The last worldgeochat of the year was about reflecting on the year that had gone by. So many great ideas were shared. So many things to be proud of. So much of what Twitter is all about – getting validated for the things we’ve done.

But what is the purpose of reflecting? I know very few people who gaze into a mirror just to admire themselves. (I’m sure those people exist, but I don’t think they are in my social circles.) When we look in a mirror, it’s about checking to make sure we look ok, or to fix the problem staring at us.

  • Did I miss any of my face while I was shaving?
  • Is my hair somewhat under control?
  • Will this zit pop?

It’s always about trying to improve myself.

So, if we are reflecting on our teaching, we have to think about how can we improve it as well. Which brings me to the point of this post (surprisingly the main idea was not to tell you that at 42 I still have zits.)

3 problems I had this year and 3 ways I hope to improve them.

1. Classroom Management

You would think that 20 years in I would have a clue. And you would be wrong. This year I had issues with students not respecting the property of others (including mine). I had students all over the place during transitions. And, my, how we struggled to appropriately talk to teachers and peers.

So next year I’m going old school. A book that was required reading my first year of teaching was “The First Day of School” by Harry Wong. I haven’t looked at the book in close to 20 years, but the one thing I remember is that you can never assume that students know what you want them to do. You need to explicitly teach procedures and policies.

While reading Shift This by Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) I’ve come up with some great ideas for the first 5 days of school, but this will be a part of it. Discussing how to use classroom furniture (including how to move it into different formations). How to ask to use other materials. (I don’t have a teacher desk and I’m more than willing to share everything from pencils to paper to calculators.) We’ll talk about how to politely disagree with a person. You can’t say, “that’s a stupid thing to say,” even if it really is. We’ll brainstorm and poster-ize some better ways to say it. But each of these things will be taught and practiced.

2. Fully utilizing technology

Our school went 1 to 1 with Chromebooks last year. There were some teachers who used them literally every minute of their class, and others who thought it was nice to have $150 paperweights. I fell somewhere in the middle.

Without getting into all the SAMR model stuff, I had some successes and some failures. There were things I did that could have just as easily been done on paper (annotating a PDF and answering questions) and other things that were possible only because of technology (like Skyping with Will Ripley from CNN halfway around the world).

While I don’t know if I can win the war against students finding ways to view YouTube content that isn’t school appropriate, playing Minecraft or Funky Carts, and chats that have nothing to school, I need to have students use this tool in all the ways it’s meant to be used.

  • Developing inquiry questions, and then… finding the answers!
  • Developing products that go beyond a Google Slide.
  • Discovering hidden gems around the world on Google Earth.
  • Having students connect with people around the world instead of me doing it.

Perhaps if we show students the amazing things they can do with a Chromebook, they’ll be less tempted to use them for things that can at best described as dumb and at worst, inappropriate. And if they realize how powerful their Chromebook makes them, then maybe that can help with my last problem.

3. Apathy 

This has been the hardest thing for me this year. I had many (definitely not all) who just didn’t care. They didn’t care about how their behavior impacted others. They didn’t care how their actions impacted themselves. They didn’t care about how people around the planet didn’t have it as good as they did.

I tried everything I knew and really got no where. It was crushing. Give me a student who is naughty, and we can look for a cause. Give me a student who doesn’t do their classwork, we can try some modifications. A student who sleeps through class? I can try to figure out why he/she is so tired, but the malaise I saw was crushing.

It’s easy for me to just blame this group of kids as being different, but I can’t do this again. So next year we have to try something new. And it starts early in the year.

  • Classroom Mood – Find a problem and fix it! I’ve never had a class theme before, but this year, I will. From day one, we are going to look for problems, and then… FIND SOLUTIONS! Even if that solution is temporary, or only works for some, we’re going to go for it!
  • Problem Solving – I want to do more with Problem Based Learning this year. I want to show my students something in the world, and then ask them how it can be improved instead of telling them to see what has been done. I’ve begun listening to a podcast from the BBC called “People Fixing the World.” It just reminds me that no problem is too big, and no solution is 100%, but every bit helps someone somewhere.
  • Passion Projects – Circling back to Joy Kirr, I met Joy at an EdCamp type thing in a neighboring district. She did a session on Genius Hour/20% Time/Passion Project/Innovation Hour and it really inspired me. I did a quasi-version of it the following year, but it didn’t pan out the way I had hoped it would. This year I’m going to take the idea of my Take Action Fridays and combine it with some of Joy’s ideas.  It goes back to the theme – Find a problem and fix it!

I need to end with a story that I find myself telling friends, peers, and students more and more.

A few years ago a man came to my door selling magazines. He had a rough look about him and it was confirmed when he told me that he had been released from prison a few months earlier. He told me how he had fallen in with a bad crowd and done things that he knew at the time were wrong. At this point, my head raced with excuses to go back in the house and hide.

But before I said something stupid and insulting to him, he gave me the greatest analogy. He said, “Your life is like a windshield. See, you’ve got a little tiny mirror to show you where you just were. But you better not spend all your time starting at that mirror, because the things you’re about to run into are right in front of you! Never forget where you were, but ALWAYS, keep your damn eyes on the road ahead.”

And that’s what I’m doing. My 2016-2017 school year is in the rear view mirror. I can glance back to remember it, but my focus is on what lies ahead.

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