I knew even before I read it that Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students was going to become one of my favorite education resources and something I would recommend to every teacher I know.
That’s because I’ve been following Pernille Ripp’s incredible blog for many years. She consistently cranks out thoughtful reflections on her instructional practice as a fourth grade teacher. I have witnessed her growth and change over the years, and it’s amazing to see all of her wonderful ideas shared altogether in one comprehensive eBook.
Rather than repurpose blog content for the eBook, Pernille has linked back to various posts where she expands on ideas. It’s a terrific resource for readers who want to learn more and see how reflections at different points in her career have built upon one another organically. The eBook also includes photos of her students in action and links to videos. Each chapter ends with a section called “What you can do starting today” which gives practical next steps to help you put the ideas into place.
As I read the book, I jotted down a few questions I hoped Pernille would answer to help me share the heart of her message with you all:
1) One of my favorite things about both your blog and your book is how openly you speak of your past mistakes and how your thinking has changed over the years. What “aha moment” would you say has had the greatest impact on how you now run your classroom?
My biggest “aha” moment was when I realized that I hated teaching. Here I had pushed so hard to become a teacher working full-time while going to school full-time and yet after 2 years, I hated it. I loved the students, but I hated what I had become and it was nobody’s fault but my own. While there are things outside of our control that can greatly affect the way we teach, I had forgotten that I actually had control over myself and so I had no one to blame but myself. Once my husband made me realize that it wasn’t teaching I hated but the way I taught, then I started to change.
2) The chapter called “It’s Not How Your Classroom Looks, It’s How It Feels” really resonated with me because I believe a warm, inviting, and functional learning environment is far more important than a beautiful or perfectly coordinated one. What do you recommend teachers focus on when planning for their classroom layout and decor?
That the room shouldn’t just be about them but about the students. I think we get too caught up in making our classrooms cute or overcrowded with inspiration that we forget that there needs to be room for the students as well. If we leave blank spaces and give students power over those spaces, then they can start to feel ownership of the room. With ownership comes a deeper engagement because the learning environment is more theirs. Students should not feel like visitors in our rooms, it should feel like a safe environment that they can create, experiment, and perhaps even fail in.
3) You talk a lot about your personal demon, control, which also happens to be my personal demon. What do you do when you are tempted to micromanage students or take over their learning?
I take a step back and read aloud! This sounds crazy, but too often when I get wound up over something or too carried into myself then I do something completely different from what we are doing if even for a few minutes. Perhaps that means sharing a new picture book, taking a mindful break, a dance break , or even stepping out of the room so the students can figure it out. I have even stopped talking and stepped back to watch on occasions when I get too over-involved.
4) My favorite chapter in the book is called “Would you like being a student in your own classroom?” What would you say to a teacher whose answer to that is NO because of the school’s overemphasis on test preparation?
That they are not alone and that I think almost every teacher struggles with this especially in the U.S. However, I would also ask them if they can figure out how to de-emphasize it without getting themselves into hot water. Or somehow change the focus from test prep to later life prep, and by later life I mean outside of school and work. Sometimes we teachers are the ones hyper-focused on the test prep and students don’t notice it, so sometimes it is ourselves we need to relax with. I also think of all the things I do have control over and try to focus on that, telling my students through my actions what is more important to me. (This is a tough question because I struggle with it myself!)
5) What do you wish every teacher knew about motivating students and creating passionate learners?
That it doesn’t take much to start the change! That simply by asking the students what they would like to do or how they would like to learn something we are giving them a voice within our classroom and engagement will increase.
Pernille’s blog and book will challenge the way you think about your classroom, but never in a way that feels preachy or condescending. Pernille learned most of her lessons through trial and error, and she shares her experiences in a way that is honest and humble. Her ideas are both practical and inspirational.
The best thing about Passionate Learners, though, is it will leave you not only with ideas to make your students more passionate learners, but with ideas to bring back your own passion as a teacher, as well. Don’t miss this one: it could be life-changing!