At the beginning of last week, my director was standing in the doorway when I walked in to pick up something from the printer. She looked at our colleague and smiled one of those smiles that makes you wish you used the printer down the hall.
“I have a question for you.” She began.
“Will you be in charge of our building’s entry in the lip sync battle?” she asked with the warmest tone.
I thought for a minute. I could do this. I know how to put this together.
“I’ll do it under one condition.”
“What’s that?” she asked curiously.
“I’ll do it, but I get to do it how I want.” I told her with a grin.
“Fine, by me.” She wasn’t about to argue. She just removed that responsibility from her plate.
The minute I left the room ideas started churning in my mind. I started singing the song she selected and moving my hands. Little did I know, this venture would remind me of the importance of all the individual needs students have.
Monday after school the teachers showed up ready to learn the moves and grooves for the lip sync. I sorted through my ideas during the weekend, so I was ready to teach. I had a rough outline of what I was going to do. Teach some basic steps, add some jazz hands, and the whole performance would go together lickety-split.
When I started teaching my colleagues, I realized that some of them could catch on really quickly, but others needed step-by-step specific instructions. They needed to know how to move from a to b, where to look, and how to improvise during transitions. The colleagues who had dance experience were asking great questions. I said, “That sounds great,” and I let them find their answers. I had to pull small groups and help them reach a comfort level.
The next day I was teaching my third graders a writing lesson about personal narratives. I was trying to activate prior knowledge. I wanted them to remember how make their stories come to life, just like they did last year. We listed the various strategies and they went off to write. When I checked their notebooks later that afternoon, I noticed a few of my writers using the techniques, but the rest of them seemed to forget everything the learned in second grade.
“Focus on teaching them one thing.” I told myself. “You know how to teach kids to write! Remember, this is a new crop of students. Slow and steady wins the race.” I pulled out my computer and made a list of three of the easiest ways writers can bring their stories to life. Add dialogue, describe the setting, and include specific details.
Over the next three days, I taught each one of my focused lessons. I made a chart, put it up on the wall, and reminded students about the importance of bringing the story to life. I worked with some struggling students (like I had worked with the struggling dancers) and saw degrees of improvement from everyone.
I am continually reminded that with teaching you never know what’s going to happen. You can chart your course, but it won’t necessarily land in the right place. You can’t always see what your learners need. You need to be ready to adjust, review, and support. Maybe after another 20 years of doing this, I will not need to be reminded of this again.