How to Follow Your Student's Lead

As I reflect back on the school year, I think back to our last project. It didn't turn out how I originally planned; went a completely different direction than I wanted. The project made me question if I could really capture my audience and if I had the drive and energy to even complete another project. However, I was quickly reminded that it is never about me and my plans, it's about my students and where they wanted to take their learning. You can lead them, follow them, or just get out of the way. Getting out of their way was one of the most important lessons I learned this year.

Last school year, a friend and I helped our kindergarten classes complete a project by getting an indoor observational bee hive and two outdoor bee hives. The students' love, excitement, and curiosity about bees was evident. The process was extensive, but rewarding. Those students truly loved learning and sharing their knowledge about bees.

Naturally, I wanted to have my next kindergarten class learn about bees as well. We have so many opportunities to observe and learn from our own bee hives and beekeeper. I started by setting out provocations, books, watching videos, and experts came in to teach us. From my perspective, I was setting up to launch this amazing project. I was laying the groundwork for wherever my students wanted to take this.

Honestly, I wanted my student's to write a grant to get some bee suits. Learn how to check on the bees with our beekeeper, and find out ways to share about our bee hives with the school and the community. These were MY dreams for this project. The books, videos, experts did not hook my students like I thought they would. They were all great and taught us about bees, but my students did not want to learn about bees the way I was presenting it to them. I was directing their learning, not them, and it was evident.

It seemed that their interest and excitement quickly shifted when I got out of their way. We ran across pictures of solitary bee homes and insect hotels. They would take their own time to look up pictures and learn more. This is where my students found excitement. This is when I realized, again, to get out of the way and let THEM lead.

We started by researching and brainstorming. We used tools like Safe Search Engine, Kiddle, EPIC, and a blog I found. We emailed experts. I printed off pictures we found and compared what we saw. The students' chose which one they were interested in. They drew a rough copy of how they would design a solitary bee home or an insect hotel. They used their mearsurement skills to decide how big they wanted their home. They decided if they wanted to work alone or with a group. Then we found experts. Experts that could help with the building and materials. Partnering with experts was much needed because I had no clue how to complete this part of the project.

We asked our school phsychologist, Jeff, who is quite the expert on building things. He got in contact with our high school and used scrap wood from a shop class. All for zero dollars! Just people helping each other and following the students' lead. Jeff brought in the tools and wood, and we went to work. The students nailed together their homes. We went outside and started collecting materials for the inside of our homes. It was perfect because my students were invested and leading the way.

Once we finished, we wrapped up our project by hanging our insect hotels and solitary bee homes outside. It wasn't a huge celebration, but they were able to see their finished work and display it for others to enjoy.

This is another example of how you can follow your students' lead, but a reminder that you're not alone. We all feel drained and exhausted throughout the school year. Stay encouraged, I still struggle to let my students' lead. We did many projects throughout the year where the students truly led the way, but come the month of May, I was exhausted. I wasn't sure I could follow anywhere they wanted to go and help them execute it. I was tired and wanted to take the easy way out.

We cannot take the easy way out! It is a disservice to our students. Find your tribe of people who will come alongside you to encourage and help. We all need help as we navigate how to truly let our student's lead.