So it is Summer Break here in New Zealand. Christmas and New Year is done and dusted once more! Of course, Summer will fly by and before we know it, teachers will start heading to school to get organised for their new classes! In a few short weeks schools will be buzzing with excited students (and parents). So what is going to be your focus for 2016?
Whenever I would head back into the empty school in January, I was always struck by two things. 1 - the quiet and 2 - the pile of "stuff" that I hadn't quite managed to deal with in the rush of finishing the previous year! It was always a great time to reflect on the successes and challenges of the past and to start thinking about the year ahead. As learning centred educators, we are always engaging in this natural form of "teaching as inquiry." Thinking about what engaged our learners and was successful so we know what to do more of, but also thinking about what wasn't working well so we know where to improve.
So to get you started, here are a few of thoughts about what is worth spending your precious time on as you start a new year.
1) Your collaborative relationships.
Do you have a new co-teacher? Are you co-teaching for the first time? Do you have new people coming onto your teaching team? However you are organised and even if you are working with the same people, it is key that you put in the time to find out about each other, your strengths and skills and plan for the way you will work together.
The fantastic Steve Mouldey(@GeoMouldey) has put this resource on The Pond - a questionnaire for getting to know your co-teacher. (PDF copy at the end of this post.) It could easily be adapted to a variety of settings. Also if you're not on The Pond or the Virtual Learning Network,maybe this is the year to join and start exploring some of the awesome resources and discussions that are on there!
2) Student Voice
Getting to know your new students and gathering student voice and input is key to establishing authentic positive relationships quickly. How will you quickly access information about your students' opinions, ideas and strengths? Is this maybe an opportunity to get rid of some of those tired first week of school activities and to try something different?
3 Organising your virtual space
Have you had a tidy up of your virtual space? If you are reusing parts of it ( and hopefully you are if it is a site or weebly ) have you checked for out of date information, archived old student work that is no longer needed and fixed broken links? Make sure you're working smart - moved rooms? You may just need to change your site address or class twitter handle.
4. Organising your learning environment
Here's a job to take off your list NOW! This is not your job! This is one of your learners' jobs! Sure, you might have some furniture to quickly move and a couple of posters to put up, but this is no longer your responsibility! I remember spending days setting up and rearranging my classroom furniture, but in the past few years it's been all on my kids! Once again - ditch that " All about me" poster and get the kids involved in setting up spaces for their learning. Document the journey and create a resource for the class. These blog posts have some ideas for starting out! CEM #2, Just like Starting Over
4. Start Scanning
From Day 1, this is the time to start thinking about Teaching as Inquiry for 2016. In the scanning phase of Spirals of Inquiry, we need to be genuinely curious about our learners and to stay open to all kinds of new information and insights. I often find that in these early days, you might spot something that leads to a "hunch" that may need further investigation as the year progresses. Just keep it on your radar.
5. Improve One Thing
Challenge yourself to make an improvement with one thing. Maybe your reading programme needs a revamp? Does your school have a professional development focus in a learning area that you could build on? Maybe you are never making it outside with the students to fitness? You might want to ask better questions. But just pick one area that you know needs improvement and focus some energy on that.
6. Try One New Thing
Ok, so number 5 features improving something that you already do. But what about trying one NEW thing? Maybe this is the year you become a tweeter. Maybe you've always wanted to write a blog? You might want to try students running their own learning workshops as part of your classroom programme? Seek some support from your colleagues if necessary - perhaps someone is a whizz at GAFE and you really want to upskill. Model being a learner in front of your students.
7. Set a self-care goal.
Don't burn out in the first three weeks! Remember to take care of yourself too! Teaching is one wild ride! Don't sweat the small stuff and focus on what's important - those excited kids coming through the doors ready to learn! Good luck!
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.