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The beginning of a new year is a special time. We are all given a new start, educators and students alike. We can let go of the missed opportunities, missteps, and disappointments of the past and begin anew. At the same time, we cannot count on last year’s successes to carry us through the new year. What lies ahead is what we will create. 

Still, it is not as though what we know and have learned has no value. In fact, our experience, our reflections, and our insights can help us to set the stage for an exceptional year. The key is to step back far enough to see patterns and capture insights that will help us in the new year, with a new group of students.  

We might think of these broad learnings as beliefs or insights that are guided by wisdom and experience. Even though our students may be new to us, we are not new to teaching and nurturing learning. We may even have already identified several of these experience-informed insights as we reflected during the summer months. Here are six experience-tested beliefs that may overlap with or add to our list of reflections. 

My students are capable of learning what I am going to teach. Our confidence in our students often plays a significant role in determining whether they will be successful. Students can feel our confidence in them—or lack thereof. When we believe students will succeed, we are more patient, more persistent, more likely to coach, and more supportive of their efforts. Meanwhile, students can often solve problems and find solutions without depending on our hints and answers, if we give them space, time, and tools, and express our confidence in them.  

My students want to be successful and will give their best, if they see they can succeed. We need to help students see a path to success. To accomplish this, we can help them to set realistic, reachable goals, and we can break complex content into small bites and provide scaffolding support for their learning. Learning momentum grows when students see progress and gain confidence in their skills and abilities.  

My students do better when I coach them to focus on the learning process rather than become preoccupied with the product. In learning, much like in other endeavors, ultimate success is the result of good processes and persistence. When we and our students focus too heavily on the outcome of their efforts, they can miss steps and lessons that are crucial to their learning. They can default to bad habits and search for shortcuts that may result in higher grades, but less true learning.  

My students do best when they talk more, and I talk less. Multiple research studies have shown that teachers typically talk between 70% and 80% of the time students are in class. The urge to speak is understandable, as we have much to share with our students. Yet, listening is not the sole driver of learning. Learning happens when students reflect, examine, discuss, and apply what they are absorbing. There is an old axiom that holds much truth: The person who works (or, in this case, talks) the most does most of the learning.    

If my students are not finding success, I need to adjust my approach and strategies until they do. We might hope that time and repetition will lead to learning success. However, when students encounter difficult learning challenges, they need us to find new approaches, employ different strategies, and build a path to success. In the teaching and learning relationship, we need to be the primary adjustor.  

My students have much they can teach me if I am willing to listen and observe. Our students can sometimes seem like mysteries to be solved. What we think will work doesn’t always deliver. Last year’s students may have responded to an activity that this year’s students find unhelpful. We can make a myriad of assumptions about our students and their learning, but unless we really listen and carefully observe what they say and do, we risk being wrong far too often.  

Teaching can, at times, feel chaotic and disconnected. However, when we step back and consider our experience and what is happening, we often can see patterns and discover insights that help us to navigate many of the challenges we face. While we will not always discover specific answers, we will likely see clues to consider and options to develop that will carry us through.

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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