Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday's Five - Things I Want to Do Differently This School Year

Friday's Five is a feature every week where I pick a new topic and list five items that I think fit best.  Then I ask you, my readers, to share your thoughts in the comment section.  For an archive of past topics, check the Friday's Five Page.  If you'd like to make suggestions about future topics or discuss topics I bring up on the blog with others, make sure you click the "like" button on the right hand side of the page to join A Teacher's Life for Me on Facebook.  Don't be shy about sharing the blog and Facebook Page with others.  Each post has a "Tweet" button on top and buttons on the bottom that allow you to share in several ways, including e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.

Change is hard.  It's also necessary.  For a teacher to grow as a professional and keep from being burned out after a few years, each school year it is important to identify areas of one's pedagogy, classroom procedures, and policies that can me improved, and to change them for the better.

We often hear stories about educators who resist change by saying, "I've taught this way for 30 years, and there's no reason to change now."  I want to ask these teachers, "If you were going to the doctor for an important operation, would you feel comfortable with a surgeon who refused to use the latest laser and ultrasound technology and instead wanted to use a scalpel?"  My guess is that everybody would want the doctor who has kept up with research in his/her field and used that information to update his/her practice.  Children have the right to expect us as teachers to do the same.

With that in mind and with the start of my school year approaching, here are five things that I want to do a bit differently this year.

  1. Give my students more freedom to work where they are comfortable. - Those blue plastic chairs in my room are uncomfortable to sit in for long periods.  I'm going to try allowing my students a bit more freedom this year to work anywhere in the room they are comfortable.  When I do my best work, it's rarely while sitting at a desk.  I type while relaxing on the couch or read while laying on the floor.  I'm going to allow my students to do the same.  As long as they are doing amazing work, I don't care where it is.
  2. Snack time is whenever you are hungry. - For years I've had a designated "snack time", usually around 9:30.  I'm not sure why.  What difference does it make when students in my room have their snack?  This year, I'm going to try a policy where kids can eat whatever healthy stuff they've brought whenever they feel like it.  Maybe they'll function better with something in their stomach.  
  3. Give students the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. - We do many projects and solve many problems.  I go through a great deal of effort to ensure that the problems students are faced with relate to situations in real life.  This year I want to go a step further and allow students the chance to help others who need it by incorporating service aspects.  What better way is there to learn the value of helping others at the same time as math and reading?
  4. Invite other teachers in to my classroom and welcome their feedback. - I've always been happy to allow anyone who wants to come into my classroom the opportunity to do so.  It rarely happens, though.  Teachers are so swamped trying to serve their own students that it's hard to find the time. This year I'd like to actively invite others to come in and give me feedback on my lessons.  I hope that they take me up on the offer, and I hope that I receive an invitation to their classrooms as well.  That's how great conversations about pedagogy get started.  That's how a culture of collaboration develops in a school.  
  5. Allow students to pursue their interests. - We have a set of reading standards.  We have a textbook that provides a bunch of short passages that allow us to teach those standards.  Rarely do the passages in the textbook interest more than a handful of students.  So, why do we use that book?  Because it's easy for a teacher to give a quiz and get a grade when all students are being assessed on the same passage.  It's not what's best for the students.  It's what's easiest for the teacher.  This year I'd like to give students the opportunity to read about the things they care about.  I'm sure I can find a way to assess whether they got the main idea, can identify a simile, and all the other standards they need to know even if they don't read what's in the text book.
Now it's your turn.  What are you going to do differently?  What are the obstacles that prevent us from changing our practices each year?  What things do you find it hardest to change each year?  Share with us in the comment section below.  Also, please pass the post along to others by re-tweeting, re-plurking (a new feature added to Plurk this week), sharing on Facebook, or sharing on Google Plus.  We'd love to hear their comments as well.