Saturday, May 5, 2018

Work that matters to you.

Hello, colleagues! This week I've been thinking about my job change (prompted by my yearly teacher evaluation) and how I love my new job. I enjoy this position because I feel like I'm making a difference! Making a difference fits in with my personality (which I blogged about already). It's important to me to feel like I'm making a difference because it means that my work is meaningful. I can see the impact that my class is having on my students, the rest of the students in the building, and on the staff members. So, in this post, I want to talk about HOW to create meaningful work! Why is it so important?

Step 1. Work. Continue to work. Go to work every day.
I am lucky that I enjoy my job. I don't love waking up early, and I don't love going in to work every day, but I like it more than I don't. I am also lucky that I have a job that excites me and is a little bit different every day. I'm also passionate about making people better, so I throw myself into my career to make my students better people. I care about education, and I care about how to educate people, so I am continually learning new ideas to use in my classroom.

Step 2. As you work, what makes you excited?
I was also lucky in that, after six years of teaching, I was asked to be on a 1:1 iPad team. I threw myself into digital education and how it can be useful. I got excited about using technology in the classroom.

Step 3. Start to focus on what makes you excited. Focus on that excitement and research to learn more.
I decided that I wanted to become THE iPad teacher. I wanted to be 100% paperless, and 100% focused on the device. I wanted to become the teacher that everyone came to for advice on using tools seamlessly in the classroom.

Step 4. Dig into your excitement and pull out those pieces. Get specific. Find the meaning.
I realized, especially over the last two years, that using technology wasn't always the answer. Figuring this out shook me to the core. But I realized that I cared more about educating children than just using a device in class. So I focused on excellent strategies to use in the classroom, with technology or without. I focused on being a fabulous teacher that uses technology a lot.

Step 5. If your excitement wanes, try something new in your life. Get excited about it.
After five years of being on a 1:1 team, I was burning out. I was working TOO hard because of my passion for education. Sometimes it's hard to be a "black sheep" and an innovator. I paved a singletrack trail, seemingly by myself, and didn't have a support system. I knew I had to take a step back and be passionate about other things. I regularly went to yoga, I bought a new camera for my photography, I read more books more often (and not about education).

Step 6. If your excitement continues to wane, go back to your work. Then repeat steps 1-6.
Then I had the opportunity to move to a new position - one that is concrete and provides real-world skills for students and also allows me to share my passion for education with my colleagues.

I would like to think that every teacher wants to make a difference and wants their work to be meaningful. I also would like to believe that teachers want their students also to be creating significant work. I've talked in the past about student voice and choice. It's become an integral part of my educational philosophy. Giving the students an opportunity in how to speak their voice provides meaning to your class for your students. Realize that you can use these same six steps with your students!

Allow students to work on open-ended topics and/or essential questions in your class. Have them do lots of work in class. Keep them busy, but don't focus them too much on one thing. Start picking their brain - what do they find interesting or exciting? Have them dive deeper into those ideas. Would you rather have a student memorize dates or make connections to someone who escaped from slavery? Would you rather have a student know all grammatical rules or write a creative story that has a well-written character and descriptive language? As their interest wanes, and they feel that they've covered the topic, move on to another unit and repeat the steps.

For students to grow (as students) and become young adults, we don't want them to worry about whether or not they got an A. We want them to create good work and be prepared for the future. Students have to produce in order to be creative. Students have to work to see what is solid work. In order for students to grow, they have to find their passions. Give students some autonomy, make their work complex, and help them find connections between your content AND who they were in the past, who they are now, and who they want to be.
Autonomy (freedom from external control or influence; independence). Give students some flexibility (e.g., student voice and choice). That doesn't mean that students to get to do whatever they want, but they should have opportunities to make decisions. Let students pitch you different options. Let students redefine your rubric. Let students invest in content that is useful to them. Let students build relationships with each other and build trust with you.
Complexity (the state or quality of being intricate or complicated). Make your students think. Give them hard questions that make them wrestle mentally with themselves and others. Force your students to think "outside the box" and present outside the box. Give students time to dedicate themselves to these tasks and support them. Make your students stretch, in your class, to be the best citizen possible when they leave at the end of the year. Set ambitious goals and help them map a process to achieve them. Don't let your students sit idly by.
Make connections (a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else). Don't let your class only be about content, objectives, and standards. They are necessary, but they're not enough. We don't live our daily lives through content, goals, and standards. We crave connections and meaning. Make your classroom a place for making bonds, whether it's to a historical figure, a data point, another person in the room, to the school, or to themselves. Let your classroom be a tangible place for the students, so they walk away with some appreciation for life.

There are a lot of ideas in this post, but in the end, we want students to come to class, to care, and to create. Hopefully, something sits with you, and you make a change for Monday. Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website