The Top 5 Things I Learned at Institute

1. Behavior management looks different for every teacher.
At the beginning of the summer, I thought I needed to deliver discipline in a hard way. I thought I needed to scare students a little with discipline. And so I thought I was failing big time at behavior management. My discipline, in the form of warnings and my school’s consequence system, was never hard or mean. When I deliver discipline, I do it the way I do most things: calmly, quietly, and with a bit of a smile. Students responded to it, but it just didn’t feel like I was being an adult. That all changed when we were doing a role play in one of our sessions. I had to give discipline to an unruly “student” (another corps member pretending to be a student) in front of all the other corps members.  I did so like I do in class. I did it sweetly and then moved on. After I was done, I stomped my feet in frustration: “that was so bad,” I said. I was surprised when everyone in the room disagreed. They felt like I had been stern but in a way that was consistent with my personality. That was so refreshing to hear.

2. Students need to do key points.
The main part of a lesson plan are the key points. These are the things you want your students to leave a class knowing. For the first half of Institute, I communicated my key points by putting them into notes and telling them to my students. When I would ask my students to demonstrate these key points, they wouldn’t be able to, though. I asked for a lot of advice about this problem. Both my CMA and FA suggested that I needed to give my students time to practice the key points during my instruction time. I started including mini-practice moments to break up instruction. Students appreciated me talking less and their performance increased because they had more structured practice time.

3. Relationships are important, but they can’t carry a class.
A constant piece of feedback I got anytime someone was in my room was how my students seemed comfortable and seemed to trust me in the classroom. I think this was true, and I did a lot to cultivate that. I was able to read my classroom pretty well, making a lesson more exciting when my students seemed bored and being stern when they were too rambunctious. I also regularly had lunch with my students so that I could learn about them outside of class. So I was glad I had good relationships with my students. But this didn’t always translate to effective teaching. It’s something that I want to make sure I remember in the fall.

4. Messaging is everything.
My students’ opinions on things were often determined by my level of enthusiasm. My students often told me that my math class was their most fun class, and I think this was entirely because I tried to be pumped every day I stepped into the classroom. On the days I wasn’t excited, my students mirrored me and were apathetic as well.

5. A good improvisation can make a moment. A bad one can ruin it.
Improvisation feels like it’s half of good teaching. You can plan all you want, but in the end, a student is going to say something or do something that you haven’t yet thought about. A good improvisation can make a moment great.

For example, I was teaching an investment lesson on the importance of staying on task and not wasting time. As part of that lesson, I had students put their heads down and raise their hands up if they felt like we had wasted time in class. Only two students raised their hand. I tried to play this off by saying “several students had raised their hands” (THIS WAS A HORRIBLE IMPROVISATION). But because some students had looked up briefly (I should have been more explicit with instructions here), they knew that only two students had raised their hands. And they called me on it. I answered their complaints by saying, “If even one person feels like we’ve wasted time, that’s one too many.” This improvisation worked and made the moment brilliant.

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