My first year of teaching middle school I thought I was “in charge”. I thought I needed to have control over my students for them to learn. What I really wanted was for my students to complete the things I told them to, within a given time frame, while being respectfully quiet.
I was always nervous for evaluations and observations. I thought I had to prepare a special lesson for my administrator to observe. I was worried about what they would think and how I would do. Whenever an administrator walked into my classroom I wondered what they wanted and worried about what my students were doing.
The way I was trying to ‘run’ my class were at odds with my desire to engage my students in learning and wanting to build relationships with them. The next year I began teaching STEM courses as well as “Educational Technology”. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could better reach my students. The STEM courses were the spark that lit a fire in me, and that fire was student engagement.
My thinking shifted from “What am I expected to do as the teacher?” to “What purpose does this serve for the students?” “Is this going to help my students learn?” “Why would students need to do this?” That fire within me also burned down the mental platform that was in my head. I had this idea that the teacher was supposed to be the tallest person in the room, standing on a platform front & center. Students should have to look up to me, that I should be stationary and imposing.
With that idea gone I was thinking of myself less and my students more. I started by asking students what they thought about projects, assignments, and how class was structured– and I listened. Whenever I could make a change to an assignment that would make it more interesting for my students, I would do it. As students started to have more choice and voice in class it became a more exciting and interesting place to be.
Listening to my students and providing more choices is what really set me down a path to building relationships. Being open to conversations with my students about the learning and teaching happening in our classroom was the first steps towards my understanding that we are all learners together. The STEM curriculum that I use provides a lot of opportunities for students to develop their critical thinking skills, to find problems, and create their own solutions.
Students often complete self-reflections or self-scoring after projects in class. The only person who sees these documents is the student and myself. The areas I hope to improve in next year are Connected Learners- providing the opportunity for students to connect with a global, authentic audience and Opportunities for Innovation- focusing less on close-ended questions, right or wrong answers, and memorization of information and more on creation.
The professional learning community that Twitter provides has given me the encouragement and information I needed to foster a more innovative classroom. Reading the Innovator’s Mindset helped me realize that the learning experiences I expect for my students I should expect for myself, and vice-versa. If I think social media is a powerful learning platform then I should be helping my students learn how to leverage that tool as well. If I think that my students should spend time reflecting and self-assessing then I should be taking the time to do that as well.
Now, I see my students and myself as learners and that the classroom is our shared space. I am no longer nervous or anxious for evaluations. The project my students are ready for on the day my administrator wants to observe is the project my administrator observes. The conversation with my administrator has shifted too. We talk about the opportunities for students and their levels of engagement. We also talk about my goals as a professional and what I will plan to do as a teacher leader to help others in our school.
Some of the best things that have happened in our classroom these past few years has been deeper relationships with students, conversations focused on learning (I don’t get asked how many points something is or what grade someone earned very often), and the development of learning spaces that are student-centered. Learning about and being intentional with trying to build an innovative classroom has made me a better educator. At the center of it all I keep my students, they are my inspiration and foundation.
Interesting perspective through the eyes of a teacher. Agreed? The beauty in this week’s #IMMOOC Blog Buddy Challenge connected me with Teri Bauerly a middle school educator in South Dakota. Throughout IMMOOC Season 2, we have helped hold one another accountable. I have appreciated her insight from the classroom as I view innovation and the 8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom through the lens of an elementary school principal in Texas.
If you are familiar with education in Texas, you may recall hearing about a new appraisal instrument being used in most school districts this year. T-TESS or the Texas Teacher Evaluation & Support System. While I may not agree with all of the educational platforms we have adopted within the state of Texas, I do believe our new evaluation and support system for teachers is a step in the right direction. A big step.
As I read Teri’s thoughts above, I believe she gets it, but she is the first to tell you she hasn’t always got it. There was a time when the 8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom would have been considered eight additional things she has “to do” in her classroom. Truth be told, there was a time in my career, that I would have agreed with her. Who has time for all of this. I have to teach. (My sincere apologies to the students I taught my first year of teaching.)
As I prepare for my end of year T-TESS conferences and continue to analyze our new scoring rubric, the 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom are no longer things teachers could be doing, they are the things teachers should be doing and are embedded throughout our new evaluation tool. Let me break this down.
(Keep in mind on our new evaluation rubric, the scale moves from right to left. The farther right you move indicates the classroom is student-centered vs. teacher centered. The essence of the 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom encourage teachers to create a student-centered environment. Teachers can receive one of five scores: Improvement Needed, Developing, Proficient, Accomplished or Distinguished.)
Domain 1 – Voice, Choice, Time for Reflection, Critical Thinkers, Problem Solvers/Finders, Self-Assessment
In just the first of the four domains, six of the eight “Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” are referenced. As teachers are planning, long before instruction is delivered, students should be on their mind. Not on their mind in regards to it’s who they are teaching, rather “How can I empower students through these modern learning approaches.” Student voice, problem solving and critical thinking should be on display as highlighted with this statement: Opportunities for students to generate questions that lead to further inquiry and promote complex, higher-order thinking, problem solving and real-world application. Who is asking the questions in your classroom? As you can see, teachers can support students in the development of questions that lead to new lines of inquiry rather than the teacher needing a lesson plan full of level one, two and three questions. Additionally, students should be setting goals, reflecting on their progress and evaluating the effectiveness of their plan to achieve their goals, holding one another accountable along the way, taking ownership of the individual choices they are afforded. Speaking of taking ownership, how about self-assessment. Self-assessment by itself can be a valuable tool but when utilized you embed student voice and choice into your student centered classroom. Sound like your classroom as a student? Not mine. Sounds like a student-centered environment to me.
Statements in Domain 1
Opportunities for students to generate questions that lead to further inquiry and promote complex, higher-order thinking, problem solving and real-world application
The ability for all students to set goals, reflect on, evaluate and hold each other accountable within instructional groups.
Instructional groups based on the needs of all students, and allows for students to take ownership of group and individual accountability.
Guidance for students to apply their strengths, background knowledge, life experiences and skills to enhance each other’s learning.
Opportunities for students to utilize their individual learning patterns, habits and needs to achieve high levels of academic and social-emotional success.
All activities, materials and assessments that:̊provide appropriate time for student work, student reflection, lesson and lesson closure
Formal and informal assessments to monitor progress of all students, shares appropriate diagnostic, formative and summative assessment data with students to engage them in self-assessment, build awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses and track their own progress
Domain 2 – Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation, Critical Thinkers
After planning instruction follows, which is the focus on Domain 2. Teachers interested in receiving a score that reflects a student-centered classroom need to do more than just plan for it. They have to make it happen. In Texas, there are up to 22 students in a classroom and each of those 22 students have a voice, which means as teacher, we should be gathering input from each of them for their instruction. Interest surveys, relationships and getting to know your learners support the types of experiences you can design for them. By utilizing their input, teachers create differentiated learning opportunities meant to empower learning, not just engage the learners. Easy? No. Can it be replicated year to year? Students change and their interests will too. Pinterest and TPT have ideas, but guess what? Your students do too. Start with them.
Statements from Domain 2
Systematically gathers input from students in order to monitor and adjust instruction, activities or pacing to respond to differences in student needs.
Establishes classroom practices that encourage all students to communicate safely and effectively using a variety of tools and methods with the teacher and their peers.
Skillfully provokes and guides discussion to pique curiosity and inspire student-led learning of meaningful and challenging content.
Always provides differentiated instructional methods and content to ensure students have the opportunity to master what is being taught.
Consistently provides opportunities for students to use different types of thinking (e.g.,analytical, practical, creative and research-based)
Domain 3 – Voice & Choice
Domain 3 focuses on the learning environment. So let me ask, “Who is the learning environment for?” Is it for teachers to learn or for the students to learn? Recently I was in a staff development session in a room full of principals and we were being led by teachers. Specifically teachers who had transformed their learning environments for students. Their classrooms were not set up to accommodate their own needs. The teacher at my table shared how she had turned the reigns over to students through a design challenge with the winning design being how the classroom would be set up. Ultimately, two different student groups projects were selected and collaboratively, the two groups worked towards one design for the classroom learning environment. Just imagine how empowered you would be each day walking into your place of work knowing you designed it for your learning style. Talk about ownership.
Statements from Domain 3
Students and the teacher create, adopt and maintain classroom behavior standards.
Establishes and uses effective routines, transitions and procedures that primarily rely on student leadership and responsibility.
Students take primary leadership and responsibility for managing student groups, supplies, and/or equipment.
Domain 4 – Voice, Time for Reflection, Self-Assessment, Connected Educator
The final domain, Domain 4 is all about the teacher and their responsibilities and professional learning. The statement, for things to change I must change, comes to mind. Transforming a classroom from a teacher-centered learning environment to a student-centered learning environment may begin right here. George Couros talks about the difference in a school teacher vs. a classroom teacher and in this domain the teachers find their voice for ALL students within their school. As a building leader, I will not ask my teachers to do anything I am not willing to do myself and I believe the same should be said about teachers in regards to their students. You want students to reflect? Do you? Do you share your reflections with them? As a professional, reflection in paramount to growth. Through reflection, do teachers self-assess? This year in Texas, teachers each had to write a specific goal for themselves and map out the action steps that will help them accomplish their goal. Sounds very similar to the goal setting process we highlighted in Domain 1. As a part a teacher’s goal, they are empowered to reflect, assess and connect. All things we want to see in classrooms.
Statements from Domain 4
Advocates for the needs of all students in the classroom and campus.
Consistently sets, modifies and meets short- and long-term professional goals based on self-assessment, reflection, peer and supervisor feedback, contemporary research and analysis of student learning.
Leads colleagues collaboratively in and beyond the school to identify professional development needs through detailed data analysis and self-reflection.
Seeks resources and collaboratively fosters faculty knowledge and skills.
Develops and fulfills the school and district improvement plans through professional learning communities, grade- or subject level team leadership, committee leadership or other opportunities beyond the campus.
Initiates collaborative efforts that enhance student learning and growth.
My hat goes off to Teri Bauerly. She is on her way. She along with many other teachers have realized these 8 Things to Look for in Classrooms are not eight additional things they need to be doing, but they ARE the “8 Things” students/teachers should be doing in classrooms. I’m also excited to be in a place (State of TX) that we realize this is what teachers should be striving to accomplish with their students. Remember, we are all on the journey. To quote Amber Teamann,
“Sprint, walk or crawl…let’s go.”