Each January, families with incoming kindergartners visit our school. My colleagues and I invite them into our classrooms after school and say:
“When you look around, we hope you can see the kinds of learners that share this space. Each day, when children enter our classrooms, they see themselves, they see their passions, they see their learning.”
Now, more than ever, a classroom needs to be a place where all children are seen. It may be the only place to be seen safely, to be seen for who they are, to be seen beyond what they look like.
When thinking of our own classrooms, we can ask:
If ______ did not come to school for a day, would they still be seen in the classroom environment?
Would they be seen in photographs, in portraits, in artwork?
Would their interests be seen in the library? In the topics being studied? Would their needs be seen in the classroom setup?
Would they be seen in the mentor authors being studied? In the tools created? In the work displayed? Would their thoughts and ideas be visible?
The more children become visible in classrooms, the more they become visible in learning. When constructing an identity, it transfers to writing, to artwork, to the kinds of books being read, to topics of conversation, to the roles played in communities.
As educators, it can feel important to nurture a child’s identity as a reader, a writer, a problem-solver, and so on. Rather than compartmentalize, we can shift our mindset. By helping each student develop a strong sense of self, it feeds the kind of readers, writers, and problem-solvers they are.
For example, my kindergartners discovered that Jaxson, is someone who lives and breathes dinosaurs. As a reader, Jaxson identified as researcher, constantly on the mission to deepen his understanding of extinct giants. As a writer, Jaxson identified as a teacher and creator, sharing his wealth of accumulated information and rich imagination. As a mathematician, Jaxson became an expert measurer, after constructing a life-size model of a baby apatosaurus.
Strengthening Identity Through Writing
A place to make meaning of ourselves and the world around us, writing is a powerful tool for self-discovery.
Narrative writing connects us to our past, to the stories that have shaped who we are.
Informational and procedural writing allow us to become the experts, to learn and teach about our passions.
Persuasive writing is deeply tied to our emotions, often inspired by moments of injustice, driven by a need that calls for action.
Fictional writing feeds our imagination, turns the impossible into a reality.
Poetry awakens the artist inside. It takes us to a place where the rules we are bound to do not exist.
However, when idea-collection tools are stored in folders, we miss a valuable opportunity to make the diverse lives, passions, and experiences of our communities visible. Instead, we can rely on the classroom as a tool for making children, their identities, and experiences seen.
When we make what matters visible, a classroom can be a place for children to be inspired, to see themselves as important, to make connections with others, and to see experiences that are similar and very different than their own.