When asked to give “one piece of advice that all first year teachers really, really need” I always say the same thing, “TAKE CHANCES!” That is one piece of advice I wish someone had given me. Your in the beginning stages of your teaching profession…so you gotta figure out what strategies, concepts, and ideas work best for you. There is no better way to find out than to jump in and do it. Don’t get me wrong…do some research to see if it meets the needs of your classroom and that it doesn’t involve gunpowder or throwing knives.
As teachers, we need to be open to trying new things in our classroom (our own ideas…and the ideas of others). We need to be willing to be “Crash Test Teachers.”
Let’s face it, the educational arena is full of educators who chose to play it safe and thus have lessons that don’t encourage lifelong learning. When I say “playing it safe” I’m not referring to the safety of the student (we should all play it safe in that area), I’m talking about the attempts we chose not to make that might have helped us design an awesomely impacting learning environment.
As teachers, we must embrace the idea that trying new things is OK. When it comes to launching new ideas or products in our learning environment, we generally have 2 separate worries. First, the idea we’ve created will not work and I’ll look like an idiot. Or second, the idea that someone else created will not work and I’ll look like an idiot. One word…PRIDE. Get over yourself and attempt something new. The following 4 steps will help us become Crash Test Teachers as opposed to The Same Ol’- Same Ol’ Teachers.
STEP 1: Don’t Be Afraid Of Your Own Ideas
We’ve all had what we thought could be an awesome idea for a classroom project, concept, or curriculum change. BUT, we never implemented it because we were afraid of failing. Come on…if we don’t try it, how will we ever know if “it” will work. You know your students. You know your content. You know your classroom. Try implementing something you’ve created/designed.
I’ve attempted many of my own ideas in my classroom. Virtual journals, new curriculum, seating arrangements, desk arrangements, assessments, PBL projects, disciplinary consequences, even stealthy ways to suggest hygiene practices to middle school boys. Some have worked awesomely. Some have worked So-So. And some have totally bombed. But the value of the successes have outshined, and continue to outshine, the disappointment of the “stinkers”.
I am currently attempting to create Virtual Stations, which are accessed through my teacher website, for my classes which meet in the computer lab. The thought is that it will give them more computer based interaction, and give me access to setting up my stations from home (all the best ideas seem to materialize on the weekends). Also…it will save trees. If it works, I’ll be happy to share it with you at a later date. This brings me to step #2.
STEP 2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Ideas Of Others
We shouldn’t be afraid to implement something that someone else created/designed. We need to unhook ourselves from the “I have to create ALL of my own content” train. With all of the things teachers are expected to do in the classroom, it’s often a wonder that we have in time to create new content at all. The good news is that there are other teachers that have “been there, and tried that,” If we learn of some cool content or project that another teacher has done AND it’s been successful in their classroom, why not try it?
Some of the best strategies I’ve attempted in my classroom came from workshops where other educators, who had a ton more experience than I did, introduced the audience to new ideas. Some of those ideas I liked, so I tried them in my class. After implementation, some of those strategies worked and some didn’t. Some strategies worked after I tweaked them just a bit. Giving you own spin to someone else’s ideas is OK. After all, nobody knows your students better than you. Take that knowledge, add it to an idea you’ve gotten from someone else, and let it fly.
Personal Development Days are another great place to experience the ideas that others have tried and had success with. Just this past week, our school had a PD day on President’s Day. During the day, I came across the “Save The Last Word” strategy for small group discussions. For those of you who don’t know it, basically you have one student introduce a thought or idea to a small group, and then let the other members of the group share their ideas on the ideas or concept. The whole time the others are sharing, the student who initiated the conversation doesn’t talk…they just listen. The idea is that the student will gain a better understanding of the concept/idea after hearing the various viewpoints of others. I will definitely be planning this exercise in the next few days. It wasn’t my idea…but I’m taking it and running with it.
Teaching is not about re-inventing the wheel…it’s about teaching students skills and concepts that will have a positive impact on their life going forward. We should welcome new ideas from other educators who have attempted and succeeded in implementing classroom resources that are beneficial to students. In fact, we should be happy that others have come before us and they have been considerate enough to share their ideas and concepts. Sure, some ideas and concepts are awesome…and some are…well…stinkers. But how will we know if we don’t try. That brings us to step #3.
STEP 3: Don’t Be Afraid To Let Your Students Have Input
Students are smart. They know what learning should look like, and they know what works and what doesn’t work in your classroom. So bring them in on the new classroom strategy launch. Students are willing to play along, especially if whatever you’re implementing is different form “the way it’s always been done.”
Students are resilient, they are almost always willing to try something new, and I haven’t met a student yet who doesn’t want to give me their two cents about any new classroom strategy I try and initiate. If you ask my students today, they would tell you that, “Mr. Fairchild always calls us Guinee pigs.” It’s true. I let them know we are attempting something that might be outside the norm, and to give me feedback. There have been many ideas launched in my classroom that had immediate negative feedback from the students. Those ideas are quickly taken out of the teaching routine, and addressed/assessed after school or during my conference period. Which brings us to the final step of being a successful “Crash Test Teacher.”
STEP 4: Don’t Be Afraid To Fail
Another thing my students will gladly tell you is that, “Failure is AWESOME!” I believe that when we fail, we are able to evaluate our mistakes, make adjustments, and then be successful going forward. For Crash Test Teachers, that sometimes means making adjustments to concepts we’ve implemented, OR it means coming to a realization that whatever we are trying to implement just isn’t going to work.
When we first notice that something is going wrong with whatever classroom strategy we are implementing, we should first attempt to fix it (if time allows). Again, we know our students and our learning environment. Is there something small that we can change that will make the concept/idea have a more positive impact on the overall learning experience? If so, change it. If not, we need to be willing to walk away.
No matter how much time and money we (or our district) has put into a strategy, concept, or routine, if we’ve tried to make it work but just can’t, we need to scrap it and move on. It is important that we don’t spend too much time here. There are state standards we need to meet and there are state assessment tests we need to prepare for.
Remember, when we fail, we learn. We either learn how to adjust and fix the problem, or we learn what not to do next time. FYI…this is valuable information we can pass on to other teachers as well. If we see them struggling in similar situations, we can tell them what worked and what didn’t.
To be successful Crash Test Teachers, we need to be:
- Willing to attempt our own ideas
- Willing to attempt the ideas of others
- Willing to allow student feedback
- Willing and ready to fail
When an idea for curriculum, PBL project, new classroom tech, field trip, fund raiser, and/or even seating arrangement for those students who are “collaboratively challenged” presents itself, we need to at least try and see if it will work. If it doesn’t work…fix it…or at least try to fix it. If we don’t at least attempt to try something new, then we’ll never know if that idea or concept could have been beneficial to our students learning or not. I’d hate to think that just because I didn’t at least try something new, my students might have missed out on a great learning opportunity.