I stumbled into this provocation from Jonathan So via Jim Cash’s blog. It’s basically an opportunity to talk about some of the best moments that defined success in your teaching. Jonathan has an up to date list published here.
I had indicated that I would contribute as well. It’s tough to nail it to just five but I’m going to do that today. Do they apply to you? Maybe or maybe not. The best thing is to take a look through all of the posts that were inspired from this.
My frame of reference is a little different from others as I’m not gearing up to go back to my classroom today. But, I can and will reflect on things from the past.
Everything’s A Story
When I started teaching, like so many I suspect, I carried a lot of baggage from university lecture halls. I thought that all that I had to do was stand at the front of the classroom and all these students would look at me and hang on every word. I don’t think that this bit of wisdom lasted through the first homeroom session. When I finally decided I would return for day 2, I switched to something that had always served me well. Tell a story. I taught Grades 9, 10, 11, 12 and the OAC in subjects of Business, Computer Science, and Mathematics and found that turning any lesson into a story (in many shapes) worked best for engagement and learning. When the subject area supports creating something (like a computer program or a mathematical solution), a good story goes a long way.
Don’t have a lesson already created and just throw it up on a projector with the instruction to write it down. Solve it together and use story telling to work your way through it.
I try to do the same thing now in my blogging.
Learn How To Listen
Perhaps this is why telling a story worked so well. I always appreciated listening to teacher, professors, ministers, etc. That was actually pretty easy because I was always the submissive or learner and I knew my place. As a teacher, though, learning takes on a whole different ball game. It’s no longer 1:1; you’re listening to a class full of students with real concerns, real growing and developing, and real life situations. The tricky part is that often the listening isn’t verbal. You listen by watching body language, interactions with others, notes in the margins, and as a computer science teacher, the new language that they’re trying to learn.
Every teacher should have children. It’s amazing the insights that you can get about our profession from listening to their stories generated from their school experiences. You get an opportunity to live education from a different angle.
Professionally, the best thing I ever did was to take a course on Peer Coaching. My partner for the course didn’t work out and so I didn’t reap the benefits immediately. It was only when I listened to a colleague who had taken a similar course and had similar frustrations. We revisited the techniques from the course and both of us saw immediate results. We still use them today.
Identify The Hill You’re Prepared To Die On
I smile when I think of a couple of colleagues that were in my school. They were forever raising their voice, assigning detentions, and sending students to the office for discipline. And, you know what? None of it worked in the long run. Students returned to their classroom even more inspired to continue the battle. I remember, as a first year teacher, deciding that I would handle my own classroom management issues. Somehow, sending a student to the office seemed like a weakness.
It made me realize that you won’t have 100% engagement 100% of the time. Once I get past the thought that this was failure on their part, I knew that it was important to know when to react and when not to. Blood pressure went down and the artificial pressure that was self-inflicted lessened.
Coach A School Team
I didn’t do this in my first year of teaching. I was so worried about getting home and making sure that I had good lessons for the next day. I used to be so reliable for handing back tests and assignments that next day as well. That required time; I didn’t have any more to devote to coaching. Then, in my second year, I coached the “Computer Team” which got me some cred and appreciation from a small group of students. It was only a couple of years later that I coached football and got the respect from a whole new group of students. All of a sudden, work got so much easier. It was almost like a further layer of embedding in the organization.
Support Students Outside School
It’s easy to support the school basketball team or football or whatever… Very often the school timetable will be adjusted so that everyone can get involved. When you tie this to listening to students, things really changed. Periodically, I’d go to the arena and watch a town (not school related) hockey game or the ball diamonds to watch a game or shop at the local hardware store or pick up the Friday night pizza from a place where students work. There’s something magical that happens when they see that you’ve taken the time to see that they have another life from the school one. Taking an interest went such a long way. Buy that fundraiser that they’re involved with, find out what their parents do for a living, and just take that extra step. That extra step turns into positive classroom moments. In computer science, you’re always looking for problems of relevancy for solution. This can be a wonderful opportunity. Be prepared for the tables to turn though, when you take golfing lessons from one of your students.
How’s that for a list? I could go on but it’s Jonathan’s game and his rules are to stop at five. If you’re a blogger, why not jump in and add your own thoughts.