Goal Setting: A Recipe for Growing and Improving

While life for kids today is much more challenging and difficult than when we all grew up, beating a video game in these difficult times is as easy as making Oobleck.  You simply go online to some website such as Youtube and learn from others how to defeat the mega boss in the last level.  Or, you can find cheat codes to enter that will allow you to circumvent numerous levels so that you need only to pass the final stage to win the game.  That’s so easy, like taking full-size candy bars from innocent adults on Halloween.  Plus, on top of all the resources available to kids in the twenty-first century to learn how to easily win a video game, these games are made with oodles of helpful tools and hints such as navigational maps showing your location relative to the location of the evil villains or other bad guys in the game.  How is that at all fair?

I read a study recently that shows how playing old-school video games, such as Super Mario Brothers, that lack directional maps, actually helps to increase grey matter in important parts of the brain.  Kids have it so easy playing video games today.  Back in the day, it took days, weeks, or even months to beat the newest Legend of Zelda or Mario game, as we didn’t have easy access to cheat codes or helpful hints.  We had to rely on our problem solving skills, and the limited time that we had to play video games.  Growing up with only one television to which I could connect the game console, greatly reduced my game playing opportunities.  I couldn’t game in the evenings or when my parents wanted to watch TV.  So, when I did play my video games, I had to be very strategic about it.  I often set goals for myself.  “Today I will work on beating the next level in Marble Madness while tomorrow I will get to the next world in Super Mario Bros 2.”  Setting specific goals for myself helped me to advance through my video games at a much faster pace.  As a mature adult, I use the skill of goal setting in more meaningful and effective ways.  “I am going to spend my birthday money on buying an original Nintendo Gameboy system, and then ask for a Nintendo 64 system for Christmas.”  Now that I don’t have to worry about my television time being rationed, I can focus on bigger and better goals.

As a teacher, I use goal setting with my students and for myself.  I cannot expect to grow and improve as an educator if I don’t have goals toward which I am working.  So, each year, I set a few professional goals for myself to help keep me focused on moving up and to the right.  As I have just finished the first month of the new academic year, I feel as though it is time to set some goals for the 2019-2020 school year.  What am I going to focus on this year?  How will I grow and develop as a teacher during the current school year?  What should I strive for this year?

  • I want to help my students learn to see themselves as Math students.  I want the students to find the fun and excitement in Math.  I want them to get excited for Math class because they welcome the challenge.  Using more games in Math class while also altering the way I began the year in Math, I believe, will help to cultivate this change within my students.  In a recent entry, I went into much more detail on my early success with this new approach to Math.  I also saw signs of awesomeness in class on Friday when I taught my students how to play the phenomenal game Prime Climb created by the brains behind the Math For Love website and program.  They really got into the strategies behind the game.  I also had several students ask insightful questions about the way the board is designed.  “Why do some of the numbers have different colors around them?  Why do some numbers have tiny numbers written beneath them?”  Yes, I thought, they are thinking critically and asking questions.  Success.  They are seeing Math as a quest for knowledge and understanding in the world.  I love it!  One student in my class, who made it very clear to me in the first week of school that she hates Math and is not a Math student, asked me in front of the whole class while we played Prime Climb, “Where did you get this game?  I love it and totally want to get it.”  Wait, what?  A student who did not see herself as a Math student at the start of the school year is now finding enjoyment in playing a Math game?  What’s going on?  Again, another success.  Working toward my first new goal of the year is already beginning to pay huge dividends.  I feel like a kid again, defeating Bowser in the final level of Super Mario Bros to rescue the Princess.  So cool!  I’m hoping I will be able to maintain this progress and continue to foster a love of Math within my students. Prime Climb
  • I want to make the final project in our Social Studies unit on community more engaging, relevant, and fun for my students.  After completing this unit last year, the students provided me with much feedback on how they didn’t really like the final project on the unit, which had each student create an oral presentation on something they enjoyed learning about during the unit.  They found it to be a bit boring.  While they liked making the final presentation at our local Historical Society, they did not like all the boring research work that went into preparing for the presentations.  They would have preferred something more hands on and relevant, they shared with me last year.  So, I decided to incorporate their feedback into our unit on community this year.  Instead of having the students create a final presentation, I am having the class complete a community project.  I want to empower my students to see solutions to problems facing our community.  The students brainstormed a list of ways we, as a class, could give back to our community.  Some of their suggestions included collecting items for the local food pantry, helping serve food at the local senior center, and setting up a free Halloween party for the families in our community.  The students voted to take on the Halloween party.  Starting next week, we are going to dig into what that will look like and how we can make it happen.  This project will get the students designing, collaborating, and seeing first hand the benefits of kindness and compassion.  They were so excited last week when I introduced this project.  I can’t wait to see their engagement level increase as we plan it all out and then make it happen in a few short weeks.  My hope is that the students will remember the big ideas learned in this unit because of this new and more engaging final project.
  • I want to be sure I take the time to address the social-emotional issues that arise in class on a regular basis.  Caring over content, is going to be my big push this year.  I need to take the time to allow my students to learn how to self-regulate themselves while coming to terms with their emotional identity.  I want my students to feel and be safe and cared for.  I want them to become comfortable sharing their feelings with each other.  I don’t want my students leaving the fifth grade, afraid to be their true selves.  If social-emotional issues or problems arise in the classroom, I want to provide the students with time to learn how to address and solve them effectively.  Rather than burying their feelings deep with themselves, I want my students to understand the power of “I Feel” statements, emotional check-ins, mindfulness, square breathing, caring, and sharing.  While subject area content is important, and will not be forgotten throughout the year, the skill of managing their emotions and being kind and empathetic classmates is equally important.  If students are feeling sad, angry, mad, or anxious in anyway, their reptilian brain will take over and hijack the thinking parts of their brain.  I want my students to learn how to prevent themselves from being emotionally hijacked in and out of school, as it will have immense benefits.  Case and point occurred this past Friday in the classroom.  As the students were having fun playing the Math game Prime Climb, I realized that a student was in emotional distress.  When one student used an “I Feel” statement to share how he was feeling about what another student was doing, that student responded in a negative manner.  So, we paused the game and dug into this issue as a class.  I asked the student to share what was causing her to respond in such a negative manner.  She then shared how upset she felt about a negative interaction she had with a different student during recess on Thursday.  The student continued talking about their feelings.  As a class, we then discussed the importance of not keeping one’s feelings bottled up inside.  It was an incredibly beneficial and necessary activity and discussion that needed to happen.  That afternoon, the student who was feeling upset, was able to change her thinking and end the day on a very positive note.  Allowing time for her to share her feelings made the difference in that outcome.  I want to continue to provide my class with time to address the social-emotional issues that will inevitably come up in our fifth grade classroom.

While I have but three goals to focus on this year, I want to be sure that I have ample time and energy to focus on accomplishing them this year.  When I take on too much, I find it difficult to come to terms with being unsuccessful in meeting any of the goals I set for myself yearly.  These three aforementioned goals will give me plenty to work on this year, as I continue to grow and develop as an educator.  The Math goal by itself could keep me busy and focused all year long.  Just like the middle school video gamer me, I am going to spend all the time I have working on accomplishing my goals in the classroom this year.  Who knows, maybe I’ll collect enough coins to earn an extra life or find a portal to another dimension.  The possibilities are infinite when I work towards meeting goals I set for myself.

Taking Time for the Important Curriculum in the Classroom

I decided to study teaching in college because I felt like I could connect with students in meaningful ways.  I wanted to change the world for the better, one student at a time.  At the time, that seemed like an awesome task.  I was excited and a bit overwhelmed.  Then, when I actually started studying for my Elementary Education degree, in college I realized that my role as a teacher was more about keeping children safe while filling their brains with information.  I felt like I would need to be the well spring of knowledge from which the students would drink.  I was confused, I thought I would be able to change the world.  Instead, I took what my professors were preaching and viewed my role as educator in a very different way.  I was expected to deliver lessons and knowledge to my students.  I would need to be sure that I covered every standard on the long list of standards for each grade level.  Wow, that definitely seemed overwhelming and unappealing to me.  I didn’t want to be a walking encyclopedia of knowledge for my students.  I wanted to be a guide, someone they could trust to help them feel safe, cared for, and comfortable while engaging in the process of learning.  So, now what, I thought.  My hopes did not match my perception of the reality of being a teacher.  Despite all of the confusion and mixed messages I felt like I was hearing from my college professors, I earned my teaching certificate and began what has transformed into a long, wonderful, challenging, and rewarding career in education.

My first few years in teaching, I followed the model I learned about in college.  I looked at my role as teacher in terms of needing to impart wisdom and knowledge to my students.  I held the elixir of knowledge that needed to be poured into my students.  I focused on content.  Of course, I did ensure that my students were safe and felt cared for, but I spent most of my time preparing lessons that would convey much information and content to my students.  While I was told that this was how great teachers teach, it didn’t feel right to me.  So, after a few years in education, I paused to reflect on my teaching?  How was I doing as a teacher?  Was I changing the world?  Was I helping my students to grow and develop?  I did lots of research at that point in my career and realized that I was not an effective teacher, as I was not empowering my students to learn and want to change the world.  I wasn’t helping my students learn how to manage their emotions or communicate effectively with their peers.  I would hold them accountable when they were rude or disrespectful, but I failed to teach them how they should be communicating and acting.  I was missing the most important curriculum in the field of teaching, the Social-Emotional Learning.

I then went on an epic learning journey of my own, as I started learning what great teachers really do.  I observed examples of effective teaching, researched current pedagogical approaches, and relearned how to be the teacher that I had wanted to when I decided to pursue a life in education.  It was so much fun trying new things in the classroom.  I began giving up control too.  I started asking my students what they wanted to do.  I provided my students with time to share their thoughts and emotions.  I made use of mindfulness in the classroom.  I looked at critical thinking, problem solving, and social-emotional learning as the foundational standards I wanted, no needed, all of my students to master by the time they left my classroom.  I began to see that I needed to help my students learn how to manage their emotions, take responsibility for their actions, solve problems encountered, and see the learning process as fun and engaging.  I now realized that I needed to get my students excited about school.  I began making use of Problem-Based Learning projects and Place-Based Learning units.  I felt like I was growing into the teacher I had wanted to be back when I was 18.  It felt amazing.

While I still have a long way to go, I try to make each school year better than the last, as I continue learning and growing as an educator.  I continually ask myself, my colleagues, and my students, “What can I do to become a more effective teacher for my students?”

Fast forward to this current academic year.  I am fortunate to again be working with a talented and kind group of students.  They are thoughtful and excited about learning.  However, they are only fifth graders and so they have definitely brought their fixed mindsets about learning and school with them.  My goal this year is to help each of my students allow the seeds of learning, kindness, and self-awareness that they all have with them to blossom into something magnificent.  This means that I need to take time to teach my students how to take care of their emotional well being.  We take time during each school day to be mindful and think about how our thoughts, feeling, and actions affect us and others around us.  I also try to create situations that allow my students to practice applying these skills and strategies.  On Thursday, I had my students, work together to attempt to assemble a small puzzle using pieces from two different puzzles.  I purposely left out one piece from each puzzle.  While they managed to mostly accomplish the task, they struggled to communicate effectively with each other.  They were certainly not taking care of each other, like great communities do.  One student was in tears because her classmates were not listening to her.  She had great ideas for how to solve the problem that were being ignored because the students were focusing on the task instead of the process.  So, we took the time then and there to talk about what happened.

What went wrong?  What do we need to work on moving forward?  As we debriefed the activity in class, two students literally and figuratively put their arms around the tearful student.  This helped the student feel cared for and acknowledged.  While assembling a puzzle seems like a task my students should have learned in preschool, the skill of collaborating and communicating effectively are life skills that take much practice to master.  To me, it is more important that my students learn how to work together with their peers in effective ways, solve problems, think critically, become emotionally strong and resilient beings, and be kind and empathetic, than it is for them to learn a bunch of facts.  Yes, I teach my students how to navigate the process of learning, but if they don’t feel safe, cared for, and emotionally strong, then their brains will not allow any knowledge or facts to be stored within that slimy mess resting just beneath their skulls.  Following the puzzle activity, I noticed that my students really were more self-aware and empathetic.  They made sure to help their peers in need and recognize body language that was sending a negative or sad message to the class.  Then, yesterday, things just really came together and reminded me that taking time to help students learn how to navigate their emotions, kindness, and life in general is totally necessary.

So, this story really starts about a week and a half ago.  A student in my class is struggling with a congenital knee issue that has forced her to use crutches to get around since the start of the school year.  While I want her to be and feel like a part of everything we do in the classroom, some tasks or activities are simply too difficult for her to complete while on crutches.  Case and point, Forest Friday.  There is a steep hill to climb up and down in order to access the area of the forest that we use for our outdoor education program in the fifth grade.  She could not navigate this terrain on crutches.  After she missed the first week, I knew that I had to try a different approach to allow her to be included.  So, I told this student how I felt and then asked her for ideas.  A student standing nearby heard us discussing this issue and added, “You could use a sled to pull her up and down the hill.”  The injured student thought this sounded like a wonderful and dangerous idea.  So, like any great teacher, I said, “Let’s do this.”  And, it totally worked.  For the past two Fridays, she has been able to join us outside, and this has helped her feel included and cared for.  Talk about kindness and empathy.  I love it!  This is really only part I of my story.


Now for part II.  So, this injured student is going into the hospital for surgery on her knee this coming Monday.  She will be out of school for quite some time.  When she does return, she will most likely be in a wheelchair to help with the healing process.  So, on Thursday afternoon, during our Closing Circle, I shared that the next day, Friday, would be this student’s last day with us in the class for a while.  Sadness seemed to spread among my students as they all started looking at this student with puppy dog eyes.  Then, several students declared that we need to make her last day memorable and special.  So, I asked them how we might do that.  This lead into a fantastic discussion on being kind and caring.  The following day, Friday, which was yesterday in reality, the students came to school equipped with gifts and cards for this student.  They wanted her to know that they care about her and will miss her while she’s gone.  I had the students sign a group card from the class.  We shared special treats that this student likes and had a wonderful day together.  The students even created a special cheer for the end of our Closing Circle yesterday.  It all felt so magical and surreal.  Thinking back on how kind, thoughtful, and caring ALL of my students were yesterday, tears began to well up in my eyes.  I am so lucky to be working with such a special group of students in the fifth grade this year.


What this two-part story taught me is that the kind of people my students learn to grow into in my classroom is far more important than how much knowledge I can cram into their brains.  Don’t you worry though, I find sneaky ways to convey much information and knowledge to my students on a daily basis.  However, they can always find answers to questions using their smart devices, but they can’t learn how to be kind, empathetic, caring, and strong emotional humans from technology.  They need ample opportunity to practice it in a safe space, like the fifth grade classroom at BHS.

From Bad to Great: How my Difficult Math Past Has Helped Me Make Math Fun for my Students

“Okay children, take out your math books and turn to page 32.  Today we are going to learn about Long Division.  Who would like to complete problem one on the board for us?”  Direct instruction like this was commonplace in my Math classroom when I was a student in elementary school.  My teachers explained each new math concept by reviewing the material in the textbook.  Did they think we couldn’t read?  Why did they teach us from the book?  They would also have students complete problems on the board, in front of the whole class.  What fourth or fifth grader wants to be embarrassed in front of his or her peers when they incorrectly complete a math problem on the chalkboard?  Certainly not me.

While this style of teaching may have worked for some of my peers, it did not meet my needs as a learner.  I was not the “typical” student in a classroom.  I learned very differently than many of my classmates when I was in school.  I processed new information slowly and needed time to let that new “stuff” mentally simmer.  If I was to genuinely learn something in elementary school, I needed to interact with the material, play with it, and take it out for a test drive.  I didn’t fully learn by simply listening to someone speaking.  Because my learning style did not align with how my teachers taught Math, I struggled to authentically and completely learn numerous mathematics concepts.  Thus, I was always at a disadvantage in class when learning new material, since Math is very much a pyramid-style subject as topics and ideas build upon previously learned content.  How could I possibly learn new concepts in Math when I hadn’t mastered the foundational material needed to comprehend this new skill?  As a result, I earned low Math grades throughout my years in elementary school and gained a dislike for the entire subject.  I despised Math class, as if it were my sister’s Cabbage Patch doll.  I just didn’t get it.  Why are some numbers written with a horizontal line between them while others have a dot separating some numbers from others?  Why can’t all numbers be written the same way?  Why does division need to be so long?  If you mess up on one tiny step, it ruins the whole problem.  I remember telling my parents on many occasions back then, “I hate Math.”

As a Math teacher, I have made it my goal to ensure that students don’t feel lost or confused in my Math class.  I want my students to fully understand material before learning new concepts.  I want my students to see the fun and joy in Math.  Yes, Math can definitely be fun and exciting.  Just watch a group of students trying to beat their teacher at the game “1, 2, Nim.”  The joy is palpable.

After growing up disliking the subject, I went on a mathematical journey of discovery in adulthood.  Learning how to effectively teach Math allowed me the chance to see the subject in a whole new way.  Math is like a beautiful puzzle; when you carefully put the pieces together, they create a work of art that explains something.  Completing a complex algebraic equation is so satisfying for me, now that I have come to view Math with a more open and growth mindset.

While I was not fully satisfied with the way I taught  Math last year, I made sure to focus on changing my game plan for this year.  Instead of jumping right into the curriculum and textbook, my hope was to provide students a chance to see Math through the lens of fun games.  I also wanted to help challenge my students who see themselves as “not Math students.”  I wanted my students to be excited about their year in Math class, not dreading it like I once did.

I believe that, so far (don’t worry, I knocked wood), I have been successful in my quest of helping my fifth graders see Math as fun and enjoyable.  Here is how I’m going about doing that:

  • During the first four days of Math, I taught the students various Math games and puzzles.  I had them interacting with their peers to master “1, 2, Nim” in order to defeat me, the Nim Master.  I challenged them to find a number that didn’t fit for the Math Magic Trick, with which I presented them.  There were no assessments given, textbooks handed out, or worksheets completed.  We laughed together, played together, and saw Math as a series or fun games and experiments.
  • Step two involved helping the students to change the way they view themselves as Math students.  We watched a fun and short video on mindset and read an article on how every student can be a “Math Student.”  I had the students discuss what this means for them.
  • From there, we created a list of steps or things the students should do when learning a new concept or completing a difficult problem in Math class.
    • Step 1: Think, “I can do this.  I’ve got this.  While it may be hard, I will become the master of this concept or problem.”
    • Step 2: Persevere and don’t give up no matter how challenged you may feel.  Work through the mental pain with guidance from your teacher and classmates.
    • Step 3: Try, fail, try again, and keep trying.  Remember, it’s process over product.
  • Then, I had students brainstorm possible strategies they could use when attacking difficult problems in Math.  This then led in to the students creating their own Problem Solving Plan that they can use in Math class throughout the year.  I allowed them to personalize it anyway they wanted as long as it included the three steps discussed in class and at least three strategies they could use to tackle a challenging math problem.  The students used glitter, markers, and so much more to create their own Problem Solving Plan.  They really got into it.
  • The following day, I provided the students with a difficult and multi-step word problem, as a way of testing out their Problem Solving Plans.  Did your plan work?  Were the strategies helpful?  Is there anything you should add to your plan?  I had the students reflect, in writing on how useful and helpful their plan was to solving the problem.  A few students revised their plans based on their reflection.  I closed the lesson by telling the students that their Problem Solving Plan is a living document and may need to be added to or altered during the academic year, as they try it out and use it more.
  • Yesterday, I then introduced the online math program Prodigy to the students.  I explained that they will be using this throughout the year to practice math skills covered in class and to fill in any gaps in their math learning process.  While this is not the main vehicle for math instruction, it is a great support system.  It’s also very interactive and fun for the students.  It game-ifies Math instruction.  They began using it in class yesterday.  They created their characters and worked on the placement exam that is built into the program.  For 35 minutes, they were in the Math Zone.  It was awesome.  Each and every student was completely enthralled by and engaged in showing off their prior math learning.  The following are direct quotes from my students, shared with me during Math class.
    • “Mr. Holt, thanks for making Math fun this year.”
    • “Mr. Holt, I know we don’t have homework over the weekend, but can I work on Prodigy over the weekend?”
    • “This is so much fun.”
    • “Check out the cute little pet I earned in the game.”
    • “Mr. Holt, you are a Miracle Worker for making us like Math this year.”
  • This coming week, the students will be placed into the level of Beast Academy that meets them where they are, mathematically speaking, based on their results from the diagnostic test they completed via Prodigy.  Beast Academy is the Math program I use in the fifth grade.  It is rigorous, yet engaging for the students, as it uses fun monsters and a graphic novel approach to teaching new concepts.  Using this program allows me to individualize and differentiate my Math instruction for each student.  I employ mini-lessons and work with the students during Math class each day as they progress through the Beast Academy curriculum.
  • I will begin or close each Math class with a fun game or activity that reviews concepts covered and provides the students with opportunities to practice using their problem solving skills.

That’s how I do Math in the fifth grade.  After two super fun weeks in Math class, I can’t wait to see how much progress my students make as they continue to see the subject as fun and enjoyable.  I truly believe that each of my students will become a “Math Student” this year because of my approach.  I’ve found a way to transform my horrid Math past into engaging and exciting Math instruction.  It’s all about perspective and mindset.  Just like the “Little Engine That Could,” my students and I are going to work together to overcome challenges and obstacles in Math class this year.

My First Week of School: The 2019 Edition

I want to take you all on a little journey right now.  We’re going to step back in time to the Monday evening prior to my first official day of school on this past Tuesday.  Now, join me as we jump into my head almost a week ago…

OMG!  I’m so nervous.  I know I shouldn’t be because I’m a pro at this.  Heck, I’ve been teaching for 18 years.  I know what I’m doing, right?  Maybe I don’t.  What if I mess up?  What if our Morning Meeting game doesn’t go well?  Will my students even like the game?  What if I forget their names?  What about their computers?  What if they don’t work when we are setting up their Google Drive folders? So many things could go wrong.  Wait a minute.  I notice that I am feeling very stressed right now.  I am worried about tomorrow and the first day of school.  I don’t need to worry about tomorrow because I am completely prepared.  I have the agenda already etched upon the whiteboard in my classroom.  I know the names of each and every one of my students: Bodi, Izabelle, Isabella, Rose, Sophie, Dorothy, and Ella.  If something goes wrong tomorrow, I can generate a solution to the problem when it occurs.  I am really good at thinking on my feet.  I have nothing to worry about.  Instead of filling my brain with tiny stress monsters, I should be relaxing and enjoying my evening with my lovely wife.  So that is just what I will do.  I’ve got this…

Later that night/morning…  I don’t have this.  Why can’t I sleep?  I know what to do in class tomorrow.  Everything will work out just as it is supposed to.  Why can’t I fall back to sleep?  My brain is like a complicated puzzle box made my magical beings that hate sleep.

Now, you may carefully step out of my brain and back into reality.  Thanks so much for joining me on this journey.  My brain is quite a scary place, I know.  Despite all of the mental chaos that plagued me before the first day even began, I had a fantastic first day of school.  My first week of school was fabulous.  Sure, problems popped up as they often do, but I managed to solve them quite well.  I love my new class of fifth graders.  They are funny, silly, talkative, creative, intelligent, talented, tricky, and wonderful in many ways.  They made each day during this past week feel like a present from above.  While I definitely miss working closely with my fifth grade class from last year, this year’s group is full of surprises in just the right ways.

My reflections on this first week of school:

  • Despite having started a new school year many times, I do find it easy to forget that routines and class protocols take a while to establish.  I can’t expect a new class of students to read my mind and know just what to do and when to do it.  Wouldn’t that be great though if they did?  It would certainly make things easier, but nothing about teaching is easy, which is why I love being an educator.  Each new day brings with it new challenges and difficulties.  After the first two days of school, I felt a bit disappointed that things in the classroom weren’t going as well as I thought they should be going.  I thought that the students would have realized what the expectations were and started meeting and exceeding them right away.  Why weren’t they?  I realized that my mindset was fixed.  I was operating under the assumption that every new class is an exact replica of my previous class.  Like snowflakes, such is not the case.  Each class is filled with its own unique set of struggles, fun, and wonder.  Each new class of students requires me to think differently.  What worked for last year’s fifth grade may not work for this year’s group.  I need to think of teaching as if it’s an amazing adventure filled with traps, breathtaking landscapes, puzzles, and lots of treasure.  I can’t escape this new adventure unscarred without approaching things differently.  The mazes and puzzles I need to solve are very different from the puzzles and mazes I encountered during last year’s adventure.  I need to think like Indiana Jones and use my wits and magical hat in new ways to survive this fantastic trek.  As I changed my thinking and adjusted my expectations accordingly, I went into the final two days of this past school week energized and ready to make this the best school year yet for me and my students.  I didn’t allow my preconceived notions about how a new school year should begin interfere with the magic that was taking place in my classroom.  I realized that I needed to try some new things to help my students learn the fifth grade ways of Mr. Holt’s class.  By the end of school on Friday, I felt like a happy and successful adventurer who had found the riches and treasure he had been searching for.  I just needed to change my perspective a bit.
  • Providing students with feedback, daily, on their progress in my class helps them learn how to grow and develop as students.  Following each class day, I give each students written feedback via our Google Classroom page regarding their day in school.  I begin by highlighting the wonderful things that they did that day before providing them with suggestions on how to grow as students.  As I told my students on day one, failure is a very important part of the learning process, as nothing or no one is perfect.  We all have lots of room for improvement.  Each morning, I reminded them of this philosophy of effort and growth in hopes that they would employ the feedback with which I provided them to improve and grow as students.  And, wouldn’t you know it, each successive day saw my students improve and work towards making the changes I suggested the day before.  Feedback is critical to the success of my students.  It’s also critical to my success as their teacher as well.  I make sure to ask my students every day, “What can I do tomorrow to make your experience in the fifth grade better?”  If I expect my students to put forth effort to grow and develop, then I need to make sure that I am being an effective role model for them.  As a former colleague of mine would often say, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
  • While written feedback helps my students to grow and improve, I realize that it’s only one part of the feedback loop.  Each Friday, I meet with every student in my class for individual conversations regarding their progress in the fifth grade.  I want to make sure that my students have understood the written feedback provided to them all week.  I also want to make sure that I spread a message of positivity and joy.  I make sure to focus on the great and positive things the students have done that week.  I then help them think about goals for the coming week.  What do you need to do to grow and develop as a fifth grader?  I close each conference by asking the students for personal feedback on me.  I want to know how I can grow and improve as their teacher.  Friday’s student conferences were amazing.  I felt as though each student left their conversation feeling positive about themselves and knowing what they need to do to improve next week.  Each conference lasted about three to five minutes in length.  It’s not about the time, it’s about the substance.  These conferences could be done differently if teachers have more students.  I realized last year that having the opportunity to check in with my students in a formal manner, weekly, was crucial to the individual success of my students.
  • While I tend not to brag about my personal life and successes, I do love bragging about my students, as I know most teachers do.  I love my students.  They are talented and amazing in numerous ways.  Each day they teach me far more than I could ever hope to teach them.  This past week, I was tasked with having my class create some sort of closing for a special ceremony the school held on Thursday.  On Wednesday morning, I broached the challenge with the class.  I shared my thoughts on what we could do: Each student could share what they like or love about our school.  I then asked the students for their thoughts and ideas.  What do you think we should do?  I love empowering my students to take charge.  They had many brilliant ideas: Singing a song, creating a school cheer, performing a dance.  So cool!  I then had the class vote on the choice they felt would be best for us.  Almost unanimously, the class voted for singing a school song to close Thursday’s ceremony.  Hold on a second, I thought in the moment the vote had been taken, we don’t have a school song and we only have one day to prepare for our presentation.  That’s not nearly enough time, or so I thought.  As I shared this daunting thought with the class, they quickly shrugged it off as if I were being a typical adult who thought kids weren’t capable of the impossible.  Within 30 minutes, they had a song written and were already beginning to practice singing it aloud.  The next morning, we rehearsed the piece for about 45 minutes before the big event.  That was all the time we had, and frankly, all the time we needed.  The students nailed it!  They were amazing.  They sounded like angels serenading the people below.  Was their performance flawless, no, as nothing in life is; however, given the fact that they had one day in which to write a song and then practice it, they sounded pretty darn great to me.  I was blown away.  Check it out for yourselves by clicking HERE

With the first week of school in the books, I feel excited and ready for a new and awesome year of challenges, surprises, successes, failures, and fun in the fifth grade.  No matter what my brain tries to tell me, I simply need to remember to trust in my students.  They are the whip to my Indiana Jones’ hat.