How do we “Let kids be kids” and have fun while still focusing on learning?

O.K., so here we are at a question that I found a little surprising to be in a #mschat. The only reason why I say this is that we middle school teachers are a funny bunch. Most, if not all, of us teach middle school because we are large children. I say this with the utmost respect and admiration for each and every middle school teacher out there. This is a sincere compliment. To be a middle school teacher, we have to have this child-like wonder close to surface of our skin. We need to be able to easily channel, express  and model this wonder with our students. We have an innate ability to lighten up a mood and model how to be focused and yet have fun doing so. We have never lost our inner child or our sense of wonderment about everything in the world around us. We are the ones in our adult circle of friends that is always pointing out a cool sunset or finding that ridiculously funny graffiti on an underpass (for the record when I first wrote this line, I mistyped it and it said ‘udderpass’.. teeheehee…) on the way to the bar.

This idea of mine was a central theme to so many of the responses for this question.

@Meffscience

“Cold or not. Don’t take yourself too seriously & let kids have fun and be kids in class.  laugh often and don’t be too serious”

@DrSteveRitter

“Have fun with them. Do what kids do – move, talk, share, discuss, get online. Meet them where they’re at!”

@mrgranito

“Let some of the “silly” middle school behavior slide. I let my jokesters make a joke once in a while.”

All of these tweets remind me that we are human. We are also uniquely equipped to take a room of 25 11-14yr olds and hold them in the palm of your hand in rapturous laughter and then flip a switch and get them to pivot into thought about a task at hand. @blocht574 seems to have this idea when he said,

Have to remember to control your classroom but letting go of the things that don’t matter: Just let it go!!”.

But when @PughP13 mentioned,

“share stories with the kids. Remind them that you too are human and you have interests just like them.”

it got me thinking about a post I wrote a while back about letting go of control once in a while and letting yourself go down the road of the tangential conversation. It is a high functioning craft that middle school teachers perform each and every day. It is so much harder than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. This question really gets me thinking about how I get my students to react in positive ways about their own education while still getting them to roll in laughter each and every day. I can’t think of anything that is harder to do. The things we do to accomplish this are happening simultaneously within the seamless flow of a class… and when you think about it, that’s pretty fucked up how hard it is. Think about this:

We will, as @blocht574 says,

“Value their time, don’t give them pointless assignments and have fun yourself!!”

While at the same time we will also,

“focus on protecting their few unstructured moments the same way we focus on instructional minutes.” as @MrBernia says. Then @jbhanlon adds that we realize that “It’s all in balance- engagement & interaction” … and of course we are also monitoring ourselves to make sure we are not overdoing as @MrsJeniseSexton puts it,“I have to remind myself to stop being so uptight about everything.” Then of course we are also making decisions about how the room operates and have to have knowledge about the technology in the classroom. @PAMSPrincipal brought this up by saying, “Let them use their devices; embed engaging tech and social media; let them explore content; give them choice;”

…Yes we give them choice but we also do it with very precise ideas about the boundaries that we will employ and how much background knowledge we need to accomplish it.

We do all of this and more, each and every day, and we make our classrooms a place where our students go home at then and of the day and tell their parents that they can’t wait to come back tomorrow. How do we do this? Well, we start by being human, by telling them that we don’t know the answers and that we are genuinely interested in finding out, just like they are.

@BillStaugaard, @theemrmoore and @Meffscience all get that concept:

“show students you are learning with them. Model it and show them you value learning and that it’s fun!”

“Lots of space for growth & inspiration on both sides of the desk/classroom.”

Take a little time to be a “real” person, not just a teacher in front of the room. Show them you like to have fun too”

And of course when all else fails… we know how to take a joke and be the joke for the sake of our kids. Thank you @richbacolor for pointing that out…

“When I want a really good laugh (or cry), I ask Ss who can do the best impersonation of me teaching.”

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