Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Always Reflect, Always Learn: Be Content, but Never Be Satisfied

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sub for one of our classrooms from start to finish. The regular teacher was called away with a sick child. It's not that unusual for me to cover a class temporarily but to teach the whole block doesn't happen that often.

Let me tell you it's tough to be a substitute teacher even when you are the principal in the building. You are coming into a classroom with an established routine and culture that you're not familiar with. You don't know all of the students and their needs. And the subject matter is brand new in that context even if you have some background in that area.

I had the advantage of the kids knowing me, and I knew most of them too. And the teacher left me incredibly detailed plans. He teaches dual credit biology so many of the students are getting high school credit and college credit for this class. They are a sharp group of kids.

I showed up with all the energy and enthusiasm I would want for my own kids. I let them know from the start I would need their help in making this successful. I told them my background is not in biology, but we will work through any challenges and make sure that we do everything possible to accomplish the goals for the day.

We had a successful 83 minutes together. There were some excellent conversations. We explored the questions and topics with active participation. I'm sure my insights and feedback were not to the level of the regular teacher, but we gave it our everything.

As the students were leaving, one of them commented, "Thank you. You did a good job." Of course, that made me feel like a million bucks.

But last night, I was reflecting on the class period and what I wish I would've done differently. I kept thinking of things that I would improve if given the chance.

  1. I didn't learn every student's name. I called students by name when I could. That's something we emphasize. And I think I learned a couple of more. But I missed a great opportunity to learn everyone's name.
  2. Every student was supposed to share the Google doc for the activity with the regular teacher. I reminded them several times, but I did not go to each table and confirm that they did this. As I reflected, I was concerned that some may not have completed that step. I could've made sure that happened instead of just hoping it happened.
  3. They had a jigsaw activity near the end of the class. I wish I would've gotten a better sense about how well they summarized their reading. I don't think I provided very good feedback on that part.
But overall, it was a successful class. We had some really good conversations and lots of participation. The teacher had established that type of learning culture already. That made it easy for me.

The opportunity to teach this class was a fantastic experience. I felt like I was seeing through the eyes of a teacher. I thought about how important reflection is. It's easy to get in the routine and always be thinking only of what's next, but we have to circle around and think about how we can improve. I think that's an essential for growth. It's important to always be thinking, "How could that have been better? What could I do next time to improve?"

We never want to be entirely satisfied with what we've accomplished. But we also don't want to be too hard on ourselves. We want to be content, but not satisfied. I've known teachers who sweated every detail and beat themselves up over every mistake. That's not being content. Do the best you can and be okay with it for today. But never be satisfied. Always try to be better tomorrow than you are today. The only way that will happen is when you honestly reflect and push yourself to improve.

The next time I get a chance to sub, I will try to be better than I was this time. It's important to always keep aiming for excellence.

Question: How do you make reflection part of your routine? Are you able to keep a healthy balance of not being satisfied, while remaining content? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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