Sunday, September 20, 2015

Owning My Teacher Failures

 I was talking with some teacher friends about what we share on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and our blogs. We wondered why people seem to only share the good ideas, events, or lessons. Online, most appear to be phenomenal teachers, always saying just the right thing to inspire that frustrated student. Finding just the right book to turn that reluctant reader into a hungry reader. Finding the perfect way to meet with all of their groups and conferring with each student. Choosing the perfect texts that lead to enriched literature circles, where all voices are heard and respected. Developing a writing conference system that encourages peer editing, gives timely feedback, and helps all writers flourish. Making every class period an experience, while having time to write a reflective blog post during their lunch hour.

      I'll be the first to admit that I only post the highlights of my days, the lessons that worked, the pictures of happy children reading their books or displaying their play-doh creations with smiling faces. I tweet out fantastic ideas and inspiring comments about my educational philosophy. But the truth is, there were an equal number of times when things didn't go so well.

Spoiler alert: I didn't rush to social media to share them.

Here's how I have failed these past two weeks. Brace ain't pretty.

  1. On the first day of school, we were supposed to have a picnic lunch with our advisory class on the soccer field. I brought out a Would You Rather book and planned to pose questions, leading to an engaging debate while we ate. In reality, I asked about 10 of these situations to the students right around me. However, many other students didn't quite get the message that we should sit together and ate elsewhere. We ended up going inside early, where I tried to give a school tour of a building I was still trying to find my way around.
  2. On our second day of ELA, I organized a book pass with newer books from our classroom library. However, I didn't think to have them take pictures of book covers with their iPads until later sections, had too many books in each bin (and wasn't careful to include a variety of genres in each one) and didn't leave enough time for them to share out before class was over.
  3. I knew Dot Day would look different this year, since I would only have each section for 50 minutes. I thought I wouldn't have time (in 45 min) to do dot art, so tried a shared/unique circle discussion activity that didn't quite meet the "make your mark" philosophy. I felt that I tried to do too much with this one activity and tried too hard to make a connection to the book The Dot that I'd read aloud the day before. I should have just had them make unique dot art or contribute to a group dot and called it a day.
  4. I introduced Biblionasium and Kidblogs on the same day, planning to get both icons on their home screen, and even thought I could have them write their first blog post. I forgot how long it takes for large large groups to accomplish this, especially with new iPads. I realized then, as I have many times since then, how much hand holding the students are used to from elementary. We barely got the initial login done. Then, the next day, I thought we could blog AND run through Article of the Week. Who was I kidding? Logging in and writing a first post (and publishing it) took most of our time. Oh well, my teammate Melissa said the benefit is that I am now planned for Monday.
  5. Finally, I engaged my advisory students in a Harmful/Harmless activity to inspire conversations about presenting a fake identity online (one of our digital citizenship lessons). However, there was too much movement that distracted attention away from the lesson they were to learn. After a few scenarios, I noticed the students gathering in clumps to chat before we could discuss why they made the choice they did. I should have had them stand/sit, face the side or given thumbs up and thumbs down to indicate how they felt. It would have allowed more time to share their reasoning. In addition, I missed a valuable opportunity to practice speaking.

However, I did do a few things right during the same time.

  • I read some incredible picture books, and started displaying them in the hall like Jilian Heise. Yes, I read aloud to my middle schoolers every day...picture books!
  • I gave my students read to self time for at least 10 minutes every day, which is one of my non-negotiables.
  • I taught specific lessons on speaking skills, and consistently identified, reinforced, corrected, and praised them as much as I could.
  • I book talked countless books to my students as they searched for just the right book for them, leading to many excited students who continue to read them.
  • I started an online community where my students can share their book love through weekly blogging on Kidblogs and their bookshelves on Biblionasium.
  • I learned all but a few names of the 140 students in my classes. Pretty good for just 8 days, with less than 50 minutes each. In addition, I built rapport with many and can comment on something specific about their hobbies or interests.

I'd say that's pretty good for the first week and a half.

My failures haven't made it onto social media, until now. Maybe if we all admitted when things didn't work out as planned, our tweets would better mirror our reality. We shouldn't be airbrushing our failures or photo-shopping out the "not so great lessons." It's those humbling experiences that inspire us to reflect and become even better teachers. Like my good friend Laura Wagenman shared with me recently, "When brain researchers watched people make mistakes and hooked them up to EKGs, they found their synapses were firing stronger, creating more learning. Thus, mistakes make greater connections in the brain and you get smarter."

If that's the case, I must be one of the smartest teachers around.

Who knows, I might be even smarter at the end of next week, too.

Will you?


  1. Wow, you're right! We use social media to celebrate and inspire, but we are missing a key element of our teaching profession--making mistakes and learning from them. In our classes we encourage our students to take risks and learn from their mistakes, but we don't often make that process visible in our own lives. This is will begin to do, thank you for your insights and openness--I am inspired!

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