We Need To Become “Crash Test Teachers”!

HEY TEACHERS!!! Times have changed…and we teachers really need to be open to trying new things in our classroom (our own ideas…and the ideas of others).  We need to be willing to be “Crash Test Teachers.”

Let’s face it, coming out of the dreaded “Covid Chaos” has been a daunting task for the country as a whole…but especially for teachers and their classroom. Our students have changed. School policies have changed. And the way teachers are viewed by the public has changed. I mean…we went from heroes to zeros in about 4.3 seconds. Teachers are jumping ship at an alarming rate and schools don’t seem to know what to do about teacher shortages, the lack of substitute teachers, or how in the world we are going to get back those 2 years that were lost due to the global fiasco that was COVID-19.

The one thing that has remained constant is the passion for the craft of teaching that those of us left in the classroom have. Sure, we’ve been hit hard by changing policies, social and emotional needs (from students and us), and one heck of a technology crash course we’ve had to implement in our classrooms since the early months of 2020. BUT…those of us still here have a job to do, and come rain or shine…we’re gonna do it.  But how? 

My experience just before COVID and since COVID has shown me that we really need to consider old school teaching. The kind that not only teaches the “3 Rs”, but also teaches students how to interact in a rapidly changing world. Middle and High school students need to learn what lies ahead and how they are going to plant their flag and take control of their “slice of the pie”. They need to understand how to interact in a new digital age. They need to understand the dangers of online living. AND…they really, really, really need to understand how they can enter the new and rising “Creator Economy.” In other words…we need to teach them lifelong skills and enhance their lifelong learning. 

We need to think beyond the current political climate. We need to start thinking beyond the current social turmoil. We have to start thinking beyond the way we’ve been teaching…and develop a teaching style that will help students become fully functioning members of society. 

The educational arena is full of educators who chose to play it safe and thus have lessons that don’t encourage lifelong learning.  When I say “playing it safe” I’m not referring to the safety of the student (we should all play it safe in that area), I’m talking about the attempts we chose not to make that might have helped us design an awesomely impacting learning environment.

As teachers, we must embrace the idea that trying new things is OK.  When it comes to launching new ideas or products in our learning environment, we generally have 2 separate worries.  First, the idea we’ve created will not work and I’ll look like an idiot.  Or second, the idea that someone else created will not work and I’ll look like an idiot.  One word…PRIDE.  We need to get over ourselves.  Below are 4 steps we can all follow that will help us become Crash Test Teachers as opposed to The Same Ol’- Same Ol’ Teachers.

STEP 1: Don’t Be Afraid Of Your Own Ideas

We’ve all had what we thought could be an awesome idea for a classroom project, concept, or curriculum change.  BUT, we never implemented it because we were afraid of failing.  Come on…if we don’t try it, how will we ever know if “it” will work.  You know your students.  You know your content.  You know your classroom.  Try implementing something you’ve created/designed. 

I’ve attempted many of my own ideas in my classroom.  Virtual journals, new curriculum, seating arrangements, desk arrangements, assessments, PBL projects, disciplinary consequences, even stealthy ways to suggest hygiene practices to middle school boys.  Some have worked awesomely.  Some have worked “so-so”.  And some have totally bombed.  But the value of the successes have outshined, and continue to outshine, the disappointment of the “stinkers”.

I am currently teaching my students graphic design and digital art skills through my Technology Applications classes. I teach foundational computer art design strategies and then I teach my students (and their families) how to upload the designs they create on an online platform that allows the artwork to be placed on shirts, hoodies, bedspreads, pillows, phone cases, socks, dog bowls, facemasks, and sooooo many other products. Then…they can sell their art, on those products, to people around the world. My goal is to teach as many students (and families) as I can how to enter the Creator Economy and make some much needed side income…or full time profits.  

I’m not gonna lie…it was scary at first. I had to get the blessing of the campus administrators, then I had to get parents involved (middle school students can’t set up their own banking information). But I had faith in my abilities (and experience, and knowledge) and I knew it would be an awesome tool for our lower income families. Sure enough…IT WORKED! I had to cast my fears aside and do what I believed was best for my students.

STEP 2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Ideas Of Others

We shouldn’t be afraid to implement something that someone else created/designed.  We need to unhook ourselves from the “I have to create ALL of my own content” train.  With all of the things teachers are expected to do in the classroom, it’s often a wonder that we have time to create new content at all.  The good news is that there are other teachers that have “been there, and tried that,”  If we learn of some cool content or project that another teacher has done AND it’s been successful in their classroom, why not try it? 

Some of the best strategies I’ve attempted in my classroom came from workshops where other educators, who had a ton more experience than I did, introduced the audience to new ideas.  Some of those ideas I liked, so I tried them in my class.  After implementation, some of those strategies worked and some didn’t.  Some strategies worked after I tweaked them just a bit.  Giving your own spin to someone else’s ideas is OK.  After all, nobody knows your students better than you.  Take that knowledge, add it to an idea you’ve gotten from someone else, and let it fly. 

Personal Development Days are another great place to experience the ideas that others have tried and had success with.  Just this past week, our school had a PD day on President’s Day.  During the day, I came across the “Save The Last Word” strategy for small group discussions.  For those of you who don’t know it, basically you have one student introduce a thought or idea to a small group, and then let the other members of the group share their ideas on the ideas or concept.  The whole time the others are sharing, the student who initiated the conversation doesn’t talk…they just listen.  The idea is that the student will gain a better understanding of the concept/idea after hearing the various viewpoints of others.  I will definitely be planning this exercise in the next few days.  It wasn’t my idea…but I’m taking it and running with it.

Teaching is not about re-inventing the wheel…it’s about teaching students skills and concepts that will have a positive impact on their life going forward.  We should welcome new ideas from other educators who have attempted and succeeded in implementing classroom resources that are beneficial to students.  In fact, we should be happy that others have come before us and they have been considerate enough to share their ideas and concepts.  Sure, some ideas and concepts are awesome…and some are…well…stinkers.  But how will we know if we don’t try.  That brings us to step #3.

STEP 3: Don’t Be Afraid To Let Your Students Have Input

Students are smart.  They know what learning should look like, and they know what works and what doesn’t work in your classroom.  AFTER ALL…they’re the ones doing all the learning.  So bring them in on the new classroom strategy launch.  Students are willing to play along, especially if whatever you’re implementing is different from “the way it’s always been done.” 

Students are resilient, they are almost always willing to try something new, and I haven’t met a student yet who doesn’t want to give me their two cents about any new classroom strategy I try and initiate.  If you ask my students today, they would tell you that, “Mr. Fairchild always calls us Guinea pigs.”  It’s true.  I let them know we are attempting something that might be outside the norm, and to give me feedback.  There have been many ideas launched in my classroom that had immediate negative feedback from the students.  Those ideas are quickly taken out of the teaching routine, and addressed/assessed after school or during my conference period.  Which brings us to the final step to take to be a successful “Crash Test Teacher.”

STEP 4: Don’t Be Afraid To Fail

Another thing my students will gladly tell you is that, “Failure is AWESOME!”  I believe that when we fail, we are able to evaluate our mistakes, make adjustments, and then be successful going forward.  For Crash Test Teachers, that sometimes means making adjustments to concepts we’ve implemented, OR it means coming to a realization that whatever we are trying to implement just isn’t going to work.

When we first notice that something is going wrong with whatever classroom strategy we are implementing, we should first attempt to fix it (if time allows).  Again, we know our students and our learning environment.  Is there something small that we can change that will make the concept/idea have a more positive impact on the overall learning experience?  If so, change it.  If not, we need to be willing to walk away. 

No matter how much time and money we (or our district) has put into a strategy, concept, or routine, if we’ve tried to make it work but just can’t, we need to scrap it and move on.  It is important that we don’t spend too much time here.  There are state standards we need to meet and there are state assessment tests we need to prepare for.

Remember, when we fail, we learn.  We either learn how to pivot and fix the problem, or we learn what not to do next time.  FYI…this is valuable information we can pass on to other teachers as well.  If we see them struggling in similar situations, we can tell them what worked and what didn’t. 

RECAP

To be a successful Crash Test Teacher, we need to be:

  • Willing to attempt our own ideas
  • Willing to attempt the ideas of others
  • Willing to allow student feedback
  • Willing and ready to fail

When an idea for curriculum, PBL project, new classroom tech, field trip, fundraiser, and/or even seating arrangement for those students who are “collaboratively challenged” presents itself, we need to at least try and see if it will work. If it doesn’t work…fix it…or at least try to fix it.  If we don’t at least attempt to try something new, then we’ll never know if that idea or concept could have been beneficial to our students’ learning or not.  I’d hate to think that just because I didn’t at least try something new, my students might have missed out on an amazing lifelong learning opportunity.

~Mitch

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