By Andrew Hawk
For most schools in the United States, winter break marks the halfway point of the school year. This is a good time for teachers to step back and examine the success of their classrooms.
My school system requires that teachers write and monitor two yearly specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals. For my colleagues, and for you fellow teachers with similar requirements, winter break is the perfect time to assess the progress you have made toward these goals. Even if teachers are not required to write and monitor goals, we all should have a goal in mind relating to the growth made by our students. This is also a great time to analyze the effectiveness of classroom procedures. If procedures need to be overhauled, the New Year is a good time to start.
Taking Stock of First Semester Goals
- Use Data. Stakeholders, teachers included, sometimes get frustrated when people bring up data. Whether you believe students are assessed too much or the correct amount, it’s important to recognize that data is more than a buzzword. Data from both standardized assessments and classroom grades are how many people measure the progress of students. At this midpoint of the school year, pull together the data you have (whether it is a lot or a little) and compare it to your data from the beginning of the year. Have your students made a half year of growth? What areas were they strongest in? Why? How can you help them reach their full academic potential? If you are not on track to make your goal, start working on a plan to help yourself meet it.
- Anecdotal Notes. During my student teaching, one of my professors emphasized the use of anecdotal notes to help assess student learning. My classmates and I were taught to collect anecdotal information on all our students. Naturally, we did not do this for every student every day. Anecdotal notes are a series of written observations. These do not have to pertain specifically to academic performance, but they are based on behavior in general. Collecting anecdotal notes encourages teachers to pay attention to each student. If you already collect these notes, review them to see if any trends pop out at you. If you do not write anecdotal notes, I recommend starting, even if you only write one blurb for one student each day.
- Parent Input. When you are assessing progress toward meeting your goal or goals, consider reaching out to one or more parents to glean their opinions. After all, if you meet all your goals but your students’ parents are unhappy with their children’s growth, have you really succeeded? Make a few phone calls and get a feel for how the parents of your students feel about the first half of the school year.
- Student Survey. Student input is more valuable than most people recognize. No matter what subject or age group you teach, you should make school enjoyable for your students. Put together an age-appropriate survey to gauge how your class, or classes, feels about the success they have experienced. The depth of your students’ responses might surprise you.
- Self-Reflection. If you completed a traditional teacher preparation program, you most likely are familiar with reflecting on the success of lessons you teach and your performance. There is a reason why college professors insist that teaching candidates reflect on a regular basis. Your own knowledge of what has taken place offers information that cannot be captured in a data point. If you do nothing else, make a list of five things you did really well and five things that you could have completed in a better way during the first half of the school year. Save your reflections to review again after the last day of school.
Reevaluating Classroom Procedures
- Academic Success. Once again we are back to data. Procedures have a direct impact on the academic success of students. While some procedures are in place in the majority of classes in our country, for example, students raising their hands to talk, others may be specific to a group of students. Once I had a group of students who constantly would play with my electric pencil sharpener. I had never had an official procedure in place for using the pencil sharpener because I had never needed one. But for a portion of that year, I put a procedure in place regulating the use of the classroom pencil sharpener. Review the academic success of your students. If they have not made the growth you would expect, consider if there are any procedures that you can add to maintain a productive learning environment.
- Student Behavior. Are you experiencing more student behavior issues than usual? Is student behavior interfering with classroom learning? You might want to take a look at your procedures. Even if you arrive at the conclusion that your procedures are effective, you might find that some procedures need to be retaught or reinforced. Developing a new behavior plan is also worth considering if you are having behavior issues. Classes have their own personalities, and procedures need to be adjusted to meet the needs of each group.
- State of Your Classroom. Are your students hard on learning resources? Are there often messes at the end of the day? When reevaluating your classroom procedures, consider the state of your classroom when you leave each evening. I once had a second-grade class that had no serious issues except that they were very rough with my reading books. I am disappointed to say I never found a procedure that solved this problem. However, that didn’t stop me from trying!
- Lesson Timing. Reflect back on the first half of the year. Did you finish the majority of your lessons on time? If not, you may want to consider some new procedures to save time. Consider your daily happenings when you run out of time, and determine if you are planning too much material or if an adjustment in your procedures would be beneficial.
- Student Independence. It is also worth considering whether you have more procedures than are necessary. Procedures are meant to keep your room running smoothly, but they should not prevent students from gaining independence. If you think you have a group that can handle more independence, consider deregulating some of your procedures.
Bonus! Download a free printable SMART goals worksheet.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 16 years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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