the third rail

moving things forward

Want teachers to change? Change teachers…around.

January 13, 2011 by seanwilliams · 5 Comments · teaching

While it is great to teach the same grade level for a while and get to know the curriculum and build resources, it also leads to a rut. Think of the teachers you know who have the same plans year after year. They can tell you what they will be doing on the 27th day of school–before the students even get in their desks.  Especially in these days of scripted curriculum and pacing calendars, having a teachers teaching the same grade year after year does not promote innovation or excitement.

Teaching in the same room leads to more of the same as well. Know teachers who leave up the butcher paper or decorations for next year? What about the ones that want to? Staying in the same room is comfortable but you tend to accumulate “stuff”. Good stuff, stuff you got that is great for that one lesson, and stuff you wish you could find but you forgot where you put it last year after the unit.

Think about how things would change if everyone knew that things were going to change. Seriously, think of the people you work with, how many have been doing the same thing for years? How would relationships at your site change knowing that grade levels and rooms will move regularly?

This year I got the chance to change schools and grade levels. It was not my intention to move but it has a been a great experience. Now, I got lucky and my new team welcomed me with open arms and is wonderfully supportive. But beyond that I was able to clean out a bunch of things I was hanging on to for no good reason. Each lesson is fresh and new, not always with fantastic results but it motivates me to figure out how to improve for next time. This leads to fresh ideas on daily – what sort of project would be good with this, how else can I present the material, other ways the kids show me they know it. This sort of thing didn’t happen as often in my 5th teaching the same grade. I like to think I reflected on my lessons and tried to come up with new ideas but I know it was not nearly as often as now.
Of course it’s not all beer and skittles, there are a lot of challenges and I spend quite a bit of time thinking of pedagogy. Things are different at my new school and grade level, and it’s interesting to look at the different levels of change. Institutional change, personality/personnel changes, and “clientele” (though I really don’t like that term for students) changes.

A few caveats ~
It wouldn’t be good to move every year, maybe every two or three years.
Changing rooms, sites, or assignments ~ all good but shouldn’t be taken in combination. One change is plenty thank-you-very-much.
Change shouldn’t be punitive, it needs to be part of the culture.
And if enough people read this someone will say – “What about The Union?” Well, yeah, The Union might get excited.

But if the administration was:
i daring and
ii pushed for this idea to become part of a school culture and
iii it was not used as a punitive measure
What is there really to complain about?

Ideas? Thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Brent

    Great post, Sean! Especially love your line “Each lesson is fresh and new, not always with fantastic results but it motivates me to figure out how to improve for next time.” I’m with you. I often love the new lessons that don’t go as well as planned because, like you said, they get me thinking.

  • Kyle Timms

    I was thinking about this today as well, so I’m glad to have someone to share with…

    I don’t think a change of room or school is enough. I’ve done that, and just brought my old stuff over in a big box (10 yrs ago) or an external hard drive (this year).

    True change comes when teachers commit themselves to using the best avaialble tools or methods avaialble. A teacher who still pulls down a map from the wall or spins a globe needs to change. A teacher who lectures needs to change. A teacher who relies on textbooks and fill-in-the-blanks sheets needs to change.

    The tools, knowledge and strategies avaialble to teachers now compared to 5 or 10 years ago should mean that classrooms should be different. Are they?

  • Stephen Davis

    I like the idea of changing classrooms…pretty bold idea, but physical changes, even on a micro level at a school site, can bring about different perspectives and a new focus. Not mention the obligatory purging that takes place when one moves (at least I know I do because I am lazy and do not want to take too much stuff to my new location!)

    I wonder if there are teachers on campus that would voluntarily try something like this out…

    Great post!

  • seanwilliams

    Thanks Brent – I know it’s not “best practices” but I do think it helps drive me.
    Kyle – Thanks! You framed it in a way I hadn’t thought of, and I think you are right. I guess my post was not radical enough!
    Stephen- I doubt many would try it voluntarily but if is was framed as a schoolwide culture thing it might have chance? I am thinking you would have to be new/fresh to a site to pull it off.

  • Diane

    We have a team of three 5th grade teachers at my school. The lead teacher on the team taught first grade for MANY years before moving up into 5th. Another one taught first grade for several years at our school and other young children at her previous school. The third used to teach transitional kindergarten. It has been a great experience, and they are doing some amazing stuff with their almost-middle-schoolers. I may be biased, as I used to teach 5th grade at my school, but they are kind of my favorite. And I think they are doing a far better job than I ever did.

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