George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Trying Something New in Your Classroom For 30 Days

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

As many of my readers know, my classes are currently mimicking a TED conference by writing Advocacy/Memoir speeches of their own as a means to learn a more real-world version persuasive writing. That is, they are studying the structure of many of the TED speeches online, selecting their own topics in which to further research, and are constructing speeches that they will be performing that incorporate those same elements seen in many of the online speeches: Hook, Background Information, Problem, Anecdote/Personal experience, Call to Action/Solution, and a Visual.

Immerse Them in the Models

One of the activities I regularly assign as a way to immerse them in the TED universe is to watch a particular speech and analyze it in a blog post. I recently assigned my students the task of watching Matt Cutt's "Try Something New for 30 Days."

It's been fascinating to read their responses. I have discovered that many of my students want to try to disconnect from technology for 30 days. Others want to challenge themselves to do something physical: prepare for a marathon, a hike, perhaps a tournament. Many of them mentioned eating healthier and resisting the temptation of fast food. Others mentioned more unique interests.

One student admits "If I had to try something new for a whole 30 days, I would attempt setting an alarm clock for seven a.m. every morning."

Another student claims, "The activity, or thing I would do for 30 days is read CNN articles for one hour each day. Because if I read CNN articles, it will keep me up to date with the world... It would prepare me for my future, instead of messing around on the Internet chatting with friends..."

One young lady says "If I were to try something new for thirty days, I'd be songwriting. Idon't know much about songwriting but I want to be doing something I love, such as music and making my own contribution towards it."

One middle-schooler really gets the challenge when she says, "If I decided to do something new for thirty days, I would probably challenge myself to try new foods every day. Perhaps it may not seem like much of a challenge, but over the course of the past few years, I have found that my "open mind" has narrowed greatly."

And another sadly admits "if I were to try something new, it would be to raise a plant from a seed within 30 days because it is an accomplishment I've sadly never lived up to. I have a terrible history with raising plants... Raising any plant in my house would give me confidence."

After reading them all, I can't help but wonder, who knew?!

Practice What You Preach

But it occurs to me, however, that I haven't put myself through the same paces that I am asking of my students. So I've been thinking of various ways that I, as a teacher, can take on something new in my own teaching for that same amount of time.

In a way, it's easy to set a goal for myself outside of the classroom: delete sugar from my diet, avoid the occasional trek through the In-and-Out drive-thru when stuck on what to cook the family for dinner, or make sure I read for pleasure 30 minutes a day even when I feel I just can't fit in one more thing. Actually instilling a goal like this for my professional practice is proving far more challenging. In the end, I've so far settled on five possibilities, ones that I am selecting between in terms of what to start with. After 30 days, the goal is to either walk away with a great new habit, or walk away with the knowledge that comes from trying something new even if it's discarded.

My tentative list is as follows:

Do my students' assignments Put myself through the daily paces of what I expect my students to produce. My sophomore literature teacher once said, "Don't think for a second that anyone has more work than a student who actually does his or her work." I still think of that today when I'm ready to go to bed and an email comes in from a student still toiling away at all of the assignments thrust upon them.

Model some skill everyday Whatever I assign, I should model its creation in front of students. As teachers, we should model a piece of writing or the construction of an equation from scratch so that the students can see our thought process as we progress from blank page to end result. To paraphrase Kelly Gallagher, "Don't just assign, teach."

Call home each day Seek out a student who has done something commendable and that is worth mentioning. Make sure I call that student's home and let the family know something positive that I've observed about that kid. The next day, keep on the lookout for another student who is succeeding and reach out to that home as well.

Be more accessible Open up my classroom every day at lunch or open up the room before school or after school. Although I generally eat with a small group of teachers, the adult interaction being a battery-charger in the middle of my day, but maybe my battery should be recharged by seeing the students in a different light. Maybe I'll bring in a puzzle that students can chip away at during their down time. My goal is to make my classroom the place to be due to choice, not just requirement.

Try a different teaching model Although I feel I tend to meet different models head on with curiosity, the ability to change it up should be a muscle that is always worked out. Flip your classroom, try writer's workshop, teach from sitting in the middle of the room at a student's desk, or try to communicate with the students online. Try something you've only read about. At the end of the month, you just might walk away with a strategy you would not ordinarily have tried.

As I look over this list, I'm ready to take a deep breath and jump in. I'd like to invite my fellow readers to go along on this journey with me by suggesting their own possible adoptions, deletions, or revisions in their professional lives. Please comment below and let us know what you would like to jump in and try. (Don't forget to return to let us know how it went.)

Was this useful?

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Marc Brown's picture

I am a huge fan of TED and Edutopia! I saw your article and it was everything I could want, the combining of the two! I have been 90% sure that I will stop teaching for a while after this year, because I feel the education world is against ideas like this every step of the way.I feel unsupported and with the exception of a few teachers, swimming against stream. I feel like you are hope to all good teachers that it can be done, and in a meaningful, amazing way. Thank you! You might have saved my career!

Steven Slaughter's picture
Steven Slaughter
Fifth Grade Teacher in Chicago Public Schools

Heather, I love your ideas. And I may just steal that TED Talks unit for persuasive writing/public speaking. I have shown my students many of them. The one I showed most recently was Sherry Turkle's (from an affiliate TED site). She is the MIT prof and author of "Alone Together." I have a book club with my class parents and we did a few chapters of this great book on technology. The kids watched the talk and responded by writing a letter to their future self about how they should and should not use tech in their teens and 20s. I may have them video themselves giving this advice.

Other TED talks I've shared are Jamie Oliver's award acceptance talk and Gever Tully's on his Tinkering School and the Dangerous Things We Should Let Kids Do.

I also like your ideas about bringing your try something new to the classroom. Thought-provoking suggestions, too.


Beth McDaniel's picture
Beth McDaniel
7th/8th grade teacher of gifted from Pascagoula, MS

love it!! I plan it implement this in my classroom.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Heather Wolpert-Gawron
ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

Your kind words mean more than I can say. We all feel that dejected at times. Reaching out to like-minded teachers is the way to help yourself through those times. It is difficult to feel supported so you find ways to support yourself. I am a big believer that being happy in this tough job is key, and that means (for me) designing lessons that I am proud of, that my students are engaged doing, and that are meaningful to this world. I'm dedicated to my motto, "If it doesn't exist in the real world, then it doesn't belong in the classroom." That's not to say there isn't a place for the standards, but it does allow for curriculum design through a more meaningful lens.

Please feel free anytime to reach out, comment, vent, share, and collaborate. Your community in Edutopia is meant to do just that. Take care, keep teaching, and keep reaching out to teachers that can help recharge your battery. We all need that sometimes.

Happy holidays,
Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Heather Wolpert-Gawron
ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

I'm glad you found this useful. If you check out my earlier posts as well as those on my tweenteacher site, you can also see more targeted lesson design using TED that might prove useful. I also appreciate what you've shared here, and I'm stealing those in return!

Take care, and thanks for your comments.

-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Tad Zepnikowski's picture

As a museum professional trying to get into teaching, I can see how a teacher, or any professional, can get bogged down by doing the same thing the same way day after day and year after year. I find myself trying to do things different every couple of weeks in the museum just because I get bogged down so easily. I like all of your ideas for trying new things but I really like the idea of doing your students' assignments. Teachers are leaders, and as such I believe that a leader should never ask a subordinate to do something he or she is unwilling to do. This gives the teacher an idea about how long it takes the student to complete an assignment.

Mary-Helen Rossi's picture
Mary-Helen Rossi
Business Director at Merge Education

Heather, thanks for your thoughtful post - I especially liked the idea of connecting with the families. I'd like to offer another orientation: personal creativity. We all employ it, from time to time - the problem comes when we don't recognize it as the oxygen we truly always need, and so neglect to consciously make it the centerpiece of our lives. When you tend to and develop your personal creativity, you always feel like you're trying something new - naturally - because you are.

Jamie Armin's picture
Jamie Armin
Health Science & Life Skills Middle School teacher from MA

Heather, Thank you for the great ideas! I have been teaching for 28 years and I love that I can always freshen things up and make learning fun while educational! I have my 8th graders do an activator each class as they enter class. It's called, "What do you think?"... a question is posted on the screen and they are able to write in their journal and then tell share with their peers if they'd like to. It helps with transition time, journaling experience and an opportunity for respectful listening. I created a new one with the "try something new for 30 days" idea. I also like the idea of contacting a parent each day! Thanks again! Jamie

GP's picture

I really believe that getting my colleagues of 15, 20, 25 years to "change" is a struggle but I LOVE your idea. While we get into routines, it is always best to try new things, incorporating trends and doing everything we can to reach the students. Please check out for some ideas, free lesson plans and classroom resources. It's a great place to start.

Liz Cee's picture
Liz Cee
High School History & English Teacher from Ontario, Canada

I'm very excited to try and incorporate this idea into my summer school classes next year - I think it will really help with engagement! I also hope to embark on my own 30 day challenge along with my students.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.