One of the things I love the most about being a teacher is the expectation that I am always a learner as well.
I love getting better at things. I love learning new things. I love the challenge of figuring out how to do something well, or how to get better at something. And of course, because I am human, I love that feeling of success.
I was very lucky to attend a graduate program that required an immense, intense amount of self-reflection. We were taught how to make self-reflection a habit, part of our lesson planning routines and our lives. I am sure that I am a better teacher for that habit.
But it is easy to turn self-reflection into criticism, or even self-loathing. Believe me- watching hundreds of hours of video of myself - to make videos for Comprehensible Online and to post here for others to watch- is really, really hard. But I am a better teacher because of it. When I watch a video, or even reflect on the day or the lesson, it is very easy to go down the path of seeing only the things I did wrong, the things I could have done better. It is hard to train myself to find the good.
I think this is a roadblock for teachers- when we take the time to be reflective, it is hard to get out of the habit of criticism, because that is how we are evaluated. But it is imperative to shift our mindset to look for the positives, if we want to be better teachers through self-reflection.
The Coaching from the Heart model, as used by coaches at Agen, NTPRS, IFLT, and now all over the country, is a great way to start.
As coaches, we only look for the positive things that teachers do to make language comprehensible and make the students feel encouraged and safe to take risks. It is such an amazing feeling to find out what we do well. In fact, I think it was Angela Watson who suggested taking what you already do well...and getting better at it. Isn't that a radical idea?
So here are some of the goals I have set over the past years as a teacher focused on communicative embedded input, aka comprehensible input, and how I measured my success.
I believe in setting goals that are focused, achievable, and that will have big impacts.
My big piece of advice: Pick just one resource to teach and one skill or goal to work on.
Before I share these, I want to say one really important thing. I see a lot of teachers trying to figure out how to use all the great resources that are available these days -all at the same time. I get it- there are so many great things out there, but I think that is really hard.
I think it is better to focus on just one resource/curriculum. That way, there is less worry about what to teach, so you can concentrate on how.
I use the SOMOS curriculum for the most part. For the first three years that I taught, I only used SOMOS (and only after the first year, a novel). Then I started adding in bits and pieces from other curriculum creators- Señor Wooly, resources from SomewhereToShare and Placido Language Resources, and other resources from Martina Bex.
These goals are written as SMART goals.
Year 1* goals: survival.
I was just trying to figure out which way was up- new school, new level, new job, new career, etc.
Year 2: SLOW
Why: After being a student at NTPRS in a few demo classes and during coaching, I realized that the easiest, most impactful change I could make was to go slow. I even made a huge poster of my cats being super lazy with the word "slowly" on the bottom and hung it where I could see it while I was teaching.
Specific: My goal was to go slow- specifically, to speak slowly, with pausing and pointing to slow me down.
Measurable: I filmed myself in 15 minute segments and watched how many times I pointed to the L1 meaning, and did my best to measure my rate of speech. I also did a lot of self-reflection, and my supervisor agreed to observe me for just this one thing.
Attainable: Getting better at just one thing is realistic.
Realistic: It was very, very easy to focus on one thing. It felt manageable. Since I already knew, more or less, what I was teaching, focusing on just this felt like I could really do it.
Time based: I actually gave myself the whole year to work on this skill but self-assessed regularly.
Focusing on just this has made the greatest impact on my teaching.
Year 3: Survival.
Because some years, that is what you have to do. This was the year that we doubled the size of our middle school but did not hire any new staff. I have very few memories of this year, other than crying a lot.
Why: I spent the summer reading about boys, and how boys learn. (Hmmm...that was the year that instead of having a whole school read, we were given a list and got to choose. That was some good PD. Hint hint, admins!) I read Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax, and two other books about gender differences and education, and then I also spent some quality time with Annabelle Williamson, who is, of course, the Queen of brain breaks. I decided that one very tangible thing I could do to make my classroom more boy-brain friendly was to do more brain breaks.
Specific: just brain breaks (not rethinking everything!) and managing them. My goal was to incorporate 4-6 brain breaks an hour, or more.
Measurable: I measured by self-reflection, counting the number of breaks that I took in certain class periods, watching video of my teaching, and having my administrator observe me.
Attainable: I felt like I had enough of a handle on my classroom, being comprehensible, school culture, etc. to be able to focus my energy on this.
Realistic: I felt like it was reasonable to try this. I thought it through and made a plan. (My plan was basically to teach the "get quiet and go back to your seats" procedure first, and to keep a running list in front of me with favorite brain breaks and USE them.)
Time based: I gave myself the entire school year to figure this out. Having that much time helped me feel like I could try, fail, reflect, and try again.
Result: Brain breaks are such a huge part of my practice now that I can't even do a presentation with adults without doing brain breaks.
|Download my expectations here.|
Year 5: Consistency in responses to disruptions
This last year, my goal was to consistently use the classroom management system in A Natural Approach to the Year, also referred to as ANNATY, to maintain consistency and better manage my responses to behaviors. A key to this plan is to stay positive, so I added a sub-goal of being relentlessly positive the whole time.
Why: the previous year was a real bear in terms of classroom management- just a handful of kids, but they really worked me. It is the only time I have told my admin that I never wanted a kid back in my class. I felt like the plan outlined in ANNATY fit well with my philosophy about management as well as my teaching style, and provided really clear, easy to follow steps that could be practiced and implemented with consistency.
Specific: I was going to use the A,B,C, D levels of responses to disruptions with positivity. I wrote them out for myself and posted a mini-version next to my computer, so I could see it at any point.
Measurable: This was a little harder to measure, but I filmed myself and did a lot of self-reflection. And as far as measuring the positivity, it really came down to how I felt at the end of the class.
Realistic: Because I believed that this was going to be a good plan for me and my teaching style, it felt very realistic. And again, it was ONE thing.
Time-based: I had a check-in with myself at each mid-term and term end (6x). But again, I did it for a whole year.
Gaining consistency and maintaining the attitude of Relentless Positivity, (credited to master teacher Paul Kirshling but I first heard it from Annabelle) made another huge difference. I had the best year of my career. It wasn't because I had great kids (I didn't, ask all the other teachers!) nor was it because it was easy year (Oh, it really, really wasn't). I think it is because I was both consistent and positive.
Year 6: Responding to Anxious students
Big goal: I would like to better support high-anxiety, anxious students in my classroom.
Why: Let me be perfectly honest: I have little patience for these students. They are the ones that get under my skin and that I have to work very hard to not just dismiss them. And I know that I can do a lot better at meeting them where they are at and helping them develop a sense of efficacy and agency. It is a real area of growth for me because I just don't understand why they can't ....anyway, I know I need to work on this. I teach an honors class and I have a LOT of these students. They drive me crazy and I KNOW that I am not always meeting their needs.
Specific: I want to recognize my own lack of patience and respond in a way that will support these students- with kindness and understanding, not impatience and frustration. My plan is to identify when I start feeling frustrated and impatient, and take a deep breath, then think before responding. And when I respond, I want to respond with love.
Measurable: I plan on asking my admin for some ideas on how to measure this. I know that I can train myself to respond better, but I would like some feedback.
Time Sensitive: I want to give myself a full year for this.
What are your goals for the upcoming year?
Do you need some ideas? Here is a blog post I wrote about CI overwhelm, and also about goals- but at the bottom, there is a graphic organizer that might help categorize what you want to work on, and a little bit more about why I believe picking ONE THING is more powerful than many things. Please feel free to take a look.
*This was actually my fourth year teaching, but it was my first year really committing to input based teaching.