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What is Your Teaching Everest?

I’m standing on my desk.

It’s dangerous, but exhilarating, and I probably look like a loon, but I don’t care. (Please see my post where I embrace my dorkdom in an effort to really get to know my students and move on happily with passionate living and teaching.)

oh-captain

High heels kicked off, channeling the spirit of Mr. John Keating and brazen pigeons everywhere, I’m perched on the edge of my desk during prep, looking around the room to try and gain gain a different perspective.

Oh, Captain, my Captain…Somebody call security. She’s lost it.

No, no. I’m all right. (Well, you know – Relatively speaking. Dear colleagues, if you hear a thud, please investigate.)

So, what caused this poetic exploration of my abandoned classroom? I was thinking about a quote I heard at NCTE 2016:

What is your Everest this year as a teacher?

No, my desk isn’t my Everest. I’m not that far gone. But, per Shana’s inspiration to start with a question, I was thinking about what needs my attention the most right now. With 86 minutes to plan, grade, create, and locate necessary motivation to do all of the roomaforementioned tasks, what should I start with?

There’s certainly a lot to chose from: stacks of papers, countless books to read, share, and sort, a department in need of collaborative time to plan, students flying under the radar.

Everything in front of me is important. I need to grade the narratives my sophomores wrote, to put some ending punctuation on that adventure. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is calling to me too. That book is Hester Prynne meets Offred meets futuristic criminal justice system that injects offenders with a skin altering virus based on their crimes – I need several extra hours in the day to read. Truth be told, I should have started this post sooner too. Procrastination and exhaustion mix into a delightful little cocktail called Crippled Motivation. Bartender, I’ll take another when you have a minute.  

In all seriousness though, I return to my question (Yes, I’m off my desk, Mom), because answering it means I can get something done. I’m weird that way. Could I pick up a stack of papers and just start? Of course. But I have to mentally work up to it, know my plan, have a reward of some sort (read five papers, read When She Woke for five minutes). This time, the question, the task, the implication is much bigger.

What’s most important right now? When I could do a thousand things, what needs to be done right now because it will mean the most?  I know the answer. And not only because I was just standing on my desk :

My Everest this year is feedback.

Consistent, responsive, quick feedback that first encourages, and then focuses in on promoting growth. Remember the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar? That’s the stuff right there.

I want to move my students forward. We all do. But now, more than ever,  I believe the way to do it is through sincere investment in the original thoughts and explorations of my students. Personal connections that, yes, take some time, but build relationships that have helped me to better recommend texts, suggest style moves students may need to make in their more formal writing, and encourage additional critical thinking beyond the classroom.

I used to stress about “finding something good” to include in my comments to my students. And I hate to say this, but it’s downright hard in some instances, isn’t it?

I really like what you did with the title there. 
Interesting transitional choice. 
Wow. So many words in that sentence.
Nice…font selection.

But now,  I’m thinking about feedback in new ways and delivering it in new ways too. To reach my Everest, I’m going to have to get creative and intentional. So, here’s what I did this afternoon:

  • Read through a section of one pager submissions from my AP students. Check them in with the quick rubric for a formative score, and email five students per class with reactions. Not corrections, but reactions. Students are encouraged to explore in these writings and the best means of moving them forward in this case is to share additional insights, question, and encourage. I highlighted the students’ names in my gradebook to know I’ve contacted them and I’ll do the same with several more students next week. Writing feedback…check.

fran

  • I made a plan for conferring during reading later this week. Without a plan, it’s feeling random and I’m not doing it enough (the thousand things on my desk keep capturing my attention). So, I have a list. I know who I want to talk with based on quick writes students did today. They reflected on their progress toward their weekly reading goals and some students are struggling. Just by having them take a quick photo with their phones and email me the page, I got a literal snapshot of how each and every one of my students is doing with their independent reading, and I didn’t have to collect notebooks. Now, I’ve emailed a few students congratulations and made this plan. In the picture below, Alexis refers to her current read as “a beautiful romance of adventure.” Love! Reading feedback…check. 

    img_1012

  • Students will self-assess their latest practice AP argument essays. Feedback does not need to come from me to be beneficial. Using the AP rubric to help justify scores, students will take a sheet of paper, put a score and justification on the top, fold it over and hand it to the person next to them. Scoring will proceed in the same way around the table until everyone has his/her paper back. The table will then need to calibrate/norm and agree on a score. Self assessment and peer assessment…check
  • I am going to question and listen more. Long ago, I gave up on the idea that my imparting knowledge on others was the best way for them to learn. Everyone learns best when the are motivated to do so through personal connection to the work, interest in the material, and an understanding of how to improve. Workshop sets this up in a classroom, it’s now my job to remember to listen more and jump in less. During conferences, during book clubs, during discussion. Listen first, respond, encourage, and redirect/suggest later. This certainly doesn’t mean my presence in the room diminishes. It means I remember that my presence in the room is to guide my students, not steamroll them.

Gaining a new perspective feels like hitting the reset button to me. It provides clarity of mind and purpose. Skill development is my professional responsibility. Human development is my personal responsibility. They work hand in and hand and they are the Everest I will climb all year, every year, as I talk with, respond to, and gain insights alongside my students.

What is your teaching Everest this year? We’d love to hear from you! Please add your insights to the comments below! 

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7 thoughts on “What is Your Teaching Everest?

  1. […] It means taking time to conference with students both during reading and workshop time, and also providing feedback on low stakes writing throughout a unit. It means encouraging kids to talk, and reminding ourselves to listen. It has to […]

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  2. Gary Anderson December 1, 2016 at 10:44 am Reply

    “Skill development is my professional responsibility. Human development is my personal responsibility.” Exactly.

    Underlying both of these imperatives is an understanding that (a.) we never reach the finish line, and (b.) encouraging constant growth in students is not rooted in focusing on perceived “deficiencies” but in helping them frame their own pathways for growth.

    I’m also excited about how this kind of professional attitude becomes contagious and provides leverage for sparking professional growth in others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Dennis December 2, 2016 at 8:19 am Reply

      Gary, your phrasing of the two imperatives is brilliant. We often feel like never reaching the finish line is the source of frustration and exhaustion, when really, it’s an opportunity for just the sort of growth you discuss in that second imperative. I promise to continue showering this attitude all over the place.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Erika B. December 1, 2016 at 10:34 am Reply

    Lisa,

    I love: “Skill development is my professional responsibility. Human development is my personal responsibility.” This resonates with me. Thank you, especially with where we are as a society [today], for rooting for students everywhere by simply reminding educators that THIS is what matters.

    Best,
    Erika

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    • Lisa Dennis December 2, 2016 at 8:23 am Reply

      Erika – When do you and I get to meet?! The ladies think and speak so highly of you, I hope we can get our like-minded brains together in person some day. Thank you for your kind words. I was playing those words over in my head this morning as a colleague handed an eager young lady two books to take home over the weekend. The smiles on their faces solidified the idea that we can develop skilled students and enthusiastic consumers of information all at the same time. They need not be mutually exclusive. Have a wonderful weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] just read Lisa Dennis’ blog post “What is Your Teaching Everest?”  It was my diversion from grading and from thinking about how far behind I am on grading. […]

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Dennis December 2, 2016 at 8:20 am Reply

      Karen, my thoughts playing across your prep period tickles me to no end. I hope it was a welcome mulling over of ideas. Have a wonderful weekend!

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