Goals for 2011-2012

Inspired by my reading of Stephen Lazar’s blog (and his annual “goals” posts), I’ve decided to do the same. I’ve even borrowed one or two of his here. I hope he doesn’t mind.

So without further ado, here they are:

In the classroom, I will:

1. help my students become more adept around the Harkness table, such that all students in Honors US History can co-lead at least one discussion before the end of the year.

This will require a commitment to teaching the process, and knowing myself, I anticipate an internal struggle between the need to teach process and the desire to teach content. However, the longer I teach, the more I am convinced that skills matter so much more. That is not to say, of course, that content is meaningless. On the contrary, I believe that a general understanding of history and government is key to a well-rounded education, but the details of settlement patterns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony versus the Middle Colonies? I’m not so sure. On the other hand, the ability to read a text critically, listen carefully to others, and think and speak “on one’s feet” are skills that will serve my students for a lifetime.

2. continue to develop more formative rather than summative assessments and assessment policies.

This summer, I had a change-of-heart about how I approach assessment. It’s not that I didn’t know the difference between formative and summative assessments (I did), and in fact, I always professed to give formative assessments. I recently realized, though, that the structure of my assessment plan, and indeed the tone of my assignments and comments, was really more summative. Like many teachers, I think, I saw assessments foremost as opportunities to give grades. “The system” tells us that we must give grades, and so we do so, sometimes almost reflexively. This year, I have the luxury of smaller classes than I’ve had the previous two years, which means I have more time to think carefully about how I construct my assessments and how I comment on student work, as well as more time to allow students to revise and resubmit. I plan to make use of it.

3. introduce more collaborative “authentic assessments” — at least two per semester in Honors US History and at least one in Government.

As a faculty, we’ve spent a fair amount of time lately talking about twenty-first century education. There’s a range of thought on this (both about what it looks like as well as about whether it differs from a twentieth—or even nineteenth—century education in any substantive way), but I do believe that collaboration is a must as the educational paradigm shifts. We are no longer preparing worker bees for the factory floor, and so we must teach students how to collaborate effectively. Especially for kids who have grown up in a nationwide educational system that relentlessly pits students against one other (in the competition for the highest grades and/or standardized test scores), it is not a skill that comes naturally. I don’t expect to work miracles, especially in one year, but I hope to re-teach them how to share, except that instead of sharing their toys, they will be sharing their ideas and skills.

4. make a conscious effort to see the world (or at least my class) through my students’ eyes.

My reading (finally) of Grant Wiggins’ and Jay McTighe’s well-known Understanding by Design opened my eyes to something called the “Expert Blind Spot.” Although it seems obvious, it turns out it’s actually quite easy for teachers to forget what it was like to be a novice in his or her discipline. This, of course, has an entire array of implications for instruction, ranging from the pace at which material is presented to the expectation level for assessments. I now know that this has been a major flaw in my teaching for the past three years, and although I don’t know if I can “cure” this problem, hopefully I can “treat it” with careful planning, flexibility, and a healthy dose of compassion.

To further my personal and professional development, I will:

1. read at least one book per month about history and/or education and write a short review for this blog.

This is really more of a “maintenance” goal, as I think I’ve more or less been doing this for most of 2011 already. If anyone is actually reading this, I’m always open to suggestions, but because I’m a compulsive book-buyer, I also have entire shelves of books (at least history books) that I’ve been meaning to read for years. It’s time to start plowing through those.

2. self-evaluate my own teaching by writing a reflective blog post every other week.

It seems simple enough, but the hardest part about this will be making time to actually reflect and write during the busy school year.

3. continue to explore formal professional development opportunities.

I already have a couple of workshops in mind for next summer, but I also plan to join the Organization of American Historians and/or American Historical Association. I’m also thinking of subscribing to Reviews in American History, as I feel that my knowledge of current scholarship has already slipped considerably in the three years since I left graduate school. I’d like to do some research and writing as well. This is probably a pipe dream, to be honest, but sometimes I miss historical research and writing, and since I spend so much time assessing my students’ writing, it would probably be good for me to do a bit more of it myself.

To preserve my mental, physical, and emotional well-being during the nine-month marathon that is a school year, I will:

1. expend less energy trying to change things that either a) aren’t going to change, or b) aren’t worth changing.

I am an idealist by nature, which means that I am often disappointed by the practicalities of the “real world.” Although I sometimes tell my students that “making your peace with the Man” is part of growing up, I struggle with this myself. I realized only after setting this goal that it is similar to Niebuhr’s well-known “serenity prayer,” which is a core component of many twelve step programs. I’m not sure what to make of that, so I’ll leave it alone. Maybe it just means I’m (finally?) maturing.

2. use my time—and especially my planning periods—more wisely, in order to free up time with friends and family and achieve a healthier, more sustainable work-life balance.

So far this year, I’ve been totally unsuccessful in freeing up more time at home. I can only hope that this is because I have yet to settle into a good rhythm, and I’m still catching up on a lot of “beginning of the year things” (grading diagnostic quizzes, planning, tweaking my syllabi, and writing blog posts about, say, my goals for the year). To try and achieve said rhythm, I have blocked out each of my planning periods during the week to complete certain tasks, including the less-than-urgent-but-still-important reading for professional/personal development, reflecting on my week, etc. I’m also planning to limit myself to 3-4 hours of work on Sundays. I already know that I’ll violate this at some point, but my hope is that imposing a limit on myself will force me to prioritize and work more efficiently.

To hold myself accountable to the aforementioned goals, I will:

1. assess my progress toward these goals via blog post on a bi-monthly basis (late October, December, February, April).

‘Nuff said.

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