Image by P Bogush
A few months ago Mark Barnes wrote a blog post entitled, “7 Things the Best Teachers Will Regret Doing this Year.” It included a list of things like “assigning traditional homework” and “embarrassing your students.” Items that most people who read it would agree with, but inevitably they are things we need to be reminded of again, and again, and again. Also included were items that might push teachers to think about their current practice such as “emphasizing rules and consequences” and “banning mobile devices.”
After reading it I instantly found my mind wandering and creating a list of my own for 2016…here it is:
7 More Things Great Teachers Will Regret Doing This Year
1-Regret thinking that their kids knowing the content is more important than knowing their kids.
One of the realities of teaching that took me years and years to figure out is that 10 minutes of preaching on my part to get kids motivated will never be more powerful than 10 minutes of listening. It is something I constantly forget. Every time I ask a kid to stay behind for “the talk” or I stand up in front of the room and ask the kids for their attention to talk about some problem, I always regret not taking that time to listen to them. Of course before they will talk, you must establish their trust, have their faith, and they need to know they have yours.
Next time you have a conversation with a kid give control of it to them. Asking what you can do differently will always be more effective than telling them what they should do differently.
2-Regret not asking why a kid was absent.
One day many years ago my kids were taking a “health” inventory. It included questions about everything from alcohol use to how many times they eat each day. I noticed that one question was marked “no” on almost everyone’s paper. “Does anyone at school notice if you are absent?” From that day I have tried to talk to each kid who was absent the next day…I am not completely successful. But when I am you can see a look on the kids face that says “Thanks for noticing, I didn’t know you thought I was that important.”
Tomorrow write the names of the kids who are out on a sticky and the next day use it to make sure you acknowledge each kid when they come into your class. Just a simple “how are you feeling today?” will work wonders.
3-Regret not having a discussion with a kid about something they love.
Let’s face it, most kids rank teachers right up there with aliens. People who are from some foreign adult world who are very difficult to connect with. I think that with kids who are loved at home it is very easy to “teach” them without ever connecting with them on a personal level. But for those classes, and especially individuals who come across as apathetic, lazy, and present behavioral problems connecting with something they love is vital to their success. This is especially true with kids who have passions that are not common with other kids. In the past, I have come home and learned about anime, Minecraft, football trades, rap artists, and ballet.
Tomorrow do a little snooping. Listen in on a conversation, check out the name of a band written on a kid’s notebook, or check out the title of a book they were reading. Spend 60 seconds reading a wikipedia article on what you found and come back they next day mention a few things you learned like you have always known them…it’s that easy Of course you don’t have to snoop and can pass out something like this.
4-Regret believing that just because they tell a kid to change their behavior it should happen immediately.
You can’t expect a kid who took years to develop a habit to change it overnight. Whether it is not doing their work, talking in class, or even being mean to other kids. Think of a habit that you have that you would like to change…now stop doing it tomorrow. If you can’t stop doing something tomorrow with all your adult skills how do you expect a kid to stop? A few years ago I read a book on habits and it made me realize that asking a kid to simply stop doing something and expecting instant change was silly. Most of their habits are influenced by things not necessarily under their control. Find something that they can totally control and build from there.
Over the last couple years, I have experimented with letting kids turn in 14 consecutive pictures of their bed being made and counting it as a “grade.” While I don’t have solid data, I am pretty sure that each kid who started off each day getting something finished also finished more of their school work. Starting with “small” habits often leads to bigger changes. After re-reading my example, I realize how crazy it sounds, but it has worked
5-Regret teaching the same lessons they did last year and the year before that.
I won’t go too much into this one. You have different kids this year. Enough said.
6-Regret not spending as much time with the kids who don’t struggle.
In this era of test-driven classrooms, it is so easy to take a look at the data and focus 90% of our effort on lifting the bottom 10% of our scores. It is so easy to spend 90% of our time on the 10% of the kids who create 100% of the behavior problems. Sometimes we love the kids who find school “easy” because that allow us to ignore them and spend our time on all of the kids who struggle. We implement so many programs and special assignments to help kids “catch-up” but rarely create any programs and assignments for the kids who are already “ahead.”
This week, take one or more of your high achievers aside and give them something special that will allow them to take off from the rest of the class. Or give them a challenge to accomplish and a team from the class to do it with.
7-Regret not doing the same work as their kids.
I have a policy. I do not let my kids do anything I have not done recently. If my kids are doing a poetry slam, I do it with them. If they are making a video, I make one too. If they are doing a research-based project or even “Genius Hour” I research along with them. I learn where my directions are awful. Seriously, how can you write directions for something you will never have done yourself. I learn when my due dates are unfair, and when the choices I give them are the wrong choices for the purpose of the project. I have also learned that when I don’t want to do the work I have assigned and I have two history degrees, why would some kid who walks in with no interest in history want to do it?
I challenge you to do the next assignment you give your kids alongside them from start to finish. No shortcuts. Do it in plain sight of them, no making an exemplar beforehand. While you are working think out loud. Ask students for help. Ask them questions on how to complete things. Be the student you want your kids to be. You kids will be who you are and not who you want them to be.
Our kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved. In 2016 focus a little less on figuring out how you will teach them, and a little more on how you will inspire them.