Forge ahead, Finish strong

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I like having new ideas and providing solutions. I like trying new things. I like changing. And I don’t like hearing excuses. This doesn’t mean I’ve not had my fair share of adversity; rather adversity, in part, has helped me forge ahead and maneuver through the situation to find a solution.

In my senior year of college, I only applied to two graduate schools, so when one rejected me and the other accepted me, I was on my way to Spain to study. Yet, halfway through my year-long stint abroad, I became extremely ill and had to withdraw from my program and move in with my parents because I had Guillain-Barré Syndrome and, subsequently, couldn’t walk for about a year and a half. I was in a wheelchair during that time and had to relearn to walk while using forearm crutches. (Can you imagine having to learn to walk at age 23?) Not one to sit by and let life happen, I re-enrolled in my undergraduate university–the one I had just left six months prior–and worked on an additional degree during the next three semesters, then returned to my graduate program during the summers.

I couldn’t just stay where I was–in my wheelchair at home alone during the day while my parents were at work–but I reflected on what I could do, what I wanted to do, and decided to forge ahead with what I had. Thanks to the love and support from my parents, friends, and classmates, I was able to finish both programs strong and recover.

Because of my own story, I don’t like to maintain the status quo in my classroom, nor do I accept many excuses from my students about not wanting to stretch beyond what they currently do. We never know what we can do until we try, but so often, students are discouraged from trying new things because teachers say it might not fit exactly with the curriculum or the students themselves might even fail. What I want to do in my classes is reflect on what has worked well in order to maintain those tasks or procedures, but also reflect on what I could do to improve in order to ensure my students are not only making gains in their proficiency levels, but also able to learn.

To that end, I’ve taken more time this year to reflect on my practice with my students, which can be a raw experience because teenagers will tell it like it is no matter what, but in creating an open space for my students to share how they felt about the assignments without judgement, they freely spoke about how they did plus what they needed from me in order to improve. As I took some time to do this and reflect on my lessons, I felt like I could double back and work with my students to build into the instruction and practice time in order for them to yield greater results.

In taking more time to reflect with my students, they feel empowered to try new things in the language because they feel like they have more of a stake in their own learning. But if I open myself up to students’ opinions, how can I tell if the students’ feedback is valuable or not? How can I ensure my students feel like I’ve listened to them? How will they feel if I don’t do what they suggest?

  • Take notes. I need my students to see that I care about what they have to say. Plus it serves as a record where I can go back and track things that are repeated–either in the section for what worked well or the section where I can improve.
  • Ask questions. Just like any interpersonal speaking task, I ask follow up questions: What do you mean? What would that look like? How could you connect this to what we’ve learned before? What else might interest you?
  • Find your top 2 things you’d like to change. Sometimes I feel like a new teacher because I feel like I need to scrap everything and start over. But, just focus on the two things you’d like to improve on and start there. You can always add in more things as you feel more comfortable, but only after you have a good handle on what you chose to focus on initially.
  • Track your changes. Use the TELL Framework for Planning to help you as you plan the next task or assignment. Match that with your goal of what you wanted to change, and see how it worked. Did it work the way you wanted it to? Did your students achieve the learning objective? How can you tell your students are progressing even further?
  • Continue to reflect. Just like we give our students feedback to help them grow, let the students continue to give you feedback on your lessons. They are the experts at what is most relevant to them and can tell you how to best reach them. Merge their opinions with your best teaching methods, and you’ll find your students are more engaged.

This time between Spring Break and the end of the school year may seem like Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon, where we almost reach the end, but it just seems impossible to continue one more step. However, just put one foot in front of the other, gather your supporting friends and colleagues, and forge ahead to finish strong!

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jayneandd/4450623309/

Paul Jennemann is the coordinator of an elementary school dual language immersion magnet program, has served on the…

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Forge ahead, Finish strong

by Paul Jennemann time to read: 4 min
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