Have you ever had one of those rare Fridays when you actually go home feeling more positive and 'charged up' than you did coming into work on Monday morning -- and not (just) because you have the weekend to look forward to?
I had one of those Fridays yesterday. It also came with a poignant reminder of what actually contributed to making an average teaching day go so smoothly and so well.
For me it began with the realisation in the morning session that some of my learners are actually starting to go online and submit writing tasks to me during their own time at home, without any prompting (or even necessity) whatsoever. That may not sound like anything grand in your neck of the teaching woods, but in mine it is like witnessing a genuine miracle.
Attached to that was the discovery that several learners are requesting, in other teachers' classes, when they have finished their designated work or can't participate in that subject for some reason (for example, physical injuries preventing gym work), to go on the computer and do some more English. For vocational students preparing for the 'hard' trades, this is another small miracle that has me hopping for joy.
But the biggest celebration of the day came when I took our most 'complex' (I'm reserving the description 'difficult' for other aspects of my work from now on...) group of learners for the first time, the group we would normally split into two groups to make them more manageable (but couldn't yesterday on account of some scheduling challenges), and got every one of them doing solid literacy work for 80 minutes straight, in something very close to a pleasant and positive spirit.
I was totally pumped after that, I can tell you. I'd seen that group lurking on the schedule for Friday afternoon and been quite frankly dreading it all week long. To have the class go so well and see them produce so much quality work... These are the moments teachers wait weeks, months or even years for.
On my way home from work, as I started stretching and warming up the muscles in my shoulder to help me give myself a whopping big and very self-indulgent pat on the back, I had a bit of a deeper think about just what exactly it was that made this teaching day go so well.
First of all, I've been extremely lucky in a new teaching role to have a boss and a fellow literacy teacher who have been really receptive and encouraging with regards to my digital endeavours with our curriculum and classroom application approach. It's not often you can walk into a new job and have supervisors and subject colleagues who are so immediately ready to take on your (new, sometimes quite revolutionary) ideas and let you run with them.
Then there have been the teachers in other subjects who have been open to letting our students go online and do English work once they have finished (or somehow been precluded from) the set tasks in that subject. That has been a powerful example that I've in turn been encouraged to follow. For example, I've been letting certain students go on to do design and technology tasks during my class if they're reasonably up to speed with the literacy task workload, and/or have important work due in those other subjects. I think when an overall curriculum is facilitated in this way across teachers and subjects, the flexibility and cohesion start to kick a lot of positive goals.
With the 'complex' group of learners I referred to (and had such success with), during the week in the lead up to that class I had at least six different colleagues gently feed me information about the class and certain students. That allowed me to basically walk in with the teacher's equivalent of a geological map of the group. I knew who to separate, who would need help, and who would need help to avoid themselves (so to speak).
Prior to my class (after lunch), this group had Maths/Numeracy. They played up an absolute treat in that lesson, and the Numeracy teacher gave many of them a reminder about why they were there and how they were to conduct themselves by keeping them behind to complete all their unfinished work during the lunch break. In many ways, he took the brunt of a lot of negative energy, took the edge off it, and had a state of mind in place before these kids walked through my classroom door.
And then there was the colleague -- our PE/Health and Wellbeing teacher -- who offered to swap classrooms with me on the day, so that I would have a better room for effective classroom management. Being in a smaller room with computers around the walls made a huge difference to my ability to monitor and move around, help individual students without losing sight/track of the overall group.
But this colleague went further than that. He indicated he would be taking his group to the gym about halfway through the lesson. If I had any particularly rowdy learners who obviously had too much physical energy for their own good (and certainly more than usually works well with literacy activities on a Friday afternoon), I could always send them down to join his group in the gym. Certainly made for a positive alternative to confrontations and isolating students in the corridor.
In the end I never needed to resort to that option. But it was very encouraging and helpful to know it was there. Halfway through the lesson, the teacher actually appeared (discretely) in the doorway of my classroom, just to see how I was doing and whether I was going to need that option. No words were needed. Just an appraising look, my thumbs up, an encouraging nod, and then he was gone.
So yeah, I had a really great day.
Thanks, of course, to many of my own initiatives.
But mostly, I think, thanks to being part of what I like to think of as A League of Extraordinary Colleagues.
It's important to think about what goes well for you, but just as important is noticing and remembering how much of it came about thanks to outstanding colleagues. The simple little things add up.
At the end of the day: how can we in turn create days like the one I had yesterday, for other teachers?