Resolved: Amp Up the New Year!

A MiddleWeb Blog

not-easy-tween-logo-210-300-210x300I am not someone who normally makes New Year’s Resolutions. I used to, but I found that I was consistently resolving to do the same things year after year.

Over time, I’ve replaced my fruitless annual resolutions with more regular reminders of my goals. I focus on trying to be my best self and to forgive myself when I fall short.

I try to give my students the same safety net. I encourage them to set goals, reflect on what they can change, and determine a plan to get there. When they slip, I help them pick themselves up and move forward – not beat themselves up. I also give them the tools to achieve.

One of these tools I have used for the past two years is to post a Precept of the Day from the book 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts by R.J. Palacio (the author of Wonder). These quotes focus on living up to your own personal potential.

365_Days_of_Wonder__Jan2from 365 Days of Wonder

 

I also use inspirational video clips with my students. This year I began using some from Kid President. In his videos, he motivates children to “Be More Awesome.” We also do writing assignments explicitly stating our beliefs and ambitions.

Yes, these are subtle techniques, but a constant barrage of these ideas is bound to sink in just a little. Yet I still didn’t really do these things for myself.

It’s time to practice what I preach.

In November, at the National Council of Teachers of English convention, I was a roundtable leader for a session, led by Gary Anderson, called “From Oops to Aha: Reflection as a Creative Act.” As part of the activities, we table leaders each wrote a piece reflecting on our teaching practice and lessons we have learned.

This experience inspired me make a conscious effort to reflect on my classroom: what I am happy with and what I wish to change. These New Year’s Resolutions are the result.

1. Be mindful of the physical environment of my classroom.

One thing I have realized over the years is that I am definitely affected by my surroundings. Some places make me tense and others allow me to breathe easier. I want my classroom to be a place that feels comfortable for my students and me.

Pleasant scents. In my home, I use an essential oil diffuser to disperse some of my favorite scents. Walking in and having things smell good makes me happy. I decided to bring this practice to school. I have been putting some cheerful citrus oils on the pad of an electronic diffuser with great results. It makes me happy when a student walks in and says, “It smells so good in here!” It’s a little thing, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. I am going to try to extend this “comfort” practice to having pleasant background music playing as my students enter my room.

plant by bksLiving things. I have always had live plants in my classrooms, but didn’t really have a place to put them in my current classroom. This summer, I bought an under-window bookcase and put a few plants on it, and I am pleased with the results. My room is filled with books, but this touch makes it homier. I have since acquired more books, which necessitates the need for another bookshelf, and I will definitely add more plants. I am also considering a window treatment or a small area rug (my room is, unfortunately, way too tiny for a comfortable reading nook) to increase the homey feeling.

No more piling on. One area where I definitely need to improve is the physical organization of my personal materials. It seems hypocritical to monitor my students’ organization of their binders when I have a foot-tall pile of papers to be filed. I spent several hours over Thanksgiving break cleaning up my computer files, but I now need to do the same for my paper teaching materials.

A former colleague, Carla Dunavan, gave me the brilliant idea several years ago of putting all materials for each teaching unit in its own binder. This way, when reviewing and planning each year’s unit, I can just pull out my binder and see what I have used in the past and make instructional decisions.

The problem is that I tend to be a “piler” (even at home). I get busy and don’t put things in their place right away and end up having to take a few hours every six months or so to sort and file. I could save myself a lot of headaches if I just put these things away every day as Carla does. This is one area I resolve to do better.

2. Make an effort to communicate the positive.

I already do a pretty good job of communicating what is going on regarding the curriculum in my classroom to parents and students. However, there are a couple of other areas I can improve.

kirr joy

Joy Kirr

Reaching out. One is to make positive home contacts more often to share a child’s accomplishments. Another is to share more of my own classroom practices with colleagues at school and in my virtual personal learning network. I am taking a page out of the playbook of Joy Kirr who is one of the most generous educators I know. She not only shares what she does, but she generously promotes others through her various writing and curating of sites.

Sharing more. I am on the Innovation Committee at my school. We are attempting to promote what we do that is innovative as well as to reflect on our practice to see where we can improve. One of our goals is to reach out to schools across the nation sharing our best practices. We hope to gather information and develop a resource for our school community to use to enhance their already strong classroom instruction.

3. Refine my teaching practice.

Idea management. My stack of professional development books is totally out of control. My favorites, such as those by Kelly Gallagher, have so many sticky notes on pages that it looks as if the books have feathers. The problem is that I have shelves full of books and only so much time in the day. I need to focus on implementing one thing at a time instead of being overwhelmed with all of the great ideas out there.

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Pernille Ripp

Go deeper with tech. I want to add one new technological aspect to my class every year. This year, I believe I am going to attempt some kind of blogging or public writing with my sixth graders. I am going to contact some fellow educators, such as Pernille Ripp, who have had success doing so and then take the plunge.

Add graphics. Because I am a former art teacher, the appearance of my classroom materials is important. Not only must they be informative, but they must also be clean and easy to read. I notice that I am more drawn to documents with graphics on them and had a blast using Canva to revamp my traditionally boring documents such as my syllabus and supply list. I am going to try to add more illustrative materials to my class and hope that my students appreciate this addition.

More individual time. I want to determine some way to give more individual time to each of my students. Unfortunately, I only have 45 minute classes so this is a challenge, but I vow to make it work! It has to.

Formative feedback. I want to use feedback and formative assessment more effectively. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I will write more about this in the future.

Keep shifting ownership! Finally, I have had so much fun shifting some of the responsibility and ownership of the class to the students. I have enjoyed seeing them blossom and live up to the challenge. Again, I am gathering all of this material together for a future article. It is too much to share here.

Resolutions worth keeping

This is a pretty long list for someone who doesn’t really make resolutions, but anything I can do to make my time with my students more effective and meaningful is worth the effort to me. It’s not easy, but, as my grandmother used to tell me, nothing worth doing ever is.

Happy New Year, teachers!

Will you be making resolutions for 2016? Tell us about them in the comments…

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Cheryl Mizerny

Cheryl Mizerny (@cherylteaches) is a veteran educator with 25 years experience – most at the middle school level. She began her career in special education, became a teacher consultant and adjunct professor of Educational Psychology, and currently teaches 6th grade English in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Cheryl writes about student motivation and engagement at The Accidental English Teacher. Read more of her MiddleWeb articles here.

7 Responses

  1. Joy Kirr says:

    I resolve to not give up! ;) I’ll keep curating and sharing great info. I find and great ideas that come from my own students. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas, Cheryl – you help us be better teachers!

  2. Elisa Waingort says:

    Love your reflection and especially your awareness of what you are drawn to and like about your classroom space. Sometimes, I get
    bogged down by the hype in the latest trend and ignore my preferences and those of my students. It’s time to go back to the basics of being self-aware and honoring that. Happy New Year!

    • Mr. Martin says:

      Indeed…back to basics. I also get caught up in the latest technology gadgets, etc. At the end of the day, it’s all about the rapport you build with your students, their parents, and your colleagues.

  3. Mr. Martin says:

    Nice blog post. Thanks for sharing the book titles. I also strive to be better about giving feedback to my students and also sharing positive news with parents. Each Friday (well, that’s my goal) is to write a few parents before I leave school and to tell them something positive that their child did that week or small steps of progress made. I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel. The responses I get from parents is also very positive as well. We are all stressed out and over-worked. Getting a message from a teacher has got to make some parents feel good as they wind up a work week. Thanks for the suggestions.
    Rob
    @DigitalnomadRob

  4. Jen says:

    Great blog post! Very inspiring! Could you share some ways you have shifted responsibility and ownership over to the students?

  5. Trayce Johnson says:

    Thank you for posting! This video clip was exactly what I was looking for to use with my students!

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