Hey! Look at this. Two posts in the same week! I’m on a roll.
Actually, let’s discuss that for a minute. I AM on a roll. I’ve been posting more on TikTok, my brain is constantly churning with ideas, and I feel a bit more capably? adjusted? balanced? (I’m not sure what word to use here) than I have in months.
I’m sure it’s primarily due to the semester winding down, but I’ve also been focusing on my nutrition and trying to get enough sleep –two things that help me navigate life more confidently.
If there is one thing I know I’m good at, it’s finding patterns, even my own. When I’m in a rut and feel like I’m not progressing forward in some way, I get very introspective.
I stop connecting with friends and family.
I question my abilities and sanity.
I stop posting on social media.
I start to live under the premise of “who cares,” and it shuts me down.
On the other hand, when I feel like I can change things, make a difference, be creative and plan for the future. Well, I start to do all those things, and my mood shifts.
I return to my natural, more outgoing state.
I reach out to people.
Well, it’s the time of year when I’ve done all I could with my current students and classes. I did my best. Sometimes that looks like success, and other times, I fail. Unfortunately, this semester feels like one of those “other times.”
I have never felt more “out of control” (again, not sure what word to use here) of my classes than I do right now. Students are not showing up. I have lost the ability to connect with them. With our days numbered, I have barely anything left to give.
I’m not one to only blame the student here. Although I will admit this semester, it would be pretty easy to do so. From the get-go, most were shut-down, distracted, and indifferent. I attempted multiple times to engage with them on different levels, and each attempt just fell flat. At this point, I have withdrawn more than I ever have purely to protect my own mental health.
That said, the next semester is on the horizon, and that fact alone reenergizes me. My creative juices are flowing, and I’m in problem-attack mode.
- How can I change my approach to better engage the students?
- What can I do differently to hold their attention and help them succeed?
- How can I make the material more relatable and useful for them?
- What can I do better to kick off class and set a tone for the rest of the semester.
Let’s tackle that one last one first.
Student Driven Course Policies
Anyone who took a college course knows what a syllabus is. In a nutshell, it’s a contract between student and teacher that lays out the expectations of the class–grades, assignments, policies, etc.
Starting next semester, I will no longer be putting policies in my syllabi. Instead, they will all be TBD (To Be Determined). For example,
Late Assignment Policy
Cell Phone Policy
And so on.
The plan is to put the students in groups to brainstorm the policy specifics on the first day of the course. Each group will then share their thoughts on the policy with the class, and we will discuss and come to an agreement.
My thoughts on why bother are, well…
- Students are tired of being talked AT. I want them to have some autonomy and a sense of ownership in the class starting on the first day. This helps me show them from the beginning that they matter, and I’m not here only to teach but also to learn from them.
- Students will have a better understanding of why specific policies exist. This allows me to discuss things like, why accepting late work is hard when we need to review the assignment to progress or how the course material builds and keeping a schedule will help us cover our objectives better.
- Students have no excuses. Since they come up with the policies, I’m off the hook, so to speak, when they break a policy. I’m just policing their own rules!
- Students are participating on day 1. It’s basically a more formal ice-breaking activity that gets students engaged, participating, and most importantly, talking right out the gate. (Getting students to speak with me this semester was nearly impossible).
- Students get exposed to the technologies I’ll be teaching them all semester. We use Office 365, and part of my job is to teach them how to use technology for collaboration. So this activity will all be done in one Word doc that the student access online, and we’ll save it to the cloud. Using software for this activity allows me to break off and talk about topics like file management and folder organization to build their confidence with technology.
I’m not sure non-teachers understand academia today. It is not what I think most people think it is. (Did that make sense?) For example, even at the college level, I’m “given a course,” meaning the materials, flow, assessments, etc., are already designed, and I’m supposed to facilitate it.
Frankly, it’s bullshit.
Every class I’ve ever taught is unique. It’s made up of people who bring different experiences, knowledge, interests, and personalities to the table. I am the kind of educator that wants to work with my classes. Anyone who has ever taught knows you need to be flexible and accommodating to each student and the class as a whole.
The idea that I can just teach a course someone else designed is absurd. I’m disconnected from the materials, and it doesn’t allow me the flexibility to do what I know I’m good at, teach!
So, I went on out on a limb today.
I reached out to my Chair and confessed how much I’ve been struggling. I told her I needed the ability to tackle my classes my way. I understand the course’s objectives, and I will teach those objectives, but I can’t handle the cookie-cutter class structure anymore.
Well, she gave me her blessing! Next semester, I plan to overhaul all my materials, and I’m already pondering some new, fun, hands-on activities.
Two-Word Check-Ins and Other Student Centric Strategies
If you are familiar with Brené Brown, she has coined the concept of two-word check-ins.
We start every meeting with a two-word check-in. We take turns sharing two words that describe how we’re feeling that day. We all have the human need to see others and to be seen. The realness connects us.— Brené Brown (@BreneBrown) December 8, 2020
Today I'm feeling overwhelmed and focused. You? pic.twitter.com/ZMSthssLhx
I’m still deciding how to do this “technically,” but there is no doubt I’ll be starting every class with this check-in. My idea is to have the students save their two words in a document all semester to look back and reflect at the end of the course.
I’m also considering asking them to submit an anonymous survey at the beginning of the semester to ask any technical questions they’ve been too scared or embarrassed to ask. They will also have the opportunity to share something they’ve always wanted to know about computers, software, the web, or technology in general.
I don’t want them to look at my course as an obstacle they need to overcome (that’s the current vibe I’m getting) but rather an opportunity to learn things that will help them in the future. Let’s be honest here. Computers aren’t going anywhere. Information and technical literacy are invaluable skills to navigate today’s world. I want to help them do that!
So, yea, wow! This ended up way longer than I expected. If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading. I know not everyone can relate, but I needed to get all that out of my brain. I’m starting to feel more and more equipped to tackle some of the challenges I’ve been facing.
If you have any ideas or experiences to share about classes, teaching, or education in general, I’m all ears! Leave a comment below.