Many of us know Lewis Carroll’s Alice. As a child, we lay in bed, stealing a peek into her strange world. A world in which white rabbits run about stressing over time, mad hatters host crazy tea parties, cheshire cats grin impishly, and queens threaten to cut off your head. No wonder Alice had trouble making sense of herself in this odd universe. Alice’s resizing and struggle with her identity symbolizes the difficulties associated with growing up. Her identity displaced as she searches for her niche in a strange world.
Middle school students, like Alice, fall down the rabbit hole, and emerge in a strange world, a world in which they struggle to define their autonomy in an increasingly academic world. This is not an easy world for adolescents or their educators. As an educator of twenty plus years, I believe it is important to help students feel efficacious in their efforts to succeed in the wonderland of school. Efficacy requires a set of strategies that encourages students to tap into and make use of internal resources which allow them to develop and implement a plan to succeed. I believe a collaborative classroom that nurtures students to become independent, critical thinkers is integral to student success.
I believe cultivating collaboration empowers students to not only find their own voice but also find the voices of others. When the classroom environment is designed to build a sense of community in which students seek resources within the group and value collective work, it is understood that collective effort is more effective than individual effort. Such an environment fosters flexible thinking; students know when to integrate and when to assert their ideas and opinions thus creating a cohesive community.
Falling down the rabbit hole for most middle schoolers involves their struggle with asserting their individuality in an environment where social conformity seems to be the norm. It is important that students feel independent yet are part of a greater community.
Alice’s curiosity was a catalyst for her many questions. She certainly was not afraid to point out the idiosyncrasies of Wonderland; in fact she was willing to risk beheading to state the absurdities of the Queen’s laws. Like Alice, middle schoolers require a curriculum that sparks curiosity and begs analysis; although without the risk of losing one’s head. I believe it is important to promote critical thinking in the classroom. As educators, it is imperative we create an environment that cultivates qualities such as questioning, gathering and assessing information, interpretation, open-mindedness, and effective communication in solving intricate problems.
Teaching is a challenging profession that requires passion, patience and perseverance. I readily accept the challenge of providing students with a safe, collaborative environment that encourages independence of thought and introduces tools to help them articulate their thinking because I know it will help them thrive in the adolescent wonderland of education.
I am excited to begin another year of wonder and discovery with my students!