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15 Years of What Not To Do: My Top Ten Mistakes

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
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This will mark my 15th of year of teaching, and during that time I have made my share of mistakes. Seeing how I am close to the half way point of my career, I thought I would reflect on my top ten mistakes (the ones I can remember anyway) in hopes of others avoiding them.


Mistake #1: Burning bridges

Everyone knows everyone. It's a small world, and getting even smaller with PLN's. No matter what the situation is, always take the high road. Build bridges, don't burn them. Your older, wiser self will thank you.


Mistake #2: Losing that fun connection with my students I had my first year

I remember playing kickball and other various recess activities with my students my first couple of years. Then I remember getting bad advice just about every young teacher gets from an older teacher, "You shouldn't play with the students at recess, because they won't respect and listen to you in class." Unfortunately I took that advice and found that that destroyed my relationships with my students and gave me more issues in the classroom. Which brings me to my next mistake and quite possibly the most important.


Mistake #3: Ignoring the importance of relationships

Not only with your students, but with your colleagues, administrators, parents, and community members. So many people play a vital role in having your students be successful, that you need to have positive, trusting relationships with them. Always be honest, sincere, and kind to everyone from your students (especially the challenging students) to community members. It will go a long way in a long, happy career.


Mistake #4: Not hearing what a parent was saying that had an issue with a part of my class

While I was listening to the parent issue, I was not hearing what the parent was saying. My initial reaction was to get defensive and upset inside? What I should have done was hear what the parent(s) was saying. It was their child I had the privilege to teach. They know their child best and their child's feelings best, so should have not ignored or dismissed what the parent was saying. Fortunately, I paused, took a breath, and eventually did hear what the parent was saying. I worked with that parent to ensure that the parent's child had a successful, happy year.  


Mistake #5: Responding to an angry or upsetting parent email, via email

The tone in an email can so easily be misunderstood, but a phone call can clear things up much quicker. It also eliminates the constant emailing back and forth. A simple phone call first thing the next morning, can bring both parties involved to a better understanding and strengthen or build a relationship. So don't email back, call. 


Mistake #6: Being too consumed with data

Data is important, as it does help drive decision making, however it is equally important not to lose sight of what and whom the data represents. A few years ago as I was preparing for conferences, I broke each of my students' data down as much as could be and had detailed example after detailed example of where my students were struggling and excelling. As I presented this detailed information at conferences, it quickly became apparent to me that my students' parents were not as interested in the data that I so painstakingly put together, as they were as their children as a whole. As a father now, I see clearly now the importance of seeing the whole child, and what my students' parents really wanted to talk about. Yes, the data helped me tremendously, but so does understanding the child as a whole.  


Mistake #7: Not always surrounding myself with positive people

When I first started teaching, I thought all teachers were happy. I quickly found out I was wrong. There are teachers that are not happy, but still are very much professional and do their job well. However, it is easy to get sucked into some of their negativity. If there is a problem, don't add to it. Become part of the solution. Surround yourself with positive people. It may be lonely at times, but it will be worth it. It is actually easier to do surround yourself with positive people now with PLN's.


Mistake #8: Thinking homework made me a good or hard teacher

When I started I thought I had to give homework in order to be a good, hard teacher. That's not the case. Homework is not a necessity. In fact I don't even give it any more, except on a rare occasion. If I can find ways every day in my class to have my students communicate, collaborate, think critically, and be creative, then I consider that a pretty good, full day of learning. Why push the students to the point they dislike learning and school? 


Mistake #9: Thinking collaboration means conformity

There were times I dismissed other's ideas because they weren't my own. I thought their ideas had to be done exactly their way, but that could not have been further from the truth. Collaborating with others is about sharing and hearing ideas so you can take something back and try to improve your practice in a way it works for you. Collaboration does not mean conformity. Open your ears and mind; you won't be disappointed. 


Mistake #10: Not joining a PLN sooner

It wasn't until about four or five years ago I started exploring a PLN. While I had always believed strongly in Richard DeFour's PLC (professional learning community) and wanted to be part of one, I wasn't really sure where to start. That is, not until I found Twitter and starting connecting with hundreds of educators across the country and world. It has been the most meaningful and relevant professional development I have ever had, and it has proven to me without a doubt that my passion is education. I wake up every day wanting to go to work. 


There are my top ten mistakes of my first 15 years, as best I can remember. If you ask others, they may think differently, but either way they are some important mistakes to learn from. And that is the important thing; to learn from them and move forward, with the hope of making each new school year my best school year for my students.

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William Madden holds a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Master's in Educational Leadership. His professional backgrounds includes over 16 years in education as an intermediate school teacher, an elementary school principal, instructional technology coach, and Google for Education Certified Trainer. In addition, his experience includes online course design, technology integration, ELA and mathematics curriculum mapping, being on his school's technology and building improvment committees, and conducting professional development. He blogs to reflect on his practice, share with others, and to continue to grow and learn as an educator to meet the needs of today's students. 

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Guest Friday, 22 February 2019