Reflections on a New Year: Part 2

As a new school year rapidly approaches, I am pondering the year that is past. Successes, failures, flops, and everything in between. And these reflections are not limited to lessons and instruction.

I am thinking about the physical organization of my room, routines and procedures, culture and climate, contacting parents, after school programs, grant writing, supplies and materials that I will need, time management before, during, and after school, the list continues to grow on a daily basis.

One thing I learned last year is that I tried to do way too much.

Between running two after school programs, being a member of the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT), and trying to revolutionize the way I taught by using homemade 311px-Lift_correctly._This_way..._Not_this_-_NARA_-_535333instructional videos, writing original performance pieces (that never quite turned out the way I wanted), and using read alouds and other ELA based instructional practices in my music classes, I spread myself way too thin and burnt out more than once throughout the year.

This year I am starting with a minimalist approach. My main focus is going to be the culture and climate in my classroom.

To give a bit of context, I teach in Chicago Public Schools in an area known for its poverty and high crime rate. Many of my students are lacking social emotional skills that are essential for someone entering the workforce. Luckily I teach pre-kindergarten – 8th grade and I can still help to teach and instill productive personal traits in my students before going to high school.

I am going to focus on establishing an environment that is physically and emotionally safe and respectful of all students and adults who enter my room. I had one class in particular last year with whom I did not establish as respectful of an environment as I thought I had.

I rushed the beginning of my year wanting to jump into rigorous instruction as soon as possible, somehow not realizing that I can deliver rigorous instruction while still focusing on my culture and climate at the same time. As a result I lost a lot of time at the end of the year having to repair what I had overlooked at the beginning.

With this in mind I am still going to plan rigorous lesson but I am going to do so while still placing a focus on the culture and climate of my classroom. I plan on building this through student discussion using accountable talk, self and peer assessments, and of course some team building songs and games.

As the year progresses I plan to continue focusing on culture and climate in varying degrees.

startup-business-people-students-office-strategy-1My ultimate goal is that my students get to a point where they are completely self sufficient and they run class with little to no help from me.

For this to come to fruition I must be aware of when things are not going as well as intended and then be able to determine the source, whether it is one student is having a rough day and they just need some time to chill out, or the larger relationships in the classroom, student-to-student and student-to-teacher,  are beginning to break down, requiring action that is both appropriate and purposeful.

I have faith that as I keep myself attuned to the environment in my classroom and remain responsive to the the ever changing nuances of my developing young people, that my ultimate goal will be a success.


Zebediah (Zeb) Allen is a music teacher in Chicago, IL and has been teaching in low income inner city public schools for 5 years. Zeb wants to live in a world where students always listen, teachers are always well rested, and no one ever skips breakfast or lunch. As a Music Educator, he’s taught at 7 schools in Chicago Public Schools (2 of them as a resident teacher) in the Chicago neighborhoods of Garfield Park, Bronzeville, South Loop, North Lawndale, and currently in South Shore. He has presented at Googlepalooza, a technology focused professional development conference in Chicago for anyone involved in education, for the past two years and continually strives to find ways to use technology to the advantage of both students and teachers. When he’s not teaching or lesson planning, you can find him writing music, rock climbing, cooking, looking for a new amazing dinner spot, or any other way to just have fun.

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