Students came back this Monday! Although this year marks 17 years in the classroom, one my favorite aspects of the teaching vocation is the feeling of renewal. Invention. Reinvention. Doing this over. Trying knew things. Failing. Succeeding. Sorta succeeding. All the goodness in between. I love it!
Below are 5, simple, nerdy pedagogical shifts I'm making this school year just because I feel like it. Nothing groundbreaking here. Just the joy of teaching. I hope your hear is off to a fabulous start, and you are finding simple, little ways, to see your job as more of an art, than a science.
#1. Plan in the 80's, and revise in 2017.
This year I am going to write every lesson plan as if the only technology I have is a whiteboard. Analyze areas where my instruction could be more robust, amplified, personalized, etc. Then integrate technology to hep fill those gaps and reach my "21st Century" students. I'm hopeful this will keep pedagogy as the primary focus.
#2. Wait 5 seconds.
This year, every time I am trying to gather my students attention, I'm going to wait five seconds, before trying to gather their attention again. I am HORRIBLE at classroom management, and find myself always depending on my loud "teacher voice" to gather them. No more. Wait for them to naturally calm. 5 seconds. Then request attention. Thank you to so much to Jennifer Gonzales over at Cult of Pedagogy for this ProTip.
#3. Three questions.
This year I'm going to put 3 question marks (? ? ?) at the top of every quiz, test, etc. Im such a pushover, and find myself answering questions such as the dreaded "Am I doing this right?". I'm going to give them three opportunities to ask questions, and each time they do, cross off one "?". I'm hopeful this will force critical thinking and metacognition about what they need help on, and what they can negotiate on their own.
#4. Share my writing with my students.
I love sharing ideas with other teachers, writing blogs, etc. This desire was the catalyst for writing Spark Learning. By asking my students to keep Website Portfolios of their work, and engage in lessons, on a website that lives on my personal blog, I am hopeful that we will grow more connected and mutual reflective practitioners as they naturally engage in new work, while simultaneously being in close proximity to mine.
#5. Mobile prep desk (humanities).
The last chapter in Spark Learning is full of various, random "bonus strategies" for teachers that are not necessarily grounded in the book's thesis. One strategy is called the "Mobile Prep Desk" where I discuss using my prep period to plan in the back of a random colleagues classroom. Getting my prep done. Learning from a colleague. Two birds. One stone. This year, I'm going to make a point of doing this only in classrooms of humanities teachers. I see too much Science and Math! It's taken 17 years for me to branch out and actually observe my History and English colleagues. I am embarrassed its taken this long. Just think what I have could have been learning all this time!
When I reflect back on the last 16 year of teaching, I see three distinct phases:
Phase 1 was crucial. I fell in love with the profession during this phase. My gut told me I was doing the right thing. Students loved my class. I loved being with them. All was good. But were they really learning? I didn’t care. It just felt good. Teaching felt the right choice, and the positive relationships I was forming with students and colleagues felt good. The difference between job and vocation became clear.
Phase 2 was ugly. An overconfident 4 year “veteran”, my popularity as a teacher transformed my initial love for teaching, into a fear of being a “boring” teacher. Although my colleagues perhaps did not notice this side, I saw it. I could hear it. This attitude led to a form disconnect between myself and my students. A blind adoption of the latest trends in educational technology under the guise of “innovation”.
Phase 3 is transformative. I’m in the middle of phase 3.. No longer can I hide under the blanket of being a “rookie teacher”, or an “early adopter”. Deep gaps in student conceptual knowledge, painful anonymous student feedback, personal health crisis, and a myriad of other catalysts are forcing me to face a question I should have faced along time ago: What does authentic, good, REAL teaching look like?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to give a TED Talk about this journey. Anyone of us could have given that talk. I was just in the right place at the right time. As teachers we are all on a journey. A “Hero’s Journey” if you will, full of temptation, mentors, transformation and realizations that change our outlook on the career. Our outlook on ourselves. Our students. Our colleagues. We are always changing.
Spark Learning dives into this journey. My hope is that this book can provide insight into both the emotions, and the instructional mechanics of the process. A process that I find successful. For me. I have faith that in sharing this with others, it might spark a few simple insights for you. Catalyze insight into your authentic teaching self. Spark new realizations
As Parker Palmer says, “We teach from who we are.”. My greatest fear in writing a book about teaching is that I would revert to Phase 2. Appear to be a narcissistic “I gave a TED Talk listen to me…” know it all. A “look at me I wrote a TED Talk book…” snake oil salesman. Lessons I’m learning in Phase 3 remind me to have faith in the teaching community. That the Imposter Complex can be ignored. And that's OK. That I love this vocation and work REALLY HARD AT IT. That 9pm-1am for the last 7 months was on purpose and for a good reason. I have an obligation to share. To share. To share. And so do you. Tag.
In May of 2013 I was asked to speak on TED's first ever TV special, TED Talks Education, As a full-time classroom science teacher, I am confident that any number of my current colleagues at Sacred Heart Cathedral, future colleagues at Sonoma Academy, or the myriad of other teachers I have collaborated with in a professional development context, could have delivered the same message about the importance of cultivating student curiosity and inquiry.
Since TED, I have had the opportunity to work with many teachers I would have never met before, and I am so grateful to my colleagues for allowing me the freedom to connect with other teachers and students around the globe. However, staying grounded as a full-time teacher has always been, and will continue to be, central to the way I define my vocation and efficacy as a teacher. More importantly, it has given me the opportunity and desire to empower my students in the way I was empowered. This desire was the catalyst of TEDxYouth@SHC.
A 100% student developed, curated, directed and produced event, TEDxYouth@SHC 2016, our second TED event, was a huge success. Topics included Sex Education, HIV Awareness, Gender Equity, Jazz Piano, Building Homes, Racial and Religious Misapprehension, Speech and Debate, and much more! In 16 tears of teaching, TEDxYouth@SHC 2015 and 2016 have been, without a doubt, the most powerful experiences I have had as an educator. Moral of the story: If you want something done well, put it in the hands of your students! It took 16 years to truly learn that lesson.
This is about the time in every school year that I realize all the things that I did wrong. All the things that I want to change. In the past I would start implementing those changes now in April, more to just prove to myself that I can do it better and less to actually facilitate real change in the classroom. Unfortunately, this is the honest truth with me and pedagogy sometimes. I find myself wanting to prove that I can tweak pedagogy, rather than just sit tight and enjoy the consistent flow that has already been created with my students this year. All years are different, and I hope that one day I'll be able to just sit with that and enjoy it.
As for now, I've started keeping track of all of the changes I'm going to make for next year rather than simply implementing them in a haphazard and inconsistent manner. Getting them of my "pedagogical chest" and into a place where I can reference over the summer when planning next year's curriculum seems to have added a calming sense to my obsessive-compulsive teaching disorder." Below are a few screenshots from my "next year changes" notepad:
Whether it be through modeling good pedagogy, bad pedagogy, or metaphorically alluding to effective pedagogy, the following five video clips inspire me to be a better teacher. Enjoy!
1. Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University
2. JJ Abraham's: The Mystery Box
3. Mr. D on Assessment
4. David Foster Wallace: This is Water
5. Craiglist Joe Trailer