Bringing Great Change to Your Classroom: Part 2

@MrBrettClark 0 Comments

I've often said and heard it said on teacher work days, "You know, I can get a lot more work done without students around."  Why is this? Could it be because we are able to just focus on one aspect of our job?  When we are allowed to focus on one task of our job, then we can make real progress.

However, we do not work in isolation.  As teachers, our jobs require us to be pulled in a lot of different directions.  Everything from the day to day classroom requirements, to extra-curricular activities, committees, and our lives outside of school (Yes, we have lives outside of school...right?).

In part 1 of this series of blogs, I suggested that way you start to bring great change to your classroom is by starting with yourself.  Just know that if that's where the change ends, then the change won't last.  So, how do you bring along everyone else along with you on this journey of change?  Here is a good place to start:

Be specific with the change you want.

In the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they point out there are two different approaches to the way we diet.  There are those people who say that they are going to "eat healthy" and then there are those that have a specific plan to lose weight.  Those who just resolve to "eat healthy" rarely have the same level of success as those who plan out what they need to do in order to lose weight.  How can we apply this concept to the different people that make up our classroom?

Remember, change starts with you!  What is it that you need to work on in order to be a better educator?  This summer at my school corporation's elearning conference, famous education blogger, Cool Cat Teacher suggested we pick 3 big things to work on.  I couldn't agree more with what she said.  You can not tackle everything there is in education.  Just pick 3 things to focus on and do them well.  Don't resolve to just be a "better teacher."  What does that even mean?  Do you want to improve your assessment literacy? Or classroom management? Or perhaps you want to start using centers to differentiate instruction.  Whatever your specific plan is, just stick with it, and find people to support you.  Take advantage of the world around you.  There are such vast resources at our finger tips.  I learn so much from my PLN every day.  I'm not sure where I would be without Twitter.  Every now and then I even learn the old fashion way, by reading a book.  Don't burn yourself out by trying to "fix" everything.  Come up with a specific plan, and stick to it.

The exact same logic applies to your students.  They don't need to hear us say things like "lets do better tomorrow", "you can do better than this", or "I expect better things from you".  We are famous for demanding our students "do better", but what does that look that?  How can they do better? Does one student's better look the same as another student's better?  By giving students vague goals to reach for we actually give them no goals at all.  Use descriptive feedback and set specific goals for your class as a whole and for individual students.

By the way, telling a student they need to increase from a D to a B is not what I'm not talking about.  What will they need to do to the raise that grade?  On second thought, why do they need to raise their grade?  Can we please take the focus off of grades and put it back on learning?  As assessment expert Karen Bailey said to me last year, "It's your job to help the student identify what they know, and what they need to know next."  That's specific, descriptive feedback and when you do that, students will join you on your journey for great change!

"Mrs. Whoever, this is Mr. Clark from your child's school.  I am calling because he is failing my class and I would appreciate it if you talked to him about his grade."  What kind of specific change can we talk to our parents about?  Now I know this is a hard line to walk sometimes because you don't want parents to think that you are trying to tell them how to parent their children.  However, give your parents specific things they can do with their students, or ways they can help with their homework.  Give your parents resources to use, invite them into your classroom, or help them find a tutor for their student.  Don't just tell them that your having issues with their student, because they probably already know that, and are having the same issues at home.  Form a partnership and find specific ways you can work together to help their student.

I am willing to guess that almost every administrator wants their teachers to be successful.  Usually, we only share our stuggles and imperfections with our administrators during the years we are being evaluated.  However, why not sit down with your administrator, share your big 3, and figure out a way they can help support you?  Discuss how your big 3 fits into the school's school improvement plan.  This change will not happen by itself and you need to pull your administrator into the equation.

Remember, there is a big difference between "eating healthy" and having a nutrition plan.  The change you need in your classroom starts with you first.  Then be specific with the change you are desiring to see.

"If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time." - Zig Ziglar

This is part 2 of a series of blogs on bringing great change to your classroom. You can find part 1 here.


Bringing Great Change to Your Classroom: Part 1

@MrBrettClark 1 Comments

Great change never happens by accident. I don't care if you are trying to change the government, your business, your weight, or your classroom.  If you are going achieve great change, then it is going to happen on purpose.  How are you going to create the kind of great change you are looking for in your classroom and how are you going to sustain that change?  This is the beginning of a series of blogs that will help you.

Part 1: Change starts with you!

Don't expect the cavalry to come in and change your classroom. In order to get great change that will last the entire year, it must start with you!  Let me tell you why I love to accept the majority of the blame when something goes wrong.  If I am the main reason things are not going according to the plan, then I am also the solution.  I can not be the solution if the majority of the problems come from sources that are out of my control.  Let's look at the different players that make up the classroom:

I start with students because this is where I used to place the majority of the blame for the problems I had as a young teacher.  "If these students actually cared about their grade. If they put as much effort into my class as they do into Facebook, they'd all have A's!"  I've said the very same thing over the years.  However, in my district, we did a stakeholder's survey.  Part of the survey focused on the students opinion on education.  Overwhelmingly, the students said that they understood that education was important to their future.  I contend, that the majority of students know that our classes are important, but they don't see the relevance.  Think about the number of professional development sessions that we have set through as teachers and have completely checked out.  We would be outraged if administration came down on us about it.  We would tell them that the professional development doesn't apply to our classroom. Could it be that we are losing the same relevance battle with our students.  Our students care about their future and if we can't connect our content to their future, then we are going to lose the battle for their attention.  Most of the time they will not make the connection on their own.

I know that we can not 'control' the student factor.  Guess what?  They don't have a lot of control either.  They didn't pick their family, social-economic status, where they live, how much support they have at home, if they come from a broken home, and most of time, if/when they have us as a teacher.

Accept the fact that, in the end, you can't force students to do much. You can have a great impact on them, but it starts by modeling that change starts with you.

Once I was done blaming the student, I quickly moved to the parents.  They don't help at home, they don't join/participate in PTA, they never take my side, and I often dread having to contact them.  However, parents often feel just as helpless as their students and can be as frustrated with their child as you are.  I have rarely met a parent who said, "You know Mr. Clark, I don't care if my kid succeeds and I am not here to help."  The opposite is true, they always want to help and want to be there for their child.  In a meeting this school year we were asked the question, "If parents showed up in your classroom tomorrow, what would you do with them?"  I loved the question, and I had no idea how to answer it.

How would you answer it?  That's a good place to start.  Put together a plan on how to engage and equip parents.  Once again, that change starts with you!

If only my administrator wouldn't cave to the parents/kids.  If only they would equip me with the things I need in my classroom.  Let's keep a couple things in mind with administration as well.  We are only one of many teachers in the building.  Not to mention the fact that they deal with budgets, buses, parents, nurses, media, secretaries, custodians, students, and much more.  If you teach 7, 40 minute classes a day, 180 times you will have been in your classroom for 50,400 minutes.  That's not including prep periods, before or after school, or time at home preparing.  If an administrator spends an average of 10 minutes a week in your room, which is probably a high number, they will have spent less than 1% of the amount of time in your room that you did.  I'm just saying, that they have a lot on their plate and sometimes they have to make decisions with only a fragment of the information we have as classroom teachers.  Also, I don't care how much administration pushes things into the classrooms.  If it's not something you want, it probably won't work.  I personally never wanted administration to change my classroom.

Nobody knows your classroom better than you.  You hold the key to bringing great change to your classroom.  What's the first rule on how to bring great change to your classroom?  The change you need, starts with you!

This is the first of a series of blogs on bringing great change to your classroom.