Monday, August 25, 2014

I Will

Today was the first day of school and with everything going on I forgot to write and schedule a post. However, if I want this to continue, it needs to happen.

This year I am entering the classroom with more confidence, more excitement, and more hope. I will make mistakes, some great and some small, but I will learn from them. Some of those mistakes will directly impact students and I will need to apologize. I will try new things, fail, and try again. When parents approach, angry or upset, I will try to keep in mind that they want the best for their child and are doing what they think is right. When children approach, we will celebrate victories, empathize in sorrows, persevere through challenges, and learn tough lessons together. I will be more than a dispenser of information, rather a caring person, striving to encourage and promote children to be their best. I will be a teacher.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Impress or Success?

This summer was filled with many adventures for me. One of them was attending a two-week technology program with 40 other teachers. While there we learned about different technology tools and how to integrate them into our teaching, helping students take more responsibility for their learning and permitting individual interests and creativity to be shared more easily.

Surrounded by many great teachers, it was difficult not to be inspired by them. Initially, I struggled to come up with some ideas for projects that I wanted to do in my class. Then, as I was talking with a few teachers from my district, it hit me. I had my project.

The funny thing is, although the idea came to me while talking with them, I didn't want to share it. With anyone. I was going to make it amazing on my own; the kids would love it and produce amazing creative projects; my principal and other teachers would see the final projects at the end of each trimester and be in awe of the results from lessons that they never knew were happening.

Then another idea came to my mind. Am I trying to impress people or am I trying to foster student learning and help them be successful? I quickly realized that I was in the mindset of the former, focusing on myself and how I would look - when my students had amazing successes of course, but without any help or input from other teachers, administrators, or really any adults in general.

But does that really help my students become successful in their attempts and learning?

I do believe that individuals need to be responsible for their actions and learning. At the same time, it is important to be able to work with others and learn from them. However great my idea may have been, I wouldn't have been able to develop it without the help of others. I am fortunate to have a great PLN, both at my school and outside, so why should I restrict myself to my own thoughts? I want my students to be collaborative and help each other reach their full potential and this is a great opportunity for me to model that for them.

Fast forward a couple weeks after the class. My principal has been informed of my intents and she not only provided some ideas but thanked me for bringing it into my class. There are a couple teachers that I am talking with to link our classes to help each other grow and provide real world application. Stay tuned and I may have you involved as we continue forward.

What about you? Are you more concerned with impressing others or helping foster success? Where do you think the line is drawn between personal responsibility and collaborative effort?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Impact of a Laugh

We were all seated at the tables and dinner had just begun. I was still a bit uncomfortable, being a first year teacher and the only staff member on a three-day outdoor education adventure. There were eight parents with me to chaperon and two or three program employees, so I was far from the only adult. Although this was my ninth trip as an adult chaperon, I was now the teacher of record and wanted to make sure that everything over these days went perfectly. While the parents I brought on the trip were great, there is still the nagging thought in the back of your mind that they are watching you, too, judging how you interact with your students.

There were eight or ten students sitting at my table, and one who snuck over whenever she could. Conversations continued on as you might expect: how was your day? what was your favorite part? what are you looking forward to for the remainder of our trip? One of the girls got up to refill her lemonade without noticing that one of the boys was walking by to do the same. He walked up to the cooler and said, "Wait a minute. Sorry. Go ahead." He then moved out of the way and signaled for her to go ahead of him. To which she responded, "No, it's OK. You go ahead. You were there first." This back and forth continued for five or ten seconds before she finally filled her glass and said thank you.

Observing this from my seat, I couldn't help but smile. I was impressed at his gesture, knowing that at this point many of my students are very self-centered. And I was glad that she offered to let him take his place, as he was in line first. And their interaction gave me hope and helped me relax some of my concerns from the trip. So when one of the other students at my table made a comment shortly after, I couldn't help but laugh.

After I started laughing, other kids at my table also did. Our table would settle down, but something would set us off again. I'll admit, we did receive looks from every parent in the room, and one or two kids rushed over, "What's going on?!" but we enjoyed that dinner. I cannot tell you what we ate, or even what we talked about that made everyone laugh, but for those of us at the table, it was one of the best moments on the trip. There were even a few parents, not chaperons, that asked about the dinner a few days later, but all we could do was smile. Whenever any of us think about it now, it still brings a smile to our faces. "Remember the time..."

I recently read a blog written by a principal challenging his readers to think about the last time that they laughed aloud uncontrollably, lost track of time because it wasn't the most important concern, or simply enjoyed an activity.

His blog challenged me, perhaps a bit more than it should have. As a first year teacher, there are a significant number of difficulties, but also a number of victories. I find that it is all too easy to focus on the negative, even while encouraging my students to focus on the positive and work to overcome adversity. Sometimes patience is in short supply or some students are acting out and attempted redirections are not working. In those moments, I find it easy to forget that my students are children and that there is more to them being there than imparting some of my knowledge.

Sometimes, I need to remember to step back. What is the real purpose of being here with these children? How do I make them feel? Yes, they are there to learn, but there is so much more to it than core academics. There needs to be a balance of what I am required by the state or school district to include and that which will build up my students and encourage positive character development. They need to know that they are cared for and have a safe environment.

On the last day of school, I asked my class to share what some of their favorite memories were from the year. One of my students raised her hand and said the night at dinner when we made you cry - and all the students at the table agreed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Value of Mistakes

There are many things that you do not learn in your credential program or through student teaching. If you're reading this, chances are that you're already creating a list in your head of different things that you wish you had known before you started. (Feel free to leave that list in the comments below!) For me, one of those things was how to start the school year. Sure, I was told not to smile until December, make sure I had plenty of structure, but also make the kids feel welcome and create a caring environment. Great! How?

Thinking back, I don't remember the first day of school when I was student teaching. It wasn't that long ago and I'm sure that I have notes about it somewhere, but that's not my class. Can I really start a very different group of students the same way? We did some ice breakers and other collaborative games, but I wanted something more meaningful than that, something that would stick with them - I'd wish for the rest of their lives, but settle for the rest of the school year. I decided to share a story with them about myself:

While I was working on my credential, or shortly after, I attended a math conference on campus. In one of the sessions, they provided us with a prompt. Teacher A is planning a field trip for X students. If a small bus costs R amount of money and fits Y students and a large bus costs S amount of money and fits Z students, what combination of small and large buses will be the least expensive for X students?
 We were told to work in pairs to solve the problem and were given 10-15 minutes. My partner and I decided to quickly talk through our ideas and then work independently - solving the problem on our own, and then defending our solution to each other. I quickly worked through it, started to explain it to her, and realized I was wrong. She explained her idea and we saw that her solution was also wrong. So we got back to work. Then I had it! I calculated the price per seat and determined the best combination. My partner did not agree with my idea at first, but explaining it I was able to convince her. The presenter came by, we explained it, and he said he liked it and asked if we would be willing to share it with the class. We had no problem with that and quickly agreed. He went on his way and we started discussing other things - like finding a job. It was only a few minutes before he returned to say, "By the way, your solution is incorrect, would you still be willing to share it with the class?"
In a few minutes, I was sharing my errant idea with the class and letting them all know the wrong way to solve it. Although we were the only pair to solve it this way, a few others said that it made sense to them. Then someone asked a question and was able to identify our error and point us in the right direction.
I shared this with my students for a few reasons. First, I wanted them to know that I make mistakes, too. (I try not to very often, but it does happen.) Second, I wanted them to see that because I was willing to share my ideas, even if they were incorrect, I was able to learn a correct solution and adjust my method so that I could reach that solution. Third, I thought that by sharing my mistakes, they might be more willing to share their mistakes. I want a classroom environment where my students are willing to share their ideas, even if they are "wrong" and think critically while problem solving. I do not want my students to equate "different" with "wrong".

There were some rewards for me from this - a few students took it to heart. I had a parent warn me at the beginning of the year that their child did not like sharing ideas and was uncomfortable making mistakes in front of the class. Shortly after I was able to tell this parent that the student was regularly sharing solutions and ideas with the class, even if they were incorrect. At the end of the school year, one of the students wrote that she was more comfortable with us knowing that it was a "class that made mistakes" and learned from them.

Even though it may have only made a difference for a few students, I will share this with my next class. I want my students comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them and sharing with their peers. We all make mistakes, why not encourage it before our students are conditioned against it?