How to Change Your Students’ Lives

Isn’t this the big questions all teachers want to know? I know this is why I got into the profession – because we have such an amazing opportunity to shape the future leaders of our world. To help mould young children to become happy, kind, educated, passionate, and driven adults who can make a difference.

As a teacher, I know the feeling of despair when you have one or two (or five, or six) students in your class that you just can’t seem to reach. They’re the ones that keep you up at night, or have you in tears at the end of the day. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we can at least make a difference in the lives of 85% or 90% of the students in our class that year.

But, what if I told you that the GREAT teachers make a difference in 100% of the students lives in their class. I’m not talking about the standard “difference” teachers make by simply doing their jobs – I’m talking about substantial, life changing difference. What they do is not rocket science, and it’s not a secret…

Kim Bearden is one of those GREAT teachers.

If you don’t know who Kim is, I’ll give you a very brief overview – she is the cofounder of, and an ELA teacher at, the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is also one of the most self-reflective, self-aware, passionate, whole-hearted people that you will ever get to know. 

You can get to know Kim through periscope (or watch her past broadcasts on katch.me) and through her book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me

Kim bearden 0

It is through this book that I have found the “recipe” for changing students’ lives. I think we can mostly agree (I wish I could say all, but I know that there are some nay-sayers) that the Ron Clark Academy is making a difference, and there are many many teachers who dream of recreating that magic in their classrooms and schools around the world. Well, in Crash Course, Kim gives us a very intimate glimpse into what the Ron Clark Academy is all about, and how any teacher willing to put in the work, can recreate that magic.

I’m going to start by giving you a brief review of the book itself, then I’ll share some of the key takeaways that I had while reading. Last, I’ll outline the things that I’m going to do differently to help bring some RCA magic into my classroom and school.

About Crash Course:

The book is organized into 17 short chapters. With topics ranging from creativity and improvisation to faith and generosity. Each of these chapters includes vulnerable stories from Kim’s life. She is very transparent and honest in her writing, and never claims to have all the answers. These stories help the reader not only connect with Kim and her students, they are the backbone of the book – the life lessons her students taught her. They also helped me as a teacher, formulate a more detailed dream for my students. Every chapter ends with a bullet list of the chapter’s important points and homework. The homework lists 2-4 steps you can take to help with that area of your life and work as an educator. They are practical ways for you to reflect on the chapter’s lessons and synthesize what you learned and how you can apply it.

My Biggest Takeaways:

  • The recipe for recreating the magic at RCA: passion, creativity, rigor, and the importance of giving back to the community
  • The teachers at RCA are human… they’ve all been exactly where we are, they’ve made mistakes, they’ve struggled, and they still do
  • The students at RCA are just like my students and your students – Kim shares how new teachers at RCA always seem surprised to learn that the students’ transformation into what we all think of as “Ron Clark Academy students” begins with the teachers
  • The teachers have very very high expectations for their students (and themselves)- and accept nothing but their best efforts. They are also willing to do anything and everything it takes to make sure that every student reaches those expectations. The chapter on expectations was my favorite, and you can hear Kim talk about it here.
  • The school also fosters a culture of creativity, magic, play, and family. Kim writes about how schools today often destroy students’ sense of wonder… isn’t that heartbreaking?
  • We need to teach students in a way that prepares them for the world – they need to learn how to communicate not only their academic understandings, but their insights, their feelings, and their beliefs as people. They also need to learn how to handle the challenges that the real world will bring them – we need to teach students about race and culture and how it “will affect their reality”.
  • To reach all students, we need to take the time to get to know each and every single student. We need to find their gifts, nurture their creativity, and identify their fears. We need to ask them what they love, and then design lessons around those things. We need to sit at their desks and see life from their perspective. We need to start fresh every day – do whatever it takes to get every student excited about learning.
  • The smallest gestures can become the tiny seeds that will one day grow into amazing trees. What you say to students (through words or body language) matters. Taking time to get to know students and their families matters. Taking time to create special moments and memories with (and for) students matters.

Each and every one of these points (and many many more) are elaborated on in the book – with stories to help you understand how important they are and how they can change students’ lives. These points don’t even begin to do the book justice – if any of them resonate with you… do yourself (and your students/teachers) a favor and read the book.

My Personal Action Plan:

  • Develop deeper more meaningful relationships with my students by
    • taking the time to think about how each of them feels in my classroom, at school, at home
    • taking the time to ask them what they love
    • making it clear that I believe in them by holding them to high expectations
    • making each and every one of them feel like they are my favorite student
    • finding their unique gifts and talents
    • being intentional with my comments and compliments
    • finding out what their fears are, and helping them overcome those fears
    • letting students know that every day is a clean slate – when I “fuss” at them, once it’s done, it’s done
  • Create more magic in my classroom by
    • brainstorming ways to make lessons more magical (think classroom transformations, even on a smaller scale – simulations)
    • playing more
  • Teach my students how to support one another by
    • modeling how to encourage others
    • teaching them about other cultures
    • helping them help the community
  • Seek out relationships with people who fill my soul by
    • evaluating current relationships
    • spend more time with people who inspire me
  • Be more grateful by
    • keeping a gratitude journal & writing in it daily
    • letting others know I’m grateful for them
    • praying more

 

Now for some real talk…

I know that this is going to take a great deal of time and effort. Time out of my personal life… time that I will not be paid for. The effort required will be tough to give, because the results are going to take time. I know that if I dedicate myself to this – there will be times that I will want to give up.

I also know that there will be more tears, and many many sleepless nights. Because let’s face it, when you open your heart and make the effort to develop these deep and meaningful relationships with students – you are opening up yourself to hurt and failure. You’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Some of our students face very difficult lives, and I know that I will learn things that will break my heart, some of them will treat me badly. Also, I’m not always going to be enough. What I can do in my classroom (and out of it) will not always be enough.

But… this is why I became a teacher. I didn’t become a teacher to help students pass a test. I didn’t become a teacher to have fun with students from 8 – 3pm. I became a teacher to change lives – it’s my passion, it’s my calling, and I believe the difficult times and the failures I’m bound to experience are worth it. Because at least I can say I truly tried, I gave it my all.

If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes, what’s the point?

Advertisements

Five for Friday…January 8th

**Happy first week back to school!**

I hope your week was as awesome as mine was! I’m going to share some of the things that made this week awesome. I introduced a couple of flexible seating options to my students (working our way up to full immersion into flexible seating), I have my whole week planned for next week without doing any work at home, I participated in a really fun weekly blab, I found some fun ways to teach Responsibility to my students, and I’m finishing a really fun fiction book and am about to begin an awesome book that you have to check out!

If those sound like things you’d like to read more about… buckle your seat belt, because we’re going to run through them quickly (I know we all have things to do and places to be).

Five for Friday doodle bugs teaching

 

 

Five for friday 1

Not long into the start of the year I realized that I had a very active class of students – they find it difficult to stay in their seats, to keep still, and focus. Our P.E. teacher is amazing, and she helped me get floor pedals, and our Special Ed department helped me get a hold of some busy bands (they are like exercise bands that you put around a student’s chair or desk for them to bounce their feet on). I also used a couple of extra desks as “standing desks” – for students to work at standing up. They’re not any higher than regular desks though.

You may have read about my Donor’s Choose project last week – but this week I decided to add a couple of additional alternative seating options, while we wait for the project to be funded.

I brought in an extra yoga mat I have and a lap desk that I never use. I also taught my students about stacking their blocks and showed them the different ways they can improve their posture while sitting, standing, or laying on the floor. I told my students they could sit/lay anywhere on the floor during independent work, as long as their blocks are stacked. Another option is to sit/lay under their desks and to use an extra blanket I had to curtain off the underneath of their desk to help them focus. They can use the lap desk, the yoga mat, the pillows we have, clipboards, etc.

I hope to add additional options this week – I want to lower another extra desk I have, so that there is an option to sit on the floor and use a desk. I also want to see if there is any possible way to raise the two desks I allow students to stand at, to emulate standing desks.

My students definitely love laying under their desks. Here are the students taking a reading quiz yesterday. The student quote in the picture was said during Math, when we have students from other classed come into our room. I did not have to explain anything, my students told them why they’re allowed to lay on the floor, and they did a great job modeling the correct way to do so.

File_000.jpeg

 

five for friday 2

 

One of my goals for this year is to get into a zone with regard to productivity and focus – so last week I planned out every aspect of my time. My time at home, my time in the morning at school, and my planning time at work.

I was determined to plan an entire week of lessons during school time. I am proud to say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!! The only thing I have not planned (with resources saved and activities planned) is guided reading. But, my mornings are actually only dedicated to “prep” work for the day, so I could plan each day’s lesson in the morning.

I knew I could accomplish this, because last Sunday I set a 30 minute timer for each of the subjects I teach, and planned a week’s worth of lessons in that time – so when I assigned a subject to spend time planning this week – I made sure I allocated at least 30 minutes for that subject. I also assigned time for grading. I assigned this time using my google calendar – which syncs with my phone – so that it’s easy for me to stay on track.

Don’t get me wrong – I still have some work to do at home this weekend, but I’m determine to minimize it and only spend at the most 2 hours on the weekend doing school work.

five for friday 3

Last Saturday I participated in my second blab! If you’re not sure what blab is – you’ve got to check it out. Especially if you are on periscope and love it as much as I do. I love periscope, but I find that it’s difficult for me to come out of my shell when I’m “by myself” or the only one talking. I’m a shy extrovert, so it usually takes me a little while to feel comfortable being 100% myself around people. On blab you can be online with up to 3 other people – similar to Skype or a Google Hangout, except it’s like periscope in that other people can tune in and participate via the comments. Also – if only 3 seats are filled on a panel, the open seat is usually left open so viewers can call in and participate in the discussion too.

The blab I participated in is Craft & Chat with Jamie. It’s a weekly blab where teachers will get together and create something fun. Last week we created paintings of our word of the year. There is one finishing touch I need to add to mine, but I’ll add another picture when I do that.

File_000 (1)

five for friday 4

 

Like many schools, our school has adopted a character curriculum and we teach it during morning meeting every day. We take one character trait a month and do a variety of activities and lessons with the students to help them understand what it means to exhibit that character trait and why it’s important.

This month we are focusing on Responsibility and we did two really fun activities: What’s on Your Plate? and Fill the Jar.

First, for What’s on Your Plate? – students had to think about all the things they are responsible for, they also thought about the things that they like to do for fun. Then, we did the Fill the Jar activity so they could understand the importance of prioritizing. When we take care of our responsibilities first, we have time for the fun stuff. You can check out this activity here, it’s a freebie in my store!

five for friday 5

Last, I’d like to share the books I’m reading or getting ready to start reading. I am about to finish 11/22/63 by Steven King.

51gir4mu2b2l-_sx321_bo1204203200_It’s a really good book and if I wasn’t so busy trying to focus on work and blogging, etc – I believe I would have finished it in a couple of days. There is a Hulu 6 part series getting ready to start in February, which I am very excited about! Have you read this book or seen the trailer for the series? What are your thoughts?

 

I plan to start reading Crash Course by Kim Bearden (the co-founder of Ron Clark Academy) tomorrow. I’ve heard great things about the book, and I love Kim!

518ly3ayxtl-_sx327_bo1204203200_If you want to keep up to date on what I’m reading – you can always check the goodreads info on my side bar —->

 

How was your first week back? Have you got a planning schedule in place that works for you? I’d love to hear about it. Do you use flexible seating? What professional development book are you currently reading, or dying to read? I hope you had an amazing first week back, and that the second week is even better!!! 

If you’d like to join the 5 for Friday blog link up, you can click the Five for Friday image at the top of this post.

small signature