We have passed the halfway mark of the school year in my district. During this time of the year, I always reflect (actually overthink and overanalyze) about what we have accomplished to this point. My reflections usually involve two areas; the learning we have accomplished and the richness of the community. I have never had a formal list to help focus my reflection but this year I did jot down a handful of questions for both learning and community.
For the learning side of the reflection my questions were:
Are my students actually improving their craft as writers?
Are my students thinking deeper about the texts they read?
Are my students showing improvement in the ability to converse/reflect about their reading and writing?
Are my students showing more independence in their learning?
For each of these questions, I was able to flip through notebooks, look at assignments and check my anecdotal records for the first two quarters. For the most part, we are growing in our learning. Of course, individual students are growing at different rates. Some are flourishing, some are not moving as fast as I’d like to see. But, I can say that collectively we are learning and becoming more confident as readers and writers.
The tougher part of my mid-year reflections is thinking about how we are progressing as a community of learners. While I occasionally jot some notes, reflecting on the community is a truly gut-feel thing for me. I haven’t quite figured out how to take records on the soft-skills of social interaction and feelings like empathy toward each other.
That being said, this year I thought about these questions:
Are my students listening to each other in partner, small group, and whole class discussions?
Are my students doing the little things (like handing a book or computer to a partner) for each other?
Are my students using kind language toward each other?
Are my students excited about the books classmates are reading and the writing classmates are composing?
Are my students supporting each other without doing the work for each other?
For these questions, there was also a mixed bag of success. I think we are growing closer, but there are still many things to improve. For example, in each of my classes, there are small close-knit groups that are doing well, but we are not there yet as a class. It is a rarity to see a member of one group seeking out a member of another group.
Over the years when I start this time of reflection in January, I often remember Alfie Kohn’s work. Kohn is both inspiring and a reminder that I am not the teacher I want to be yet. His book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes, is as relevant to me now as it was when I read it back in my early years of working with children.
As I balance the last learning question, “Are my students showing more independence with their learning?” With the reflective questions about community building, I have asked myself over the years, Kohn’s thinking about how interdependence versus independence is a strong reminder to ask a different question. “How do I balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the community?” I lose sleep at times when I think about this.
I know Jeremy needs more intensive support than Charlie, but if I consistently don’t make time for Charlie how does that impact the fabric of the community I want to see in my room? I know Elle is a fabulous reader, but if don’t spend the time challenging her level of thinking, then how will she be able to nudge conversations with her classmates to a higher level?
For the rest of this year, I have decided to focus on community interdependence more than continuing to foster independence. Due to the constant bombardment of news that seems to show a distinct lack of empathy and community building, I feel the need to be a counterweight to those negative messages.
So, the first thing we are doing this morning after the long weekend is to talk to each other and hopefully find more connections. Discover or remember commonalities we have. Looking for these will help us build empathy and become a better community. I want my students to remember that we are far more responsive to the greater good when we go beyond just our personal responsibility.