As I watch one final student in my classes take her final exam, I have a moment to pause, reflect, and blog about this whirlwind of a year. I’ve grown in so many ways and still have areas to work on but I feel great about my accomplishments and look forward to the future. Here is my Top Ten List of reflections on this last year.
1.) Increased Technology Integration
It is NO secret that I love technology. However, I am judicious about what I utilize in my classroom and whether it is using technology to improve on instruction or just as a replacement of something else I already do. Annie Forest had a blog post (that for the life of me and my Googling skills, I cannot locate) regarding her necessary needs for tech and it really makes you think about how, what, when, and where to use tech in your classroom. Some of my favorite tools this year include Google items like Docs and Sheets (even though I do not have a Google classroom), Geogebra, Desmos Activities and the calculator (especially when students thought that they were “cheating” by using the tool because of it’s ease of use), Khan Academy, Bitmojis and my Bitmoji post-its, Ted videos, Schoology, Twitter, the Post-It App to capture my daily “gots” and “needs” and our new gradebook through PowerSchool. I’ve gotten awesome with using SMART Notebook and one of my favorite things about it is drawing geometry pictures with ease, screen shotting, and inserting the diagram into a totally different program. I have involved my students now more than ever into the actual use of tech in my classroom but one aspect that I need to work on even more in the years to come is giving students even more voice and choice when it comes to using tech.
2.) One Expectation
Spurred on by reading Sara Vanderwerf’s blog, I took on the new mindset in class of one, HIGH expectation “50 minutes of math”. I plan to kick off my class in this manner next year as well. I used to have five expectations, per my discipline plan from college, but loved streamlining it down to just the ONE. Students this year would often quote that expectation not only back to me but to each other if other students got off task. I was amazed at how well it worked.
3.) Getting to Know My Students Better
One of my main goals this year was to get to know my students better. Inspired by another Sara Vanderwerf blog, I successfully did a MUCH better job of this through my own table tent activity (you should do this!), really making a concerted effort to ALWAYS stand at my door (to which if I was NOT standing there I often would find a student in my place acting “like me” by saying things like “hey, girl, hey” and how are you doing), and through activities like the 5x2x10 (5 students, 2 minutes per day, 10 days of me checking in and having a one-on-one conversation). I know that I can only improve on these activities but I really felt like I improved greatly over past years when it comes to this area of my teaching practice.
4.) No (Obligatory) Homework
I fully embraced this idea second semester. I was not happy with what I was getting from students in terms of the homework that I was assigning. Many of the assignments were copied or students would actually do the whole assignment but would sometimes practice skills 10 times INCORRECTLY. I realized that my aims for homework were not being met. Specifically, I wanted students to practice the skills from class on their own. The students who were typically doing the assignments did not really need the practice and the students who were not doing the assignments were not getting the practice they needed. I made all of my homework assignments optional. To address the need to have students practice skills correctly, I used Khan Academy so that students would get feedback immediately. Students who did not respond well to Khan Academy could “opt out” of the assignment without detriment to their grade. Although this system was FAR from perfect, the understanding/scores/grades in my classes was at least comparable if not better when compared to other classes in my school and my personal experience and grades from previous years. The system needs tweaking for sure but I loved some of the outcomes in class when I could point back to the idea of 50 minutes of math. Not having obligatory homework meant more time in class to do activities like the one pictured below since we didn’t have to go through the answers. In the future, I want to incorporate “Math at Home” activities for students to do with their parent/guardian related to the math that is present at home (money required for purchasing groceries and the tax involved, looking at yearly income tax documents, the math in measuring for making dinner or the math in sports etc)
5.) New Job
Next fall, I step into a new position as the Division Leader for STEM which includes Math, Science and CTE departments. I am excited for the new opportunity to have a different impact with students. At the same time, I didn’t realize how much of a voice I had while I was a teacher and how my voice can potentially be different in this new position. I have found myself really considering what I say, when I say it and how I say it so much more than I did before. This isn’t a bad thing but I wish I would’ve learned that lesson before now. Treasure your teacher voice, it is much more powerful than you probably believe. I want to scream from the rooftops that “I am the same ol’ G” but I know, in reality, that I will change. My hope is to stay true to me and to always keep students at the forefront of my decisions and actions.
6.) Phone Usage In Class
Given my open integration of tech in class, students have more access to potentially distracting applications in tech. I believe that school is a great place to learn about the appropriate use of technology. If students don’t learn in school, where do we expect them to learn these lessons in an authentic atmosphere. We have to approach students as the tech integrating learners they are though. We cannot expect that they will be perfect all of the time, students never have been. Even “back in the day” we passed notes, whispered conversations, and played games unrelated to the school tasks at hand. Today, adults have addictions to apps and games (think Candy Crush, or checking the likes on your status, etc). We have to use the time with our students to help them figure out how distracting their devices can be, how to focus appropriately in class, and how to manage our classroom goals while using technology. I am happy with the work that I did in this area but I am looking to improve upon it in the year to come.
7.) Grace and Presence
I’ve afforded myself more grace this year. By giving myself more grace, I found it easier to also empathize and extend more grace to my students as well. To paraphrase Angela Watson, ease your high expectations of yourself so that the only person that notices is you but so that you allow yourself the margin necessary to decrease some of the stress. I feel much more balanced. Almost everyday this semester has included a daily practice of meditation upon arrival at work. That practice has helped to focus my actions especially in the critical beginning of each school day. I also noticed that on days where I skipped the practice, I didn’t feel as in touch with the moment. Being present with my students from moment to moment and day to day has really helped me be a better instructor and work on my students needs. This work will always be something of a work in progress, however, I am enjoying this journey and look forward to what can be produced in the days to come.
8.) Math Play Table
I hope to have a play table even in my office next year. It draws students and adults alike into the room and engages them in math without them even knowing. It is really one of my favorite additions this school year.
9.) New Visioning and ToDo Lists
This semester I worked through Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. The club has been beneficial to my practice. The audio recordings were well matched with the times of the schoolyear presented and I love the way that she presents how to schedule your home and workweek. I will fully disclose that if you sign up for her club this month and mention me, she is offering a great deal to current members, HOWEVER, I would fully recommend this club even without the great deal. It has helped with many of the positive attributes noted above.
10.) Still Growing
I love that I can look back at this year and see that I am still growing as an educator. I am excited for the year ahead. I know I am not perfect and never will be however, I am proud of the work I’ve done this year and I can’t wait to take on the challenge of next year.