Last year, after reading an article from Cult of Pedagogy, I decided to focus on Five Things for my school year. This post has been shared a lot this summer (which I find kind of funny since it’s from last year, but hey, I’ll take it!), and I decided I’d make it a yearly thing. I still like the idea of narrowing my focus list, especially when my brain is overwhelmed with ideas (I have a serious problem, y’all).
In case you’re wondering, as far as my list last year, I did terrible with #1 and #2, I did okay with #3 and #4, and I did really well with #5.
I have spent the summer combing through blog posts (per usual), reading PD books, making lists, listening to podcasts, working on my blog, and thinking about next year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also watched a significant amount of Heartland on Netflix, read 9 or 10 books for pleasure, and spent some time with friends, family, and my animals. But, the point is, that I don’t feel like I have anything to show for all the time I’ve spent thinking and not doing. With summer winding down, it’s time to get serious and do something. My one little word this year is DO, which seems exceptionally appropriate at the moment.
There are lots of exciting things happening in the next few weeks and this year, which are also diverting my attention from what I need to do.
Next week, two of my colleagues and I get to participate in a two-day SeedLab event. We submitted a proposal for a SeedLab grant and made the cut to round one. After two days in the seedlab, hashing out ideas and solving problems, we will have a month-ish to develop our ideas and pitch them to the grant committee Shark Tank style. So fun!!! The week after that, I am leading two PD sessions in our district: one on using Newsela for AoWs with a colleague, and one about incorporating more speaking opportunities in all classes. (Side note: I have not in anyway prepared for either of these, so that’s way up on the to-do list). We are also redesigning our English 11 curriculum, which is exciting and overwhelming. And, this year, I will be a half-day Instructional Coach, so I will teach one Public Speaking, two English 11s, and use the rest of my day to plan and/or help my fellow teachers. I am SO excited and terribly nervous!! I have a LOT to do in that department as well!
Outside of school is just as stressful: our house is under contract and our new house is being built. Unfortunately, there’s a two month gap and we currently don’t have anywhere to live! So that’s freaking me out! Of course we need to pack, sell things, buy new things, and find a place to live for the interim. Ugh.
All this to say, it’s been hard to narrow down my focus list, but here it is.
Five Things for Next Year
I have been reading The Innovator’s Mindset as part of a summer reading group and a new PLC, and one of the first things that stuck out to me was the need to empower students, not just engage them. I have been reading a lot about these ideas (I’ll put links to all the resources discussed below), but I am still struggling to envision it in my classroom. I think one of my first changes needs to be in choice. I feel like I give kids a decent amount of choice, but there could be more. I especially want to offer more choice when it comes to reading. As I struggle with which books to teach or not teach next year, I keep coming back to giving kids choice. Choice in books, choice in sharing their learning. It’s not much, but I think it would be a move in the direction of empowering them.
This is related to empowering students. The more I see about innovation in the classroom, the more excited I get. I got so excited that I started a Facebook group to bring likeminded English teachers together! I am still unsure of exactly what this looks like in my classroom, but I am hopeful. As part of our SeedLab experiment, my colleagues and I propose using 20% of our time for “Impact Teams”. The hope is that our class will come up with problems they see in our school or community, and after taking time to identify their strengths, they will create Impact Teams to design solutions to these problems. (We haven’t done the design thinking days yet, so that’s all I know for now, but I will definitely be writing about it this year, so stay tuned!!)
This is probably on my list every year, but we all know that kids need to write waaaaay more than we can grade. I am hoping to incorporate blogs and portfolios this year. I want to be more intentional when designing writing units, choosing mentor texts, and connecting everything to the “bigger picture”. In other words, I want to make everything more relevant and authentic. And I just want there to be more writing. Kelly Gallagher says, “The volume of writing is the key ingredient. If I provide good modeling, but my kids do not write much, they will not grow. If I confer with them, but they do not write much, my students will not grow. If I provide a lot of choice, but they do not write much, my students will not grow. Modeling, conferring, and choice are critical to growth, but if my students are not writing a lot, these factors become irrelevant.” This. is. key. I think I’m going to write this on a sign and put it right by my desk so I can remember Gallagher’s advice. (Does anyone else just want to go be a student in his class? Surely, I’m not the only one.)
I teach Modern American Lit: 1900-present. But, let’s face it, we never make it to present. I want to change that this year. Even though 11th grade has good literature and some kids actually read it, I’d like to at least try to reach more of my kids. My hope is to pair up texts: For example, kids will read The Great Gatsby, but we’re also going to read excerpts of Hillbilly Elegy to see how the American Dream drives people, but also how social class can make it hard for people to succeed. I’d also like to have some “book clubs” through out the year. For example, I’d like to read a selection of books for my “Who are we?” unit on cultural identity. I haven’t figured out how this will look or where I’m going to get all these books, but it’s on my list. I’m also reading Disrupting Thinking, which is changing how I plan to teach reading this year. More on this in my “Summer Reading” post at the end of the summer.
This one is all-encompassing (and kind of a cheater way to end the list). I just really want to be more confident this year in the benefits of taking risks. All of the above are hard and change the way I think and teach. They will challenge me and my students, but if I don’t take the risk, what will be the reward? Another summer of wishing I had done things differently. Instead, I want to intentionally design innovative opportunities to empower students to grow as readers, writers, and thinkers, driven not by grades, but by a genuine passion and curiosity. Y’all, that’s quite a wish. I’m going to need some serious support to achieve it!
What are your five (or three or ten) things for next year? I’d love to hear what you plan to change, improve, design, or create next year. Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more ideas? Check out a few of my favorite resources:
- The Hack Learning Anthology (this is an affiliate link but you get the anthology for FREE!!)
- Surprising Outcome of Giving Control Back to Students
- The motherload: Joy Kirr’s Livebinder (have you read Shift This? It’s on my Amazon list for sure!)
- The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (affiliate link)
- Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning (affiliate link)
- 10 Commandments for Innovative Teaching (check out his toolkit too!)
- Kelly Gallagher’s books (all of them) and this post: Moving beyond the 4×4 classroom
- Seven ways to help students embrace the entrepreneurial mindset
- Tools to help students follow their passions