Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Great Expectations

As a preservice teacher, I had the assignment to watch the movie, The Marva Collin's Story.  It had a powerful impact on me, and I watch it every year as part of my "Back to School" ritual. I was deeply saddened to hear of her passing last June. Her story will forever inspire and motivate me to "do whatever it takes" for kids.

One of the most powerful lessons that I learned was to have high expectations for my students. I truly believe that ALL students can learn and that it's my responsibility as an educator to "draw out" their excellence. Michaelangelo once said, "Inside is an angel trying to get out" about a piece of marble he was ready to sculpt. I feel the same way about my students. No matter how tough on the outside, there is a child inside that wants to be loved, accepted, challenged, and to succeed.

Sometimes I'm criticized for having high standards for my students. I don't accept average for myself. Why would I ever accept average for my students? Not to my surprise, every year my students reach and surpass even MY high standards of behavior and academic achievement. But, I don't just raise the bar and expect the kids to get there on their own. It takes a lot of WORK to get them there!

Creating a culture of caring and trust in the classroom is essential. Many teachers, pressured by testing deadlines, skimp on the time that it takes to build authentic relationships with their students. This is a mistake! Every year I have to fight the "urgency to cover the curriculum". Taking the time to know my kids is a priority! They need to know that they are loved, accepted and that they can learn and be successful. They need to know that their effort is valued. They need to know that I challenge them because I want them to have the best life possible, and education is the key. I take the time because they are "my kids"! I would never shortchange them. It takes extra time and effort to build trust. Simple notes of appreciation, greetings, high-fives and positive phone calls home build lasting relationships long beyond the school year. It also takes time for the students to build trusting relationships with each other. Team building is crucial to classroom success. Everyone is a teacher. Everyone is a leader. We practice the skills. We practice procedures. We practice listening, sharing, and appreciating each others' effort and achievements.

When I earn the respect and trust of my students, then and only then can I become an effective teacher.

Average is easy. Many teachers settle for mediocrity and being comfortable. They care about their students but are afraid to challenge them, make them think, and let them struggle through a problem. They teach to the middle, fail to challenge the high, and lose hope for the low. My philosophy is to teach to the high and do what it takes to pull the other students up to that level. 

Effective teachers can challenge their students to higher academic and behavioral standards because students trust them. They know that their teacher will give them honest feedback to help them grow. The bar might be high, but the student knows that their teacher will help them get there with incremental steps. As they struggle through a challenge, they are motivated by the little successes along the way and by their progress. Mistakes are learning opportunities and effort to try new skills and grow is appreciated. At first it takes a lot of courage to share mistakes with peers. It takes a lot of courage to speak in front of a class. It takes courage to try new things. Risk-taking is rewarded.

One of the first challenges that we do as a class is memorize and say the poem, "The Man Who Thinks He Can" by Walter D. Wintle. We say it often. "I can't" or "I don't know"* are not phrases we say in our classroom.

I  believe that teachers must have a vision of what their students can become. They must believe with their heart, mind, and soul that they can make a difference in the child's life. As John Hattie would say, "Know your impact!" Armed with high expectations and a vision that can be realized, teachers will do whatever it takes to make a difference.

If I treat you as what you are capable of becoming, 
I help you become that.

 A banner hanging in my room says, "The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the little extra." Students follow what they see modeled by their teacher. I'm far from perfect! But, I do know that students recognize and appreciate the extra efforts to make lessons and learning come to life. (Sometimes it's years later.) I know that they appreciate my attempts to give them timely and specific feedback about how to improve. I know that the balance between the press and showing I care is crucial. I know that THEY work!

I'm a passionate educator! I believe that we can have higher expectations for our students. I believe we can do better. I can do better! Excuses are not acceptable. Are we having the conversations about our teaching that we need to be having? Do we agree on what 'high expectations' look like? Are we holding each other accountable for student learning? Can we be even more effective than we are? How will we know? As I read, study and reflect, I know that I have a lot of room for improvement. I will make mistakes. This is a journey.

We are what we are because of others before us that had high expectations and challenged us. We owe our students the same.

*We say, "I don't know yet because ....." 
"I need more information."
"I'm unsure about this part."
"I'm thinking."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing Sandy!! Yes, our students deserve it!!! What a great role model you are for them and I'm a firm believe that students will rise to the expectations we have for them. Keep up the great work and being an inspiration for others!