What’s Next?

When I started teaching, I didn’t enjoy my time in the classroom very much. During hard classes I could barely wait for the bell. And when I sat down to plan my next class, I would stare into space, stumped, stuck thinking about everything that went wrong with the last lesson and unable to plan what to do next.

Now, by the time I get back to my desk after a class the next lesson is often mostly planned. There’s lots of reasons for that, but one shift I’ve noticed is that when I teach, I spend a lot more mental energy thinking about the future. When an activity falls flat or I realize that students understand less than I thought, I respond both by figuring out what to do next in the moment, and thinking about what I’d like to do the next day or the day after to build from where students are based on what I’m seeing.

Noticing this shift reminded me of Lani Horn’s writing on an asset orientation. When thinking or talking about students who struggle, a deficit orientation focuses I can focus on shortcomings and blames the student’s past or experiences out of their control. An asset orientation focuses on their strengths and how they can move them forward from where they are. An asset orientation is forward-looking and solution-oriented. In the same way, I can think during class about what I wish I had done differently, what I wish students had known, or what I wish I had changed. Or, I can focus on what I’m learning about my students in that moment and how I will use that to move forward with their mathematical learning. This doesn’t mean hiding from my mistakes or pretending that a lesson went better than it did. It just means looking at my classroom and students with the perspective of “what’s next?”.

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