Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who's the most effective of them all? Marzano has proven that the single most effective factor in a classroom is the teacher. More than than socio-economic status, more than curriculum, more than instructional strategies, you--the teacher--have the heaviest amount of influence over your students. So how did you do?
Now that we've all breathed in that first glorious morning of summer break, how does it feel? Are you pleased with your year? What are you committing to doing differently?
Here are some reflections of mine as I consider my 8th year of teaching.
What worked? How can you do it too?
- The Lesson Plan Template--I've taught for 8 years. The more experience we have, the shorter our lesson plans become. We squeeze them onto post-it notes or scribble them out during our conference. But this year, I utilized my campus' lesson plan template for every single lesson, and I was a better teacher for it. I embraced the template in its true spirit, planning for seed questions, small group talk, and critical writing pieces. Carefully structuring my plans made a much more efficient use of my instructional time. Consider developing a template within your PLC and commit to using it. Start small (maybe 1 grading period), and adjust from there.
- Explicit Instruction--Much of my grad work was firmly rooted in the notion of explicit, skills-based instruction. My 9th grade team was committed to teaching skills through literature. Our lessons (using the template) were highly structured to make sure that specific objectives were hit and measured. Think about writing measurable objectives in your lesson plans. Move away from the verbs read and analyze. Go deeper and more specific.
- Data Meetings--We've all sat through terrible data meetings, so it's weird that this makes my list of positives. But here's the truth...my 9th grade team made crazy use of data time. We were all highly committed to the type of instruction discussed above, so we were able to pull a specific lesson every time we met to review test questions. If it looked like our kids did not perform well on a point of view question, then we taught another point of view lesson. It's tempting to sit there and get frustrated and begin thinking that you covered pov, so why don't they get it, but ELA instruction is not a check list. You have to continue to hit skills again and again, sometimes in different ways to make sure all kids get it. Don't sit through another fruitless data meeting. Take charge and pose the question, SO WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?
What didn't work? How do you avoid that pitfall?
- Hitting the ground running. As an 8 year veteran, I got so nervous and worked up and felt so much pressure that I jumped into Day 1 with heavy grammar instruction. It was GOOD instruction, mind you. But my kids resented it. I've always started my year by getting to know my kids and building in opportunities for them to get to know me, but I taught summer school last year and was tired and felt over-worked and under lots of pressure. I should have taken the time in the summer that I did have to relax and rejuvenate. I should have trusted myself and my years of experience to know that I could afford a day to get to know my kids. You can't get that back. Shame on me.
- Varying student groups. I made data-based groups at the beginning of the year, and then I had to ditch that and rearrange based on behavior. I never fully committed to a steady rotation of different student groups. I should have more faithfully utilized different grouping strategies like peanut butter and jelly partners and seasonal partners. Kids get comfortable and they get bored. Keep them just slightly uncomfortable and on their toes.
- Visit teachers' classrooms more frequently. With my freshman team, I did everything by the book, and still at the end of the day, something was definitely lacking. I can help teachers plan using strong instructional models and data-based decisions, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to what Marzano has said all along. The classroom teacher makes the largest impact. I owe it to every teacher that I work with to routinely see him or her in action. If you have an instructional specialist on your campus, invite them into your room frequently. It helps complete an important picture and will allow you to get feedback on what you're doing well and how you can help others. A good instructional specialist is never out to get you; a good instructional specialist is there to help build value in the classroom and among the team.