Why You Should Focus on Small Classroom Victories

Chad OstrowskiBlog, Innovate Better, Manage Better

Focus on Small Classroom Victories

Are you focusing on small classroom victories?

Teaching can be exhausting, and it can seem like a futile endeavor at times. The amount of work that goes into a single day or unit of instruction is tremendous, without a necessary guarantee of student success. So when a unit is finished, or a hard day is done, it’s easy to look at your results or the big picture of student data and get discouraged if things didn’t go well.

I recently had a great conversation with a teacher at a school who is implementing our Mastery Learning System and she said that since switching to mastery learning she is still exhausted at the end of the day (as every teacher is) but now it’s a “good exhausted” because she knows how much of an impact she is having and see’s the small victories and growth each student has in her classroom each day.

It is this mindset and shift in focus, from the big picture to the small success stories, that can help you stay motivated and focused through even the most difficult stretches of the school year. This can be harder than it seems, but it can be done and can help you change the way you look at the impact you are having.

What is a small classroom victory?

Small victories in your classroom are any moment, interaction, or experience where you saw growth, a change, or maybe just some extra effort from a student that wasn’t there before. This could be when you see that lightbulb go off in a student’s eyes as you correct a misconception, or when that learner who normally has their head down is engaged and focused on their work. It’s these little moments in your classroom that drive the motivation of every teacher. Make sure you’re taking the time to reflect on and notice them!

Big picture data isn’t everything.

As you look over your test scores from last year (which you can’t do much about now), or discuss the results of your last unit or SLO in a team or staff meeting, it can be hard if the results are not immediately shown to be positive. It is very easy to look at the data and say, “Whelp, that wasn’t effective at all.” This is an inherent problem with looking only at data on this scale. It’s very easy to wash an entire year, unit, or instructional cycle as “failed” when there could possibly be a lot to salvage.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look at this “birds eye” data. I’m saying that there is more than this perspective to take into account. If possible, make sure you stop and reflect on the unit, year, or instruction and the impact it had on your learners.  Focus on that connection it helped a single student make, or the growth in one of the subsets shown in the data. Maybe the data doesn’t show overall growth, but what about your advanced learners or high-need students? Dig in and find out where it worked the best so you can take that information and not only see the positive, but use it in the future to guide further instruction.

It’s not just numbers you should worry about.

Data is important and I love seeing positive growth and numbers go up as much as any teacher, but it’s also important to focus on the individual students in your room. Regardless of the data, or growth shown, did any of your student’s show personal growth, leadership growth, increased “grit”, or 21st century skills?

These are less tangible when looking at data, but so important. I have had amazing experiences with peer-to-peer tutoring that weren’t measured in data, but rather by personal growth in learners. I’ve also worked with amazing teachers who allow their students to engage in the community, providing invaluable learning experiences. Positive data is great, but the important take-away from these types of experiences is in the student’s personal growth and awareness of the world around them.

It’s these small classroom victories that can help keep you going in a difficult time. It’s these small things that can help you get over even the worst year of your teaching career. So next time you start to slip into that negative mindset, remember that whether it’s in the data or in the minds of your students, there are small classroom victories every day. We just have to notice them.

Cover image by: www.goodfreephotos.com