being a teacher, choices, Student-centered, trust

5 + 1 Things I Learned This Year

I was recently asked what would be my top 5 things I have learned this past year in my journey to radically change my classroom.  So after some deep pondering and gut checks, here are the lessons I have learned, or the top 5 + 1.

  1. Give them choice (and a voice).  The number one thing my students said they loved was the fact that they had a choice and a voice.  As teachers we are taught that we are the only experts but this is so far from the truth.  My students have a lot of background knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm so letting them choose the type of project they wanted to create or how they wanted to learn something meant there was buy in.   No longer was learning mandated, there was actual buy-in from everyone.
  2. Trust your students.  I was not sure that my students could handle all of the responsibility I was giving them but throughout the year I was proven wrong again and again.  In fact, my students could probably have handled even more.  Trust also means that if they tell you something not so nice, you should celebrate it, not get upset.  The fact that my students trusted me enough to tell me something was boring is something that I relish and then learned from.  
  3. Trust yourself.  I knew I had to make big changes in my room and yet I questioned myself throughout the year.  was not giving them a letter grade really benefitting them?  Was not having punishment in my classroom better for all of us?  Were we accomplishing as much as we should have?  My gut told me I was doing the right thing and yet doubt snuck in sometimes, in the end, do what you believe in and then stand behind it.  There is a reason your common sense is telling you something is amiss and needs to be fixed, so fix it to suit you.
  4. Ask yourself the tough questions.  I asked myself whether I would be a student in my own classroom.  Before this year, the answer would have been a resounding no.  Now that answer has changed.  In fact, I love being in my classroom as much as my students do.  School should be about learning, yes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be engaging and enticing at the same time.
  5. Give yourself a break.  There were days were I sucked as a teacher.   Days were I pined for inane punishment just to make them behave or were I raised my voice.  There were days were I didn’t feel like giving feedback or having lengthy conversations about projects.  Some days I just wanted to lecture and be done with it.  Thankfully my students snapped me out of that really quickly.  You are not perfect, you never will be, and that is ok.  Trust the direction you are taking and make adjustments as you see fit.  
  6. Be Quiet!  Teaching should not be about teachers pouring information into the heads of students, but rather teachers as a guide letting students explore, create, and make connections.  When we let the students own the classroom and the discussion they also take ownership of the learning, and that is a beautiful thing indeed.  So get off the stage but set it up for them to learn and then stop talking.  Much like we ask our parents to not help with homework, we should also ask ourselves to not take away the pleasure of learning.  

So there they are; my biggest lessons this year.  I am already excitedly planning for my transition to 5th grade next year and reevaluating what worked, what sucked, and what will I definitely do differently.  A new year brings new challenges and for that I am thankful.

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