One Look Back — Two Steps Forward
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
Where did the year go? It seems as though I was staring at a sea of unfamiliar faces just yesterday. In a few weeks, I'll be sending them on to 7th grade. Before sending them off, I take a few moments to have them reflect on the year. What was their favorite unit? What was the most important thing they learned? How could I make their learning experiences better? Then I collaborate with colleagues for about an hour, comparing notes, celebrating our successes, and discussing areas to target.
As hectic as these last few weeks are, it is important to take time to reflect on the year and create personal and professional goals while everything is fresh in your mind.
Photo credit: iStockphoto/Tommydickson.
It is hectic at the end of the school year. We have a never ending list of responsibilities: state testing, field trips, report cards, award ceremonies, concerts, and the many end-of-year reports and tasks. Still, it is important take a few minutes to reflect on the year and make goals. Did you accomplish what you expected? What did you do well? Which units felt successful? Which units should you revise or enrich? What are your strengths? Weaknesses? Were your discipline policies effective? Why or why not? Could you have connected to the students better? Parents? Did you make time to collaborate with colleagues?
Setting Personal Goals
In my travels, educators often ask me, “Where do you find the time?” I confess: I am addicted to teaching. Before I complete one endeavor, I am already taking on another. It doesn’t matter what it is. If it is related to education, it has my attention. Sometimes I question my sanity and ask, “Why did I commit to this?” But, when the next opportunity comes along, I just can’t let the ship sail without me. However, it is important to balance work and play in order to maintain mental and physical health. It is the life experiences that enrich your classroom experiences.
I suggest adding one goal at a time. Otherwise you risk becoming overwhelmed and giving up. For instance, this spring, I started walking with a friend for 45 minutes before school. It is a positive start to the day. I have not yet selected my personal goal for next year. There is so much to choose from: family activities, friendships, volunteering, travel, hobbies, or writing a book. Phillip Martin, a social studies teacher, professor, artist, and writer, travels the world and shares his experiences with the class and the world on his Web pages. So, if you are like me and struggle with separating your personal time and school time, travel to places that feed your teacher's soul. The world is your playground.
Photo Credit: iStockphoto/mattgeacock.
Setting Professional Goals
The curriculum alignment process (CAP) is an evolutionary process. Each summer I work on my curriculum, selecting one educational goal based on my end-of-year reflections and data. Make sure when you set a goal that it is achievable. I try to limit myself to one or two goals. This year I worked on differentiating instruction by focusing on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and offering more choices in the classroom.
Race to the Top (RTTT) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are prioritizing my choices this year. In the April 28, 2011, Webinar sponsored by the New York State Education Department, David Coleman, coauthor of the CCSS, suggested setting a goal to integrate the CCSS into at least one unit per grading period or semester. Fortunately, I had taken the online course Understanding by Design, and had revised my thematic units over the summer. It was well worth the effort because now I have converted four units, one for each semester. The thematic units are closely aligned to the CCSS because I integrate fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a blog post on thematic units, "Bridging the Gaps With Multigenre Thematic Units," which discusses the theory and template for designing a unit. My "Children of the Holocaust" and "Hitting a Home Run With Civil Rights" posts provide materials for designing thematic units. For more information on the CCSS see my May 10, 2011, post, "Common Core State Standards."
I will also be analyzing my local and state assessment data from my current and incoming students to identify gaps in my curriculum and student strengths and weaknesses. In the past, I would informally evaluate my students’ background knowledge before a unit. However, I am pondering designing pretests and post-tests for each unit to provide evidence of student growth, which contributes to local data that is required for the new APPR evaluations.
Don't overlook student feedback when planning for next year. Your toughest audience is your students, but they are the ones in the classroom with you every day. They will be brutally honest, which is what you want if you are seeking growth. Last year, I learned that I need to integrate more music into the classroom. That was an easy fix, and, and as you can tell from my post on motivating middle school students, it did improve my classroom environment. They love to give feedback on classroom management, procedures, and homework policies. Students often have extremely creative solutions to problems. Sometimes they provide this feedback by writing a reflection during a class period. Other times they write feedback on the last page of their final exam.
There is an old saying that there is strength in numbers. When I started at Lowville Academy, I was blessed with a fabulous mentor, who turned out to be a great friend and resource. We meet on a daily basis to share strategies, goals, and setbacks. We are on the same grade level team and share the same planning period, so it is easy to meet with her. I have a few other very close colleagues that are inspirational. We share resources, ideas, and moral support. We meet before or after school, share through emails, and go out to lunch whenever possible. Working as a team is motivational and inspirational.
It is much more fun to collaborate with colleagues in an informal setting. Last summer, I hosted my English colleagues at my house. I made a light lunch and we discussed our goal to vertically align our curriculum. When teachers at higher grade levels mention areas of weakness, I try to support them by scaffolding skills at my grade level. Working as a team means we all take responsibility for the level of success on state assessments. Before leaving for the summer, we set a date to collaborate and go out to enjoy a summer luncheon.
Keeping a Journal
Next year, I am going to keep a daily reflection journal. The reflection is therapeutic. It helps to keep perspective and serves as a reference to monitor my progress toward my goals. I am starting with personal and professional goals, professional contacts, wish lists, and daily reflections. Linda Shalaway's great article “Keep a Teaching Journal” discusses the benefits of and offers suggestions for an educational journal. Jim Burke designed The Teacher’s Daybook, available at Heinemann. A simple notebook or daily journal is perfectly fine, if you want to customize your own.
Please feel free to share your ideas and goals below.