an open reflection on my practice: semester one of teaching abroad

“As I draw the curtains on the sleepy eyes of 2017, my mind turns to the power of reflection. It is my first semester teaching internationally. How has it gone? What are my strengths? What are my next steps?

At the end of the semester, I presented a survey eliciting student feedback. It is a survey provided by my school leadership that I modified for what matters to me most as a teacher. Here are the results (prompts are at the top). Some thoughts:

  • I need to improve in clarity. 1, “In this class the expectations for assignments, quizzes, tests, homework, summatives are clear.” 2, “In this class I am clear about the goals, standards, objectives.” In both of these categories, I scored an average less than 4. As I have wrestled with before, my current school is adopting Ken O’Conner‘s approach to grades: that is, no grades. Or accurate grades. Or standards-based grading. Or… well, you can see why my students are unsettled with this aspect of my instruction: so am I! As with all initiatives, it is not the theory with which I am at odds, but rather the annoyingly messy implementation. I think this also ties into the below 4 score in “My teacher is fair” category. Here are my plans to address this: 1, more class models and collaborative scoring of work 2, student self-assessment and reflection 3, soliciting continued feedback from students about this aspect of my teaching 4, deliberate introductions and thorough explanation of assessments and 5, being targeted with and explicit about the alignment among homework, formatives and summatives. Those are the easy ones (insert giggling emjoi here). More nuanced but nonetheless necessary: the intentional offering of opportunities for ambiguity (never accidentally). I know that students need to tolerate and negotiate ambiguity to be successful in the real world. But sometimes this is at odds with grading policies, especially in a competitive school like mine. I want to work on transparency regarding this. And yes, well, that is ambiguous. Hopefully, I’ll work through it like my students will!
  • I am proud of the level of rigor I have maintained this semester. 1, “My teacher challenges me to think critically and analyze information.” 2, “In this class I feel challenged.” This has always been the hill I will die on. [bctt tweet=”I will not insult my students by lowering expectations for them. ” username=”eternitymod”] They deserve better. And yes, it is shreddingly painful while I’m establishing that 1, yes they can 2, no I will not back down 3, this comes from a place of love and 4, that’s right, now here we go. One of my greatest points of pride as an educator is the number of alumni who have told me my class prepared them for the intensity of college. I may not be liked, but I make a difference. 

But therein lies the rub: I want to be liked. And this has been the dominant reflection in my mind this break. Today marks two weeks since I have last seen my kiddos; and I won’t see them until January 23rd. I miss them. Do they miss me? Am I a part of their lives more as than just a taskmaster?

To be fair, I don’t think it’s about being liked. That is superficial. But it is about a connection, which is exactly why I asked this question on the survey: “I feel connected to Mrs. Davenport.” This also scored below a 4 average. And out of all the other numbers, I am NOT. okay. with. this. average. And really, connection shouldn’t be about average: it should be percentage. 100% of my students feel connected to me. I am connected to each. and. every. human. in. my. charge. 

And so, more than anything else, this is what I want to work on next semester. And it has a face. This student doesn’t do well. And this student sits in class, quiet, anonymous, hidden. I do not know this student. I am annoyed by parental blame on me rather than student ownership. And I have probably taken it out on this student. And I know this student probably rated me low on so many aspects of the survey.

I have failed this student. I have let it become personal instead of professional. I have neglected our connection. But that was 2017. Look out, this student, I am coming for you.


To all my teacher readers: I’d love to hear your reflections. What went well for you this past semester? What are you working on? What’s your “this student” story? What questions help you reflect meaningfully on your practice? 

 

growth vs. fixed mindset: it’s not just for the students

Allow me to step into the confessional.

One thing I struggle with is loving people unconditionally, accepting them in their weakness. I expect the best from people, immediately, consistently. This is a universal application that haunts my students, my friendships, my colleagues, and my marriage.

Of course, I am not off the hook. I am my own worst critic, my most insistent demander, my harshest judge. I live in an internal world where it is hard to accept grace for myself…and thus–either as a cause or an effect–hard to offer it authentically and organically to others.

I am no blind fool: this leads to a lack of peace within myself…and with others.

At school, we’ve excitedly moved into a focus on rigor. Many voices expressed the idea that there can be no rigor without risk, and no risk without struggle. I wholeheartedly agree. At the most foundational level of this struggle comes the idea that it is worth it, that struggle can lead to something better. This conviction grows and blooms only in the soil of a growth mindset (rather than a fixed mindset; for more information). Educators today are very familiar with these concepts and understand the critical value of fostering not just information in students, but a kind of mindset, a mindset that is pliable rather than set, questioning rather than settling, seeking rather than content, hopeful rather than definite. Only when we encourage this in students can they grow beyond their potential–which is really just a euphemism for fixed mindset.

mindsetBut, as always, what happens in the student cafeteria is mimicked (perhaps pioneered) in the adult lounge. I have come to realize lately that though I approach students in a growth mindset paradigm, I do not extend the same courtesy to my colleagues. For whatever reason, something in me operates under the idea that adults in schools have arrived, are set in their ways, are settled into their potential, are who they are, well, because that’s who they are. The end. This ugly monster rears its head most frequently in the realm of assumptions. I make assumptions about people… and by doing so, I limit them to a quaint box that is formed nicely and neatly in my own finite head. How arrogant! How presumptuous! How fallacious!

A few times lately, I’ve been surprised by colleagues–a delicious and humbling and didactic surprise. And in reflection, I wondered why I was so surprised? And of course, it was rooted in my faulty assumptions.

Ultimately, both my perspective of others and myself as well as Carol Dweck’s research on fixed vs. growth mindsets distill down to the idea of absolutes. For all my life, I have felt more comfortable existing in a worldview of absolutes: good or bad; black or white; holy or profane; worthy or detestable. Just like it’s easier to shop in a supermarket where everything is labeled, it is more convenient to live in a world where everyone is categorized. But…though easier…it is more limiting. And more destructive.

But thankfully, I don’t have to stay here. I can change, grow, evolve. And so can anyone and everyone around me.

I just have to perpetually cultivate the gracious space for that personal and communal shifting.

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