Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teaching: It's a Marathon not a Sprint

It is around this time of year I have to remind myself- dude slow down.  The excitement of a new school year makes me want to pour all my energy and soul into my work.  I talk too loud, move too fast and stay on my feet all day.  I eat poorly and get dehydrated.  It is hard not to give 120% right now.

BUT, there are 177 more days left.

We need to pace ourselves to go the distance.  Every year I see new teachers going like sprinters early in the year and then losing their voices and getting incredibly sick.  By November they look haggard, emotionally drained and ready to cry.  In some areas, up to 50% or urban teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years.  I have beat this statistic because I know that teaching is a marathon, not a sprint.  In fact, it is a multi-year marathon. 

So here are some tips from a guy who has done this before:

  • Sit down whenever you can.  Take a moment to sit and talk to students, reflect or just be.  Even cheetahs spend most of the day laying down or sleeping.  
  • Eat good food and drink loads of water.  Make sure you take the time to sit down and eat.  Be sure you have good snacks to sustain you and bottles of water on hand.
  • Talk less.  When we talk too much and too loud our students stop listening and we lose our voices, figuratively and literally.  Use non-verbal gestures whenever you can.  
  • Slow down.  Walk slower, talk slower, move slower.  It will help regulate your nervous and circulatory systems to a more sustainable level of excitement. 
  • Breathe deep.  I actually put a poster on the wall accross from where I teach to remind me to do this.  It helps everything.  Do it.  Now.
  • Have fun.  Take time to just have fun with your students.  Be silly, sing a song, read a funny book.  Laughter can renew us (and our students).
  • Share the pain.  You don't need to be a hero.  Share how you are feeling with your co-workers.  They are feeling it too and it is good to know you are not alone.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Grit and the Growth Mindset: Classroom Game Plan

In the past year I have come to be more and more convinced that the most important thing I can do for my students is help them develop grit.  Last March, I posted about what grit is and my thoughts on how it could be taught in the classroom.  Unfortunately, as I dabbled last spring in trying to foster a gritter classroom, I didn't see the results I had hoped for with my students.

This led me to my last post, Growth Mindset in the Classroom, What NOT to do.   I outlined some practices I am going to do my best to eliminate from my classroom.  I found that even if you teach students about and model a growth mindset, it isn't enough to overcome their own basises they have already developed at age 7.  Furthermore, I have come to believe that the way I was measuring student achievement, celebrating student learning, and responding to student mistakes may have contributed to students developing a fixed mindset.

This post is going to be a Game Plan for developing a gritty classroom which pushes all students to adopt a growth mindset.  I am going to write down my intentions as a starting place to develop my own teaching practice, and hopefully create a more effective classroom for my students.  It is my aspiration that I can help them develop a mindset that will last a lifetime.

Caveat: I am not saying I have all the answers.  In fact, if you, dear reader, have any ideas to add, please share them in the comments section.  With your help, I can make this plan even better.  I look forward to your juicy strategies and techniques.

The Growth Mindset Game Plan - Part I

1.  Celebrate Mistakes.  From the first day of school I will teach students that mistakes are how you learn.  I will model this by making my mistakes transparent and explaining what I am learning from them.  I will also create some simple posters celebrating mistakes to keep this idea present at all times and make it clear to anyone who is in the room teaching what this class believes.  Lastly, I will share stories of people, such as Helen Keller and Albert Einstein, that used their mistakes to learn to do great things.  And perhaps most importantly, I will try to always frame student mistakes as a positive experience.

2.  Growth Oath.  I will develop a growth mindset oath that my students and I can read at the beginning of class each day.  I am a big believer in "fake it until you make it".  Developing a growth mindset will be difficult for some students.  Stating our aspirations over and over will help them
make the mental leap when they are ready.

3.  Track Growth.  Last year we had a classroom tracker on the wall for reading levels.  It was based on trying to achieve a benchmark goal.  As students moved to a new level, they moved their name card to the next numbered level.  What this tracker didn't do was measure growth.  Some students were already meeting their benchmark goal in September but only grew one level all year.  Other students started as pre-readers and grew 5 levels.  I want a tracker that celebrates how much a student grows.  I plan on expanding this idea to other trackers such as math and MAP testing.  It will have all students beginning at zero and move up as they make growth.  Ultimately I want students to internalize that the way we measure success is by progress, not product.

4. Lessons on Grit.   One of my school's values is tenacity.  I will make grit an extension of what it means to have tenacity.  I will make grit explicit by teaching lessons about why it is important and how it is developed.  I will give lessons on how each person can actually grow their brain by making mistakes and learning from them.  Mindset Works has a program I plan to use as a model.

5. Teach Parents about Growth Mindset.  I am not sure how to do this yet to be perfectly honest.  I do know that it essential that I get parents on board to support this initiative.  This will include a letter home, part of our first Saturday school, and part of our conferences.  At minimum I want parents communicating to their child the key messages:  I believe in you.  You can do this.  I will not give up on you.  Mistakes are how you learn.

Pause for the Cause: Yoda

Yoda was the ultimate Zen teacher.  He never got mad, he always had just the right thing to say, he totally understood the forces governing the universe.  I am not Yoda, but I do try channel him in the classroom.  

Yoda knew that to do something worthwhile. you could not do it in half measure, or with fear in your heart.  You must instead believe in yourself with your full heart, banish self-doubt, and DO what you do best.  May the Force be with you.

Pause for the Cause: Bruce Lee

Today's pause is focused on the words of Bruce Lee.  I had always thought of Bruce Lee as a Martial Artists guru and movie actor.   Lee was also a teacher of the Martial Arts.  Teaching and learning transcend all field s of knowledge; the essence of what we do as teachers is common, no matter the content.   What makes Lee resonate so strongly with me is that he had a unique style of Martial Arts he developed himself- The Way of No Way.  Meaning he believed one must break from the rigid forms and styles of traditional martial arts and combine what works best for your own practice. 

As a teacher I couldn't agree more.  Teachers must find The Way of No Way for their own teaching style: find what works best for you and your students, be prepared to fail and try again, and keep positive outlook despite countless challenges. Go ahead, jump in the water today.