Okay, it’s time to face reality. Your winter break is just about over and in a few days you’ll be looking into the faces of your sweet students. If you’re like me, you’ve been dreaming about how you might do things differently next semester. Ah, where to start…
- Reflection is one of the most difficult but helpful practices for teachers. Nonetheless, a teacher who wants to make positive changes towards growth, should make it a regular practice. If you’re looking for a second semester change, ask yourself a few reflective questions about the first semester. Reflect on WHAT? How about…
- Classroom Management–This is easy! Ask yourself: what behavior is the most annoying? Is it students distracted by cell phones? Is it language? Is it off task behavior? Can you get students undivided attention when you need to? Do you have a “quiet signal?”
- Classroom Climate–Does your room have a positive or negative vibe? Do students want to or even look forward to coming to your class? Are students kind to one another?
- Student Collaboration–Are they really collaborating or just seated closely? Is there individual and group accountability? Do students hold each other accountable?
- Instruction–Are you bored by your own lessons? Is your instruction teacher or student- centered? Do your lessons require students to go beyond note taking? Are students invested enough to debate and argue? Are students given the opportunity to grapple with tough questions and space to problem solve?
- Assessments–Are your students given opportunities to think critically? Do your tests reflect higher order thinking? Is everything on your test “Googleable?” For more advice on creating questions that are not “Googleable,’ click here. Do your assessments give students opportunities to demonstrate what they really do know and understand? Are your assessments tightly aligned to your standards/targets/objectives?
- Curriculum–Are you “covering” too much? Does it feel like your students are only getting a superficial understanding instead of a rich understanding? Is it time to consider removing content that you’ve typically covered?
- NEWSBENJIVERTS. I’m not even sure how that’s spelled. I was introduced to this acronym while watching this episode of the Middle where Brick, the little brother, tries to coach his sister, Sue, for her audition for the school newscaster position. Brick starts with this small acronym to help her to remember key newscaster skills: NEWS; Natural, Eye contact and Winning Smile. But, Sue needs so much help it grows to NEWSBENJIVERTS. During her audition, she is so overwhelmed by her the huge acronym that she performs with huge eyeballs, an awkward smile and, frankly, looks ridiculous! All this to say we often look ridiculous to our students when we tackle more than we can handle. We end up back-tracking on our commitments, which only breeds a lack of confidence in our words and actions. Choose ONE, maybe two, things to tackle. Larger, sweeping adjustments can come next year.
- Ask yourself probing questions to problem solve. After you determine what you’d like to change, ask yourself how this student behavior, instructional approach, classroom culture, etc. has become a pattern in your classroom? What is the root of those behaviors? Come up with at least several causes beyond student motivation or administrative mandate to these problems. After all, you have no control over them. Look for causes within your circle of influence. Make a plan to address them. This is where the internet and your colleagues are great resources. If you have instructional coaches in your building like I do, you might want to elicit their help in brainstorming solutions or processing root causes.
- Everyone needs a pep talk. Okay, it’s your first day back. Imagine your classroom is a locker room full of athletes and they are looking eagerly to you, their coach, as you prepare to give them an inspirational half time pep talk. Don’t let them down, Coach! Remind students that you are there for them, care for them, and want them to be successful. Tell them what they, as a class, did well last semester and point out areas where they are growing but aren’t quite there yet. Tell them second semester offers a fresh slate. Tell them that you expect that second semester will be challenging, but that you’ll get across the finish line together. However you word it, speak it from your heart. Kids can smell insincerity a mile away.
- Take a moment to reconnect. Show pictures of how you spent your break. Give them an opportunity to share about their adventures. When we do this, we are creating a safe space for students and communicating that we care about them. It also allows them to open the doors of communication with a topic that is comfortable for them. This will make it easier when you ask them to engage in content related discussions.
- Honesty is the best policy. Okay, time to get real. It’s time to make a change. You don’t have to pretend with students. Unlike administrators they are there every day and know exactly what it is like to be in your classroom — for real! Share how you’ve reflected over your break and your plan to reset for second semester. One caveat: if you say you are making a change, you have to stand by it. Telling your students means they WILL hold you accountable–as they should. When choosing a solution to your problem, choose a plan that you can carry out. Avoid developing systems that will be difficult to manage. You’re too busy for that!
Who doesn’t love a fresh start? Let’s make a resolution to keep making resolutions. After all, the key to our growth as educators (and people) is reflection, plan, change, REPEAT. Keep fighting the good fight, my friend! The fruit of growth is always joy.