Kicking Off Our Best Year Ever with ‘Ice Ice Baby’

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August 23, 2016

“Yo, VIP, let’s kick it!” Or “Yo, VIT”? Either way, let’s celebrate the more than 100,000 Very Important Teachers getting ready to kick off the 2016-17 school year!

Teachers are Very Important People. In fact, the National Center for Educational Statistics states, “Teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in student achievement.” Let that sink in. Our effectiveness is the most important factor in influencing outcomes for those who matter most in our classrooms: our students.

Of course, parents are the most important people in the lives of their children. Yet, no matter what their circumstances are at home, our choices in the classroom shape and influence the learning experiences and achievement of our students.
This is a privilege we do not take lightly. Most of us consider it a calling to serve students and their families in this role. We want every child to succeed. To ensure this, we must believe that we are capable of meeting the needs of each learner and develop our capacity for doing so. We must be able to put ourselves in our learners’ shoes to determine how we might meet them where they are.
This is no small feat given the myriad tasks that teachers are bombarded with. To maximize our limited resources, we must prioritize what we will allow ourselves to engage in by asking, “What matters most? Will this have a significant impact on my students and their learning?” This might require a shift in our thinking. Shift happens when we consider six words we have heard around the globe for more than 25 years.

“All right, stop. Collaborate and listen.”

I’m certain most VITs recognize Rob Van Winkle’s profound words from his early ’90s hit “Ice Ice Baby.” Vanilla Ice’s fresh lyrics are key in creating cultures of learning that will help us make this the best school year yet.

If we are to stop working harder in order to work smarter, we must leverage the collective intelligence in a group when we collaborate. Co-laboring works well when we are able to share ownership for the success of our students and focus on how we might continuously improve our practice. Collaboration for students is also necessary for engaging them in a learning process that fosters deeper understanding of content, language usage and social-emotional wellness. Being able to communicate well is critical to successful collaboration and is only possible when we know how to listen.

Listening is hard. We give so much of ourselves, yet the act of listening opposes our inclinations. It requires effort and intention. It takes time and energy – two resources we often have too little of – yet if we invest these resources into listening, we find that we actually end up with more time and energy because we know where to focus our resources. Modeling listening helps develop others’ capacity for knowing how to listen.  It helps us build meaningful, trusting relationships. It allows us to formatively assess students’ understanding of content. It gives us the ability to personalize learning. It shows the utmost respect and fosters empathy. Talk about return on investment! Our motto at Zinser Elementary is Kids Who CARE: Choosing an Attitude of Respect and Empathy. It is a choice. Will we choose to invest?

Learners and learning are what we care about deeply. When we invest in what matters most, we succeed. This is why we must Stop. Collaborate and listen in order to make this the best school year ever!

“Word to your mother.”

Photo: Administrative and teacher leaders in Kent City Community Schools develop their facilitation skills for focused, collaborative inquiry. Kent Intermediate School District’s consultant and staff facilitate the collaborative learning experience and act as “critical friends.”
Tracy Horodyski is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2016-17, the 10th year Meemic has partnered with the Michigan Department of Education for the MTOY program. She’s a reading interventionist and instruction coach at Zinser Elementary in Grand Rapids and has more than 15 years of classroom experience.
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