Staying positive as a teacher, instructional coach, or administrator is tough work. Not for the faint of heart. There is just so much working against us! I would like you to think, for a minute, about how we can accentuate the positive in a world that is so overwhelmingly negative.
When I think of my own classroom I have a group of students each with completely different levels and needs. It is literally a classroom of individuals. This makes it exceedingly challenging to define what success is for me as a teacher. Is it when scores go up? Is it when a student graduates? What happens when scores go down and a student drops out? Is that my fault? While the state would define success as meeting adequate yearly growth, it is difficult for a teacher to stay positive with that frame of mind.
The fact is that students are much more than a test score. They are more than a reading level. They are more than a list of disciplinary actions.
Students are human beings.
Because of this a student will never be perfect. And that is ok. As a teacher we need to recognize growth, has a student progressed? Are they improving?
This is especially true for new teachers, teachers in Title I schools, and those in schools that are struggling to meet state defined proficiency expectations. I know in my first years of teaching I had grand plans. All of my students would be proficient in everything because I was a great teacher! Or so I thought. Then the first day hits and nothing goes as expected. Half the class didn’t have pencils. Kids would call out and make distracting noises. One student even lit a hacky sack on fire in the back of the class as I was attempting to have him remove his graffiti with nail polish remover (warning, flammable). Talk about a restorative justice backfire! After that year I was non-renewed, for budgetary reasons of course, not because kids were lighting fires in the back of my room. Quickly I knew I needed to reframe my expectations.
That summer I sat there thinking, how can I begin to approach the lofty goals that I had started the year off with? As an athlete I immediately thought of training for sports, if a person wants to get better at a sport they need to make small changes that lead to small progressions over a large amount of time. This is how we see sustainable gains. I applied this to my teaching.
After landing a job the next year I made it my mission to focus on progress, not perfection. It is a growth mindset, if you will. The job I landed in I ended up staying in for 6 years, always with the idea of progress over perfection.
The first day at this new school I thought, forget about content, what do these students need to be successful as a student? I started with focusing on preparedness, because it is easy. Bring a pencil, a piece of paper, and your planner. I would be lying if I said it worked perfectly. Some students caught on, others didn’t. But the focus was always on creating better human being through small steps. Quickly I realized that if I was going to focus on progress then I would need to target the individual. Who was struggling to do the basics? And who was ready to move on? By the end of the year there was improvement, both on state tests, and in behavior.
Making a point to identify and celebrate progress is good for both student and teacher. This makes state tests meaningful. Rather than a student seeing only that they are not proficient in something they can actually focus on the fact that they grew, and this growth is what is important. Remember, Rome was not built in a day. I have student who, during last semester, was gone from class over 300 class periods, last week, he made it to every, single, class. Progress, not perfection. Tomorrow we will celebrate this and discuss his next goal, making it to every class in the month. If he slips a day? No problem, I will let him know I still care and I am still expecting him to go to class and improve everyday. Is he going to graduate? Who knows. But it is a start and a foothold.
Recognizing the progress is not only important for us to do with students but also for us to do with ourselves. Rather than expecting perfection in a lesson, a school year, or even a diet plan, it is much better to hope for perfection but just expect progress. If each day, or each lesson, you improve, then by the end of a year you will have made terrific growth.
Remember, to be a master it takes years, and years of consistent growth. No student will reach it in a day and neither will a teacher. Keep chipping away at the rock and eventually you will have a statue. If you have any strategies for keeping positive and accentuating progress please share in The Lounge! As always, Ignite The Apple!
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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