Reflections from 2016-2017

Before I close the chapter on this school year, I want to reflect on my successes and failures to learn how I can improve next year.

Here are 3 of my takeaways from this school year:

#1 Breaking out of our Bubbles: Creating safe but challenging spaces

As a Social Studies teacher I often experience how upbringing shapes worldviews. Parents generally play the biggest role in shaping students’ beliefs, but social media, friends and traditional media (news, magazines, movies, etc) are significant factors as well. This year’s election made this abundantly clear.

Political pundits and those who lean to the left did not anticipate or understand the groundswell of support the President gained during his campaign. Also, many ardent supporters of the President often failed to appreciate the legitimate concerns raised by his critics.

I saw this play out in my classroom. Whether we were debating taxes & government spending in Economics or the Syrian refugee crisis in Global Issues, too often I saw students simply become more hardened in the views they had prior to entering the classroom.

While it may be idealistic, I want to be sure I create a classroom which encourages truly open minds and conclusions being drawn based on facts. I want to create a space where students feel comfortable sharing their views but also are open to being challenged to pierce the bubbles we too often inhabit.

Next year, one way I hope to achieve this is by trying to train students in a more collaborative model of discussions where students must work together to construct new ways of thinking about controversial issues.

#2 Technology: Fragmenting Knowledge & Student Data

With every passing year, the amount of information that is easily accessible to students has grown exponentially. Similarly, tools that easily allow teachers to gather data about student learning has also increased. These shifts create significant opportunities and risks.

In order for computers to gather information, learning tasks must be fairly objective and discrete (e.g. multiple choice tests and rubrics). We tend to do what we can measure. This year using tools like Pear Deck, Actively Learn and Canvas helped generate data that gave me deeper insights about individual students’ performance which then helped me differentiate instruction. However, these tools also increased the likelihood of learning to be fragmented into bite sized measureable pieces. Deep learning does not occur in such a discrete process.

Next year, while continuing to adopt new, powerful education technology tools, I want to be sure I create learning opportunities that allow students to be fully immersed in complex ideas for long stretches of time even if they cannot easily be assessed.

#3 Instructional Coaching: Learning from Others

This was the first year I taught part-time and served as an instructional innovation coach for the remainder of the day. I loved it.

The cliche of teachers saying they learn more from their students than students learn from them, was true in the work I did with other teachers. The most gratifying aspect of being an instructional coach was the opportunities it created for me to peek at the types of lessons and projects other teachers were designing.

While it’s possible that teachers spend time with more than 125 students a day, teaching can be oddly isolating. Rarely do we have time to see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Working as an instructional coach helped break down some of these walls.

I learned how to help students create music videos based on the musical Hamilton , construct multimedia-rich interactive timelines about the Civil War and use Google Maps to visualize the French Revolution.

Next year, I want to learn how to truly coach teachers and not simply serve as a technology resource. Also, I hope to learn more about the incredible teaching my peers are already doing and share their successes with a broader audience.

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