At two points each year Australian teachers’ lives are thrown into overdrive and disarray. This time is ‘Report Time’. We cope by using all sorts of mechanisms. Chocolate, coffee, online shopping and sometimes wine. It’s the time that we reflect on the work of the past semester and make decisions about student grades and report comments. Sometimes these decisions are agonising. Deciding between D and C for a student who has tried so very hard and may have actually come so far, can leave us feeling despondent and doubtful about our abilities. Deciding between the C and B for a student who we know is capable of a higher level of achievement, but didn’t quite get to those higher levels can result in a cold sweat at the thought of justifying this decision to a parent.
Then there are the comments. We can spend hour upon hour writing comments that reflect who a child is as a learner while meeting the requirement to comment on current skills and knowledge against the Australian Curriculum, discussing growth and indicating what the next steps are.
The student report is the tangible product of all of this effort, however there is another significant activity that I highly recommend you engage in at this time: evaluation of your own teaching practice.
When reflecting on your teaching, keep the following things in mind:
Student Growth is Feedback about Your Impact
The measure of your impact as a teacher rests in your students’ growth, not just their achievement levels. You might have a student who has started the year already quite advanced in an area and ended the year slightly more advanced than they were at the beginning of the year. You might also have a student who started the year 2 or 3 years behind expectations in reading or writing and ended the year only 1 year behind. Which student have you had the greatest impact on? Examine your student data and ask yourself, “how many of my students have made at least a year’s growth for their year at school?” Use this reflection to make a plan of attack for the following teaching and learning cycle. Examining impact (no matter how uncomfortable that might be) is the quickest way to create the sense of urgency that you will need to get out of your comfort zone and really develop your teaching practice.
Acknowledge and Celebrate your Strengths
It is extremely important to give yourself credit for the strong learning growth that has occurred in your classroom. This will indicate your areas of strength as a teacher and should form the basis of your view of yourself. Using a strengths based approach can help you reduce your stress and feeling of burnout. It can help you have a higher level of performance in the classroom and help you to support your students better (something that we all strive to do). Don’t underplay your strengths. As teachers (especially if you are a woman) we often say things like, “Oh, that’s nothing. It’s just something that I do”. It is not boasting or conceited to say, “You know what? I’m actually strong in teaching maths and here are my students’ results to prove it.”
Be Honest About Your Areas for Growth
We are all learners. Every single one of us. You aren’t going to be equally as strong in every area of your teaching practice. Nobody is. We all know what our weaker areas are (for example, I’m not particularly great at teaching the arts). Be honest about your areas of opportunity and put a plan in place to continue to grow your skills and knowledge. If teaching writing is an area of growth for you, ask questions and source information about strategies and techniques to support students in this area.
Own Your Mistakes.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know when we have dropped the ball. It’s going to happen. You are one person with somewhere between 20 and 30 small human beings that you are responsible for teaching to read, write, be numerate, think critically and creatively, be kind to each other, use scientific thinking, understand history, respect the environment, be fit and active, know how to be safe around water and reflect critically on their own learning. You have to do this for a range of learners that spans all academic and social and emotional levels. With this enormous load, there is nothing surer than the fact that, at some point, you are going to get something wrong. This might become evident when report time rolls around as you struggle to make a relevant comment about a student or find evidence of learning that you haven’t actually collected in a particular area. The answer to a situation like this? Gently acknowledge the error and commit to doing better next time. Find some professional learning, make a plan and seek out support from a colleague or mentor. Whichever way you address this, make sure that you don’t repeat your mistakes. This ability to reflect and take action can actually become one of your strengths and you will see the benefits passed on to your students.
There is no doubt that report writing can be a challenging time of the semester. However viewing it as an opportunity to reflect on your practice as well as informing parents about their children’s learning can help you to make the changes you need to continue to develop your own teaching.
Be kind to yourself. Remember that, just like children, you can only take on so much new cognitive load at a time. New skills need to be practised over time and become automatic before you can add another layer. It’s why teaching is a craft, not an activity! Focus on what is most important; on what has the biggest impact on students.
Importantly, know that you are not alone. If you don’t have a mentor at school, reach out to people online. The internet is full of people who would love to help and support you. If you do have a mentor at school, still reach other. You will learn from every person you encounter. Remember, we are all learners and fixing is learning. It’s what I tell my students. It works for them and I promise, it will work for you too.
In January 2020 the first Teach Along of the new year commences. A Teach Along is professional learning / mentoring /coaching opportunity for teachers that runs over a 5 week period of time. This Teach Along focuses on using quality literature to build students’ language and writing skills and involves 5 x 1 hour live planning sessions where I will take you step by step how to simply and effectively plan a unit of work that will maximise your students’ language learning and writing development. You can learn more here.
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