Dr. Judy's Newsletter November-December 2021

What Experienced Teachers Wish They'd Known When They Started

Here I've consolidated some of the wisdom of experienced teachers in response to the question, “What I know now that I wish I had known as a first year teacher.” From the practical to the philosophical, they offer their insights and suggestions, presented here as edited, condensed bullet points.

Classroom Climate:
When students have strong perceptions of potential threat, it inhibits learning. If students feel the classroom is a safe place, they are more open to receiving information taught, asking questions, and even making mistakes.

From the start: Clear Expectations for Classroom Behavior
  • • I didn't know how important it was to go over good rules and procedures at the beginning of the school year.  I was struggling with classroom management and ended up getting frustrated. I didn't know that all I had to do sometimes was go over these again, perhaps in a different way, such as with modeling or examples.
  • I wish I started the year with as much planning for how I'd respond to student behavior as I did on content planning. It took a while, but when I focused on sustaining a consistent plan of responses, at least for the most common behavior challenges, the students became more responsible for the expectations I held for them. It really works to start the year with plans for your responses and cut yourself slack if you are not always perfect.
  • With my insecurity, I lost my cool and "reacted" instead of "reflected" on my response to behavior challenges. With experience and guidance from colleagues and mentors, I build up my leadership style to be more calm, consistent, and confident
  •  During my first year, I didn't realize how important it was to take the time to talk about rules and procedures clearly.  However, I learned my lesson well and now know that whenever something is working, I take the time to provide more clarity in what they are supposed to do.  If it's a new procedure, I learned that I can't just make them do it, they need to know "how".
From the start: A safe community
  • Create a safe community to reduce stress and promote participation with a learning environment in which they feel safe from potential threat but also to take the risks of participating and even making mistakes.
  • The only person in the room you can control is yourself. Every behavior a child exhibits is a reaction. These reactions are outcomes you can help reduce. You can’t change what is going on at children’s homes, but you can make your classroom a safe place for all.
  • The most important of classroom rules regarding the perception of safety by students are those that assure them that their physical person, property, and feelings will not be hurt.
  • Trust is very important – the trust you earn as their teacher. Students count on their teachers to enforce the rules that are in place. Assure students that you will indeed be there to enforce the rules is by demonstrating early on that you are aware of times when their property, person, or feelings are perhaps being threatened and that you will intervene promptly.
  • When you need to step in because a student is infringing on a classmate's or class comfort levels, regarding their physical, property, or emotional safety, keep the interaction calm. Reinforce your role of keeping all students safe. Change the situation to remove the person causing the distress from the interaction. Acknowledge to the class that you recognized the problem and have things in control. Your subsequent intervention with the student who caused the problem should be private or supervised away from classmates. Emphasize your wanting to understand the causes of the behavior and desire to work with them to prevent recurrence.

As you build knowledge of your students, you'll build trust in yourself
A frequent theme in the suggestions of the accomplished educators was being aware of and responsive to the strengths, interests, motivators, and needs of one's students. Some reflections follow.
  • Understand the brain response to high stress in students is not voluntary
  • There are no lazy or bad kids. They may react that way when stressed by percerived threat, sustained boredom, or fustrations from repeated failures
  • Be honest and respond fairly and consistently to their behavior and follow through with plans
  • Love your students, even when they aggravate you. Be empathetic towards them. They won’t care about what you have to teach, unless they know you care about them!
Reduce mistake fear and boost participation from the start
  • Create a learning environment in which students feel comfortable, and they’ll take the risks of making mistakes.
  • Each moment presents us with opportunities and challenges. We succeed when we know our students as individuals, know our subjects well, and trust ourselves to respond creatively and learn from our mistakes.
  • Ask great questions and make time for students to think deeply. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out together” when you do not know the answer to a student’s question.

Be Kind and Fair to Yourself
Be kind fair loving to yourself as you begin teaching and during challenging times, and even setbacks and mistakes. As a wise educator reflected, "I wish I had known that the students would be so forgiving of my mistakes – almost endlessly so. I kept encouraging them to take risks without taking many myself."


Keep igniting, Judy

Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. jwillisneuro@aol.com www.RADTeach.com




Additional Books & Articles by Judy Willis, M.D.

Research-Based Strategies To Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist/Classroom Teacher, ASCD 2006 http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107006.aspx

Learning to Love Math: Teaching Strategies that Change Student Attitudes and Get Results,
ASCD 2010 http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108073.aspx?utm_source=ascdfacebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=math-willis-fb

The Neuroscience of Learning: Principles and Applications for Educators. (2014) Bridgepoint Education, Inc. https://learn.thuze.com/store/product/THUZE.HSS.PSY.9781621781639

How Your Child Learns Best
: Brain-Based Ways to Ignite Learning and Increase School Success. Foreword by Goldie Hawn. Sourcebooks: 2008. http://www.amazon.com/Your-Child-Learns-Best-Brain-Friendly/dp/1402213468

Teaching the Brain to Read: Strategies for Improving Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension ASCD August 2008. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107073.aspx

Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom, ASCD 2007 http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107040.aspx

Inspiring Middle School Minds: Gifted, Creative, And Challenging. Great Potentials Press, 2008. http://amzn.to/1wwMsg4
Below is a sampling to some of my popular links to which you can link and reproduce the items of use to you:
Edutopia’s 'Big Thinker on Education' and Staff Blogger
“Meet Dr Judy Willis, EDUTOPIA Staff Blogger”  https://www.edutopia.org/users/judy-willis-md (This works best if you cut and paste web address)

NBC News Education Nation Staff Expert and Blogger Parent Toolkit

Psychology Today" How Children Learn online staff writer: Articles regarding learning and the brain: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/radical-teaching