In two and a half weeks I will be sitting in my classroom getting ready for my students to come the following week. I love these last few weeks of summer as my brain gradually starts to slide back to work mode. I start to lean into PD texts more, look for new ideas or new ways to build my skill set. I look at the room and ponder what sorts of additions or subtractions might need to be made to produce the best learning environment I can for my team. I look at the books I have used in the past to address the learning we plan to do and weight the options of replacing with a different text. I do look at the year and decide what needs to stay, what needs to change and what needs to go. It is all about reflection. What influences those decisions? Often it is the kids, mostly it is around success. I focus on what works well. What I am mulling over this morning is how readily I am adopting the successful versus looking at ways to stretch and grow.
I have this thinking bouncing around tying my love for the gym and lifting weights to the work I do in my classroom. If I do the same lifts every other day they get easier, I can do more of them and the strength increases for those muscle groups. If I never introduce a different movement, a different lift other areas will weaken. We stretch ourselves to strengthen ourselves. I will not be successful at this new lift the first time, I will be weak, I will need to practice but a more complete workout will develop. I think this is the same with our instruction. We are more well rounded as educators as we introduce, try and practice new things. Stumbles happen but so will successes. To really put a exclamation point on my thinking this morning my friend Laurie McIntosh shared a line that Jimmy Casas used at a recent PD she attended, ‘What would you do differently if you were not afraid?” I thought about that and it really led me to consider the things I only have do because of fear of failure. The things I quit because I would rather succeed at times at doing less than fail at doing more. With that in mind I want to talk about what I want to do this school year. Some new, some old and some that are a little scary.
Try and True but maybe some tweaks
I have written about my reading and writing notebooks/journals in the past. I love them. I love getting to see the thought process from my students, I love looking at their writing craft developing. We are going to be using the journals again without question. For myself I need to be more consistent on feedback and expectations. I have the fear in the back of my mind that a reading journal will contribute to Readicide is I ask students to do anything more than just read. I need to put that aside. Do I think having my students refelct on all their reading is a good idea? NOPE. Do I think that they can and should reflect on some of their reading? ABSOLUTELY. THe balance is the trick and the area I plan to work on more. Book Clubs are another practice that will be returning this year. Last year we only got in one round of book clubs with a larger emphasis being on whole class novels. I figure part of that was fear of turning over control, fear that other teachers may not see the value. This year I will be making a switch from Whole Class to Book Clubs being the majority of our focus. The how to of book clubs for my room will be posted in the coming weeks on Middle Web as I discuss the nuts and bolts of a literacy year for me so tune in for that. Quick Writes and Writing Portfolio will make up the returning practices for writing in my class but I hope to do portfolios justice more this year. Last year we started strong but stumbled along the way as students just wanted to have completed pieces instead of multiple pieces on the go. I hope this year I can really help to convey the idea that writing is more of a journey with the writer returning to a piece as they develop their craft and ideas.
I really love the work that the incomparable Paul Hankins does regarding Multigenre work. I dabbled in it last year but this year I plan to jump in head first. I have projects outlined, books to read to build my comfort level with the work and back up plans as things go sideways. I just love the idea of giving students multiple ways to represent their understanding aside from the 5 paragraph essay and a book report. I plan to build on this with smaller assignments throughout the year with a culminating assignment to end each year.
No more fear holding me back
There are two things that I really want to do this year that I have not had the nerve to do and used that fear as a perfect excuse to walk away. First is Presenting. I suffer from pretty intense stage fright. I love teaching kids but being up in front of a room of adults makes me sweat a bit too much. The voice shakes, I almost cry, really it is a mess. Last year I did my first solo presentation and because it was something near and dear to my heart (Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst) It was pretty easy. I was nervous to start but I was armed with awesome topics, great picture books to help and a groups of staff eager to learn. I left feeling like I could do it again and I applied to share on my passion project which is second on my list. I mentioned before the idea of taking my working out knowledge and passion and marrying it to my literacy passion. The result is a book I want to write. Lifting up Literacy a fun idea tying together the things I enjoy most. The fear is real but I think it can be overcome.
As I start every school year I ask myself the question, “What am I doing to grow?” This summer it has been trying to learn more about the work of antiracism. I will be building this work into my lessons and daily actions. Back to the gym I look at how the body feels after we do a new lift for the first time, the day after you are a little sore maybe the muscles don’t want to cooperate as much. I look at learning new things much the same way. We try it and it is tough, we stumble and maybe we can’t do as well the next time but it will come. Learning is growing and with growing comes growing pains. Embrace these opportunities to learn and grow because if we are not trying to grow, if we are not learning, what are we doing?
One thought on “Because if we aren’t learning…”
Brent, our superintendent is in her 4th or 5th year now at our district. Her first message to us on opening day of her first year was, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” That’s when I decided I had to go through with not putting grades in the gradebook. As an ELA teacher, I only wanted to provide feedback. Once I put a number on it or circled a square on a rubric, my students didn’t even look at the feedback I took the time to provide. I now give screencast feedback – I read their writing (large or small – only 5 min. max, however) aloud, and comment on what I notice they’re doing well and suggest one way in which they can improve. They’re then expected to listen/watch the feedback and revise. I LOVE IT! That’s one way going against my fear has helped my students (and I) grow. Kudos to you for trying new things that you think will benefit your students – I hope this is what all teachers will do this coming school year. Enjoy your 2019-2020 journey!