One of my favorite TOSAs, @coriorlando1 from Leading in Limbo recently wrote a blog post about what she has learned about being a leader in her two years as my district’s ELA TOSA. She created a list that I’ve been reading over and over again since she posted it. Although I am not a school administrator, I am the leader of my classroom and her entire list can apply to the classroom. I will reflect on a few key things that stood out to me although I could really talk about all of them.
Relationships are Number 1:
My take on this for middle school is that you MUST understand who your students are in order to have a meaningful teacher-student relationship.
We often hear the expression “stuck in the middle,” with the word middle implying we are caught between two better places to be. For the most part this isn’t untrue in middle school. The middle school student is no longer a child (even though some sixth graders still look like children) but they are not yet a teen. They have become aware of adult topics, but many don’t know how to deal with them appropriately. They still tattle. They still argue if someone touches their desks the wrong way. They have side conversation that can run rampant if you let them. Yet, there are some students who are quite mature, informed, and appreciate the nuances of sarcasm and can converse like adults with wit and intelligence. As a 7th grade ELA teacher, I have the luxury of having all of these personalities in my classes and they are tricky to teach. They love hearing their teachers’ personal stories, need variety, activity, socializing, routine and spontaneity at the same time, and they absolutely need to begin taking responsibility for their own learning.
My relationships with these inbetweeners are very important to me. The only way for me to teach them is to know them and what is happening in their lives. It is very important to ask them questions about their homes, families, and favorite activities. It is through this knowledge that you can plan effective lessons and understand why they may behave the way they do. In an #svtchat on Twitter this week we talked about motivation. It is only through understanding our students that we can truly motivate them.
Always start with the “why”.
Why do we need to learn this? I hate this question. When students have asked this question I have often said “because I said so,” annoyed with the snarkiness of the question. What do you mean why? But I realize I don’t do anything in my adult life without knowing why I’m doing it. Nor do I buy anything without understanding why it’s the best product. So this is key to motivating students. As I’ve grown to better understand my role, and after years of practice, I realize that they have stopped asking this question. Not because they no longer want to know but because I try to preface everything we do with why it’s important, why they need to learn it, and how it will help them in the future. Now some are even able to tell me the why.
Involve the stakeholders in decisions.
This has been huge for me in the last few weeks. Recently I’ve been only creating lessons with the input of my students. How do we want to read this? When should this be due? How would you like to show me what you know. I plan on doing this for our last month’s of school independent reading requirement and will reflect on this in a future blog post. This idea of “choice” gives them a sense of responsibility and decision making power. I also hope to incorporate some version of 20 Time next year and can not wait to see how that helps to motivate students when they have choice in their own learning.