Monday, August 20, 2012

A Challenge to Start This School Year Different

It's that time of year when I really miss teaching - the start of the new school year where everything is fresh, exciting and new. There is so much hope for what lies ahead.  I remember going in with all these great ideas and new things I was going to try and being filled with the thought that I was really going to be better this year and my students were going to have amazing experiences that would just spark their learning.

I miss that.

Some years it really did pan out the way I hoped. Most years, there were ups and downs. But - every year was a new challenge and every year I tried to do things differently.  Granted, I was usually teaching the same subjects, but that didn't mean I had to do the same thing, did it? I certainly didn't believe so. Sure, I may have used some of the same projects or activities, but I had different students, I had learned some new things over the summer, and I didn't want to be bored repeating what I had done before.

The same old thing. Doesn't that just sound boring?

I know you teachers out there know some folks, if not yourself, who basically open up their file drawer and pull out the lesson plans from last year and just start all over again. Another year, just a repeat from last year. (Which I think explains some of the teacher burnout we might see or the stagnant student achievement). I personally, even in my current position, which is supporting teachers technology integration, don't do the same thing every year or even every day. Change is great and makes life more exciting, so why not embrace that in the classroom?

Here's my challenge to teachers. Try to change at least one thing you do in your classroom this year, change one thing about your instructional strategies, and change one thing in the resources you use.  So - three things.  Clearly, changing more is great, but very few people like change, so starting small is better. And these are not changes that might be hoisted upon you from the district or standards - those are often out of your control.  The change I am talking about is a conscious effort to change yourself and your practice to create an engaging environment and help your students learn.

1) Changing one thing in your classroom.  This might mean the way you arrange your desks, how you decide on and enforce the classroom rules, or where you put your desk. For example, if you are a by the row kind of teacher, try arranging the room in small groups instead. Classroom environment goes a long way in creating a place that is exciting to learn in.

2) Changing on thing about your instructional strategies. This might mean changing from lectures to inquiry once a week. It might mean focusing on improving your questioning skills so you are asking rather than telling.  It might mean incorporating small group or pair collaboration. It might mean increasing your wait time. There are little things you can do that will make the learning in your classroom more engaging and provide an avenue for students to have a voice in their own learning.

3) Changing one thing about the resources you use. This can mean many things - for instance, trying to use hands-on manipulatives or using a visual demonstration of a concept rather than reading a definition.  What I would really like to encourage is adding some type of technology into your resource choices, whether this means starting a class blog, or using some videos to spark learning or questions (great idea to launch lessons), or using the computers with some relevant software for what you teach. Introduce something that is going to spark the students interest (so not just a replacement for a drill-and-kill worksheet) and get them thinking in new and interesting ways. You want them involved in their learning, not passive receivers of information.

Not a lot to ask - change 3 things about yourself and what you do.  I believe it will give you new hope and excitement about the coming school year. And it will definitely benefit your students - who wouldn't want to come to an open, inviting classroom where thoughts matter and learning is about exploring and engagement? School should be fun - for you and your students. Not the same old boring thing AGAIN.

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