Category Archives: Gena Mendoza

Shining the Spotlight on Classroom Success

All too often, as the year comes to an end, our focus tends to be on reflecting about what we will change or tweak next year. With several different ways to evaluate teachers, analyzing student performance, and finalizing grades, does it ever occur to us that our focus should begin with what went well? If you are anything like me, the answer, most likely, is no. It can be difficult when our minds are caught up in how we can do more, did we do enough in the first place, and where can we go from here.

Improvement and growth are fantastic ways to ensure we don’t become complacent. However, sometimes it is equally, if not more important, to shine a spotlight on lessons that worked, and student growth and successes, no matter how large or small. Before we dive head first into rethinking next year, here are some key reflection questions to help us shift our focus, instead, to what made our classrooms successful this year. 


  • What all did my students do well this year? My students read, listened, collaborated, discussed, participated, created, researched, wrote, considered, but most of all, they learned. They learned about Shakespeare’s influence in literature and how to have accountability in their peer discussions. They learned about rhetorical strategies and about their personal stances on important, global issues. They analyzed speeches, made connections to their personal lives, made complex assertions, and practiced defending their opinions with support from a multitude of texts.


  • How did they show growth? My students showed growth in the risks they took in their writing. For some, it was that they came to class and participated at least 4 times a week. One student in particular increased engagement in class and asked constructive questions in order to facilitate her own learning. Every student is educated in growth mindset and has the tools (whether they choose to act or not) to take responsibility for his or her own contributions to their own learning.


  • What did I do to improve instruction this year? With 3 brand new preps, I focused on attending training that would directly benefit my classroom. I set goals and frequently monitored my progress in order to help me stay consistently motivated and accountable. On my campus, I utilized the expertise and creativity of my colleagues in order to keep students engaged and positively influence their learning.


  • How did I grow as a professional? I collaborated with my colleagues in my PLC, researched ways to target specific student needs, contributed to a pretty fabulous blog (if I do say so, myself!), and took risks by putting myself out there and consistently stepping out of my comfort zone. All of my experiences this year have contributed to my growth professionally in one way or another.


  • What was my most successful lesson or strategy? The lessons that impacted my students the most were the ones in which they had freedom and choice to demonstrate their learning. These ranged from anticipatory class discussions, creative writing pieces, and Socratic Seminars.


  • What was my most memorable moment this year? My most memorable moments were seeing my students receive their college acceptance letters, writing letters of recommendation, helping my kids sort through issues that had nothing (yet everything) to do with our classroom assignments. Specifically, all of the letters and cards I received for Teacher Appreciation Week that are hung on my bulletin board from past and present students, and some of whom I have never had, personally, but crossed my path in some way this year.

The answers to your own personal responses should fill you with pride, awe, and accomplishment. We are all human and no school year will ever mirror another. After all, that IS the beauty in this extraordinary opportunity to make a difference that we GET TO call a career. I encourage every educator to pause and consider all of the many things we have done this year that positively impacts kids. Keep those ideas in mind when planning and build upon that as you continue to grow professionally.

Please share your successes in the comments. Let’s end our school year recognizing all of the positive aspects of teaching! What were some examples of success in your classroom this year?

images (1)

Gena Mendoza teaches High School English in San Antonio, TX. All of the successes of students in her classroom have motivated her to keep striving for excellence and to further her own personal education by pursuing a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She invites you to connect and share your brilliance and expertise with her on Twitter at @Mrs_Mendoza3. 


Back to Basics: The FUNdamentals of Teaching High School English

“Mrs. Mendoza, you should write a book!”

One of my more enthusiastic students suggested this to me upon completion of our anticipatory class discussion prior to reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. During this particularly intense conversation, I warned my students that my job was to help them truly THINK about their opinions versus simply letting them share them without having to explain their perspective. They needed to be prepared for me to push them out of their comfort zones and to explain the WHY behind their position.

I quickly replied, “About what? How To Argue With Teenagers?” 

Throughout the discussion, I made sure EVERY student voiced their opinions and ensured that they knew that these were not set in stone. They were allowed to move freely around the room if their thoughts changed based on their peers’ perspectives, but they had to be ready to discuss their choices and why they made them.  

My student countered, “About anything! I would love to know what YOU really think about…just life in general-in all its forms.”

imagesWhile I admit it, his comment hit me right in the warm, fuzzy teacher-feels; I was more focused on the fact that I felt like my students not only enjoyed class that day, but they left also feeling like it was meaningful. Making meaningful connections to Shakespeare BEFORE we even read it? Why yes, yes they did. #teachergoals

One of the best ways I have found that readers and writers workshop works in my class is when all students experience the chance to speak, listen, read, write, and interact. Usually, it doesn’t take hours of preparation, 953 copies, or even a super cool tech device, app ,or tool. [Although, those strategies/tools work well, too!] Sometimes, it requires nothing but time and a little FUN…damentals.

A while back, Amy Rasmussen wrote about her 7 Moves in My Workshop Schedule which helped me envision my own teaching non-negotiables in my classroom. She referred back to it here when other teachers inquired about the question that plagues several teachers everywhere; “How can we do it all?” Simple. We go back to the basics.

During that week, I admit I was pressed for time due to the end of the grading period, room displacements, etc. I needed to plan something that would require very little of me in regards to preparation but would serve as a strong springboard to launch into our study of Julius Caesar. I researched and found an anticipation guide with 5 controversial statements I knew would make for an incredible discussion. Levels of Agreement

Around the room, levels of agreement signs were posted in which students traveled to based on their perspective of the statement. Here’s a brief rundown of how the lesson flowed in our class;

  1. Upon discussion of agenda for the day, we read each statement individually first. Then, they listened as I read them aloud again.
  2. Students were asked to rank their levels of agreement and write about whether they agreed, disagreed, or were undecided. Students were given time to work through each statement prior to discussion.
  3. We went through each statement individually. Students were able to share their perspectives, interact with each other whole class and within each new group, and revise their thoughts if they heard something they didn’t consider or were undecided to begin with. They SAW this live as we were talking through it and verbally explained reasons for the changes they made to their original responses.
  4. After we went through each statement, students had the opportunity to choose which statement they wanted to reflect about and had time in class to write about it. If students needed clarification or assistance, it gave me an opportunity to confer with them individually.

So many of my students were eager to provide positive feedback once we debriefed the discussion prior to reading the play. They appreciated the diversity in their opinions and the ability to express themselves in a safe space. EVERYONE had an opinion to share. We were able to agree to disagree and keep the conversations objective and focused throughout the discussion.  Even though it felt like we didn’t “DO” a lot, we read, wrote, discussed, revised, reflected, explained, conferred when necessary, and supported our thinking. Bonus: We had FUN, too!

I am still learning and working on how to consistently implement these practices daily in my lessons. I am not there, yet. However, as long as I have these non-negotiables in mind, I know the rest will come.

What are your non-negotiables when it comes to the basics? How have you been able to successfully implement them? What challenges have you come across, too? I would love to learn from all of the ideas, strategies, and routines you have in your classrooms, so please share!

Gena Mendoza teaches High School English in San Antonio, Texas. Her recent non-negotiables in life have become a fully stocked candy stash in her desk drawer, Blue Bell’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Ice Cream, Starbucks’ mobile ordering app, and finishing All American Boys by Jason Reynolds. She invites you to connect with her on Twitter at @Mrs_Mendoza3.

%d bloggers like this: