Try another way: Making a fresh start

It’s that time again of the beginning of an academic year.  A time where the air can be electric with new ideas, fresh starts and a barrage of stimuli that leads to excitement and sometimes stress and overwhelm.  New supplies, new tools, for some new clothes and other material goods.  Maybe even a move to a new town, or to at least a home away from home.   Even without any of that, starting something new brings many emotions.

Once underway, the buzz turns into a hum at some point.  I was always hopeful that in my classroom, the hum began some time mid-September with a regular routine at least and an outline to the day that allowed for less overwhelm and more controlled chaos.  By Fall break, things were well on the way to smoother sailing.

What happens between the buzz and the hum?  Lots of things.  It’s clear when things are working and when some things need to be tweaked.  It’s a learning process- some times a minute at a time, others maybe a day at a time.  Ideas for getting started may or may not work out, depending on the student’s needs and changes in technology, instructional strategies and materials.   Being open to making things new and fresh is key to making the buzz turn to a hum.

Marc Gold was an innovator in the 1970’s who pioneered a revolutionary approach to working with students with disabilities.  While his focus was on how to teach students with severe disabilities, his verbal prompt “Try another way” when a mistake was made or during learning steps, along with verbal praise as positive reinforcement for trying and breaking things into small parts, became an innovative teaching strategy.   He was persistent in demonstrating that an alternate way of looking at things could allow students to demonstrate untapped potential.  Not only did he elevate the expectations for students he taught, but he also developed a tool kit for realizing those expectations, not only of the students, but of teachers as well.

Trying another way can be daunting, especially when it takes a lot of “other ways” before the right fit is found.  Einstein said, “You never fail until you stop trying”.

Some starting points might include-

Start small.  Eat the elephant a bite at a time.
Look at your results positively, even if they weren’t what you had hoped for or expected.
If things didn’t go as you’d hoped, what will you try next?  Make a plan, and again make small adjustments.  Try adding one thing at a time.
Talk things out with others you know.  They may have ideas you haven’t thought of before.
Research what others have done.
Think of how you will approach different students with the new idea you are trying.
Think of 3 different ways you could teach a concept.
Ask students for ideas.
Look for new and available resources that can help to implement your new ideas  (like student workers or the Advanced Manufacturing Program’s 3d printer).

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