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Monday, January 19, 2015

When I go back

Ignatius of Loyola famously said, "Go forth and set the world on fire." Few professions have the power to make that happen like teachers.

It is hard to believe I've been a principal for 10 years now. I love my job, love making an impact on students' lives, learning, supporting teachers, and improving school culture. However, I think often of my time in the classroom, and what I would do if I went back tomorrow. Years of watching great teachers in action, reading and studying best practices in my profession, and reflecting on what works and what matters, have given me much perspective on my own practice and beliefs.

I'd start each class with a bang! Greet students at the door with a handshake and positive encouragement, modeling professionalism, building relationships, checking for signs of hurt or trauma. To get them hooked right away and maximize time, I'd have an activity ready, a journal or video or puzzle or problem, to grab their attention, get their focus, set the stage for the day and preview the learning to come.

Technology is where students live and breathe. They are "digital natives," born into the age of the internet, information superhighway, instant answers and instant gratification. Students should write every day, across the curriculum, incorporating art, current events and culture. Moving student writing to blogs would take the old paper and pencil journals and open them up to their peers, the class, the world. Classes can live online, in a social-media type environment, with tools like Edmodo, accessible any time and any where.

Vocabulary, words, carry so much power and purpose. We can not do enough to immerse students in the rich and deep layers of language and words. My classroom would constantly play with words and explore syntax. If nothing else, we'd know our nomenclature, be versed in the vernacular, learn the lexicon. Poetry and prose draw power from language, and one of my main purposes would be to pursue and infuse linguistic proficiency. Simply put, we'd play with words. A lot.

Games engage young people in a way education can only dream about. I'd gamify my classroom, using game theory to inspire and encourage student learning. We would post progress and advancement in the curriculum on a leader board, keeping constant track of goals and achievements.  Students would earn badges for various achievements and accomplishments, to motivate them and give them bragging rights. We would "fail forward," trying and retrying difficult tasks like taking on bosses at the end of a tough level. We'd work collaboratively for epic wins, and strive for nothing less than making the world a better place.

In my classroom, learning and grading would never be a mystery. Curriculum and assessment would be fair and transparent, and I'd make sure to post a clear learning objective for student every single day. I would do much more formative assessment, using a wide range of methods to check understanding and gauge student learning in a way that is not punitive, but constructive and informative. On their way out the door each day, students would have the opportunity to share what they learned, and I'd have the chance to gauge the effectiveness of the lesson.

Perhaps most importantly, I'd put relationships first. What greater privilege is there than making a positive impact in kids' lives? Encourage the heart and the rest follows. In her landmark TED talk on teaching, Rita Pierson said "You know, kids don't learn from people they don't like," and she was RIGHT. My classes would celebrate often, and spend every day striving to make the the world a better place. I'd have no hesitation putting character and citizenship before academic achievement. Every success is built on relationships, relationships make the world go round, and without positive, professional relationships real learning will never happen. I do this job because I love kids, love helping them learn and grow and overcome and succeed.