My first evaluation (more like my first ten evaluations) as a new teacher was probably the most terrifying day of my life. I am blessed that although I'm a sweater (I sweat frequently #tmi), I don't normally sweat through - ew! But, on that day, I definitely did - as if I wasn't feeling self-conscious enough already.
Man, that's a word that will make your tuchus pucker any day of the week.
It's loaded with emotion, and teachers generally don't have the fondest of memories tied to that word.
Which is unfortunate, because it could very much be a valuable learning tool for teachers and administrators alike. If you have valuable experiences around your classroom observations and evaluations I am super happy for you. I have mostly good experiences, but nothing overly enlightening or inspiring.
Until a couple years ago when I was chatting with a colleague friend after my post-observation meeting. I told our lunch crew all about the lesson and my follow up conversation with our supervising principal and evaluator.
I'll never forget what she said because it is the basis of this entire post and what value I want to speak for teachers today.
She said... "Wow, isn't it nice that your entire conversation with him (the principal) was centered on the systems in your classroom and not on you?!"
Seriously - what if every single teacher's conversation in their post-observation meetings, and ultimately their evaluations could be about the systems they plan for, work tirelessly on, and implement like bosses in their classrooms???? That takes off SO much pressure.
The focus of the conversation is the... "Let's see how we can optimize this system, make it better, shift it a bit." Rather than, "Let's chat about how we can make YOU better as a teacher."
That's teacher-life changing right there.
And it's the focus of this week's post and addition to the Teacher Health series, so let's get to it.
There really are all kinds of advantages in building up the systems in your classroom, and I'm sure that's not news to you. So my hope is that this post gets you thinking on what systems you could be implementing, especially for you high school teachers who aren't really taught about nor rely on systems as much as elementary teachers do - seriously, elementary teachers you all are so talented at this. I envy you.
Other than shifting the conversations on what to "fix" in your evaluation conversations, another advantage of having systems in place that will show up on your evaluation is that your systems will be running like well-oiled machines by the time you are observed and your observer won't miss them because they are happening in your classroom everyday (or close to it).
You might be asking, but what systems are you talking about?
I'm not talking about the small, daily routines that you taught your students so that they know the procedures of your classroom and that make it all more efficient. Those procedures are so incredibly important, and I will spend a brief moment discussing them in this post, but more so I would like to focus on the HUGE although less visible, undercurrent systems we implement in our classrooms that have more impact than we'll ever know.
Let's talk BIG systems.
Before you get overwhelmed or think "I don't have time for big changes right now," I want you to take a peek back at part two of this series on Teacher Hustle - my biggest advice from that post is about saving the "big" stuff for later.
What I'm saying is that what I'm about to share with you can go in your "save for later" pile, but can totally give you some inspiration and get your creative juices flowing now. So give it a read, get inspired, and then I'm going to give you a little something that will allow you to be reminded about these "big" things that will totally make your teaching-life sustainable come April or May when you have the time to give it a second thought. Cool?
Ok, good good.
If you're not totally clear on what the flipped classroom is, I highly recommend you check out a post of mine where I give you a walk through of how to get started. To give you a quick gist of what it is... let me explain. You flip what students normally do in class (lecture/direct instruction) and what students normally do at home (practice/higher order thinking) so that the higher up students go on Bloom's (the harder stuff, right?!?) they are in your physical presence and that of their peers so they are getting support when they need it most. That's it.
Now, do you have to assign lectures to be done at home, especially if your students are younger or have limited access to internet or devices - no. No two flipped classrooms look the same.
But flipping your classroom is something that will totally flip the script (like that pun?) in your evaluations.
If you take intentional, dedicated steps to implement a thriving flipped classroom next school year, I can absolutely promise you that your evaluations will look night-and-day different compared to year's past.
Now, with that said, flipping is NOT just whipping up a video and saying "Hey kids, watch this for homework." No. As I said, intentional, dedicated steps need to be taken over the summer, preferably, so that you don't do all this work to just have mediocre results.
If this topic is one that interests you, I want to give you something to support you a bit more as you "save it for later." Go here and grab the Ultimate Flipped Classroom Starter Kit. I made it for teachers so they can quickly see what they're getting into and how they can make the technique of flipping work for them.
I remember a post-observation conversation I had with a former evaluator of mine. She said something along the lines of "I knew you flipped your classroom, but I never understood the impact until I saw your students in action today."
She was amazed at how they could be exposed to the content - each and every standard - multiple times before testing on it, and she saw that my students' test scores proved the effectiveness of the system I had worked hard to make work for my classroom. I am very proud of my flipped classroom and know that you can be too.
I also know that it can shift the conversations in your evaluation where your administrator will be asking you questions about how you did, what data points you have to show it's effectiveness, how you think it's changed your role as an educator and impacted your students... rather than focusing on how you can improve as a direct instructor or in your differentiation, etc.
Another topic I can provide some total clarity on is the mastery classroom. This is very similar to a standards based classroom, but doesn't have to carry the weight and effort of many standards based classrooms that I've seen.
A mastery classroom is simply one that a student can not progress to the next topic until they have mastered the previous standard. See? Similar to standards based, right?
But I call it mastery because the focus is more on allowing students the time to move at their pace.
The mastery classroom works BEAUTIFULLY when paired with the flipped classroom, but does not have to accompany it in order to be effective.
In my mastery classroom, I used a game board to give students a pseudo map of their journey in my classroom. This map gave them very specific "forks in the road" as to what they did if they showed mastery or were below mastery, and what they could do to remediate and get back on the mastery pathway.
This was ALL a system that I (first found online and then modified) worked on over the summer to have it ready to go and implement come August so that it could work like a well-oiled machine without much assistance from me. All I had to do was show the kids, let them know how it worked, reinforce them along the way, and we were off to the races.
Differentiation was a breeze with flipping, and the mastery system I implemented came in to back it all up, making sure no student fell through the cracks on the standards in my classroom.
Now, that sentence was rather big-headed of me, I apologize. Don't get me wrong, some students did fall through the cracks because, as you know, there is no silver bullet in education. No one (or two) systems can work for every student, and my classroom is no different. And, of course, I worked with those students and their hurdles which were mostly attendance issues, apathy, and other medical or home-life concerns that prevented school from being a top priority. But that happens in all classrooms.
So what about the non-huge systems that we can implement now? Yes- those are super important.
Think of something you do in your classroom every day or in every unit of study. Think of a major skill you want to teach your students that would allow your class to run more smoothly or would make their learning experience so much better. Then think of how you can make that into a system.
Let me give you an example.
I HATED giving back tests and then either seeing them in the garbage or having to collect them back because I didn't want to have to recreate tests every year.
Seriously, you should NOT have to recreate tests every year. If you implement this system, you totally won't have to. But I do NOT want YOU housing and keeping track of ALL your students test for the entire year. It's just not necessary.
Plus, tests are something that I want my students to be using to LEARN from, and if they don't have access to them then they can't learn from them.
So that's why I created my test folder system. I had a tall file folder cabinet with 4 drawers (one for each of my classes where I administered paper tests still because that's what the end of the year test was, so we stuck with that). Each class had one drawer. Each student had one file holder (you know, the sometimes colorful, often time hunter green sleeves that you just slip the manilla colored file folder in) with a tab with their name on it, in alphabetical order. Then they got a file folder they wrote their name on and put in their pocket.
In their test folder was their data tracker and performance reflection packet. They filled this out on every single "Remediation Day" we had in class. I scheduled at least one remediation day into my calendar for every unit test and exam we took in my class. Then, as we progressed through the units, students would put all quizzes and tests inside their folder, paper clipped by unit.
This way, when it came time to study for the big exams they had past tests to look through and study from. They also could easily see their progress (or lack thereof) when tracking their data - put the data in their hands whenever you can.
In this one system, about four different jobs were taken off of my hands, and put into the hands of students.
So what's the point of this post and how in the world does it relate to teacher health? Well, if you're focused on the systems in your classroom, you're being super effective with your time as well as being really effective with your students, and the added bonus is that the incredibly stressful observations you will inevitably go through don't have to be so stressful anymore. On all accounts, focusing on systems allows you to reach more sustainability in your career and step into the role as the number one influence on student learning without sacrificing your sanity (and evening and weekends) to do so.
To get more pointers and a chance to reflect on your health as a teacher, I want to give you this pdf work fun sheet. Click the image below to grab your very own Teacher Health Reflection Guide, and spend about 30 minutes in it considering ways you can optimize yourself as the number one influence on student learning inside your classroom.
When you submit your email I'll be able to send you over that printable PDF and you'll be off to the races in prioritizing yourself in the decisions of your classroom. But, remember, save the big stuff for later - ain't no teacher got time to do all the things right this moment.
Finally, join me live on Facebook this Wednesday to talk more about shifting your teacher evaluation conversations and optimizing your health at 8pm EST. I hope to see you there.
Stay tuned for our final installment of the Teacher Health series next week where we talk about building up your students to build up your classroom.
Until next time,