Modeling the Behavior I Promote in the Classroom

Sometimes I can be a bit stubborn and stuck in my ways.  Only a bit though.  I’m usually quite flexible in my thinking and acting.  However, for the past several years, I’ve refused to get a flu shot.  My reasoning?  Well, let’s just say that I like to question the world around us and have been known to concoct and buy into conspiracy theories.  I got it in my head that the government was using flu shots as a way of digitally tagging citizens.  I wondered if the flu shot contained tracking devices that would allow “Big Brother” to always know our location.  That freaked me out a little and so I boycotted flu shots.  Well, as I matured and became a father, my line of thinking began to change.  I started to realize that even if my cockamamie conspiracy theories were based in truth, staying healthy and keeping my family healthy is way more important than how much the government knows about me.  Plus, this past March, I got the flu because I hadn’t received my flu shot.  So, this flu season, I’m taking every precaution to protect myself, my family, and my students.  This morning, I got my flu shot.  I’m showing the world that I can do what is best for the whole rather than just worry about my self-interests.  I do now suddenly feel like I’m being watched.  Perhaps George Orwell was correct in his prediction of the future in his classic novel.  Or maybe I just need to practice mindfulness and be present in knowing that I am being a role model for others in taking care of myself.

As a child, I often felt like my parents and other adults in my life possessed a “do as I say and not as I do” mentality.  My mother would tell me not to do something and then I would see her do this same thing later on.  It all felt very hypocritical.  It was difficult for me to determine my moral compass, as it felt like everyone else’s was broken.  Now that I am an adult, I see the importance in practicing what I preach and being a role model for my son and my students.  If I want my students to learn the value in certain choices, I need to be a model and make those same choices.  Respect is not something that is given away all willy-nilly like, it has to be earned.  If I want my students to learn to respect their peers, then I need to show them that I can earn their respect.  I need to hold myself to the highest possible standards in and out of the classroom.  If I want my students to learn to turn their work in on time, then I need to return graded work to them in a timely manner.  I feel as though mutual reciprocity is crucial in fostering positive relationships in the classroom.  Being a role model plays an important part in my teaching and life, as I don’t want others to think of me as a hypocrite.  Do as I do and as I say, is my motto.

Meta cognition and reflection is a valuable tool I utilize in the classroom to help my students to grow and develop as people and students.  I have them set weekly goals and reflect on them frequently.  Through this process, the students are able to identify their areas in need of growth and continue to challenge themselves regarding their strengths.  While I spent much time explaining the purpose and rationale of why we do this and the benefits that come from it, I wonder how seriously some of my students take this weekly activity.  So, after a month of time together in the classroom, I felt it prudent to model this behavior.

This past Thursday, instead of having the students reflect on their goals and providing them feedback on their progress in the fifth grade, I had the students reflect on my progress as their teacher and provide me with feedback on what I am doing well and what I still need to work on.  As this kind of activity does open the door to vulnerability, it’s crucial to helping the students learn to do this for themselves.  I need to show them that no one is perfect, and that everyone can improve in some way.  To do this, I had the students send me an email regarding both the pluses and minuses of my teaching.  What do I do well as a teacher?  What can I work on to make their experience in the fifth grade even better?  After explaining this task to the students, several hands went up.  “What if we have no suggestions for improvement?  Can we just tell you that we are happy with everything?” the students asked.  I then posed a scenario to the class: “What if when you asked for feedback on your writing, I told you that everything was great?  Would you ever be able to improve as a writer?”  This seemed to help them wrap their brains around the value of reflection before providing feedback to others.

This weekend, I reviewed the feedback with which my students provided me.  While there was an overwhelming sense of happiness and excitement regarding my teaching and the fifth grade program I’ve created, I did receive a few solid nuggets of feedback that I will work on incorporating into my teaching this week.

  • “I feel like sometimes you stretch instructions to do whatever we’re supposed to be doing a little too long,” wrote one student.  This makes sense to me, as I do sometimes try to over simplify things.  Instead of explaining an activity or task in detail, I will work to only describe the nucleus of what I am asking of them.  This way, if my students are confused about the expectation, they will need to make use of their critical thinking skills to solve their problems.  While I will still make myself available to answer questions the students have while they work, I will make sure that they exhaust their problem solving tools before I field any questions about the directions for a task.  This way, more genuine learning can take place if they are solving problems, generating questions, and working through their struggles on their own.  This is great feedback.
  • “Just remember, if you tell us to not do something or do something, then you should follow your own directions,” wrote another student.  This one aligns nicely with my desire to be a role model.  This student was referring to, in particular, how I ask them not to use broad terms like “good” to describe something or answer a question.  I find that I sometimes slip up on this one and do use the G word to describe or explain something to the students.  I need to be more present and mindful when speaking with the students.  This is an area I will constantly need to work on.  However, when I do mess up in this realm, I am quick to correct my mistake and apologize for misspeaking.  Good suggestion.

Moving forward, these are two areas I will focus on in the classroom, as I want my students to see that I value their feedback and ideas.  We are one big, happy fifth grade community working together to grow and improve in every way possible.  I love it!

While I do so enjoy embracing the positive, I’ll close this entry with some delightful excerpts from the messages my students sent me on Thursday.

  • “You are extremely fun and awesome. We have the most fun class out of any of the other classes, I bet. I really appreciate the hamster and all the field trips.”
  • “I like your personality! Funny, but serious and how you love jokes! I think that this is the (ALMOST) perfect personality for teaching.”
  • “I like how you are always positive thinking and I like how you are always so funny.”
  • “I like how fun you are and all of your different kinds of suspenders.  I like how you don’t make us do homework on the weekend.”
  • “I think you are one of the best teachers in the world. I like your personality and the marble jar technique.”
  • “You are doing nothing wrong.  I like the maker space and how you let us vote.”
  • “I like the way you interact with us in your excited manner and very many other things.”

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