Monday, August 25, 2008

One of my favorite 'teacher' books has always been What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker. As I prepare for another school year, I am revisting Whitaker's advice.

1. Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs that determine the quality of a school. I want to be one of those teachers who DOES make a difference, not only in the future of my students, but in the success of my school. I want to be a beacon to all of professionalism and dedication to our profession. This means I have to dedicate myself to always thinking before I speak, but be willing and determined to speak when need be. I have to not allow the negativism of others invade my personal space, mentally or physically.

2. Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses. I do not believe the adage - Don't smile until Christmas. However, I must make certain I am firm and consistent, not allowing my emotions to cloud my judgement in dealing with difficult students. I need to work on not losing my composure when frustrated, and never giving up on a student.

3. When a student misbehaves, great teachers have on goal: to keep that behavior from happening again. This does not mean the same consequence for each student. Instead it means I must know what makes each of my students act out in circumstances and prepare for those disruptions, and then follow through with the appropriate consequence for that child, whatever it may be. It might be having the child call a parent, it might mean staying after school with me, or coming in at lunch time to wash tables. I have to make the punishment fit the crime and be a detriment to further indiscretions.

4. Great teacher have high expectations for students but even higher expectations for themselves. I must make certain I am always the epitome of professionalism in front of my students. It is easy to lax into bad habits - checking email during down time in class, allowing students time to chat when we could have filled those moments with something constructive, or not being completely organized and prepared for class. I have to make sure I not only expect my students be with me 110% during the time they are with me, but that I am also giving 100% to them the entire class period.

5. Great teachers know who is the variable in the classroom: they are! Good teachers consistently strive to improve, and they focus on something they can control -their own performance. I must make certain I am always focusing on the curriculum, and working to hone how I help students master that content. By reading professional materials, and digesting those materials with care, I can continue to become a better teacher. I need to always be a lifelong learner in pedagogy, questioning my methods, trying new ways, experiementing, but most importantly, reflecting on what I do, thinking through the good and bad.

6. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classroom and their schools. They treat every person with respect. In particular, they understand the power of praise. I love my job but just loving it is not enough. I must always convey that love to my students, their parents, and my colleagues. I must work to engage those teachers around me who do not love what they are doing, and find ways to praise their efforts, to encourage them to 'step it up a notch' when interacting with students. If I can be a beacon of positive light, perhaps it will be contagious. My attitude means everything.

7. Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don't matter and share a positive attitude. There are so many things out of my control - our contract, the lack of money, our shared adminstration, parents who are not supportive, students from less than ideal homes - but there are so many other things I can find to be happy about. I have to put aside the things that ought to stay outside the classroom, and leave them there. I have to share positive things with other teachers, creating a positive climate in our building.

8. Great teachers work hard to keep their relationships in good repair - to avoid personal hurt and to repair any possible damage. I must learn to always assume good intentions, from everyone, even when the contrary seems more likely. I have to work with people I may not like, or may not agree with their methods, but by keeping in mind they are trying their best with what they have, I will keep a positive working relationship with them. I will try harder to befriend those struggling, those unhappy with the current climate at school, and try to help them focus on the positives of our job. I will not avoid people just because I find it easier not to deal with them. I will reach out to those around me in an effort to be more positive.

9. Great teachers have the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and the ability to respond to inappropriate behavior without escalating the situation. 7th graders by nature want to attract attention to themselves, so I must learn to find ways to capitalize on those "clowns" and help them channel their behaviors appropriately. I must react with speed but caution to intervene, preferably with humor, to de-escalate situations.

10. Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do. If things don't work out the way they had envisioned, they reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust their plans accordingly. Always plan, plan and plan again. But more importantly, reflect on what I have done, making certain to learn from my mistakes and figure out what worked and what didn't. I must constantly be re-evaluating my own practices.

11. Before making any decision or attempting to bring about any change, great teachers ask themselves one central question: What will the best people think? I must make sure not to let a few inappropriate students keep me from doing the engaging fun things the more responsible students deserve. I must always treat the better students in my classroom with equal time and effort as those disruptive, who inherently demand more of my time and attention.

12. Great teachers continually ask themselves who is most comfortable and who is least comfortable with each decision they make. They treat everyone as if they were good. I must make sure each day is a clean slate, for every student. I must never let my anger at yesterday's actions cloud my judgements in dealing with students. I must always remember that they are just children and not intentional in their actions, oftentimes. I must remember that all students are looking to me for how to treat each other. I must find worth and value in each and every child, every day in my classroom.

13. Great teachers keep standardized testing in perspective; they center on the real issue of student learning. It is easy to focus too much on what students must learn for the MEAP. It is easy to forget that school is more than academics. Students learn much more from real life experiences than books, anytime. Testing is important, but my true teaching purpose is to help students become independent learners, and find confidence in their abilities.

14. Great teacher care about their students. They understand that behaviors and beliefs are tied to emotions, and they understand the power of emotion to jump-start change. I have to keep in mind that my students are not intentionally trying to make my life miserable when they act out - it is often their age, or their frustration at not knowing how to do what we are doing - that causes them to act out. I must work to be patient, and understanding, and make sure they understand that I will always care about them, and always give them one more one more chance. I will never give up on them. I will always trust them to make their best efforts.

Whitaker makes sense. Every time I read it... I must always strive to meet his 14 expectations, make them my inner drive to be the best teacher I can be.
Lesson Planning
Start the Year on a Strong Footing
I will admit it, I love sitting in my classroom writing lesson plans. I love the potential as I write down the ideal possibilities of what I want to accomplish with students.
I dug out last year's lesson plan book to use as a guide, wishing I would have written notes about what I did, what I wanted to do differently this year, what worked wonderfully, etc.. but alas, I am left with the cobwebs scattered in my head to remember.
The mandalas we made in social studies, I know were great. Students put them on their notebooks and I enjoyed them all year long. But I am really wondering if the 3 days of class time it took to finish those masterpieces was worth it? It is not a direct social studies linked lesson, to be perfectly honest. But does everything we do have to be??? Is it worthwhile to have students think about their own values, find ways to represent those values visually, and verbalize their meanings to their peers? Isn't that as important as learning about Ancient Rome or medieval times?
Math classes are so much easier for planning, so much more concrete in their direction. I know what they must know when they leave me, I know the order in which they need to learn it for them to be successful in the progression of learning. Black and white, 1,2,3,4... it all makes such more logical sense.
Is it OK that social studies represents a challenge for me? I often feel as if that one hour of the day is the wing zone, where I simply fly by the seat of my pants, trying to meet the state's standards, make it interesting and relevant, but never quite meeting the mark in my objectives.

NOVA/Science Now has an interesting video clip about something called Mirror Neurons that suggests people are strongly influenced by what they see, actually as much as if they themselves do the action they are seeing another do.

What implications does this have for teaching?

I can certainly use this to argue the need to surround one's self with positive people. If all I see are negative images, people frowning, complaining, and simply not enjoying their life/job, that will likely influence me myself to become more negative.

In a classroom, modeling behaviors I want my students to emulate, or having students model for each other, can have a dramatic impact on those less successful students. When they watch me or another student performing, for example, a problem solving strategy, they will internalize those process skills, and make them their own, as if they had already performed the skills.

Seems rather simplistic, but the possibilities are really mind boggling!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Looking back over my summer, it's been a busy one, no doubt. However, I did find time to learn some new techie cool tools. My favs? twitter and plurk, 2 amazing ways to connect and learn. Conversations on both are rich with shared info, teaching tips, websites, and just general chatter about education.

I have also played around with some other web 2.0 tools, like crappygraphs. I love the instant graphs, that can be anything from serious to frivolous. But certainly, these graphs will be engaging to my 7th graders!

I discovered a wonderful podcast at Teach with Video that gives practical suggestions for using tech tools in your classroom, as well as examples of great student podcasts and other tech projects by kids.

Want to print a HUGE poster of a picture? Try Block Posters. This site breaks your pic into 18 pieces so you can print on your printer and put together into a poster. Very cool...

All these make me wish I had time to just play with cool stuff all the time! or at the very least, I wish I taught a tech class to share all these with kids!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summer's end is upon us. The teachers are starting to haunt the hallowed halls, the stores of full of bargains and long dressing room lines. The air of renewal hangs heavy with the worst offenders from last year promising parents and themselves a new start.
My room is not completely ready - a few posters are waiting to be stickied up, the lesson plans for first week need to be polished a bit, website updated, etc... but the tasks are underway, and I feel that sense of urgency for the kids to come back.