Twenty-five. That is a very important number. There are only twenty-five days left in the school year, give or take depending on your school calendar. In my world, that equals 200 hours. Just 200 hours. My mind races with my teacher checklist. How much have my students grown? What do they still need to learn? Have they had enough time to explore their own passions and enjoy wonderment? If you are like me, your head is reeling with a little anxiety. Maybe those twenty-five days just cannot go by fast enough. But before you start to panic or create a countdown paper chain, let’s take a moment to just be.
Focus on your student success stories.
Over the course of the year students have been reading, solving math problems, navigating technology, participating in design thinking projects, etc. They have explored new concepts, failed forward, understood information quickly, and have learned so much academically AND socially. When my students came into my room they were “big fourth graders” who were already so knowledgeable. There has also been so many goals accomplished this year. I am constantly blown away by their maturity, poise, and ability to practice empathy daily. I am also so proud of the great strides they have made in their writing, math, and speaking and listening skills. They are almost, not quite yet, but almost middle school ready.
What has been your favorite moment with your students individually or as a group?
Celebrate your professional growth and success.
Every single school year there are oodles of professional development opportunities. I love being able to choose strategies or ideas that will positively impact my classroom. Learning for teachers can happen by watching other teachers, participating in social media, reading educational books, and through district opportunities. Personally, I started blogging and participating in the edu-Twitter sphere - WOW! What I have gleaned from participating feels like more than a school-year’s worth of ideas and innovation. Not only do I get to personally learn and absorb so much awesomeness, but my students also get to experience new ideas implemented in the classroom.
What impact has your professional growth had on you and your classroom?
Preparing for the next school year.
Having one foot in this year and one in the next can sometimes make it hard to finish strong. Often teachers will start thinking about tweaking lesson plans, making lists of supplies, start searching for new ideas to make the school experience better and more exciting for next year’s lot. Improvement for the classroom and students is necessary. Maybe pick up a book. There are more than a few that may blow your mind. Try joining a Twitter chat; so fun, fast, and rewarding. There are a lot of opportunities at your fingertips, so start exploring.
What goals do you want to accomplish over the summer?
Keep going! You are almost to the finish line.
There is so much that has been accomplished this year. Way to go! Know in your heart-of-hearts that you are doing great things. BUT don’t forget that the next twenty-five days need just as much focus, energy, and passion as the other days in the school year. Do not be weary. Trust me, I am running this race too. Be invigorated at the sight of the finish line and finish strong. Finish strong for yourself and especially for your students.
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!
Humility. Patience. Kindness.
These are all words that I think of when I am walking into my classroom. These are life goals, personal goals, and professional goals that I try to meet every single day. As I drive to work each day, I try to not just think of the work that my students need to complete, copies that need to be made, an email to a parent that needs to go out first thing, etc. Of course all of those things are thought of and a mental list is created for the morning before kids walk into my room. But I honestly, try to remember my three goals. Humility. Patience. Kindness.
What does that even mean? Well, it means to have the heart of a learner. I tell my students to “trust the process.” If I am not willing to do just that, to try new teaching techniques or be willing to receive feedback from a colleague or administrator, then I have not achieved humility. To be humble means to be willing to learn, willing to have a conversation, and willing to ask for support when needed. The power of “YET” is a big thing in my classroom. If we don’t know it now, it just means we don’t know it YET! But I know I will at some point. Model this mindset for your students. They will appreciate to see that you, the amazing teacher that you are, are still trusting the process and learning along the way. It is a small, but great step on the path toward being better at being you.
This one's a doozy! I have heard from an amazing wise man, that we will always have an opportunity to practice the area in which we need to grow the most. Well, you’ve guessed it. Patience is mine. For as long as I can remember, I have been one of those people who has always want “it” right now!!! :) I laugh to myself right now because, I can see how exhausting it is to live a life of “right now.” Isn’t it better to “just be?” It is better to be in the moment of your life that is good, bad, or mediocre (insert voice snippet from Mad Max: Fury Road). To be patient means to enjoy the classroom conversation, yes being mindful of the clock, but not rushing the learning and creative process. How often do we rush to get through the lesson/curriculum? Too often the expectation is to see how fast we can get to the end of the trip rather than stopping along the way to take pictures of the beautiful scenery. Patience… just be. Enjoy the ride.
This past Friday, I shared the video, Imagine by John Lennon with my students. So often people are judged by the way they look, where they live, the clothes they wear, how they learn, etc. These personal biases are sometimes passed down generation-to-generation. But think… I enter my classroom with a perspective and so does each one of my students. I wanted to show the Unicef version of the video because it has people from all over the world singing the beautiful and inspiring lyrics of John Lennon. My kids could not only hear but see diversity. We live in world that is filled with so much hate, judgement, closed mindedness that in order to create a growth mindset, in order to create a better tomorrow, we MUST start with kindness. If I do only one thing, teach my students one lesson, let it be that of kindness. I hope that they will learn to be kind to one-another, tolerant of one-another, to seriously treat others the way they want to be treated. On a side note, yes, I cry every time I hear that song because it is an honest hope of mine - that we may live in peace. Kindness is the first step.
I may not achieve these goals on a daily basis, but by golly, I sure will try. I commit myself to striving toward these life goals. Your life goals may look differently. But they are your goals. That is amazing! Strive to be your best self and you will teach your students, and all you encounter, what it means to be a good human. That is my life goal. What’s yours?
Education is and will continue to be filled with a multitude of personal and professional lessons that I have learned both inside and out of the classroom. I have learned a great deal about who I want to be as a human and as an educator. I guess the purpose of this blog is to share some of my insights from the past nine years and put it out there for the world to read. You may glean from it what you will, but I hope, as I hope for my all of my students, that you will learn an important little nugget to apply to your life so that you may have a positive impact on those around you.
When I think of the beginning of a school year, I think of a wheel. Not just any wheel, but a ferris wheel. This ferris wheel is huge, sitting on the top of a mountain that has trees, snow, rocks, and a very narrow road. There is a long line to get onto this ride. In fact, the line curves back and forth down the side of the mountain. People have to stand close to the side of the mountain for fear of slipping down. But there you are safely perched at the top of the rock. You’re next, awaiting your turn on the ferris wheel. You are scared. This is the highest you have ever been. Yes, you have been on a ferris wheel before, but those other wheels were smaller; closer to safety and the comforts of your personal limits. Even though the ride is free, it requires that you must make a choice as to how you enjoy your experience. You can sit and hold on for dear life. You can keep track how long this ride will last before you can finally get off and move on with your day. Or you can embrace the beauty of the ride and try to enjoy every moment.
Ideally, I would hope you apply this metaphor to your classroom experiences. The ferris wheel represents a brand new school year and classroom filled with students. Each student waits in line to get into your classroom and has an idea of what to expect, but bases that on previous experiences. Maybe your student experienced motion sickness the last time he was on the ride. Maybe he had so much fun that his expectations are super high. Maybe he had a mediocre experience and now he is not pumped about learning. The point being that our job is to make learning engaging, exciting, and fun. Our job is to also protect, guide, and hold students accountable. The reality is that the ride will be scary, it will have boring times, it will have moments of sheer beauty. To say that the ride will be all sunshines and rainbows is just unrealistic. A student will probably experience all of those moments over the course of the year. Guess what, that is okay. But the ultimate hope as educators is that our students walk away from ride having something positive to remember. Something that was learned, accomplished, and gleaned from a year of growth.
My hope is that you enjoy the ride too. One glance to right or left can completely change the perspective of the viewer… Enjoy the ride and have a great year.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native