Bringing Great Change to Your Classroom: Part 2

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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.