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Monday, June 3, 2013

What I Learned: A Year in Review

As I sat with my children the last week of school, I asked them to share things they had learned throughout the school year. Some children are very specific, pointing out small details that really stuck with them (caterpillars changing to butterflies, liquid changing to gas, animal characteristics). Others will share general statements about reading, math, social studies, or science. I had one child ask me what I had learned. Well, there is a lot I have learned. Teachers learn so much in one year both about themselves and how to be effective in the classroom. Here are a few things that I have learned this school year:

  1. When teachers put their energy into building relationships rather than building management systems, the rewards are huge! When you can better understand a child, their learning style, their background, their likes/dislikes, and the reasons they do the things they do, the classroom environment improves. 
  2. Teacher manuals do not make better teachers. Don't get me wrong, I love resources and ideas; the more ideas the better. However, if teachers only needed a manual you would not need a degree to be an educator. The ability to connect each student to the materials is something that cannot be found in a manual. We need to teach the learner and not the curriculum. 
  3. Teachers need to be flexible. When the teachable moments arise, we need to take advantage. Sure, we were talking about addition, but the snow outside is too amazing not to discuss. These moments will create learning that sticks with the child. We need to tap into the natural curiosity of the learner. 
  4. Inquiry-based learning is too underrated and underused. There are standards each learner must meet, however how they do this is open to interpretation. It is amazing how much a child will push themselves to learn when it is a something derived from their own questions. 
  5. Scripting a child's education does not create a stronger learner. What good is knowing how to add or subtract with flashcards or in a workbook if they cannot transfer that learning into a real-life situation? Workbooks and worksheets script how a child should look at a skill, not opening their minds to understanding the skill in their own way. 
  6. Class sizes matter. I have had classes of 25 as well as classes of 15. I have had time this school year to do all of the things I have listed above because of smaller class sizes. The children have reaped the rewards of this situation. With 25 learners, each day becomes about survival. Trying to meet the needs of every learner means I have to control the environment. This makes inquiry learning, building relationships, and giving the control of the classroom to the child much more difficult (possible, just very difficult). I will never take class sizes in the teens for granted, even though I feel it is every child's right. 
  7. Social media is a wonderful thing! I have been able to connect with many more families (and extended families) this school year with social media. You need to have a plan for those who do not utilize these tools, however for those that do, there is an improved relationship between home and school. 
  8. Sir Ken Robinson is a brilliant man with a lot of ideas. Standardized testing will not save our schools or our children, but there are plenty of things that will. Check out is TEDTalks for more information. 

I am thankful for the learners in the classroom, their families, my PLN on Twitter, and those I work with at school who have all helped me learn this school year. Each year, my ability to be effective in the classroom improves. I look forward to learning a lot more next year!