Most of us are probably holding on to some super-fun activity that our students just love. Maybe it’s one that we’ve spent three years tweaking. As these new educational shifts encourage us to reflect on our practice we might start to think that perhaps the ratio of class time spent on an activity is not proportionate to student learning. Maybe the activity is actually more “hands-on” than “minds-on”. We may argue with ourselves that the activity is worth it when deep down we are questioning whether or not it is. Change is tough. We may say to ourselves that we’re smart, and it’s not like our intelligence is measured by our ability to change, or anything.
Except for the fact that a guy named Einstein once said, “Our intelligence is measured by our ability to change.”
Okay, so Einstein would probably say that we should adapt to the great many changes in the coming school year. But there are so many new standards, reforms, initiatives, and check-lists for teacher accountability, where do we start?
1. Embrace the changes and make it obvious
I’ve encountered some teachers who have fundamental disagreements with the changes occurring. I get it, especially if you’ve been teaching for a while. However, I would encourage all teachers to focus on the heart of the changes: more students learning more key information. Push through these changes with a positive attitude because students pick up on negativity. If they hear you bad-mouthing the new initiatives, they will be less bought-in and ultimately make your job more difficult. Find parts of the changes that you think are beneficial and share your enthusiasm with the students!
2. Get cozy with other content teachers
It can be easy for me to stay in my English teacher comfort zone, and I highly recommend designated planning time with same-content teachers. However, if we are trying to prepare students for the real world, we need to show them that all knowledge is interconnected. I might swing by the Social Studies teachers’ rooms and tell them we’re working on compound sentences. They promise to at least mention it in their classroom (ex. “I want your response to include two compound sentences”), and they’ll usually give me a nugget of information that I can mention in mine.
Posters work, too. In my English Classroom, I have the Standards for Math Practices on a poster, and we try to reflect on these at the end of class. This was confusing for the kids at first. I heard a lot of “Um, isn’t this an ENGLISH class?” Telling them that yes, it is, and yes, these practices are important for English shows that they are worth knowing.
Tip: Share what you’re doing on a Google Doc or weekly email. This is an easy way for teachers to support each other and share information freely.
3. Set high expectations
Treating your students like they’re at the next level by telling a kindergarten class, “today we’re going to be doing 1st grade work,” or a 10th grade English class, “some of my seniors are writing this type of essay, and I think you guys can handle it,” will create intrinsic buy-in and send a message that you expect only the best. Don’t pacify wrong answers with “Hm, well, you’re almost there, Trisha.” Tell Trisha that she is incorrect but that you want her to get the answer right, and then have her repeat the right answer. Call on students who aren’t raising their hands. Greet your students with a hand-shake. Use instructional technology to engage them with differentiated, high-level content that is complicated and interesting to them. Assign authentic projects that hit twelve objectives in a single bound but have to do with real-life.
4. Print out your standards and use it as a checklist
Student learning is the ultimate goal, and the standards are a road-map to student achievement on the part of their path that is our classroom. I’ve seen great teachers at my school who have printed it out and posted the CCSS on the wall of their room. Some even have a student put a tally-mark next to each standard as the students complete some sort of assessment (not necessarily paper/pencil test) on it. What a great idea to show the students what they’re accomplishing! To get student buy-in, though, you have to have a positive attitude towards the standards, going back towards #1 on this list. If you’re excited, they’re excited!
Note: following and checking off the standards should not be looked at as a way to impede creativity. it’s an organized way of achieving the standards — this can be done in a variety of creative ways!
5. Involve the Community
At the beginning of the year, I send home a letter to my parents with an outline of our units and a brief survey of what they do professionally or who they know that might be willing to contribute to our classroom. You never know who could come in as a guest speaker, who works with a organization in need of solving a problem, who needs a Public Service Announcement written for their cause. If you find that no one has any real connections, inviting parents into the classroom for productions, lab displays, or as professional panel judges for presentations puts the pressure on students to do their best, can involve parents in the success of the child, and creates a support system that is not easily broken.
I’m sure there are plenty of other things that can be added to this list, and I’d love to hear your ideas below! What’s your plan for adapting to the upcoming changes this school year?