Sunday, July 12, 2015

Answering My Critics

Yesterday, I mentioned that I ask my students to complete an end-of-the-year evaluation where they get a chance to tell me what they thought of me and my class. A few students chose to critique the focus I have on their digital student portfolios. They told me that it was a waste of their time and didn't understand the purpose. Some of these comments came from students who didn't truly engage in the work and whose portfolios were haphazardly done without much effort. And then there were the critiques from kids whose websites were exemplary. These comments were the hardest to digest because to look at their work you would think, Wow, this student really understands what it means to reflect on their work and their learning. It takes some time for me to read through these evaluations and then I have to walk away for a bit. In order to be able to think through this student feedback, I need a couple of weeks to distance myself from the personal reactions I have initially.

People ask me why I even bother with student evaluations, especially if I am going to take it personally. Well, my whole job is personal. How can it not be? We are dealing with human beings. If I was able to go through an entire school year and not make a single personal connection with a student, I shudder to think what that year would be like. So when I earnestly ask my kids to give me feedback, I know that it will bring me some moments of heartache and that my feelings will be hurt. 

But it is worth it. 

I look at my class as an ever-evolving course. Having the luxury of continually teaching 7th grade ELA for the past 15 years, it is an opportunity to hone my craft in a way that few educators get. If I was silly enough to think that my students didn't have anything to teach me, my work wouldn't be in the place it is today. So during the last week, I make that time to change roles with my students and ask them for feedback on what they both appreciated and what they didn't in my class.

Now that I have had a few weeks away from the classroom, I read these negative comments about our portfolio work with clearer eyes. First, I can remind myself that just because these students didn't get the purpose behind their portfolios doesn't make the work any less valuable. Instead of being disappointed by these comments, I am able to ask myself some great questions to continue to improve this work for my students next year. How can I make the purpose more visible for kids? How can I bridge the work to other 7th grade teachers who share my students? How can I work with teachers K-6 to build more of a foundation for this work so it isn't brand new in 7th grade? How I can I hand the baton to my colleagues 8-12 so that the work isn't abandoned but extended to a point where these sites have a real world currency for students as they enter college or the work force?

I have heard rumblings from my district that digital portfolios are the direction they want to move in. While this was validating, I haven't felt like I was viewed as a resource in making this shift. Again, I reacted by taking it personally and allowed my emotions to get the better of me. But after time to mull over this lack of action and the critique that my own students offered, I have a renewed sense of purpose. I am going to move forward and make the powerful collaboration I envision happen rather than wait for administration to figure it out. I am going to continue to revise the portfolio process to work on those weaknesses that my former students pointed out. This work will never be finished. Like anything worthwhile in life, time should be given to stop, reflect, acknowledge, and revise. For if we don't, we never point to the success in the work or the areas for improvement. We don't continue to evolve. I would never want the work I do with kids to become stagnant. Their evaluations are a reminder of how I can continue to push myself. I attempt to answer their critiques and use them to guide me as I head towards another fall.

1 comment:

Colorful Blossom said...

Hi Mrs. Fanning, I wanted to say that the portfolios aren't a waste of time, and they probably will help us in the future. If I wanted to apply for some college, I could show it to them since I think I want to pursue an interest in technology, graphic design etc. Or I could put some of my best work in high school to showcase some of the work I did. I hope that the students were respectful when saying the negative things about the portfolios. Keep doing it with future students because it really is beneficial to us. I don't think my classmates realize how lucky they are to have you as their language arts teacher. Have a great (rest of the) summer! ~Tracy