The sixth grade program at my school has greatly evolved, changed, and adapted, over the years I’ve been in charge of the department, with the sole purpose being to effectively support and challenge the diverse learners coming into the school. When I first took over the program eight years ago, there was no curriculum, focus, or philosophy. I made sure to change that quickly. Today, our sixth grade program is one of the strongest in our school. While we cover much knowledge and content, the focus is always on social skills and our school’s Habits of Learning. We want to help the students understand how and be able to utilize a growth mindset when learning new information, reflect and be self-aware of their academic progress so that they have goals to work towards, effectively coexist with their peers to solve problems and tackle tasks, communicate in appropriate and meaningful ways through writing and speaking, think critically about the world around them and problems in need of solving, take ownership of their choices and learning to figure out how to solve problems, and creatively solve problems using unique solutions. These “soft skills” are more important to our students than any chunk of information or fact. If the students apply these skills throughout their lives, they will find much success as global citizens in our world. Being able to regurgitate facts or solve a math equation from memory will take them only so far; however, If our students know how to talk to others, solve problems in creative ways, and be open to new ideas, the world will be their canvas. They will make their future.
This bold and cutting-edge philosophy can be challenging for new families and students to understand at first. We generally have a few students and families who balk at how we approach the teaching of math, science, English, and history. These students come from public schools or schools that are teacher-centered and focused on testing and grades. Our philosophy is the polar opposite of the kinds of venues our students come from. We believe in empowering our students to solve problems, learn for themselves, and work with others. So, some parents have qualms with our approach to education despite a very lengthy and specific letter sent home over the summer that details all of this. We take these opportunities to educate parents to the purpose of our program. We love the challenge of bringing non-believers on board with us. Sure, every once in awhile, a family or parent is very stuck in their ways and can’t see the forest for the trees no matter what we say or do. That’s okay with us because at the end of the day, we are teaching and guiding their son and not them.
Tomorrow, my co-teacher and I are meeting with a family who disagrees with our approach to the teaching of math. They feel as though we need to use more teacher-directed instruction, provide more worksheets and problems for the students to complete, and give the boys more homework. All of the brain research and data about educational pedagogy goes against what they seem to think is best for their son. But, it’s not our job to prove them wrong. Tomorrow, we want to help them see our side of the field. The grass is beautifully cut, growing thicker every day, and vibrantly photosynthesizing in the sixth grade. We hope to help this family better understand and appreciate that we are providing their son with far more than just extra work and lectures. We are helping empower their son to tackle problems in new and creative ways, find answers on his own, and effectively work with his peers to accomplish various tasks.
Regardless of the outcome tomorrow, we believe in what we do in the sixth grade because we have seen the difference it makes in our students. The boys who successfully complete our program go onto do great things because of the foundation gained in the sixth grade, and that’s what really matters.