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The Lakota learning experience is one filled with inquiry, innovation and discovery. Every student's learning style, passions and interests are different, which is why the experience of one student will never be exactly that of another. It's why Lakota teachers and support staff are committed to student-centered learning and providing a personalized approach marked by differentiated teaching methods. 

Let the Lakota Learning Team explain what that means and how that goal plays out on a daily basis in our classrooms. Through this blog, they'll guide parents and community members through the strategy behind Lakota's student-centered curriculum and how different methods meet students' educational needs. And because learning doesn't stop at school, they'll provide tips and strategies for how to be partners in the learning process and create a positive learning environment at home. 


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Will you do me a favor before we begin?  

 

Close your eyes and picture your favorite, most influential teacher. Try to imagine a specific memory you have with this teacher. Now, indulge me a bit further and think about why you chose him or her 

 

My guess is that you are not currently thinking about pedagogy, organizational techniques, lesson plans, or what specific learning standards you mastered under this teacher’s care. 

 

This August marks the beginning of my 13th year at Lakota West High School. Much has changed since I first walked into room 106 in 2005, and not just that I now walk into room 140 daily. When I began teaching, I believed I had to prove myself in those first days of August—prove that I was in charge; prove that I was smart; prove that I was organized and ready; prove that I knew all the answers; prove that MY class would be challenging and meaningful.  

 

I’m assuming you are shaking your head at me by this point. While organization, classroom management, and preparedness are key characteristics of a good teacher, those are certainly not the qualities my students list first when asked about their ideal teachers. And they certainly aren’t the only qualities I’m looking for as a parent.  

 

Now that I’m older, perhaps wiser - but really because I’m a parent who has two children in Lakota schools this fall - I have new priorities for those first days. What are my priorities now?  

Mrs. Dunn loves you.  

Mrs. Dunn loves her job.  

Mrs. Dunn’s room is safe.  

You are valued.  

You are capable of learning.  

I believe in you.  

This is not MY room; this is our room.   

We are a community.  

We will learn from one another.  

I don’t know all of the answers, but I can’t wait to find them out with you.  

 

I realize these goals may sound unrelated to my English Language Arts learning standards, and I am certainly aware of the intense pressure on teachers and students alike these days to cover too much curriculum and to pass too many standardized tests. However, I have learned in the past decade that I can cover curriculum more efficiently and effectively when my students and I have first worked to build a genuine relationship 

 

I should not have had to learn this. Everyone who has ever been a part of a team knows: Good teammates know one another well. Consequently, they can communicate well. They anticipate moves; they cover for one another; they highlight one another’s strengths; they know what each other is thinking or worried about. And teams that work to build this type of foundational relationship are generally far more successful than those who don’t.  

 

Earlier, when I closed my eyes, I pictured Mrs. Karen Frailie, and, no matter what you say, I can guarantee she was the best teacher pictured in that exercise. I had the honor of being her student for two years as she was my 7th and 8th grade English teacher. I can still see her bright eyes and her perfectly lipsticked smile, and I can still hear her gentle voice in my head. 

 

I can also still list the short stories, novels, and plays she taught me, and, if you’d like, I could still diagram sentences in the same format she modeled for me. Please understand: I cannot do this because I absolutely loved the literature or grammar she was teaching at the time. Instead, I remember because of Mrs. Frailie.  

 

She noticed I loved books and slipped me ones she thought I would like to read in my spare time. They had nothing to do with her required learning standards, but they fueled a fire that has never gone out.  

 

She made me feel like I was a good writer—I was 12; there’s no way I was actually writing enjoyable content. She made me believe otherwise.  

 

She spoke gently, graciously, and kindly to all of her students at all times—except for that one time she yelled “STOP!” at the top of her voice in order to demonstrate how an imperative sentence worked grammatically. 

 

She made me feel valued and as though what I said mattered. Again, I was 12 and likely not delivering profundity in conversation. Yet, she made me feel otherwise.     

 

She intentionally built a personal relationship with me. Thus, I learned from her, and I believed her when she told me I could conquer whatever challenge she put in front of me. 

 

Mrs. Frailie passed away when I was a freshman in college, and through a series of humbling and fortunate events, I was gifted a box of her teaching materials. There is one item that has a special home in my desk, and I occasionally pull it out to remind myself of something crucial to a successful classroom.  

 

Lesson bookYou see, I have the lesson plan book for one of the classes she taught me. Each square is filled to the brim with her scrawling cursive—day after day is packed with meticulous plans for what the class would learn. Well, every day except one. The first day of school has two words written on it: Welcome Students. I know Mrs. Frailie well enough to know this was not from a lack of preparedness or inability to put together a proper syllabus. Instead, she knew what was important on that first day—love her students, learn about them, teach them about her, and build community. 

 

That first day was not wasted. I remember her and what she taught me because she chose to invest in me—from day 1.   

 

Bethany Dunn's kindergarten sonAs a parent, I wish for nothing more than my children’s teachers to get to know them as quickly as possible. Admittedly, now that my son is beginning kindergarten in the fall, I’m a bit terrified he will be expected to fit into his older sister’s mold. But he won’t fit. His mold has more energy, more confidence, more noise, more fun, more random dancing, and less rule-following. The parent in me wants to send a note on his back on the first day of school that reads, “I’m not my sister. Please get to know me and love me for me. Please see my potential. Thankfully, the Lakota teacher in me who has the privilege of knowing several kindergarten teachers across the district knows this is unnecessary.  

 

As a teacher, I’ve learned to reframe my thinking about those first days of school. Am I losing precious time to teach? Nope. I teach several lessons those first days: Humans over data. Relationships over rules. Students first. Your teacher is human too. Learning requires community.  

 

I’m excited for another year with students, and I’m committed to remembering and employing one of the great lessons of Dr. Maya Angelou. She taught me several—to be an unapologetically fierce woman and a reverent keeper of words to name a few—but this one is particularly prudent for our purposes here: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  

 

I want my students to feel welcomed, known, and empowered—from day 1. 


This August marks the beginning of Bethany Dunn's 13th year as a language arts teacher at Lakota West High School. You can connect with her on Twitter @BethanyDunn19 or through email at bethany.dunn@lakotaonline.com

Posted by lauren.boettcher@lakotaonline.com  On Jun 12, 2019 at 10:37 AM 135 Comments