A 3 step Fix for Demoralized Teachers and DeMotivated Students
A seed of pessimism can grow to cast a shadow across your whole year. I've been there. About 15 years ago when I was midway through my teaching career, I asked a fellow longtime Piedmont teacher, "The kids have changed, right?" I wanted so badly for him to say "yes" to validate my pessismism. But he didn't fall for it. "They haven't changed, you have." Ouch.
I know what it is to feel like the kids have changed, I've been teaching since 1988. They haven't. Not substantively. Sure, the classroom challenges we face are different year to year. Students are more stressed than they used to be (One Piedmont teacher told me she heard that average student stress levels now were considered pathological in the 50s.) Stakes are higher now and a pathway to success seems more daunting in a world where this generation is the first to be less financially stable than their parents.
Students may face different challenges and temptations than you had BUT this generation is not going to heck in a handbasket, despite how it may look on your bleakest moment. The good news from social science research is that each generation of humanity is actually less violent and more tolerant than it used to be.
That doesn't mean that we teachers aren't facing difficult challenges today in the classroom but it does mean that your students are not as disaffected as they may seem.
Here are three things the best educational research says to do to reach students and reinvigorate your teaching.
1 - Put RelationshiPs FiRst
2 - teach Students to OwN Their EDucations
Once you have a good relationship with your students, you're one third of the way there, but relationship is not enough.
Students should NOT do work because they like you or respect you or, sadly, fear you. Students should work because they want to grow their own skills. I've learned from working with online students that the physical presence of a teacher is important to making students want to work. Your job as a motivator is essential. The best way to motivate is to keep reminding students how this work will help them.
CMSPDL (Personalized Digital Learning department) recommends that students set their own learning goals with your help. Pretest each unit and share their scores with them. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses and keeping track of their own skills growth is essentail to feeling ownership. Without that they are just grade-chasing or teacher pleasing.
Of course, as children and all of us do, temptation to goof off is always there and that's why this third piece is essential, so read on...
3 - Offer EngagIng Tasks
Seymour Papert termed it "hard fun:" work that is engaging yet challenging.
Some folks call this rigor, but "rigor" should not be a synonym for drudgery. The work should be just a bit harder than students are used to but interesting enough that they also WANT to do it. That's your sweet spot.
The best way to find this kind of work and not be up all night planning is to use activities other teachers have created and found successful and then tweak them to make it your own. Get with your PLC and challenge each other to write your most engaging unit. Each of you take one standard and give it your all.
Be responsive to your students needs and interests. Make sure students who already know the topic can move ahead or compact out. Shout out to Ms. Winegardner for compacting her advanced orchestra students. See Ms. Gurthie if you'd like to learn more.
Learning from Elementary School
JV Washam PL Visit Takeaways
What a Personalized Classroom looks like
This blog is a compendium of District and Piedmont -specific PD opportunities, trainings, and notes.