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Saturday, December 14, 2013

When Is Your Teaching Practice "Good Enough?"

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I struggled with my own teaching when I was at Manor New Tech High School (MNTHS). It never seemed that I was doing enough to have my projects sparkle with students eagerly learning. There were other teachers, there, who I thought I'd never be as good as when it came to project management. The rest of us, then, must just not be very good teachers, right?

Now that I've been away from there I know that not every teacher at MNTHS was a superstar at everything. As a matter of fact there were pockets of awesomeness in just about every classroom. But only a rare few were really great at everything. Why? Because PBL requires best practices. And most of us get really good at a few best practices and we struggle with other practices.

Take classroom management. There are some teachers who I call the "organizers." They color code and they number and they have every minute of every class period filled with activity. Students rarely have time to be off task because the next task is already in place. Then there are the "Mommy" teachers. They are the ones who get their classroom culture to a point where every student knows what is expected and they rarely are off task because "that's not how it's done in this class." I call them the Mommy teachers because students don't want to upset them. They love this teacher.

The Organizers are that way in real life and they don't worry about the upfront time required to make sure everything is color coded and sequenced. The Mommies are that way in real life too. They just like routines in place and they want their students to be collaborators. The students know what the classroom environment needs to feel like to be a safe working experience.

The teachers who are filled with awesome sauce possess each of these qualities. They work hard at the beginning of the year creating a safe workplace. And they work hard, every day, to keep the environment safe while being incredibly orderly. It takes a rare teacher to get to this level and that is something I beat myself up for never attaining. Why was I so hard on myself?

Teaching in a collaborative and reflective environment creates teachers who are very reflective in their practice.  Being reflective allows teachers to strive for doing better. And when you are surrounded by teachers who all possess some outstanding qualities it is hard for a reflective teacher to not want to do everything at the highest level. This results in one of two things: a teacher who never feels like they're good enough (like me), or, a teacher who works seven days a week to attain the highest level of perfection.

So is there a point where a teacher can say, "that's good enough?"  In my opinion there are two answers to this; the long term answer and the short term answer.  In the long term, even though it is hard to be reflective and do this, there are some things that a person must accept that, if they are going to improve, it will be at a very slow pace. This is usually because, whatever it is, just isn't second nature to the teacher. And, gasp, this may be something that the teacher decides just isn't going to be in their repertoire. What they are doing now is good enough!

In the short term instance it is ok to just say "I'm not going to do that this school year." That statement will probably be followed up by saying, "Next year I need to get together with Ms. Jones because she really is awesome at doing that."  Don't look back. Don't second guess yourself. This thing that you have decided to remove from your goal for the year really can wait. And let your administrator know that you will continue to do x,y, and z but this other thing is not attainable this school year. What you are doing, right now, is good enough.

Looking at the parts of a project, we can apply this to every step of the way. First, in project planning, make sure you DO plan each part of the project from entry event to scaffolding to assessment to final product and presentation.  Some teachers may routinely have incredible entry events. Your students come in all excited about this project that they are embarking upon in your neighbor's classroom. Well up your game! But just because that teacher makes Academy Award winning videos as her entry events doesn't mean you have to beat yourself up because you're not good at iMovie.

Reflecting on your daily routine, do you have an opening activity? Do you review Need to Knows, have time for a lecture, have time for research or other work, and have a closing activity?  Maybe your neighbor has each group color coded and they submit their group status updates via some app that you've heard is incredible. And there is a class status board in that room that gives a quick visual of where each group is in the process. If you don't feel comfortable incorporating all of this in your room, pick something that works well as a daily process. Then you can decide if you want to make changes later in this year or over the Summer before next school year begins. What you are doing is good enough.

The bottom line to all of this are these questions: "Are your students learning at a deep level?" Is your class routine organized with a beginning, middle, and end? Do your students feel safe taking chances where they may be wrong? Are your administrator, parents, and community members aware of the great things happening in your classroom?  If you can answer yes to all of these things then your practice is good enough.

Being reflective, you might start thinking about what you can easily improve so that your student's learning is an even greater experience? Darn, maybe we never are good enough. What do you think? Are you good enough?