On Labor Day weekend, I sat down with excitement and anxiety to set some goals for the new school. In typical beginning of school craziness, I am just now sharing them on my new blog! Last year I switched sites within my school, so I spent a lot of time just trying to figure out the school culture and not step on toes as I advocated for my students. On top of that, I was stressed out by all the new mandates coming from up above because of the Common Core Learning Standards and the new Teacher Evaluation system (APPR). As I poured over my end of the year notes and planned a strategy for the new school year, I decided there are 6 whole-class goals I’d like to set in order keep me from getting distracted this year by outside noise. Since I teach a self-contained class of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, I’m lucky to have most of my same students for a second year, so that we can jump right in.
6 Goals for the 2014-15 School Year:
1.) Worry Less about Teacher Evaluations
At the beginning of last school year when we were told the Danielson Framework for Teaching would be the rubric for the observation portion of our annual evaluations, I tried to figure out how I could show I’m highly effective with my population of students, even though the rubric was not intended for use in special education settings. Although I think I had constructive conversations with my administrators, ultimately I focused far too much energy on what Charlotte Danielson, who has spent almost no time in a classroom teaching, thought I should be doing. I lost sight of how I had been trained to teach my learners with multiple disabilities. After reading Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error this summer and blogging about it on ThinkInclusive.us, I realized just how far I had gotten from meeting my students’ actual needs. I won’t do that again.
2.) Take More Field Trips
In my fixation on the Common Core and trying to show everyone what I already knew, that my students could learn, I left no room for field trips. I was upset at the end of the year when I only managed to fit in one bus trip to the NY Hall of Science and one walking trip to a nearby park. I couldn’t believe that new demands and a new school site had knocked me off my game. In previous years, I scheduled trips into the community almost every week. These experiences were invaluable for my students who would not normally go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Highline park or bowling. For students who use wheelchairs and live uptown, getting to these locations can be quite a challenge for families. I know that families were grateful that their children got these experiences and it helped to solidify our relationships. Taking full advantage of teaching in New York City is one of my favorite parts of this job.
3.) Improve Systems for 1:1 Learning
I’m always looking for ways to provide more one-on-one instruction for my students. In a class with 12 students with multiple disabilities, where often the ratio is 2 children to 1 adult, its hard to provide the direct learning experiences that my students need, since they can complete very few tasks without adult assistance. I don’t have a specific strategy for this yet, but I hope new ideas will emerge as we start off the year. Last year, we were successful in the morning periods to split into small groups and have one small group have 1:1 workstations. I hope to extend this time or use this structure later in the day as well. Eventually, I would like to see each student have an even amount of 1:1 time that is with me, not just paraprofessionals, but establishing routines need to happen first.
4.) Use More Technology
Building on goal #3, I’m hoping technology will help me establish more routines and activities that will provide more individualized and 1-on-1 instruction. One goal I met over the summer was securing more iPads for my classroom! We have one original iPad that is several years old now that came from our school, so it doesn’t have all the great, new accessibility features. Thanks to DonorsChoose.org, my friends, family and a very generous donor who found me on Twitter, we have three new iPads for our classroom! I want to be cautious implementing technology, just for the sake of using technology, but I think four iPads will be a manageable number. I’m hoping my paraprofessionals will be as excited as me and be able to takeover some of the upkeep of the equipment. I’ve already seen how excited my students become over videos and music, I often joke that I should just leave the classroom and broadcast myself on the SmartBoard all day, if I really want everyone’s attention.
5.) Look for Inclusion Opportunities
One of the challenges of teaching a self-contained is that we lack peer models, especially for communication. Now that I’m more comfortable in my new school, I’m looking forward to creating more opportunities for my students to be with general education students.
6.) Have less Stressful IEPs
I’m really hoping that now that all team members know each other better, we can have a smoother process for creating coherent, student-centered IEPs. I never dreaded IEPs like I did this past year; they seemed to be a time drain and never quite came out to be what the student needed. Being the new member of a team can be quite a challenge. Not everyone approaches IEPs with the same mindset and people can become quite defensive about their work. With constant turnover in NYC schools, I know that sticking around means a lot, the fact that I’m here to stay should hopefully move us in a more collaborative direction. Having a second year with families also makes for more solid education plans because we have had a year of dialogue before sitting down in a meeting.
What are your goals for the school year? Any suggestions for me on how I can achieve these goals?