Here I am: a new school year, a new district, and a new position. For the first time in 14 years, I did not greet new classes of students on the first day of school, and it was weird. As the new ELA and Technology Teacher on Special Assignment, my primary role is to support teachers as they learn new instructional materials (K-5 ELA), as they prepare to adopt new instructional materials (6-12 ELA), and as they work to incorporate educational technology into their lessons and courses. This work is taking me into the classrooms of others, and what I am observing is helping me grow as a learner and a leader.
Previously, I worked with grade-level and cross-curricular teams, catching a glimpse of what others were up to in their classes from time to time. Lunch-time conversations provided an additional opportunity to learn about the work of my colleagues. On the whole, however, I think most in this profession are too humble to elaborate about the great work they are doing. I, thus, must do so–the purpose of this blog series will be to highlight some of the thought-provoking and inspiring teacher practices or lessons and activities I now get to see on a regular basis.
This first lesson of focus comes from the high school Spanish 2 classroom of my colleague and friend, Julie Cox. Julie has been teaching Spanish, English and AVID for 16 years. Her first-week-of-school lesson was inspired by this Tweet:
Instead of discussing expectations and rules on Day 1, Julie began with activities to build culture. She ended the period with this Exit Task:
Her students’ responses are not particularly surprising, but they do make me pause and think about the messages I have sent with the reactions I have had. Out of 60 students who answered this question, 53 of them responded with some variation of this response:
I look for a teacher who is:
That’s it. Most students don’t mention being an expert in content knowledge or really anything related to instruction–but they need a teacher who is nice and helpful.
Armed with these responses, Julie spent time on Day 2 brainstorming a quality she should look for in students (they decided on hardworking) and then what it looks like when teachers and students exhibit these qualities.
When teachers are nice and helpful, they:
- are as respectful as they expect students to be.
- have patience.
- listen to what students think and need.
- stay calm.
- have a sense of humor.
- are willing to clarify instructions.
- ask questions nicely.
- offer help when they see students struggle.
When students are hardworking, they:
- get their homework done.
- focus in class.
- avoid distractions.
- help one another.
- do not rely on others to do their part.
- study vocabulary every night.
- practice speaking Spanish.
And in a completely organic fashion, classroom norms or expectations were born. From here, Julie moved on to inquire regarding student passions, BIG questions, personal strengths, and definitions of success as outlined in the article linked above.
When Julie shared about this with me, I couldn’t help but think about my past practices, about how nice and helpful I have been when students ask [too many] questions, when they struggle with instructions [that I’ve already repeated], or when they come to class unprepared [and say they are confused]. There is nothing earth-shattering about these qualities or the notes that further define them. What is striking, though, is how simple it really is–students value a teacher who is kind and helpful.
Great work is happening all around me, and I can’t wait to continue sharing about it here.
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