I recently attended a Teach For America “vision dinner,” a casual meeting between corps members (i.e. teachers) and Managers of Teacher Leadership and Development (MTLDs) on Teach For America’s staff. The meeting centered around the following two questions: 1) how do our visions for our classrooms help us realize student achievement, and 2) how could we alter them to make them even more effective?
When the MTLDs opened the session up to small group discussion, I immediately turned to a fellow kindergarten teacher and said, “Honestly, I’ve hardly been referring to my vision at all in my class. I want to, but I’m too focused on the day-to-day.” My friend responded that a vision should be more like a lens than a checklist. If we look at everything we do through the lens of our vision, then we won’t have to constantly revisit it and stack up what we’re doing against some rubric. I disagreed. If we don’t constantly revisit our vision, I argued, we have no way of knowing if our students are on track to meet the goals we’ve set for them.
Last night, as I sat entering grades for an upcoming progress report, I realized the shortcomings of my definition of a vision. My vision-as-checklist mentality had led me to teach without a clear sense of what my destination was, only to discover the harsh reality that my kids were not on track to get where they needed to be. I had a feeling this would be the case, of course; as I said, my struggles with the day-to-day of being a first-year teacher led me to put my vision on the backburner. What I hadn’t yet realized was that it didn’t have to be this way. My friend was right. If we use our vision like a lens, allowing it to inform everything we do, then we won’t feel like we always need to adjust our course.
My vision for my kindergartners is that they will enter first grade at least half of a grade level above where they are expected to be, putting them on a long-term trajectory of academic success. For my students, many of whom had never been inside a classroom before this year, this means making over one and a half years of reading growth, achieving 80% mastery of math content, and learning how to be responsible and engaged community members. I’ve realized that this vision needs to inform every lesson I write. My phonics lessons should no longer teach students only how to read and write the letter M, but instead, they should provide them with the foundation they need to begin decoding text on a first-grade level. My math plans should no longer teach students only how to count, but rather provide them with the number sense they will need to add and subtract on a first-grade level. Finally, the culture in my classroom should not only foster learning and engagement in the short-term, but should spark in my students the sort of engagement that will lead to a lifetime full of academic achievement.