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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.
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.