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Today is what I affectionately refer to each year as “Teachmas Eve.” We’ve made it through the faculty meetings and the first week or so of adjusting back to a semi-normal sleep and work schedule, and tomorrow we begin teaching in earnest. So with summer coming to a hard close, it seems like a good time to reflect on some summer reading and set a goal for the coming year.

Considering all that I did this summer (moving, etc.), I’m fairly pleased with the amount I was able to read. I read a few things on a whim (like Jon Meacham’s Destiny and Power–the biography of George H.W. Bush–which I recommend), and I was also able to mark off a few books that had been on the “To Read” list for years. One of those was Teach Like a Champion. (I know: It’s so 2010!) I had been meaning to read it for quite some time, but for one reason or another I never got around to reading it.

I don’t agree with everything Doug Lemov writes. Philosophically, for instance, I favor a more student-centered classroom than he does. That said, I am slowly becoming less ideological in my views on teaching. I still hold strong beliefs, but I’ve tried–especially in the last few years–to seek ideas from across the spectrum, and while I wouldn’t do everything Lemov advocates, that doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t do any of it. I believe that all education is contextual, and the contexts in which he and I work are different in many ways. That said, students are still students, and some things probably are more science than art.

Over and over again while reading Teach Like a Champion, I found myself thinking, “Wow–that’s a great idea.” In fact, one of the biggest flaws I see with the book is that Lemov presents “49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College” (his subtitle). There are many great ideas in this book, but for any one teacher to try and implement them all would be nearly impossible. Even thinking about it would be overwhelming.

Even so, when I finished reading the book, I decided that I would try to incorporate some of Lemov’s ideas into my practice this year. I initially thought I would choose a technique from several different chapters, but the more I looked over his list again, the more I decided to focus on one area: classroom management.

I began my teaching career at an all-girls school, and I taught mostly juniors and seniors. The students were, almost without exception, engaged and motivated. They weren’t all academic superstars, but they cared and they wanted to please their teachers. If a student was talking in class or was underachieving, I usually just talked to them and the behavior improved. I loved teaching there, but one of the downsides is that I never really developed strong classroom management skills. I never really had to. When I moved to my next school, which was co-ed (but majority boys) and where I taught primarily 9th graders, this shortcoming hit me right between the eyes. My lack of classroom management skills shone through immediately. I learned on the fly and definitely got better, but it’s still an area that I would call a weakness.

So, with this in mind, I’ve chosen four techniques on classroom management from Teach Like a Champion:

Technique 36: 100 Percent

“There’s one acceptable percentage of students following a direction: 100 percent. Less, and your authority is subjection to interpretation, situation, and motivation.” (p. 168)

On the face of it, this would seem to be one of Lemov’s more authoritarian techniques–one that I would not likely embrace. And, in fact, that pretty much sums up my initial reaction to reading this. First of all, I think it’s a bit ridiculous to expect that 100 percent of students will obey the teacher’s every command, and I don’t think that’s generally the end of the world. We want creative types and divergent thinkers in our classrooms, just as in our world. That said, students should never be allowed to think that they can willfully ignore a teacher’s direction, and I appreciate Lemov’s approach to “100 percent compliance” (particularly using the least invasive form of intervention–a menu of possible responses to any challenge).

Technique 37: What to Do

“Some portion of student noncompliance–a larger portion than many teachers ever suppose–is caused not by defiance but by incompetence: by students’ misunderstanding a direction, not knowing how to follow it, or tuning out in a moment of benign distraction. . . . What to Do starts, logically, with telling your students what to do–that is, with not telling them what not to do.” (p. 177-178)

For me, this is critical. Patience is not my forte, and I know that I am quick to assume that a student is willfully disregarding my instructions. This technique serves as both a reminder that I should be explicit in my expectations and instructions, as well as a reminder to ascertain the cause of the noncompliance. I definitely zone out at times; perhaps this is true of a student as well? (Of course it is, but too often we teachers imagine that what we’re saying has such import that no student could possibly get distracted.) By taking a moment to determine if the cause is incompetence or defiance, we can respond more appropriate–defusing some situations and escalating the ones that need to be escalated.

Technique 38: Strong Voice

“When you get loud and talk fast, you show that you are nervous, scared, out of control. You make visible all the anxieties and send a message to students that they can control you and your emotions.” (p. 187)

Again, because I lacked classroom management skills, I remember how, in my early days of teaching 9th graders, I would raise my voice to talk over students, and I would (at times) engage in a tense back-and-forth with the more outspoken members of the class. Strong Voice reminds me not to do that. When the classroom is loud; get quiet. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted. Choose your words carefully and judiciously.

Technique 41: Threshold

“The first minute, when students cross the threshold into the classroom, you must remind them of the expectations. It’s the critical time to establish rapport, set the tone, and reinforce the first steps in a routine that makes excellence habitual.” (p. 197)

I’m not sure why this isn’t the first technique in the chapter, if not the book. When I read this, I thought, “Of course. Why don’t I take advantage of the time before class starts to welcome students, to make them feel welcome, and yes, to address any issues that need to be addressed. Why wait until the period begins to address a student who is wearing his headphones? Classroom cultures must be carefully cultivated and then defended vigorously. This will be a challenge for me this year as I don’t have a classroom of my own (I’ll be moving from room to room just as the students will), but I hope to make this part of my practice–to find a routine that works for me in which I can use that pre-class time to build and defend the classroom culture.

There are other techniques that I’d like to incorporate as well (Do Now, Cold Call, Pepper, Take a Stand, etc.) and I probably will do so here and there. But my focus, at least for the next few months, will be on using these techniques to improve my classroom management skills. I’ll try to write periodic reflections on how that is going.

 

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In the classroom, I will:

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

It’s early, and with a foray into project-based learning and some unforeseen scheduling blips, we’ve gotten out of “Harkness mode” over the last month or so. That said, I think most of my students are probably on track for this. I do have a few VERY quiet students who will need a lot of coaching to reach this point. I need to start actively planning in that direction.

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

This is going fairly well, I think. In my sophomore Western Civ classes, I did a lot of skill-based formative assessment in the beginning of the year. As the pace of the year has picked up, I’ve definitely drifted a bit, but on the whole, I’m making the effort to gather information about their understandings/abilities before formal assessments are given.

3. solicit frequent feedback from students.

Except in informal ways, I haven’t really done this much. I need to rededicate myself to this goal.

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

Teaching sophomores for the first time this year, this has been something of a challenge. The difference in maturity and responsibility between sophomores and juniors is striking. I need to make more of an effort to understand them, and I’m sure some of this will just develop with time. Taking steps to meet my previous goal would likely help as well.

To further my own 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.

I wrote a review of Deborah Meier’s In Schools We Trust in September, but I did not write a review in October. I read Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers and Why Read? by Mark Edmundson, but I did not have the time to write a review of either. Perhaps I’ll try to do so this month, but more likely, I’ll just try to get back on track.

2. self-evaluate some aspect of my own teaching via blog post every month.

I find I’m writing about philosophical issues more than craft, but if I fudge a bit on what qualifies as a self-evaluation, I can say I’m meeting this goal. Going forward, though, I do need to carve out time to reflect more specifically on what I’m doing in the classroom.

3. continue to explore formal professional development opportunities.

I recently attended the bi-annual Teacher Conference sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools. This is my third time attending, and it’s always pretty good. A particular highlight this year, though, was hearing outgoing NAIS President Pat Bassett speak. I was particularly moved by his comment that he wished he were beginning his career rather than wrapping it up. Amidst the day-to-day realities of teaching, it was a nice reminder of the opportunities I have ahead of me.

4. begin to seek leadership opportunities, whether formal or informal, in-school or out-of-school.

I have continued my work with my school’s nascent Faculty Forum (serving on the Steering Committee), and I volunteered to take part in the innovation-oriented “Think Tank” sponsored by our new head of school. In addition, I recently gave my first conference presentation (at the aforementioned NCAIS conference)–a terrific experience. More on this to come. Overall, I’m starting to view myself as a teacher-leader, and I’m hoping to continually developing these skills.

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

1. expend less energy on things that either a) aren’t within my control, b) aren’t in need of my attention specifically, or c) aren’t worth my time and energy.

I did very well on this at the beginning of the year, but I’ve allowed myself to get sucked in to things at times. Strangely, it seems that I’m most likely to falter on this goal when I’m busiest. Perhaps it has to do with general stress and frustration levels. Over the last couple of weeks, though, I’ve been trying to get back on track here.

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.

Again, I did a great job of this early in the year. In the last month or so, it’s been difficult–I think it’s mainly a matter of the sheer quantity of work. Essays need to be graded, I’ve reached the end of my “summer pre-plan” and thus have more prep work to do, etc. I do think I’ve been much less stressed this year while at home, so I’d give myself a thumbs-up on this overall.

3. prioritize my health by setting aside time for exercise and relaxation.

This has been a real success. I’ve pretty much stopped going to the gym, but I am still running 2-4 times per week and am noticing some legitimate gains in my pace and endurance. I daresay I have almost reached a point where I enjoy running. Almost.

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, June).

One down.

Last school year, I set a number of goals for myself. It was the first time in my career that I had gone through the process of sitting down to develop some formal goals, and I think the experience was quite beneficial. Reflecting on the year, I think the very pursuit of those goals (whether I accomplished them or not) made me a better teacher.

As a result, I’ve decided to do the same thing this year. In fact, I’m keeping many of the same goals. I’ve made some additions, deletions, and a few slight changes, but on the whole, I thought the goals I set were worth my continued pursuit.

My biggest failure last year, without a doubt, was in self-evaluating on a bi-weekly basis. I recognized early on that such a goal was too ambitious. As I wrote last October, “[E]very other week is probably a bit too often in practice. I like the idea of reflecting regularly, . . . but I also found myself stressing about what to include in the reflection since not much had changed in the previous two weeks.” In fact, that stress is probably one reason that the above reflection was one of my last ones for the year.

I’m not giving up, though. This year, I’ve decided to relax my own expectations. I’ll try to self-evaluate at least once per month, though not necessarily on a fixed schedule. I’ll also try to stick with the plan of evaluating my progress toward these goals on a bi-monthly basis. But most importantly, I’ll try not worry so much about posting to this damn blog.

In the classroom, I will:

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

I think nearly all of my students last year would have been capable of this, but unfortunately, I never gave them the opportunity. I’m not sure why. I guess we just got busy, but that’s no excuse. This year, discussion leadership will be a significant part of the second semester assessment plan.

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

At the outset, at least, I’ve not made too many changes from last year. One thing I have noticed in myself, though, is an increased sense of confidence in explaining my approach to assessment to students. I think this helps it come across less as a mystery and more as a genuinely formative philosophy.

3. solicit frequent feedback from students.

On the few occasions when I solicited feedback from students last year, I found three things. First, I got a terrific sense of what they had actually learned, in some cases even better than I did from their formal assessments. Second, I learned about things that were going on “under the surface” in class that I might not have recognized otherwise. And third, I had the tremendously rewarding experience of reading about the impact that my class had—something I’ve only rarely gotten before. This last one is a bit self-centered, perhaps, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Reading my students’ thoughtful reflections at mid-year provided me with a wellspring of inspiration heading into the second semester.

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

This was perhaps the area in which I was most successful last year. In part because I began using the Harkness method, but also because I made an effort to be compassionate with them, I felt as if I knew my students better than at any point in my career. I formed stronger and more meaningful relationships with many of them, and I’ve been pleased to have some great conversations with the ones who returned this year as seniors. I have some larger classes this year, and I’m also teaching sophomores for the first time, so I definitely want to keep this goal in place.

To further my own 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.

Although I had this goal last year, I didn’t do much with it, largely because I felt pressure to write lengthy and eloquent reviews. I enjoy writing, but during the hectic school year, that’s pressure I just don’t need. This year, I’ll try to provide three things in each review: my reaction in 140 characters or fewer, the 3-5 most useful or enlightening points of the book, and 3-5 questions for discussion, critique, or further consideration.

2. self-evaluate some aspect of my own teaching via blog post every month.

Last year, as I said, I made it a goal to post once per week. This was too much. This year, I’ll try to post at least once per month, but I’ve also decided that this blog is really for me—not for anyone else. If I miss a month, oh well. That’s not the end of the world. And if I post twice in a month, terrific!

3. continue to explore formal professional development opportunities.

I’ve been very fortunate to have some terrific experiences over the past year or so, and with each one I find myself wanting more. Is it possible to become addicted to professional development? I have my eye on a few things going forward, but I’m also learning that unexpected opportunities can sometimes be the most rewarding.

4. begin to seek leadership opportunities, whether formal or informal, in-school or out-of-school.

This is a new one. As I become more comfortable in the classroom—and as I have more and more positive professional development experiences—I find myself craving interaction with other educators. That’s not to say that I want to leave the classroom, only that I’m coming to recognize that I might be able to offer something of value to teachers as well as students.

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

1. expend less energy on things that either a) aren’t within my control, b) aren’t in need of my attention specifically, or c) aren’t worth my time and energy.

I’ve changed this goal slightly from last year because I’ve realized that whenever I have ideas about some issue (which is to say, almost always), I have a strong desire to get involved. This year, I’m trying to let go of that to some extent. Some things are beyond me; some do not need me; some don’t deserve me. It’s a liberating realization.

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.

Although we’re only a week and a half into the school year, I’ve been better about this so far. We’ll see how things go once the pace of the year picks up, but I’m feeling good about this one.

3. prioritize my health by setting aside time for exercise and relaxation.

For a number of reasons, I am probably in better physical condition right now than I have been at any point since graduating from college. I developed a fairly regular fitness routine over the summer, and I would really like to maintain it. I sometimes feel guilty when I prioritize myself over my students, but over the long haul, I think it will be much better for them if I’m healthy and relaxed.

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, June).

‘Nuff said.

In the classroom, I will:

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.

On the whole, this is going well. One of my four classes seems to have it down pretty well, particularly with regard to asking questions, challenging ideas, and asking for evidence of claims, but lately I’ve seen a tendency in some students to dismiss others’ ideas rather than engage with them, so we’ll continue working on this. In two other classes, my students seem to have the basics of good discussion down, but they’re a bit reluctant to challenge each other’s ideas. The fourth class is limited by its size. We’ve lost a student, and so we’re down to seven, and I’m afraid there just isn’t enough diversity of opinion, experience, etc. to sustain good discussions day in and day out. We have our moments, though, and I’m working to be satisfied with that.

I definitely think we’re on track with regard to the second part of this goal. I think I’ll have students co-lead discussions on something related to their research papers, and I hope that this will supplement the discussions I have planned—potentially a nice change of pace and very much in keeping with my progression toward a more student-centered classroom.

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

Allowing students to revise their work is paying off nicely, I think, but it also creates a lot more work for me and for those students who take advantage of it regularly. Going forward, I need to be more thoughtful about the number and pacing of assignments. Sometimes I feel like I have to give a lot of assignments, lest the ones I do give become more “high stakes.” Although I’ve stopped giving letter or number grades on individual assignments, I am required to give a grade at the end of each quarter. Because there are inevitably one or two kids who do poorly on any given assignment, I feel the need to give at least two or three “major assignments” each quarter. This has been a bear.

I recently read (and recommended to my departmental colleagues) Patricia Scriffiny’s article “Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading” from the October 2008 issue of Educational Leadership. It has led to me continue re-assessing my own assessments, and I think some of her ideas may eventually allow me to move in the direction that I want to go.

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

I’m not doing so well here. In large part, I think, it’s because I’m still not entirely clear on what an “authentic assessment” is in the context of a history classroom. I think I get hung up on the term “authentic.” To me, writing a newspaper editorial from the perspective of Thomas Paine doesn’t feel authentic. Writing an essay that synthesizes sources does. I love the idea of project-based learning, but I still feel it’s crucial that my students—all of whom will go to a four-year college—learn to write well. I try to sell them on the importance of writing in all walks of life, but there is no mistaking the fact that I am also trying to prepare them for the kind of academic writing they will be expected to do in college. I feel strongly that this is important—and yet I also recognize that I may be placing too much emphasis on the conventions of academic discourse.

This may be an area in which I need to pursue more formal professional development, but if anyone out there has ideas for creative and truly “authentic” assessments in history, I’m all ears.

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

This is going well for the most part, I think. Compared to previous years, my relationship with all of my classes is stronger than it typically is at this point in the year. Some of this, I think, is due to the changes I’ve made in my approach to grading, but the other part is that I’ve made a conscious effort to accept that many of my students are overprogrammed and undernourished. They’re sometimes literally on the go for twelve hours or more, their stress levels are understandably—but regrettably—through the roof, and many of them (I’m afraid) barely sleep. So I struggle to maintain high standards without pushing them too hard. Rather than come down on my students when they fail to live up to my expectations (as I might have in the past), this year I’ve invited them—both as individuals and as classes—into conversation about the expectations. The approach seems to be working.

To further my personal and professional development, I will:

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

In late September/early October, I got bogged down in student essays and basically neglected all other reading. When I eventually climbed out of that hole, I did manage to finish Gordon Wood’s Revolutionary Characters. A review of that fine book is planned—I just have to make time to actually sit down and write it. I’m shooting to have it posted sometime this week. My book for November is E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy.

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

As I suggested in my last reflection, I think every other week is probably a bit too often in practice. I like the idea of reflecting regularly, and I maintained this for the first quarter, but I also found myself stressing about what to include in the reflection since not much had changed in the previous two weeks. I think I’m going to go with a monthly “formal” reflection, and then hopefully I’ll be able to reflect on specific incidents as they come up.

continue to explore formal professional development opportunities.

I recently joined both the Organization of American Historians and ASCD. With regard to workshops, etc., I’ve got a couple of things in mind for next summer. However, possibly the most productive thing I’ve done this year with regard to professional development is to schedule time in my week for reading. This typically means catching up on lengthy blog posts and reading publications like Independent School magazine. I’ve let myself skip it during my busiest weeks, but I’ve also found that I really miss it when I do. Just taking half an hour or so on Wednesdays (my “light” school day, given our schedule) allows me to stay abreast of what’s going on in the wider world of education, and it’s also usually enough to motivate me to read more during the rest of the week.

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

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

I need to rededicate myself to this goal. My idealism is one of the things that keeps me engaged throughout the long school year, and although this is usually an asset, it can be a liability as well. When I see something that isn’t working as well as it could, I want to make it better—even if there is little chance of making a substantive change or even if there are other things that are more urgent. For my own sake, I need to work on accepting some things as they are, not as I wish they were.

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.

I had a hard time with this early in the year, as I struggled to get into a routine, but I seem to be doing better lately. We’ll see what happens when the next round of essays comes in this week, but for the last several weeks, I have felt much more relaxed at home. I’ve tried limiting myself to only three hours of work on Sundays, and although I don’t know if that’s really possible every week, I like it. I could easily put in eight to ten hours over the course of a weekend, but even then, there’s always something more to do. I think it’s better for me—and ultimately, for my students—if I do a moderate amount of work to prepare for the week and come in on Monday feeling refreshed from the weekend.

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

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

I’m a few days late, but I can live with that.

One of the goals I set for myself this year was to was to read at least one book on history or education per month and write a short review here. Unfortunately, September has passed and I have no review to write. As it turns out, I’ve been doing a lot more writing than reading lately, but instead of blog posts, it’s been informal feedback for my students based on their participation in discussion, comments for progress reports, and, for my seniors, letters of recommendation for college.

At the moment, though, I am plugging away (slowly but surely) at Gordon S. Wood’s Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different. I’m an avid reader of Wood’s work and have been disappointed to find that much of the material is recycled and repackaged from Wood’s earlier writings. For example, the chapter I just finished last night was on Benjamin Franklin, and was pulled almost verbatim from his book The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. Still, Wood is such a giant in the field that it’s hard not to learn something every time I pick up his work. I expect that to be the case with this book as well.

I look forward to having a bit more to say about it once I’ve finished, but in the meantime, if you’re ever looking for a good read on the Revolutionary era, Wood is the place to start.

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.