Sunday, October 25, 2015

The (Semi) Reformed Perfectionist: Stepping Back So Students Can Step UP

It's time to take a really long, good look in the mirror.

What has happened to the American student?

Is it too much screen time?  Too much state-testing? Too few/too many worksheets? Is it less time spent exercising or playing outside?  Is it too much pressure, too much testing, too much programming? Not enough quiet time, noisy time, movement, and on and on.

All of these questions are relevant and have been worthy of study and discussion at some point.  I'm tired of study and discussion. Our time, funding, and brain power are better spent elsewhere.

When I look in the mirror, I see the culprit.

Every day that I step into my classroom, I make a choice.  I either allow all of the above to guide my instruction, OR I decide for that day to teach students.

When I walked into my classroom this year, I was all gung-ho about all the cool techy tricks I was going to teach them.  I'm one quarter of the way into a school year, and I've already changed my goal for the year.'s students don't need tons of lessons in technology.  They totally "get" anything techy I throw at them.  That became clear to me straight away.  Even if they came in with just the basics, they were quickly engaging in higher level tech projects with some assistance.

What they need is freedom.  Freedom to be busy.  Freedom to be a little noisy.  Freedom to be quietly thoughtful.  Freedom to explore.  Freedom to create.  Freedom to love learning.

They just don't know it because we've done a really great job as a society of educators creating productive, rule-following students. They can work the program, check the boxes, take the notes, and fill in the blank.  What we haven't done as a society is teach them common sense, critical thinking skills, and how to use that pesky thing we call an imagination.  Thing is...we've been doing this for a very long time.

I was one of those students in the late 80s and 90s.  When the teacher would give us a project, I was the first one at her desk making sure I understood the components for completion. I needed the steps. The boxes to check off. They wanted five facts, and I'd give them ten.  I needed absolute assurance that I was going to get the A+.  College was pretty much the same story. Rubrics and syllabuses were my BFFs.

Then I got my first teaching job.  Hello, world!

At first I played by "the rules."  I performed my job.  Liked it even, but it was just...a job. Then something happened. Technology entered the picture, and I was hooked.  Suddenly I found myself passionate about my career.  My neat little rows of desks suddenly became collaborative tables.  My structured, quiet, paper-filled classroom began to evolve.  Hours of work stretched into the late hours of the night.  It wasn't a job anymore.  Edtech had given me freedom in my classroom.  It was now a passion project.

Even though that little student inside of me was screaming for structure, the growing teacher in me saw a great need for passion and creation in the classroom.  Passion and creation is busy.  Noisy. Kid-oriented.  A little more work on my end. Worth it.

There are days that it still drives me crazy...admittedly.  Mid-way through grading five period's worth of projects, I was wondering what I had been thinking!  My classroom is not perfect.  I am not perfect. I screw up, and the old structured Mrs. Copple comes out.  I hate it when that happens, but I don't beat myself up about it.

More often than not though, my heart literally almost melts when I watch students make connections and innovate in their own right.  They can be little things like watching them figure out how to prop up their iPad to record themselves (trees make excellent tripods).  Innovation doesn't have to be big all of the time.  We have to celebrate the little breakthroughs, too. Who knows where they may lead?

So make a choice.  Look in the mirror.  Be a rebel and tell those excuses to take a back seat. Remember that we are imperfect people working with imperfect kids.  Start small.  Change up one subject of your day.  Try that project you've been dreaming about.  Be as brave as you want your students to be, or at least pretend on the outside!

We are the single-most important factor in our classrooms.  We are the variable.

Step back so they can step up.

After all, I'm a semi-reformed perfectionist.  If I can do it so can you!