Monday, July 28, 2008

50 Cheap Mini-Lessons for Teachers: #1-10

As summer school came to an end last week, I got the sudden inspiration to share the collected wisdom of my teaching career thus far. These are the things I tell colleagues when they ask for advice, the things I would want to impart to new teachers just starting out. These mini-lessons have to do with you, your students, your curriculum and your classroom.

They're not arranged in any particular order. I specifically set out to just let the ideas flow from the central question, "What is the most important advice I can give to other teachers?"

So starting today and ending Friday, I'll be sharing ten mini-lessons per day. I hope that they help you in your reflection and preparation for this coming school year. I'll be happy to explain or expound upon anything I mention that you find interesting. All you have to do is ask. Without any further ado, the first ten:
  1. Recognize your best students regularly (i.e. name a student of the week or month). There doesn't need to be any tangible prize associated with this honor, but students who have stood out or improved significantly need to be recognized. I had a bulletin board where I recognized a Student of the Week for each class period. The important thing was commending improvements in both academics and behavior; students could get the honor even if they had been in trouble the week before.
  2. For every "negative" phone call home, make a positive one. This may seem daunting, especially if you need to make a lot of discipline-related calls, but it's worth every extra minute of work. You'll feel better by maintaining a more balanced perspective of your classroom culture. Your students will also appreciate your positive spin--even the students getting in trouble will understand the type of culture you're trying to build.
  3. Don't lose your temper. I almost lost my job in this way, and more importantly, I almost lost the respect of my students. It never solves any problems, it only exacerbates them. Keep your cool and deal with everything as an objective, benevolent leader.
  4. Get more (and better) sleep. Research says that for most of us, lack of sleep or disrupted sleep leads to all sorts of health problems, but the immediate problem is that it messes with your brain function and your behavior. Your effectiveness in the classroom depends on your being awake, alert, calm and focused. The same is true for your students, which is why you might want to teach them about it.
  5. Reduce your stress (by any means necessary)! Following #2 and #4 will help, but this needs to be a goal in and of itself. Being stressed affects your health, and in turn your effectiveness with your students. I recommend taking a mental health day once and a while, but there are plenty of other options for stress relief.
  6. Teach your students how to study. This goes for just about any grade level--these skills don't get taught explicitly as often as you might imagine. So you need to show them how to study on their own by making flash cards, encouraging them to form study groups, and pointing them to resources they can use on their own. In addition, you need to model it in your classroom, by building studying (creating study guides, playing review games) into your lesson plans.
  7. Ask your students questions about their lives outside of your classroom. This is one of the keys to building a positive classroom culture. The simple act of noticing and asking, not merely faining interest but really trying to connect with them, goes a long way. It could be their open, unbridled enthusiasm about some topic that you ask about, or maybe you just wonder out loud if they're having a bad day. Some students will talk your ear off, others will bristle at your seeming intrusion. Don't push, but make it clear that you care, you're interested, and are willing to listen.
  8. Keep up with pop-culture and "teen" culture. Even if your students are in elementary school, they're still interested in the same things as their older counterparts. Part of making your content and presentation more relevant, meaningful and memorable to your students is making connections to all of the various forms of media they're most interested in. Build it into everything you do.
  9. Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. They'll never forget it, and if you do it right, they'll never forget the point of the lesson either.
  10. Ask for feedback often, both from your students and from colleagues. You can only get better if you constantly reflect on every aspect of your classroom. Take as many opportunities as necessary to ask what's working, what's not working, and for suggestions how to make it better. Keep doing it until you're reaching all the ambitious goals you've set for your classroom.
You can read the other 40 lessons here: 11-20, 21-30, 31-40 and 41-50.