In my classroom I desire, more than anything, for my students to walk out the door a better person than when they walked in. Not just to FEEL better about themselves; but to truly BE a better person. This requires a lot of extra "work" but it's absolutely worth it. I have been in education for seven years and I think of this role in my students' lives often. Whether we like it or not (and for the record, I do) we have an opportunity to have a significant influence on who they become. That being said, there is much more to our job as educators than teaching the curriculum. Yes, teaching the TEKS (these are what guide education in TX for any "outsiders" who may read this) is what we are hired to do but that's only part of our responsibility.
The way we treat them.
The way we respect them.
The way we carry ourselves.
The manner in which we greet them at the door.
Do we ask them questions about their lives?
Do we allow them into ours?
Do we follow through?
Do we go that extra mile to attend their events and let them know we really do care...or is it all just hot air?
All of these things affect how our influence plays out in our students' lives. They are, oftentimes, more perceptive than we give them credit for. They know who the fakers are and they desire transparency/authenticity in everything, especially from those they trust.
This fact has caused me to reflect recently on the level of influence I have on my students. I think it boils down to this:
The best educators don't just know their students. They allow themselves to be known.
By allowing ourselves to be known, we're building trust. Our students see that we're real people. We have successes. We also have failures. We experience victories. We also experience struggles. We make good decisions. We also make poor ones. Through this authenticity, we are earning the right to influence. If we really want our students to learn from us and be influenced by us, we need to build trust. Here are a few ways that I've learned (mostly from educators better than me) to do that:
Attend their extracurricular events.
Share your life.
Talk about your family.
Hold them to high standards.
Do what you say you're going to do.
Give SPECIFIC praise (generic praise is as good as false praise).
How are you earning the right to influence? I'd love to learn from you! Follow and tweet me at @bclarksontx. Until next time...
I'm guilty of being a bad teacher. I have worked very hard in my profession of teaching for the past five years. I've put in hours on end to ensure that my students learned what they were required to learn according to the state of Texas. I made huge efforts to ensure that they had fun. I have taken time to touch on every aspect of the tests that my students were going to be taking. I reviewed test material, played review games, made review sheets. For the first four years of my teaching career, I was played by my students. I fell right into their trap. They tricked me into letting them get off easy; giving them information so they could temporarily store it in their brilliant minds and regurgitate it onto an answer document. Then...
...BAM! Just like that, it's forgotten. As if they never learned it. Never heard a word about it. No clue what the function of the excretory system is (I'll let you figure that one our for yourself). No, forget that...no clue what the word "function" even means. Yes, I'm serious and I swear to you I don't own a neuralyzer (pictured above). If I did, I would use it on you to erase from your memory what I've just confessed to you. I've been a bad teacher. I have allowed my students to skate by in school without a developing a love for learning.
Not anymore. From this point forward I commit to engaging my students with real world, authentic, eye-opening activities. My plan is to use a flipped class/Project-Based Learning (PBL) model. Yes, I realize this will be a huge undertaking. But it will be worth it! It will require reaching into the depths of my creativity (which is not very deep, mind you). But it will be worth it! It will require long hours and the wisdom to know that I can't do this on my own. But it will be worth it! By helping my students develop a passion for learning, they will be able to take information learned in my class and actually apply it. Imagine that!
To help accomplish this, I've blown up my Professional Learning Network (PLN). Who does it include? The entire world. Literally. Educational technology guru Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) puts it this way: "I'm only as smart as the people I surround myself with and I'm surrounding myself with the smartest people in the world." Smartest in the WORLD. That's what Twitter has done for me and thousands of other passionate educators. I have access to the world's largest PLN. Prior to this discovery, I was stuck leaning on teachers that I knew face-to-face. Don't misread this...I've worked with some brilliant minds. However, Thanks to Todd, and many others like him, I am learning ways in which I can truly encourage a love for learning in my students.
This coming school year I encourage you to do the same. I don't have this all figured out but neither does anyone else. Rest in the fact that we are all learning together. To help you get started (or just grow your Twitter arsenal) TeachThought (@TeachThought) has a great list of hastags and how to use them here.
A lot can happen 140 characters at a time. Now, get out there and learn with your students!
It takes guts to step out on a limb and try something new. This is where I find myself right now (hence, my first blog post ever). Out of my warm, cozy comfort zone. And it's a great place to be. You see, with growth comes discomfort. With growth comes fear of the unknown. With growth also comes well...growth. I'm a husband, dad, teacher, master's student, football coach, student council sponsor, team leader, advisory committee team member and I'm about to completely rework the way I teach my students (flipped class, PBL, more tech, less paper). I'm definitely out of my comfort zone. A mentor of mine once put it this way: "Healthy things grow. Growing things change. Change is a good thing!" So what does it take to successfully navigate the waters of change?
It takes courage.
Courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger or pain without fear; bravery (dictionary.com, 2014). Oftentimes people are afraid of change. Why? Typically, in my field, it boils down to more work; more effort. Really? I'm going to be afraid of change that will undoubtedly improve the educational climate of my classroom because I'm lazy? Come on. Let's face it. Teachers can be as lazy as students sometimes. I'm guilty (or have been before). That changes now. Is it scary? A little. Is it going to be more work? Yes. Is it worth it for the students on my campus? Absolutely.
It takes confidence (see last word of previous paragraph).
Confidence to make decisions that we know will be best for our students. Maybe it's incorporating something new into your class. The push for a few years has been technology. Maybe this year will be your first shot at it. If we do not exude confidence in the fact that what we are doing in our classes will benefit our students (and that it's exciting) our efforts will fail. Miserably. And guess what...that's OK.
Because it also takes humility.
We are going to fail. My students know this. Failure has to be an option for them (not an expectation...an option). If they never fail, they will never know how to recover. Pick themselves up, dust off and press on. Do I want them to fail? Of course not. Do I allow them to fail? Yes. What better time to fail than as a student? What is the worst that happens? They lose their iPhone 5s for a week? Not quite as bad as getting fired from their first job out of college. The kicker is not allowing them to stay there. This is where we come alongside our students and in humility tell them, "I've been where you are. I know it's hard. You have to push through it." We take their hand (figuratively) and wade with them through the waters of failure and teach them...
It takes grit to be successful in times of change. It's going to be hard. I said failure is an option. I never said anything about quitting. We must be the example for our students. Push through the hard times. Allow them to see that we identify with them. THAT is an integral part of their education. THAT is invaluable.
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.