A Cure for Back-to-School Nightmares

Joe Muhlberg

Joe is a coach for teachers at Mason High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He works alongside a team to cultivate a culture of personalized learning within the district.

The nightmares typically begin a week before school starts. I am standing in the front of the room doing everything I can to get my students’ attention. They aren’t listening, and I’m typically in gym shorts. As the volume of the room grows louder, I mutter to myself, “That’s it, I have lost control. My year is over.”

What if the fear of losing control is actually hindering student growth? What if allowing students to sit in the driver’s seat results in greater learning?

Think back to the first time you got behind the steering wheel of a car. What emotions where you experiencing? What is second nature to you now yet seemed impossible then? I remember the discomfort of passing other vehicles; I was convinced the road wouldn’t be wide enough each time a car approached— and turning left at an intersection, how unnatural! Students need a “guide on the side” this school year. Not a “sage on a stage.”

Let’s focus on progressing— one step at a time— toward giving students more ownership, resulting in more impactful learning experiences.

I have the privilege of walking alongside fellow educators who are experiencing a range of emotions that come with allowing students in the driver’s seat. I created a few slide decks to offer a simplified illustration of how to take small steps in giving students more control in the classroom. These aren’t meant to be a product, but rather a tool to support your growth.

The teachers I work with used the first slide deck to cast vision for the year ahead. The group and I are focusing on giving students greater ownership of feedback. We used the slides for personal reflection— capturing our wonderings and setting goals. I encourage you to set a PL “journey goal” for where you would love to see your students at by the end of first semester. Then, work backward setting “hike targets” for each month along the way.

The second slide deck provides indicators of what a classroom sounds like as students begin to take ownership of learning.

The third slide deck is tailored to a specific unit of study. While American Literature may not be a course you teach, the slides can be used as an example for a unit you are headed into.

It is good to be along for the ride with you!

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