Sunday, April 14, 2019

Dear Student Teachers...

My 1st Plan Book!

In the spring, the local college matches future Student Teachers with their cooperating teacher. The goal is to learn what their classroom expectations are before the fall. It's in these moments I reflect on my first days of school, my year as a student teacher, as well as my 1st year teaching. These experiences were rough and there are many experiences that you only learn from by dealing with them hands on. 

I have experienced many things in my 6 years of teaching and after having a student teacher of my own here is my advice:
  • Student Teachers need to be open to new ideas. They need to be open to risks but realize that they are not always practical with school and state mandates. We only have so much time in the day and we need to make sure we are using it wisely. 
  • Not everything can be a large project. Like I stated before there are so many things we have to teach that large projects might be limited to one or two a quarter and has to cover so many standards to be deemed worth it. Don't be afraid to shoot for those awesome projects, but instead have them cover several standards.
  • Modeling is more than one example. Too many student teachers and practicum students think going over one example is enough modeling. In elementary we need to do something many times and reflect. This is in order for the students to know what we expect and have more practice with a particular skill. 
  • Just because you think they have it doesn't mean they do. Keep practicing it until most show mastery. Asking "Do you get it?" doesn't mean you are going to get a valid or honest answer. Kids want to please so they will say yes even if they have no clue what they are doing. Be willing to find new and different ways for students to show their knowledge.
  • Be honest when you reflect. When the lesson doesn't go well don't immediately write it off as the students weren't focused or that they didn't listen. Ask yourself how can I make that lesson better? How can I get their attention? If the majority of students don't understand something how can I explain it better? What can I do tomorrow to make it easier for them to understand?
  • If help is given don't turn it away. If you have an aide or extra hands in your classroom don't have them run copies or grade. Instead, give them students to work with. Have them work with the kids in your room who need extra help. Come up with a plan for them. Even ask them what they feel is their strength and use it to benefit your students. 
  • Teaching is a workout. An effective teacher rarely sits. You need to be moving around the room when you teach unless you are working with a small group. Your energy and movement will draw students attention to the lesson don't just stand at the front or sit while they are working. You have to monitor, keep them on task, or just mediate situations. Otherwise, pull a group and work with students because sitting at your desk isn't helping anyone grow.
  • Energy is everything! When you walk into a room you need to be able to pull students attention. It's not always about the materials you use but how you sell them. Simple lessons can be fun. You must sell it like its the best thing in the world. If you apologize to the students about the lesson and say that it is boring or lacks movement then they will not enjoy it and neither will you. If you don't like how your lesson is, change it! Don't apologize, do something about it!
  • Don't put things off. If you know you need to make a test or prepare for a lesson don't wait until the last minute. The sooner you get it done the better. Things happen but if you are organized it makes it that much easier when/ if things happen. Now, this is harder said than done when you first start out. That's why it's important to reach out to other educators to help you get started.
  • Use resources, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Beg, Borrow, Steal, is a teachers' motto. Use resources if you can or are given them. Stockpile things you use or like. Consider contacting Teacher Pay Teacher sellers and see if you can get free or discounted items. Take extra copies from your cooperating teacher to make a binder. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't make sense to spend hours on a worksheet or paper if you can find one just as good online. Teachers have families and lives outside of school. We have to set priorities, staying till 8pm at night to make everything from scratch doesn't make sense. 
  • Try something new. Don't be afraid to try something new you find online, a new app or website you can use in the classroom, or even try something you have seen another teacher do. If it works keep it, add to it, make it better. If it doesn't, move on and try something else. Otherwise, alter it to fit what you need. Trying something new can be scary, but don't let it stop you. It can really make your classroom an exciting place. Plus you want your teaching to develop and change over time.
  • You are not a student's friend. You are an adult and need to be respected. It is ok to play with them at times or teach them a game, but when learning is occurring there has to be mutual respect. A great moment is when a  student calls you mom or dad. You are an elder and should be respected. Part of that respect comes from developing relationships with students, getting to know them, setting boundaries for them, and being able to laugh with them. 
  • Students crave boundaries and they will push until they find that line. Know your line and hold firm to it. Hold everyone to the same expectation of behavior and talk to them about those expectations. Have students reflect on them, create them, and discuss them. It might be tough at first, but if you develop relationships with your students and hold the same expectations for all. They might get upset, but in the end, they will respect you for it. 
This is an amazing student teacher who will set the world on fire!

What were some of your takeaways from your student teaching or your 1st year of teaching? What advice would you give to a student teacher or First Year Teacher?

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Hat Trick: Three Goals in Teaching

Have you ever been to a hockey game? It's truly an exciting and exhilarating experience. Similar to teaching it's fast-paced keeps you on your toes, and there are amazing goals and misses. What I think is most important about hockey is the teamwork that comes into play. Watching teams like the Blackhawks depend on each other and support each other on and off the ice is inspiring. Like many other team sports, there is this amazing comradery amongst teammates. This is something we need more of in education. We need to support each other and work together for the common good of our students. Part of that means being open and sharing in the process. Share your victories, but also share your failures. We have to be vulnerable with our teammates and we have to support each other along this journey.

I have really been reflecting these last few years of teaching and thinking to myself what does a good teacher make? I can't say I truly know, but if I were to give three pieces for teachers to focus on it would be relationships, risk-taking, and reflection.

People always say relationships are important, especially in regards to our students. I agree! If you plan on teaching a child you need to first know and build a relationship with that child. Every year I try to start the year with fun activities, but also high expectations. I have run into teachers who worry that high expectations early on can negatively impact your relationships with the students. I disagree because high expectations say I expect more because I know you are capable of more.

Students need to know you believe in them and having high expectations helps them realize you do. It's about how you address those expectations. Being positive and encouraging when students arrive and hold those high expectations are important. When they break the rules or don't rise to expectations how do you handle it? For me, it's addressing them at that moment, but also taking time later to discuss with them their choices. Students who are yelled at and never talked to or are given a consequence, but never given any feedback will feel singled out. They start to feel detached and are not invested in the classroom. We need to make sure those students realize why. Why are they being called out? Why is what they did wrong? Often times they know, but being that person who helps them to reflect and understand is part of building those relationships. I can't tell you how many times I have said, " I know you're mad. I know you're mad at me, but I know what you are capable of and you are better than this." You have no idea how many students in your class need to hear that. I know from personal experience many of my students never are told that someone believes in them and that they think they are amazing.

Yet, relationships are not just important for your students. These relationships need to be developed in the community both in the building and outside of it. We need to build relationships with other educators and support one another as a team. We also need to support our community. We need to bring them into our classroom, have them share their experiences, and their knowledge. We also need to show them the impact they make is real and appreciated. Bringing in community members into your classroom and bringing families into our buildings brings life and support to our students. We need to find ways to work together and build these relationships over time.

Risk-taking is a hot topic these days. The world and companies are looking for more people who can collaborate, but also have design thinking skills. People who take risks, but who persevere. Individuals who are constantly willing to reflect, adapt, and test things until they work. We have to encourage the risks in our classrooms. We have to congratulate the risks and the failures. Our education system has for too long been focused on getting the right answer. Even looking back on my own education I recall freaking out if I didn't get something the first time I tried. This idea is crazy to me. The older and wiser I became I realized that rarely happens. Often times the process is long, practice is needed to grow. We need to promote the skill of perseverance over perfection in our classrooms. The reason is perseverance is realistic and a life long skill. We need to model risk-taking to our students. It begins with us! We have to be willing to try new things, refuse to be stagnant. As educators, we need to grow, develop, and learn from those around us. It is our duty to our students and ourselves to constantly take risks and grow from those risks. If anything it makes our jobs exciting and forces us/ our students to be more creative.

If you have made it this far you have already heard reflection be mentioned quite a bit. Reflection to me is the root of everything. All things come back to reflection. Students and educators alike need to reflect on their day. Reflection is important when we do anything. As an educator, I reflect on my lessons, what went well, what didn't. I even have started getting student input on the lessons. It's hard not to take it personally, but we have to remember we are growing as much as our students are. If we can't take suggestions how can we model it for students? They have to take suggestions from us daily. That builds on our relationships with the students. Giving our students opportunities to reflect is a skill that is just as important as any taught in other subjects. We need our students to take those opportunities to reflect on behavior, academics, and growth. Students recognizing what they do know can be empowering. Yet, realizing what they struggle with can be empowering as well because it gives them a focus in their learning.

When all three of these come together or when you grow in these three areas you have scored a "hat-trick" in education. You have effectively scored three goals, grown as a better educator, and grown as a better person.

What would be your hat trick? Do you agree with my three goals or do you have a different three?
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