For the last two years, I’ve written Top Ten Lessons Learned blog posts at the end of the school year. (You can see them here and here.) This time I’ve struggled with it. It was a rough year, really rough. From serious health crises in my circle of family and friends, to unnecessary turmoil caused by poorly designed and poorly delivered professional development initiatives, to the crumbling of the Illinois pension system when I’m less a year away from retirement, this year has delivered more than its fair share of whacks. Does that mean I haven’t learned anything? Heck, no. I’ve learned a lot! The challenge is to express with positivity the learning that derived from negative circumstances. The name of this blog is What’s Not Wrong. Let’s go.
1. Sometimes students can’t come to school. When that happens, we need to deeply empathize. They may have issues going on that we would never want happening in our own homes and families. Some things—many things—are more important than our next unit and assignment. We are teachers. When we show compassion and empathy, we teach compassion and empathy.
2. Even though the mandated professional development model is still thriving in some places, it’s a zombie. It’s dead but just doesn’t know it. How do we deal with a zombie? Give it the attention it demands. Then let it go on its way.
3. Self-directed professional development is flourishing! Opportunities are popping up everywhere for teachers to grow professionally in ways that directly benefit them and their students. Online networking is still huge, and the edCamp model is morphing in all kinds of interesting ways to bring teachers together in authentic professional collaboration. (If this concept is a new one for you, go to your favorite search engine and put in edcamp or technology playdate.)
4. The keys to helping students develop as independent readers are choice, opportunity, and positive reinforcement. It’s that simple. Let students choose the majority of their books. Give them time to read those books. Lay the groundwork for positive reinforcement of their reading habits. (A really good way to provide that reinforcement is through comments on student-written book blog posts.)
5. When it comes to providing students with feedback on their writing, I’ve experimented with a lot of methods. Nothing is better than face-to-face conferences. Finding the time to do it is tough but worth it. I’m looking for ways to expand this.
6. When students use digital media along with more traditional text, they wrestle with complex rhetorical ideas: What is the best design approach? When and why should I use words? When and why should I use an image, video, or widget? How do these elements affect each other and my audience?
7. As testing replaces curriculum in our schools, we need to be selective about what is truly important and preserve it. This is becoming more difficult each year. We may not be able to prevent that curricular hijacking, but we can make hard decisions about what we keep and what we can best afford to abandon to the hijackers.
8. Teachers can never be satisfied with their level of learning. Learning is our area of expertise, and if we’re not continuing to learn, we’re not really the experts that our students and communities deserve. What am I still trying to learn? Here’s a short list: (1.) How does using digital media affect the composition process? (2.) How can I better balance efficiency with empathy? (3.) What is the narrative of my classroom, and how does it affect my students?
9. When I lose my temper at school, it gets some attention, but it doesn’t solve anything. (I never lose it in class. Each episode was more of a grown-up thing.) That happened twice this year. It won’t happen at all next year, guaranteed.
10. One reason I’m the luckiest guy in the world is because I get to do this job of helping young people become better readers, writers, thinkers, and learners. There are other reasons too, but this is one of them.
Your comments are always appreciated. If you posted a year-end reflection somewhere, feel free to put a link or URL here. Thanks.