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Finding Focus

May 27, 2015


Celebrations, ceremonies, and assemblies crowd the months of May and June.  It should be a time for educators to celebrate a year of learning and growth.  But sometimes it’s not.  As a former teacher, parent and TeachCycle coach, each year I reluctantly stumble across the school finish line. Why is it so hard to celebrate as we culminate a year of hard work?  Could it be that as the school year ends everything seems important and it is difficult to find focus?

This May I was determined to find focus.  How could I use my experience coaching TeachCycle teams of teachers to focus and engage in my own fast cycle learning? You see, as the school year fades into the dark days of May and June what has always seemed hard (getting my kids ready for school on time), seems impossible.  My mornings are filled with treasure hunts for sneakers, my incessant nagging of “I’m leaving without you” which doesn’t fool anyone to full on sprints back to the house to retrieve the book report, baseball glove, and favorite pet. It is an endless whirlwind of chaos and stress that I want to stop.  My challenge is nothing truly earth shattering. Simply, how can I support my kids to get ready for school on time?

So, one fine crazy May morning, I tracked how many minutes it took us to get ready for school, mad dash and all.  Then I set a goal to reduce that time by ten minutes.  The first strategy I implemented was using a timer to see if the kids could get dressed in three minutes.  Guess what?  It worked.  PJs in the hamper, clothes on and ready to go in two minutes flat.  My next strategy is to have the kids organize their backpacks before bed. If this strategy doesn’t work, I will try a different one or differentiate my strategies because what motivates my son to get moving won’t always work for my daughter.  My hope is that a more peaceful morning exit will lead to more time to celebrate this school year and perhaps give us a better start to next year.

So, how can teachers use TeachCycle to survive the school year with a little less stress? Here’s an example.  A middle school TeachCycle team discussed this student need:  the sea of raised hands and blank faces after introducing a research project.  They wondered how they could support students to ask more specific and purposeful questions? So, one fine crazy morning they started the TeachCycle process.  They simply asked the students to share questions about the upcoming project. The data revealed that more than fifty percent of their students needed support to ask better questions.  The next step was to support more students to ask quality questions. They modeled and gave specific feedback to the questions that students were asking as the worked on the project.  Each time they implemented a new strategy, they measured student progress.  Sometimes the strategies they implemented were effective and sometimes they weren’t but the team continued to iterate and find out what worked best for their students.

This is why BetterLesson launched TeachCycle; we want to bring continuous improvement cycles within reach by supporting teams of teachers:

  1. To identify challenges based on student needs,
  2. Pick simple ways to measure progress
  3. Try new strategies to see what works!

We know supporting students to ask better questions is a small win in May but this team and others like them find great value in focusing intently on something small but high leverage. If you are interested in supporting your students to ask better questions, check out these BetterLesson resources and strategies (strategy 2) or if you are searching for some amazing and engaging  ways to end of the year, take a look at these lessons,!  Either way, try and spend a few minutes focusing on all the learning you supported this year.  Teachers are amazing and you deserve to celebrate before July!

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