Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What my students have taught me about leadership.

I was recently asked the following question:
What have you learned about leadership from your students?

My response is a bit of a blur in my head, but I think this is a great question and wanted to take some time to reflect on it.

Teaching middle school math definitely requires leadership skills because most of my students, if given a choice, would not choose to be in a middle school math class.  Here are some of the leadership skills I have figured out:

1.  People will put more time and effort into things that interest them.  
What that means for my math instruction is that I need to teach in a way that peaks their curiosity and pulls them into the math we are learning.  This is not always difficult for me because I find numbers and their relationships fascinating, and it comes across in my teaching.

  • On a number line, the distance from 0 to 1 is finite, yet the number line is infinite between 0 and 1. 
  • 1/2 is part of a whole, but it can also be a whole if I am trying to find 1/4 of 1/2.
  • I can easily draw 1/3 as 1 out of 3 parts of a whole, but as a decimal it repeats forever.  Have you ever stopped to really think about that?  How can we so clearly draw it as a fraction, but in decimal form it never ends?
These are just some examples of the beauty and intrigue I see in math.  When I open my students' eyes to these wonders they come along happily to investigate with me.  They want to know more.

2.  People will respect you if you are genuine.
Everyone experiences struggles.  There are small daily struggles, like having to figure out what to make for dinner for the 12,876 night in a row.  There are large struggles, like my husband being diagnosed with cancer. My students' lives are exactly the same, though the struggles may be different.  All of this has an effect on our day together.  One slight change in their life or mine and the interactions we have could be very different.  I have found in my years of teaching that students open up to me.  They feel comfortable talking to me because I have shared my life with them.  I keep the door of communication open.  Aside from in person conversations, where I really learn a lot about my students, I have actually found that the activities where students can write to me is where they really open up.  Throughout the year I like to have students fill out get to know you sheets (the type that most teachers use at the beginning of the year).  By using these sheets throughout the year students become more comfortable with me and are willing to share more.  One of my favorites are having students pick a theme song to their life and then explaining why they chose that song.  Teachers genuinely care about their students, but from the student perspective that doesn't always come across.  By continually checking in with students in this way, I am constantly sending that message.

3.  It is good to be reflective but be careful not to push people too far.  
As teachers, we want our students to reach their fullest potential.  We work with them on identifying where they can improve and work with them on those things.  After 8 class periods of that they go to their sports and activities where it is pointed out where they can improve and they need to work on that.  Finally, off to home where they need to recap their day and analyze with their parents the things they need to work on and improve so they can begin to work on that.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned from a student this year is that we need to do a better job of helping students feel comfortable with who they are.  Take a look around this classroom through this filter.  What are you doing to help each student know how amazing they are?  How can we frame our feedback to help students grow in our subject areas without depleting their bucket of self-worth?

I would love to hear your responses to what you have learned about leadership from your students.  Please let me know in the comment section.

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