2020 has been a year that has pushed educators in new ways. Reflect on how you've transformed your practice as an educator this year. What has worked? What hasn't? What changes have you made this year that you'll bring into next year and beyond? In your response, tie your reflection to the ways you have and will continue to:
• Meet the needs of all students
• Implement innovative practices in and outside of the school building walls to achieve success • Collaborate with colleagues, students, families, and community to achieve success
• Lead or involve yourself in work in and/or outside of the school building walls that is relevant, impactful and making pathways for students and/or teachers to succeed.
One of my favorite things to tell people is that I'm a pessimist. When most people hear this, it usually comes to them as a surprise. Based on my enthusiastic disposition, most people assume that pessimism can´t really be what guides my decision making. In fact, it is due to my pessimism that my attitude is often positive. This world view, that the worst is always potentially right over the next hill, has been my greatest asset this year. 2020 has seemed to be a year of downs and more downs. From our obvious difficulties dealing with the paradox of keeping school doors open, to in-person learning while simultaneously dealing with a global pandemic safely, to civic unrest leading to increasingly difficult questions in the classroom regarding race, and the complexeties of the legacy of some of our most famous, and in some cases infamous, historical figures. Dealing with these issues has been made much easier with my pessimistic worldview. The main reason for this is it forces me to have not only a plan B, but multiple fallback plans in the inevitable case that something goes wrong. Whether the issue is related to technology, communication, or student engagement, this year has forced all teachers to come up with a plethora of solutions for these and other problems in COVID-era classrooms.
What hasn´t worked?
Obviously, this year has been an unprecedented year in almost every aspect of life, and education has not been immune to this. I thought it would be more prudent to start with things I thought would work that ended up failing to help understand how those failures led to a successful way of doing things. One of the first challenges this year brought was the lack of student engagement and participation. One thing that I found did not work was taking attendence once at the beginning of class. Many students would check in at the beginning of class only to tune out at home. There are many solutions to this problem I will address below when discussing ´what worked´ and ´meeting the needs of all students´. Another problem I found particularly difficult this year was communication with ELL students and families. Because I am one of the few staff members who speaks Spanish, I was often called upon to translate in various situations, and in many cases, it resulted in all parties involved learning a little but having to struggle a lot to do it. In my view, this is one thing we as a district, and our community as a whole, could do a much better job with.
What has worked?
The challenges brought about by this unique year have led to some absolutely fantastic failures, but the greatest thing about failure is the opportunity for growth following those moments. This can be easier for some people then it can be for others. The number one thing I would say has worked for me this year is the willingness to admit I was wrong. Countless times I had a vision for a lesson and a colleague or student would give feedback that would immediately change the trajectory of what I thought before was a good lesson. Good is the worst enemy of better, and unless one is able to admit they were wrong, or that they made a mistake, they will likely be stuck at good and never get to better. Another success in the classroom that was a result of one of the failures above was increasing student attendance and engagement. Through the use of software tools like Google Meets, Nearpod, Edulastic, IXL, Kahoot, Padlet, and Kami, teachers on my team have been able to encourage student engagement and hold everyone accountable. Many of these programs come with the added bonus of being great ways to gather data to track student progress and ensure all students' needs are being met.
What changes have you made this year that you'll bring into next year and beyond?
I think the biggest and most obvious changes we made this year that will stay with us through the pandemic and beyond is our use of technology to increase the efficiency of the modern classroom. This paradigm shift was well on its way before the pandemic hit, but technology's importance in the classroom, and the ability of a teacher to yield it efficiently, will be paramount to the future of teaching. With the help of technology, all aspects of the classroom from data collection to increasing student engagement are made easier and more efficient. Another important change that I believe will become of increasing importance is creating a sense of classroom community through the use of Restorative Practices. We began using Restorative Practices at Woodlawn in 2019, but this year they have become increasingly important in my classroom. They not only help to create a sense of community, but offer an opportunity to reflect on successes and failures periodically to help students find intrinsic value by setting their own goals, and their own reasoning behind those goals.
Meet the needs of all students
Without a doubt, the most important thing to consider when trying to meet the needs of all students is data. With the increase in technology, data collection has become increasingly easy, but what to do with that data once it's collected is what really matters. Whether I´m collecting data informally through use of low stakes questions built into a Nearpod, or formally, through assessments using a software program, letting data drive my instruction is something I'm always striving for. Another valuable and perhaps unexpected place to collect data is through Restorative Practices. These are great opportunities to get feedback directly from students to help increase their engagement. Lastly, learning Spanish has been one of the most useful ways of making sure all of my students´ needs are met. ELL students often fall behind due to an abundance of reasons. Being able to communicate with those students in Spanish has been incredibly helpful.
Implement innovative practices in and outside of the school building walls to achieve success
In addition to Restorative Practices and technology use in my classroom, I try to integrate my other passions into my lessons. My classes were responsible for the planting of eight citrus trees and their continued maintenance. This year we plan to learn about grafting trees, and it´s importance to fruit production. I learned about grafting while serving in The Peace Corps Senegal, which is another experience I use to help teach in the classroom. The main reason I decided to serve in Senegal was my interest in Western African History, and in particular, its impact on South Louisiana. This is one of the reasons for my favorite project of every year where I teach the students a brief lesson on various ethnic groups invloved in the African Diaspora (Mande, Yoruba, Akan, Fula, Wolof), and how their cultures likely influenced our current culture in America and Louisiana in particular.
Collaborate with colleagues, students, families, and community to achieve success
Collaborating with colleagues, students, families, and the community are other valuable goals that are really made easier with technology. Through the use of Google Classrooms, teachers can disseminate information and communicate on how to use various tools for lessons. Remind! can be used to easily communicate with the families of students. All of these tools, when used properly, are great ways to ensure that communication is clear and that documentation exists to ensure professionalism.