The most important lessons we learned this year

2 educators share valuable insight they gained in 2018

Happy schools start with happy teachers
One of the biggest challenges we face, as educators, is learning how to put our health and happiness first. My first thought was that I needed to put the students’ well-being first, but I discovered that I needed to start with my staff instead. If we didn’t dig in and find the pieces that educators are passionate about and connect them back into this building, we knew they would quickly burn out.

Inspired by the house system in the Harry Potter books and the Ron Clark model, we held monthly house meetings that focused on one of the 7 Mindsets. These mindsets come from Scott Shickler and Jeff Waller’s book, The 7 Mindsets to Live Your Ultimate Life, and include affirmations such as “everything is possible” and “the time is now.”

The mindsets helped us develop a mental-health strategy. We created a Positive Learning Environment (PLE) committee consisting of one person from each grade level to focus on one mindset a month and decide how were going to roll that out to the whole school. For example, during spring break this year, the PLE team had all of the teachers write inspirational messages for the students. We posted those messages on the walls in the school, so that when the kids came back from spring break, they all saw a special note to them on the wall of the school, written by their teacher. It was really cool.
—Tracey Smith

How PBL helps students set goals and build social skills
This year has had its fair share of ups and downs for us all. I’ve learned that we can’t experience a win without having a few losses, and even though being a teacher may very well be one of the most challenging careers, it is always so rewarding.

As an inclusion teacher, I work closely with students with individualized education programs (IEPs) in the general education classroom. Among the many lessons I’ve learned this year, the power of personal connection emerges again and again as a common thread. I’ve learned that positive relationships between students are just as important as my individual connections with each one of them and myself.

1. Every day starts and ends with a goal.
My students come into school every day bright-eyed, eager, and ready to learn. Before diving headfirst into academics, students gather after eating breakfast and write one specific personal goal they have for the day.

After writing their goals, students have time to play around with different STEAM activities such as TinkerToys, Legos, and building blocks to relax before our instructional day begins. Having this time is so important because students, like most of us, need to mentally prepare for the day ahead.

The rest of the day is split into independent reading and math stations, where students practice performing the skills they’ve learned, while I meet with small groups to teach differentiated lessons. When I talk with students, they say how much they love being able to set their own learning goals, and project-based learning (PBL) allows them to explore resources to build on their knowledge and skills for the future. Our last project, “Reporter,” placed students in the role of reporter for a local newspaper. They chose an adult in the school who they were interested in learning more about. I can track student progress and assess how they’re doing with a PBL solution like Defined STEM.

At the end of the day, we go back to our goals. Students take some time to reflect on their behavior and academics and decide what they want to work on.

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