From the Classroom: Success Defined
By Brian Kelley
Change bothers most people.
We can be good teachers and still make room for change. Change does not mean we are bad teachers making bad decisions. There are many ways to teach, but consider this blog post as an invitation to grow.
Consider change as growth. Everyone can grow.
For example, I changed my approach in the classroom by adding writing and technology to my life outside of the classroom. It wasn’t a drastic change–and if writing and technology are changes you would like to make, neither needs to cause a seismic shift in your day.
Asking teachers to write is a scary proposition. Asking teachers to become more fluent with technology is a scary proposition. It sounds a little like going off of the script.
We have routines. Comfort. The script of our lives.
We have trusted packages of material. Confidence. The scripts of our classrooms.
Asking teachers to go off of the script is a scary proposition. Uncertainty surrounds change.
So, when I say go off of the script I do not mean abandon. I mean consider what you want for yourself and/or your students (which is not happening now) and plan a path to accomplish it.
I wanted to my students to believe that writing is not just something done for school. I wanted my students to write for someone other than me. Quite honestly, I wanted them to write for someone other than themselves too.
An audience of two makes for an empty auditorium. A lone clap. Limited feedback.
The best path I could find which worked for me (you might forge a different path!) was adding writing and technology to my life:
- multiple blogging opportunities
- Twitter (also considered microblogging)
- keeping a writer’s notebook
- experimenting with composing podcasting
- experimenting with composing short videos
- collaborating on articles for educational journals
- dreaming and writing various manuscripts for YA novels and picture books
- I use the voice-to-text feature on a Note Taking App on my iPhone as I drive
- I commit to handwriting notes at staff meetings or with writing partners in my writer’s notebook
- sometime I take notes down online on a Google Doc
- writing in class when my students write
- if I write with 1st period then I confer with 2nd and 3rd period
- I rotate the days and the classes in which I write and/or confer
I don’t do all of this writing at once. I don’t pressure myself with timetables. I dip in and out. I experiment. But I found that it truly started with a small, personal shift.
It was just about commitment.
Sometimes I turn the radio down in the car and I talk. I say my thoughts aloud. Sort of a turn-and-talk with a writing partner: my iPhone.
You could do any one of the things I listed above and grow. You don’t have to keep a blog–you could write for five minutes with your students on paper. You could write for ten minutes before school. You could talk to your phone!
Make a small commitment to start. It will grow.
As I continue to push myself to grow as a writer, and to keep up with technology, I find my connections with my students have grown because of my growth with writing. My improved relationship with technology has emboldened me to move “off of the script”…and not abandon the other good stuff already in place..
Additionally, my confidence in the classroom has expanded by making myself a writer.
I treat my students differently than I did ten years ago. I treat them as writers—not like writers, and there is a difference. I see them as writers because I have learned how to see myself as a writer.
Sometimes it is challenging. It is a process. I failed and scuffled along at first and I continue to fail and scuffle through the journey of becoming a digitally-literate writer.
But I continue to find success because I continue to grow and change. When conferring, students tell me they are doing the things I am doing as a writer—not because I told them to do these things, but because they discovered some things on their own too! And I really believe that I used to miss those hidden gems when I met with students. This is one measure of success. At least it is how I am defining success.
Success (n.) rooted in the change and growth of teachers becoming writers; it is when a teacher becomes a writer and learns what to listen for in young writers; when a teacher becomes a writer and learns what to draw out of students so that students may also change and grow and become writers too.
Brian Kelley teachers 8th-grade creative writing at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania; his podcast about families and heritage “I Remember” can be found on iTunes; you can connect with him on Twitter @_briank_ or on his blog: walkthewalkblog.blogspot.com.