Educators are always on the lookout for new strategies and materials that are the keys to improved learning for all students. However, the action that will likely have the greatest impact on teaching can’t be purchased or taught to teachers by another. After over 20 years of teaching, I believe that the best way to increase my capacity to help others is to learn more about myself. To ensure successful learning, I include these four actions in weekly lesson plans, because knowing ourselves enables us to help others.
1. Look for and document changes in your own learning.
Monitor how learning changes you, keeping track of how your experiences at school change:
- the way you think.
- what you know.
- how you tackle a problem.
- what you notice.
- what you like or dislike.
- what makes you happy, satisfied, nervous and/or confident.
- what tools you can use.
- what ideas you can explain, connect and use for your own purposes.
Document changes in a journal to make your own learning visible throughout the year. Read over your journal to notice the interactions that led to change and reflect on patterns in your learning. Share the reflections on your own learning with students and colleagues to confirm and notice even more changes.
2. Plan to learn while you teach.
Include a goal for your own learning in lesson plans along with the typical objectives, standards, and activities for students. Plan specific time to observe and listen to students, connect ideas, document or record your own learning and capture your questions. Make a habit of stopping for reflection at different times during a lesson; don’t wait until the end or after the lesson. Use part of a planning period each week to review notes from lessons and share observations with colleagues at team meetings.
3. Reflect on moments of success.
Take time to reflect on a moment where you felt joy while learning or smiled when someone else learned. Record notes about moments of successful learning weekly. Challenge yourself to understand the complex interactions that explain why successful learning occurred. Keep a log of your role in successful learning moments. Save artifacts of successful learning such as student work to add to your memories in a special folder. Look for patterns in the successes that reflect your values about learning.
4. Make your perceptions of students visible to yourself.
Learn about yourself by considering the things that you know about students. List the things that you know about students. Compare your own strengths, interests and needs as a learner with your perceptions about students. Plan to learn more about students in every unit of study as a way to learn more about your own perceptions. Find student strengths that were hidden from you in the past because you weren’t intentionally looking. Structure learning activities that leverage both your own and your students’ strengths.
Taking time to value and notice our own learning creates an empathetic relationship with students and deepens our understanding of the complexity of teaching. This awareness and understanding can’t be purchased or given to a teacher, but can be one of the most important habits that prevents burn-out by focusing our attention on learning that energizes ourselves. Instead of searching for products or methods that are “guaranteed” to improve teaching and learning, start with learning about yourself, because knowing yourself enables you to help others.
Rhonda Bondie taught for many years in public schools and is an assistant professor of special education at Fordham University in New York City. Bondie is interested in successful learning in inclusive classrooms and learning with primary sources.