From 01/11/16) Nothing is as important as football in East Texas. And when I first moved out here, I was judgmental about that.
I’m over it. I’ve realized that Friday night at the stadium is an authentic assessment of so much student learning. I watched kids who were sleeping through my classes lead their football or dance teams, drum sections or picolo players to victory and I thought, “I want some of that.”
I don’t know from football but I loved Friday Night Lights, so I’ve adopted the show’s catchphrase for my second year as a rural Texas teacher: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!” Here’s how the first part of that challenge I set for myself has been going.
Clear EyesPractically speaking, my first commitment was to SHOW instead of TELL. My Career Education class is project-based (we’re not gold-standard yet — that’s next year’s commitment) and I have managed to create an example for all of my projects this semester. I’ve also incorporated much more in-class practice for our performance-based assessments.
Ad used in our entrepreneurship project.Outcome? Success! Students with less out-of-class experience with printed or English material have turned in work much closer to that of their peers, and my A+ kids are less anxious about getting it right.
The questions I have about this practice is whether I’m limiting their imaginations, or how I can move towards more open-ended projects without stressing these same two groups out.
The second part of my Clear Eyes commitment was to set clearer, easier-to-follow, more positive behavior expectations. I’ve still got the five rules that my education professor signed off on before I left Baylor, but I’ve expanded my procedures list.
Procedures allow me to offer reminders, like, “Hey, that’s window weirdness. Remember, we don’t announce who’s outside to the class,” instead of having to give consequences all the time. Hat tip to Edutopia where I always find great suggestions for classroom management.
The last part of Clear Eyes has evolved for me this semester. In Career Education, my students are opening their eyes to all the ways they could have a life they can enjoy and respect. I’ve had to become clear on a couple things:
In my new context, I am just now starting to find the aunties and brothers and grandmommas and pastors and community leaders who can help me translate what’s important about their contexts and my program. It’s a joyful journey, but I recognize that I am essentially still on square one.
In fact, I’m still at square one on a lot of these issues but my commitments to transparency this semester seem to have brought more trust into my classroom. My kids seem to think I will do what I can to help them learn. I’ve been doing this teaching thing for a while now, so I know what an honor that is.
Starting My Teaching Journey Over, from 09/2015:
Last year was terrible.I’m not a new teacher, but I made all the rookie mistakes. It had been eight years since I’ve been the person at the podium day in and day out, and they could tell.
I got eaten alive.
I caught all the germs, all the tough breaks (three subjects, three grades, three classrooms, almost no curriculum).
I did things I’d never done in a classroom before: I yelled. I gave out candy. I gave in to my wanderers one day and just declared a dance party right then and there. That was one of my better days.In June I caught my breath. This year had to be different. Sure, I’d only be teaching the one class — Career Education — but how do you get an eighth grader to care about the brass tacks of planning for her future? The kids I had last year didn’t seem to care about anything but sports.
I thought about this. I’d thought about it all year, actually; since the first time school was released early for students to attend a football game. My previous school district was extremely competitive academically and …I judged. I’ll be honest. Sports. It’s just games, you know?
But I’d taken this excellent course recently on gamification for workplace training, and saying it that way — games — made me realize I’d found the key.
There was a way back in, and it was games.My students love the sports they play, I came to realize, because they get to build competency, relationships, and are actively taught how to become good people. Our coaches in my town are not win-at-all-costs madmen/ladies. They are avidly invested in students’ personal growth, and the kids know it.
I can do that, I thought.
So I’m trying it. My approach this year is something I think of as Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose (if you don’t recognize this motto, run, now, here).
Clear Eyes: I need to make expectations more explicit.I got lazy about this working in a high-SES high-test score district in the past; I know better, and this isn’t that district. I need to tell why, every time.
When it comes to student work, I’m committing to making an example each time. When it comes to student behavior, I’m teaching Briarcliff’s Habits of Mind. When I talk with kids about changes I need in their behavior, we have a shared language and I can partner with kids to make a new plan for success, not shame or coerce. When it comes to Career Education, there are a lot of ways I can make the unspoken mores of the workplace and university system explicit, and I’ll talk about that more as the year goes on.
Full Hearts: Their hearts have to be in it. Maybe not every day, but they need to know they can impress me, make their families proud, represent their communities.One of the most important things I learned studying gamification is the many reasons why people are willing to put time and energy into work/games/anything. I need to respect the various motivations why the many “players” in my classroom are willing to do the kind of dumb things they do all day, from making posters to filling in worksheets. When I understand that, the quality of what I’m asking them to do improves, and their joy increases. …and when I didn’t understand that, everything sucked. !
Can’t Lose: I am not in this for the money, and neither are the students. We have to have some wins.Finding ways to let the kids “win” at things means that I have to be a coach. No matter how a team scores, a good coach is proud of a team that practiced well, learned what it was supposed to, and faced their challenge bravely. I have to find ways to give my students hard, interesting challenges, prepare them, and get out of the way.
One of the ways we’re talking about this concept is using Storyline — the idea that a good life story is like any good movie, with a character who wants something, will overcome anything to get it, and who celebrates his achievement. I’ll talk more about how we’re using this in the future, too.
This year is going better, so far. One of the autistic kids kind of apologetically hugged me the other day. I told a new kid happy birthday yesterday and he smiled bigger than he had all year. I rolled out a hard assignment that I’d worked really hard on, on a Friday, before the long weekend, and the kids TOTALLY ACTUALLY DID THE WORK.
I really think we may win the season.