Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don't Believe Me, Just Watch

Last week was our first week back from Spring Break and the beginning of the last quarter of the school year.  As we enter this final stretch, spring fever is in the air and everyone is eager for summer vacation. Warm and sunny days make for beautiful weather, but the classroom climate can be quite tempestuous as students are ready for it all to be over. They slouch in their seats, slack on their work and whine about anything that's remotely challenging. And those of course are the easy problems - other more problematic students may step up their rebellion a tad bit putting discipline issues on the rise. Like a tired runner on his last lap, it's very easy for teachers to lose momentum, but this is a critical time to pick up speed to ensure we finish strong.  For many of us, this may mean making a few changes.  Just like an Olympic runner, it's the last lap that determines outcome and as tempting as it is to slow down or drop out, you can't win unless you persevere until the very end.

After recently reading two fabulous books I've started this last quarter with a spring in my step.  I read Teach Like a Pirate and Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire - two books that I believe every teacher should read, especially preservice teachers. I first heard of TLAP on Twitter and then it was all the buzz at EdCampQC so I just had to buy it and I read it just before spring break.  TLYHOF was recommended by #reflectiveteacher tweep, Beth Liedolf (@bliedolf) and is the subject of our chats this month.  I read that one during spring break. Aside from similar titles, both books offer strategies and methods to generate/increase student engagement. Rather than writing a long book review on each, I will let my readers check out the books for themselves and develop their own opinions.  They are relatively easy reads and some of you may be able to read them both in one weekend.  Reading them as I entered the final quarter of the year was perfect timing.  As I begin this final lap, I was looking for inspiration and both met that expectation. Moreover, both emphasized the importance of creativity, spontaneity, reliability, follow through and teaching the whole child.  Both authors also emphasize the importance of modeling.  It's easy to become frustrated at the disengagement and lose steam,  but I can't expect to win them over unless I adjust my own approaches and increase momentum myself.  Classroom modeling doesn't only refer to academic skills and behaviors, we also need to model attitudes and engagement.  If we are not excited about what we teach, much less will our students be.

Here are some small changes I have made to stir up some positivity and brighten up the remaining school days.
  • Increase positive recognition. I'm usually pretty good about pointing out the good in my students, but I've been trying to dig a little deeper.  And I don't want to just tell them individually, I want to make sure the entire class knows about the treasures I find.
  • Ignore the small stuff.  I'm picking my battles carefully and so I can stay focused on the learning targets.
  • Share myself.  Be open and honest, willing to share joys, successes and setbacks.  As I tell students about my own stumbling blocks and how I turn them into stepping stones, many may find connections and hopefully be encouraged. 
  • Take time to laugh.  A little amusement can do a lot of good.  Happy teachers will make happy students.  Learning and laughter are not mutually exclusive.
  • End the class with a joke.  I try to end my class periods on a positive note by sharing a little motivation or encouragement as they are launched from my room.  This last quarter I'm ending the class period with a riddle or joke.
While I aim for my students to finish strong and achieve good outcomes on their year end assessments, I, also need be sure to no lose momentum myself. These small changes will help both my learners and me and make sure I practice what I preach.  So in the words of Bruno Mars in Uptown Funk, "Don't believe me, just watch".


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