Snow Days, Ticking Clocks and Teaching What Counts - Room 213

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Snow Days, Ticking Clocks and Teaching What Counts

Welcome to my blog hop about what really matters in teaching.  Read on  and be sure to check out the other great ideas below!

This year has been one for the record books.  As a Canadian teacher, I am no stranger to snow days and snow banks, but both piled up like never before this year.  It all started at the beginning of second semester and ended (I HOPE!) the week after March Break.  The snow was not continuous, of course, but enough of that beautiful white stuff came down to result in fourteen days of missed classes due to one lane highways plugged with snow that had nowhere to go. Luckily we aren't required to make them up; we just have to find creative ways to get everything covered.

After March Break, when we were off for three days for road clearing (what?), I started to stress about how I was going to get it all done: however could I do all that I needed to do with my students before exams in June?

And then I shook my head.

I have never been one who is driven by content or the number of pages read.  The primary skill I focus on is not close reading or writing or research. We do all of those things, yes, but I try to do it in a way that focuses on the learning process, not the final product.  I won't always be there with my students to guide them as they learn (and I don't think they want me to be either!).  So, I decided to stop stressing, and did some reflecting about what is most important.  Here's what I decided to focus on for the rest of the year, regardless of how many texts I get to cover:

1. Working with my students' natural curiosity and desire to learn. We all have it, that innate drive to know and understand. With every unit I teach, I find ways to show them how what we are studying is relevant and useful to their lives. I think this is important, not only to get them to engage in the material, but also to show them that learning is fun.  If they believe that, if they see that following their curiosity is a worthwhile activity, they will keep learning long after they leave my room.  If kids don't see a reason why to engage in the texts and assignments we give them, they usually don't. I have found if I skip that step and rush forward into the material, I don't get the buy-in that is so necessary for the next item on my list.  Dropping the fun introductory activity you have for a new novel, for example, might seem like a great way to save time, but I'd argue that that lesson is probably the most important one.

2. Learning how to learn is such a key component of our students'  educational journey, and so I firmly believe that I should take the time to work on the process, rather than just focusing on that end product.  I was reminded of this when I came back after March Break.  My advanced grade ten class was starting a new novel and I had great plans for engaging and lively Socratic Seminars (you can see them in a previous post).  However, the first one fell flat.  Really flat. I was really disappointed.  But, after discussing the failure with them, I discovered that they weren't ready yet.  We had missed so many days in the semester that I hadn't done the scaffolding necessary to get them where I wanted them.  I had dropped important lessons in an attempt to get "caught up", but in my rush to do so, I forgot why those lessons are so important.  So, we're stepping back and spending the necessary time to teach them how to approach reading a novel independently.  It might mean I have to drop a text at the end of the semester, but that's ok.  And, by admitting my failure and showing the students what I learned, they were able to see that it's ok to fail, as long as you do something about dealing with the failure.

3. Modelling my own learning-- I used to spend hours making sure I knew the ins and outs of everything before I started teaching it.  If I was doing a poem with students, for example, I would pick that baby apart until I felt like I knew everything I needed to know--but that only portrayed me as an "expert" to my students, not a learner.  They need to see that sometimes we don't know, but that when we don't, we know what to do. Yes, there are times when we do need to be the "expert", but it's also important to model your own learning with students.  You can do this deliberately by starting the class with a text  you have never read before and working through it with the students.  You can also do it by admitting when you don't know the answer to something and showing the kids what you do to figure it out. Taking the time to be a learner with my students is also a step that I won't drop, because I know how important it is. 

So, the next time I feel a little stressed about the calendar, I'm going to take a deep breath and remember what really matters--getting kids excited about being life-time learners.


  1. I agree about modeling - showing students where you struggled, what you found interesting, just the natural experience of learning teaches them so much.

    I hope you're done with snow days too. I cannot imagine 14 days off!

    1. I hope so too, Lauralee! I just wish it would all disappear. The grass is making a valiant effort to break free, though!

  2. "Getting kids excited about being life-long learners" - I totally agree with you Jackie! That's what it's all about!

  3. You have had a crazy winter too! I live about 45 minutes from Boston. I teach second grade but I had to comment because so much of your post applies to all students, no matter the age. Thanks!
    Reading and Writing Redhead

  4. Thanks, Jackie. this has been a valuable reminder for me here at the end of the year when I start to worry about "covering" everything.

    1. You're welcome, Leah. I can't wait to check out the video you shared. Ironically, my first thought was "but do I have time..." It's hard to shake that ticking clock!

  5. Leah,
    You are so right about plugging into what interests your students and making learning fun. It's too bad other teachers (and our government) can't figure this out! ;)

    1. Agreed. Our government isn't as bad as yours, but we certainly have some teachers that could jazz things up a bit! I think your district lost a darn good one when you went on the road ;)

  6. Jackie, I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who has failed when trying to "cut corners" because of time constraints. And modeling rather than being the expert is something that only a master teacher can do. I can tell that you are one.
    Excellent hop! I'm learning so much! Thanks for inviting me :)

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  8. I am so glad I stopped by - this idea of what matters most has been on my mind A LOT lately. I appreciate all the encouragement I now feel! :)

    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

  9. I;m so glad you stopped by too! Thanks for joining us.