TAKE IT AND MAKE IT YOUR OWN!
Regardless of whether you are a new teacher or a 30-year veteran, teaching and learning is our primary function! Therefore, one of your annual goals should always be about improving your instructional practice in some way, shape, or form. One can NEVER have enough tools in their proverbial toolbox!
If your school is anything like the ones I’ve worked in, there is probably some initiative already happening in your building related to curriculum, instruction, or assessment. Don’t reinvent the wheel, jump on the bandwagon and set a goal related to a new or ongoing initiative. Even if you don’t immediately see how something is relevant to you in your role, you may be to apply it to what you do or adapt it for a different purpose. For example: Critical reading or creative writing strategies can be used as an instructional tool in a content area besides just English/Language Arts. School adjustment counselors have employed creative writing strategies therapeutically when having students write personal narratives or poem about a problem. If you can take something that’s shown to be effective somewhere else and make it your own, you’ve got one great professional goal for the year!
THAT LEAVES TWO MORE.
Uh-oh! Now what? We, as public school educators, do have other professional responsibilities besides teaching and learning that we are obligated to fulfill by law! However, we often don’t think of these things as we contemplate ideas for our annual professional goals. As I said in my previous blog, “Rules to Teach By” available at www.WellSchoolsCenter.org/whatsnew, I spent my summer vacation luxuriating over education law. I've managed to condense over 20 different federal and Massachusetts laws into five, broad professional responsibilities. These responsibilities focus mainly on personalizing the student experience and improving the learning environment for all students. Focusing your professional goals on these areas not only helps improve and increase learning for students, it also improves the quality of their life in- and outside school. When a student experiences success, it develops a sense of self-efficacy and an internal locus of control. This, in turn, improves their overall self-confidence, motivation to learn, and engagement in the classroom.
RESPONSIBILITY # 1: PROVIDE FREE & APPROPRIATE EDUCATION TO ALL. Nearly every law pertaining to education makes certain that NO ONE in a public school is ever discriminated against or treated differently due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, health condition, native language, or income. It is our job to remove ALL obstacles preventing equal access to programs and courses of study available in our schools. Perhaps you could set a goal related to creating a welcoming classroom environment, utilizing differentiated instructional strategies, or managing paperwork associated with special education or other education plans.
RESPONSIBILITY #2: MANAGE STUDENT BEHAVIOR. Everything that happens in a school contributes toward either a positive or negative classroom or building culture. Learning environments can quickly become hostile when students are unsupervised, have lots of unstructured time, or the people in the building model behavior that is discriminatory, exclusionary, or prejudicial. No one can learn in a place where they feel they are not liked or they are unwelcome. In the book On Becoming A School Leader (1999), the authors in Chapter 4 discuss how to create an environment for learning and change. This quote resonated with me:
The process of school is fraught with difficulties and dilemmas, mostly because the events and activities of the day affect people's lives dramatically. Doing well at school assures students the opportunity for future success. Doing well at school tends to get translated as getting good grades, both in academics and in character, as judged by adults. Getting good grades tends to get translated into being a “good” and “capable” person. Conversely, getting bad grades tends to get translated into being a “bad” and “incapable” person. It should be no surprise that emotions and feelings run high in students who attend school. The stakes are high—very high. Each day, every student is being judged—and being judged as good or bad, capable or incapable, worthy or unworthy. That kind of judgment is serious business, and it's very difficult to cope with if you happen to be a person who is judged as wanting intellectually or morally.
As a professional educator, you are responsible for ensuring that ALL students, especially for those who have protected status, are learning in a safe, nurturing environment. Perhaps a professional goal could focus on improving classroom management, reducing “down-time” in your lessons, or using discussion protocols when students learn about controversial subjects.
If you want more information about the impact of classroom environment on learning, here’s a link to an article published by Harvard University: When the Classroom Feels Hostile: How Stigma, Stereotype, and Labels Can Affect Kids With Learning Disabilities. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/08/when-classroom-feels-hostile
RESPONSIBILITY #3: MAINTAIN CONFIDENTIALITY & RESPECT PERSONAL BOUNDARIES. As a stated in the previous section, professional educators create safe and nurturing environments by managing student behavior which includes protecting their privacy and respecting personal boundaries. A great professional goal would be to examine how you communicate with, and about students, and change that behavior. Do you give too much personal information to students? Do you share student records with people who don’t have a legitimate educational interest?
As a general rule to guide your goal formulation, your goal should involve exercising caution ANYTIME you discuss a student, correspond regarding them, or disclose information about them to anyone. This includes information contained in emails, grade books, sub-plans, and the like. Extreme caution should be used when posting ANYTHING on the Internet or social media. Over the next few days I'll be providing self-reflection exercises to help you formulate goals around maintaining confidentiality and respecting personal boundaries as well as the other four responsibilities!
RESPONSIBILITY #4: PREVENT AND DEFEND STUDENTS FROM HARASSMENT & BULLYING. Professional educators create safe and nurturing environments by managing student behavior, protecting students’ privacy, and respecting personal boundaries. Sometimes though, developmentally appropriate social interactions can result in inter-personal conflict. If left unchecked, these interactions can become bullying. Conflict becomes bullying when an aggressor's behavior toward a target creates a hostile learning environment, infringes on their rights, disrupts the educational process, or interferes with the orderly operation of the school.
We also know through research that students with protected status are more likely to be the focus of ridicule, to experience aggressive behavior from others, or to be targets for bullying. This is especially true for students who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or trans-gendered (LGBT) or for students who are disabled, health impaired, non-English speaking, from a family with a low income, or homeless (as identified in the AEEO, IDEA, Section 504, EELR, Title 1, and McKinney). What can you do individually to help ALL students feel welcome at school? Is there one way that you can do something to make the school environment a little less hostile? That’s a great professional goal!
RESPONSIBILITY #5: PROTECT AND CARE FOR STUDENTS. If a student is not healthy: physically or mentally, they are not ready-to-learn. As a former health educator, this notion makes all the sense in the world. Twenty years ago, a student’s health status was considered to have a minor impact on student learning on a day to day level. Now, folks are finally recognizing the influence of students’ health status can have on academic performance and are taking steps to nurture the Whole Child. Professional goals related to this responsibility abound. Search ‘The Whole Child’ on the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s website: www.ascd.org for a ton of great ideas for individuals, schools and districts. You CAN do something to improve the quality of life for those in your building. Consider starting a walking club with your students or colleagues? Serve on a committee that plans for emergency response? Read up on traumatic brain injury and concussions! The research is fascinating.
Over the next few weeks, I will be blogging in more detail about each of the five professional responsibilities and providing self-assessment exercises like the one included here so that you can reflect upon your own behavior. This will help you to set some impactful professional goals for the year. Hopefully, this will help to make the evaluation process a little more relevant and meaningful to you, in your capacity, in the building or district for which you work.