December 19, 2012: Reflections, part 1
What I like about winter break is getting to
sleep in reflect on my first semester teaching. So, for part #1 of my winter break reflections, here are three ideas I plan on re-using for the start of third quarter!
I received a few emails from parents this holiday season thanking me for the personal letters I’ve written to their students.
One parent said my random notes helps his student stay motivated and feel like I’m noticing her improvements in class. This tells me I need to start writing a new batch of 106 letters to welcome my students back from winter break — because we NEED to avoid the “3rd quarter slump.”
(#1) The personal letters are a great teaching strategy.
They helps me cultivate relationships, which means there’s generally less behavior to manage in my classroom. It’s a good way for me to “check in” and also acknowledge the good things I’ve seen demonstrated in my class. I write them on colored index cards, so generally 3-5 sentences per student will do the trick. And the letters pay off, so it’s worth the time invested.
Letters a great tool because if/when I have to take a student outside to “chat,” I’d often say, “You know I believe you can be a better student than what you’re showing me today. Do you remember what I wrote to you in your letter?”
Usually they nod (I notice during binder checks most students have their letters from me saved somewhere). Then I’ll ask the student what I wrote, and usually verbatim they can tell me what I wrote in the letter — generally specifics of what makes me most proud of them as a student. Letters help me “level” the conversation (not to be confused with negotiate, because teachers should never negotiate with students). But, to “level” means to show the student that I understand what’s going on, and helps me assert why I need them to meet me at least halfway. Often, they’ll comply willingly because they know I’m also validating their good qualities.
(#2) When we return, I’ll also have a PowerPoint presentation that’s a general reflective letter written to the class as a whole, broken into slides — and I’ll have my students read out loud, one by one, my new vision, investment plan and management plan. In less formal terms of course.
I love this strategy because I can roll out a new plan without speaking at the students the whole time, the slides make it seem less intimidating and because they are reading parts of the plan they feel invested in the words. Finally, this method of revealing and unraveling a new action plan for the class ensures the students will pay attention in case they’re called on next to read. If you want to get really intense, you can even call on specific students to read specific rules/procedures of the class that may not-so-subtly be a reminder.
Finally, I also like (#3) this idea as a welcome back gift.
Coincidentally (awesome teachers think alike), I had already ordered the SMARTIES candies for this very project, so I was delighted to see that another teacher on Tumblr had beat me to the punch and posted an image online.
Teachers never stop working, do they? I promised myself that of our 18 days off, I would give myself at least a week to not think about school.
But alas, that ship has sailed. And all too soon.
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