Thursday, June 16, 2016

Year 3 In Review

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action." 
-Peter Drucker

I have been out of school for about two weeks now, and have been dragging my feet on writing this post. I have been reflecting on what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, and how to best format my thoughts. I decided to structure it similarly to my end of 2015 blog post - sharing successes, challenges, updating on my resolutions, and sharing new goals for next year.

1. What went well?

First and foremost, my students greatly surpassed my academic expectations for them. Each student showed at least a years worth of growth in reading, and much more in math. I am not one to harp on data, but in comparing their end of year tests in third grade versus fourth grade, I saw drastic improvement in nearly all students.

Reciprocal teaching in math
Furthermore, my students showed a greater maturity and developed strong growth mindsets. While growth mindset seems to be one of the latest education buzzwords, I saw my students achieve and excel while demonstrating growth mindset principles. One of my students struggled severely in math in the beginning of the year. He couldn't seem to grasp the concept of regrouping/borrowing/exchanging/whatever the correct term is in subtraction. I worked with him with physical manipulatives, with numbers, computer programs, peer tutoring, and everything else imaginable, but what made the difference was him. He recognized a weakness, wanted to get better, worked at it, and ended up teaching other students how to do it. Another time, my students were working on a Breakout EDU box and one kid stopped the whole class to remind everyone to use their growth mindsets and not give up. I had it on Periscope, but Katch decided to shut down so I can't link the video here. 

We spent a lot of time in class developing the soft skills and other skills needed for life. We had three parables I constantly came back to: "Making Changes, Building a Bridge, and Digging a Hole." I'll explore these parables more in my next post, but they had a definitive impact on my students.

Controlled chaos on a STEAM challenge
I tried a whole lot of new things in class, including student led learning, flipped classroom, Breakout EDU, coding, higher integration of STEAM/Makerspaces, HyperDocs (introduced to me by the wonderful Karly Moura,) and 1:1 Chromebooks. All of these were successful (to varying degrees) and I will use elements of each in my next school year.

2. What challenges did I face?

While student led learning was my main goal for the year, I think I went at it too hard too fast. Hindsight being 20:20, I should have scaffolded it more. I added more scaffolding around the midpoint of the school year, and next year I need to start with more scaffolding and then pull back. I do not think my students suffered from this though. It forced them to learn new skills (that they need) at a rapid pace. Sometimes, you've got to run before you can walk.

A reluctant reader reads Kid President at Morning Meeting
My timing/pacing was off this year. We started earlier than ever before, and our semester break was before Christmas and our end of year tests were in early May, as compared to last year when the semester ended in January and our end of year tests were in early June. It was definitely a transition, and I will need to be cognizant of that in the future. I was still able to teach all of the material, but I felt rushed at times and did not get much time at the end of the school year to do some of the activities that I've done in the past (like Reader's Cafe.)

All in all, the year was different and challenging at times, but I feel it was extremely successful. 

3. Updates on resolutions

I had developed four resolutions for 2016 and this section will serve to update progress on them. 

The proposal
  • I will continue to hold my students to high expectations: I would say this has been achieved and will continue to be a focal point of my teaching. Students need to know they are going to be held to high standards and they will meet them.
  • I will develop better systems for testing/grading and time management: I developed better systems for testing and grading. When a student finished their test, they brought it up to be and I graded on the spot. I gave them a second chance or gave some brief remediation. This system seemed to work better for the students and for me. It also allowed me to follow up with more focused remediation later. My time management has gotten better, but I still need to work to carve out chunks of time to work and time to relax. 
  • I will continue to develop professionally and look for new opportunities: I have left my position in Warren County and will be starting as a fourth grade teacher in Stafford County for the next year. I am extremely excited for this new opportunity and can't wait to see what it brings. Additionally, I co-created Breakout EDU Digital with Mari Venturino in March and that has been a wonderful opportunity. Attending the Google for Education Innovator Academy in late February left me with many takeaways (check them out here and here.)
  • I will take more time for my personal life: I realized this was the biggest goal I needed to work on. In February, I proposed to my girlfriend, and now she is my fiance. We are buying a house closer to my new school this summer and I have enjoyed taking more time to spend with her and create more memories. When Mark French came to visit me in March, he shared that sometimes you've got to unplug and make a commitment to spend time. With this, I learned how to say no to other things and have had to cut things out of my "online life" to make room for enjoying what is real.
4. So what's next?

While I will miss my old fourth grade team, other colleagues, and seeing my old students, I am extremely excited for my new career adventure. I have met with my new team and they seem incredibly supportive and easy going (plus, there is another guy on the team!) This new school should be a great fit for me.

I want to get into standards-based grading (which my new team does a version of) and a more integrated/cross curricular teaching method. I think this is the best way to truly assess the students' understanding and maximize instructional time. I want to still continue doing elements of the above things from the successes paragraph, with more scaffolding in student led and revamping some elements of flipped classroom. 

Room 22 Family 2015-2016
Above all things, I want to refocus. Over the past year since I joined Twitter, I have been dabbling into many things and doing a good job with them. I don't want to do a good job of many things, I want to do a great job of a few things. I will be focusing on teaching, my personal life, EduRoadTrip, Breakout EDU Digital, and #FlyHighFri. (After some thoughts, I have lessened my involvement with various Twitter chats and completely dropped #Teach20s.) Sharing these responsibilities with the awesome team of Mari and Greg Bagby will also help in the time commitments. I would also like to continue to carve out time for reading (both personal and professional) and writing. 

Last year, I closed this blog entry with a snippet from a student's end-of-year survey, and I feel this is a good way to end it again:

"It was the best year of my life. I made new friends and I had some drama. Mr.B is the best teacher ever and I learned a lot from him. Also if you focus you have know Idea what you can do. When you make class fun, students learn more and are much more happy to go to school."