Feedback from students …

We’ve all been there. Planned an incredible lesson and been so excited about how wonderfully it is all going to unfold.  Only to have the lesson flop. The students just weren’t as excited as we thought they would be. They didn’t seem to get the explanations that you thought were so clear.

It is after lessons like this that we really need to reflect on what happened and why. But often this reflection occurs in private, or perhaps during a debrief with a colleague. Almost certainly only with adults. What if we asked the students? What if they told us what went wrong and their theories on why? What if they told us what excites them and what doesn’t?

The idea of student feedback has been playing on my mind over the past few weeks as I have participated in Pernille Ripp’s online book club and as the teachers gathered at school before the students returned. Sure, we do a once, perhaps twice, yearly student survey. But what if we were checking in with students on a more frequent basis? What if students were providing us with feedback on a weekly basis? How might we structure this so feedback becomes a seamless part of the classroom culture?   So, for Term 1, I’m going to experiment with a weekly feedback form through the platform, Socrative.  Anonymously, students can provide responses to several short questions that will remain the same for the term.  I don’t want it to be an arduous process; but rather an integrated part of our class culture; just something that we do. The questions I’ve decided upon are:

  • List three words that best describe our classroom this week.
  • What is something you enjoyed about our classroom this week?
  • What is some thing you didn’t enjoy about our classroom this week? What could we do differently?
  • Give Miss Davidson ‘Two Stars and a Wish’ – two things she does well and something you’d like her to work on.

I tried this for the first time on Friday, after a week at school, and the results were interesting, albeit relatively unsurprising, which I suppose it the goal of something like this (after all, when we hand a parent a report card, we know we haven’t done our job if they get a surprise at the results). I jotted down the common ‘least enjoyed’ experiences and have begun making plans to improve these – differentiating our morning puzzles and discussing/exploring how we can support students who feel the need to call out and interrupt all the time.

Another question that I want to ask my students on a regular basis this year is ‘What do you want me to notice about you?’ I did this several times last year and the feedback was incredibly interesting.

  • I want you to notice that I always try my hardest.
  • I want you to know that I find it hard to listen sometimes.
  • I want you to know that I don’t understand Maths very well.
  • I want you to know that the classroom is sometimes too noisy for me to concentrate.

This year, I plan to weave this question into our newly established Reflection Journal.

What questions would you ask your students to gather feedback on your teaching?


Confessions of an introverted teacher …

I often get asked how I survive as an introverted teacher.  To tell you the truth, I had never really thought about it until a few years ago when I came across the wonderful book, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’.  Prior to this incredible book coming into my life, I knew that I had often come across as being aloof and somewhat anti-social at times.  This book changed my thinking and really helped me understand myself as a social being.  The bottom line is … Yes, I enjoy socialising but it drains me.  I need peace, quiet and solitude to recharge.  Which is somewhat at odds with the teaching life.  Each day is spent with 24 little beings who all want a piece of you.  Also, the teaching profession is moving more and more towards a collaborative model.  Which is fantastic for the learning of students but energy-sapping for an introverted teacher.

Just last week, I stumbled across this fantastic article, ‘Reimagining School for Introverted Teachers’.   It gave me a few ah-ha moments and inspired me to reflect upon some points about being an introverted teacher in an extroverted teaching world.

Introverted teachers need time to think.  It is difficult for introverted teachers (perhaps anyone?) to be put on the spot to come up with their best thinking.  Introverted teachers appreciate a heads-up on the topic of conversation in a meeting so that they can prepare their thoughts before being asked to contribute.

Introverted teachers do their best thinking alone.  During collaborative planning, I never come up with my best ideas.  I come up with my best ideas when I am walking the dog, taking a shower or driving to and from school.

Introverted teachers need solo work time.  When I am not teaching, I need time on my own to get tasks done without interruption.  Pernille Ripp writes about an unwritten policy that her school has – if a teacher’s door is shut, it signals that they are working and don’t want to be disturbed.  Imagine how productive introverted teachers (well, any teachers) could be if this was the case.  Don’t get me wrong, I am interested in hearing about your weekend or discussing the great movie or book you’ve seen/read, but when you interrupt my work time, you interrupt my flow.  Let’s have that chat later.

Introverted teachers should be allowed to work on some professional development activities alone.  Time spent reading, pondering and discussing is excellent PD.  Whilst I enjoy formal PD opportunities, they drain me.  I much prefer to read and discuss with small groups of like-minded educators.  Professional reading groups are a really enjoyable form of PD for me.  This summer, Pernille Ripp’s Facebook book club has been fantastic – read and think about the text, jump online and contribute to the discussions.

Introverted teachers need quiet time during the school day.  When we don’t spend break times in the staff room, we are not being anti-social.  We are recharging quietly and preparing for the next teaching session.  For me, it’s a quiet cup of tea whilst thinking about the previous or the upcoming lesson.  Or, at lunch time, a solo walk around the block enjoying 1o minutes of movement and sunshine.

So, my answer to those who ask how I survive?  As much as I can, I implement the strategies that I know work for me – taking a walk, closing my classroom door, quiet professional reading and thinking – at school.  Outside of school, these strategies seem to work:

  • I try to leave work at work.  I don’t check email or correct work at home.  If I work at home, it’s the reading, thinking and writing work.  The stuff that I enjoy and recharges me.
  • I meditate daily.
  • I do yoga several times a week.
  • I exercise daily, even if it is just a walk with the dogs.
  • I don’t overschedule my social life.  I leave time on the weekends for me.  Time to be by myself and recharge.

I prioritise these things because I know I’m a better person to be around when I do.  These things recharge me and allow me to be the best I can in the classroom, with the students, where it matters.

Are you an introverted teacher?  How do you ‘survive’ in an extroverted school environment?


Summer reading, Summer inspiration …

We are in the second half of the summer holidays now and it’s at this time that I begin to turn my attention towards school again. Not towards the mundane administrative aspects of school but towards the big stuff. Ideas for curriculum. Ideas for how to make my classroom a better place to be, both for students and adults.  Goals for improving myself as a teacher.  Inspiration from my favourite professional development sources – Twitter, education blogs, books by my favourite educators.  All those things that would be nice to do during the term time but there just never seems to be enough time or enough mental capacity. This year, I’m finding inspiration and ideas from the following sources:

  • ‘Creating Cultures of Thinking’ by Ron Ritchhart. This book serves as a reminder, a refresher, an inspiration about the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom. I am dipping in and out of this book, with the hope that I’ll find a group of equally nerdy Cultures of Thinking educators to form a mini book club to read and discuss the ideas in this book together.
  • ‘Embedding Formative Assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy. I have been a big Dylan Wiliam fan since I first read his article, ‘Inside the Black Box’, many years ago. This book is the follow up to ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ (very similar titles as you can see) and offers excellent tips for, as the title suggests, embedding formative assessment in your classroom.  Developing a broader repetoire of formative assessment strategies was a big focus for me in 2015 and I finished the year satisfied with the progress I made.  In particular, I was happy that many strategies became a habitual part of my practice.  These, I’ll write about in another post at some time.  In 2016, I plan to focus on Learning Intentions and Success Criteria as I want to work on making these more visible and accessible to students. I want to make them an integral part of the learning in my classroom.
  • A couple of John Hattie articles about mindframes, as these eight mindframes will provide the structure for the regular breakfast group I attend with educators from a variety of schools from around Melbourne. Over the past few years, I’ve dipped in and out of Hattie’s work on Visible Thinking but haven’t spent much time exploring the mindframes. They intrigue me and Hattie always challenges one’s thinking.
  • ‘Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students’ by Pernille Ripp. This book has provided an interesting professional development opportunity over the summer, through the development of a book group on Facebook. What an incredible opportunity; to be able to read and discuss a professional text with so many amazing educators from all over the world. It’s kind of like a Global Read Aloud for adults. Each day, a new discussion question is posted to the closed Facebook group and already, I have picked up so many new ideas for the new school year and had my thinking pushed to consider different perspectives. It also makes me feel grateful that Australia doesn’t have such a heavily mandated education system as seems to be the case in America, although, at times, it feels like it is heading that way.
  • Back copies of Educational Leadership, the ASCD publication that I subscribe to but often don’t find the time to read during the term time. If you are not familiar with this publication, I can highly recommend it. With a basic membership (at about $100 a year for shipment to Australia), you receive eight copies of Educational Leadership, a magazine with a different focus for each issue. These holidays, I’m catching up on issues about questioning, data and emotionally healthy kids.

The holidays provide a wonderful time to sit, reflect and spend time doing the school related things that energise me, which, unfortunately, I often don’t have time for during the term time. I’m hoping to make these things more of a priority in 2016.

Which are your favourite professional texts for inspiration?

Beginning to blog …

Schools can only be cultures of thinking for students if they are also cultures of thinking for adults – Ron Ritchhart

And so begins my journey to allow more time for myself, the teacher, to think about and reflect on the culture of thinking that I am developing for the 24 students in my care.  Schools are busy places and so often the professional dialogue, reading and writing that helps teachers improve their practice is neglected.  Why is it that this vital aspect of our development as professionals so easily falls to the wayside?  Often, I have tried various ways to make this reflection time an essential part of my routine, but, a week or two into the term, the hectic life of a teacher takes over.   Blogging is my attempt to inject greater reflection into my teaching practice.

The idea of blogging has been on my radar for some time now,  inspired by reading various posts by Dean Shareski and George Couros, amongst others.    But, it is easy to put these kind of projects off, always hoping for a better time to come along.  As teachers, we all know that the ‘right time’ will never come.  We just need to dive into the deep end.  A procrastination tool for me has been finding a lens through which to blog.  All the teachers I see blogging seem to have a lens; their ‘thing’, something  they are particularly passionate about.  Deciding to start writing has encouraged me to think about the elements of teaching about which I am especially passionate.  Thinking and technology seemed to be the two aspects that kept popping up.  Making student thinking central to my classroom culture has always been an important part of my teaching, and as technology has grown over the past few years, finding ways of helping students create, connect and collaborate has been a key focus of my teaching practice.  Of course, there are many other areas of teaching about which I am passionate about, but it is these two key ideas that I plan to focus on when writing my reflections or ‘confessions’, as the title of this blog indicates.

How can teachers find ways to make reflection an essential part of our teaching routine? How can schools facilitate this?