Journaling: A How-to Guide for Teachers

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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.

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Resolve to Grow as a Teacher

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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.

Peer Observation

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.

Journal

It is powerful to be able to put your thoughts to paper.  So what should an educator journal about?

  • Perceived problems in the classroom and possible solutions.
  • Triumphs!  What went well today?
  • Quotes.  Come across an inspiring or uplifting quote?  Write it down!  I keep a long running list of quotes in the Notes app on my phone.  This could come while listening to a podcast while I’m walking, watching a TV show, or reading a professional article.

                                                                         I will have a future blog post on journaling.

Read

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.

The Most Valuable Feedback in the World is Your Students

Are You Reaching for the Sky in Your Classroom?

10 Ways to Thank a Student

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#3: Sticky Note Smile

10)  Tell Them

Nothing beats the ol’ fashion look ‘em in the eye and “thank you.”

9)  Stickers anyone?

Not as a reward, but as a quick and easy thank you.  Everyone loves stickers.

8)  Write Them a Personal Note

Stick it in their desk or backpack.  Better yet, if you are really proud of their work in a certain subject, tell them.  Slip it into the next lesson of their textbook so they can have the pleasant surprise all to their own.

7)  Tell the Parents

Trickle-down thankanomics?

6)  Display Their Work

Place their art work or strong assignment in a prominent place by your desk.  Perhaps, on the wall for a few weeks or in a frame right on your desk.

5)   Down Time

Encourage them when they are down.  Be specific and tell them how much you appreciate them.  This one can get emotional, especially if they are really down about something.  The more personal feedback the better.

4)  Have Lunch with Them

Make it a point to sit with them at a lunch hour, and have a conversation with them.  Try not to focus on school.  Focus on their life outside of school.

3)  Sticky Note Smile

Walk by their desk and put a sticky note on top of their desk while they are working.  It is unexpected and it is personal.  That is a rare combination in a classroom.  And seriously, does that take all of 30 seconds?

2)  Extra-Curricular Support

Show up to one of their events outside of school.  The ideas are endless.  Their basketball game, soccer match, football game, dance competition, singing recital, and gymnastics event are all examples in which you can show you really care and appreciate them.

1)  Hug it Out

If you don’t like a hug, then you need a hug.  This is especially important for male teachers who have male students who really look up to them.  They crave that affirmation.  They need to see that male example of care and kindness.  Remember, many of them may not receive any male affirmation outside of school.  The lack of a father in the life of a boy has reached an epidemic in this country.

Have another way to say thank you?  Share it in the comment section.

10 Questions to Increase Engagement with Your Students

Student Engagement

Having a tough time grabbing your students attention for a particular class?  Try reflecting on these questions as your prep for your lesson.

  1. What is the big idea for my lesson?
  2. How can I incorporate movement into this lesson?
  3. Can I incorporate a dramatic, cinematic score into the climax of my lesson?
  4. How can I get my students outside my classroom walls for this lesson?
  5. Could my students demonstrate the main idea of this lesson with play-dough?
  6. How can I incorporate technology into this lesson?
  7. Could my students video a summary of the lesson with their tablet for this lesson?
  8. How does this lesson relate to the lives of my students?
  9. How can I arrange the desks to maximize the experience for this lesson?  Could I eliminate desks for this lesson?
  10. Why am I teaching this lesson?

This is the first part of an ongoing series on student engagement in the classroom.

Are You Reaching for the Sky in Your Classroom?

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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?

Continual Assessment 

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.

Passion

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.

Relationships

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.