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Monday, August 31, 2015

5 Tips for the First Week of School

As a new school year is set to begin, we often spend countless nights in the lead-up to the "big day" asking ourselves the same kind of question:

How can I make this year even better?

The time spent pondering ideas to this question is so important, if you are looking to elicit any kind of change to your own teaching practice and goals for this school year. Take your time. Reflect on everything you know and everything you've tried before - this can be a year for you to tweak things slightly or even re-brand yourself as an educator!

Here are 5 things that I believe matter in the first week of school:

1. Welcome them to your classroom at the door with a smile. First day class organization chaos may happen - but once you have your group and are in the room - take the time to make them feel like they are a part of something special in your class.

2. Spend time with "team building" and "class culture" growing games and activities. DO NOT begin with class rules. Nothing lets the excitement out of the room quite like revealing your laminated copy of the class rules (because they haven't changed in 10+ years).

3. Learn their names in the first week (or even the first few days if you can). Use student names early and often - we all love hearing our name used, and it will begin to show students that you care about them and who they are. 

4. Find out about student interests. The more directly the better too! Having them write a letter to introduce themselves to you is one idea - but a face-to-face conversation will give them both your attention and interest. 

5. Share your own beliefs about learning and development. As a class, come up with a collaborative list of things to remember and realize. Post them on the walls all around the class:

"Learning is a journey - we are all in this together"
"Be problem-solvers - not problem-makers"
"Learning is messy and failure gives us important feedback"
"Show Grit. Be Resilient. Stay Strong."
"Dream about what you want to learn and become."

Above all else, have fun and always remember why you chose this profession. Do what is best for students and always keep their interests and dreams in mind. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

10 Things I've Learned about Teaching

I think that "Reflective Teaching" is the single-most important tool that educators can use to improve student learning. If we don't take the time to truly think about what we do in the classroom - and how we do it - how can we transform our practice in meaningful and lasting ways? What we think worked 5 years ago, likely won't have the same impact on our students - so how can we continually evolve and re-define ourselves as facilitators for student growth and development?

Put simply, we need to question everything and focus on only those things that we can honestly say are "good for students."

Here's what I've come up with so far....(put together as my very first infographic:)

What's missing from this list? What have you learned about teaching? What would your list include? 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shatter Your View of the Classroom

Classrooms should be crumbling. But many stand firm in an ageless state.

I want to give credit to one of the catalysts for my own educational shift and reflective view of teaching. Changing Educational Paradigms (by Sir Ken Robinson) is media clip that completely changed how I thought of our current educational system. If you haven't seen this before...spend the next 10 minutes re-thinking YOUR educational experience and reflecting on YOUR school memories. If you teach, how can this reshape your view of the classroom? Your school? Your pedagogy? Your approach to students? Your goals?

One of the things that Sir Ken illuminates is the notion that the industrial age-defined classroom has been, largely, left unchanged. Think about how the world has changed in the past 100 years, 50 years, even 10 years. Now think about how many classrooms you could walk into RIGHT NOW and see the following:

  • Student desk in rows
  • Chalkboard at the front
  • Teacher desk in front corner
  • Teacher standing at the front
  • Filing cabinets filled with worksheets

Are some of these things still practical? Effective? Purposeful? Necessary?


But how many of these things are in place because of familiarity? Conformity? Safety? Tradition?

Now think about how many of these things are in place for student learning.

A classroom is for learning NOT teaching.

Students are tasked with the journey of learning and education. Teachers are tasked with how to facilitate this.

The school day is not block of time to be filled with activities to "keep kids busy." It should be an opportunity to forge positive relationships with students so THEIR learning is facilitated in an appropritately paced and meaningful manner.

If the goal of schools is merely to put in time and have the students feel like they remember something that the teacher has "taught them" by the end of the day - we are doing it all wrong. Because if that's the case, why not set up classroom like movie cinemas and bring in the cozy chairs and snacks?

If all we ask of students is to sit passively and learn through sight and sound alone - how different are we than the movies and television shows that we seem to associate with a negative use of time? No one ever suggests that listening to teachers will rot your brain - but depending on the conditions of learning and structure of the classroom environment - I think there's a possible argument there.

Let's shatter our view of the classroom. Let's allow students to put the pieces together. Facilitate the change. Facilitate the learning.