The ball has dropped. A new year has begun. But in “teacher time” we’re smack dab in the middle of things — halfway between where we started with students in August and where we’ll end up in late May.
As a recreational runner, goal setting, resolutions, and race metaphors appeal to me. I see the school year as a really satisfying marathon training experience. Like running, the race of teaching and learning requires thoughtful planning, ongoing monitoring and constant adjustments, and strategic pacing. Winter Break is the halfway mark — the critical aid station where teachers reflect and renew before forging ahead with purpose and passion to the finish line.
As I enjoy a few more days of leisure before tackling the next mile marker in the classroom, these personal “training tips” or resolutions will serve as my guide for the spring semester.
- Teach empathy first, standards second. I remind myself daily I work with a phenomenal group of human beings. I am responsible for teaching minds and hearts. My students are change agents not data points. Assessments that measure student growth in relation to the standards can be useful. However, a state assessment cannot document the learning journey — the silent student who is now asking critical questions, the bully who learns to communicate and connect positively with peers, the struggling reader who finishes more books than ever before. But I can.
- Open the classroom doors wider. In December I committed to contacting 2-4 parents per day. By chunking my rosters in this way, I can connect every 4-6 weeks with every student’s family outside of traditional forums like parent/teacher conferences. Each day I choose a mix of families to contact for positive recognition or problem-solving purposes. With digital tools it is easier than ever to connect with others, yet often the classroom can feel like an isolated space. I want to host more visitors in Room 214 this semester and share student work with a broader audience.
- Read more books “for fun.” I often talk about the joy of reading with students, but am I really modeling this joy? I can easily get caught up in the function of a text and forget to stop and enjoy the language, the plot, the characters or the theme as a reader first, before I dissect them with my “teacher brain.” School breaks should not be the only time I read “for fun,” if I really want to share and spread the pragmatic and aesthetic benefits of reading with students.
- Celebrate the work of colleagues. Teaching is hard work. It’s important, especially in the second semester stretch, to remember we are not alone. I can find motivation and inspiration for my classroom everywhere I turn — on Twitter, in the blog posts of my professional heroes, and in the hallways of the building where I work. Often this inspiration goes unacknowledged. I want to recognize my colleagues more in 2013. Through sharing their work, other teachers may find hope and encouragement. As a start, check out Ariel Sack’s “Low Key List of Resolutions for 2013,” Wendi Pillars’s “New Year, New Lens (aka 365 Days of Awesome),” and Vicki Vinton’s “Auld Lang Syne: Some New Years Thoughts by Way of Don Murray.” I want my colleagues to know their words, actions, and work matter.
- Be proud to be a teacher, and let others know it. Community partnerships and relationships are more important than ever as we continue to battle funding challenges and re-think teaching and learning in the 21st century. I’m starting with getting to know my school board and local chamber of commerce in 2013. I’m proud to be a teacher. And I want everyone to know it.