For the last several years I have helped various teachers around our campus, district and state with changing their teaching through conferences, Twitter and various conversations (and possibly this blog). This year I did decided I wanted to do it more formally and became an Induction (the program our state requires for first and second year teachers) Mentor for a teacher just starting her career. It has been an interesting journey for few reasons.
1. While I reflect when I write this blog or participate in Twitter chats, being a mentor forced me to really look at ALL of my practices, not just the big stuff. I love sharing all the exciting things we´re doing in the classroom and at our school, but what about those little things that matter for the good or bad. I had to look at the everyday occurrences to help explain them to my candidate. We are told we should reflect on what we do, but how often do we really do it. Mentoring someone else helped me see the importance of this.
2. I had to remember what it was like to begin my career. I have a very strong beginning teacher to mentor. She does well with classroom management and intuitively understands the importance of relationships with her students. (This was a relief to me as I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to try this.) However, I had forgotten how overwhelming it can be to figure out how to teach the curriculum with a class full of eager students (mostly) ready to learn from you! Apparently I had really forgotten this.
The other night we had our last official meeting for the year, which was all about reflecting. As we were getting ready to leave, she shared with me that I had scared her a little when we first met. If you´ve read my blog, you know how I am all about doing things differently and not depending on the textbook to teach the students. Well, maybe I shared that a little too much with her. I wanted her to think outside the box. Step away from the textbook and do what best suits her students. I was essentially trying to take away her lifeline. I forgot what it meant to not have a clue what you are supposed to be doing. How that textbook might be the only thing that reminds you what you are supposed to be teaching. It is only through experience that you feel confident enough to create new lessons that benefit everyone.
3. It’s important to listen. When you start the mentoring process there is a lot of looking for advice. New teachers have a lot of questions. The trick is learning when to answer, when to collaborate and when to just listen. Just like in the classrooms, the one who does the most talking is also the one that does the most learning. There were times I stepped in and needed to give specific information or guidance. These were rare and usually to ease her stress about how much of the book to get through before state testing. There were several times where we could collaborate.Her ideas would spark my own and both of our classes were better for it. However, most of the time, I just needed to listen. In order for her to reflect and get better, she needed to talk through her experiences. My role was to ask a few questions to get deeper reflection. This was hard for both of us in the beginning. I think we got the hang of it by the end though. The good thing is we get to try again next year. We don’t usually get this chance with our students. We need to learn to listen and guide them early in the year because our time with them is limited. Students need a chance to reflect on their experiences in a variety of ways. We, as teachers, need to be their coaches and guide them through the process. This happens best when we are listening to what they have to say.
There are so many things we can learn when we share with others. Mentoring a new teacher gives us an opportunity to use our experiences to help shape a new generation of teachers and classrooms.
The last thing my candidate shared with me was that even though she felt overwhelmed and a little scared of me in the beginning, she was glad I pushed her. She realized her own strength and is now sharing what she knows with others. (That makes both of us very proud!) Did this process add more to my plate? Definitely. Was it worth every minute? Definitely.
Today I rode my bike. Living in (usually) sunny southern California I can do this almost every day. I don’t. There are a variety of reasons why, but I want to share just one. My husband used to be an avid cyclist (100 mile rides in 5 hours multiple times a month!). He decided to buy me a fancy bike about 5 years ago. Back then I’m sure he showed me how to use it properly. Apparently I didn’t listen or didn’t remember. Recently I decided I needed to get out more and wanted to start riding again. The bike was ready and so was I.
My first ride in several years was hard. I came back super sore. Why? The hills were too hard and the valleys were too fast. (Apparently my town is NOT flat, as I discovered on the first long ride!) I didn’t know know how to use the gears properly. I was doing more work than I needed to and wasn’t making the tech work for me. My friend, Cori Orlando, wrote a blog post, Walking Your Why. I completely agree with her, but as I had my epiphany today. If you don’t know the HOW, it doesn’t work. They have to work together.
As I took my ride, there were a lot of people getting out as well. Most were very friendly. A couple even gave me encouragement! (Use your toes, you can get up this hill!) There were two sets of families that really stuck with me. The first is in the picture above (taken with dad’s permission). A dad, a son, a dog. They figured out how to use what they needed to ride as a family. The dad casually rode his bike with the dog jogging along (happily I might add). The young son, probably 5 years old, rode a motorized bike that allowed him to stay at the same pace, or just a little faster, as the rest. They were making the tech work for them. On the return trip, I saw another larger family. Three kids and a couple adults rode their bikes. There were a few adults who ran. The last member of the group was on roller skates. Everyone was doing their thing and they were all staying together. They were using whatever tech worked best for each of them. If I am to get better at riding my bike, I need to get better at using the tech.
Same goes for our classrooms. Teachers and students are given various types of tech and told to go. Many of both groups are at a loss. Teachers will assign students to go on various websites to play academic games or write an essay. Students will go on YouTube or game websites and do their own thing. Some teachers have learned what else the tech can do and get their students to create. Maybe they have had more training or have figured out a few things themselves. They have figured out some of the HOW.
When our district first rolled out 1:1 Chromebooks for classrooms, we had a 2 day training on different things you can do with the computers. The training was pretty good, but for many it was overwhelming. It was a lot for someone who was new to the tech, just like my learning how to use the gears. There have been a few more trainings since then, but again like my gears, if it doesn’t happen regularly we tend to forget and rely on old habits. It’s important to offer support in HOW to use the tech on a regular basis, but it also has to be willing accepted. If my husband had forced me to ride my bike more over the years it would have been something I didn’t want. I had to be ready to learn.
I use a lot of tech in my classroom, a lot of times at the higher end of the SAMR model. However, I need to remember that everyone has their way to using it. It’s okay if teachers are beginning with having students go on those academic websites. It’s okay if students are using YouTube to learn a few things. They are figuring out their HOW.
As I finished my ride today, I realized a few things. I was doing better with the gears. I got confused a few times and went the wrong direction (higher gears when I should have been in lower) and worked more than I should have. But it was easier than the past few rides, and I am less sore. In the process I had a lot more fun (see my last blog post for more on this). I figured out HOW to make it work for me.
Today was Junior Olympics. As coach of the volleyball team, there is always a lot of work to be put in. Choose the right players, work with them to build their skills, and try to get them to gel as a team. Not an easy task, but always fun to watch them through the end. This year we started with 7 out of 12 players who were new to the team. 6 of those had never played volleyball before.
After two months of practices, it was finally game day. They definitely had some strengths and weaknesses. We found out we were playing first thing in the morning. Our first three games, we won without a lot of effort. Our spirits were high. After a break, we played our next three games. They were a much tougher team (who by the way ended up winning the whole day!). We did our best and kept the games close, but lost. The kids’ spirits dropped. Because of the way the games are played, we had about a three hour break before our last games of the day.
The kids relaxed, did some practices, and were mostly ready to play again. However, they still weren’t in the best of moods. They were tired, bored, and down due to our loses. As the final game times came closer, our other coach decided they needed a little incentive. If they could keep the ball off the ground for more than 20 hits in a row, they could have a piece of candy. (Yes, sometimes teachers resort to bribery!) They took a few turns to get there, but they did. If they could do it again, they would get another. Not only did they do it again, but they figured out how to talk to each other and managed to hit it 100 times in a row! Suddenly they were having fun again!
As we went into what would be our last two games, I reminded them of the fun they were having when they hit it 100 times. Smiles beamed all around. First game in the finals, they had fun. They played as a team and won. Second game, we had to work harder for the points, but they continued to have fun. The team ended up winning the silver division (7th place overall in the district). Pretty good for a team that had so many brand new players.
Today reminded me of my classroom. When the students are having fun, they do better. They learn more. They remember what they did that day when their parents ask at home. When the fun stops, no one does well. No, school can’t be fun all of the time. Life doesn’t work that way. But can’t we, as teachers, bring as much fun into the classroom as we can? Students deserve it. We deserve it.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching