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  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

Back To School, Back To School

August 29

Oof, the first day of school. It’s here. Well, almost. We had PD yesterday and again today and the kids will come back tomorrow. I’m ready but not ready. I’m sleeping but not sleeping. It doesn’t matter how prepared I feel or how many years I’ve been doing this, the transition out of summer and into the school year is like what I imagine the bends are like. If you try to leave the depths of summer too fast for the surface, your brain explodes. Better to ascend slowly. The second day of PD is usually when I feel frantic, like I’m clawing for air. My mantra today is slow down, slow and steady, take a deep breath, we have all year, it will get done, you can’t do it all at once.

Anyway, this year I’m experimenting with a design challenge on day one instead of the usual syllabus drudgery. My initial round of planning yielded a multi-day design challenge with approximately a million exercises from the Google Design Sprint methodology. It’s too much. Maybe it won’t be in December, but it’s too much for August 31. So, my goal today is to trim that overwhelming 4-day plan into a 40-minute neat and tidy block. Here’s what I am thinking right now (updates to follow):

Standard: Health standards: 1.12.1 Predict how healthy behaviors can affect health status.

→ I greet students at the door with a popsicle stick for their seat. Let me rephrase that, I have them pick a popsicle stick that corresponds to a table color. I tried random seating every day with my 10th graders last year and it was a hit. I’ll take attendance while I do this with a paper printout.

→ On their desk is a blank popsicle stick for their name and an index card for their name. On the board are instructions on what to do with the aforementioned items along with the Google Classroom code.

→ Once everyone is in and sort of settled, I’ll briefly explain the plan for the day and lead a warm-up. This activity is TBD, but since I want to do less and not more, I might have them meditate for a minute and then share how their first day is going. UPDATE - I had them talk to one another about how their first day was going.

→ On to the design sprint. It will be simple - inspiration, ideation, implementation. I’ll have them generate a list of aspirations or outcomes based on this question - where would you like to be in 10 months (June of 2024) as a result of taking this class? Then, they will pick one outcome and brainstorm behaviors they could do to reach that outcome. 2 mins and 5 mins, respectively. UPDATE - next year, I will make this a group activity focused on the class, not on their individual behavior,

→ They’ll choose ONE behavior to focus on and scale it back so that it is super small. Meditate becomes meditate for 1 minute. Then, they’ll stack it onto an existing habit. Here’s where James Clear comes in. We’ll talk to other people at this stage. So this involves individual and group work. UPDATE - again, I’ll change this to group work next year.

→ They’ll write or articulate their habit statement and drop it in a drive folder for future reference, along with pictures of their work. UPDATE - next year they will have an idea about how we work together as a class to achieve an outcome.

→ Exit ticket (I like…I wish…) UPDATE - my first class thought I was asking about their general hopes and dreams. Which I love but also wasn’t the point so it’s not as intuitive as I thought.

August 31

Welp, the first day of school came and went and was filled with the usual nonsense. When I left in the morning the dishwasher wasn’t working and my kid had dropped a yogurt container on the floor and it exploded onto the cabinets, the walls, the floors. It’s probably on the ceilings but at least those are white. When I got to my classroom, IT was already in there which is never a good sign. My technology saga is a post for a different day so let’s bookmark that. Then I sat down at my desk and, I kid you not, promptly got my period. BUT the kids are back! The school takes a collective exhale the moment they all walk through the door and classes start. All the anticipation, the planning, and the worries evaporate and for a minute we can revel in the joy of being with one another. Let’s be clear, this lasts for one minute and then the anxiety and irritation start to creep up again. But that minute is a good one.

I think the first day went well. There are some things that changed in practice and that I will change in the future. First of all, I am having a REALLY HARD TIME remembering to talk about the objective. It’s there on the slide but I get totally distracted and jump right into the lesson once everyone is settled. So that’s an area for improvement. I didn’t do the best job of explaining why we were doing what we were doing in my first two classes. I didn’t have time to create Drive folders with them so there isn’t any documentation. Some classes got exit tickets, some didn’t. Again, the usual nonsense. I’ll tweak my plan going forward.

As I was berating myself last night for every mistake I made and asking my watch to set reminders for the morning while I was feeding my kids dinner, I realized that to survive in this job I need a mindset shift. Yes, the work is important. Yes, the standards matter. Yes, reflection matters. But if I am truly going to be a human-centered teacher that applies to myself as well. If I am going to center the needs of the students first, I can’t do that unless I center my needs first, which starts with somehow shutting off the torrent of thoughts about school when I leave for the day.

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