrateMonday, on Mondays and Fridays they choose flexible seating and Thoughtful Thinkers, etc. Even if I am absent, they can start class independently. 

Mid-Year "Reboot"

Coming back from holiday break in January, we had a much needed "reboot". We updated and revised our expectations including what our learning environment should look like and sound like, in addition to what is better left in our heads. We have many conversations regarding proactive language, being empathetic and how we are positively contributing to our learning community. 

Getting Started

Giving our students opportunities to teach the class is an incredible way of giving them ownership over learning. When you have a strong foundation built on relationships, routines and expectations, it is more than possible. It takes patience, perseverance and practice! I tell them this, from all of us.

This is how I started:

  • They choose a "co-teacher" peer they want to work with. I give them the benefit of the doubt and unless they show me they are unable to work together I will let them teach with friends. So far, I have had minimal problems. A couple of reminders here and there.
  • The expectation is to come up during lunch prior to the lesson to prepare. If they choose not to, their opportunity may be lost for the day. I had this happen once.
  • Although they are the teachers, I will step in or if I am needed. 99.9% of the time it is to clarify instruction, not due to conflict or behavior. 
  • I set an expectation for myself to let them work it out, I keep an ear out and listen to everything, however have found when left to their own devices can work through most things. It is a fantastic, authentic way to practice collaboration, compromise, problem solving and negotiation.
  • They are expected to be leaders. I sit in the audience and they take over the "front" of the room. 

Expectations of my "Student Teachers"

They are responsible for:

  • Writing message on easel.
  • Writing "get started" message.
  • Deciding on flexible seating options.
  • Thoughtful Thinkers
  • Making sure attendance officer does his/her role.
  • Choosing groups and/or seat assignments if necessary.
  • Setting up technology needed.
  • Reading any text we will be discussing.
  • Creating anchor charts we might need.
  • Passing out materials.
  • Walking around to groups, checking in, listening, offering feedback, getting peers back on task.
  • Letting students use restroom or get drinks.
  • Supplying pencils for those who forgot.

They take these tasks for seriously. They even refer to each other as Mr. and Miss _________ . They will go up to them and ask Can I go to the bathroom? Can I get a drink? Can I borrow a pencil? It is so fun to watch. 

Handing Over My Plans

I will not lie, it took me a couple times to get in a rhythm of handing over my plans. My tasks:

  • Have to be a little ahead in my planning so I can anticipate which may be a good day for student teachers.
  • I hand over instruction they know or that we have already done. It is not brand new to them.
  • I had to make checklists of what to do in order to get ready for class, including writing out the message at first.
  • Get all materials ready for them (including highlighters, texts, etc.).
  • Anticipate any difficulties they may run in to, areas I may need to elaborate or clarify for the rest of the class.

Now that they have all had a chance to teach, it is much smoother for them to prepare. They are very confident! Even my quietest students are amazing as leaders! With the exception of a couple of students they have all stepped up to try it, some of them have taught several times.

To clarify, I do this with my 7th grade Language & Literature Class. In being completely transparent, I have not tried this with 5 classes in one day as many middle school teachers have. Being a literacy teacher, my schedule is quite unique. However, I would love to extend this into other classes. The content and grade levels are different through the day, so I am not sure of the logistics of how I would accomplish that.


I love that my students come in and say, "Who is teaching?" or "When can _____ and I teach again?" It is established that we are all teachers and learners. It is not assumed I will be the teacher, nor is it a question of whether I will allow them to teach, but rather when.

If you have the opportunity to try this, I highly recommend it! It is amazing to watch them.