(At Least) One Good Thing

--Originally published at Mrs. Gibbs Flips Algebra 1

Some school years are hard. Every school year has hard times, but some years are just plain hard.

This year is proving difficult mostly due to things going on outside of the classroom. Things in my personal world have been off-kilter since March. There are things I am having to focus on that are taking a good deal of my mental, emotional, and physical energy. It's just where I am right now, and I have no idea when things are going to let up.

I have good classes this year. I have one challenging class (always to be expected), and I had a full-fledged meltdown with them this week unlike anything in recent memory. I am enjoying my competitive algebra team; they are eager to learn and want to know all the "hard stuff." My Algebra 1 kids are learning how to pay attention to and follow instructions, but they are good kids and are slowly learning the ins-and-outs of my out-of-the-box classroom.

As usual, it is way too easy for me to focus on how HARD everything is.

So this week, inspired by #onegoodthing posts on Twitter, I started making a concentrated effort to look for what IS going right.

Of course, there is more than one thing going right. I've just found I need to be looking for them instead of focusing on all the difficulties all the time.

- Thanks to all the hours and hours of prep over the last several years, my classroom sort of runs itself. OK, we all know that's not completely true. But I have lessons and activities and videos ready to go and am FINALLY able to just make sure they're all put in place for the next day. I had thought to begin remaking a lot of videos this year, but it's not to be right now. I'm still making tweaks to things, of course, but I don't have that "starting from scratch" feeling this year. I am currently not able to stay at school several hours late each day, and I'm not having to, thanks to the work that's been previously done.

- I am figuring out how to use technology like Google Forms Quizzes to give quicker feedback, make grading a little easier, and report progress to parents and students more efficiently. Blog post to come.

- I am seeing growth in students. My Pre-Algebra kids really struggled with multi-step equations. As we moved into equations with variables on both sides, we slowed down and did some focused practice. I put some scaffolds into place - reference sheets, for example - and began demonstrating for individual students how to use previously-worked examples to help them work current problems. Slowly, over a matter of days, I saw lightbulbs come on. Students who previously couldn't correctly apply the distributive property were solving equations with variables on both sides, distributive property, AND combining like terms.

- One day we made a reference sheet for how to recognize how many solutions an equation has. The instructions said, "Find and copy an example...." Many students said, "Can we just make up our own example?" Why, yes! Yes, you can.

- We were reviewing solving equations by speed math-ing. One of my lowest students said, "These are too easy. Can we have some harder examples?"

- At a grade-level meeting this week, challenges with two of my students were discussed. A colleague offered to speak to one of the students, and I contacted the parents of the other. Both showed marked improvement. They and I both saw what they CAN do and how to encourage continued success.

- After the come-apart with the aforementioned class, I compared myself to Hades in Hercules when his hair flames up and apologized, saying I don't like to do that. I focused the rest of that day on relationships. I assured them they are not bad kids (one asked), but that sometimes they make bad decisions. I tried to show them I want them to be successful and I want us to have a positive experience during the time they are with me each day. I still think I am going to have to get creative to really figure them out - I'm currently brainstorming and waiting for the "A-Ha" - but we are making progress together.

So...as difficult as things are and as distracted as I feel - it is very weird for me to not be able to focus on school as much as I would like - there are good things happening in Room 12. It WILL be a successful year!

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