Thursday, January 31, 2013

Unplugging from technology; Plugging in with my students

One of the first (and most concrete) goals I set for myself in "13 Resolutions for 2013" was to stop going on the computer during school. I am embarrassed to report that I haven't completely dropped this habit (I still get on the computer during tests, free writes, or long individual tasks, usually to review my lesson plans, prepare for the next part of the class, or catch up on Engrade). However, in attempting to break this bad habit I have made some small but measurable progress, and also formed a new and more positive classroom habit. Rather than hop on the computer in moments of silence when students are occupied, I keep a notebook nearby and make notes on my classes. I write about what is working and what isn't, how I am feeling, how students are responding, and anything else I want to make note of to remember and revisit later. Not only is this keeping me off the computer, and therefore more open and engaged in the present moment, by not sitting down at my desk I am more open and available to my students. This is just an initial attempt at making small but lasting changes in the way I teach and the way I interact in the classroom, but so far it has had a really positive effect, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. 

The next resolution I plan on tackling: #2, "More Student Talking Time." 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A daily (writing) practice

I have recently started a daily writing practice. This idea kind of fell out of the sky, into my lap, and somehow I have been able to scoop it up and make it a habit. I am finding that this practice is doing wonders for my mental, physical, and emotional well-being; not to mention enhancing my experience in the classroom and my connection with my students. So, felt the need to share.

What I am doing: a hybrid of the website “750 words” and “the morning pages” from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’ll let them describe the practice:

750 words is based on “the idea is that if you can get in the habit of writing three pages a day, that it will help clear your mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day.”
-750 words main site

The morning pages are “three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness...pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind.”
-Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Strangely enough, these two resources were brought to me via two completely vehicles:
I read about The Artist’s Way on a blog, and I first heard of 750 words on Twitter. Funny that I didn’t take the time to read the main page of 750 words initially, and therefore did not realize that it was, in fact, inspired by The Artist’s Way. Instead, I thought that these two things had come into my life separately yet serendipitously, and was shocked at the similarities in practice and principle that they had in common. So silly. A few observations from my experience so far.

Day 1: Just wrote my first entry, and I’m loving it (my inner voice laughs and says, “Of course you love it, you’ve only done it for one day! Muahaha”) I love the brain-drain aspect of just getting things out of my head and onto paper-er, the computer screen, and I love the idea of practicing and developing writing skills by just writing, plain and simple.

Day 3: Though I am still a newbie, and cannot comment on any long-term results, I can say that this practice resonates with me deeply, and that I am excited and inspired by this new challenge and looking forward to see how it enhances my teaching, reading, writing, reflection, and creativity over time. I have made a commitment to do the morning pages, am continuing to feel delighted as I see myself accumulate check marks over time on 750 words, and will keep you updated on my experience during this new practice.

Day 5: I have earned a badge commemorating my five-day streak. Feel like a kid who earned a gold star on her homework.

Day 9: I have somehow made writing 750 words a part of my daily morning routine. I wake up, roll out of bed, turn on the coffee maker, and write 750 words. Sometimes I write about my dreams, sometimes about my worries, sometimes about how I don’t want to go to work. However, I am noticing a pattern, and that is the emergence of semi-frequent gratitude lists. I have found that checking in with what I am grateful for in the mornings helps my days go by a little easier, a little lighter, and a little more lovingly. Gratitude is key, and I am making time for myself to remember that first thing, every day. And it feels GREAT!

Do you have a daily writing practice? Do you have any writing practice? Since I am new to this I would love to hear what other people do to exercise this muscle. For now, I am seeing results, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

13 Resolutions for 2013

The new year has me thinking about resolutions, and while I would love to floss and exercise more, I'm confident that I have a much greater chance of growing and developing as a teacher in the upcoming year than I do of changing any of my deep-seated bad personal habits. So here they are, 13 resolutions for 2013:

1. Don't go on the computer in class
This is a truly bad habit, and one I am personally ashamed to admit in the public space of this blog. However, I think it is the most important to address and repair as quickly as possible, so it gets first consideration. I go on the computer during class. I teach incredibly small classes at a private language school, and when students are completing an activity, or a test, or a writing exercise, there are only so many times I can circle, or lurk over students shoulders, or ask guiding questions. Students nearly always need more time, and when that happens I will meander over to the computer and update grades, write notes, check lesson plans, etc... I think this is a terrible habit, one that disconnects me from the lesson which is happening in the present moment, and one that cuts me off from my students. My first resolution for 2013 is to break this bad habit, thereby keeping my attention in the present moment and with my students, where it should be.

2. More student talking time
This is pretty self-explanatory. Another bad teaching habit of mine is the tendency to talk....alot. I like to connect ideas to other lessons, topics, movies, books, stories, anecdotes, you name it and I will throw it into a lesson and chat about it. This is not always a bad thing, but I know that I am talking more than my students in class, and I would like to get it to at least a 50/50 balance, on average.

3. Improve effectiveness in multi-level classes
Due to the nature of the school where I teach (many levels, low enrollment), it is incredibly common for levels to be combined into a single class. While I do my best to accomodate all students, I feel that I could be doing more to work with multiple levels in a single classroom. I'm not sure how, but I'm pretty sure it can be done, and I intend to discover how.

4. Improve (start) a reflective practice
With my first year of teaching behind me, it is time to start reflecting. Recording myself, taking notes before and after classes, and writing daily reflections on what happens in my classroom are all on the to-do list.

5. Be creative
Do something different. Don't just follow the same present/practice/produce process because it worked okay last time. Try something new. I want to keep things interesting for my students, and I can't do that by repeating the same tired lesson plans.

6. Tweet more, blog more
Self-explanatory. This blog has been my first attempt to take my teaching to the next level. I truly believe that this blog has represented the difference between teaching as a job and as a career; Twitter has been the best resource for professional development I have ever encountered. But it can be hard to find/make the time, because oftentimes at the end of a long day of teaching the last thing I want to do is read and blog about teaching. However, if I continue to bear in mind how much Twitter and blogging have done for my teaching abilities and experience, I feel immense gratitude for these resources, and that is the best motivation to use them more frequently.

7. Establish classroom rules and expectations
I am a young and laid-back California girl. The role of authoritarian and enforcer does not come naturally to me, and it has been suggested after classroom observations and evaluations that I work on this area. I think the most important part is to clearly establish classroom rules and expectations (and include the students in this process). I believe that students will be in line with these norms if they are a part of their implementation, and fully understand them, not because a strict teacher came down on them for stepping out of line. It is definitely something I need to work on, however, and a main goal for this next year in the classroom.

8. Use more authentic material
Duh. Everytime I bring authentic material into the classroom, students love it, I love it, and the lesson takes off in a wonderful and natural way that almost never happens when I am working out of a commercial textbook. So why don't I do it more? Not sure, but I intend to.

9. Make lessons meaningful
Align my lessons with students' motivation. Show them how and why the activities will help them develop skills and abilities that they will use outside of the classroom. Ask them what they want and how they want to use the language, and then give it to them. Students are happy and motivated, and then they learn, and then I am happy and motivated. Everyone wins.

10. Ask for help
From fellow teachers, from administrators, from professionals, from Twitter. I'm not reinventing the wheel here, and there are so many people out there with knowledge and experience to share. I need to practice asking for help (it's not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength!)

11. Save, organize, and recycle
I have learned firsthand how incredibly time-consuming lesson planning can be. And yet I continue to plan for a lesson, assemble my materials, and then lose them, only to be cursing myself when I need the same materials a month or two later. I need to work on holding on to and organizing old lesson plans and materials so they are available and ready when I need to use them again. Save myself time, preserve my sanity.

12. Grow
I can't even begin to explain how much I have grown as a teacher over the last years. Leaps and bounds. If I continue to grow as I have in the last year, I will be a happy girl. It's all about progress, not perfection, and if I am growing then I am doing my job as a teacher and a human being.

13. Make learning fun
Obviously. This is what I want to do every day, every month, every year, not just in 2013. However, I am throwing it on this list for good measure (and because 13 resolutions for 2013 sounds better). This is one of the most important things for me to remember. I want to create a positive learning environment for my students. I want them to smile, laugh, and I want them to want to come back the next day. If I am not achieving this objective then I have no business being in the classroom. It's one to practice every single day.

So there you go. My 13 teaching resolutions for 2013. For the sake of effectiveness and accountability, I will focus on one resolution per month, setting goals, trying new approaches, reflecting on my progress and, of course, blogging about it. Hopefully this will be a great exercise in taking repsonsibility for my own growth and development, as well as practice in reflective teaching.

Bring it on, 2013!