The Best Thing

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It is the time of the year that, as educators, we evaluate our teaching and how much our students have learned throughout the year. My teaching partner, Jennifer Brown, and I sat down and evaluated and discussed what was most effective this year. We thought this was especially important for us to do since so many changes occurred for us a team this year, including being moved to a portable building, which we have dubbed “The Penthouse”!  We decided that the BEST thing we did for our students ended up becoming the best thing we did for ourselves as well. We believe we increased our students’ ability to learn and made us better teachers in the process!  What did we do that brought out the best in our students and in our teaching? We flipped our schedule every other week!

What does this mean?  

My teaching partner and I pair up, teaching two classes of 4th grade students. One teaches math and science and the other teaches ELA and social studies. In our school, as with most elementary schools, a teacher will start with his or her homeroom and then switch about halfway through the day. Pretty typical. All year long, the teacher has the same group in the morning and the same group in the afternoon.

What we heard from students, and felt ourselves, is that one class tended to be our favorite or easier to teach than the other. Really, there are many reasons behind this perception, but I believe it comes down to what type of person the teacher is and when he or she is at their best and what type of learner a student is and when they are at their best.  

So what did we do to maximize student learning and in the process make us better teachers?  We switched what class we started with every other week. Yep, you heard me right! One week I started with my homeroom, and the next week I started with my partner’s homeroom. This is not our original idea and came from Mrs. Stewart, another 4th grade teacher who did this at the campus she came from previously.

We started doing this about a month into the school year. Some said it would never work because kids need routine, structure, and stability. We felt that this was a valid point; however, we were still able to give students routine, structure, and stability within the realm of flexibility! Here is what happened: Students embraced the idea 100%! They have loved changing up the learning order, knowing they would still be meeting with the same teachers, just at a different time of the day. I asked them after a month of the switch, via an anonymous poll, and they ALL said they loved it. Mrs. Brown and I also discussed it as teachers and talked about how we served students better and really got a different perspective of students’ abilities based on the time of day we taught them. You know what also happened? We bonded with each class equally. Why? Because kids are better at different times of day, just like adults.

For example, I am a morning person. If someone wants my best teaching, they should come in the morning, which is not fair to my afternoon students. Also, if I want to try something new, it isn’t fair to my morning students who are the “guinea pigs” every time. As I adjust my teaching, the afternoon students get better instruction because I learned from the mistakes of the morning. However, if I am flipping my teaching time, and a student has an opportunity to flip his or her time in my class, we both benefit! Different students get some of my best teaching, and I get some of their best learning which is better for everyone.

I want to conclude with this; we didn’t allow difficult circumstances like the failed TRE or other state funding issues to hold us back from excellence and giving our best to students. Instead, we looked at what we had control over. We looked at what we could do to increase our students’ learning potential and make us better teachers. We also had grade-level interventions based on math/reading times because the rest of our grade kept the same schedule. Despite these obstacles, we made it work, and our students benefited. Were our students more successful with this model? 100% yes! Were we more effective teachers with this model? 100% yes! The best thing we did was step outside of our comfort zone and do what was best for our students within the realm of what we had control of.