Take Time for Reflection: Advice from Clairessa Cruz

Graduate from The University of Texas at Arlington, 2015

So many times on my drive to and from school I catch myself self-reflecting on a lesson or thinking how I
can get students interested in the lesson with a joke or song to make instruction relevant to my young students. This, my friends is reflection and growth. For example, if you were to walk into my classroom spring semester you would see a totally different class from the one at the beginning of the year. This is because my style of teaching and interest of my students have changed with each new school day.

Today in my classroom, you will hear and see six-and-seven-year olds chanting our classroom motto, rapping out phonic songs, or working independently on a skill.   But this change in my classroom did not happen overnight.  This change took place on a daily basis of self-reflection. And by that I mean self-reflection of myself, my teaching style, and getting to know my student’s interest and their learning styles.

Some call me an over-achiever, while others say I’m a perfectionist, but whatever label you categorize me in, it does not change that I hold myself to high expectations and desire to be the BEST teacher EVER!  Therefore, self-reflection is a must when it comes to my lesson plans, teaching style, and student’s learning style.  I’m constantly reflecting on what I can do to update lessons, add student’s interest into current TEKS, and even at times humbling myself by others asking for guidance and advice.

As I drove home on a recent evening, I flashed back to being in Dr. Myers’ and Dr. Melton’s class, recalling the formal observations Dr. Hulings conducted on me during my junior and senior year!  I remember as a junior and senior feeling frustrated after each lesson plan and/or observation and being required to  fill out a post-observation form, which needless to say was “REFLECT, DEAR CHILD, REFLECT!” Of course the arrogant and inner self perfectionist thought they were just trying to withhold more points from my grade, but now that I am on the other end as an assessor and no longer a first-year teacher, my thoughts and views have drastically changed.  And after years of persistent practice, I now practice self-reflection on myself and my students on a daily basis.

So I challenge you to self-reflect on who you are as a teacher and who your students are in today’s classroom.  Maybe you can identify with my pain as I did as a student-teacher, or maybe you’re a veteran teacher and thinking “Blah-Blah-Blah I know, self-reflect…”  But either way take time to sincerely reflect on you and your learners. I plead with you, please don’t short change yourself or your leaders of tomorrow by not humbling yourself by self-reflecting on your lessons and teaching style.   I challenge you to consider the following: Do you need to start having more interesting higher order thinking questions? Do you need to add bullets to every single supply needed to assure the lesson starts on time? Do you need to have a better hook to intrigue your students to your lesson? Do you need to use your student’s personal interests in the classroom and modify it to your lessons?

Don’t be so proud to not ask for guidance from your colleagues or student’s. From firsthand experience, sometimes getting colleagues or peers feedback may sting for a while, but the benefits can last for a lifetime!  As I mentioned earlier I’m a 110% Perfectionist, but if I did not humble myself and ask my students questions of their interest or learning styles, or seek guidance from my colleagues I honestly don’t believe I could sit here and write about this from my heart and soul!

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory says all learners can learn and that we all have one learning style more dominate than another.  Although, I myself feel I am equal in more than one, I also know that this knowledge has allowed me to self-reflect in who I am as a teacher and who my students are as learners.

Finally, before I conclude, please don’t think this piece of advice does not apply to you based on the grades that you have taught or the numbers of years that you’ve been teaching because reflection is at the core of quality instruction. In fact, the most eye-opening reflections have come from the mouths of innocent students with the passion to learn and colleagues who offered the best ideas and advice.  I’m glad I was listening. And that’s what I’ll be thinking of on the ride down Cooper Street this afternoon.

The Most Difficult Post I Have to Write- a Teacher’s Confession by Aubrey Steinbrink

Aubrey Steinbrink: Instructional Coach

Follow me at  mrssteinbrink6.com    and Twitter  @Aubrey steinbri1

I have always been a futuristic, strategic thinker.  I blame this on my coaches and my mother, and I know this is a good thing (a strength). Unfortunately, it has also been something I have struggled with as a parent and a teacher.  It is difficult for me to stay in the moment with my kids.  My sons are only five and three, but everything I do with them has a purpose for their future; discipline, education, structure, etc… As a teacher, being a systematic, strategic planner was what came natural to me.  But, being so calculated has created some of my most difficult setbacks, challenges, and FAILURES in my career.

After three years of trying to affect my students’ futures, impact the classroom by making calculated decisions for the test and trying to move students through the curriculum- I finally had the hit on the head I needed to wake me up- the HIT that made me slow down!   I was going to lose my job if I wasn’t willing to change. I also realized that those last three years, I missed the opportunity to know some great kids.

It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I had to admit to myself that thinking about the future was hurting my relationship with my students and, in turn, hurting my results.  So, instead of hiding under a rock (like I desperately wanted to) this failure became the chance for me to reexamine myself, my teaching philosophy, and my mindset about teaching.

I had to STOP worrying about their future.

I had to STOP worrying about the scores.

I had to STOP believing that I could impact students’ lives without ‘knowing’ them.

I had to STOP thinking it was Me vs. them.

I had to START listening.

I had to START talking with them.

I had to START looking at my students as the drivers and me as a facilitator.

I had to START being in the moment.

I had to START looking at my classroom as my family, my team.

I had to START becoming mindful in my teaching.

It was during that year of reinvention that I discovered the value in student autonomy, student-involved data conferences and student collaboration and feedback. It wasn’t about what I did today to affect their lives tomorrow. It was about being in the moment with them; checking in with them.  When I stopped looking at the future, I was able to build relationships with my students that made a much bigger impact than any one thing I had done before.

My first step was to talk with my students even after the initial ‘good morning’ at the door.  I wanted to hear about their personal connections to characters, to conflicts, and solutions in our stories.

My second step was to create a student-centered classroom.  This meant the students’ knowledge and understanding determined the how long I taught on a certain objective.  They began to choose their independent practice based on their personal goals and areas of weakness.  Guided reading become the center of my classroom instruction.  I had students begging for the attention they were given during my small group guided reading sessions.  Fourth, fifth and sixth graders were asking to meet with me instead of working with partners or independently.

Final Step, 

every decision that I made was based on what that day brought.  I had to become mindful of my students’ feelings, attitudes, and personalities.  I had to KNOW whether or not, on that particular day, if the students would be able to handle what I had planned or if they were wanting MORE.  I had to become mindful. I had to become a mind reader; someone who was able to read the room. It wasn’t about ME anymore- it became about them.

-and with this-

My students became my ‘kids’.  I wanted them to succeed in each of their goals because of who they were, NOT for the results on the test or for me. I gained more than increased test results.  I was able to treat every day as a significant part of their life.

Teaching became a significant part of my life as well.

Upcoming Twitter Chat: #txeduchat. Join us! Sunday, 3/26, 8-9 pm, CT

Join the Twitter chat on #txeduchat this Sunday, 3/26!. Dr. Semingson (@PeggySemingson) moderates these each week. A different guest speaker or speakers host each week!

#txeduchat is this Sunday, 3/26, 8-9 pm, Dr. Harrison McCoy (@DrHarrisonMcCoy)

#txeduchat Sunday, 3/26 at 8 p.m., Central.

Topic: Design Thinking.




Music, Learning, and Teacher Development by Dr. David Sparks

Dr. David Sparks, Assistant Professor of Science Education and Faculty in the UTeach program at The University of Texas at Arlington, shares advice.

I have always been a student and lover of music. It started in the 6th grade when I picked up a trumpet and squawked out a few notes. Then through six years of band, 2 years of stage band (with a flugelhorn), numerous years of choir, singing solos, and filling in as a music minister in my church. But the last few years I have experienced a renaissance of sorts in my musical life.

It began in the summer of 2015 when I purchased a turntable. This act opened up a new world to me. A world of classical music, jazz, blues, movie soundtracks, and classic rock artists that I have never heard of before. When my shelf space filled up with vinyl, I started buying cheap CD’s and discovering even more music from groups in the 1990s and early 2000s. It has evolved into a full-fledged addiction with my collection currently surpassing 800 vinyl records and 200 CDs, as well as a few thousand downloaded songs. I re-discovered a love and respect for music on a scale that I never thought possible.

One phenomenon that has accompanied this obsession is learning to appreciate songs I have never heard and develop a taste for new artists. Vinyl records almost require that you listen to the entire collection of songs on a particular recording, which can include the good, the bad, and the ugly. But the real experience is listening to a new song or album and withholding judgment until you have listened to it once or even twice. As with some movies, I do not always like an album on the first listen. But with patience, I can hear the nuances of instruments, internalize the lyrics, and feel the passion of the artists as they created their work. The hard part is listening with an open mind and letting the music speak to you. In this process, I have greatly expanded the variety of genres that I am willing to play and I have a new love and appreciation for most styles of music.

But this is not about music. This is about listening to advice. This about listening to those who have fought the fight before you; those who have worked in the trenches and taught thousands of students. This is about listening to the voice inside you that says “This is not working” as you make adjustments to a lesson you are teaching. This is about not listening to the negative voices around you; the voices that say your profession is underpaid and overworked and the kids are disrespectful and never want to learn. As you grow as a professional educator, opening your mind includes taking on greater and greater responsibilities and not listening to that voice that says “This is impossible.”

Open your mind to being an artist. Just as musical artists create works of great significance that touch emotions, bring back memories of childhood, speak of the power and excitement of love, and also expose the hurt and pain of loss. Create lessons that inspire. Create lessons that make kids laugh and cry and have memories that they will never forget. Create a symphony and speak through the instruments of your students to create something that will move them for years, decades, and a lifetime.

When someone asks me “How many more records do you need?,” my answer is always “One more.”

When someone asks you how many students you think you can change and inspire, your answer should also be: “One more.”

Create. Inspire. Sing your song.