Yesterday I shared a Donahue poem called "For a New Beginning" that a mentor shared with me this summer. As the title suggests, the poem speaks to that chasm I find myself in at the school year's beginning, the chasm where I try to find my way out of what has been to explore what might be. He writes, "[You] Wondered would you always live like this./ Then the delight, when your courage kindled,/ And out you stepped onto new ground,/ Your eyes young again with energy and dream,/ A path of plenitude opening before you." I asked my students to imagine to what they would dedicate their energy, toward what they would dream. And I also told them I would share the new ground I'm attempting to tread on this year, so here goes:
1. Classroom culture: this doesn't come easily. As I shared with my students, I switched schools every couple years and dreaded when teachers would ask me to meet someone new, or to stand up and tell the class about myself. I'm trying to imagine different ways getting to know one another can look, but to also instill in my students the importance of knowing themselves and their classmates. I often begin the year eager to create this environment, but get excited about the curriculum at the sacrifice of that culture. I realize that's a mistake. Further enforcing this realization was a session I attended at Learning Forward this summer with Kathleen Cushmann, whose new research identified the 13 factors that most strongly correlate with students' mastery of content. #1? "A sense of safety and well-being". Additionally, Senate Bill 191's new teacher evaluation system measures a teacher's classroom culture, reminding us of the importance of the relationship among students and between teacher and student if one is to learn well.
2. Reflection: After each class I teach, I ask myself what went well and how I'll strive to improve in the days to come. I repeat this process at a unit's conclusion. I feel I improve all the time because of it. So why don't I consistently ask my students to do the same? Both the Common Core Standards and the new teacher evaluation system ask students to consistently engage in the evaluation of self, others, the importance of the material they learn, and ways they learn best. I incorporate this in my classroom sporadically, at best, and hope to do this better this year. One way I'll do this is using a score sheet that asks students to rate their level of understanding of our learning objectives before and after class as well as to evaluate their in-class effort each day. More to come on how this practice works...
3. Soliciting student feedback: Another part of the new evaluation system, I hope to encourage my students to give me feedback on my practice. I've also engaged in this practice perfunctorily in the past, but gave it up largely because I anticipated the compliments and criticisms to come. Because I reflect so consistently, often this feedback was just another painful reminder of where I fell short, but I realize its importance as I certainly don't always see what's happening in class from a student's point of view.
Here's to your new beginning, to the delight when your courage kindles you forward to the path of plenitude which opens before you.