There is always that first landmark you are looking for. If you are a runner, you have a specific mile mark where you know you hit your flow, but up to that point, the run can be a struggle.
We are here at the beginning of the year still, but the feeling is that everything is getting settled. Schedule changes are done for the most part, some standardized tests have slowly begun, picture day is here!
No matter your marker, there is a point in your teaching where you are hitting that zone. The nice place where your stress level dips a little because you know what you are doing, what's coming next, and generally how things should go. (Understand I am not referring to teachers with new curriculum or first time teachers! Thoughts out to you! Just keep swimming!)
When you think about your school year, are you in your plan? Everything feels comfortable and you are the master of your classroom domain. The muscle memory had kicked in and you are teaching "Good Enough". My challenge is to abandon the comfortable and embrace the unique.
Think about what has always worked, and make it better.
Think about what you always dread each year and CHANGE it!
Go out on a limb and be the example of taking a risk in learning that your students NEED!
Here are 3 ways to avoid that muscle memory and become a more incredible teacher than you have ever thought!
1. GET MESSY
Learning is messy. There is nothing else in this work that we as humans can experience where we are stretched and pushed to make ourselves better.
Think about your classroom. Is it an environment of MESSY Learning?
Is your classroom loud? Are the students able to release their creative juices and produce incredible feats of learning?
There is an EXCELLENT children's book titled, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. Without going into to much detail about the book there are two images that jump out at me as I share this book with my kids.
The first image (on the left) is of the initial class. Traditional, organized, clean. Students are content and happy sitting in rows, learning from their teacher.
The second image (on the right) is messy. Students are not doing the same thing. Design, testing, failing, imagination and creativity are all embodied in this second image.
Each of these images are examples of great learning! The difference is, the messy learning is individualized. Students are creating to their strengths, collaborating with partners, sharing their successes and failures.
Think about a messy activity or idea for your classroom:
The key is CHOOSING to get messy. Thinking about how you can create an environment of learning, OUTSIDE of your comfort zone.
2. Make a Game
My advice to the teachers I work with...
Pick your LEAST Favorite part of your curriculum, and make it into a game!
Think about it, if you are going to have to get through the content anyway, why not make it a game and inject a little fun into the learning.
At the same time, the learning model of video games can provide an awesome opportunity for students to learn in a way that is familiar to them.
Check out this video from James Paul Gee on Video Games and Learning
Gaming in the classroom might not strike your fancy for updating your classroom, but think about this.
In a recent article from Edsurge.com , Mike Washburn and Steve Isaacs take a look into the eSports industry and the affects it is having on students learning as well as their out of school engagement.
One of the biggest statistics that jumped out at me was that there were more viewers world wide for a video game championship than for game 7 of the world series!
Our students are more game based, so why don't we embrace where they are growing?
Here are some resources and ideas that can help you with bringing Games into your Classroom:
3. Sacrifice Curriculum for Experience
I was attending a conference in Hong Kong a few years ago and I went to a session titled "loosely", "learn how to give the best speech of your life"
The presenter was a high school history teacher with a great deal of experience. He shared that over the span of his career he had taught more than 1000 students and exactly 1 had chosen to major in history.
It was at this point that he shared that he wanted to leave his students with something more than just memories of tests in history class.
What he shared was he eliminated 2 units of his curriculum and focused on teaching his students to give the best speech of their lives. He invested time in the skill, gave students the opportunity to speak on subjects they found passion in. He gave them feedback and pointers on how to present and provided the stage for the event at the end of the year.
Maybe this isn't in your expertise or bag of tricks, but consider this...
Where could curriculum or certain lessons be done in a new way that would provide students with a greater grasp on the content while building up the external skills that will help them down the line?
I wrote previously about GeniusFair and giving students 20% of the entire year of their homeroom time to invest in whatever they wanted. Some blossomed, others had a hard time getting out of the traditional "school way". In the end though, students were able to explore and embrace the unknown in a direction that they were interested in. All they needed was time and some encouragement in the right direction.
Maybe you don't have the full time, but you have a class period... instead of that movie, try a genius hour... you never know what your students might discover!
This is your classroom. What you do is important. So important that it's not worth passing over with a worksheet or a video from 1993. Don't let your muscle memory take over. Find a new way, blaze a new trail, and if you need inspiration...
ask your students what they would do.
Taylor currently serves as a Coordinator of Innovative Learning for a mid-sized school district in Texas. He is a speaker, writer, and coach for all who are in conflict with the status quo.