I spent many years teaching kindergarten. Every year I would eagerly await the “Magic of January.” Every kindergarten teacher knows they will have a group of students who struggle with something academically or socially but that when January comes, the magic happens. The student who struggled to identify letters begins to read, the student who couldn’t keep his hands to himself learns to use his words, the child who couldn’t count accurately begins to add. Something about the halfway point shows kids making incredible gains.
As a teaching and learning specialist, I spend a lot of time supporting teachers and students. This week I saw the Magic of January on a bigger scale. I was proctoring a diagnostic test for a second grader who was struggling both academically and socially at the beginning of the year. Not only did he work hard and attempt to puzzle through complex math problems on an adaptive test, but he also actually outperformed his peers! Likewise, his teacher chose to focus her professional development efforts on learning how to effectively manage challenging students. The student who was refusing to attempt any classwork looked at me while he was working through the math test and said, “I can’t wait to show my teacher this test!” His teacher could have stayed in a place of frustration with a really challenging student, but she took the opportunity to learn and grow, and her classroom environment has experienced a powerfully positive shift.
Likewise, a fourth-grade teacher stopped me to show me that one of her struggling readers earned her first A on a reading comprehension test. They were in a poetry unit, which proved to be challenging, and yet the struggling reader used all the strategies her teacher had taught her, and she did it!
Another teacher I have been supporting decided to make some adjustments to her classroom design. Earlier this year, the teacher was frustrated that she was dealing with classroom management issues despite having a great group of kids. Together we determined that if she wasn’t stuck at her desk, which was far away from students, she could mitigate the disruptions with her physical proximity. She now proudly works at her teacher table in the middle of her classroom, or she screencasts while walking around the room to keep students engaged.
Finally, an incredibly experienced kindergarten teacher stopped me in the hall to celebrate diagnostic testing results for a student she has been worried about since August. She was gushing as she shared all the growth. She looked at me and said it was the Magic of January!
The magic isn’t really magic . . . but make no mistake, when teachers and students work hard to grow and learn, something very special happens. Look around your classroom. As you reflect, I would like to encourage you to celebrate the wins both big and small. Share with students, make phone calls home, and high-five the teacher next door.
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