Happy New Year! I hope your break was restful and you were able to refuel yourself for the next part of the school year. I watched A LOT of college football over my break. I had one of those moments over the break where something completely unrelated to my job taught me a great lesson about my job. Please be patient as I try to help you relate to my lightbulb moment. I learned that in a football game one sign of a great coach is the leadership and faith he has in his team both on and off the field. The first of my bowl binges was the Peach Bowl and while watching the pregame buzz I discovered that the betting boards in Vegas and just about every TV sportscaster on ESPN confidently declared that the University of Houston Cougars would be defeated. Only one sportscaster bravely declared he thought they would win. However, they were blessed to have Coach Herman and Coach Applewhite who had gained their trust, believed in them, and trained them beyond what they thought they could even accomplish. As a result, they started and ended the Peach Bowl victorious. I watched the Texas Christian University (TCU) Alamo Bowl game last night and was blown away that after ending the first half 0-31 , the coaches made adjustments and came back to WIN the game. Instead of feeling defeated, they came out fighting for victory and succeeded. We are our student’s coaches and we have to believe in them even if no one else does. We have to train them beyond what even they think they can accomplish. Our half time is our Christmas/Winter break. If something has not been working at this point in the year, we have to make adjustments and come out fighting for a victory. There is not ONE coach out there that uses the same exact plays year after year and expects to be successful – nor should we. They instead adjust their plays to fit their players. The only way to conquer this is by setting personal goals but also guiding our students with their goals as well. So today, let’s talk about doing things differently the second half of the year. Let’s put on a different set of lenses that will help us see things differently in our classrooms, and thus help us approach things differently. Let’s make goals – specific goals for ourselves as classroom teachers. So much has been reported about the importance of goal setting with our students – and it most definitely is important – but specific goal setting for teachers is equally if not more important.
The first area of goal setting I want you to think about is the area of focus in your classroom. What does the bulk of your academic block really look like? Keep a log of how much time you are spending doing certain things in your classrooms. How much time is spent on whole group lecture versus small group strategy or intervention? How much time do your students have to interact with one another – if any? What about quality time reading? Quality time writing? Conferencing? Look at your schedule and decide where the most bang is for the buck. Once you have that information together – a clear documentation of how you direct the time spent in your classroom – sit down with someone you trust and discuss it with them. What do they think? Don’t participate in defensive conversations but have intellectual empowering conversations. Don’t stop there, ask several trusted and respected colleagues for suggestions of improvements to the focus of the learning in your room. Research shows and many books have reported that small groups and time for our students to read and write return the best results when there is individualized teacher direction. Make a plan to transition your classroom to this new schedule. You have to remember that it must be transitioned in baby steps. Set up a plan for a 6 week transition.
“Letting go” doesn’t seem like a goal, but for the majority of teachers it is the hardest thing to accomplish when managing a classroom. When I say letting go, I am not talking about lack of discipline or structure. Structure should always be a part of every classroom. Repeated, expected activities and performance levels are the key to a successful classroom and school year. However, let go means believing in the students and providing them with the ability to believe in themselves. I think many times I assumed things about my students that involved setting them up for failure based on past performance. Because they did not return paperwork or complete their homework, I could not allow them to take home books from my library or hold certain responsibilities within the classroom. However, I never sat down and had a heart to heart conversation with those students to discuss the WHY AND HOW. Why are you doing this and how can we solve this problem TOGETHER? I needed to let go of my assumptions and began trusting the conversation and their responses and responsibilities they were working towards. I let go of the control of what I thought my students could handle. Now, this goal is HUGE! It has to be accomplished in baby steps and through developing deep relationships with your students. But nevertheless, I think it is the Most POWERFUL goal you can set out to conquer. You can also go one step further and include letting go of the need to be the focus of attention in the classroom. Instead just be a facilitator and guide. Allow the discussions in your classrooms, decisions for effective homework assignments and topics for research projects to be the decision of your students. Again, not a start on Tuesday morning type of deal, but something to work towards around Spring Break time. It is a goal that will help develop and empower your students to be critical, responsible, excited learners. One way to transition this type of thinking is to just begin to ask your students what they think. What do they think about something going on at the school or what is their opinion about what is happening in the world? Then move on from that to allow them to question why you graded something the way you did? Allow them to challenge your grading and encourage them to explain why they think something should have been marked correct instead? Have honest discussions with your students and parents without feeling defensive or offended. Sometimes that is hard to do when the parent is defensive and offended, but if you believe in what you are doing it really is not. Realize that one year will not show 100% success with all students. This is a long term goal that must be revisited frequently and adjustments to your behavior with students must be made.
Lastly, think about how to hold not only yourself but your students accountable for goals. Before a test or a project – whatever is relevant – predict what the outcome will be. After the assignment have them reflect on why the result was what it was? Why did it match or not match to what they thought the outcome would be? What did they do that they are proud of and what should they do differently the next time? Sit down and discuss this with each one of them. Help them make a plan. If the result is because they don’t have time to study, problem solve this with them. Start a conversation. The same goes for teachers. Make a prediction on how you think your students will perform. Then look at the outcome and compare what you predicted and the actual results. Celebrate and reflect on the successes and think about and discuss what happened if there were disappointments. Then make adjustments before you approach the next unit.
Learning is a team effort. Everyone invested in the journey has to participate. However, as the leader of my team it is my job to motivate, train and inspire my students. I can’t make my students have a passion for learning anymore then Coach Herman can MAKE a 2 star recruit play like a 5 star recruit. I have to inspire those students to reach beyond what they have been told or think they can accomplish. I can only do that if I have a plan and those plans need to have specific goals that are adjusted and revisited frequently.
MAKE IT A READING AND WRITING –TASTIC WEEK!