By Andrew Hawk
Another great school year has come and gone. I know it is a cliché to say that each year goes by a little faster than the one before, but it really does feel that way sometimes. Even as you settle into vacations, summer school, or relaxing days at home, I recommend reflecting on the previous school year. During this reflection, ask yourself: What did I do well that I will keep doing? What can I improve for next year? Since no two school years are exactly alike, these answers may vary from year to year. No matter how great a year you had, you should be able to find some room for improvement. After reflecting on my last school year, here are four things I think I will keep doing and four things I hope to improve.
What I’ll Keep Doing
- Varied Assessments. This year more than ever before, I included a variety of assessments rather than only using paper-and-pencil tests. This year, my students completed assessments that included projects, demonstrations, and oral assessments graded with a checklist. While I have always used a variety of assessments, this is the first year that alternative assessments were used the same number of times as paper tests were. What I observed is that students stayed more engaged in all the assessments. When the time came to take a traditional test, if it had been a while, students were less likely to disengage.
- Brain Break Station. After attending a training session at the beginning of the school year on whole-brain learning, I set up a Brain Break Station. This was simply a drawer in my room where I placed a variety of fidget toys. During transitions, I let students have one or two minutes to play with something out of the drawer. It is my belief that this helped students stay alert and fresh throughout the day.
- Book Studies. In the past, I have relied heavily on my school’s textbooks to teach reading. I would then complete two to four book studies on chapter books during the year as well. This year, I completed eight book studies on chapter books, two per grading quarter. I do not think there is anything wrong with using a textbook. However, chapter books offer students a more authentic reading experience. After all, isn’t our goal to get students to read books? Also, the possibility of earning Accelerated Reading (AR) points at the end of the book adds motivation for students who are trying to reach AR goals.
- Writing Conferences. This year, I decreased the number of days a week I taught skills in writing and replaced this time with more one-on-one conference time with students. During the conference times, I discussed writing with students. Sometimes we proofread pieces of their writing, and other times we discussed how students could improve their writing. What I learned was that I could incorporate teaching skills into the conference times and have the best of both worlds.
What I Can Improve
- Collaboration with Colleagues. In the past, I have met with the other members of my teaching team to plan units and complete curriculum mapping. Somehow this year went by with very little collaboration. The lesson I learned is that even a veteran teacher needs to remain vigilant about making an effort to work with other staff members. I believe collaboration elevates teacher performance and should be a goal for all teachers.
- Parent Communication. The last two years, I have had groups of students with very few behavioral challenges. That is great, but it eliminates one reason for parent communication. I have always been sure to make my first communication with parents about something positive about their child. What I need to work on is doing a better job of checking in with parents throughout the school year. I am thinking of creating an email list and trying to send home at least quarterly emails to parents.
- Integration. When I was earning my bachelor’s degree, one professor stated that cross-subject integration is the best way to ensure that students reach mastery. As the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teaching methods become more prevalent, integration is easier today than it has ever been. Last year, I only completed one STEM project. I will make it my goal to complete at least one STEM project per grading quarter next year. Naturally, there are other ways to integrate subjects, but STEM is my favorite way!
- Homework. I don’t know where you fit in on the homework spectrum. I have never assigned much homework. The epiphany I had recently is that my fifth graders go on to sixth grade at the middle school and are not used to doing much homework. This must make the jump to completing middle school homework a bigger challenge for these students. Next year, I plan to gradually increase homework as the school year progresses, so my students are better prepared for what comes next.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for eighteen years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. Next year will be Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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