The Challenge of Growing While Teaching

Part of my goals with this blog, in addition to reflecting on my own practice and process, is to talk more about how we as teachers can grow and learn through our work and to make that process visible to our students.  One of the hardest parts of teaching is that you have to be willing to, as Tara Martin says, “Expose Vulnerability.” We all get nervous or anxious about teaching a lesson or providing specific instruction on a skill. Sometimes we plan it out, it sounds great in our heads, looks great on paper, and then the fear or nerves come out.  Something derails our best efforts, or a small part of our lesson is not quite right. Whatever it is, we realize that the lesson might not be the awesome success we wanted it to be.

It is in those moments that we grow as educators and people.  We need to embrace those stumbles so that we can show how our love of this process can cause us to leap forward and grow from those setbacks.  We know this. We tell our students this. Where we often fall short is in showing and modeling those moments for our students. My encouragement to everyone is to seize those opportunities to share with students how you are growing as a teacher, and that because you are constantly focused on growth, you know that you will reach your goals.

This past week I had two of those moments.  My National Parks project was not going well and my students had become frustrated at how this early stage of the project was designed.  In addition, students were getting their first exposure to the self-paced nature of my class and some were looking for more direction on what their pace of task completion should look like, when one student asked me what that pace should be and wanted a more specific answer.  Her question made me rethink how I had designed this elements of my class. The next morning I realized how I could make some adjustments and improve the project. I ran my idea past the student whose question had started this reflection and she agreed it was a better solution.  I shared it with my students and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

The second came when a couple of students asked why one assignment was listed in the gradebook four times.  I realized I hadn’t explained how standards-based grading works to my students. I had explained the philosophy and logistics of it to parents, but had neglected to do so with my students.  The next day I adjusted my lesson to dedicate time to help students understand how this type of grading works and what it looks like in the gradebook.

These changes may seem minor, but they reflect the message of this post.  Growing as a teacher is challenging, and doing so becomes difficult if you remain to committed to your initial plans and ideas and leave no room for improvement or reflection.  If I hadn’t considered the thoughts and questions of my students, but just pursued my plans blindly, I would have missed these chances to improve my teaching and grow from the setbacks.

My challenge to you is listen more closely to the questions your students ask you about your projects/lessons.  You may find opportunities to grow and become a better teacher for your students from the reflection process. Sometimes our students can teach us how to grow while we teach them our content and skills.

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out Ashley Umphrey & Patty Rotert. Ashley is a 6th grade Social Studies teacher & Patty is an 8th Grade Social Studies teacher, with both working at Chisholm Trail Middle School in Olathe.  I had the privilege of working with both of them to deliver professional learning on standards-based grading to our colleagues. I was grateful for the invitation to help lead professional learning during my first year in the district, and these two ladies are amazing to work with!  Their passion for their students and their dedication to becoming better educators is truly inspiring. Both are starting the move toward standards-based grading in their classrooms and I hope to get the chance to work with both of them again! You can follow Ashley on Twitter @ashleyumphrey and Patty @PattyRotert.