About Christina Gil

Christina Gil was a high-school English teacher for sixteen years, but she recently left the classroom to follow a dream and move with her family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. She believes that teaching creative writing helps students excel on standardized tests, that deeply analyzing and unpacking a poemis a fabulous way to spend an hour or so, and that Shakespeare is always better with sound effects. When she is not hauling water to her tiny home, she can be found homeschooling her two kids or meeting with her neighbors about the best way to run their village.

You started off with the best of intentions—a clean desk, new notebooks, resolutions for the new school year—but things are already turning sour.  Students aren’t working the way that you’d like them to, lessons have flopped, you are having discipline and classroom management issues.  Your classes feel chaotic and out of control, and you are headed for a breakdown. What should you do if things aren’t going well? What is the best way to stop and get a fresh start?

Growth mindset isn’t just something to teach your students.  We can all learn from our mistakes.

Follow these seven steps to turn your class around.

1. Take a break and shut off your mind for a little while.

This could be anything from a long workout at the gym to a walk outside in nature to a “mental health” sick day.  Let your mind work for you while you just take a step away for a little while.  Chances are you have been obsessing over whatever the issue is, and that hasn’t resulted in any solutions, so let your subconscious mind take this one.

Take a break for a little while Click To Tweet

2. Reflect, reflect, reflect.

Look back at everything that hasn’t worked.  What was the worst day, the worst moment, the worst lesson or comment or time in your class.  Chances are, as painful as this will be to realize, if things aren’t going well it is something that you did wrong, not the students.  You can look for someone or something to blame, or you can pinpoint the issue.  This is not easy, and it will be tempting to deflect the blame on anything but you.  Write about what worked and what didn’t or make a chart or a list or a brain dump of any kind—just do something to get it all out.  Then try to find the pattern.  What do all those bad times have in common?

3. Choose one area and focus on that.

Maybe the first five minutes of class is chaos and it is impossible to get the class back after that.  Maybe you haven’t been getting students to turn in their homework and that is an issue.  Maybe there is one particular student who seems to set the tone for the rest of the class (things are fine if that kid is absent but chaos on the other days).  You can’t overhaul every single aspect of your teaching (yet), so just pick one thing to fix.

4. Make yourself vulnerable for a little while.

Let your students know that you are not happy with the way things are going.  Tell them what you discovered when you reflected on the class, and let them know that you have messed up.  If you aren’t connecting with your students, you will never get the class back, and letting them know that you have made a mistake and plan to learn from it is a great way to bond with them.

5. Get the students’ input.

Ask them for suggestions.  Maybe the reason why none of them passed in their last essay was because they had a science test the same day.  Perhaps your second-period class is always tardy because they come from gym class and don’t have time to shower.  Maybe the reason they don’t talk to you with the respect that you would like is because they are upset about something that you said to a student one day.  They might not want a successful class quite as much as you do, but they don’t truly enjoy chaos either.  They want to feel important and like they are learning something in school.  Otherwise, they are just biding time until they get out.  They also want to feel valued and important—this is their education, and ultimately, they are the ones who will suffer if you aren’t teaching them as well as you could.  This step might work best if you have students write you a letter that no one else reads—they will be more likely to tell the truth if they don’t have to say it in front of the whole class.

Students want to feel important and like they are learning something in school. Click To Tweet

6. Consider something radical.

Maybe you drop homework altogether.  Perhaps you decide to read out loud to your students instead of assigning them the reading.  Maybe you all try a five-minute guided meditation at the beginning of class.  Maybe you assign a creative writing assignment instead of a test.  Gimmicks will get you nowhere, but real change based on reflection and student input might make all the difference.  “Because that’s the way they have always done it” is pretty much the worst reason to do anything.  If you don’t have a reason not to do something, why not try it?  At the least, your students will see that you are willing to put yourself out on a limb for them.  They might laugh because they are uncomfortable with change, but you are teaching them that it is okay to try things that make you nervous.

7. Make a change and see how it goes.

Let your students know that you are going to try something new.  It might flop, it might not—you don’t know, but you know what isn’t working and you don’t want to continue on that path.  Tell them that you might have to make further adjustments or maybe even go back to the old way of doing things while you figure something else out.  You don’t plan to wait for the new year or a new semester, you’re going to do it now.

Ultimately, what you will be teaching your students is that it is never too late to change, that mistakes are an opportunity for growth, and that you are all on this (somewhat sinking) ship together.

Fresh Start

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