Keeping It Simple: A New Year Begins


My ninth graders land a few scant hours from now.  They will be pie-eyed and bushy-tailed and full of mirth and whimsy.  They will be jaded and broken and waiting for someone, anyone, to let them out of this miserable prison that is high school.  They will dance and they will cry and they will text — because we have a very reasonable phone policy — and they will laugh between their rages and their panics.

And I will teach them something — even if it is just one little thing — on this first of many more days.  I see them for only fifteen minutes or so.  I’ll make it count.

When I think about the complexity these fourteen and fifteen — and even sixteen — year-old charges will experience just in that first day alone?  Shudder.  And when I think, “I’m supposed to teach them things.  A lot of things.  And not just them, but their older counterparts, too. And they are supposed to know a lot more things.  And increasingly more complex things relative to their achievement level and other CCSS-flavored categorized things.”  Yes, when I think all of that?  It is easy to get overwhelmed.

Add to this my propensity to latch on to bright, shiny objects of sweet tech integration opportunities and promising initiatives and movements and oh yeah-I-should-try-thats and such-and-similars and you have all the makings for one stressed out educator . . . and it’s only the eve of night one.

This year, keeping it simple.  Focusing on doing a few things and doing them very well.  Yes, yes, yes there will be district things I need to do.  And yes, yes, yes there will be building things and department things.  However. . . with a little foresight and a tempered noggin’, I believe I can manage by simplifying down to a few core points of focus.

Design Thinking.  All of the project based learning stuff?  All of the authentic and experiential learning stuff?  All of the MakerEd stuff?  It all nests in here nicely.

Transparency.  All of the Remind and PowerSchool and assessment tracking stuff?  All of the Twitter and blogging and voxing and stuff?  All of the public relations and connecting with colleagues around the #showyourwork stuff?  It is all part and parcel with pulling back that curtain.

Proficiency Based Education (PBE).  All of that multiple pathways and customized learning stuff?  All of that art and science of teaching stuff?  Habits of mind and standards based gradebooks and that stuff?  One focus area.

Now, those three domains are admittedly broad.  And yet I can already start pushing some “oh man I gotta _____” out of my worry wheel.  (And I’m not listing them here because I’m just fragile enough on this night of nights to avoid judgement if at all possible.)  If it isn’t an authentic alignment to one of those three out the gate?  Stow it.  Put it elsewhere.

And what will be helping me do that?  Three pillars of my improv philosophy, problem solving strategy, and classroom culture.

Acceptance.  The status quo exists.  Build upon what is there, not what you wish might’ve been there instead if only . . . Take the offer you’ve been given.  Now, create.

Communication. Clarity and brevity, context and nuance.  Multiple means with consistency and intention.

Trust.  Foster it.  Earn it.  Believe in yourself as well as others.

Grand total of six things to keep in mind this year.

I think I can do it.  Nah, I know I can.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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