Resolute: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.
How long do your New Year’s resolutions last? Personally, I am notorious for my lack of resolution. My family would characterize me as being stubborn and fiercely independent, however slightly lacking in focus. My teammates at school joke that I am the overachiever in the group who takes on way too much. Resolute, is something I strive to be, but am not--yet.
I have tried a lot of strategies for being more resolute--set lofty goals so even failure is a success, pick goals that are easy to achieve but run the risk of meaning little, choose goals with others thus providing an element of peer pressure. Nothing has worked. The months blur together and my focus turns to other things. The ten pounds came back and the color-coded lesson planning was a thing of the past once report cards hit.
I will be honest--this school year has been a tough one and I am in need of some success. I want to set a New Year’s teaching resolution that I can actually follow through with--and I have a plan. This year my resolution is to do more of what I have already been successful with. It sounds funny, but I am hoping it will work.
Contrary to most New Year Resolutions where we dwell on our failures and make goals to get better, this all starts with reflecting on my teaching strengths. By recalling the teaching experiences and strategies I felt successful with this last year, I can strive to put more of these experiences back into my teaching. So far here is my list:
- Start more lessons with questions. In the past, this has made my lessons more focused. I can guide students through a lesson as a means of finding a solution to the question. This last year I attended two Ambitious Science trainings that sparked my interest in this teaching style. All of their units begin with a natural phenomena that students have to solve throughout the course of a series of new learning experiences. As the teacher, I have a general understanding of where I want my students to go throughout the lessons, however their ways of getting there are always different. This provides a richer learning experience because students can share out at the end of the lessons their multiple understandings and pathways to success. Each kids then leaves with a toolbox of strategies, rather than just one.
- Allow my students more time to productively struggle through tricky problems. One of my favorite ways to encourage this in my classroom is with the use of digital breakout boxes. They pose a problem and then students collaboratively work through clues to solve the problem. The clues are a combination of Math/ELA skills, however observation skills and an awareness of patterns is needed for success too. Watching my students complete each clue adds such excitement to my room. It simply cannot be replicated with a review sheet.
- Seek out professional development at least once a month. This does not have to be an “official” training given by a presenter with a full slide deck of information. Some of the most purposeful professional development I've had was from watching another teacher in my building teach. My morning routine was bothering me, so I popped into another classroom to watch how they started their day. I love choosing my professional development because it fills me with new ideas and curiosity. I become energized to try new things when I come back to my classroom, which helps to break up the repetition or “teaching rut” we can sometimes get into.
- Take more days off. This seems ridiculous--how can taking days off make you a better teacher? For me, it is about having balance in my life. There are certain times of the year where school simply swallows me up--report card time, conferences, and right before winter and spring break. Knowing this, I need to be more intentional with the use of my personal days. I cannot tell you how many of these days I have spent at the very end of the year or have given back to my district with no compensation. This year, I am strategically planning my personal days. They are going to be my break during the crazy times, so I can be more relaxed with my family when at home.
- Do less, but do it better. Or as my grandmother would say, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Each of us drives to work making a mental list of ‘the things I have to get done before kids arrive/specialist/lunch’. Inevitably, we arrive at school and our best laid plans for doing these things disappear. There is a parent wanting to chat, a sub for a teammate, or an unexpected staff meeting. With all these ‘important’ things, it is so easy to get wrapped up in the variety of tasks we need to accomplish throughout the day. I need to do more prioritizing and even some elimination of my ‘to-do list’ tasks. This will make my teaching more purposeful and less repetitive.
- Teach the rubrics. Rather than just scoring projects at the end of a unit, I need to spend more time teaching the students how to use the rubrics to improve their learning. One resource I found for this was a project called Austin’s Butterfly. Kindergartners learned how to give each other constructive feedback based on a rubric used in class. The level of improvement from one student work sample to another was absolutely amazing. I want my students to develop a deep enough understanding of the grading criteria to be able to recognize strengths in work samples and missing elements needing to be added.
Now, I need you to understand that my resolution to do more of what I have already been successful with is not a S.M.A.R.T. goal. There is no measurable time frame or number of times that I want to accomplish each of these items on my list. In fact, my hope is that the list of successes will grow throughout this next year and I will have more ideas to incorporate into my teaching routine. However, I do not want this list to create pressure. It is a celebration of good teaching, not adding more thing to my classroom to-do list.
So give it a try! Spend ten minutes brainstorming a list of things that went well in your classroom this past year. Can you be resolute enough to incorporate these strategies back into your classroom this year?
Happy New Year!
- Teacher Leadership