Reflecting on the Unintended Outcomes that Boosted My Learning

There are always unintended consequences of the lessons we plan and the learning that occurs, both inside and outside of the classroom.  Students could be working in groups to determine why some materials conduct electricity and some do not.  Sure targetthey may reach the targeted learning goal identifying conductors, but I suspect what they will remember is working as a team, sharing their thinking, trying without guaranteed success, wondering why. Likewise, while I may have intended to offer a well-developed learning series called Inspiring Reluctant Writers, upon reflection, I learned a lot more than how to teach writing. I want to share some of my original intentions along with the unintended outcomes that boosted my learning.

My intention:  to create a space where teachers would write to learn more about teaching writing

Putting yourself in the position of being the learner and stepping out of your comfort zone to do ‘the work’ you ask of students can be an enlightening and energizing pursuit, whether it’s writing, math, science or history.  Not surprisingly,  teachers who write are better writing teachers, but not only because of committing a number of words to the page.  Rather, I think it may be owing to how the act of writing nurtures an emotional connection with your reader.

My learning: Writing accelerates relationships

After years of facilitating a variety of professional learning opportunities, I have come to realize that sharing your writing, especially personal stories, accelerates relationships because it requires vulnerability and authenticity to build connections. img_0110I could not have predicted the power this had. Indeed, I didn’t predict that we would spend the whole series settling into personal narratives as a way of collecting and examining our memories, our stories, while playing with craft. What’s more, once you personally experience this side effect of community, you want to re-create it in your classroom amongst your students, as did the participants.  I imagine, without exception, these teachers will start their next year exploring the stories of students’ names, Where I’m From poems, Exploding a Moment, and writing from a sense of place. Writing is a vehicle to validate and expand what we mean when we think of our identity. Writing helps us wrestle with our sense of self. Writing creates a community where students, and teachers, can get to know each other.

“Writing connects people and makes the journey worthwhile.”

-Jeff Christian, teacher

My intention: Provide a variety of  intentionally chosen texts, prompts, strategies, ideas

In my role as a learning coordinator for literacy, I am privileged to have access to ‘hot’ new books, new strategies, and new ways of improving instructional practice. You name it, I got it! I feel it is my responsibility to be a ‘knowledge sifter’ in funneling some of those great ideas into conversations with teachers.  But I’ve learned, it’s not just about what I bring.

My learning: Share the responsibility

I’ve learned not to own all the learning.  I’ve had to let go of taking the responsibility for all the learning that happens in the room and instead to rely on everyone to impact the other participants.  Every person at every table plays a vital role in what their colleagues will take away, will remember, will try and how they will feel. I launch, spark, introduce, model and ask you to imagine.  Sometimes I cartwheel. But then I pass the baton to the rest of the team – everyone in the room. The onus rests on everyone else to build connections, operationalize how it might look depending on your students, share the unique factors that identify your classroom needs and strengths. That collective interaction improves the potential of the learning landing in the students’ learning environment.  And like a boomerang, teachers return with stories and student samples, which comes back to me as new learning.

“…this has brought some joy back to my practice.”

-Kate Gutmanis

My intention: offer a professional learning series on writing

Looking back on the past few years of our literacy learning, I admit we’ve often focused deeply on reading comprehension. As a result, I intended to offer some learning devoted entirely to writing. But I learned, I can’t teach about writing without connecting to some great mentors, not only nor necessarily about topic, but about craft. That is, not what they write, but how they write.

My learning: to write better, you need to read

The reciprocal benefits of reading and writing are well established. When we initially started with personal narratives, in particular, the story of our name, I might have anticipated we could jump right into the writing.  But we needed mentors to explore the ideas around identity more deeply, to discover how important a name is especially when it’s taken away, to feel comfortable messing around with emotional childhood memories.  In short, we needed to imagine our own names in light of others’ reading-a-book-and-notingperspectives on their names. We scoured excerpts from novels, picturebooks, video clips for points of view and craft. I hope that as a result of this reliance on mentor texts, teachers  will now intentionally notice more while they are reading, anticipating that every book is a potential goldmine of opportunities to support student writing. I want them to be asking themselves, what is the writer doing here? Why do I love that line?

I started every session with these 2 slides to remind us that there’s so much we can do before we even get kids to start writing: loosening up the ground, getting messy, providing the nutrients, and planting some seeds. But most of all, writing ourselves.

plant-a-gardenprepare-the-soil-jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Things You and Your Students Need That Will Improve Writing

 

What pushes us to write? What supports do I need to ensure the writing process is enjoyable and effective, for myself and my students?

In my last post, I shared that I intended to offer more time for talking and learning from each other with the participants in my Inspiring Reluctant Writers series. After our most recent session, I definitely saw the benefits of honouring these 6 things to create the conditions that will improve writing.You may not find much new in my list, but I’ve come to realize that we as teachers need these things just as much as our students do.

1. Time to Talk

Providing teachers and students with time to talk builds community by making connections between people. As you get to know each other, trust time-to-talkpaves the way for more strategic and effective feedback. In fact, I’m more likely to accept your feedback in the future if I already have a relationship with you. Teachers at my session devoted most of the morning sharing their beliefs and practices around feedback and then made it concrete by reading each others’ writing. Of course, when you devote time to talk, you are also honouring time to listen. There’s a reciprocal benefit to these conversations when we are authentic and open to learning from each other. We need time to talk for different purposes across the writing process, to generate ideas, to clarify our thinking, to consider ways to improve.

2. Time to Read

text-excerpts-for-craft-movesTo be a good writer, read a lot…according to Neil Gaiman. Read like a writer, be on the hunt for great writing, even a sentence. Noticing what writers do expands our own toolkit, inspires us, introduces possibilities we might explore. In reading we can collect and record new words, new ways to construct sentences. Reading our colleagues’ writing (students and teachers) builds a community of writers who encourage and celebrate each other. I try to use excerpts from authentic texts and have teachers/students scour the writing for craft moves they notice and can borrow. These moves expand our descriptive writing toolkit and ultimately they become success criteria.

3.  Time to Play

collaborative-writing

Play around with the ideas, write off the page, push the boundaries, don’t censor your ideas at first. Just try it. Try other text structures, visual supports, tech applications.
Experimenting with multimodal formats and how visual elements impact and enhance writing is what I’d like to explore next. Having teachers write collaboratively has been a real eye-opener for me this year in terms of fun factor. Teachers have enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of generating ideas and trying to write in collaboration with another writer’s voice.

Here’s a short video clip of two instructional coaches navigating the collaborative process. Notice the double sided white board – a terrific tool to capture writing quickly on a space visible to all.

https://goo.gl/5LJ5aW

4.  Value Your Stories

“Constructing…narrative also allows us to imagine ourselves as agents, even heroes, in our own life stories.” (Minds Made for Stories, Thomas Newkirk, 2014)  In our Inspiring Reluctant Writers sessions, we are focusing on personal narratives for almost all of our writing.  If there is one thing I can be assured that you know a lot about, it’s yourself. Leveraging your own background knowledge increases a writer’s confidence. Our personal stories express universal truths, the ‘so what’ of a story.  By sharing our stories, we reinforce relationships and bridge our differences.

express-the-universal

danielle_metcalfe-chenail-NFwriting_tip3

5.  Take a Risk

Don’t let your fear of being judged stop you from sharing your writing. Inhibitions rob the rest of us of your story. Writing helps us work out questions and issues to clarify our thinking. The choices we make about what to write reveal who we are, what we value, what we want to remember, what weighs on our heart. And unbelievably, it’s when we step outside our comfort zones that we learn something new about ourselves.

One of the writing prompts we have been exploring is the story of our name.  I’ve witnessed the student engagement in writing that ensues when students are asked about the story of their names. Many teachers in my writing session have chosen to share the story of their name on their blogs. They masterfully weave a very personal story, one that clearly demands taking a risk. Some are humorous, some are poignant. Honestly, every single teacher in my writing session has jumped in with both feet and launched a blog. I’ve referenced this list in another post, but here again is the link to 29 blogs of risk-taking teachers in Inspiring Reluctant Writers:

Inspiring Reluctant Writers Teacher Blogs

6.  Time to Write

Messy, uninterrupted, nose to the grind time is a non-negotiable for every writer. The freedom to walk away from a piece, let it lie for a while, and then return to it is often a luxury for ourselves and our students.
When I ask students what they needed in order to write, not surprisingly, they repeat many of the same things we need as adults.  Here’s a spark video that captured three students’ thinking from Anne Elliott’s grade 6 class:

2017-01-27-12_21_12-what-i-need-as-a-writer-internet-explorer

 

Did I offer these supports at our last session? You bet I did. Did we get enough time to finish some writing? Not likely. But I hope we prepared the soil for planting seeds. Seeds of writing that teachers can explore themselves and with their students.

Do you provide these opportunities in your class?

Do you require them for yourself to write?

What else do you require to ensure you have something to say?

 

 

 

 

How Will I Know What You Need as a Writer and Teacher?

I knew it. I should have blogged right away.  After preaching the value of blogging and insisting participants in my Inspiring Reluctant Writers session capture their reflections, I let the moment, and the memory, go. I knew I would benefit from reflecting on the day, but Busy, that pushy partner I heed, made other plans.

Once time has passed, those snapshots of memory morph, the colour fades and distilled thoughts evaporate.

I do remember the way I felt, as if being pulled in opposite directions.  I recall the highs of hearing teachers’ stories of the impact that live writing was making on their students, how in awakening their writing muse, they’ve found themselves nostalgic for the writing they ‘used to do.’ I also remember the lows of recognizing I haven’t engaged everyone in the group, how I struggle with the pacing of professional learning across a whole day.

Just below the surface, I’ve wrestled with a lingering knot that I’m trying to untie, a lesson I thought I’d learned:

the one who’s doing the talking is the one who’s doing the learning.

In a court of law, I could readily explain why. I want to inspire and provide a variety of texts, model a few strategies, craft a couple writing moves. Writing takes time, space, community, ideas. You can’t just walk in and write cold. I hold true that teachers engaged in writing will help them teach writing.  I try to balance what I’ll call ‘heavyweight’ independent writing (around identity, the story of your name, where you’re from) and ‘lightweight’ collaborative writing (6 Things You Should Know About _______). When we write, we learn the struggles of being a writer and are more likely to be empathetic to the writing we ask our students to create. When we write, the lessons we learn personally feed into how we teach writing and that makes it authentic.

But that doesn’t excuse me from doing most of the talking.

I stand gazing up at two towering goals.

  1. to create the conditions where teachers feel safe and empowered to write themselves.
  2. to support teachers’ instructional practice so they effectively teach students better ways to write.

I grapple with the time writing demands and the time required to imagine its application in a writing workshop. No quick fix. All teachers want things we can implement tomorrow, along with ideas that will percolate over time.

So, I am facing the dilemma of what’s the next step. Where might we go in the coming session that will benefit these teachers as writers and teachers of writing? If I were in a classroom, all the complexity and excitement of the talk, the reading, the writing, would drive the next lesson.

Maybe we will start there. Start with some time to talk, some time to read each others’ writing and student writing to determine our own personal learning needs. We’ll ask ourselves and each other: what am I seeing in this writing that could be improved and how might I get there? A real writer’s roundtable. We can share the responsibility of what we’ll learn and rely on each other for steps to move forward. Together.

 

 

Recognizing a Reluctant Writer in the Mirror

Last Monday brought the launch of a new professional learning series entitled Inspiring Reluctant Writers with a group of 30 grade 6, 7, and 8 educators.  Before the day arrived, I admit I fought a daily battle of self-doubts and what ifs:  what if they don’t trust my message? what if they don’t get what they came for? what if they resist journeying wiwould-you-ratherth me? Without hesitation I share that I read more than write, consume far more than I create.  I asked participants to check in when they entered on a list of ‘Would you Rather’ prompts. Notice the t-chart of read/write in the image. That became the big reveal of the day as almost all of us came to a realization that WE are reluctant writers.  Let that sit for a minute. Here we are attending a professional learning series targeting the needs of our students when bam, it becomes painfully clear that we must address our own reluctance first.

Now the day saw us think about our identity, talk about what we had read or viewed, write both independently and collaboratively from our background, but perhaps the most profound learning came outside the room, later.  In response to YEARS of knowing that a powerful platform for reflection is blogging, I challenged each participant to capture their reflections of the day in a blog. I advocated that we might learn a lot about ourselves across this series by using that platform to track our writing journey. What better way to re-ignite a writing life than to commit our thinking to a page that can be shared publicly; ‘putting it out there,’ as it were. Indeed, I wondered whether one could convince a group of educators who were reluctant writers to try blogging. It was a gamble.

After just a few days I am overwhelmingly convinced and grateful. These teachers have embraced their vulnerability, taken a risk, and published their first blogs! These bloggers share the struggle, reveal the hesitation, but also feel empowered knowing their ideas are valued enough to be shared. We are building our own little community of writers. We now have the opportunity to read and comment on each others’ reflections between sessions, in addition to the writing we share in sessions.  And our audience doesn’t stop there as all these blogs are now public.  Imagine the impact of a group of teachers sharing the struggles and rewards of writing for all of us, including our students.

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I truly believe that we are our own best teaching tools so that is where we must invest our learning. I’m fortunate to have people come alongside to join me. As we continue this series, I have some wonderings. What if …

  • modelling your writing improves your students’ writing?
  • engaging in writing nurtures empathy for the process and equips you to offer more effective feedback?

I invite you to visit their blogs to support your fellow brave educators and prove to them that the risk and effort are worth it.

 

 

 

 

Read Aloud Ideas: 6 Ways into Chris Hadfield’s ‘The Darkest Dark’

The Darkest Dark, by Chris Hadfield, Illus The Fan Brothers

The Darkest Dark, by Chris Hadfield, Illus The Fan Brothers

When I walked into Chapters last Saturday, I already knew what I was looking for. I had come across an interview in the Toronto Star that morning that reminded me about a new release:  The Darkest Dark, by Chris Hadfield, illustrated by the Fan Brothers. There was no missing the display 5 shelves high, 3 across as I pulled one down to take my first peek. Another reader was beside the display also shuffling through the pages, so I asked her, ‘Is it good?’ She nodded. ‘Do you know Chris Hadfield?’ I asked.  She looked close to grade 6 in age so it didn’t surprise me that she did.  ‘He’s my hero,’ I blurted. ‘Me too,’ she agreed. I don’t know if it’s because of my many years of teaching Grade 6 Space, the way Hadfield made space cool when he tweeted from the ISS, or his musical pursuits and tribute to David Bowie, but Chris Hadfield is one of my heroes.  He epitomizes my idea of Canadian identity and proudly wears his nationality while inspiring generations of fans to reach for the stars.  And let’s face it, is there anything this man cannot do?

Now, he’s written a children’s picture book.

The story is an autobiographical narrative about Chris as a young boy whose passions determine his future…but for the one flaw that may prevent him from realizing his dreams:  he’s afraid of the dark! What are the chances of becoming an astronaut when you’re afraid of the dark?

Ideas to Get You Started

Your students’ grade and interests will determine which ideas you choose, but here are some to get you started. While picture books typically target younger audiences, I have found you can ‘sell’ a picture book to just about any age group.

1. Craft some questions and prompts for before and after reading

  • What are you passionate about? Invite students to generate ideas about their passions. How do you nurture or grow your passions?
  • Share a fear you have as a teacher, either current or from childhood. How have you faced it or overcome it? What are some fears students have? How do they cope?
  • Who is your hero? Who do you look up to? What makes a person heroic?
  • What does the dark look like? Sound like? Feel like? Explore the front cover illustration.  What mood is already being set by the colour and images?
  • “The dark is for dreams – and morning is for making them come true.” Consider posting this quote and having students talk about it over a few days. How does Chris Hadfield’s life resemble that quote? What changed Chris and how did he overcome his fear? How do you know?

2. Explore Big Ideas and Character Traits

bank-of-themes-identity-text-set-journeysUse this book early in the year as part of an exploration of big ideas and character traits in narrative. Like all great tales, it’s not about how the story ends, or learning more about space.  It’s about what the reader takes away and stores in their heart long after the book is finished.  Sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, this book reveals themes around Hadfield’s earnest pursuit to inspire the next generation of kids to pursue their passions and face their fears…to see fear as an opportunity. How do we learn about, give voice to, and nurture the passions of students in our classroom? Create an anchor chart to track the big ideas your students think that Hadfield is sharing, because as we know, it’s how the reader interacts with the text that determines what students will take away.

character-traits

An anchor chart of character traits that describe Chris will benefit students by equipping them with richer vocabulary to describe characters in future stories. No doubt they will consider Chris imaginative, creative, passionate, brave, etc. What evidence (in words or actions) do we see in the text that makes you say that? To flesh out the kind of person Chris is, you’ll want to share the extra background information found at the back of the book: a note from Chris, some original photos, and some highlights from his life. How does this additional information add to your understanding of the kind of person Chris is?  What evidence did you find that indeed Chris faced his fears and pursued his passions?

3. Connect  to the Curriculum

This book would also support a curriculum connection in Grade 6 as you study space. To activate student background knowledge, you might explore what students already know about Chris Hadfield.  There are documentary style photos of news articles included in the book that lend credibility but also a sense of setting and time.

  • In what ways has space exploration evolved since that first walk on the moon?
  • In what ways has space exploration impacted society?
  • How does Chris Hadfield play a major role in representing Canada’s contribution to space exploration?

How dramatic must that first walk have been for so much of the world to experience it together!  How many of us have gazed at the moon and wondered about someone walking on it?

4. Gather a Text Set

inspirational-people-text-setI tend to gather text sets when I consider how I might use a book in class. If I were investigating the lives of inspirational people who faced their fears and challenges, I would recommend Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls; the double picture book Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan/Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan, by Jeanette Winter; Henri’s Scissors, by Jeanette Winter. I’m sure you could add many of your favourites to help students make connections between texts.

 

stem-related-text-setPerhaps you are exploring STEM related stories to inspire the next generation of innovators.  I would recommend The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; Ada Twist Scientist, by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts; What Do You Do With an Idea? Or What Do You Do With a Problem? By Kobi Yamada.

5. Explore How the Book was Created

Your students may also benefit from studying the text from a creation standpoint. What about the making of this picture book?  Where do story ideas come from? How do illustrators convey the essence of the story? Devote some time to analysing the images across this picture book.  What story do the pictures tell that may not be directly in the text? What other books have the Fan brothers illustrated (hint:  The Night Gardener!)?

What other books has Chris Hadfield written? Around the World in 92 Minutes, by Chris Hadfield, is an awesome yet playful collection of photographs of Earth as seen from space.  Terrific provocations for inquiry!

Around the World in 92 Minutes, page 98.

Around the World in 92 Minutes, page 98.

Here are some links and video clips that could accompany your reading of the picture book:

  • Interview with the Toronto Star:
Toronto Star, Saturday September 10, 2016

Toronto Star, Saturday September 10, 2016

  • CBC article with an awesome video clip sharing the genesis of the book and the Fan Brothers thinking:
CBC September 9, 2016

CBC September 9, 2016

  • Excerpts from the book:
Toronto Star, September 8, 2016

Toronto Star, September 8, 2016

6. Connect with the Author 

Fortunately, we live in a connected world where communication with authors is as easy as texting! Consider following Chris Hadfield across all social media platforms…I do!

Facebook: @AstronautChrisHadfield

Twitter:  @Cmdr_Hadfield

Instagram:  colchrishadfield

You’ll find him posting a myriad of curious and engaging photos, articles and ideas.  The Darkest Dark just may be the book that launches an inquiry, connects with students and sparks a passion.

 

 

Wishing you had a do-over?

In my last post, I pondered the impact teachers have on students forever and how that might infuse our teaching in the last 6 weeks of school this year.  I floated that idea to teachers in a recent professional learning session. This year, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating some learning around a comprehensive literacy program with newer teachers.

Just like in the classroom where I wrestled with pacing from time to time, being responsive in the moment but being pulled to accomplish a goal, I continue to adapt to the fluid nature of gathering folks together to learn. Last session was no different. My intended lunch slide appeared around 2pm (don’t worry, I DID let them eat lunch prior…).  And just like the classroom, you go home, you reflect, you wonder: what could/would I have done differently? How might I have been more effective in my timing? What aspects needed more attention, more exploration? I appreciate my colleague Niall’s use of the term “breathe” to describe the ebb and flow of a session. Inevitably, I reflect on…the do-over.

Sometimes the do-overs we wish for are professional, sometimes personal.

Ironically, not realizing I’d be wishing for a do-over later that day, I invited teachers at our last session to consider a time recently when they wish they’d had a do-over.  After framing the thinking around the powerful impact each teacher has as the ‘grade placeholder’ forever, they spent a little time writing. Providing time to write in response to some thinking and talking helps exercise the writing muscle and helps us play the empathy card when we ask students to write on the spot. Perhaps more importantly, writing allows us to muck around with the details and emotions as we try to capture and tether a complicated human experience to a flat 2D piece of paper.

While professional learning projects have explicit goals, I readily admit I hold additional objectives that guide my thinking and design. I commit to ensuring that every time I’m with educators, we will read and we will write. I don’t mean reading an article, or writing notes, but that we are introduced to new text to inspire teachers and their students to consume, and new ideas to compel teachers and their students to write. This may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how a whole day focused on, say, assessment can deny us the opportunity to enjoy authentic text for students, and engage in the act of some personal writing. Without intentionally building those pieces in, we avoid developing and expanding our literacy skills. I want teachers in the room to make connections to a text or writing that spurs them to imagine its potential when they land the plane in their classrooms.

BookedTo honour this objective, we explored an excerpt called ‘Do-Over’ from Kwame Alexander’s Booked*. Now this is a novel written in verse, hot off the press, that is taking the young adult world by storm (along with The Crossover).  It’s a coming of age story about a self-proclaimed soccer star whose life is turned upside down when his parents announce a separation and he faces a season-halting injury. And he hates reading! Until a girl and a Grammy award-winning teacher convince him otherwise. Witty, gutsy, raw. You can put this book in any reluctant reader’s hands.  The writer parts the murky waters of daily routine to drill down to moments of self-realization so poignant that at times you feel almost guilty for listening in on the discoveries. You will laugh, you will cry. It’s a terrific example of YA literature that satisfies readers of any age.

For our purposes, I chose the following one-page excerpt:
image

Certainly we easily connect to the moments before sleep, when we ruminate about the day, imagining a way we might have responded differently to a ‘lousy incident.’ We empathize with the replay of the do-over as it’s a universal experience.  Perhaps we even share the spotlight shining on the bystander, convicting us along with the main character. And so will our students. This book begs to be read aloud and talked about.

After some discussion around our connections to the experience, our comprehension of the text, we wondered how the writing could be used as a mentor text, to notice some writer’s craft techniques that we could borrow. We discussed:

  • Layout: it’s written in verse, so one would anticipate short lines, but where the line breaks impacts how you read, and therefore how you comprehend the text.
  • Punctuation: there are a total of 2 commas and a question mark. Indeed, the lack of punctuation impacts the velocity of your read, picking up speed as you approach the bottom of the page. What might students be writing about that would benefit from no punctuation? Does punctuation manipulate emotion? That page is one long question.
  • Punchline: you don’t actually figure out what the character is replaying in his mind until you get to the last three lines: literally, the ‘punch’ line. You are forced to re-read as you may not have seen that end coming.
  • Simile: chooses the vulture, of course, to conjure up the carrion-eating, swarming gang image that displays his inaction but betrays his similarity to the boys who gave his friend the black eye.

Your analysis of this brief excerpt will uncover additional points that resonate with your students. Booked offers nuggets like these across its pages. Discovering and analysing craft techniques that writers use in what we’re reading, and then practicing those in our own writing galvanizes the connection between reading and writing in our students’ literacy development.

Finding authentic text that opens doors to conversation and writing around experiences that mirror our lives makes reading and writing relevant and meaningful to our students.

When we as teachers give ourselves permission to read and write this way, we are more likely to provide those opportunities for our students. Sarah Chiarappa, a teacher in our session, shared this tweet:

 image

How might you use this excerpt to launch a discussion around do-overs in your class? Do we create space for kids to have those do-over days when they make mistakes?

How do books, like this, not only teach you about others’ lives and stories, but also help you learn something about yourself too?

 

*After you purchase Booked, visit http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.ca/2016/05/booked.html for fabulous additional ideas to support your reading of this text.

 

How will your students remember you?

When you see the end of the school year on the horizon, you can’t help but entertain thoughts and reflections on what you’ve learned and taught this year.  Reflection is the focus of conversation as schools plan for next year, educators engage in our last few twitterchats, and we all ruminate before bed. As another chapter comes to a close, I’m reminded that students also look back on the school year and on their teacher…often in years to come.

I’m always amazed at how, as a student, you remember your teachers forever! I bet you can rhyme off almost every teacher you’ve ever had, starting in Kindergarten.The ones you loved, the ones you didn’t. More than likely, you loved your teachers in your early elementary career as they were often your first caregivers after your parents. Like Mrs. Coates…Class pic

(I’m 2nd row, 6th from left. Shy?)

As you scroll through your elementary and secondary grades, perhaps it was a coach who instilled a sense of belonging, or a music teacher who finally celebrated your talent. For example, imagine if Fred Wright hadn’t made such an impact on Bill Gates: Bill Gates TweetThere’s a sense of trust with our teachers that convinces us they have our best interests at heart.  I believe there’s a special kind of place for teachers in our memories.  And being a teacher now makes one realize just how powerful you will be as a memory to your students.  Forever. It’s quite a legacy.  That YOU will hold a special place, you will be THE placeholder for that grade for the rest of their lives. Dawn Fyn: you are the grade 7/8 placeholder; Kristin Methot: you are the grade 3/4 placeholder; Sarah Chiarappa: you are the grade 4 placeholder; Nathan Hall: you are the 7/8 placeholder. Julie Glanville: you are the grade 2 placeholder. Forever.

That’s uplifting. And food for thought as we envision how we’d like to be remembered.

The great thing about teaching is you get another day to make it better. Despite only 6 weeks left to this school year, you still have daily opportunities to invest in how students will remember you. Surely you’ve had those days when you lay in bed and rewind the tape to say to yourself, “If I could do that again,” or, “I could use a do-over.” Maybe it was something you said, the way you said it, or something you didn’t say but should have. Teachers spend an immense amount of time reflecting on their lessons but also their relationships. We are our own worst critics. Luckily, we get a chance to salvage it, to make a difference.

When you consider the time you have left in this school year, in spiteof worrying about the stuff you haven’t covered, focus on the time you still have to make your mark. Guaranteed you’ll be the grade placeholder for the rest of your students’ lives, but what else? What else will they remember about you?

people-will-never-forget-how-you-made-them-feel-webe28093-maya-angelou