See Matt’s Video on Teaching Channel: Encouraging Students to Take Action
Each year, I’m so impressed with what my students produce as a result of their work learning about civic engagement and the culmination of that work, the Taking Action Project. As I close the Teaching for Civic Engagement series, I’d like to take the time to reflect on the successes of the Taking Action Project, as well as the challenges and possibilities it presents.
Projects that earned some attention this year included a proposal to improve the library at our school, a boycott of products with microbeads, a website to share stories and resources about sexual harassment, and a website to centralize all the counseling and mental health resources available at my school.
Previous projects have included a flyer targeted at helping residents of Chinatown resist gentrification and illegal evictions, a petition to end unfair taxation of products for women, and a zine about eco-feminism. The latter has flourished far beyond the classroom walls into a full publication with a website and a fundraising effort.
These are certainly examples of some of the most impactful learning my students engaged in over the past few years. However, while the Taking Action Project is one of my favorite parts of the year, it also presents a number of challenges.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series by Tch Laureate Emeritus Sarah Brown Wessling for new teachers wrapping up the school year.
“Every fear hides a wish.” — David Mamet
My first year of teaching was equal parts fear and wishing. In fact, they each pulled me from opposite directions, sometimes so tautly, everything seemed to bounce right off me, into the distance, uncatchable. That was my first year of teaching: lots of wishing for magical teaching moments and lots of hiding from my fears. I wished the kids would like me, but my fear meant I had some classroom management issues early on. I wished my colleagues would think I was doing a good job, but my fear meant I wouldn’t reach out to them with my own insecurities. I wished my lessons would all be inspired, but my fear meant that too often I would think about a “cool lesson” instead of a scope of learning.
My first year taught me that the rest of my years would be about shrinking the fictions of wishing and fear in order to opt for the beautiful and real mess of a teaching life. In case you’re finding yourself, at the end of this first year, needing a little less fiction and a little more beautiful mess, here are some common end-of-first-year struggles and how to use them to launch yourself into an even stronger year two. Read more
I felt the blood rushing to my face. I was standing in front of a group of teachers presenting on a topic I was very familiar with and all of the sudden, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I was saying. The teachers were very gracious, but I was cringing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the strategies to make my next move. I sure could’ve used some coaching in that moment.
I often have the opportunity to work with teachers as a professional learning provider or coach around the implementation and assessment of the three-dimensional learning expected from the Next Generation Science Standards. In this work, I’m expected to be the “expert” and the collaborator, but sometimes I need coaching too.
It doesn’t seem possible that my time in the classroom is over.
At the start of this school year, I accepted a position as a principal, after spending the last 15 years in the classroom. At some points, those years seemed to zoom by, but there were moments where time seemed to stand still, the daily struggles nearly overwhelming. Thankfully, the fulfilling days far outweighed the tough times.
While I’m enjoying the challenges and rewards afforded by my career shift, I have times where I’m nostalgic for my days in the classroom. As much as I enjoyed being a teacher, I also revel in discovery, and I expect to learn from each of my jobs. In reflecting on my teaching career, I realized that teaching has taught me… nothing.
Did I just say that… and do I really sound like that?
I’ve always been told I look and sound exactly like my younger sister, just with darker hair. I’m still not convinced we look alike, but after listening to my most recent presentation, it easily could’ve been my sister speaking. Scary!
Even more frightening is the wording I chose and the stammering that occurred throughout my delivery of the professional learning.
Those poor teachers.
Without the close vetting of this “unwanted” video, I’d never have realized how much I needed to improve. Sometimes “looking in the mirror” can hurt.
To be 100% truthful, I’m considered the “face” of our school district and I conduct numerous interviews that are then streamed on our local cable channel and on our district YouTube channel. How many of those interviews have I watched to see how I can improve on the next, you ask? ZERO!
It’s time to change my paradigm and realize that video self-reflection can be one of the most valuable tools we have as educators. Here’s my most recent glimpse of my reflection.
A few weeks ago, I made a stop at a local butcher’s shop and left with a cooler full of cow muscle, tendons, fat, and a kidney just for fun. I was prepping for a tissue engineering unit where students would research authentic tissues before tackling our big question: Can low-cost, synthetic tissues be engineered for use in under-resourced medical schools and research labs? This unit was based on the Tissue Engineering guide from Allen Distinguished Educators DIY Guides.
One of my goals is to increase peer observations and encourage a school culture where teachers open up their practice to others. This can be challenging, as teachers most often have to give up their own time with students to make these observations happen. So I fired up my Swivl, and decided to step out of my comfort zone to demonstrate another way to share our practice when time is short — through video! As part of my work with the Tch Next Gen Science Squad, I decided to focus on the implementation of engineering as described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
I’ve long been curious about what’s underneath. The back story of the author, the inspiration for the music, the influences that created the athlete. It’s not just the history or the origin story I’m interested in, it’s the story wrapped inside the story that grabs my attention and makes me want to keep uncovering. And I know I’m not the only one because so many of you reach out to me, stop me at a conference, or after a workshop, and ask for all the details. Did you really mess up that lesson or did you plan to? How do you grade all of that writing? Did your students only do that stuff for the camera? How do you come up with your ideas? What happens next?
For as long as I’ve been making videos with Teaching Channel, I’ve had this idea that there should be a version where I get to pull back the curtain and tell the story behind the story. Even though our medium is video and everything seems visible, it’s not. There’s so much invisible work in teaching: the ideation, the planning, the “fake left and go right,” the careful attention and revision. With this in mind, we’re launching our new series, Tcher’s Cut, to give you an insider’s look at all that invisible work, to help answer the questions you’re prompted to ask.
A teacher can learn a lot by taking a close read of the classroom.
However, the pace of a typical school day doesn’t allow for much time to step back and take it all in. That’s why video is a great tool to help teachers understand what’s really happening in the classroom as students engage in learning activities.
In the videos I collected of students, I began to notice there was a pattern to their conversations. Based upon the task at hand, my role was to be a facilitator. As teachers embark into NGSS territory, it will become more obvious that students are highly engaged in their tasks. They’re excited and need help making sense of their thinking.
The National Board Certification process was one of the most effective exercises I’ve been involved in. The initial process, as well as my subsequent renewal, have proven to be invaluable to my development as an educator. The challenges presented to me have encouraged continued growth within this profession.
I found one of the most difficult aspects of the certification process to be the videotaped reflective piece. This component forced me to critically analyze virtually every aspect of my practice. Lessons learned through critical analysis of the recording have compelled me to find solutions to a wide variety of minor issues that were possibly hindering the success of my students. The videotaping has had such an impact on my classroom that I continue the practice to this day.
Welcome to The New Year!
A time to celebrate, reflect, and set goals. As teachers, we naturally set goals for ourselves in January. Even though it’s a midpoint in the school year, for some reason January feels like a fresh start. But what about our students? Do they use January as a time to reflect, reboot, and set goals for themselves? While hopefully reflection and goal setting are a natural part of your class culture (and if not, check out our Growth Mindset Deep Dive for ideas), January is a great time to ask students to reflect and set some larger learning goals to work toward over the rest of the school year. Here are four ways you can help: