We are our harshest critics, I’ve always told my students. We look to hold ourselves to incredibly high standards, which can be both a blessing and a burden. When we hold the bar of excellence too high for ourselves, it’s very easy for negative emotions and feelings to take hold within us. Then, we begin to doubt ourselves. To avoid this cycle of shame, we need to hold ourselves to high, but reasonable, standards. We need to push ourselves to be the best version of ourselves as possible, without overextending.
One easy way to do this is by setting clear and specific goals for ourselves. Goal setting gives us something to strive for, a path on which we can venture towards something else, something bigger than us. At the start of each new academic year, I create professional goals for myself, standards by which I can measure my growth as an educator. I then spend all year working towards those goals, trying to become the best possible teacher for my students. While I don’t always meet every goal I set for myself, I work tirelessly towards them, persevering through challenges and striving for change and personal growth. I use these failed goals as markers on my journey. Failure is part of the learning process. The goals I am unable to meet signify something, a roadblock perhaps. Sometimes, goals I don’t meet represent something I didn’t realize that I did not care about or think is important as a teacher in the moment when I set the goal. Reflection allows for time and space to pass so that I can truly, effectively assess what is important to me.
This year, I set three, specific goals for myself, three bars by which I can assess how I fared as a teacher this year. Did I grow in the areas that I had hoped to? Did I do the hard work to foster change within myself? Was this a successful year for me?
While this has been one of the strangest academic years for all teachers and students, I do believe that it was a successful one for me. My students all made so much progress this year. They all improved greatly in multiple areas. They are skilled thinkers, readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and people. I pushed them to become their best selves. I held the standards high, offered support and assistance when needed, and fostered a love of learning within my students. School is about more than just checking off a list of things learned: It’s about learning to see the world through different perspectives; it’s about learning how to be compassionate; it’s about learning how to persevere; it’s about gaining respect; it’s about finding the fun in learning; it’s about seeing ourselves in new and special ways. And I feel as though I did that for my students this year.
Goal 1: I want to help my students learn to see themselves as Math students.
- I find that Math is the one subject that many students view in a negative light. They see it as being too difficult, confusing, and unnecessary for success in life. Students often feel that you either are a Math student or not a Math student, there can be no middle ground. So, I spent this year trying to help my students see that ALL people can be and are Math students. I worked to undue some of the negative connotations and thoughts previous schools and teachers worked to ingrain within my students. I helped them see Math as being fun and a crucial life skill. We played Math games, learned about the Stock Market, and pushed ourselves to build a solid Math foundation on which future skills can be built. I worked with one student, in particular this year, who told me at the start of the school year that she hated Math and was not a Math student. In October, when I shared her first Math grade with her and talked about the effort and progress she had made in a few short weeks, she started to cry. She said, “This is the highest grade I’ve ever had in Math class. My old teachers told me that I was stupid and couldn’t do Math,” she said. I almost burst into tears myself. So, I made it my priority to help her see that she is capable of so much more than she thinks. I helped her to see that she is a critical thinking Math student. I helped her to see that Math can be fun. I helped her to understand how Math can be useful for her. This past week, I received a wonderful card from her that I will forever treasure. In her sarcastic and witty way, she let know that I made a difference in her life. “You helped me hate Math around 5% less & also that I am a Math student & I’m not stupid,” she wrote. Reading her card, made me tear up, but also helped me to see that I did help my students learn to see themselves as math students this year.
Goal 2: I want to make the final project in our Social Studies unit on community more engaging, relevant, and fun for my students.
- As our first Social Studies unit was all about community, it made sense that the final project should also be about community. Rather than have the students complete some sort of research project or presentation on what they learned about the community in which our school is located, I wanted my students to see themselves as part of that community. I wanted them to see the power in being compassionate community members. So, I did just that. This blog entry details what that final project shaped up to be. My students devoted much time and energy into creating a meaningful moment for people in the greater Hopkinton, NH community. They saw the good in what they were doing and it made them feel happy. They loved it, and it helped to teach them how to be kind, caring, and civically minded community members.
Goal 3: I want to be sure I take the time to address the social-emotional issues that arise in class on a regular basis.
- While I have always known about the importance of social-emotional learning in the classroom, this year helped me to truly reap the benefits of it, first hand. The chemistry of my class was very unique, in that almost every student was very strong-willed, independent, and opinionated. This caused much friction at times within the class. The students frequently frustrated one another because of their very similar personalities. We spent much time discussing compassion and compromise. A few of the students were greatly challenged with working together and locked horns on several occasions. I worked the class through many mini-lessons on how to compromise and work with teammates. We role-played different scenarios and talked about possible solutions. This helped the students learn to more effectively communicate with one another by the close of the year.
- Because this class had an excess of energy and emotion, we spent lots of time talking about self-regulation. What can you do when you become frustrated or upset? How can you learn to be the boss of your emotions? These lessons helped the students better cope in challenging times.
- I also carved out time each day during our Morning and Closing Meetings for the students to share their thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and desires with the whole class. They talked about their feelings, while their classmates learned to be thoughtful listeners. These sharing moments helped to foster a sense of openness and trust within our class family.
- Every day also featured a mindfulness activity of some sort to help the students recalibrate and become more self-aware. The silent meditations were incredibly therapeutic for both the students and me. By the time we transitioned to Distance Learning this year, we had reached the 10-minute mark in our daily meditations. The students were focused and working on themselves for 10 whole minutes. It was amazing! The students all felt the benefits of this self-care time.
- So, did I meet this goal? I’d say that I did, as I grabbed at every opportunity to help my students learn to be more compassionate, mindful, kind, and caring young people.
Sitting in my warm apartment, it does indeed feel as if summer is right around the corner. It’s very hot outside and the humidity keeps rising a bit each day. I’m not a fan of that constant feeling of being moist and wet all summer. Yucky! Despite the fact that the summer solstice is only a few short weeks away, it doesn’t feel like the end of another school year. It feels like we’ve just begun. Remote Learning changed how we experience school and time. When we started Distance Learning about 11 weeks ago, it marked the start of something new, as if a new school year had begun. As teachers, we had to create new rules for online learning and set-up new expectations, like we did back in September. Everything felt so surreal. I lost track of the days, and weeks seemed to fly by in an instant. So, while this next week marks the last week of school for this academic year, it just feels a bit strange and different than in years past. I’m still very sad to see my students move into the sixth grade, but also so proud of the great progress they all made in the fifth grade this year. They are ready for that next step and I am so excited to watch them continue to grow and strive for excellence. I am also totally ready for summer vacation, as I’ve found that this new way of doing school is far more challenging and labor-intensive than doing school on site. I need a break, a time to recharge. But, for now, I’ve got four more awesome days left with my students, and I am going to make the most of every moment. I want them leaving our final closing activity on Thursday with tears in their eyes, wonderful memories in their hearts, and excitement in their souls. Fifth Grade Rocks!