The Art of Reflection

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As 2013 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on my teaching practice and Thinking about how my year has gone so far. I know that in our job, it is so easy to focus on what we haven’t done – there’s never enough time, always too much curriculum to cover, and one more read aloud we really want to fit in. But this school year one of my Resolutions was to focus on the positive when I reflect – to know there’s always further to go, but to make sure I take the time to look backwards at how far we’ve come.

This year I have made an effort to institute regular reflection times in my classroom. At the end of each month, students fill out a reflection sheet, giving them the opportunity to think about their successes, where they would like to focus for the coming month, and how my teaching partner and I can help them. I have really enjoyed reading these reflections which I adapted from Pernille Ripp’s blog (here). I love the insights I’m getting into what students enjoy and what they have found challenging over the month. (I also love how many of them ask me for more reading time :). They take the reflections very seriously and their insights into the workings of our classroom and their own learning processes are both informative and poignant. One question asks students what they would like to focus on for next month and I’m impressed that so many of my fourth graders make choices that I would have chosen for them based on where they are both academically and socially. Sometimes I don’t think we give our students enough opportunities to reflect on where they are, how far they’ve come and where they want to go. With the reams of data we are asked to collect and interpret, it’s easy to lose track of the students behind the numbers. It is my firm belief that taking the time to do this kind of activity provides just as many valuable insights into how we can help our students as any standardized test does.

These monthly reflections have been a way for me to do some self-assessment too. What has been successful? What has stuck with my students? What are they still unsure of? What do I need to re-visit?

I’m looking forward to re-starting the school year on January 6. I love that both teachers and students have these two weeks to rest, reflect, and recharge. I can’t wait to get back into my classroom and talk about what we read over break, share how far we’ve come since August, and set goals for the rest of our school year. We will celebrate our successes together and hopefully create a feeling of trust and support for our future goals. Nothing would make me happier than to see my students working together to achieve our classroom goals and being there to support each other with their individual goals. In fact, I’m looking forward to asking them how we can do this. I know they will undoubtedly come up with ideas that I would not have thought about.

Here is My challenge to you as you return to your classrooms next week:
1. Write three things you are proud of achieving in your classroom so far this year (could be as big as implementing a program like readers’ workshop, or it could be as ‘small’ as making a perfect book recommendation for that reluctant reader. Take five minutes to pat yourself on the back and celebrate your successes.

2. Write three things you want to focus on in your teaching practice from January-June. It might be reading a professional book, implementing some new technology in your classroom, or re-working your reading conferences.

3. Now, ask your students to do the same. Give them the opportunity to reflect on their learning and set goals for the future. Then make sure you revisit them regularly (once a month) so they can see their progress. Of course if this is the first time you’ve done anything like this, you’ll need to provide plenty of scaffolding for your students. Generate some lists of curriculum areas and behavioral goals together, and provide them with some sentence starters. Keep goals specific and attainable for example “I will read three books by the end of January” rather than “I will become a better reader”.

Enjoy the rest of your break and I wish you all the best for 2014.

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Balloons, not Anchors

I have noticed something about me over the last few months that I don’t like.
I have become increasingly focused in the negative aspects of my profession. I’ve found myself drawn in to those tweets and blog posts that decry the corporatization of the public school system, bemoan the lack of adequate pay for teachers and highlight the disconnect between what the common core was supposed to be (a way to give all students access to a quality education) and what it has become (an ever increasing emphasis on high stakes testing and a source of great angst for parents, students and teachers alike).

Back in September, I read this article by Heather Wolpert and felt sure she must have been secretly visiting my classroom. She was writing about me. I had just told my principal that I needed to get off all the various committees I was on and focus only on my students. I had withdrawn myself from all the good work I was doing, and what’s worse is after I read Heather’s article, I proceeded to ignore all of her good advice. I got sucked into the vortex if negativity that made coming to work every day lose its shine. The challenges we face as teachers and parents are tough right now, but no good can come from ‘living’ in that negative place. I found myself ever more reluctant to get out of my warm bed in the morning, put a smile on my face and greet my students with an open heart. That is just not me.

I truly love my job. I know I’m good at it, and that I make a difference to my students’ lives. I want to be the best that I can be for them every day. And for myself. So, Today I tidied up my twitter feed and made a pledge to myself to keep it strictly ‘professional’ – a place for learning and collaboration and a place where I can go to reboot and recharge. In the end, I have 60 children who rely on me to lift them up and show them a positive future. No more listening to or participating in the negative talk.

I want balloons, not anchors.

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Create Your Own Sunshine

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My nerdlution commitment to writing has stalled after one entry.
I mean, how does one write a blog about education without sounding overly cheery, or overly negative?

On one hand, I want to write about the wonderful things I see happening in my classroom every day as students develop their love of books and begin sharing their enthusiasm with one another. On the other hand, I’m busy trying to cope with almost 50% of my students being below grade level, and desperately trying to get them where they need to be. Each day I feel the push and pull that I suspect many teachers experience – I celebrate the growth and the small victories, but am constantly reminded that this is not enough. I hear the drum beat of “proficient and advanced” in my ear, in the constant stream of data analysis, and in the endless discussions of benchmarks and common core standards. I’m relieved beyond belief that my students don’t have to face the STAR testing this year, but I’m terrified of what awaits them in with Smarter Balanced in 2014.

Push and pull. Push and pull.

In the end, I think I just need to blow up that balloon and let it go. My students are working as hard as they can, and they will all make growth this year. It may not be the two grade levels worth of growth they need, but it will be enough. Enough for them and enough for me. Knowing that I have given my all.

Ok, I’m a pretty positive person, so I guess I’m going to err on the side of overly cheery. Sometimes you just have to create your own sunshine.

Conquering Mountains

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I’ve been reading about the “nerdlution” movement on Twitter and maybe seeing so many people take up the challenge has inspired me to finally take the plunge and start writing “publicly”. I’m still too scared to commit to a daily ritual though – hence the quote above. Conquering our own fears is by far the most difficult part of any challenge.

I stand in my fourth grade classroom daily and tell my students how important it is to write – it doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter how much, just WRITE! And yet, I have found it so hard to convince myself that what I want to put down on ‘paper’ is worthwhile. I read blogs, articles and twitter feeds daily and think to myself “there’s no way I could ever be THAT good”. I talk myself out of trying, but in my heart I really want to be a WRITER.

This is my commitment to me. I know I have things to say. I know that what I write can be read and enjoyed by others. I am going to give it a try.

Thank you #nerdlution for finally getting me to at least start the climb…..