Dear Sarah,

How do I keep track of changes I want to make for next year? I find that I always have these great ideas and think “oh I’ll remember that” and then next year comes along and I can’t remember, or I remember too late.

Sincerely,

Remembering Great Ideas

Dear Remembering Great Ideas,

My principal walked into my classroom the other day and jokingly said, “You know, you should probably get a jump on packing all this stuff up.” Although the move to our new school isn’t for six more months and he knows I’m still in the throes of teaching this semester, his friendly chiding underlies a truth I share with many of you: I’m a saver. A collector. I think someday I may need this and then stash it away until that day arrives. But all I end up creating is clutter that prevents me from finding what I need, when I need it.

The first step to remembering is forgetting. That is to say, just like all of that physical clutter we can create by collecting, we have to make room for our new ideas to emerge and grow by letting go of others. Too often I’ve tried to “add one more thing” onto what we did the year before, rather than remembering our revision is re-imagining.

Even though we are trained to shift and revise as we teach, it can be difficult, even counter-productive, to re-imagine once we’ve started our learners down a path. Which means we need to create trails for revision: those grooves that remind us of our best ideas at the moments we had them. Here are some ideas.

  • Sticky notes. I have them around me constantly. I write on them in the middle of class, in the middle of the night, in the middle of responding to student work. It’s a way to capture those thoughts that aren’t perfect or finished or even plausible. Later, you can organize them and decide if that flash insight is worth pursuing or not.
  • Teaching journal. Try a physical notebook. Take it to meetings and keep it close when you’re planning. You never know when mapping out an idea in circles and different colors will take that burst of an idea closer to a concrete act of revised fruition. It’s also a place to store all of those sticky notes until you’re ready to think through them.
  • Immediate revision. Every once in awhile (most often after I’ve graded an assignment of some kind) I realize the way my instructions led students in a direction I hadn’t intended. In those cases, I find it’s worth taking 20-30 minutes and revising the prompt or assignment guide while those changes are clear and obvious to me. Otherwise, a year later it could take two hours to remember all of the details I had held so obviously 12 months prior. So take those notes you’d been making as you were looking at student work and use them to your advantage now.
  • Curate online. Whether you take a lot of photos, bookmark all kinds of online resources or use electronic notes, organizing them now can help you locate them later. Make folders and label them in the way that will make sense to you later. Whether it’s by month, by unit, or by topic, start filling those folders with the remnants of what you’re learning now to help you think differently about instruction later.

My favorite part of your question is what underlies it all: the way you understand nothing about teaching is fixed, that our practice is one long exercise in revision. As you continue to evolve, remember your best ideas are breadcrumbs to the moments you paid the closest attention to your learners.

Teach openly,

Together with Teacher2Teacher

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