When I was a child, my mother would take me to swimming lessons at the local pool. After she dropped me off, I would watch through the changing room window for her to drive away. I would then quickly leave and run home. She would complete some errands and I would be waiting at the kitchen table for her to arrive. Mother persisted in taking me to the lessons and not until several years later did I fully understand her reasoning. She didn’t know how to swim and she wanted her four children to have that skill. I am forever grateful for her persistence.
Reposted from https://hawkhopesblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/unteaching-and-unlearning-is-intellectual/
The “apprenticeship of observation,” introduced by Dan Lortie (1975) provides a lens through which we can consider why preservice teachers (and the general public) may feel they know all they need to know about teaching and learning. They went to school, kindergarten through 12th grade, at least, and have had numerous teachers across their educational experience. As a result, they may enter into a teacher preparation program with the belief that they know what teachers do, why teachers do what they do, and how they, as teachers themselves, will do it better.
High quality teacher preparation programs typically prepare candidates through a mix of theory, evidence-based and best practices, and field experiences. Teacher educators and preservice teachers often struggle with the disconnect between the preparation program’s teachings and the practices and strategies preservice teachers experience in their field placements. This is when we must also tackle “unteaching” of misunderstood or misinformed educational practices and “unlearning” of the things we think we know about what it means to be a teacher.
Unteaching requires us to acknowledge some of the commonly-held beliefs and practices prevalent in schools and classrooms; as well as to challenge those practices that are problematic with evidence and applicable strategies. For example, in early childhood teacher preparation, we are charged with unteaching shaming and punitive behavior management systems such as clip charts because these systems persist in practice. Simultaneously, we teach the evidence about social emotional development, community building, and trauma-informed care, which are all in direct conflict with systems like clip charts. Both are critical to future teachers’ ability to eschew traditional systems and instead implement best practices in meeting the needs of their learners, teaching the behaviors they want to see, and honoring the individual and unique needs of each child.
Unteaching is hard work but unlearning is even more challenging. The “apprenticeship of observation” is so powerful. Unlearning is the act of letting go of ideas, beliefs, and practices we believed to be true, effective, and valuable. When presented with more compelling evidence for an alternative approach, we unlearn the previously held belief and replace it with a new belief. Years of watching disruptive kids be removed from class, conforming to threats of punitive consequences (e.g., your grade drops one letter grade for late submission), and expecting school success to be measured by compliance with rules, many future teachers struggle to adopt more equitable, intentional strategies focused more on teaching than on punishment. As I have become more intentional in implementing unteaching pedagogy in my courses and interactions with preservice as well as inservice teachers, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges we face in creating inclusive, accepting, responsive learning environments for learners and teachers.
In an attempt to “bridge the gap” (is this the most overused phrase in education?), I, along with my colleague and friend at James Madison University, Dr. Mira Williams, started a website with an intentional social media presence in an effort to make our own unteaching pedagogy and unlearning practice visible to other teacher educators, teachers, and learners.
Social Media As A Tool
We started by building a Facebook page for sharing blog posts and resources with a growing community of teachers. However, on advice from a trusted marketing expert/friend, we branched into Instagram. Do you know that there are thousands of teachers on Instagram who post about their lessons, their resources, their struggles, their wins, their processes, their thinking, and their outfits of the day? Neither did we. The hashtag teachersofinstagram has over 3.7 million posts as of today and the Instagram teacher leaders boast upwards of 40,000 followers. Where are teachers going to share resources, ask for support, get new ideas? Instagram.
Our site, @teachingisintellectual, attempts to provide bite size best practices to our small but growing community of followers. We use apps such as Word Swag and PicLab to create visuals in order to communicate an idea or to pique interest for a click over to the blog. We engage with the growing number of teachers we follow as well in order to contribute to the community and build relationships. We have learned so much about what teachers want support with, where they look for solutions, and how they challenge each other on matters of unteaching and unlearning simply by following, participating, and listening.
The culture of education dominating teaching Instagram is in many ways different than what those of us who no longer teach in PK-12 environments may believe. The #teachersofinstagram have taught us innovative classroom practices. For example, just this weekend, a third-grade teacher we follow on Instagram posted an anchor chart she made with her students about consent. The post has since gone viral and national news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC ran stories about her post. Popular education Twitter accounts have tweeted about it with many prominent voices in education boosting its’ reach. Teachers are using their social media presence to get the word out about their work. They are telling their own stories. We are simply listening. We then use our resources as partners to respond in ways that are useful and supportive of the unteaching and unlearning of flawed practices with a focus on replacing them with better strategies.
We aim to grow our reach in order to use our platform to inform our research but also to provide a hungry, deeply committed community of educators with the resources they are seeking to unlearn ineffective practices. Additionally, providing preservice teachers access to teacher leaders on social media who are making their innovative, creative work visible, shows what is possible. The #teachersofinstagram are modeling best practices in real time with real students in real classrooms. We believe partnering with these teachers and learning from them could be a critical 21st century step in bridging the much-talked-about research to practice gap.
So, I wrote a quick little response. It’s just a start.
Forget your privilege. You went to college, for many years, and many brilliant people helped you get where you are today. You are a college professor because your doctoral advisor saw potential in you, taught you the wily ways of academia while guiding your research, your writing, and your learning. Doctoral programs are an amazing opportunity to read, talk, learn, grow. You had that opportunity. You are undoubtedly changed from the experience. Yes, it was hard. Yes, you made sacrifices. Yes, you had uncaring professors along the way. But you had an opportunity that many only dream of. Never forget that.
You have also earned your degrees. You’ve secured that much sought-after tenure track/tenured position. You have accomplished so much. But can you really not remember what those undergraduate days were like? The stress, the lack of sleep, the bad food, the no money, the roommate stuff?
Require expensive books. Particularly when you then assign only two chapters. Choose accessible readings. Provide multitudinous means of accessing readings. Assign readings intentionally and engage students in applied learning to grow their surface understanding from the reading. You’re the expert. Teach.
Assume. Unless you have trust with your students, you can only assume you know nothing about their lived experiences.
Use Grades As Punishment. Grades should reflect progress toward mastery of content. Period. That’s it. That’s what grades are. Communication about learning. If you use grades to threaten, punish, or coerce students, you’re doing it wrong. Docking a letter grade for a late assignment is unethical. Maybe try asking the student why the assignment was late, or better yet, have a relationship with the student that allows her to come to you first.
Office Hours Only. You do know your students have full lives outside of your course, right? They have jobs, maybe kids and families, other courses, commitments, responsibilities. If you set your office hours at the time convenient for you and you are inflexible in meeting with students outside of that time, you are communicating that your time is more valuable than your student’s.
Think Your Time Is More Valuable Than Your Students’. It’s not.
Expect Students To Improve Without Feedback. Feedback is teaching – it’s an iterative process and, as the teacher, your participation is required. If you hand back papers with letters or points on the top, your students have no information about how to improve. Assessing learning is feedback for you on your instruction, your assignment, your students’ learning. Provide transparent feedback so your students can progress toward mastery of the content. Yes, it takes more time – it’s also your job, do it well.
Fail To Teach. Additionally, if students address you inappropriately in an email, provide them feedback to improve. As a female professor, I invariably get emails addressed to Mrs. Newton. I reply with a “Hi, Student, my name is either Dr. Newton or Jen once we’ve actually met in person.” Guess what. That’s all it takes. Rather than being frustrated or writing a heated, ego-driven post on social media, provide feedback, tell students what you expect, allow them to meet your expectations.
Waste Students’ Time. Busy work, extraneous readings, anything that does not result in extending students’ depth and breadth of knowledge, is a waste of time. Sure, you can assign anything you want, you can give students 10 points for bringing a dog to class and they will beg, borrow, and steal to get a dog, but what are you teaching? That teachers are manipulative and that learning is at least secondary to control. Use their time wisely.
Shame or Condescend Students. To colleagues, friends, on social media. Ever. Every time I see one of those “It’s on the syllabus” memes, I die a little inside. You are imperfect. You forget about the occasional faculty meeting, deadline, oil change. Hopefully, there are people in your life who help you out. Maybe you could be that person for a student. Yes, they’re imperfect. So are you. Choose empathy.
We know students don’t really read the assigned reading, right? There are loads of reasons for that. Textbooks are cost prohibitive, the reading is cumbersome, too long, irrelevant from the student perspective, it’s tedious . . . just to name a few. As instructors, we implement various strategies to encourage, incentivize, motivate/manipulate students into doing the reading.
I’ve done it.
Reading checks. Guided notes. Entrance tickets. Summary notecards. Come with three questions from the readings.
For a few semesters, I started off with reading checks that asked specific questions regarding the content from the reading. And graded them for accuracy. 3/5. 1/5. 5/5. Then, when my students learned that I was serious about reading checks and they came to class having read, I would give them a sheet of paper that said, “tell me your childhood pet’s name.” (I didn’t do this specifically. But I could have.)
Because the point is the reading, right? Not the reading check.
But by assigning point value to the reading check, that is why I was communicating was important. And I didn’t actually believe the reading check itself was important. I did more reading on the evidence and rationale in the “ungrading” model and decided to move my gotcha points into partnerships. This is where commitment logs were born.
Commitment logs are individual, self assessment accountability tools I use to engage students in their own learning. I set learning intentions and success criteria for the class session but I ask students to set their own learning intentions and success criteria for our time together. Sometimes students will write something like “I will stay awake for the whole class” or “I will learn three new things.” Wherever they are, I’m good with it.
It’s not fancy. It’s just an ongoing commitment to their learning, their own accountability. Because some days their heads and hearts are not in my engaging, brilliant pedagogy. And that’s okay. They set goals for themselves. And, more often than not, they exceed their goals. I think there is something to the act of writing it down, of focusing on an intention, that allows them to attend to their time in class with me a little differently. Reading checks never affected engagement. Commitment logs do.
At the end of class, they make an exit statement. They write about if they met their success criteria, why they did or did not, what they learned, remaining questions they have, concerns they experienced during class, anything they want. And I respond to every single one prior to our next meeting.
I did ask a midterm and final course evaluation question about the commitment logs. Students were overwhelmingly positive about the activity. Since, I respond to each person each week, I am also able to keep a quick record of our relationship as it develops, the student’s self perception and assessment, and concerns or questions that appear more than once across students. It has unexpectedly provided a relationship-building strategy as well.
I’ll post the blank document here for anyone who may want to try it. Let me know how it goes for you! How do you engage your students in their learning and in self assessment?
I have dreamed of this moment for seven years. A fantasy from 11th grade still replays itself in my mind with crystalline clarity: My first day of school as a teacher. I’m wearing all professional black clothes with my hair slicked back in a bun. I’m stricter than I need to be because I want my students to take me seriously. I’m cool and aloof and ooze authority and respect. I talk about learning and brain growth and the value of hard work until we suddenly have an inspirational “Dead Poets Society” moment. The students leave, backpacks slung over one shoulder, talking about how they can’t wait for tomorrow. They jump, fist in the air – and freeze frame!
My real first day was nothing like that.
When I realized that baseline data must be collected before I could implement any learning community activities as per my goal and research this year, I immediately accepted the fact that my students’ first day of class with me would be… unorthodox. I stood at the door as they walked in, asking each student to say their name as they wrote it down so that the first time I heard it would be the correct way to pronounce it. The first thing they saw upon entering the room was a sign saying, “Welcome to Physics! Grab a baseline survey from the Pick Up station (near the door) then take a seat and begin the survey.” Once the bell rang, they had seven more minutes to complete the survey before I gave my two minute introduction to myself and to the course. The rest of the class was spent doing a Group Juggle with squishy bird shaped toys in order to start getting the students comfortable and familiar with each other.
Collecting Baseline Data: An Abrupt Start
Norms and expectations are easiest to establish at the beginning of a group’s existence. That means that the best time for me to introduce the notion of a learning community was the first day of school. So, as unorthodox and abrupt as it sounds to have the students silently submit a ten-question survey about learning communities as soon as they walked in on the first day, it was a necessary action in order to get the least biased baseline data that I could. Well, if I had been more zealous in my quest for unbiased data, I probably could have covered up our giant community calendar and “Welcome to Our Physics Fiesta!” decorations but I put a lot of trust in the students being slightly too overwhelmed by their first day of school to be so analytical of the wall decor.
The baseline survey consisted of two free response prompts and eight Likert scaled prompts that asked students to circle a number between one and eight where one implied that they “strongly disagree” and eight meant that they “strongly agree”. Heather had given me some advice and information about the benefits of using more versus fewer and even versus odd numbers on the Likert scale. I decided upon a scale of eight quantitative points because an even number denies the students an opportunity to respond with a true neutral. I also chose eight points on my Likert scale because it would allow me more clarity into the differences in the students’ choices than a smaller number would while still remaining mangable for me to record by hand. With the prompts, I tried to tease out what students knew about community oriented learning and how they felt about it.
The Part With The Numbers
To record the data, I created a Google Sheet in which the columns represented each survey prompt and the rows represented each student’s responses. I included their name or initial in my Google Sheet so that I would have the opportunity to compare a student’s responses throughout the year. I made a separate page for each class period as well as one total group page. Google Sheets was helpful in that I was able to include a cell for each prompt that calculated the class averages and the grand total averages for that prompt. The prompts and their all-class averages are as follows:
- What the phrase “sense of community” means to me: (free response)
- I have experienced a sense of community in previous classes. (4.78)
- I like feeling a sense of community in my classes. (5.5)
- I learn better when I feel like I am a member of my classroom community. (5.48)
- I am familiar with the term “learning community”. (4.62)
- What “learning community” means to me: (free response)
- I feel confident in my ability to learn physics this year. (5.50)
- I feel confident in my ability to pass the physics course this year. (6.04)
- I believe that having a sense of community will help me succeed in the physics course. (5.88)
- I believe that participating in a learning community will help me succeed in the physics course. (6.09)
- I feel a sense of community with the people in this class. (4.71)
- People in (our school district) have a shared sense of community. (5.41)
Reflections and Analogies
I’m still processing the information. I’m still figuring out what the data implies and how the averages compare across the class periods. I’m still interpreting data and sorting through rumours of remarkably high failure rates last year and re-takers this year. I’m still hearing and reading comments from students who are terrified of physics and have a wide range of confidence in their abilities. While I’m chewing on my data like a cow on its cud, life in our classroom has moved forward at lightning speed. In the last two weeks, we’ve discussed the traits of a learning community; we have drafted, finalized, and displayed our top five community agreements; we have learned each other’s names; we have developed routines with daily greetings and exit tickets; we have helped each other review mathematics concepts; we have run through the halls in a particularly fun pursuit of problem solving; and yesterday, we decided to believe in the power of “yet” by turning around each sentiment in which we express doubt in our abilities. Gone are the days of “I can’t do math”, there is only room today for “I’m not good at physics yet.”
I, too, am taking on the power of yet. I’m on a steep, but manageable, learning curve when it comes to my lesson plans and preparing materials. While each day of class so far has left me in love with my new job and with the communities we’re building, I’m not quite at the level of preparation that I’d like to be… yet. I will get there, I know it. With practice and experience, I will leave behind twelve hour (or more) days at school. There will come a day when I have nearly everything for the next week planned and printed the Friday before. So too will the day come when I will write these blog posts when I mean to write them instead of a week later like I did with this one. I’m not too worried and I’m not letting any of these current slips or shortcomings overwhelm me with personal disappointment. Heather and I have talked about this project being my “lizard’s tail”- the thing you never want to drop, but can lose if necessary to survive. I’m nowhere near needing to drop my “lizard’s tail” but I’m glad to feel secure in my plans and priorities.
New teachers and veterans, what is your “lizard’s tail” this year?
What is your yet?
We are so fortunate in that we often have the opportunity to partner with teachers in learning, problem solving, and improving practices. Inevitably, across various contexts and grade levels and locales, teachers report frustration with students for not having pencils.
We kept hearing it. We’d ask questions like, “What frustrates you so much about the pencil issue?” and the responses were varied. Some said it was an indicator of showing up unprepared, a lack of respect for them or their class, a lack of responsibility. But, for us, it always felt like a resource issue. Teachers should have all the pencils they need to engage their learners in all the ways.
When we are confronted with beliefs about what kids “should” do or have, we are always mindful of all the ways we – as adults and professionals – drop the ball. We are often without a writing utensil when we need it most, yet there is always someone nearby willing to share. We know these teachers would give us a pencil if we asked! They would never tell us we were disrespectful for not having one or take it as a lack of our preparedness for our time together. It happens. People forget pencils. And all kinds of other things! But, for some reason, kids not having pencils was a very frustrating and pervasive problem for teachers.
The more we talked about it, the more it seemed like it was not really about pencils at all. It was about resources. Supplies, yes, but also time! We have seen teachers tag their pencils with identifying markers and create check in/check out systems for pencils, some schools have pencil machines next to the soda machines!
So, we thought maybe this is a small way we could alleviate a huge frustration for teachers. We could get pencils to teachers and kids. Lots of pencils. Loads of pencils. Enough pencils that no one has to man a sign in/sign out for pencils or sweat a broken pencil, or worry about trying to find one on the floor to avoid being in trouble. What if we could just get pencils to teachers? Would that one teeny tiny thing do anything at all to take a teeny tiny load off teachers’ overwhelming list?
We crowdsourced pencils from our friends and families generosity using social media and Amazon wishlists. We connect directly with teachers using teachingisintellectual’s Instagram and send as many pencils as we can to each teachers’ request. We take pencils to every professional development we get to do now because it is one small thing we can do for our teacher partners.
We’ve distributed over 20,000 pencils now and we hope it’s just the beginning. We advocate for fully funded public education and will continue to fight that fight. Meanwhile, we will contribute as many pencils as we can to as many teachers who need them.
Drop some pencils off at a school near you today. Do it again next month. Kids need pencils and it is something you can do. And pay off an overdrawn lunch account while you’re there too.
Yell and sit…sit and yell, get a little louder, be a little firmer…they’ll eventually listen-right?
I walked into a room recently where an educator was sitting on a bench demanding that the kids stop! She kept saying “I said stop, stop!…(a little louder) Stop it NOW!…(even louder) I said STOP STOP STOP!” Her face was turning bright red and she was clearly frustrated. Teaching isn’t easy, we all get frustrated, patience is hard, so, so hard. We are all human. We all have emotions. But, I want to encourage you think about this question: how does yelling help?
Children are in tune with adults more than we like to admit. They read our body language, notice our facial expressions, and feel our emotions, sometimes as if they are their own. Children’s frontal lobes are still developing, this is the part of the brain that helps us control our emotions. It’s our job to help nourish that development, help it grow. That’s what we do as teachers-right?
Just as you might spend extra time with students working on letter sounds or multiplication facts, we MUST spend time developing social-emotional skills. With this, it’s also important to constantly remind ourselves that their brains are growing (yes even in the teenage years). We also must remember that students need varying levels of support recognizing, managing, and expressing emotions. (I know, this is a lot, you already have so many other things you must teach and fit into your day, that curriculum map is just haunting you at night!) However, research shows that learning can’t happen without self-regulation, trust, feelings of safety –from both peers and adults—all of which are part of social-emotional development. So how can we do this?
It starts with modeling.
The teacher I described above was trying to get her students to lower their voices. They didn’t hear her, they were engaged in a game, and instead of complying to her demands, they just matched her volume and continued the activity. She was frustrated and angry. I get it.
But to be honest, I don’t know that they even knew she was talking to them, or understood what it was that she wanted them to “STOP!” Instead, they matched or modeled her tone, her yelling.
Wait. Sometimes kids only respond to yelling…right?
Wrong. It might seem like it to us, as adults. Perhaps, because once our faces have reached a certain level of red or we’ve stomped and made enough noise we get their attention, or scared them, they comply?
Let’s be honest though. Yelling isn’t fun for anyone, including the yeller. Besides the obvious—sore throat, exhaustion, anger— it also causes an increased amount of adrenaline and stress hormones for ALL parties involved. When is the last time you screamed at your students and said— alright good, that felt great, time to get back to learning those multiplication facts?
I want to challenge you to consider the difference between a reaction and a response.
The dictionary definition of reaction is: an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event.
But wait, the word response is in that definition, so what’s the difference? To make things even more confusing…
The dictionary definition of the word response is: a reaction to something.
Despite the concise dictionary definitions, there is a difference and it matters!
ReACTion has the word ACT in it. When we react to something it’s typically a more immediate action that comes from an event or situation that occurred. When reacting we often don’t take time to think or process the situation, instead we jump into flight or fright mode and act.
For example, a child just knocks over the entire tub of papers (after you have asked them to stop running in the room multiple times). You’re frustrated, you yell, you demand they pick it up, or lose recess for not listening, you REACT.
Next, let’s look at RESPONSE. If you just look at the dictionary definition you could argue that the above example is a response as well. I won’t disregard this point, but I want to encourage you to think about a response with a different mindset.
Response = thoughtful and intentional action.
Where you take a quick moment, that deep breath, you try to remind yourself that your student is still learning. You are the teacher. You find empathy. Remember, mistakes are okay, they help us all learn.
So that child knocks over that paper and instead of yelling, you take a deep breath, quietly walk over to the child, make a plan for how to pick it up, help them re-focus, teach them how to self-regulate, model that response. With calm. With words. You respond with understanding and through a teaching lens, not with anger. Not with yelling.
I know this is hard. You won’t be perfect. We all slip, we are all human and sometimes even our own emotions get the best of us in front of students. But every moment that you can remind yourself to RESPOND instead of react is another moment that you are modeling self-regulation, communication, and helping your students develop the social-emotional skills that are key to successful learning.
What strategies do you use to self-regulate when you feel yourself reacting emotionally? Stay tuned for some suggested strategies and more on teachingisintellectual.com
I think often about students I have worked with who are in their early years of their teaching career. I remember my early days in the classroom, feeling prepared and ready for the year, but eerily aware that there were many unknowns: student strengths and instructional needs, district and school policies, and the curriculum to plan, write, and prepare. There was no formal induction support, but I thrived with several informal mentors. I also knew other teachers who weren’t feeling successful and supported. As a result, they often left teaching after their first few years. I served as an induction year mentor after my first two years of teaching. It was important to me to help other teachers succeed in their early years in the classroom. In addition to mentorship, research on effective teacher induction support programs suggests there are many ways we can support new teachers, including: workshops and seminars tailored to new teachers, targeted professional development, reduced workload, and common planning time (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).
Flash forward to the present… I am now an assistant professor. I am well versed on the evidence about creating effective teachers and interested in retaining effective teachers, especially in the first years. Those early years, and my role as an induction year mentor and model reading teacher, have remained an important motivator in the work I do today teaching foundational education coursework in the areas of special education, inclusion, reading, and learning disabilities.
I don’t believe the task of induction support should be shouldered only by school districts. I think teacher preparation programs should have a role in supporting their graduates. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2010), and other researchers, have suggested teacher preparation programs and school districts both need to be involved and connected to ensure continuity and coherence (Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Latham & Vogt, 2007; VanZandt Allen, 2013), just as faculty are part of the equation in other countries (Darling-Hammond, 2017).
Recent research suggests some teacher preparation programs are contributing to induction support and teacher knowledge in innovative ways. Examples of strategies include:
- helping new teachers develop personal and professional identities (see Henderson, Noble, & Cross, 2013)
- supporting graduates in the first five years in attending a Summer Curriculum Writing Institute (see VanZandt Allen, 2013)
- facilitating book studies as professional development (see Dolan, 2017)
We should also make sure these approaches go beyond basic support and challenge our graduates to have academic and scholarly pursuits. It shouldn’t just be about the day to day support, but also continuing to build a foundation of ideas and resources that will carry an educator through their career. Do the deep dives in content and pedagogy. Complete action research. Stay in touch. Ask new teachers what they need. Teach them how to reflect.
No matter your role in education (teacher, administrator, university faculty), there are myriad ways you can contribute to the retention, mentoring, and continued preparation of teachers in their first few years.
If you are a new first or second year teacher (or new to a district) and your district offers induction support: please sign up. This is a chance to get advice, feedback on your teaching, a clearer understanding of policies and expectations, and improve your student outcomes (Ingersoll & Kralik, 2004; Strong, 2009). Expect that learning will continue.
If you are a teacher or administrator in a state or district that doesn’t provide induction support: please get involved and speak up. The New Teacher Center (2011) reviewed all state policies on teacher induction. Check out your state here: https://newteachercenter.org/policy/state-policy-reviews/
If you are faculty in a teacher preparation program: please review what your department is doing and your contribution/service in this area. Ask yourself, “Is there a way for me to provide service through supporting induction year teachers?”
As a faculty member, I am going to take the next step here for me: supporting a first-year teacher in action research and writing and reflecting on it through the year. She asked, I listened. By now you’ve probably already read the first blog in a new series by Bev Chatfield. Watch for more planned reflections in this 10 month blog series chronicling some of the intellectual work of a first-year teacher and how we are working through it with action research, reflection, and dialogue.
The first years are the most important in retaining teachers. How are you supporting first year teachers?How are you supporting teachers new to your school or district?
A little about me in the month before my first year begins
To be perfectly honest, I’m nervous about my first year of teaching. I’ve spent the summer
reviewing learning theory and teaching strategies, reading radical books about equity and power dynamics in the classroom, building an elaborate teacher emergency kit filled with everything from pepto to a tiny hair straightener, and trying to find the courage to refresh my memory of physics. Yes, physics – the subject that sends shivers down the spines of rising high school juniors and, for many others who have taken the course, flashbacks of nightly fifty-problem homeworks straight from the textbook. Physics has a bad reputation of being isolating and difficult. As someone who struggled through physics courses in both high school and college, I know first hand how true that can be.
Early in my college career, I was determined to become a math teacher through the more common route of majoring in physics with a minor in education but I quickly became overwhelmed by the independent lecture/homework structure of learning in college level math classes. In hindsight, it seems like fate that I took my first education course during my second attempt at Calculus II; the more I suffered in math, the more I ached for a learning environment that used research-based strategies and theories to ensure the understanding of its students. I was introduced to the idea of learning communities, classroom structures that encourage students to learn collaboratively towards shared goals, and I constantly imagined how such communities could improve my
experience in math. I continued taking Calc II until I passed it on the fourth try, having changed my major to Philosophy and taken on a fifth year of private university to do so. By then, I was hell-bent on teaching math with learning theory in mind so I pursued a Master of Arts in Teaching.
I took a long, difficult, and less travelled road to becoming a teacher and I believe that I’m
personally the better for it. I’ve learned how to work hard and recover from failure, I’ve met a network of creative and intelligent people through talking about my own passions, and I’ve been given many exciting opportunities like this one by being willing to take risks with people I trust.
How I’m going to make my teaching intellectual my first year
My experiences in education and philosophy over the last six years have instilled in me a love of research and self-reflective learning. It seems that the natural progression of this would be to participate in some scholarly exploration in my first year of teaching. Similarly, it seems natural that I should continue to be mentored by a faculty member who guided me through academic and professional quandaries in the past. With Heather’s encouragement and knowledge of the process, I’ll be improving my teaching this year through action research.
I believe that the best way to become good at anything is to study it. I don’t want to just keep my head above water this year; conducting action research will allow me to hone my craft and provide my students with a thoughtful and intentional academic experience that considers their social, emotional, and academic needs through community-based learning. I’m still nervous but I know exactly where to channel that excited energy: becoming the best teacher I can be.
Now some things I want to know from you!
How are other first year teachers reflecting on their practice?
What are other first year teachers reflecting on? (parent communication, reading instruction, etc.)
Can action research help me be a better teacher?
I posted a picture on our social media of a tweet from the 2006 MN Teacher of the Year Dr. Lee-Ann Stephens that read: Advice to a new elementary school teacher: never, every withhold recess from your students for any reason. They need the activity and you need them to have the activity. It shouldn’t be viewed as a privilege, but a part of your daily curriculum.
The post generated conversation which is awesome. In this post, I hope to provide some context for recess as a right, not a privilege and some alternative strategies.
First, remember, behavior is communication and it always always always serves a purpose. You can read a bit more about that here. Once we determine the function of the behavior, we can find more appropriate ways to meet that function for/with the learner. Okay, so let’s play this out with recess.
Basic scenario: Learner is off task in class, out of seat, what have you. Teacher subscribes to the “you waste my time, I’ll take your time” philosophy and responds with taking away 5-10-half-all of recess.
Behavior is communication.
- What is the function of the off task behavior? Is the learner avoiding the work? Is the learner unsure what to do? Is the learner “bored”? Is the learner seeking attention from the teacher or from friends?
- Are any of these functions met by reducing/eliminating recess?
(Side question: have you ever taken recess from a child one time and never ever again? Does it every work to change the behavior, teach the behavior we want to see, or is it a punishment we invoke because we’re frustrated?)
Why do we offer time in the school day for free movement? Is recess really “their” time? What is the role of recess in teaching and learning? Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control endorse recess with policy statements outlining the cognitive, social emotional, physical, and academic benefits of regular unstructured play time for elementary age learners. The slow whittling down/removal of recess has never been rooted in the evidence of development, teaching and learning, or best practice. It has always been about increasing instructional time. But, recess actually HELPS learners attend to task, focus, learn.
Let’s look at it another way.
Think about a time you’ve been in a long faculty meeting, professional development day, webinar, or something similar. Even if the content is engaging, you may find yourself getting restless. You may get up to go to the bathroom, get a drink, stand by the wall for a bit. You may stretch in your seat, check your phone, or pick at your nail polish. You can do what you need to do in order to get your attention back to the topic at hand – you can take self regulated brain breaks because you’re an adult. If your admin or PD provider told you that getting out of your chair to stretch your legs would mean you do not get the scheduled break time everyone else gets, you would probably have strong feelings about that. Because we all need breaks – whether we’ve “earned” them or not.
Taking away recess is a power move, not a teaching move. Reframing all of our actions and reactions through a teaching lens means recess is not a bonus or a reward, but a critical and non negotiable part of a learner’s work.
Now that we know taking away bits, pieces, all of recess does not support our end goal of teaching and learning, what can/should we do instead?
Tackle the function. Meet the need in an appropriate way.
So, if it’s escape, build in break cards, mindful moments, a quick “errand” that incorporates a little movement.
If it’s attention getting, what is driving it? Is it teacher attention or peer attention that’s desired? Use proximity, room arrangement, teacher talk cards or, if you can, take just a moment, get on the child’s level, and ask them what they need. That very well may be enough.
They’re communicating with you. Let’s be listeners, teachers, learners about our learners. Restricting their movement and limiting their freedom creates barriers in our relationships and does not teach the behavior we want to see.
Make recess a right, not a privilege. What are some other learner rights you feel are non-negotiable?