My principal surprised me with a formal observation today. Three days of school left for seniors, so of course, today is the best day to be observed [note inserted sarcasm].
Seriously, though, my principal and I get along great and I warned him ahead of time that I didn’t know how productive we’d be with three days left of high school. I didn’t have any formal lesson planned, just independent reading time followed by worktime. Thankfully, my principal is the type of leader where he completely understood.
I’m not one who gets worked up about observations. I used to. I’d stress about it weeks in advance since we had to sign up for a day and time that we wanted the principal to come in. I’d try to plan something amazing for my students to learn, or maybe some fabulous presentations they’d give. Anglo-Saxon research presentations by students were my very first observation–I was so proud of myself for figuring out a way to be observed without actually teaching.
In some ways, you could say I wasn’t actually teaching today, either. There was no formal lesson. Three students alternated writing a collaborative story on an online game they’re beta-testing and working on their last vocabulary assessment (or let’s be honest, probably surfing YouTube when I wasn’t watching.) Another couple designed and planned their video reading responses. One wrote some refrigerator poetry. Two worked on papers and presentations for other classes. And one just read her book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
When I completed my post-observation reflection that asked me about how effective my teaching was, I drew a blank. At first, I thought, “I didn’t teach today.”
That’s the trick of the blended, quest-based classroom. It can feel as if I’m not really teaching. Just reading over shoulders, answering questions that arise, checking that seniors are on track to have all their work done to get signed out Tuesday.
It took me a couple minutes to remind myself I was teaching. I just wasn’t teaching to the stereotype of teaching that still looms in my mind: a wizened adult leading a lesson in front of rapt students.
But now, teaching is about providing a variety of opportunities for students. It’s juggling all the activities my students are doing because I know they’re more engaged and learn better when they control pacing and choose assignments. It’s meeting with kids one-on-one to explain a list poem or how to cite a source for their American history paper.
And teaching is also about all the front work I did to make this period work. It’s the set-up of different quests of creative writing students could choose from. It’s setting up a classroom culture of relaxed work with dim lighting and soft music. It’s the relationships I’ve built through the year so I know which student to tease, which student to show some tough love, and which student to give a little bit more attention to because he doubts himself.
Teaching has changed, I preach to everyone time and again. Sometimes I need my own reminder, too.