It’s been a while since I’ve posted but as we are approaching Christmas Break, I wanted to share something that has been on my mind. While Christmas Break is obviously a time to recharge and enjoy time with family, it is always also a time where I reflect on the past semester in order to figure out what I should adjust in the spring semester. One thing I always reflect on is how close my students are in pursuit of our classroom big goals, and how invested they are in reaching them.
One of the things that I really focused on during my first year teaching was this idea. I was/am a firm believer that while I may be able to get up in front of the class and deliver great lessons, and have the students do the most engaging activities but if the kids weren’t invested in what we were doing and the reason behind it, then I wouldn’t get the best results consistently to really “move” students.
As I mentioned in my first back to school post, a big part of how I view teaching is shaped by my time as a Corps Member with Teach for America. The core values of the organization and their philosophy of “Teaching as Leadership” is the lens in which I view my own teaching practice. One of the tenets of the strategies discussed in Teaching as Leadership is about this very topic. I want to discuss investing students in how I understand it and want to think through this for my own classroom, and from the lens of being a middle school teacher.
I Can + I Want
Investing students in a real way in their own academic success is especially critical in schools that are working to close achievement gaps (most all!). According to Teaching as Leadership, to invest students, they have to believe that they “CAN” achieve, and they have to really “WANT” to achieve. Our job, as educators, is to make sure that we do what is in our power to make sure this is true for all students. Not only do teachers have to be on top of their game instructionally, but we have to make sure our classrooms are places that remove barriers that affect student achievement in order for kids to know they can achieve, and are inspired daily to want to to do so.
Now, before I move on, I want to be clear that I am talking only about what educators can control. We may not be able to change a student’s home life, situation he/she came from, or any outside factors that are affecting a student’s life, but we can control our classroom environment, and the culture of our classrooms.
Most teachers I know at least somewhat enjoy decorating their classrooms (they may not enjoy the toll it takes on their bank accounts, but that’s another post!). Creating a welcoming environment is definitely a first step in investing students in classroom big goals and their own learning, but it boils down to more than that. Having clear student expectations, procedures, routines and systems in place that hold all students to a high expectation is also especially important. All students, even some of the most challenging, need (and want!) to know how to operate in you classroom. Establishing accountability, and empowering students to be good decision makers and to understand they can contribute positively in a classroom is also essential in investing your students. To break it down…
From Teaching as Leadership:
To Create a Welcoming Environment:
- Have clear systems in place
- Reinforce Expectations
- Model and practice
- Hold Students Accountable When Expectations Aren’t Met
- Communicate that effort leads to growth (or, growth mindset)
- Convey that students benefit from achievement
- Consistently reinforce effort in class
- Invest stakeholders and role models of the student
Finally, to invest students in your big goals you have to ensure that you’re teaching TO your students, and not AT your students. This goes well beyond differentiating (buzz word!) and includes using learning goals and what you know about students to help get them to WANT to achieve.
To help foster the I CAN + I WANT in students with you academic content:
- Communicate why it matters (relevance)
- Teach to fit your students’ needs
- Give students choice
- Design real-world assignments/projects