Strategies for talking through gut reactions and creating change from a 22 year veteran teacher by Joy Kirr
Stepping into your classroom, possibilities for learning abound. How many bodies will you have looking at you? How can you lead them as best you can? It’s a lot of pressure. Although the students are your first concern, pressures from outside those four walls are on your mind, as well – paperwork, emails, parents, administration, coworkers… Everyone around us has ideas for how your classroom should be run. How can you insure your ideas don’t get lost in the mix?
I’m in my 22nd year of teaching, but I remember my first years in the classroom. I was, like so many newer teachers, doing what had been done before me. I had coworkers in the same grade helping me become familiar with the curriculum. How fortunate! However, many things just didn’t seem right to me. Why was I working harder on a rubric than students seemed to be working on the projects? Why was I giving a 50-point (closed book!) test for a book we all read together in class? Why was I working so hard every night grading what felt like menial worksheets? And yet, who was I, a new teacher to this school, to change what teachers had been doing for over ten years?
What I didn’t know was this… When something feels wrong, it’s probably not right.
Through all the chaos of our daily teaching, if something feels off, it’s time to address it. This is true for those new to teaching and veterans alike. Although we are bombarded by so much to do, we need to take the time to ask others for help. Coworkers want to help. It’s human nature. They have many ideas to share with you, and would most likely love to hear about changes you’re considering.
Here’s how to begin the discussion. Ask questions! Ask about the activity you feel is “just not right.” Ask the reasons behind the activity, and ask how students have responded to it in the past. Ask what the goal is for student learning. Ask about other versions of this activity they may have tried, and what their purpose was in changing it to what it is today. Then begin asking for honest (and often brutal, albeit helpful) feedback in the form of “what if” questions. What if we tweaked….? What if I added…? What if I tried … with my class? Receiving feedback on new ideas from coworkers could give you even more insight as to what could go wrong, or what the goal of the activity is.
Being respectful throughout these discussions is crucial. You can do this by asking questions before you begin suggesting changes. Make sure to follow through when you DO change plans. Share your failures and successes in a later discussion, thank them for their prior assistance, and ask again for more feedback and tips. If the revised activity feels better in your gut, coworkers may jump on board and try to adapt when they are more comfortable with the idea. Chances are, if it didn’t feel “just right” to you, it may not have felt right to them, either. After you implement changes and share how things went, you may have made more allies who also want to make school better for students.
Joy currently teaches 7th grade English Language Arts in a suburb of Chicago. She was first a special education teacher working with deaf & hard-of-hearing students, became a reading specialist and is now National Board Certified. She is passionate about students owning their own learning. If you are want to read more from Joy check out her blog: geniushour.blogspot.com