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Caring Means Sharing: Tips for Documenting Teaching Triumphs

It happens. The stars align, the students engage and your latest teaching effort is a roaring success. Now’s the time to capitalize on this positive outcome with a report that outlines what you did right and how other teachers can recreate the magic. This report will also make for a nice addition to your Teacher Portfolio or the next award submission. Taking the time to sit down to document a project’s success pays major dividends down the road, especially as other teachers pick up on your success and run with it. This will also be helpful when you find yourself in one of those inevitable reflective moods and wonder aloud, “That last semester was such a blur. Just what did I do this year?” A few pointers on making your answer a good one:

Don’t wait. The best insights – well, some of them anyway – are fresh in your mind the moment a project is complete. Others are best captured the moment they happen. If possible, document your prelaunch expectations and any observations of what you find interesting or surprising along the way. Write down everything that comes to mind regarding the project; you can always go back later to finesse and organize the content. As they say, “Write hot. Edit cold.” And if you didn’t keep notes on what you did from the beginning, make a mental note to do that next time.

Be frank. When telling the story of your latest triumph, it might be tempting to portray yourself as the heroic protagonist, steadfast and flawless. But don’t. Sharing your shortfalls and head-scratchings in addition to all the “good stuff” will humanize you and make your story more relatable. It’ll also help others (as well as yourself) learn more and avoid making the same mistakes the next time around. After all, no process is perfect, but the more you share about what went awry, the better the process can become.

Be brief. Maybe you really do have 20 pages of explanation and documentation behind that recent exercise. But you’ll be doing a big favor to your readers, and potential award-contest judges, by condensing things to a manageable length. If what you need to express can’t be fully understood in one sitting, try a synopsis at the beginning to help establish the reader’s interest. This will let them decide quickly whether your report is applicable to their own teaching (or judging). You’ll also charm the skimmers and sink the hook a little deeper into those who really enjoy knowing all the details and mechanics.

Be you. People love to feel like they can establish a relationship with the writer. You risk undermining this relationship by using passive voice, vague pronouns, jargon or overly stiff diction. “Manipulatives were distributed to students at the exercise’s outset” isn’t half as engaging as “I started by giving each student a packet of marbles to represent company stock.” Go with concrete examples that help readers form a mental image. 

Include the students. Individual, word-for-word comments from the people who directly benefited from your efforts are your most valuable asset. Don’t be shy about soliciting student opinions on what you did as a class and including those in your report. Also, be sure to include anything you learned from them in the process too.

Revise, but don’t overpolish. When your initial draft is complete, you’ll want to go back through and look for areas that can be tightened by shortening sentences or spiced up with more colorful examples. But know when to quit. It’s really about what you did, the thinking behind it and what happened when you tried it. As PBS notes in the network’s Frequently Asked Questions section regarding the Teacher Innovators Awards, “We are not selecting winners based on the quality of the production; we are selecting based on your creative and innovative teaching.”