These students are also awesome in that they genuinely care about one another, at least in my subject. Our class is a veritable melting pot of cultural, gender and academic influences and as a result, we have this wonderful sum of the parts that makes for the best part of my working week. Well "working" is somewhat subjective, for as I said to Mark Weston (@ShiftParadigm) in a twitter chat yesterday, "if I'm having this much fun, can it really be called work?" What is also so cool in this respect is that they genuinely also care about the learning and sharing over achievement. Obviously I don't want the class to be a circus with no achievement consideration but the more experienced I get as a teacher, the more I realise that achievement is best often maximised when not the explicit focus all the time. When it's time for these boys and girls to perform in assessments they do and take them very, very seriously. To this end, my number one success criteria is not an explicit learning outcome as such but more that they leave the lesson feeling valued, empowered, trusted and have acquired some learning for academic and for life. And that they can't wait to return!
The previous paragraph talked about the focus of my kids in the assessment context. Once again, in this realm these students are awesome in taking on ownership in the planning and building of these assessments. As a result, the assessments are very closely linked to their ideas, preferences and even modes of responses. Even the dreaded (for many teachers) smartphones were creatively used and initiated by students in a recent rotation of assessments. Students were required to create a wevideo of around one and a half minutes for a Visual Text NCEA assessment. Many of the students weren't happy with the mobility of the URL version and so just over half the class chose to make the assessment on their phones. Genius! Once again, just how I planned.
Another reason why I think I have the best students in the world is that given the space and time for student voice, my boys and girls speak often, loudly and with great perception and consideration. This doesn't mean that we always have agreement though, but what it does mean is that whether the voice comes through Google Classroom, Padlet, our song selections for #VIP or the good old face-to-face, the students realise the importance of their voice and that their voice is no more or less valid than anyone else's in the classroom or in reality in the world. Obviously the desire for this teacher to have legitimate and frequent student voice in our lessons was initially met with some degree of scepticism, hesitation and rather superficial responses. None of this can be surprising to many high school teachers where often classrooms unintentionally or otherwise tend to suppress student voice. Now in June 2016, there's literally no off-switch. 11 English with Mr Kelly is now pretty much opinion-central and I love this noise. Put it this way, I am left in no doubt what-so-ever as to what my students are thinking about, I don't have to mind-read. Due to my students' openness and honesty I see it, feel it and hear it everyday.
The final reason why I believe I have the best students in the world is their acceptance of the need to step out of their comfort zone to really grow as a student and young man or woman. The best example of this is probably in our Thursday's #VIP session where we all dance for one minute to a different student-chosen song each week. The only guidelines for this undertaking we have is that all students must take part (the level however is up to them), no filming and no criticism of music choice or dancing ability. For many students, this is probably one of the most uncomfortable moments in their whole school week yet they all step up week and week and do themselves proud and little by little, grow just that little bit more each time. In this light, I'd argue this 60 seconds while being the most uncomfortable is arguably therefore their most important minute of the week. At the same time however, it gives the extroverts in the class a chance to shine in an alternative but still genuine context and that's where we often see some real talent that otherwise would be hidden for good.
What surprises me when I say to fellow educators that I have the best students in the world in my class is that I get no middle-ground responses. I either get a bemused look from the doubters or increasingly in our school, I get challenged that the teacher I'm talking to actually has the best students in the world. Hey, I'm not greedy there's plenty of room on the top of the world. My students and I are already there, care to join us?