Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Matter of Trust

Let me start by saying it's been a GREAT week!

It's been a challenging school year to this point, and the weeks before Thanksgiving Break were a struggle. I've ended more days than I can count feeling ineffective. I admit I expected this week, as students returned from Thanksgiving and looked ahead to Christmas, to be just as challenging.

My students have put forth great effort this week, and it's been one of those weeks where things have seemed a little smoother and easier.

I'm thankful for the positive week. And making a "note to self" to remember this week when the next rough patch hits.

What I really want to talk about, though, is trust. Trust in my students.

I was talking with a colleague this week, and I theorized that every teacher is somewhat of a control freak. It's MY classroom and MY students, and I want things to go (and be done) MY way.

Flipping my Algebra 1 classes two years ago was the beginning of me giving up some control. Of me trusting my students.

Moving direct instruction into the control of my students led to changes in my classroom (wow, that's an understatement!).

Students were given choices of activities. Students were allowed to work together more than ever before.

Then I began to notice I was allowing students more control in how they approached problems. To use strategies that made sense to them.

(Incidentally, just this week I was looking at a student's work and I heard myself saying, "Well...that's OK, but what I really want you to see is _______ and do it this way." No, no, no, Mrs. Gibbs! *smacks own hand*)

I confess to being slower to trust my (inclusion) Pre-Algebra students. When we first moved to Common Core-based standards, my thought was, "There's no way! These kids have so many difficulties and challenges, and you want me to teach them to do WHAT?!?!"

So I baby-stepped them through things, confident there was no way they would understand as deeply as they were supposed to understand. I would tell them what I wanted them know and hope a few of them got it.

Then this year I began an in-earnest in-class flip. I began to notice that my Pre-Algebra classes were still much, much quieter than my Algebra 1 classes (read: boring!). They were still working largely individually.

I decided they needed the opportunity to work together just as much as my Algebra 1 students. They needed to talk and learn from each other.

Could I trust them to stay on task? Could I trust them to choose who to work with?

The short answer: Yes.

I used to hate "group work." It was often a waste of time and such a management nightmare. I didn't trust my students, so I never gave them sufficient opportunity to show me that they could do what I needed them to do.

Now, working together - in Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 - is just how my class runs.  I am often amazed (and always do a little internal happy-dance) as I circulate around my room and hear mostly mathematical discourse. Yes, they are teenagers and need redirection from time-to-time, but most of the time there is a nice "hum" of engaged activity.

The other area I am trusting my students more is content. I admit to many times not going deep enough out of fear. Out of lack of trust.

This is too hard.

They won't get this.

I will have to give them every answer.

This will be a headache.

This year - with both groups - I've been giving my students tasks and seeing what they can do with them. Sure, Pre-Algebra needs more scaffolding than Algebra 1, but I am learning they are perfectly capable of going deep.

There are still questions. I spend class periods moving from group to group having conversations. I ask lots of questions. I smile and encourage and walk away (boy, that's hard!).

But students try. They think. They make connections. They learn.

I have spent years complaining about students being "lazy thinkers." Nothing is more frustrating than giving students a task and them seeming paralyzed.

How do you Number 1? Number 2? I don't get it!

Yes, students still have to be taught and encouraged to find joy in the struggle, but I was thinking recently that I am hearing much less of these statements this year.

Is it this year's group of students?

Or is it me? Was I the reason my students were lazy thinkers?

Was it simply a matter of trust?


  1. This is an awesome post. I love how active you are getting your students. Flipped Learning is working so well for your kids. Thanks also for your transparency. Giving up control is hard and I'm proud that you have done it.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! As silly as it might sound, my students and I would not be where we are with Flipped Learning without YOU! Thanks for all you do!