Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reflective Practice: Balancing Common Core with Our Inner Core

Over the past few weeks, many of us around the country have had the opportunity to be on Spring Break.  Like many of you, I found myself taking that opportunity to rest my body and my brain from the hectic pace of teaching.  I don’t know about you, but at this time of the year sometimes I feel like I am caught in a balancing act juggling all the eggs in my basket. So in an effort to intentionally slow down, I purposefully set aside time to reflect on my practice. Spring Break is a welcomed respite to do just that.

A reflective cycle has always been the foundation of my instructional practice.  As part of that cycle, I intentionally make time to reflect at the end of a lesson, the end of a day, the end of a week, the end of a unit in an effort to evaluate what was working for kids and what wasn’t. As a habit of practice,using observational records and formative assessments,   I always take my instructional cues from my kids. They have always been the measuring stick by which I evaluate my teaching and gauge my instructional next steps.

It’s a natural process in Spring to stop and take stock of where we are in terms of instruction with the notion of making sure we address where we want to be by the end of the school year.  This year is no different. This Spring break,  I find myself  looking back across the landscape of this school year and reflecting on all we have tried to accomplish a a district by implementing the Common Core Standards into our instructional practice. Big shifts for students and teachers alike have occurred across many of our classrooms.   

Yet with all the pressure to learn, teach, and now assess the new standards, at the center of that change one thing remains the same-effective teaching is a balance. Best practice is a balance of aligning the Common Core with your inner core values as a reflective teacher. This balance is about incorporating our new Common Core Standards with our existing practice.  Staying mindful of best first teaching- preserving instruction that is rich, deep, meaningful and student centered. 

In spite of the pressure and rigor of new standards we need stay true to what matters most to us as teachers.  This means our highest priority is to consider crafting our instruction in ways that honor our children on their own individual learning paths while aligning that instruction with the new standards. Developing lessons that will support them as lifelong learners actively and joyfully engaged in the process of meaningful learning. In an effort to honor our students in authentic learning, I frame my instructional planning lens with the following:
  •  What do my students really know well and control?
  •  What strategy or skill do my students need to be able to learn to move to the next step for them on a learning progression?
  •  What strategy or skill can I teach them today that they can make part of their daily learning?  
  •  What will be useful to them that can transfer to all learning experiences today and moving forward?
  •  What is interesting to my students that will honor authenticity and individuality in their learning process and encourage student engagement?
  • How can I provide multiple opportunities for my students to actively be engaged in practice around this skill or strategy?
  • Am I providing meaningful opportunities for my students to set goals and reflect on their learning?
  • Am I creating opportunities to observe students and collect student data to keep my instructional practice real and relevant?
  • Am I teaching the new Common Core Standards while preserving student-centered meaningful instruction?
Burkins and Yaris discuss this very topic in their recent post Keeping it Real: Making Professional Learning Relevant via @burkinsandyaris and will be sharing some of the lessons and ideas from  their upcoming book Reading Wellness during an all-day, pre-conference institute at IRA in New Orleans on May 9th. The institute is titled   “Aligning to the Common Core Without Sacrificing Your Inner Teacher: Joyful Lessons that Support Independence and Proficiency with Complex Texts.”  

Happy Spring!