1) Write a classroom vision before the school year starts.
Think of your classroom as a business where you are the CEO. Your job is to lead a group of people to work together and achieve their full potential. It’s time for teachers to take another page out of a CEO’s book - write a classroom vision. Think of what you want to be true about students in your class throughout the entire year and write statements that support this. Note that a vision doesn’t include specific numbers, but generalized statements that you want all students to follow. Some examples include:
Vision Statement Examples
1) We are a group of hard-working individuals who always give their best effort to the task at hand.
2) We see the injustice in the world around us, and take steps to do something about it.
3) We stand up for what is right, and always encourage other students around us to do the same.
4) We have our sights set on our life goals, and all the work we do is so that we accomplish those goals. We believe in the truth that we will one day reach our life’s greatest ambition.
As you can see, these statements have little to do with performance in individual subjects. Rather, they are focused on actions and mindsets everyone in the classroom should demonstrate on a daily basis, including the teacher (hence the pronoun “we”). By writing a classroom vision, you have painted a picture of what your expect throughout the year. Your vision should guide the way that you teach, the way your students behave, and the work that you all do each and every day.
If you want to check out my complete classroom vision from the 2011-2012 school year, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know to forward you a copy. You can feel free to include any statements that you find helpful in your own class vision, or simply use it as a guide.
2) Set ambitious, measurable goals for each core subject you teach.
By creating goals for your class, you are providing both yourself and your students with a roadmap to success. In goal-based classrooms, students are willing to work harder because they have an idea of where they should end up, and they can see their progress towards those goals. As a teacher, goals help you stay focused on building meaningful lessons and activities that pave a path towards achieving those goals.
When writing goals, keep in mind that goals should help students understand that hard work precedes success. You don’t want your class goals to be too easy or too difficult, so strike a balance. A good rule of thumb is that in order for goals to be worthwhile, they need to be ambitious, measurable, and reasonable. Below are some examples of good goals and bad goals, with explanations about why.
Goal #1 - All students will grow at least 1 year in reading (Reasonable, measurable, not ambitious)
There’s no point in setting a goal for students to achieve mediocrity. Students are expected to grow 1 year in reading during the school year, so this goal won’t require students to dig deep and achieve their full potential. Instead, set a goal that students will grow 1.5 years in reading - while it will require everyone to work harder, it is definitely attainable.
Goal #2 - All students will score higher than 95% on the final exam (Ambitious, measurable, not reasonable)
I like the ambition in this goal, and while it may be possible, there’s a very high chance that it won’t happen. The main point of setting goals is for students to learn that if they work hard, they can achieve whatever they set their minds to. If a student gets a 94% on the final exam, what did this goal teach them? You aren’t encouraging students if you set a measure that they can’t achieve.
Goal #3 - All students will do better in math than they did last year (Ambitious, reasonable, not measurable)
While we definitely hope that this goal is true of all our students, we have no way to measure whether or not it is the case. Simple comparison statements are not goals, and shouldn’t be used to guide classrooms. Without specific numbers, students and teachers will not be able to determine whether they are progressing towards achieving these goals or remaining stagnant - leaving no room for making mid-year adjustments.
Goal #4 - Every student will master 85% of 4th grade CCSS Math Standards (Ambitious, reasonable and measurable)
Finally we get to a good goal! This goal is definitely ambitious - it is difficult for an entire class worth of students to get a full grasp on 85% of math standards. However, by specifying that students only need to master 85% of the standards, you are providing students with some wiggle room and making it reasonable. It is natural for students to struggle with specific math topics - don’t prevent them from achieving a goal by expecting 100%.
Goal #5 - As a class, we will read 500 chapter books this year (Ambitious, measurable and reasonable)
Team goals are something that I like to use because they build a sense of camaraderie among the class, showing that everyone is in it together. Ambitious? You bet! In a class of 25 students, each student would have to read 20 chapter books, or an average of one chapter book every two weeks. Measurable? Absolutely. Whether you personally sign off student books and add them to the class counter or have parents keep track of when their child finishes a book, you can definitely measure this goal. Lastly, is it reasonable? When I first set this goal with my 5th grade class, my big fear was that it wouldn’t be reasonable. By the end of the year, we ended up reading 721 chapter books (though there were 36 students). What made this goal reasonable is the team aspect - higher level readers could read 1 chapter book a week or more, while the slower readers felt comfortable working through appropriately leveled books at a slower pace.
Goals not only dictate the direction of a class, they’re fun and exciting for everyone. I have never seen students light up with more happiness and confidence than when they find out they’ve reached a goal. Give your students the self-belief they need to succeed by leading a goal-based classroom this year.
3) Show that you care about your students by getting to know them and their interests.
There’s a phenomenal TED Talk by Rita Pierson that I think every teacher should watch prior to each school year. In this Ted Talk, Rita brilliantly articulates the importance of forming relationships with students. She recognizes that there is a certain way to go about being a teacher that makes students feel welcome, empowered and confident. The truth is, as Rita says, “students don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.” Take the time to ask about students and their lives. Find out what they enjoy and make it a point to learn more about these interests - showing that you care can make a major difference in a child’s life.
4) Get to know the parents and families of your students.
I know that I’ve written extensively this summer about how valuable parents and families are to teachers, but I need to mention it once more. Getting to know the parents and families of your students puts people in your corner. You want as much support as you can get throughout the school year, so take the time to form relationships with the parents and families of your students. Once you have shown a genuine interest to get to know the families, they will help ensure all students are well behaved, that they complete their assigned work, and that they receive the support they need to succeed in school.
5) At least once a week, teach a lesson in an unconventional way
Think back to a particular lesson from when you were in school. Are you having vivid flashbacks to sitting at a desk while your teacher explained a math problem on the overhead projector or chalkboard? Can’t shake the thought of that worksheet you completed in 6th grade? My guess is that you are reminiscing about a lesson that was not ordinary - a play, a science experiment or a historical reenactment.
Rather than going through the same teaching methods every day, spice up your classroom and provide your students with some novel learning experiences. The internet has a wealth of resources that you can use to design projects and lessons that get your students out of their seats and their minds active. When they look back on their education, give them lessons to remember from your class.
6) Stick to a working schedule that works for you
It’s a fact - being tired makes you grumpy. Another fact - grumpy teachers are bad teachers. Find a working schedule that works for you and stick to it. If you know that you need at least 7 hours of sleep in order to be a great teacher the next day, do what you need to do in order to get that sleep. Your kids are counting on you to come in energetic, happy and patient - give them the teacher that they deserve.
7) Reflect often to build off strengths and account for weaknesses
You are bound to have many ups and downs during this upcoming school year. By taking the time to reflect and think about which of your teacher actions led to success and which led to failure, you will consistently improve. Try to isolate what led to a great lesson and repeat that action in future lessons. If you realize that being unprepared leads to poor student behavior, then take the time to prepare all of your lessons. Student actions and performance are directly related to teacher actions - don’t kid yourself into thinking that students are behaving a certain way for no reason. Reflect, adjust and improve throughout the entire year.
8) Guide your own professional development
All teachers have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some are great at teaching math, and really struggle at teaching writing. Others excel in reading and don’t have a clue how to best teach science. Fortunately, we live in the digital age where support is available for all teachers. Don’t wait on your principal to provide you with the professional development you need to improve - seek it out and take care of it yourself.
9) Keep up to date on education topics and trends throughout the year
We’re at a very interesting time in the world of education. A new set of standards is being taught across the majority of states, more educational technology programs are popping up every week, and teachers have officially taken over Twitter and other social media platforms. If you want to be an awesome teacher this year, stay up to date with what is going on in education. Whether you read opinion articles, start your own blog, or participate in EdTech chats on Twitter, do what you can to keep yourself aware of what is going on. You’ll be privy to the newest tools, the freshest ideas and the brightest minds in education.
10) Do what you can to make teaching fun
This upcoming school year can seem long and arduous if you let it. You can find yourself in October wishing it were May and wondering how you are going to make it through the next 7 months without going crazy. Don’t let that be you. Find a way to make this next year as fun as possible. Incorporate something that you are passionate about into your lessons. Play your favorite music in your classroom. Take the time to laugh and joke with your students. We all know that teaching isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
Did I miss anything? What else can you do to be an awesome teacher this year? Let me know in the comments!