For those of you who know me, you know I’m obsessed with simple goals that lead to big results. In fact, I just guest authored a blog over the holidays where the basic premise was this: we have everything we need, we just need to to simply and faithfully use it!
So, the fact that it’s 2013 already (gulp!) and we’ve got to get started on our big plans, tells me that the goals don’t mean a thing unless we have a route to get to ’em!
So, what we’ve been using regularly with our clients is a very simple 3-tiered goal setting sheet. (I’ve scanned in the copy of one I was just sending my client in preparation for our upcoming work together!
Basically, what we do to create our pathway for success is set goals that are broad and then funnel very tightly down into personal goals to be implemented right there in the classrooms. Annnnnnnnd…voila! Goals are met!
So, where do you get started?
One of our clients chose, “Every classroom will increase student engagement by 15% in the first trimester” as Goal #1 for “Program Implementation Goals”. Then each site got together and mirrored their goal #1 from the district’s #1 goal at the very top. One of the schools made their site goal, “We will implement 2 main structures 5xs each daily in order to increase our student engagement in reading and math: Think, pair, share and response journals”.
Then after each site makes their site instructional goals, each individual teacher then creates his or her personal goal related to the district and site goal.
Here’s the cool thing: Without focusing on 10 zillion different things, EVERYONE is working toward the same goal!
The other cool thing: The work is TAILORED to the site and the individual teacher so that we’re not duplicating work that has already been done or missing big pieces because we’ve avoided customized goals
Yet another cool thing: The work is tailored to reach directly into the classroom with the students. Too many reforms are focused “above” the classroom and never funnel in. By ensuring that individual teachers make goals, we’re reaching right there into the student level – and that’s where the action all happens, anyway!
The other cool thing? Critical mass – -the “spectacle” that arises when everyone is doing the same thing – – it creates momentum of its own. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Now, I know some of our readers are thinking, “But WAIT – we have 10,000 goals on our school improvement plans…how does focusing on 3 areas help us meet all 10,000?” Here’s my answer to that: quality over quantity. Period. I’d also offer this advice: doing small things well is contagious – once you get that “I did it!” feeling, you have more energy and confidence tackling the next thing!
So…where are YOU starting? Talk to me! 🙂
The Common Core Standards are freaking me out.
There. I said it!
What I really mean is that I’m slightly freaking out over the fact that the Common Core Standards conversation is happening…in all the wrong places.
What do I mean?
Well, I hear Superintendents talking about ‘em. I hear Curriculum Directors talking about ‘em. I hear principals talking about ‘em. I hear instructional coaches talking about ‘em.
But I don’t hear an overwhelming number of teachers (the ones who actually DELIVER THE DANG THINGS!) talking about them!!! And I don’t think not talking about the Common Core is the teachers’ fault!
Side note: It’s common that, given a new, fandangled implementation of something in education, we forget to bring the teachers into it. And this fact is the very reason we get frustrated about money spent on reform – we forget to bring the teachers and their practice into the discussion so there’s not much change in the classrooms. It’s the bane of existence in public education. I mean….DUH!
We have a chance to transform our collective instruction in ways that we never have before so that we can catapult our students to success in ways we never have before! Or we can choose to just do business as usual while we wait for the pendulum to swing the other way. Take one guess as to which I’M going to do!
Here’s where we’re starting the Common Core conversation with the TEACHERS WHO WILL ACTUALLY ADJUST, CHANGE AND DELIVER THE INSTRUCTION TO THE KIDS!
Step 1: Read the standards from the top to the bottom and back up again. Sounds super simple, I know. But just do it. They’re awesomely set up.
Step 2: Focus on ONE CHUNK of the Standards. No – not two. Not all of them. Just one. I like to focus on the one domain that we’re closest to implementing – something about being “almost there” makes me feel accomplished!
Step 3: Comb through – okay, who am I kidding…SCOUR, OBSESS OVER, LIST, DISCUSS AND FUSS ABOUT – your current curriculum. Figure out where you’re directly teaching that domain. Figure out where you’re indirectly teaching it. Write all of these things down somewhere and guard it with your life.
Step 4: Analyze where you are teaching the domain well, where you’re kind of teaching it and where you need some major additions. Write this down and guard it with your life.
Step 5: Then start to plot a big picture plan for the school year of where you’ll continue doing what’s already in your curriculum for that domain. The focus on where you’ll need to make some adjustments for the weaker standards in that domain. And finally plot where you’ll add opportunities to teach, model, practice and apply that domain through the year so that you’re geared to end-of-year mastery.
Then come back and read next week’s article where I’ll lay out how to design lessons/assessments for these things you’ve added, tweaked and obsessed over…
Okay, so I’m obsessed. (Not an unusual thing, but we’ll get to that later…much much later…)
I heard Michael Kamil speak at a conference last year and what he said was “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things”.
I can’t stop thinking about this and the impact that it has on what we do in the classrooms everyday – especially with those kids who struggle to read.
It’s been about 9 months since I wrote “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things” in my notes. I keep referring back to what this means for us – and for our kids.
Here’s what I’ve got rolling around in my brain about this:
- As teachers, we cannot shy away from giving kids tasks that they struggle with – – – I mean after all, if they knew everything from the get-go, wouldn’t that eliminate the need for school?
- As teachers, we need to teach persistence and stick-to-it-ive-ness (which is a HUGE life skill!). How do we do it? By giving kids the tools and support and encouragement that they need when they encounter tough skills. When they fail or struggle with a task, we stand alongside them and SHOW them how to take another step.
- As teachers of reading, we need to not immediately solve a decoding or comprehension struggle by giving kids lower-leveled text. When we quickly default to the below-level text, that’s what we get kids used to: below-level text. It’s actually a set-up for future struggle, I believe!
- As teachers of reading, we need not always pair kids with an “able” counter-part – – – this is enabling for a lot of kids and we KNOW that many on-level kids have little to no patience for supporting a struggling partner and they end up doing most of the work anyway.
- As teachers of reading, we need to focus on pre-teaching and rehearsing tough spots with kids who struggle or who give up easily. I have found that rehearsing answers or responses is a great intervention actually! It’s worth checking into.
But the bottom line of it all? As teachers, we need to switch our perspective from “Oh no! They’re not getting it! I must be a bad teacher! I better simplify this task…STAT!”
“Yes! They’re struggling a bit with this – what a great opportunity for me to provide on-the-ground guided support for my kids AND build their stick-to-it-ive-ness at the same time!”
The confidence-building of learners is in the doing of difficult things…and living to tell the tale!
We’re suffering. From something that’s totally treatable. But we have to act fast.
What ails us?
It’s the “It would be nice if”- syndrome.
Here’s what it sounds like:
- It would be nice if I had more prep time
- It would be nice if the grade level before us would actually teach the kids what they need to know for my grade level
- It would be nice if the kids would actually do their homework
- It would be nice if I could have more aide time
- It would be nice if we didn’t have to have all those walk-throughs during my teaching
Here’s the problem with the “It would be nice if”- syndrome:
- It’s built around talking – not action! And successful schools are all about the doing, not just the chatting.
- It’s focusing on a dream world! I hate to break it to you, but we work with kids. Kids do not exist in a dream world…they pull us right into reality. Everyday.
- It takes the focus on what matters most: the quality of the interaction between the teacher and the students!
- It kills our momentum! We lose ground when we waste our time talking about things that might not happen – plus we give away our instructional power when we base our students’ success on external sources.
So….you might be wondering what the heck you DO about the “It would be nice if”- syndrome! Well, Dr. Jackson, (I’m not really a doctor, but I play one in this blog) has just the prescription for YOU!
Prescription One: Realize right now that the return on your teaching begins with the PREP. If you have a highly prepped lesson, you have less behavioral interruptions, more engagement and have more time during the lesson to listen to your students and see what their learning.
Prescription Two: When you are in teacher meetings/team meetings, focus the work on TASKS, not just discussions. If you find that your team is all talk/no action, throw in one of these statements: “Ok guys…let’s talk about what we’re going to DO after this conversation” or “Alrighty – let’s focus on what we have control of so that we can get started right away!”. Focusing on an action immediately pulls you out of the all talk/no action problem. Sometimes we’re just in a bad habit of doing way more talking than we do acting and we just need someone to help us get pulled out of it! Let that person be YOU!
Prescription Three: Analyze your time spent at work. How much time is spent talking about the heart of instruction? How much time is spent actually crafting lessons and not just prepping materials? How much reflective conversation do you have with your coaches or your colleagues about your teaching? These types of questions drive your time and conversations directly back to that interaction between teacher and student – – -and that’s what really matters!
If you suffer from the “It would be nice if”- syndrome, then it’s your responsibility to take steps to recover! Here’s the cool thing: It’s actually pretty simple to recover. You start by doing.
Yep, that’s it!
I love a good list – I put silly things on the list just so I can cross them off. For example, instead of putting “laundry” on the list, I’ll put “Do 3 loads of laundry” and then a separate bullet will be “Fold laundry”. I get to cross off TWO things that way!
While I might be a little neurotic about my lists, I do know that when I’m out and about working with educators, the one thing that they always talk about and don’t have enough of is TIME. So, I’m intrigued with this idea of working more efficiently – – and how we can actually create time by doing so. I’ve had the pleasure of working with teachers who have their system DOWN PAT. The kids have the system down pat. And they don’t run around during their break like a chicken with their heads cut off and have a mental breakdown when the copy machine breaks down. Why? Because they are in control.
In control-ness means efficiency. Or is efficiency in control-ness?
If you’re like so many time-strapped educators, I encourage you to stop the “I don’t have enough time” talk and figure out WHERE you can CREATE TIME! Here are 5 spots to get started:
Step 1: Take 1 minute at the top of each day to get organized
Have a list on the board of everything that the kids need to have out on their desks in one minute. One teacher I know draws a diagram of what she wants the desks to look like (composition book on the upper left corner, colored pencils on the bottom right, homework in the middle, science book under the homework) and then scans desks before she even starts teaching to make sure they have everything. The one minute you spend getting organized means you save yourself the frustration and time in the long run!
Step 2: Use a timer
Figure out exactly where you’re losing time – is it transitions? Is it morning/beginning of period routine? Is it handing out papers? Is it during partner work? Then, challenge the students to beat their time. Say to your students: “Folks, we’re losing 5 minutes an hour during transitions because we’re taking our precious time and talking with our friends too much. Let’s see if we can make this transition under 30 seconds. Go!”. Anything’s better if it’s a challenge!
Step 3: Pre-establish partners at the end of the day
There is always lost time and DRAMA around partners! I don’t enter into that and I certainly don’t give the kids the opportunity to choose their partners because they’re going to switch them all of the time anyway. So, at the end of the day I say, “Tomorrow guys and gals, we are going to switch partners. I’m going to take 1 minute right now to tell you who your partner is so that you’re ready to roll tomorrow morning. If you choose to be crabby about your partner, then you will stay with me during your recess/passing period because we don’t have time for that foolishness and we’re better than that!” Then in the morning or next period, they are already SET!
Step 4: Have an exit strategy!
We do ourselves a disservice when we start the top of the day with the “this is everything I have to get through” mentality. No doubt there is a TON of “stuff” that we have to teach, but we have to prioritize the content so that we aren’t just getting through it while students watch. Watching does not equal learning!
Here’s what I suggest: Go through your content for the next day and highlight in green what MUST be taught. Highlight in yellow what SHOULD be taught and highlight in pink what can be dropped off if needed. While we’ll be focused on teaching everything, we have to have an exit strategy if needed!
Step 5: Avoid giving directions until you have all eyes on you
The BEST classroom management skill that I can give anyone is “don’t give directions until you have all eyes on you!”. Why? Then you don’t have to go around and keep repeating yourself a zillion times to those students who didn’t listen in the beginning! Try it! It works like a CHARM!
Becoming more efficient is about taking CONTROL. And I find that the most in-control educators are most satisfied…they don’t feel “done to” – they feel powerful! And I hope the same for you!
If you’re interested in finding time-saving techniques and free tools – click on the “Free Resources” tab at www.jackson-consulting.com – – I’m waiting for you there!