Picture this. You are on a huge ship, a pirate ship if you will. The boat sways to and fro with the movement of the ocean. Back and forth, the rocking from the waves used to make you sick, but now you have your sea legs. On all four sides of your ship you can see ocean for days. The map you hold in your hand shows where you are in the water, where you’ve been, and your final boating destination. As you chart the course for your journey, adjustments are made to ensure you and your shipmates arrive unscathed.
Thinking back to the beginning of the journey, it is hard to believe you have been at sea since August. Where has the school year gone? I don’t know about you, but I remember jumping onto this crazy ship at the beginning of the year thinking, “We have SO much to learn! I can’t wait….” The year starts out unknown, with so many possibilities. Teachers attend professional development, read books, take some much needed “me-time” in order to prep for the year. You knew the this year would be different than others because there is ALWAYS something new to try with your students. Possibility and the unknown were before you, all that existed was the open ocean.
Let’s fast forward to right now, the end of November. It is hard to believe that in only four-ish weeks students and teachers will be rolling into Winter Break. Four weeks! Gah! There is so much to teach, to learn, to glean. The kids would benefit from some lessons on empathy, the joy of encouragement, helping others, and more, to say nothing of what we need to learn in our core academic subjects. BUT there are only four weeks!
This time of year is a great time to re-evaluate and examine, “What am I doing and what can I do better?” As the captain of my classroom, I am tasked with charting the course of learning. I have the honor, privilege, and responsibility of figuring out where my students are, where they need to be by the end of the year, and how in the world we’ll get there. The adventure will be a wild ride through language arts, history, math, science, writing, and character development.
Do not be afraid to make adjustments. They are needed for you and for your students. Doing what is best, right, and needed to get to the final destination is key. What that looks like is up to you. Chat within your personal learning network, talk to your administration or learning coach, give your students a survey, try something new – it’s not too late! Course adjustments SHOULD happen. With four weeks until break, do it! Why wait until January? Change can lead to greatness. I don’t want to be cliche, but I have learned a TON from my students and hope they have learned as much from me. Good luck to all of you classroom captains out there. Your journey will be AMAZING. Chart the course that is best for students and have fun along the way.
Most of our students ride the bus into school. They have a fifteen-ish minute drive in where they can get caught up with friends, play Pokemon with their pals, sit quietly, or just enjoy the ride. Students hop off the bus, are greeted by staff, and walk into a building where they spend more time than they do at home each day. But they come with a lot of “home” piled into their backpacks; baggage that student and teacher sort through together. When a student enters the classroom, they cross the threshold with a variety of expectations, attitudes, feelings… you name it. They come to school, leaving the joy of the weekend in the rearview mirror. School can serve as a refuge from the expectations of the street. Sometimes kids come to school just to see their friends. Often they can’t wait to see the staff and teachers.
The students have to enter your room knowing that it is a SAFE space. They have to know that regardless of their ethnicity, socio-economic background, their sexual identity, political points of view, the list goes on and on, they have to know that they are valued. They are special. Their thoughts and ideas are validated. They can share highs, lows, and everything in-between. They can dream. They can cry. They can grow. They can dance. They can fall. They can come to a place to give and receive compassion. All along the way you, you the teacher, mother, father, friend, honorary grown-up, will be there to cheer them on. You will be there to encourage them. You will be there to hold them accountable. You will be there to teach them. You will walk the walk, talk the talk, and get moving with them every day.
Create a space where dialogue can happen, where it is okay to get off topic and “bunny trail” when the kids NEED the space to be curious. When a safe space is created and honored, kids learn how to communicate, how to be respectful, how to be inquisitive, how to process life… So create a safe space. School is a second home. Build this “house” on a rock of peace, compassion, grace, and kindness.
I just love Fall. I love the crisp air, the beautiful changing leaves, and the newness that comes with the season. I love the smell of pumpkin spice anything and I especially love the seasonal coffee flavors. This time of year is all about transformation and if you have not figured it out, I am a fan of Fall and the changes it brings.
With this season, people are relieved to have an adjustment in the weather. Trust me, once the humidity has started to decrease and you no longer start dripping the minute you’re outside, you can hear the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Different seasonal sports begin to invade homes and weekend schedules. I get to bust out my favorite jeans and scarves - yay, time for layers! The list goes on and on.
Fall also means teachers and students have been in session for about two and a half months. The honeymoon phase is over, sometimes it ended more quickly than you may have expected, and it is time for some changes to be made. What are some changes you ask? Well, I have made adjustments to some team dynamics in my classroom. Rearranging students’ seats is important. It keeps the classroom vibe fresh while students are kept on their toes. When seats are changed, I make sure to do some team building exercises. The kids, while they have been classmates for a number of years, need to build trust with one another and prove they can work as a team. Some of my favorite team building activities include “What would you do if…” questions that challenge students’ opinions and allow them an opportunity to share what they think with their peers while gaining new perspectives. Learning to speak and listen is an essential skill that is valuable as students progress in school and life. I have also enjoyed hearing stories of teachers who have used “Minute to Win It” as a class building activity. These activities get kids out of their seats and provide an opportunity to play, encourage one another, cheering each other on, all the while learning about perseverance in a fun and safe setting.
During this season, it is also important to take care of yourself. Maybe a personal schedule adjustment is long overdue? Hours of lessons planning, grading papers, perusing data, committee commitments, and more can take a toll on teachers. If you have not experienced a sore throat yet, yay for you! There are so many ways to take care of yourself - all it takes is a little planning to enjoy your personal time. Pick one day a week, just to start, and try committing yourself to leaving at the end of the day. Take some time for just you. If that means going to the library to read in a quiet space, do it! If that means you go and dance at Jazzercise, do it! If that means spending time at home with your family, do it! Whatever it is that you choose to do for your mental and physical well-being, do it! If you are not on the top of your game, your students won’t be on the top of theirs.
I don’t know about you, but I also like to take time during the season to examine my professional goals that I set at the beginning of the year. Enough time has passed since outlining my hopes and dreams for the school year to see if I am still on track. Goals could include furthering your education and professionalization, trying a new design thinking process like Launch Design Thinking in the classroom, or implementing a new classroom management tool; there are SO many goals you could choose from. Maybe your goals have changed or need to be modified based on student and classroom needs, professional development opportunities, etc. Great! Now is the time to make adjustments. Heck, maybe you already achieved one of your goals. If that’s the case, please Tweet it out with all of your wisdom so that we can all learn from you and celebrate your accomplishments! If you haven’t set goals with specific, measurable outcomes (I know, make a SMART goal, right?), then now is the time!
The point is, that Fall is a time for new opportunities. New weather, new activities, new ideas, and more. If you see something or someone out there embracing change, jump on board! Those movers and shakers are the ones whose innovation help encourage and inspire change. Follow them on Twitter (@burgessdave, @TaraMartinEDU, and @gcouros are just a few AMAZING innovators out there) and begin interacting with colleagues in your building or district or even around the world, and SHARE your amazing ideas. All of us have the ability to embrace this beautiful season and model it for teachers and students. Fall means that the possibilities are endless. Let’s do this!
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native