Reflections: Two Weeks In

Disclaimer:  This is a mostly unedited “first thoughts” reflection piece done for somewhat selfish reasons of self-expression and shared with the intent to illicit thoughtful feedback from self and others and maybe aid someone else in their quest of discovery toward better learning, teaching, and life-living.

I began my adventure three weeks ago with the return to school teacher planning week that is a part of most U.S. teachers’ entrée into a new school year.  This came after my most restful summer of my 5 year teaching career in which I spent 17 days in the mountains of North Carolina and allowed myself to get lost in the reading of 20+ books ranging from Vladimir Nabokov to Tolstoy to Dostoevsky to N.N. Taleb to Chuck Palahniuk, writing poetry, wafting in streams of consciousness, and taking in the life around me.  This is the first summer of my teaching career that I haven’t taught summer school or worked a summer job.  I also allowed myself the deepest openness to and investment in relationships and relationship building.  I envisioned the life of a polymathic~flaneur at the beginning of the summer and did my best to walk that life-elements thereof which shall remain.

This summer came on the loss of my father and father-in-law in the span of one month at the end of last year.  Coming at my age and stage in life these two events are significant markers in my coming of age as a man, a father and a husband.  Grappling with the grief, sorrow and an expanding vision of roles has been a cornerstone of my existence over the past 10 months.  I have discovered that grief can visit you at the most unexpected of times and in the most unexpected of ways as it did yesterday on the predawn bus ride to our season opening cross country meet.  I have discovered that grief can also be an empowering source in answer to the question: “So then, what am I going to do today?”.

What’s working so far?  Attending a Dave Burgess “Teach Like a Pirate” seminar in the spring of 2014 and reading and rereading his book by the same title is still the best and most readily classroom implementable professional development I’ve partaken of thus far.  Adopting Dave’s first 3 days of school to my own style and running with it for the last two years has launched each year better than the year previous.

Implementing these #TLAP ideas has helped me lay the foundation for the vision of the classroom learning culture I’ve always sought to build including an emphasis on collaborative learning (students begin working in groups on Day 2), quickly learning names, a “no meanness zone” where there are no “wrong answers” in small group and whole group discussions, modeling lifelong learning, helping students build a vision for why they are taking the course (I teach AP Psychology), immersion of the teacher, teacher as “Chief Learning Officer”, active listening, and the 3 R’s of rapport, relationships, and reflection.

How does this look in the classroom over the last two weeks?  Students have researched, created and presented a personal goal-oriented mini-project, students have worked in collaborative groups two times (once to preview learning and once to reinforce learning), students reflect on learning in peer discussions daily at the beginning of class and during class lecture-discussion, students reflect on their learning at least thrice weekly in a reflection journal via guided or self-guided questions, students will begin posting a unit reflection on Edmodo and writing peer comments on reflections in the next week.

These are some of the tangibles.  The intangibles?  Well, they’re what keep students excited about learning and being in class and they are what keep me in the classroom for another year!

Happy first weeks of learning!  Onward! Upward!