It’s week two of school. This is the time of year when the hustle and bustle continues, relationships are building, enthusiasm in the classroom is at an all time high as we embark on a new school year. Education offers us an opportunity each year to come with fresh ideas and a clean slate after a rejuvenating summer. For me, in this 16th year of educating, I feel different. After 15 years in classrooms as a math teacher and instructional coach, I have transitioned into a new role as an administrator for my district. My perspective is changing, my view is broader, but my goal remains the same: I must stay laser focused on student learning.
Education is a politically charged field. If you are a student, a teacher, an administrator or a parent you’ve felt it. Sometimes in the classroom, as we adjust to new mandates and procedures that are placed upon us and our students the frustration we feel can distract from the ultimate goal. Regardless of any distractions and regardless of our role in education, I know now, more than ever, that this frustration can be eliminated through keeping that laser focus on our students. It’s not always easy. In fact, some days it’s tempting to take the easy route – ignore new technology, not make that parent phone call I am dreading, not probe into the reason why a learner is struggling, allow myself to pulled into the many distractors like email, paperwork and such. Nonetheless, today I ask you to pledge with me to keep the student at the center of our work. Here is how I do this:
- Frequent personal reflection. Educators rarely have time to eat or go to the restroom, let alone think. I have learned that I prioritize my TIME around the things that matter and reflection is one of those. Reflection can happen anywhere: at home, in the car, over my morning cup of coffee, at lunch. But I have to make time for it. During my daily reflection time, I think about the work I am engaging in and I probe into the WHY that drives my work. Why is this work, lesson, initiative, or innovative idea good for students? If my answer isn’t clear here, it may be time to consider alternatives. We want every choice in our classrooms to have a positive impact on student learning.
- Gently challenge the thinking of colleagues and be open to them challenging your own thinking. I call this my think partner. You need one who is willing to think with you. You need one who will question you when you decide to take the easier route instead of the one that is best for kids. In teaching, this was always someone on my teaching team. In coaching, this was a coaching colleague. As an administrator, I desire to be think partners with teachers and other administrators. Ask the hard questions. Offer the “what if” ideas. Keep pushing to make sure that classroom practices lead to maximizing student learning and engagement.
- Listen to students and watch for evidence of learning. Watch your students….they tell a story. When they are in our classrooms, are the happy? Are they curious? Are they articulate in their thinking? Are they challenging each other and maybe even you? Are they calm? Is the work they are producing an example of your intended learning? When you ask a question or share feedback, does it lead to further learning? We have impact in our roles in education. Every move we make can impact students positively or negatively.
- Be okay being wrong. It is okay to adjust your plan. This is how I learn. Furthermore, student learning demands that we adjust based on what our students need daily. Throw out those month long lesson plans. Have a vision and clear learning goals, but be flexible within those so that we can respond to our student needs in a flexible and fluid way. There were times when I was much too rigid in my math classroom. Our students will learn more if we respond to where they are and adjust our plan when students don’t respond in the way we anticipated. In fact, modeling how to be wrong and adjust the plan is so great for our students & colleagues to see. Engage students in the process.
My biggest hope in my new role in administration is that I can remain laser-focused on what really matters – our students. Our students bring so much to our classrooms each day. How are you keeping focused this year?