Empowering Children

First Day: Giving Children a Voice
Travis Williams

Well...the first day is over and I must say it was better than last year! The first thing is I have the same class so I already know them. The bad thing is that my kids were being screened for speech the whole day, so I had five kids out of the class; pretty much the whole morning, one group would come back, and another one would leave. It made it hard to do a lot of the first day community work I wanted to do. I felt like I took my time more this year, we talked and got to know each other more this year. We read some books, sang some songs, and we also worked.

My favorite part of the day was our discussion of democracy and rights during afternoon. Last year we wrote our own "class rules" but they were not really their rules; they were what they thought I wanted. Well, this year we talked about what a democracy was, we talked about being free and having rights. I talked about some of the rights I had, and we examined our lives to see the types of rights we all enjoy. I made the connection that since America is a democracy, and we are a democratic school, we should have rights as a class. After defining rights as something "we should have" and giving more examples, the kids discussed in groups the rights they felt they should have in the classroom.

Now at first they were sssslllloooowwwww!!!!!!!! But I was patient. Finally while I was coaching a group one child said, "so I think we have the right to read books." "Yeah!" said another child...and the conversation had begun. The kids came up with the rights to read, write, do math, etc. But then they went deeper.

"We should have the right to learn! The right to think! We have the right to speak and have people listen." My favorite was the right to try. One boy said that we should all have the right to try new things and not get in trouble if we mess up (like I would ever do that!!!!!!) But how amazing was that comment. These rights, combined with discussion about the responsibility that comes with rights, will be our "rules" for the class. clearly child-driven and supported.

This talk affirms for me that if we give children a voice, they will be responsible and amazing with that voice. I think their excitement and investment in these rights will sustain us this year!

Can't wait for tomorrow!

Travis Williams is a first grade teacher in Pfafftown, North Carolina. He just completed his first year of teaching, and looks forward to a career filled with learning and growing as a professional. He is interested in working with beginning teachers and recently presented on his first year at the Whole Language Umbrella's 13th International Conference.


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