Let me define labels for this discussion.
A piece of material attached to an object giving information about it.
But in the case of education lets say: "A cloud that sticks over a student's head throughout their educational life because of choices or determinations based on a lack of data collected by those around them.
I know that there are more definitions and Merriam Webster is pulling out their imaginary hair right now (because they in fact are not a person), but I think it is important to understand that when we label someone in a school, we are doing more than we thought. To clarify, I am not diving into the labels that have been traditionally connected to bullying, alienation, segregation, etc., but the "healthy" labels that we as education professionals bring into our schools to market our learning and encourage different portions of the population.
In the next two posts that I publish I want to explore two labels I have been in contact with:
Part 1: Hard vs. Easy Teachers
Part 2: Gifted (Pre-AP) vs. On-Level students
As a teacher...are you Hard or Easy?
Here is a quote from Jo Boaler in her book Limitless Mind:
"...a high-school math teacher in my local school district announced to his eager fifteen-year-old students who were placed in his high-level math class: "You may think you are hot shit, but no one gets above a C in this class."
I don't know about you, but I remember that teacher. I had that teacher. I frequently left that teacher's classroom frustrated and angry at them and the subject because I didn't fully understand.
The sad part... I have even been that teacher on certain tests or assignments.
That's not a good teacher.
This is a teacher who is self absorbed in their "abilities" to embrace a tough subject. More focused on their process and planning, lectures and tests than the actual learning of the students. One might argue that teachers who exude this type of attitude are actually really successful, and if I did more research I would find that more than 3 students would get a C in this class, it's simply just a way to motivate the students.
The tough part is our students have changed. We are not in my grandfather's generation where you rolled up your sleeves, buried down your thoughts and got the job done. The more information available to students and teachers has required a shift in the status quo that is continuing to grow.
Being a hard teacher today can be taken care of really easily. Students are not stuck with you if you are the "hard teacher". Online education, MOOCs, and enhanced student choice provide opportunities for the "hard teacher" to be avoided. To some this label might be a medal of honor, I remember for a brief second feeling that way when a parent relayed that comment to me. Quickly that faded into a deep concern and need to sit with that student and understand their mindset in the classroom and why I was the "hard teacher".
Now I'm not saying layover and let the students walk, but embrace ideas, models and strategies that allow for the students to thrive as they take ownership of their own path. There are many more ways to be a great teacher, being the hard teacher is not one of them.
Boaler continues in the quote from above, "Such ideas harm people, and they harm the disciplines, because access is denied to the diverse thinkers who would have provided beneficial insights and breakthroughs in these fields." (pg. 44)
Mistakes happen, attitudes can change. As a teacher are you willing to humble yourself to better equip your students? Are you willing to change the memory that your students have of you from "they were an impossible teacher" to "this teacher changed my life".
The choice is yours.
Part 2 of this series will be published soon!
The last week of school semester should be an opportunity for an educator to dive deep into their tactics and strategies and assess/plan for the innovations needed to grow the coming semester. Teachers should not be resting on their trusty curriculum and past experiences to prepare for the new semester, but be forward thinking to what the specific group of students need for success in the next term.
Thinking about the last few weeks of school before the holiday break as a student was like placing myself in a desert ½ a mile from an oasis, with a sandstorm between me and quenching my thirst...there is a lot to do to finally break into that break.
As a teacher, it might be similar except the Andes mountains of grading, testing, reporting, commenting, and parent phone calls are standing between you and (in some cases quite literally) that beach chair and long awaited novel you have been saving.
The end of the school year can really be a heavy load which is why a majority of teachers will call the audible and have students watch a movie loosely related to the topic they just finished.
I’m wondering if a movie isn’t the best way to prepare your classroom for the next semester.
Seth Godin writes in his book This is Marketing:
“If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status, or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile. The thing you sell is simply a road to achieve those emotions, and we let everyone down when we focus on the tactics, not the outcomes. Who’s it for and what’s it for are the two questions that guide our decisions”
There is a lot in this quote so I want to break it down to relate to transforming a teachers end of the semester approaches.
First our Goal as an educator: “To mold the minds of all who enter our classroom to be effective, independent, problem solving, learners.”
Now that we have our goal, let’s look at this quote:
1. “ …bring belonging, connection, peace of mind, status or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile”
What questions are you asking of your students at the end of the year to better embody the characteristics/needs in this quote above? Is there a free forum where your students can share their opinions? Learning happens in a flow of knowledge, moving between and within students to help understanding come. Direction and facilitation are needed, but are all lectures all the time really effective? Let your students speak into it so that the classroom climate you are creating can engage and inspire the minds you are charged with growing.
2. “...we let everyone down when we focus on the tactics, not the outcomes.”
Many times, as educators, we are buried in tactics. It is really easy to fall into holiday movie mode along with the mindset of “the way it has always been done” because there are many different tactics required. The funny thing is, if you are practicing a level of teaching that is constantly shifting toward students. Challenging them to be problem solving learners who experience failure and work through the process of figuring out a solution. Our brains are meant to be ever growing, evolving items. To fix our mindset and our brains on something so rigid and out of date causes a loss of engagement and understanding. The outcome is to create stronger, more independent learners. Not people who cannot work through an activity without a step by step chart to guide them.
3. “Who’s it for and what’s it for are the two questions that guide our decisions”
When you ask the students to rate your classroom/unit/lesson on a scale of 1-5, who is that for? If 90% of your results come back as a 3, I am 90% confident that survey was a facade in order to appease the students who might have an opinion on how you are running your classroom. What if you allowed your students to speak truthfully to you, without consequence, about your classroom and your teaching? It would hurt, it would be humbling, it would put you in a place where you would need to improve.
What if the end of the semester question wasn’t a question, but a statement that the students answered:
“Mr./Mrs.____ I feel like___ is the most frustrating part of your classroom. If you would____I know that I would be more engaged and focused”
The end of a semester is a time to celebrate, but it is also an important time to move forward and begin the next steps in our classrooms and learning.
In the words of Carol Dweck, “Love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.”
The ideas and innovations that arise might be inspired by a post that you saw as you casually scrolled through Twitter, Facebook, Insta, or another social media site. It could be an "a-ha" epiphany as you were standing over your BBQ grill and in a moment of zen inspiration discovered the perfect way to present your project for Unit 2.
Whatever the ideas are, I wanted to throw one more out there...
Be Humble. Challenge your students to speak honestly about your classroom and teaching.
Brene Brown, Kim Scott, and many other corporate coaches write, podcast, present, and talk about vulnerability as the means for an effective and efficient team. My thought is why not a classroom as well. Considering that the relationship that you build over the next 180 days is going to take that student through some impactful learning and life experiences, I'd say you have a pretty great opportunity to get to know them. Why not give them the freedom to talk honestly to you.
Here's what you could do:
After your first mid-term, quarter, six weeks marker, take a class period to allow students to create an "Honest Trailer" about your classroom.
What is an honest trailer? Check these out:
The activity doesn't have to be a trailer...
Honest Trailer, Classroom Critique, Teacher Evaluation, whatever you want to call it, create an environment where students can be honest with you and your teaching. This is not meant to be a personal shot at you and your abilities, but an OPPORTUNITY to GROW as a teacher, BE BETTER for your students and BUILD immense RAPPORT with your students.
If students can be honest with you on your teaching, and you can be honest with them about their learning, what barriers do you have that would hold students back from being successful?
Don't be the teacher that doesn't grow...be the teacher that surprises their students by their willingness to be vulnerable and excited about the feedback that comes!
As teachers, we are constantly learning...
The question is are you learning from pop culture?
The world that your students are ingrained in is outside of your classroom. Shocker I know.
But think about the learning that you could implement through inspiration of some of pop culture's most consistent icons.
In the most recent bit of "Hashtags" by Jimmy Fallon, he simply challenges social media to add one word to a title to change it. Couldn't this be brought into any curriculum challenging students to experience higher order thinking? Add a word to a book title, add an element to an equation. What could happen if they were able to do it and add humor to the learning. Making it stick more?
James Corden's carpool Karaoke is legendary. What if there was a way to have students replicate this with curriculum, presenting their ideas about what could be done. Even more, the relationship and connection of a team building/creating.
John Spencer just released an awesome video about the importance of critical consumption to fuel creativity. What could you do that would provide your students with the specific consumption that can fuel the creativity?
Stephen Colbert provides the best example of this. He comes into his shows prepared with the knowledge to back up the jokes he is adding. Many times he is providing a lighter, funnier thought process for some of the political decisions that are being made.
The point is, find inspiration all around you! There are professors all over the place!
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.