03 September 2017

5 Things I'm Doing in My Classroom This Year

When I was out of the classroom and working in other education settings, I met all kinds of people who have grand ideas for how to improve public education and how to make it more innovative. I read about teachers (and met many of them) doing cutting edge things. Imagine the pressure I could have placed on myself to try and do everything I learned upon returning to teaching.

Even with all the cool tech ideas and innovative teaching strategies I learned, probably the most important idea I learned while away from teaching was the idea that we learn from our failures. As a former leader in the "I expect perfection from myself at all times" club, learning from failure has been a major undertaking. My hope is that by learning from my mistakes, I can teach students how to learn from theirs. I hope I can teach them not only how to learn from failure but that mistakes are okay.

Here are 5 things I'm doing this year...

Building relationships. Our principal challenged us this year to see each student, and building relationships is one way to be sure I see my students. My strategy for building relationships is ongoing, but one concrete thing I do is have each student create a name tent on card stock. Inside the name tent they write things about themselves they want me to know, and during my planning block I read the inside of the cards. At first I had students pick up their card each time they came to class, but after I started learning their names, I started passing out the cards so I could pause and chat with students about what they wrote on the inside of their cards. I do this quietly while they write in their journals.

Developing habits of mind. I've been teaching my students how to be effective readers and writers by teaching them habits of disciplined writers and readers and practicing these habits daily. Every day when they enter class, we set a timer and write in our journals for 15 minutes (classes are 90 minutes long). Sometimes I write with them. Sometimes, I use that time to learn names, take attendance, etc. Though I provide a writing prompt for their consideration, students are free to write whatever they choose as long as they just keep writing. One student is working on a short story and another is writing poems. Others are using the writing time to decompress and de-stress from the busyness of their day. Periodically, they choose a journal entry to revise and submit. They use words from their individualized vocabulary lists in their revisions when appropriate.

Photo by my colleague Sophie Schwab. Used with permission.
Making thinking visible. I've been teaching students how to make their thinking visible by teaching text annotation strategies and other visible thinking routines. We've analyzed artwork and photographs and advertisements. In my arts and humanities class, we've learned how to critique artwork using elements and principles of art. We've studied color theory and painted. In my English classes, we've analyzed images and read a variety of complex texts. We've focused on individualized vocabulary learning.

Establishing routines for class discussion.  I've taught all levels of students how to have active text-focused discussions using the Paideia Seminar approach. We've set class goals and individual goals for discussion, and we've learned how to converse on controversial topics. A student last week even went home and told his parents about our Paideia discussion over one of the texts because he was so energized and excited about it (and yes, it was a text in our district mandated curriculum). The student's parents told me how excited he was about the discussion when I saw them at open house Thursday night. The big take-away comment from a student-- "we need to see issues from multiple perspectives and respect the viewpoints of others."

Practicing gratitude. Every morning before I go to school, I write in my journal and I include my gratitude list.  At school we practice daily gratitude, too. At first we used post-it notes and I had students write what they're grateful for on a post-it and place the post-it on the board anonymously, but then I realized I'd never be able to afford the continued purchase of that many post-it notes, so now we're using slips of paper that I collect and shuffle to keep the anonymity as desired by many. Since I am a "floating" teacher and don't have my own room, we all need time to pack up at the end of each block, so after we pack up, I read the gratitude slips aloud for the last two minutes and we end the block with a smile.

I know that I influence the students I teach with my attitude and perspective on life and learning. I am human. I am self-loving and self-forgiving. I am okay with not doing everything perfectly. I hope they realize the same.