As we move into the winter vacation cycle, I am taking some time to visualize my ideal classroom situation. I want to create a detailed picture of what I’d like to see. If you can’t envision it, you won’t move towards it, right?
I’m not going to derail my own goals by coming up with ideas of why it won’t work, or why I can’t have certain things or do certain things. I’m pretty sure that there will be plenty of other people telling me to give up for one stupid reason or another. But, I won’t listen to them. I’ll keep moving towards the vision. I’m going to ask, “How can I make it work?” and “Where can I get funding?”
Here’s a bit of my personal history (or herstory)
When I was younger and in the Army, I was really unhappy. I felt like a victim in my life. In high school, I skipped class a lot. Really, a lot. So much so that my very wonderful counselor, Anne Scott, called me into her office to ask me what was going on. Of course, there were problems at home. And, of course, I told her nothing about that and said, “I’m bored and not feeling challenged.” Seeming to believe me, she sent me to the local community college for rest of my senior year. It changed my life. I loved college and I loved not going to school 6-7 hours per day. I transferred my units back to the high school so I could actually graduate.
However, I was not successful once I graduated from high school. I really didn’t have a plan or a vision for my life. I had always wanted to join the military because I really wanted to experience that. So, after a year of community college, I joined the Army.
While there, I was definitely challenged and I was never bored. What an amazing journey that was. It shaped me. What really stands out all these years later is one night, in Basic Training, I was talking with another soldier. Even though I was still feeling like a victim, with no control over my circumstances, I was talking to someone else who seemed worse off than me. I told her, “You need to set a goal and then make sure you move towards that goal everyday. Eventually, you will get there.”
And, the weirdest thing happened… I took my own advice.
My whole life changed.
When I got out of the Army, I went back to school. I didn’t turn into a straight A student over night. But, I had a goal that I set for myself. And, I kept improving. Eventually, two master’s degrees later, some publications and a resume with some high caliber companies and organizations on it, I found myself right back at the high school that I had been flunking out of. I’m teaching math. And, next year, I’ll teach AP Economics. I’m pretty excited about that. But, I digress.
My point is, you need to have a vision. And it needs to be something you feel good about and are excited about. Picture your successful classroom. Are kids working together? Foster that. Open up to finding resources that support you in in fulfilling that vision. Read Strength in Numbers. Open up to Twitter to surround yourself with other teachers who share your vision or at least elements of it. Start here if you want to get started… National Education Association
One of the best pieces of advice that I recently saw on Twitter was, ‘Stay away from negative teachers’ by Tom Loud (@loudlearning). Those are the ones who always tell you immediately why your idea won’t work. They say, ‘that won’t work because…’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those kinds of comments through the years. Well, maybe the timing was off, or maybe that was with a different admin team or maybe they just didn’t have a real vision. Maybe it just didn’t work right away. The point is, there are some negative people out there. Don’t let them derail you.
Think about the details of your classroom. Are kids allowed to use their phones? If not, how do you regulate that? If so, how do you regulate that? I have gotten so many good ideas from my students. I have actually asked them what they think about about using phones in class, and I have asked them what other teachers do. In doing that, I went to some of those other teachers to talk more about their ideas and strategies. So awesome.
When you have a vision, you open up your conversations. When you start to talk to others about what you are moving towards, they can help you. You will actually gravitate to growth oriented relationships and resources. There is so much good stuff out there. Don’t forget about Donors Choose for funding. I’ve had a couple of things funded through Donors Choose. There are a lot of companies with funds available for education. Find them. Apply.
We need to picture what we want. I am having one of the best years of teaching I’ve ever had. I have never seen such high grades or such a strong sense of community in the classroom. However, I want both of those things to be even stronger next year. I still have students who seem a bit checked out. I want to engage them. I want them to interact with other students. I have classes with freshmen through seniors in the room. I want them to break though the class barrier. I have to facilitate that. They won’t do it on their own.
Bottom line: Have a vision and move towards it everyday until you get there. That’s my advice and I’m taking it!
Another thing I’ll be thinking about over the break: I’m seriously considering a move to no big tests. At least, something that feels like no big tests. Why? Because they stress kids out. And kids seem really stressed these days. So, I’m open to hearing about low stakes testing, testing alternatives. Mini tests? Anybody else thinking about this? Is this possible? Maybe, and I’m planning to explore it.
I’m wondering if a ‘no big test’ situation would deepen students appreciation of math. Maybe they could just learn for learning’s sake. Because it’s interesting. One of the hurdles in our system is in having to issue grades. How do I do that without tests? Well, this is what I’m envisioning and moving towards. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please comment if you have ideas to share.
Recommended Motivational Reading: (all these links take you to Amazon, but these books are available in many places!)
Strength in Numbers on Amazon: Strength in Numbers (also available at NCTM website – discount for members!)
Jo Boaler: Mathematical Mindsets
Carol Dweck: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Do you think you may be dealing with negativity? Try reading this blog:at Get A Life – How to Stop Being Negative