Brianne Gidcumb | January 2015

Refocus, Revamp, Revitalize

This has been a year of change in my music room. New standards. A new grade level structure, integrating 4th and 5th graders together in music class. A new project based learning initiative asking every teacher to plan and implement a fully developed PBL experience. That includes research and a panel presentation. Even with over a decade of teaching experience, it impossible to encounter this much change and not feel like a novice teacher all over again.

We all encounter these periods of extreme change in our own classrooms, schools, and districts. So once things have been established in the face of all this “newness,” how can you revamp your practice to maximize your classroom? Can you make alterations mid-year without losing momentum?

In reflecting on the first half of the school year, I jotted down several questions, thoughts, and concerns. In my notes, I  found a few common themes. So, I developed a few resolutions to guide me in refocusing, to revamp, and revitalizing my teaching through the long, stressful second half of the school year.

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Refocus with a “pocket philosophy.”

One of my college professors instilled the importance of having a “pocket philosophy,”. A 25-word-or-less mission statement. Having a concise mission statement keeps us focused on what is truly important. By keeping your mission kid-centered and standards-based, you have a starting point. This way, you can decide what stays and what goes in your classroom and curriculum. Even in the middle of the school year, you can refer back to your pocket philosophy. This should guide what you want the second half of your year to look like.

Identify points that need to revamp or revising.

If it is an ill fit, if it is inauthentic, if it didn’t work, then it doesn’t belong in your classroom or in your curriculum without review. Even with meticulous planning, some things just don’t work as we hoped they would. 

Eliminate the unnecessary: In the spirit of my post from two weeks ago about my foray into minimalism, eliminate the unnecessary from your instruction. If it isn’t standards-based, if it doesn’t align with your pocket philosophy, or if it isn’t developmentally appropriate, out it goes!

Make small changes first: Recognize what can be fixed without major revision. Identify problem areas, and brainstorm solutions that require the least amount of change first, especially mid-year. So often in education, we make radical changes when we aren’t getting the results we want. Instead, make minor tweaks first, celebrating and capitalizing on what has been successful.

Make your own revitalization a priority.

We are reaching a stressful time of year: between the long winter months, programs, open houses, testing, etc., the light at the end of the tunnel seems nowhere in sight. Recognize your own well-being as an important part of your classroom, your interactions with students, and your instruction. When my stress level increases, my effectiveness as a teacher decreases because my ability to be flexible, resilient, patient, and creative are diminished. It has helped tremendously to pinpoint stressful triggers and develop plans to deal with those triggers. Whatever your triggers are, and however you can successfully navigate them, make your well-being a priority for your benefit as well as for the benefit of your students.

Do you have a plan for gearing up or revamp for the second half of the school year? What techniques are successful for you?

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: