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Beating the Winter Blues

Watching students learn is fascinating. While I am a teacher and feel like I constantly facilitate and monitor learning, I didn't truly see and appreciate the process as much as I have this semester as I have focused on student learning during my classroom observations. While the month of February is always a difficult time to stay motivated, various classroom situations energized me this week and provided a much-needed reminder of the importance of the work we do. Here's the breakdown...
  • I found joy and energy in watching students find happiness when they figured things out in class. 
In every class I visited this week, students were critically thinking and creating. Every class. And I would also argue that a majority of students were fully engaged in their work. As I watched them work either individually, collaboratively, or with their teachers, it was really awesome to see how they worked through various activities and how they asked questions, persevered through challenges, and got excited when they figured something out. While I visited 5 very different classes, this was a consistent observation. Believe it or not, our students want to learn and be successful with various skills; seeing this in the moment is pretty powerful. 
  • I was impressed with how our teachers provide individualized instruction to various students during class. 
It is extremely difficult to differentiate instruction for a class of 30 students. It is something we all want to do, but time is not always in our favor. Giving students time to practice skills in the classroom provides opportunities to do this if a teacher takes advantage of this time. I loved watching teachers like Ms. Kolbaba and Mr. Lein walk around their classrooms and provide feedback to individual students as they worked. They gave each student their full attention and coached them through their questions/work. They were patient and understood that each student has a different need. Students felt at ease in their classrooms and were fully willing to ask questions and receive feedback. 
  • I appreciated our teachers' efforts to provide calming, motivating, and truly enjoyable classroom environments for their students to learn, create, reflect, question, collaborate, and so much more. 
Is there a place you like to go to get work done? Maybe it's a room in your house? The public library? Starbucks? Let's face it...we are more productive in places that make us feel comfortable and motivated. As teachers, we need to provide this type of learning environment for our students. Whether it's music, visuals, examples, or just overall teacher presence, we need to make sure our learning spaces are tailored to enhance the learning experience. For example, when you walk into Ms. Beck's French classroom, it is beautifully decorated to include various decor choices that connect to France: Pictures, maps, artwork, furniture....everything helps immerse her students in the French culture. The country's beauty, history, and importance are brought to life through classroom design and enhances the learning environment for her students. Oui, Oui! 
  • I was reminded that one of the best things we can do for our students is to give them a compliment. 
Have you ever noticed that people struggle to come up with positive traits about themselves? When asked, could you come up with a list of five of your best characteristics? I learned this week that many of our students need help in understanding what makes them special. In Ms. Kurtyak's Health class, students were ending their unit by reflecting on their best qualities. As students created a visual, they were asked to list off some of their best characteristics and personal accomplishments. Three of my students were in this class, and each one of them struggled to finish these lists. I was able to quickly and easily rattle off what I think is special about them based off my interactions with them in English class. While they might have been a bit embarrassed that I was talking with them, I could tell that each of them appreciated what I said. We all need reminders, at times, that we are special and appreciated. Our students are no exception. The smiles that I witnessed in class that day from these interactions were the highlight of my week. As George Elliston once said, "How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it." 

See...I told you I had a good week. Looking to beat those winter blues? Visit another classroom and watch students learn. It is pretty awesome.  #whatsup