Getting feedback from your students on your practice as a teacher

I have been meaning to post this for a while but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to summarize my experience for getting feedback on my own practice. I made myself vulnerable to my students. I was worried at first, not what their answers were but if I had missed something that I should have addressed earlier in the year. Alas, other than a student who was having a bad day with their friends, I was impressed with their answers and how much thought went into a lot of the answers.  When I proposed the idea to my students, they were hesitant at first. I explained that to them that it is their chance to give me a report card. They fell in love with the idea. Some took it as an opportunity to complain about things outside of my control, others gave some very valuable feedback. There were also a few “I like grade 5” and “I don’t like writing” type comments but it was great for me to see this range. None of them seemed to care that it was anonymous but I chose to let them say who it was from if they wanted to or if they wanted to talk to me about it. No one wanted to talk to me but a number wrote their name in the box anyways.

The idea came as I was talking to my mom about the course she teaches at the local university, she mentioned her course evaluations and how even though it comes at the end of the year, she loves them. I decided it was time that I gave my students my own course evaluation. I decided to do so digitally because paper is not my friend. The great thing about Google Forms is that it will put the answers into a spreadsheet for you if you want, show all answers to each question, or you can see each individual response. It can be anonymous or you can also require them to be signed in and log their username. I chose anonymous to get some very honest feedback – I was feeling brave.

Here is a link to a copy of the form I used if you’d like to see the questions.

The themes I pulled from their questions didn’t actually surprise me that much because a lot of it are my own personal beliefs about education and how I felt as a student.

The loved the following:

  • Projects (of all sorts)!!! (this came up with very specific examples)
  • Field Trips that related to their learning but also the ones that were just fun!
  • Hands on and building activities
  • Modeling and being allowed to then go and try it
  • Multiple rounds of feedback not only from their teacher but also their peers
  • Having choice in how they showed their knowledge
  • Variety of seating choices in a “soft” classroom.

The would have liked to see:

  • More nature stuff
  • More focus on Skills and Competencies (This one surprised me but made me happy because I wasn’t very explicit with this as I felt I was overwhelming them at times – apparently not so.)
  • More chance to co-create criteria.
  • More mixing of the subjects (cross-curricular projects, YES please!)

Some things they learned about themselves this year:

  • “I learned that every time I try and don’t give up I feel like I want to do it again.”
  • “That working hard will make feel you accomplished something and you will earn something good if you really really worked hard.”
  • “I learned that if i put a lot effort into it and i try to to do good i do good.”
  • “That I am a more you tell me what to do then I will understand better. That is what I figure.”
  • “i usually need music because it helps me concentrate.(better)”
  • “need activity”

What they had to say about me or advice for me for next year:

  • “To always have comfy chairs. But she is not going to be teaching so go teach other teachers. Come to my class!!!”
  • “shes pretty good and knows her stuff”
  • “get a class pet” (sorry, buddy! I’ll get a fish for my office and you can visit)
  • “Make all the work in to projects.”
  • “Music helps people”
  • “This year was really fun. I will miss you Miss.A.”
  • “i wish I could get the same teacher again”
  • “she was tough on me but I need it”
  • “more hugs” (admittedly, I  am not a touchy feely person)
  • “One of the best school years of my life and i learned so much and i had so much fun learning because we had fun activities to help us learn like amazing race and i had an awesome teacher who had things like yoga balls, comfy chairs, couch. thanks”

I am really glad I did this. I was nervous at first but it reallyI’d like to do smaller scale ones each reporting period and at the beginning of the year to really get to know the things my students are thinking so I can make changes along the way.

Would you be willing to let your students give you feedback? How do you think they would feel about your class? Have you ever done so? I’d love to hear!


Being a new teacher in the building

I am alway up for a challenge.  Last year, was my first full year as a teacher and a new school in a new district. Over the summer I researched and read everything I could about the school I was I had accepted a job in. The reputation was high and the expectations were higher but nothing prepared me for what I was about to step foot into. I was given the opportunity to take risks and challenge myself as well as my students. I was able to learn and develop my practice. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. Something was still missing.

This year I moved schools and districts again. This time I didn’t researched and read everything I could about the school I was I had accepted a job in. This time I took the summer to relax when I could and to focus on planning some really cool projects. So far this year, I am being pushed outside my comfort zone but I have 2 very amazing team members I am bringing along with me. We have planned together, they have embraced my ideas and helped me clean them up. We have built assessment plans and rubrics together and they are there to answer my questions. I may have a year of experience under my belt but the questions keep coming.

Being a new teacher in the building is a very interesting feeling. I was never the “New kid” in school or on the block. I only moved schools in Jr. High with all my friends.  I’ve realized you need to make the most of it and take the opportunity to learn so you can help continue to shape your practice.

Questions to reflect upon

Am I engaging students with new and innovative approaches?
Am I a life long learner, open to the views and feedback of others?
Am I a risk taker, willing to move out of their comfort zone?
Am I tech savvy and able to integrate technology?
Am I they skilled at differentiating instruction?
Have I flattened the walls of my classroom?
Do I use ongoing formative assessment as part of student learning?
Do my students have choice in how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning?
Is my classroom environment flexible and student centred?

WeirdTBC – Chapter 1: Rockstar

A bunch of Twitter users and I decided to read “He’s the Weird Teacher” by Doug Robertson and have our own book talk. Someone mentioned having a blog post about each chapter. While I doubt I’ll remember to post about each chapter, I thought I would start off with the first one.

What is your personal rockstar mantra? What inspired it?

When I was 19 and in a class designed to give me a very brief (4 or 5 weeks brief) overview of what it was to be a teacher, I was given the assignment of writing a philosophy of teaching. Given this was a pass/fail assignment, I decided that the best way to give 19 year old me who was still in denial that I would become a teacher the best hope I could at actually passing this assignment while still being true to myself. I put myself in the mindset that if I was going to be a teacher, this would be what I thought about that. The assignment was wordy, did not flow well and was the result of an idea of what I hoped my favourite teachers had thought about being teachers or what I hoped that a few of my teachers never said because if they did, they did not live up to it in the opinion of 10 year old me. If you want to read that philosophy of teaching, I’ve uploaded it here.

I went on through my stages of acceptance of becoming a teacher and that philosophy changed, shortened and became even less refined but more honest. I laughed because Doug mentions that he taped his mantra in the file cabinet. Mine is in my car’s glove compartment. The only person who has probably seen it is the guy who fixes my car and if it wasn’t the giant stuffed shark buckled in the back seat of my old car, when he found this, he’d probably assume I was weird just from that. I embrace my inner weirdness and share it with you.

I shall be your anemone and in turn, you will be a clownfish in learning

I was watching Finding Nemo – one of my favourites – and I thought the explanation of anemones and clownfish were connected and reliant on each other was beautiful and made me think of learning. Somehow that translated into that I wanted to be an anemone. There are even actions to this and my somewhat childish humour finds it amusing to tell kids they are a clownfish. It is no “bombtastic rockstar frontman of a never ending education funk machine” but those who know me, won’t be surprised by my mantra.