As I prepare for the year ahead I’m planning a few themes that I want for my teaching with this next group of wonderful new kids I’m about to have. Here’s the Big 3 so far:
1) The “Growth Mindset” Theme
2) The “Good Boss Opportunity” Theme
3) The “This Classroom is a Sanctuary” Theme
The first one is pretty straightforward if you are familiar with the work of Carol Dweck (and friends). My colleagues and I at Coast 2 Coast are picking “Mindset” apart this summer so I imagine there will be multiple posts to come on Theme 1 and its implementation.
Theme 2 is another motivational piece. Unlike the Mindset stuff, I came up with this on my own and some people might not agree with this one. Its been a long standing belief of mine that its important for me to have swagger in my classroom. Long before “swag” became the “Super-Slang 2011 Word of the Year” I defined swagger as justified confidence and did some writing about how teachers should try to convey it in their classrooms. To me, this confidence was one of the main differences between First Year Mr. Goza and Sixth Year Mr. Goza (now starting my 10th year can I say my swag is on 10? #duh). Over the years I have gotten the impression that my students are kinda suckers for confidence, probably because their teenage insecurities make it hard for them to really have very much of it. So I started making a point to tell my students, with as much bravado as possible, that I was a great math teacher, that I really knew math, and that really knew how to explain math to young people. As the years past and I started accomplishing bigger things (like National Board Certification) I’d brag to my students about it. If you walked into my classroom one day I might be embarrassed to be so braggadocious (it’s not really my personality), but in front of my class it’s an important part of my teacher persona. At the beginning I really want to make the impression that I’m serious about this, and I’m good at what I’m doing and the students need to bring their A-game to “get on my level.” It’s basically a brainwashing in a way. I puff out my chest, demand respect, and next thing you know my kids think I’m the best math teacher they’ve ever had by Week 3. It makes the rest of the year a lot easier, and once that first impression is made I can slowly reveal the real me – a goof-ball who loves teaching math and having a good time with young people for a living.
In line with all that Swag is the “Good Boss Theme.” I want to tell my students that in life, some opportunities are more important that others, and some are just flat out better. Everyone I know can tell me about a terrible boss they had that didn’t help their career in any way. Sometimes that terrible boss was the reason they got laid off or left their job. This will inevitably happen to most people, but sometimes, we get lucky and work under someone who cares to help us grow in your profession, who treats us with fairness and respect, who works with us and not against us, and will help us transition to a better job or a more favorable career pathway. When you have that boss, you have to treat them better, work harder, and be the best version of yourself because if you do, you can grow immensely and make significant strides in your career. I want to tell my students that I am the math teacher version of that “Good Boss.” I can help make up for some of the lesser learning experiences they may have had in the past and build them up so that future math classes are easier for them. I want to be an ally for them on campus when they get in trouble or another teacher is at odds with them. I want to be the one who writes them a letter of recommendation for Student Government or AP Calculus or UCLA. And so my class isn’t just another class its an opportunity. An opportunity that not every class provides (I probably wont explicitly say that!). And now they need to seize that opportunity and put their best foot forward this year because this is their chance to really grow. I think that will fire them up. Combine it with some Goza Swag and a lot of Growth Mindset building and we’ll be off to the moon!
Lastly, Theme 3 is about the classroom. On the first day in my room the floors are all waxed, the desks are in order, and everything is clean. By the end of the year the place is a run-down mess. It’s not because my kids treat it poorly, its because no one really cleans it very often and we don’t make special effort to keep it looking good. This year I want to change that. I want my students to take pride in the fact that they are helping me have one of the better looking rooms on campus. They can even help decorate. If that means we have to have someone sweep every day, so be it. My goal is to end the year with a clean and organized classroom that looks better that it did when we started. I think focusing on this will go long way to help kids feel like my room is a safe place where we take ourselves seriously and are responsible for all aspects of the teaching and learning process. Obviously I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, but I want to make it a priority from day one. In fact, I’m considering making it the first thing I talk to my classes about when they come in on the first day.