Last year I posted a list of New Year’s teaching resolutions, and here is my list for 2014. Happy New Year!
Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Educators – 2014
1. Check for understanding regularly. While you know how good this and you see how much your students benefit from it (and from your readjusting based on the results), you often let this one slide because “there isn’t enough time.” But if you’re not sure understanding is being achieved, what is the point of “teaching” with that time? Aim to check for understanding at least once every day — through “exit tickets,” informal Q&As, and formative quizzes, essays, and group work.
2. Videotape your class. Take your principal up on this excellent PD challenge so you can see with your own eyes how you move, talk, use time, and interact with your class. It’s an excellent, free, and fairly painless way to grow professionally and get instant feedback on your performance. No one needs to watch it except you!
3. Collaborate regularly. You come away from these sessions energized, often getting great new materials or insights, and you align your grading standards better. The best teachers are thieves, stealing good tricks from one another. Try to collaborate weekly with others teaching your same subject.
4. Start a monthly “edchat” lunch meeting for interested colleagues. Those great education conversations you’ve had recently with the art teacher, the elementary-school homeroom teachers, and the high-school history teachers should continue on a regular basis. Start an informal “edchat” lunch where you all grab a bite at the cafeteria the first Thursday of every month and talk about a specific topic, such as “formative assessment” or “differentiation”; share stories, ideas, questions and insights about the monthly topic.
5. Make time for connecting with students. Remember that you recall almost none of the content that you learned in high school but you remember vividly the personal connections you made with teachers. Show students you care; be firm but kind; give them as much support in and out of class as you can; make sure they understand that — ultimately — knowing things like iambic pentameter and how an author uses metaphors are not nearly as important as knowing how to manage time, sleep, diet, relationships, stress and the pursuit for peace and happiness in one’s own life.
6. Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold. Never overestimate how much students know or understand. Use models regularly to show students examples of great, average, and poor work so that they know the difference, and guide them step-by-step through the process of writing or reading comprehension. Never assume they know how to do anything you haven’t seen them do proficiently entirely on their own. It’s better to take a long time getting comfortable in the shallow end with the basics than to throw them into the deep end and watch them flail.
7. Seek out the expert. When you want to learn something better or from scratch, ask around and find the expert. Seek her out, watch her in action, and ask for her input. For example: you want to learn more about Kagan Structures and how certain teachers at your school are using it to promote cooperative learning, so find the handful of teachers that have become experts at it and ask them to share their knowledge. Don’t be shy!
8. Grade smarter. You have a record number of high-school English students (100+) and you cannot grade the papers of 100 students the way you could those of 50. So grade smarter — utilize peer editing more to your advantage by having students peer edit for the clear-cut, obvious errors that any level of student can find; ask students to have one or more adult readers sign off on their rough drafts before submitting them, asking them to note any errors or confusions as they read; have students read their papers out loud to each other or a family member before submitting to catch those errors that slip by them. In addition, do more formative writing in class in smaller chunks and spot-check this work, catching major errors before students get started on longer drafts and before you have to mark them all up with your comments.
9. Try one crazy curricular idea this year. Take a chance on something a little out of the ordinary — for example, Oedipus the King for ninth grade. The more challenging, sophisticated Greek drama might not work as well as the classic ninth-grade novel Of Mice and Men, but you’ll never know unless you try, and it may just be a hit. And go beyond your comfort zone and traditional models: try that graphic novel you’ve heard so much about with eleventh grade, and experiment with a unit on short stories made into films, giving students a chance to study film for a change.
10. Give students more variety and choice. Let’s not kid ourselves: school and its content are often boring. Giving students more choice in the content, units, or assessment types they have raises the levels of engagement and learning. Try a “self-directed unit” in which students choose their own genre and texts to study. Allow students to take a graded test in pairs or teams. Let the class vote on which poet you study in the final part of our course. You want students to be invested in the process of their own learning, so engage them in that process more directly.