What Student Inspired You to Change?

During my 11 years as an educator, I dont know if there is one single moment that I can look back on and say, That didnt change my thoughts or views.  I am always reevaluating how students actions change my perspective.  Early in my career, I was introduced to the most creative and inspiring bunch of kindergartners.  Their excitement about learning was unparalleled to anything I could have imagined. My thoughts about my students were simple. I didnt want anything to become a distraction or keep them from achieving what I thought were attainable goals.
There was one student that I recall very well.  She was very small, timid and frail, but very smart and highly motivated!  I always relied on her ability to answer a question correctly or submit her work without errors.  Day after day, I would make her the example, suggesting to the other students that they should pattern their work and temperament after hers. After months of consistency, she began to show inconsistency in her work and although it was right, she didnt bring the same level of tenacity that she had shown in the past.  This didnt trouble me, I just figured that she had reached her peak and because her work was still on point, I didnt ask questions.  However I should have. 

One day her grandmother came in and explained that many things had recently changed in my students life!  The most important was her living situation and her relationship with her mother.  I was troubled, but continued to treat her the same, not expecting any less.  I stepped up my compassion, but didnt reduce my expectations.  I understood the changes, but didnt want my lowered expectations to be the reason that she stopped trying.  The last day of school, her last day of kindergarten, my students grandmother came to speak to me and my para.  She shared with us that my students mother had taken her life that weekend and it was really hard on the family.  She also shared that this attempt was not the first and the changes that I had seen in my student were the result of those failed attempts.  I could not hold back my tears, but realized that in that moment, my tears were the only thing that I thought I could offer the grandmother, along with condolences.  However, she wanted to thank me for my consistency because she felt that our classroom and the expectations were the only things that didnt change for her granddaughter.  This story and student inspired my change.  I realized that in her darkest moment, my student knew the one thing she had was consistency in our relationship.  This made me realize that the individual relationships we have with our students are so special that many times they are unmatched.  The internal battles that students have become their story, but by lowering the expectations placed on them, you also change the outcome.  Every student teacher interaction that Ive had hasnt been this powerful, but in each of my students, I try to find a source of strength and pray that this strength inspires me to change as I teach! 

If traditional data is not driving your instruction, what’s the deal?

Data is not a new concept and in education, it is one of the most prolific buzz words around.  As we begin to work with our students, we are either expected to use the data presented to us or generate our own data points on each student.  Many times, teachers make most of the pivotal decisions about instruction based on data and student expectations, however there are some educators that abandon traditional data when creating their lessons.  So, I am left wondering, if data is not driving your instruction, what is the deal?

What are you using to discern groups, instructional strategies and make other critical decisions in your classroom?  I, am perhaps not the best model when it comes to varying strategies based on data.  Once I find something that works for my group, Im sticking with it.  However, I wonder on many occasions, if I switch up my style, will the students suffer?  If I abandon the hard core data and base my instructional strategies off of something less tangible like checklists, would my outcome be the same?

If the checklist or observation gives me insight into a better grouping model or allows me the opportunity to see that I need more review, should I wait for a traditional test to change my methods?  The short answer is no!  Many times there is great fear in changing the way that you teach because you dont want the students to learn in spite of your on the job research however, I am convinced that a little modification in the way things are done can be healthy and impactful for your students. 

Is there Strength in Exposing Your Weakness?

New teachers enter the profession excited about many things; however the very idea that this year will be the worst year doesnt resonate in their minds.  As a new teacher, my biggest fear was that my students would not listen to what I had to say, but I realized that listening to my words would prove to be less important than demonstrating the skill.  This realization came with time, and many tears.

Early on in my career, I was consumed with print rich environments, student incentives, interactive small groups and covering EVERYTHING on my schedule for that day!  As I matured as a teacher, I realized that I didnt have to get it all done that day.  The kids and their development would help set the pace in the classroom. That became one of my weaknesses: wanting to get it ALL done.  

During a summer program, as I worked with novice teachers, I spent most of my time exposing my weaknesses as a new teacher so that they could become stronger.  I am not sure that many teachers are willing to do this in the most raw and uncut ways. When teachers realize that they are not in that space alone, it helps them grow.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot that and began playing to my strengths, but Im wondering if it would not be more impactful if I went back and revisited the moments when I showed my hand, my weaknesses.  I move in and out of teacher's classes on a daily basis and am amazed at some of the strategies that I see.  However, I am curious if these veteran teachers would also feel comfortable speaking about the areas that they are weakest in?

I present this idea as many teachers are leaving the profession for varied reasons and those of us that choose to stay continue to get stronger, abandoning many weaknesses or converting them into strengths. It makes me wonder if we are teaching our newest colleagues how to do the same. Our greatest strength as veteran teachers is our vulnerability when it comes to the development of others.