Saturday, May 17, 2014

How Long? Developing Your System

I was talking with a colleague earlier this week as a group of us were going to grab a bite to eat before the Students vs Staff basketball game that we do every year. Don't ask if we won or not, but let's just say that I was sulking for a couple of days.

Anyway, after my third year of teaching I have come to the realization that it takes about three years to really get a handle on the standards that you teach. The first year, you're just overwhelmed with all the newness and getting accustomed to your building. The second year you're still overwhelmed but you have a year under your belt and you start to get in the flow. The third year, you know what you're teaching and have a solid plan of two years of what worked and didn't work that you can pull from. So, from my experience, I think it takes at least three years to fully understand the standards/content that you teach. All of this exists in a perfect world where your standards aren't changing every year, or you're teaching two different sets of standards at the same time, or some of the standards you're teaching are Common Core and some are Indiana standards. We know how that goes, but I digress.

Now, along with the standards, I have also come to the conclusion that it takes about 5 years (no I'm not there yet) to get fully comfortable in a teaching style. When you come out of college, you've read all about the "ideal and perfect" classrooms from your textbooks. You see and read 3,453 best practice articles or videos. You expect your classroom to function like that. Then you get a job. Then you realize that -

  1. Those classrooms don't really exist (Ok. Yes they do, but those teachers who wrote the book make it look extremely easy)
  2. The teachers in the classrooms have been doing this a long time
  3. You have more than 15 kids in your classroom
  4. There is a canyon between your room and the "ideal" rooms
I think we've all been there, but typically those authors of those books are older and very experience teachers. They have probably came to the same conclusions that I mentioned above. What they also did was realize that there was something not right about their teaching. They hadn't found their unique style of what works for them and their students. I would say that the great teachers design lessons and do the things they do because they see a need. Once they see that need, they fill the need. Out of that becomes their style. 

I love integrating technology into my lessons when I can. Why? Yes, I understand that I have love of technology, but at the same time, look around. What doesn't incorporate some sort of technology. I went to SportClips to get my hairs cut. (Yes, I do the "'Did you get a hair cut?' 'Yes' 'Just one or all your hairs?'" joke. I walk in and sign my name in. (I could have downloaded the app and signed in that way, I guess) She pulls up all my hair cut information from last time. I don't remember 3 months ago what type of haircut I had. (Fade. #2 on the sides. Finger-length scissor cut on top. For all of you wanting to know) Technology. Stored in some server far away. There is a need that was being met. Great teachers see the need and then fill the need. 

It also comes down to what you feel comfortable doing. I learned this by coaching basketball. I was an assistant for 9 years before becoming a head coach. As an assistant, you can try a lot of things. You can tweak and borrow and steal from others. But when you're the one calling the shots, you have to be comfortable with the type of system you are running. If you're sitting over on the sideline cringing the entire game because you're not comfortable internally with what your team is doing, it's going to be a nail-biter in more than one way. (Punny!) But if you are comfortable with the system and you teach to the system, then you can coach at ease knowing that your team and you are on the same page. (Getting your players to be on the same page as the coach is a different post, of course. It lies within setting them up for success early on within your system. I just let you in on a secret.) All in all, you must first be comfortable in the driver's seat. You must figure out what works for you and then teach using that system. 

Now, you can't always use the same system. You have to be willing to grow. Over Christmas break, I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. It transformed the way I teach. His system was born out of a need as well. He needed his students to be engaged. What did he do? He started engaging them! Now, he's sharing what he learned and it not only works for him, but it works for his students as well. 

What I'm getting at is that it takes time to understand the What of your content. Once your What is determined, then you need to understand the Why. Understanding the Why makes the lessons go much deeper. You have to move beyond the, "Because it's a standard, that's why." answer. It needs to be applied to life. Then you can start implementing the How. The How must be about the What and Why. 

It takes time to develop these things. It might even be called the culture of you classroom. I don't know. But if you're beginning your career, don't get too frustrated. Press on. Find your system. I think I know why most teachers leave the profession after 3 years. You just have to get through first 5 years. 

End of Year Student Reflections

At the middle of the year and at the end of the year, I send out a Google Form Survey to my students with the intention of gaining feedback on my teaching. It's part of my self-evaluation that I go through every semester. I value the opinions of my students a lot. They are with me EVERY DAY. They probably know me better than I know myself. It also gives them a chance to be honest and upfront about issues and concerns that need to be addressed as I grow as an educator. I think teachers are more "fixers" and tend to want to fix the problems and improve in those areas in which the students say that I need to improve on. I also think it's very healthy to look at all the positive things that students say. I kind of set it up that way so you positive feedback and negative feedback. It's always good to be balanced, right? :)

I wrote about this last year - here

This year, I have done the same and am excited to hear back from them. I added one question to this year's survey: "What was your favorite memory from this year?" I have already had a couple fill it out on their own time at home. So far, I am liking what I received. On Tuesday, since we'll be in a lab during reading, the ones that don't check their Gmail will fill it out then. I can't wait to read them. I also need to come up with something else to do in the lab since it will probably be our last lab day (ours fill up pretty quickly. 850 students with only 3 labs + a media center lab) I just discovered Pear Deck (I'm beta testing it) that works with Google Drive that I might try. :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Questioning Answers or Answering Questions

I guess you could say that I had an epiphany. But that sounds too amazing. It also might be considered ridiculous. Either way, it's going to make my life easier and coincidentally, my students' short answer responses better as well.

Before I go on, I imagine that somewhere along the way someone has told me this, I have read it somewhere, or I learned this in college. I'm not really sure if the problem is my memory, but I am dressed up like a grandparent today for Make-A-Wish week. I think I'll blame it on that in this instance :) But seriously, I can't believe this thought has never resonated with me before now!

Here goes - when writing a response to a question that requires a paragraph or more be written/typed : you, or someone else if peer editing,  should be able to cover up the question that was asked and after doing that someone should be able to write the question just by reading your answer. You end up thinking backwards. . Your answer should so clear that you write the question. Genius, right? 

I guess I understand that on my own, but I have lacked getting some of my students to see the value in it as their answers haven't been really answering the questions lately. Maybe it's the summer-itis settling in? Maybe I don't teach it well enough? I guess if my students don't understand it, then it's the latter. 

I love the journey I'm on. Always learning. Gotta get to work.