Shifting Students' ROLE

One of the many things that attracted me to the teaching profession, and something on which I thrive throughout the year, it that it is mentally and physically challenging. According to research, teachers make between 1000 and 1500 educational decisions a day. During breaks from school, most teachers take advantage of the opportunity to get away from making decisions--from thinking so much. I occasionally do the same, but I’m usually in a constant pattern of reflecting and looking ahead for ways I can improve. There are always new ideas out there that I’m eager to try, which is why I’m never ready for school to start. It’s less than two weeks from the first day of school, and I’m almost ready. That status probably won’t change much because I’m never truly, completely, 100 percent ready to start school. I’m never finished planning my next move. 

It’s as if I’ve been planning all summer how to play the perfect game of chess only realize that I have to start playing before I have planned all of my moves and considered every possibility. Obviously, the perfect game of chess doesn’t exist and neither does the perfect education plan entering the school year. Like a seasoned chess player, I can rely on years of experience to help me out, but that only carries me so far. Chess opponents change and with that change comes new playing strategies to which veteran chess players must adapt or they will not be successful. Likewise, I get a new batch of students every year--even during the year--and while I might have a wonderful vision of how I want things to go, I must adapt to them. Teaching is a profession where my personal success is entirely dependent upon my ability to help others become successful. It’s both rewarding and stressful in that way. 

Ultimately, motivating them not easy because that must come from within. I can, however, inspire those who are unmotivated. Being motivated simply means having the desire to complete a task whereas being inspired means having the mental stimulation to do so. Hopefully, inspiration will breed motivation which, in turn, will inspire them even further. The question with which I have been grappling these past few years is how I can inspire them to learn. 

I’m convinced that the answer to this question is to make my classroom more student-centered. After all, what’s very inspiring about coming to class and someone else telling you what you’re going to learn and how you’re going to learn it? The problem is that I wasn’t taught this way myself, so I read a couple of “teacher books” to help me learn how to transform my classroom: ROLE Reversal by Mark Barnes and Shift This by Joy Kirr. 

ROLE Reversal is about how to create a results only learning environment. Students will get to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, within certain parameters that I set. This is accomplished through me creating year-long projects. If they are well thought out, then students can master the standards that they need to cover while having choice in how they want to do get there. Inherent in this plan is creating a workshop setting and allowing flexible seating in my classroom so that students can move around and help each other. This inspired me to create a project on the website donorschoose.org (www.donorschoose.org/project/ditch-the-desks-flexible-seating/2632139) so that I can hopefully acquire some different types of seating.

Shift This is one of the best teacher books that I have read, and it’s about small shifts that teachers can make in their classrooms to yield excellent results. From this book I plan on implementing a question of the day, improving classroom discussions, and doing a better job of communicating with parents. I will continue implementing a gradeless classroom, and adding these other things into the fold will make my classroom extraordinarily unique. I want parents to know what’s going on!

I feel like I have a pretty good plan in place to start the school year. Only time will tell how many of these changes will stick and how many I will throw to the wayside. In the meantime, like Sisyphus ceaselessly rolling the boulder to the top of the mountain only to see it fall back of its own weight, I will just keep tweaking...just keep tweaking.