Five Worthwhile Risks for New Teachers

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The concept seems contradictory, right? You’ve been trained to keep your head down, do your work, and try not to get noticed. You’re a new teacher; tenure is two to four years away, and you’re just trying to survive. But these first few years are not only pivotal in creating your own teacher identity but also, and perhaps more importantly, to establishing your own happiness in the field.

Teacher retention is a huge issue in education today, and I’d argue that one reason (out of a litany of other reasons) newer teachers choose to leave the field is because of this very concept: self-imposed isolation until tenure.

There are a million books out there that provide tangible strategies for new teachers, offering suggestions on the importance of classroom management or connecting with kids and so much more, and all of that is great. But I’d like to present to you, the new(er) teacher, a paradigm shift: don’t wait to take risks. The time is now for you to be you, and here are five areas in education for you to begin taking risks as soon as yesterday.

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If You Aren’t Frustrated, You Aren’t Learning: Flipping the “I Do, We Do, You Do” Strategy

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Since my very first day of teaching, I’ve always preferred to focus on the hope of what students can do as opposed to the fear of what they cannot. Of course, there are limits to what any human realistically can or cannot do, but I’m increasingly frustrated by the all-too-often teacher reply of, “But my students can’t do that” when discussing changes in curriculum or creation of common assessments. However, until about seven years ago, one of my most consistent approaches to teaching was inherently grounded in a version of this very sentiment I loathed — it was just slightly softened to become, “But my students can’t do that… without my help.”

It was with this unconscious mindset that I so often employed the “I Do, We Do, You Do” strategy, providing students with a safe pathway for growth and learning through imitation. I would supportively guide students through my own thinking before letting them work with a partner or in a group to further their understanding, before finally allowing them to try the skill on their own.

And then I read it…

“Mr. Bronke’s class is great. As long as you follow all the examples he gives, it is a really easy class.”

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I still remember the very moment that these two simple sentences permanently pierced my teaching soul. I’d volunteered to let a previous district in which I taught test out a possible student survey, and this was some of the feedback I received.

Now in the grand scheme of feedback students can and do give, this really wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, it was a compliment on many levels — the student liked my class and found he could be successful in it. Some might say, “Isn’t that the goal of teaching?” However, I’ve never wanted student learning to be “easy” in my class.

I spent that summer reflecting upon my approach to instruction, thinking of ways to make my class more of a challenge, and that’s when it hit me,

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“I need to make learning messier, less controlled, and more student-centered; in short, I need to get out of the way.”

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How Many Days Are Left? 10 Tips to End the Year with Positivity and Purpose

Tchers' Voice Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

Inevitably, when educators get to April or May, the question of “How many days are left?” is uttered frequently, and with so many different variations in tone.

There is the Freaked Out — pure panic because “I still have so much material left to cover,” or “My kids are not ready for the AP test.”

Or the Exhausted, when this question is quietly mumbled with a tone of “I cannot do it; I won’t make it that long.

Don’t forget about the Angered, whereby one basically screams the question, with the certainty that the answer will be an unreasonable number.

At times, you might even get the Practical. This one is probably heard the least, but typically involves the initial question asked in a reflective tone and followed by a concrete plan to make it through.

And if you’re lucky, you might just get the To Hell With It. A personal favorite, this educator might not even finish asking the question because he or she has just reached a point where they don’t even care anymore. It’s not that they don’t care about their job or their students, but they just don’t care, for better or worse, how many days are left.

The educational reality is that we’ve reached the time of year when you probably can see yourself in one (or more, depending on the day) of these responses. And if the weather where you are is at all like it is in Chicago this “spring,” there are probably days when you don’t even have the disposition to ask the question, because you’re so annoyed by it all.

While I’m no psychological expert and certainly don’t have all the answers, I’d like to present to you ten things you can do to help make it through the rest of the year, bad weather and all, with positivity and purpose.

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Combating the Chaos: 3 Cs for a Well-Managed Classroom

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Classroom management provides for us perhaps the greatest of juxtapositions between frustration and comedy. When we take the time to look back on some of our classroom management challenges, the stories come pouring out.

Don’t believe me? Next time you have lunch with a group of colleagues, ask them to share their favorite classroom management stories; you’ll laugh for days. However, in the moment, the mismanaged classroom can easily ruin not just that specific class period, but the entire day and, potentially, an entire year or semester.

We’ve all had that one class that, by November, you dreaded going to because you knew every single minute would be a battle. Of course, there are countless strategies to help deal with classroom management issues, but at its core, combating the chaos rests in understanding and honoring humanity. As you consider some of your most challenging students or classes, think about your approach to classroom management through the lens of these three areas: connection, consistency, and compassion.

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Four Student-Centered Tips for Teaching with Technology

Tchers Voice Teaching with Technology

For many years, educators have used the SAMR model as a way to conceptualize technology integration. Districts and conferences alike have poured great amounts of money into training teachers to think about their planning through this lens.

SAMR model - Puentedura

In an effort to make expensive technology more than just a “$500 notebook,” this model has served as a way for educators to have conversations about deeper uses for technology in their classrooms. While I don’t see anything wrong with it, I feel that this model fails to think about one really important entity: the students.

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Five Assessment Myths and Misunderstandings

Tchers' Voice: Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

Walking around the classroom, clipboard in hand, I moved as quickly as possible, diligently checking for homework completion, assigning five points to those who had it done, two-and-a-half to those who had it partially done, and zero to those who didn’t do it. It was super scientific and truly measured learning… (he says sarcastically).

Luckily for my students, since then I’ve grown quite a bit in my understanding of assessment practices, and as I look back at them over the past 14 years, it’s not with disgust (although that would be justified at times), but with hope — and the knowledge that change is possible. I author this piece not to judge current practices, but in the hopes that some of the ideas below might shed new light on ways to take a fresh approach to assessment, and improve learning for all students.

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The Top Five Things I Learned from a Five-Year-Old About Growth Mindset

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The shiny new bicycle was forcefully shoved to the ground in disgust as Parker shouted,

“I cannot do it; I’ll never be able to ride my bike.”

To the parents out there, I venture to guess this triggers “fond” memories of youthful days gone by, but to me, not having kids, this experience with my five-year-old nephew was a first.

We had braved the unseasonably cold South Carolina weather for a mere five minutes before Parker came to this abrupt conclusion. Bundled in his winter coat and hat, he begrudgingly stormed off and sat on a rock on the side of the road. When I asked him why he was so upset, he fought back tears and explained, “Chase can ride his bike without training wheels, and I will never be able to.”

Now, being Uncle Chris, I wasn’t even sure who Chase was, but in this moment, I wanted to run to my writing notebook and sketch out this blog. However, I felt it best that I stay with the nearly-in-tears five-year-old to support him.

There’s a lot of talk about grit and growth mindset as it applies to education, and at this point, I would submit that most people reading this blog are not only familiar with these concepts, but probably way more well-read about them than I. However, in that moment, as I lovingly sat down next to Parker and put my arm around him, I had new reflections about how I would apply Parker’s learning experience to my own teaching and thinking.

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Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

I have long been skeptical of the “One Word” promises made at the turn of the new year.

On one hand, I totally get it; it’s an efficient way to stay focused on personal improvement. And like any goal setting, focus is essential to success; we often try to do too much with our goals — personally and professionally. In that respect, I see the value. However, the scope of one word seems, in some ways, too focused. I’ve struggled to see how a one-word focus would truly help me become a better me, a better teacher. But with this said, I also had no suggestion for a different approach.

So, as 2017 faded into the cold and dreary new year backdrop of 2018, I sat down to do my usual new year reflection and goal setting, resigning myself to this seemingly too-narrow approach for lack of a more effective strategy. It was while I scribbled in my writer’s notebook, jotting down key words and phrases that captured elements of my personal and professional growth that I hope to see improve in 2018, when the music in the background, which is always playing when I write, shuffled to a different song, grabbing my attention in a way it never had before. Having heard this song well over 100 times already, I couldn’t believe the way it was now inspiring my goal setting.

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Five Ways Teacher Leaders Use Storytelling

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“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

— Native American ProverbTop Community Blogger Badge

Leadership is hard; it’s littered with the unknown, filled with the unexpected, packed with the unanswerable, and bursting with challenges great and small. Yet at its core, leadership is an essential element to successful school culture — to developing, building, and even changing the ways in which schools operate, teach, learn, and grow.

When exploring school culture and its correlation to leadership, though, it’s essential that we think of the term of “school leader” in a more global sense. At their core, teachers are leaders. And when the “leaders” of a school realize this fact and empower teachers to help enact change, welcoming them into the STORY of their school, the impossible becomes the reality, the unimaginable becomes the routine.

You see, teachers are leaders because they’re at the center of the humanity within the work; living in and yet simultaneously crafting the story of the school, the narrative of the culture, and this is absolutely essential because the reality is this: a story entertains; it engages; it endears us to others; it enrages; but most importantly, it EMPOWERS. Without the story, we’re left with blank slates. Simply put, we — and our school cultures — are incomplete. As Michael Margolis, CEO at Get Storied said, “If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.”

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