Although I wouldn’t wish living through a pandemic on my worst enemy and I’m sure we’d all love to get back to normal, there are major lessons I believe we all can learn from this experience within the world of education. I could list quite a few and make separate episodes on each of them - hey, note to self, maybe I will - but one of those lessons is that our time with students, meaning a teacher’s time with his or her students IN THEIR PRESENCE is not only imperative, in many cases it’s an issue of equity.
The fluctuating schedules, whether they are all virtual or some variation of hybrid, we teachers feel the urgency of wanting to see our students more - wanting more time to master those standards, right?!?
And you may even be drowning right now in the schedule you’re living, unable to keep up with all things. Whether you are fully remote, some form of hybrid, or even back to face-to-face 5 days a week “normal” some day, I want you to try out this one thing in making it all a bit more manageable not only for you, but for your students… and that is to declare the student learning process. Let me explain.
The majority of the work you do in your classroom is to create a sound and effective process for your students to master the standards. If that’s all we had to do as teachers our jobs would be WAY simpler, am I right? But that’s beside the point.
Our workload, as exhausting as it is, is oftentimes exacerbated by those who create it… US!
As much as we would like for the learning process of our students in our courses to be nothing short of amazing, creative, student-driven, engaging, and innovative, with all our other responsibilities, it’s just not sustainable to maintain that level of ingenuity every single day.
Reach for more sustainability in your own workflow by streamlining and declaring that of your students.
To make the learning process more sustainable, you’ve got to declare it to your students. We’ve all learned that explaining to our students what they will learn during one class period is important (remember, your “I can” statements or making sure your student-friendly objectives are clearly visible and even discussed in class), but helping them see the process of how they will learn those standards is equally important.
And the virtual or blended classroom makes declaring how students will learn the standards in your classroom even more important. It is going to help you reach more sustainability no matter what your schedule looks like, but you’ll see immediate impact if you’re in a hybrid or virtual schedule right now.
What does it look like to declare the learning process to your students? It means letting your students in on the planning process a bit, or at least letting them see it.
You could do that one unit at a time, where you explain to students what all they need to know for the unit and how they’ll obtain the knowledge… but that’s kind of a lot, even for your oldest, highest performing students.
My recommendation would be to show students in a given set of standards, what I call “Topics”, which includes the material that would be on one smaller formative assessment or quiz, what exactly they’ll be doing to learn those standards.
In my AP Psychology class, it looked something like this…
Day One - Students came into class with their flipped video notes completed, and they used those notes for in-class assignments that were normally done in stations. Any station work they didn’t finish was then homework. Sometimes we would take two days here depending on how much and how long it took them to accomplish the tasks.
Day Two - Students came in and reviewed for their topic quiz. We then reviewed as a class, gave the quiz and remediated together. After the quiz, students had a differentiated task based on their score of the quiz that was short and to the point. Their homework that night was then to watch the video notes for the next topic.
Rinse and repeat for each topic through the end of the unit. I’m not kidding, outside of review, test, and remediation days, this is exactly what we did EVERY SINGLE DAY of our class. And my on-level American history course was similar.
Which leads me to the next big takeaway of this episode...
Who ever said that monotony was such a bad thing?
Maybe I shouldn’t describe this pointer in just one word, but in a world where everything seems to be fluid and changing for our students, monotony… better put, consistency… may be just what many of our students need to thrive right now.
When they know what to expect in your classroom, they will know exactly when they are and are not meeting those expectations. And when those expectations are THE SAME time and time again, we are even further setting them up for success.
Does this mean you have to do the same exact thing every single day or topic? Well, no.
But if you have the same structure and as consistent of a process as possible, that’s right where you want to be.
The monotony, I mean consistency, that I show teachers in Flipped Classroom Formula when I’m working with them to flip their classrooms over the summer consists of the schedule I talked about previously…
Step One - take flipped notes.
Step Two - use those notes in class for a deeper dive into concepts with in-class activities.
Step Three - take a quiz showing mastery of the topic.
Step Four - remediate that quiz score.
Any variation that I built in would be in the in-class activities. That could be a lab, a project, a reading assignment and a writing workshop. Anything that allows your students to master the skills and standards of your course.
By declaring the process and making it as consistent as possible, you’re not only allowing your students to thrive inside of your crystal clear expectations, but you’re also allowing yourself to do simply what it takes for your students to master the standards…. And nothing more.
Let’s face it - we get ahead of ourselves and want to do all the things. Especially this year though, we simply can’t be that “yes-man or -woman”.
So, at least for this year, let’s lay out the process as clearly and consistently as possible, and see how our students do inside that learning process before we decide to add anything else to it.
I’d like to now talk for a moment about your students’ learning process inside of your classroom. Particularly on what it doesn’t have to be.
The learning process, as we’ve established, is knowing what your students need in order to master the standards of your course.
You know what students don’t absolutely need in order to master those standards? Room transformations, escape rooms, new amazing interactive notebooks, flexible seating, amazingly complex project assignments, color coded, coordinating and never repeated bulletin board themes, always rotating seating charts or classroom jobs, guest speakers, field trips, and a teacher who dresses in costumes and does back hamstrings at the front of the room.
Any one of those things can be really great and have equally great impact on your students learning experience in your classroom. And if doing any of those things really lights you up, then go for it, as long as you’re ready and don’t get overwhelmed in the process.
But please know, with all the confidence you can muster, that your students NEED only you and the learning process that you lay out for them. And if declaring a learning process for them that is borderline monotonous allows you to do things like respond and provide timely feedback on student work, or conference with individual students or small groups, or communicate more routinely with parents, then it’s a solid choice. If doing so makes you, their teacher, more available and present to them throughout that learning process, then that is a teacher-win.
Until next time teacher friend, go conquer the world.
P.S. If the message in this post resonates with you and you'd like more directed guidance in building a sustainable classroom, then the Sustainable Teacher 7-Day Challenge is for you. It's a totally free challenge that we'll send you with 7 daily tasks that help you take baby steps toward sustainability