An elementary-only independent school located in Atlanta, serving children ages three through Sixth Grade since 1951.

Teacher Feature: Thomas Benefield

Just Like Starting Over

By Thomas Benefield, Fifth Grade Lead Teacher
(Full Disclosure – this post has nothing to do with John Lennon’s song of the same title. I was hoping it would, but not happening. On with the post…)
Here at Trinity School, we are always striving to increase our ability to help our students. One of the main ways this happens is through the professional development (PD) that Trinity offers. Our PD is meaningful and impactful.
This is my third year at Trinity, and I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that I have grown more professionally in these three years than in the 18 I was in public school. I imagine that statement is hard to believe. I am sure that you may even think that I am employing hyperbole, but I honestly believe it is a true statement.
I have mentioned in a previous post that we are not only expected to continue to grow as teachers, but it is encouraged. Opportunities abound for faculty and staff members to explore areas and techniques that will benefit us not only in the classroom, but also in areas of our personal growth. The administration knows that when we are taking care of ourselves, stretching our minds, and learning new things, we will be more effective in the classroom, and ultimately that is our main goal. To become the best that we can be in the classroom so that our students will get the absolute best education they can while they are at Trinity.
So, how does that tie into the title of this post? That would be the recent addition of the concept of mini-lessons into Trinity’s classrooms. What is a mini-lesson? From the website, “A mini-lesson is a short lesson with a narrow focus that provides instruction in a skill or concept that students will then relate to a larger lesson that will follow. A mini-lesson typically precedes reading workshop or writing workshop, but it can serve as an introduction to a social studies, science, or math lesson.”
I have always been a whole-group lesson kind of teacher. I have relied on my ability to hold my students’ attention through my kinetic personality and delivery as well as finding ways to help the students connect to the lesson. I think I have been successful at this, but after learning about mini-lessons and seeing this approach from some of my co-workers, I made the decision that it will benefit my students more if I also adopt this method. It is a big change in teaching style and one that I am attempting to make this year.
Two critical factors in successfully implementing the mini-lesson strategy are (i) keeping the lessons short and concise and (ii) the conferencing that occurs with individual students while the remainder of the class is working independently. I’m not necessarily known for getting directly to the point. My students learn that pretty quickly. I am learning to cut down my delivery to the very essence of the lesson I am introducing or teaching to the class. Doing so will help to ensure that the engagement of the students will be held. One-on-one conferencing takes time, practice, and a very different approach than a whole-group style of teaching. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m not a quiet person, but in order to not distract the other students, I am going to need to use my inside voice. I have one, I just don’t use it very often. Learning to be unobtrusive as I make my way around the classroom to confer with students is something that I can see being another challenge for me.
Luckily, I know that challenges make me rise to the occasion. I have 20 years of experience in education. I have so many tools in my toolbox (teacher lingo, y’all). Most importantly, I have the support of an awesome administrative team and co-workers who will help me with this challenge. Their encouragement, advice, and observations will guide me along this path to taking my teaching to a new level.
To top it off, I am inviting my administrators and colleagues in my class to watch me this year as I am starting over. Teaching Consultant Robert Kaplinsky has issued the #ObserveMe Challenge, a chance for teachers to invite others in to observe them in the moment and look for specific feedback on different goals the teacher lists on a sign outside the classroom door.
I am excited about this and a little nervous. As I said, it is a big change for me, but one that I know will be beneficial for my students. And above all else, as a teacher, I want to be the very best I can be for my students. Maybe I should’ve had the David Bowie song in mind instead.
To my fellow teachers, what challenges are you facing and what goals have you set for yourself this school year? I’d love to hear from you on these topics.
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