Image Map

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Summer Reflection: Challenges and New Ideas

I like to take time at the end of each school year to reflect. It's easy for me to get so caught up in the excitement of new ideas I have for next year that I don't spend enough time really processing the year that has just passed! This year I thought I would share my reflections here, not only so others can possibly learn from my mistakes and successes, but also to hopefully inspire others to do some reflection of their own! I shared my highlights in a previous post, but today I'm focusing on challenges I encountered this year- mistakes I have learned from, and new ideas I hope to implement next year.

I shared the questions I ask myself at the end of each school year in this post several years ago, and I'm using those same ones here (see my answers to the first 3 questions in my last post here):

1. What did I do differently this year that didn't work?

I tried quite a few new things this year, and I already talked about the many ways they were overall successful. But there were specific aspects of many of the new things I tried that did not work and I hope to work on for next year!

The warmups I added to the beginning of my lessons were a huge success, but some of the activities I originally had in mind didn't work well and I ended up dropping them from my list of warmups early in the year: choosing a prompt for a listening activity, and choosing a question or topic for a circle discussion. The problem with choosing a prompt was that it just wasn't that interesting for the warmup leaders to choose which element they wanted the class to listen for- it didn't require any actual leadership from them so they weren't invested. With the circle discussions, my students are just too young to be leading circles, so it was too awkward to try to lead it while making it seem like the students also had leadership.

For the listening prompts, I found that just having the leaders choose a mystery song from a playlist by picking a number was more fun for them and gave me a chance to ask questions afterwards that tied back to our objectives. For the circles I'm still thinking about what to do. I will absolutely continue to incorporate circles regularly into my classes, but I found it difficult to incorporate circles, warmups, and my closing routine without taking up the majority of the class time! I'd really like to find a way to use circles in our warmups without taking away the student leadership element since that's a classroom job I want to keep, but I'm not sure yet how to effectively and meaningfully give students leadership in circles.

I was happy with the many successes I had with my first hip-hop unit this year, but there were also quite a few challenges that I am going to be spending significant time working on for next year. Co-teaching with the local hip-hop artist was in itself a challenge, because it is a delicate balance between deferring to his expertise in the genre and asserting my own expertise in teaching in a classroom setting. I think that part, though, was mostly worked out as we went along by continuing to keep an open line of communication between the two of us. The main area where I feel the unit fell short this year was in giving enough time for students to dive into the history and broader world of hip-hop itself. Because I wanted students to experience the musical skills of creating and performing within the genre, there wasn't enough time to really sit with the genre, which is so important. Next year I'm planning to rework how I teach the unit to shorten the composition process and add in time at the beginning and end of the unit to dive into the broader world of hip-hop.

2. What were the biggest stressors this year?

My biggest stressors this year were related to areas outside my own teaching that had indirect effects on my classroom. I am finding that as I dig more into district policies and why things are the way they are, the more I feel the need to speak up for improvements I feel need to be made, and with that comes an inevitable increase in conflict. I don't see it as a bad thing, necessarily, and in fact most of the time I am grateful to be in a position to voice my opinion, but it is of course very stressful for a conflict-avoidant person like me to challenge anyone, particularly people who are above me, and to watch people make decisions that I feel are not in students' best interest despite my best efforts to the contrary. Don't get me wrong, I am overall in a very supportive and wonderful district with lots of great people, but as with any organization there is always room for improvement.

3. What can I do to minimize those stressors next year?

There are two things I found most effective this year that I'd like to continue to work on next year (because I certainly don't plan to stop trying to make changes when I see a need!): keeping like-minded colleagues close, and reflecting on my circles of control. I became much more intentional about leaning into the work relationships with people that would help me focus on solutions and kept me positive with their encouragement and support, and that made a huge difference in keeping me grounded and reminding me that the world was not coming to an end when it seemed like nobody cared about my concerns. I also learned this year the importance of letting things go that are out of my control. The idea of circles of concern, influence, and control (see a good graphic and explanation here) was really helpful for me, and it's something I want to continue to reflect on. I also came across this quote and hung it up in my classroom right next to my computer desk so I would have that reminder whenever I was reading or writing an email or working on something:

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the best you've got anyway. You see,  in the final analysis it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway."

4. What new ideas do I want to try next year?

My main focus for next year is going to be revamping my hip-hop unit now that I have tried it and have a better sense of what works and what doesn't. I have some significant changes I want to make to how the unit is set up and how I teach it, so that will be plenty of new material to keep me busy!

I did this last summer as well, but I will be going through all of my lessons again this summer to look for songs that I need to replace (as I continue to learn new information about the dark history behind the songs touted as "standards" in US American elementary music) and ways to make my teaching more anti-oppressive. If you want to read more about my social justice journey, start with this post from last fall.

Has this prompted your own thinking? My ultimate goal with sharing my own reflections is to encourage other teachers to reflect as well. If you want the added accountability of sharing your thoughts, I encourage you to leave a comment below. And don't forget to celebrate all of your successes as you reflect on improvements you want to make- if you missed last week's post on this year's highlights you can check it out here.

No comments :

Post a Comment