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Reflections on the Last Day of Classes

The classroom is empty and the seniors will soon be called to their breakfast.

A seemingly never-ending time in their lives is near the end and despite their best efforts to just be happy, they can't help but acknowledge it is bittersweet.

It's emotional for teachers too.

Sitting in the empty classroom with only the faint reminder of memories from this year, the walls blank and now the garbages full. It's time to start over.

This year was a true learning experience; risks were taken, some with miraculous payoff and some with the promise of learning and change. Student voices reverberate in ways that force me to consider the constraints of the system I work in, but propel me farther with acknowledgment of need.

So here are some takeaways before the doors close and the lights go out on the 2014-15 school year:

  • Students really don't need grades; they may want them out of a feeling of comfort. It is all they know. If we want to change this, we need to start with the youngest kids and move up rather than go the way I did, from the top down. That being said, at the end is better than not at all. I feel confident that students are more aware of themselves as learners, sometimes in spite of themselves.
  • Homework isn't necessary on a nightly basis for all kids, so why give it, just to give it? Offer practice to those who need it. Time to those who require it and acceleration to those who want it.
  • Choice is essential in everything. It's better to say yes when a student offers an alternative that they are excited about rather than say no just because it wasn't what we prescribed. Motivation comes from a student's investment in his or her learning and choice facilitates investment.
  • Collaboration is something that needs practice by children and adults. We all need to work together more in collegial ways to ensure positive learning environments for everyone.
  • Vigorous learning has little to do with how much you give, but more to do with the level of appropriate challenge matched for every child.
  • Goals should be made by the students and then class and feedback should be differentiated to them. Reflections help ensure that we meet every child's needs.
  • Reflection deepens learning in meaningful ways. They can be done in a number of ways and should be standards based. This helps learning stay transparent for everyone.
  • E-portfolios and self-assessment serve to inform the teachers about real student learning. They can't be cheated and they aren't superficial. Dramatic growth is evident to everyone who takes the time to review a body of work over the course of a year.
  • It's important to make time to hear student voice and adjust class accordingly. After having all of the self-assessment meetings and reading student reflections, I fully plan to change and adjust many aspects of my classes next year.
  • One should not be comfortable for long when learning and teachers need to model that behavior. Continued growth takes discomfort and problemsolving. It means making mistakes, admitting them, learning from them and changing the behavior to generate a new outcome.
  • The new outcome may not always be the right outcome. Sometimes we will need to try several solutions until we find the one that works best.
  • A noisy space, is a vibrant space full of excited learning. Music happens in the conversations. So teachers, stop talking and listen... really listen. Let the students' questions be the inquiry that drives the learning in your spaces.
  • It's all about the kids. Our time as students in high school has passed, so we need to move away from what we did and focus on what's best for our kids now. I'll bet the way we did it, isn't the best way. Just a hunch.
  • Technology can be a tremendous asset and tool in a classroom when it supports amazing learning. It can't be relied upon alone to make learning great. Sound pedagogy always comes first.
  • Empowered students will step up (even the ones you think are questionable). So let them.

This year offered many amazing opportunities for learning for the students and myself. There are many videos and blog posts to review and new plans to be made. How exciting that as one wonderful experience ends, the next adventure begins.

What is one thing you learned from this year that will directly impact your choices for next year? Please share.

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