Why Should Teachers Journal?

In the post about student journaling, I said that writing things down helps people to remember. That’s true, but for teachers I will add that writing things down also means we don’t have to remember as much. The journal can take care of that for us.

I hate to admit that more than once I’ve realized in the middle of an assignment that something wasn’t working right only to remember that the same thing happened the year before. If I’d written a note to myself at the time and gone back to review my notes at the end of the semester, I could have saved myself some trouble. Teaching journals can do so much to help us avoid repeat pitfalls. If I write down a problem, I’ll probably also write down a possible solution. That makes planning for the next semester so much easier.

Though I don’t always do it, I think every teacher should keep a teaching journal. Write down problems, but also write down successes. Write down brainstorms and write down poignant classroom moments. Your teaching will be invigorated by the time spent reflecting on it.

On my campus, a word has been floating around quite a bit lately: engagement. Everyone wants to know what we’re doing to keep students engaged. Maybe they should be asking what we’re doing to keep ourselves engaged. One isn’t going to happen without the other.

Have you ever had the experience of standing in front of a classroom right after asking students to start on a project only to have the whole room just sit and stare back at you? Maybe you haven’t, but I have. And when it happens, it’s usually because we’ve skipped a step. Students need to be led into creativity and originality. They can’t just perform creatively on demand. They need suggestions to bounce off of. They need to work through a series of smaller steps before being asked to take a larger step. They need time to get their brains in motion.

So do we. Our heads aren’t going to perform on demand any better than the students’ will. We need time to reflect and work our way up to our best ideas.

When they tell us to engage students, they are telling us to be more creative. No one does that on the spot. Even people who appear to be highly creative on demand do so because they are putting a lot of time and mental energy into thinking up new ideas. They can pop them out on the spot because they already had them cooking behind the scenes.

Your teaching journal is your place to cook behind the scenes. If you just devote a set time each day or even each week to writing down what’s on your mind–things that happened in the classroom, things that you’ve seen other classes doing that you’d like to try, students that concern you or make you proud–the time spent simply writing and reflecting in a low pressure situation will help you begin to generate new ideas.

My father, who is a retired school administrator, said that some people teach for 25 years and others teach one year 25 times. If you’ve taught the same year for as much as five years, you’ve done it too long. This isn’t the same world it was five years ago. The students aren’t the same, and they don’t have the same needs.

You might start your teaching journal by writing down differences you see in students from year to year. You might also read and journal about some of the books that have been published lately about the changes wrought in the world by the digital revolution.

You might use your journal as a research log. If there’s something you’d like to try, like podcasting or digital storytelling, start looking for ways other people have incorporated these techniques into the classroom and write down both the facts of what you find and your own reactions to them.

I use this blog for that. I post my thoughts publicly to share what I’ve learned with others, but I’m also doing it for myself. The more time I spend looking for new information and reflecting on it, as well as trying to explain it to others, the more capable I am of finding good ways to put it to use.

You might decide to start a blog or to find a group of like-minded (or at least willing) teachers to form a group blog with, or you might journal privately in a word processing document or notebook instead. Any way you go about it, the time devoted to thinking and writing about what you do and how you do it is bound to pay off.

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