I think we can all identify.
I think we can all identify.
To kick off 2016, we talked about the importance of reflection as a teacher. So often we can get bogged down in the day to day rigor of just being a teacher. Think about what goes into your day after you finish teaching. Grading papers, preparing for the next lessons, organizing and cleaning the classroom, congregational duties, and other teaching duties just to name a few. We can quickly become overwhelmed. Unfortunately, taking the time to reflect can often get pushed to the side.
Now what if I told you that you could do your job of reflection in just five, short minutes every day? Would you be more likely to make that a habit and set it into your daily routine?
Thankfully, this is possible. A small, simple journal is all you need. Now those of us who were graduates of Martin Luther College perhaps remember, with horror, those special, little things known as reflection journals during student teaching. Let me be clear, that is not what I’m talking about when I refer to journaling.
We need something doable. Something that we can look forward to each day and make a routine in our daily schedule as a teacher. Our goal shouldn’t be a two-page written essay in a notebook. If that excites you, more power to you. However, for the rest of us, a short bulleted list does the trick with the same effect.
A new year often brings a new focus. Typically, this focus comes in the form of New Year’s resolutions. Often our New Year’s resolutions center around personal promises to ourselves, our family, or our wellbeing. It is rare that our resolutions center around professional qualities.
As educators, our work never ends. A successful educator reflects regularly. A successful educator applies that reflection and continually tweaks and improves their teaching.
However, even the most successful educators can fall into their old habits and place the value of reflection to the side. We may begin to teach the same lessons, with the same methods, while expecting a different result.
While there are occasions when we move from reflection to action, reflection must be a continual aspect of our professional life.
What are some easy methods of reflection for educators? Here are a few, simple ideas for you to get a jump start on reflection in the New Year.
Working together with your faculty and realizing the gifts of your coworkers is invaluable. Take the time to observe in a colleague’s classroom. Something you see may give you a new idea. A culture of collaboration could be fostered through engaging with one another in their classroom. What often happens through peer observation is that both educators grow with each other.
It is powerful to be able to put your thoughts to paper. So what should an educator journal about?
I will have a future blog post on journaling.
Choose an area in which you want to grow as a teacher. Find books, articles, and blog posts on that topic. Read up on it for weeks and focus your efforts on that particular area.
One helpful reminder, don’t make your topic too broad. When you choose an area of growth, be specific as possible. Narrow the scope of that growth initiative to aid in your overall success. For example, rather than choosing to improve on classroom instruction, focus on how you are going to increase hands-on activities within the classroom. This will give you a clear path to improvement.
Make it your professional New Year’s resolution to be a reflective educator. An educator who not only grows during the summer months but throughout the entire year.
Other blog posts regarding the reflective teacher.
Having a tough time grabbing your students attention for a particular class? Try reflecting on these questions as your prep for your lesson.
This is the first part of an ongoing series on student engagement in the classroom.
I often tell my teachers that it is never too late in the school year to change something. While there are a few major items, like curriculum, that deserve our full attention during the summer months, most aspects of classroom instruction can be changed at any time throughout the school year.
If something is not working, why would we continue with mediocrity just because there are a only a few months of school left? That makes no sense. Teachers should continually be striving for the best, even with limited time remaining.
So how do we continue reaching for the sky in our classrooms and attain the most out of the few time we have left remaining with our students?
Make sure we are setting and sharing learning goals
Are we giving our students goals for the instruction that they are being taught? What is the point of this test? What is the plan for this project? How are we going to get to this end result? It is important that we stay on task. Are we holding ourselves and our students to task by articulating our learning goals for each new unit?
I don’t mean drill and kill worksheets. With so many months of school in the preverbal bag, we must ensure that we are continually changing up our assessment strategies. Yes, at many levels tests are crucial to reinforce study skills, habits, and memorization skills. However, are we also offering other varied avenues for assessment? Skits, class videos, music videos, clay sculptures, real life math projects, group presentations, are all types of assessments that we can use to invigorate our classroom. The list is endless, our creativity and drive are the only barriers.
Have you lost your passion in these winter months? If students see teachers who are going through the motions, won’t they emulate the same? How are you keeping your lessons engaging? This is the time of year to put in that extra effort to make sure your lessons remain interesting and mentally challenging for your students. If they see that passion and enthusiasm in your presentation, that same attitude is all the more likely to transpose into their work.
Win their hearts, gain their minds. I can’t write about achievement in the classroom without concluding with relationships. Teaching, our calling, is all about relationships. When students know we care, they care. It is all the more important, as the school year closes, to make sure we are building those relationships with our students. This is crucial with students whom are struggling. This is the time of year in which they prefer to just throw in the towel. That is if they know their teacher doesn’t care. Students who struggle, strive for that relationship. While many teachers may see that student as a student who doesn’t care or is lazy, the teacher who cares sees that student as another soul. We never give up on a soul. We never give up on a student. Build those relationships, show your students that you care not only about teaching but about them.
So have you set that bar high? Are you reaching for the sky? If not, there is time to change. Don’t wait. Make that change, in your classroom, in yourself, and in your heart, now.
“We all need people who give us feedback. That is how we improve.”
Our harshest critics, are often times the students whom we serve. I have the privilege of teaching an amazing group of junior high students. They may be some of the harshest critics of them all.
One thing I love about teaching children is they are brutally honest. If they don’t enjoy something, they will let you know. The opposite is also true, if they enjoy something, they will most certainly let you know.
Every day that I enter my classroom, I receive feedback throughout the day. I can tell when my students are engaged. I can tell when my students are anticipating a lesson. I can also tell when my students are bored out of their minds. This feedback is invaluable.
As teachers, we must ask ourselves, am I listening to my students’ feedback? There is some feedback from students that we can ignore. Decisions we make based on classroom climate, culture, discipline, etc. may be unpopular but needed.
There is a whole stream of feedback that we must listen to, however. We must answer tough questions as educators. Are we engaging our students? Are we meeting all of our students needs? Are we serving our students to the best of our abilities?
This is when we must listen to the feedback our students are giving us. It is invaluable. Furthermore, if we listen to it, it will make us all the stronger as an educator.
My students have called me to task before. My junior high students used to have an inward grown when it was time for science class. I knew I had to make more of an effort to engage them in class. I had to add more hands-on activities, more experiments, and more labs. I had become too dependent on the lecture as the basis for my science class. It was easy. It had become a crutch. I knew I had to change, based upon the feedback of my students.
Now I have students who look forward to science class and the topics we will be learning. While never perfect, my students helped me become a better teacher for them. We must be open to not only identifying our students feedback, we must be open to implementing change based on that feedback.
“We must be open to not only identifying our students feedback, we must be open to implementing change based on that feedback.”
As Bill Gates stated in the opening quote, it is how we improve. As educators, we should be compelled to be reflective. We ought not be afraid of constant evaluation; we shall embrace it.
What kind of teacher do you want to be? More importantly, what kind of teacher do you want your students to see you as? By listening to their feedback and being open and honest with them, it shows them that you care. It fosters a relationship with your students that cannot be measured.
Finally, how can we insist on our students to improve and grow as learners, if we are not continually growing and learning ourselves?
Listen. Listen with an open heart and a reflective mind.