Modeling Our Learning

A few years ago our staff completed a Strengths Finder course and it was revealed that more than 80% of our teachers had the “Learner” profile in their top five strengths.  Not a surprise at all, considering the profession we’ve chosen.  I imagine that, despite being a small sample size, this group was representative of teachers across the world.  We’re learners, through and through.  It’s something we’re passionate about and, even if it’s not one of our top five strengths, it’s something we’re good at and enjoy.  

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking back to induction week and the challenge I put forth to lead our students, not only by teaching them academics, but also by positively modeling the behaviors we consider important.  I wish so badly that there was a way for our entire High School student body to have seen how hard their teachers were working to LEARN on Friday and Saturday.   Being learners, we understand the value of opening our minds to new ideas, but how do we model this behavior for our students?  

Too many students see learning as a school activity, something they’ll be “done” with once they graduate.  It’s one thing to tell our students that being a “lifelong learner” is important but wouldn’t that message be more effective if we could show them that we actually believe it?

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate our “learner” strength to our students is by sharing our learning experiences with them.  Whether it’s learning Bahasa Indonesia, studying for an IELTS assessment, taking golf lessons, or learning a new instrument, we’re all learning new things all the time.  If one of those doesn’t remind you of something you’re learning, then think no further than what you learned over the last few days in our MYP/DP workshops at school.  By discussing what we’re learning with our students we model for them the idea of being a lifelong learner as well as demonstrating our value for education in general.  

Recently I’ve become very skilled at saying, “Saya perlu belajar Bahasa Indonesia.”  I may not be making much progress but I’m working on it.  Students may occasionally laugh at me but they see me trying to learn Bahasa.  I constantly let them know how jealous I am of their bi/tri-lingual abilities (many of them have no idea how lucky they are to be learning in such a dynamic place as Sekolah Ciputra).   It’s one thing for me to tell them that learning languages is cool but it’s another thing altogether to show them that I really believe what I’m saying by showing them I’m working to learn Bahasa myself.  Talking the talk is one thing, but walking the walk shows you mean it.

So, as we come off a wonderful weekend of learning, think about how you can share this experience with your students.  Ask them about their 3-day weekend and let them know what you were doing while they were sleeping in and eating ice cream.  Let them know how important it is for you, as a teacher, to keep learning by sharing with them.  As the year goes on, look for more chances to share your learning with the kids.  You’re learning, you know it and I know it…let your students know it too!  

 

They Don’t Care How Much You Know

Amy has a saying she learned from her mother long ago that I just love, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Putting in the effort to learn your students names is a good starting point but after a couple weeks the assumption would be that you’ve achieved (or you’re at least close to achieving) that goal.  Take a minute then, to think back to your days as a student, who was your favorite teacher?  Who was the best teacher in the school?  Now ask yourself ‘why?’

I’m willing to bet that your favorite teacher and/or the teacher you remember as the “best teacher” earned that place in your mind, not because they knew the content better than anyone else, but because they were a teacher who you knew cared about you as a person.  Very often the teachers who are the most effective at helping their students learn are those who show their students that they are valued and important as people, both in and out of the classroom.  

Show your students you care and they’ll work harder for you.  This seems obvious, right?  Yet, how much time and effort do you spend establishing that relationship with your students versus teaching them content material?  Now, granted, you don’t have loads of time laying around to just chat with your students but without finding a way to show them how much you care, they’ll never care how much you know.  

A few ways that I’ve found to be helpful for showing students you care:

  1. Relate to them:  Wow, this gets harder and harder each year.  I met a student this week named “Tiffany” and I started singing, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something.  Now, I know that not everyone knows that song and maybe not everyone knows the movie either.  However, it was a reminder that this is the Bieber Generation…and they’re not far from being too young for him as well.  Each year we come back to work as teachers we’re a year older but the kids are still the same age.  It takes more and more effort to relate to our students each year.  Talk to them, listen to them, and learn from them.
  2. Learn about their life outside of school:  A big word of caution here, don’t take this to mean you should be prying into personal matters.  Mostly what I’m talking about here is stuff like: what they did on the weekend, where they traveled over the summer, and what they’re listening to on their headphones.  As you build a relationship with students they may share more personal information with you, if you’re ever unsure whether something is too personal, talk to your counselors or principals.  
  3. Be real:  On Friday a high school girl asked me, “why would anyone get married?”  She, obviously, knew that I was recently married and was truly curious about the tenant of marriage and what the attractions were for so many people.  It might be a little deeper question than the average teenager would ask but I felt like if she had the courage to ask me that question, then she certainly deserved an honest answer.  Students can tell when you’re selling them a bunch of fluff, so as long as the truth doesn’t cross any ethical barriers you should be open with them.  Again, a qualifier – just because you’re being honest doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything about yourself.  Authentic is one thing, unfiltered is another.  
  4. Create opportunities:  As I continue to learn 650 names and try to show students that I care beyond just their names, I’ve got to find time.  Before/after school, break, and lunch are all prime times to talk to kids outside of the classroom.  I try not to stay too long, moving from group to group, learning bits and pieces as I go.  If you’re on duty (or even if you’re not) this is a great chance to talk to some students outside of the usual classroom context.  Also, take advantage of the few minutes of transition time to briefly check-in with one or two of the students who arrive early to your class, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn in just 30 seconds.  
  5. Get involved:  As an educator many of the strongest bonds I’ve created with students have come as the result of coaching sports.  Whether coaching, leading an After-School Activity, or simply going to watch a game or activity, there is possibly no better way to show your students that you care than getting involved.  

There are lots of ways to show our students that we care.  Over the years, as educators we’ve all learned tips and tricks to connect with our students and engage them as learners.  Whatever works best for you is what you should use.  The strategies I’ve discussed above are things that work for me and, if you haven’t tried them, might be useful tools for you as well.  Please take the time over the next few weeks to really start building those relationships with your students, the time and effort now will pay off all year long.

It’s already the beginning of week three and I couldn’t be more excited for a Monday!!  We’ve got a wonderful group of colleagues and truly awesome students, a perfect combination for a great school.  Enjoy the week and Happy Monday 🙂

What’s Your Name Again?

I’ve done it before.  72 kids, 120 kids, 300 kids…but there I was standing in front of 650 kids, telling them that I vow to learn each and every one of their names…eeek!  What would possess somebody to endeavor to do such a ridiculous thing, let alone say it out loud?!?  

Throughout the week as people watched me struggle to remember names learned just 30 seconds earlier, smack myself in the head, and once in awhile actually remember a name, I’ve been asked about my strategy for remembering so many names.  Well, I don’t have just one.  The reality is that I’ve got about five or six that I’m using at any given time.  Let me see if I can articulate those for you:

  1. Use It or Lose It:  It’s true of anything in life, if we don’t use a skill it fades and is eventually lost.  The same is true with learning names.  The kids I met on Monday who I didn’t see the rest of the week; almost no chance I’ve remembered their name this long.  There are, however, a bunch of kids who’ve helped train me by continuously asking “Do you remember my name?”  To be honest, I probably didn’t know it the first or second time but those kids who continue to ask are now well ingrained in my heads.  They are in the small group that I’ll still know after a weekend away.  Use it or lose it.

  2. Repetition:  This is very similar to the first one but is more about the actual moment of learning, it is basically burning the memory of their name into my head.  I’m not sure it works that well, kind of like Rote Memorization, but I generally say a kid’s name over and over in my head (and sometimes out loud) as I’m trying to make a connection somewhere in my brain.

  3. Connect the Dots:  Speaking of making connections – aside from #1, this is probably the most important for long term memory making.  Our brains are like Velcro, memories and new information seek out a connection to stick to.  If there is nothing for those names to latch onto they just bounce around for a few seconds and fall right out.  I start with physical features, if there is something distinctive I can connect to that is always best…hair cuts, new glasses, and everyone wearing the same uniform are total enemies of this strategy!  Connecting their name to popular culture, a person I’ve known in the past, or just something silly all help maintain the connection longer.  Basically, for the long term recall, making a connection to a more permanent memory helps cement the new memory much faster and longer.

  4. Visualization:  I find that this one is very helpful for short-term memory.  Often times when I’m trying to recall a name I’ll ask the kids where I learned their name.  This helps me draw back to the initial creation of the memory and rummage around until something springs up.  If they were sitting with friends at lunch, in Math class, or I met them on Orientation Day, these are all opportunities for me to flash back to recall their name.  An aside here, there are certainly places that are not conducive to learning names – I’ve realized that in the morning or afternoon as kids are coming and going in a steady stream I can’t recall much of anything.  So, if I’ve stopped into your room to meet a few kids, thank you – I’ll appreciate being able to visualize your room later while trying to think of a name 🙂

  5. Context:  This is generally a good tool for helping me remember names in the long term and something I’d recommend for teachers learning names in their classes.  If I have the time I will engage a kid in a longer conversation, asking about their summer, their favorite class, or if they have brothers or sisters.  If I can place them in a certain context later on then I’ll have an easier time recalling their name.  Anything unique that I can learn about a student will greatly increase the odds of remembering their name.  This strategy is tough for me because often I don’t have a couple minutes with every kid, this is why break and lunch are great for learning names!!

  6. Spelling Champion:  Never mind that I lost the spelling bee on the word “phlegm” in 6th grade (who would think there is a ‘g’ in there?!?)  I’m often very good at processing auditory information but I find that when learning new names I benefit from having kids spell their name (especially the names that are “new” to me) while I phantom write them on my hand with my finger.  The process of hearing, doing, and saying is a good combination.  Also, there are a lot of kids who have “common” names that are spelled differently than I’m used to; this unique quality helps me remember as well.  

At the end of the day, no matter what strategies I use it comes down to effort, determination, and perseverance.  It’s not easy, it will take a long time, and I’ve already made so many mistakes it’s embarrassing.  However, it’s important to me so I will continue to push on and, someday I hope, I will get there.

As the beginning of the year washes over us and we move into the next phases of the school year, it’s important to keep in mind that we’ll have ups and downs, highs and lows. Whether it’s remembering names, planning lessons, or trying out new strategies in class, take a risk and don’t be afraid of a challenge.

 

Fresh Starts

It’s finally here, day one, the first day of school.  It’s a feeling of clean hallways, new notebooks, bright smiles, youthful exuberance and…freshness.

Luckily, for those of us in education, we get to have a fresh start every year.  With the end of summer holidays comes the beginning of a new year.  Our friends and family, who don’t work in the most amazing field in the world like we do, can’t possibly understand what it means to be able to start fresh each year.  New school uniforms, clean whiteboards, refreshed colleagues, and eager students.  It’s one of the best times of the year to be an educator, the energy is high and the possibilities are endless.

A fresh start, however, doesn’t mean that we’re starting from nothing.  Having a clean slate and being able to start fresh allows us to build and grow upon lessons learned in the past.  We can think back to previous school years and draw on experiences, both good and bad, to develop our plan.  So often in life we only get one shot at something and it’s over, no matter if it went well or not.  As educators we get to look back, recall lessons and activities, and know that we get another shot to make them even better this time around.  After all, growing and improving is what it’s all about, right?  Just as we work hard to help our students grow throughout their time in our classes, we are working on growing and improving as educators as well.

With students streaming through the doors, eager to see their class lists and schedules, the opportunity to start our students off on the right foot is ours for the taking.  Helping them find their classes, welcoming them with a smile and handshake, and setting a positive tone will leave them with the excitement and ambition for success right from the start.  Being mindful of the way we start each class, each day, and each week is just as important as how we start the school year.  We’re fortunate to have a very positive and supportive school community, keeping the momentum rolling won’t be hard after such a strong start.

Everyone appreciates a fresh start, students and teachers alike.  We had a great first week together as a staff and I’m more confident than ever that the coming weeks with students will be even better!  Enjoy the fresh start and take it all in.

A couple interesting reads about fresh starts:

The Fresh Start Effect

The 10 Best Pieces of Advice for Making a Fresh Start