It's that time of year again.
You are making trips to your classroom, reorganizing, re-papering bulletin boards, moving furniture around, relabeling EVERYTHING and renovating your teaching is heavy on your mind. This teacher is on FIRE!
At least that is a topic that I hear buzzing around me as I have conversations with teachers who are being introduced to proficiency based teaching around my state. If you are already "baptized in the faith," you are probably hearing teachers talking about it, too...
I'm changing how I do EVERYTHING this year!
First let me say, CONGRATULATIONS! Welcome to the fellowship! We are glad you are here.
Now if you will allow me... Slow down a little bit.
The transition you are about to go through is a BIG one, and it is going to require some thought and lots of patience. Yes, it requires a willingness to abandon old practices, and while that sounds super exciting it can also have a direct effect on our classroom management as you learn completely new strategies for delivering instruction.
Today I would like to share with you just a few things to keep in mind this year so that you can very carefully and very thoughtfully make the transition from a traditional language classroom to a proficiency based classroom.
1. Set realistic goals for yourself.
Nothing is more exciting than a full makeover if your mind is ready for change, but there is some shock value linked to radical change. You are not the only one who will experience this. Your students and their parents will not be used to this new approach and could very easily mutiny if this transition is mishandled. So, maybe rather than change everything consider a 3 year plan in which you plan specific changes that you can roll out gradually over those years. What are things that are the essentials to proficiency based instruction? Figure out what those are and start by staggering which of them you introduce into your instruction year by year. Performance assessments make up one of those essentials, right? Maybe start there. If you haven't been doing them there is going to be some training you have to do with your students and some information sharing that you will have to do with their parents so that you can be partners on this journey. This is especially true if you are a teacher who is alone in your school and will expect to see students you taught in level 1 appear in your classes again for level 2. You also don't want to have to juggle so many changes that the hours you spend working turn you into a zombie. Keep in mind that there are so many things that are different about this type of in instruction that in the beginning you don't realize. I would also suggest a simple, but profound change: Less is More. This is related to the amount of content you are used to teaching. Take a look at the list of concepts and vocabulary you are accustomed to teaching and see what you can pare back. Replace the content you are taking out with time in class to allow students to practice using it. This will take some practice as you learn how to design communicative practices for them and how to pace your instruction based on your students' proficiency growth. It's a different animal all together and takes some getting used to. So, think about one big thing to change and maybe one or two smaller things (possibly connected to the bigger thing) to change this year just to protect yourself and students and ensure that your year is a successful one overall.
2. Connect with others who have made the transition
You are going to need a support system. Trust me on this. Even if you are at a school where you have a team of teachers who are going through this with you, chisel out time to interact with teachers who are further down the road in this journey so that you can benefit from their wisdom and experience. You are going to have questions and you may even have times that you need someone to talk you off the ledge. Building relationships with teachers who are doing this or have done this can smooth the rough edges in ways you don't realize right now. My pastor calls it "building and environment to sustain you," and while he is talking about our spiritual welfare, I think it is a good analogy for the kind of conversion you may be going through right now. Twitter offers a large network of world language teachers who are eager to interact via #langchat, but if you are not a confident Twitter user you can also reach out to your state language organization's leadership. Many of them are proficiency based educators or know who is in your state and can put you in touch with someone. Creating your own professional learning network is worth the time you will have to invest, so seriously consider starting now before the BTS craziness starts.
3. Embrace failure
No, not your students failure, YOUR failure. Yes, you are going to have some failure and you are going to be less than perfect. You won't hurt the students. At least that is what my coordinator says to us in our district. Research says that we can't learn if we never make any mistakes, so don't be afraid of them. Know that they are going to happen and stop being so controlling of yourself. This isn't easy to do. When I first started this I had a meltdown and cried in the bed for a day. I asked myself, "What is wrong with you? Why are you so mad about all of this?" Then, from the deep, dark recesses of my mind I heard, "Because I am not a big shot at this and I am not perfect at it." OUCH... this mean that my issues were based in my ego and that I was so busy tried to do what I had always done because I had been "successful" before that I never really gave the new methods a try. I had to lay my ego down along with my old methods completely in order to do the things I needed to in order to teach my students how to gain proficiency. It was a hard lesson and it stunk to discover that I had such a big ego, but it was such a good lesson, too. Game changing, life changing, CAREER changing!
In closing, I know you are chomping at the bit and your passion is awesome! Just don't let that passion cloud your thinking. Take some calculated risks, reflect and evaluate and then make adjustments based on what you learn. I am in your corner cheering you on!
P.S. Email me if you need support! I've been there before and I am STILL learning!
(n.) A special place where we remember that students are humans that need to feel loved and important, where their achievements are celebrated every day and where we learn Spanish along the way!
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