A Journey through Deep Character Study: Making a Shift from, “How will I teach this?” to “How can students best learn this?”

26 November 2019 | Ghania Hijazi

A Journey through Deep Character Study

“ Effort+Ability

__________ = Success,” Steve Barkley.


Manageable Task   

I knew it, I had thought of it and I had done it, but I had never made a conscious effort to put it into a relationship or formula the way Steve Barley did for me on November 6, 2019. It was like a light bulb turned on. I could feel it. I could sense the pieces of the puzzle all come together. I had done differentiation, scaffolding, KWL charts, RTI, co-teaching, pull-out, push-in, EAL, you name it and I had tried it and yet harped about the most popular concern ever, “WHY IS IT NOT WORKING? WHY AM I NOT ABLE TO ACHIEVE STUDENT SUCCESS With the Handful?” 

Being an advocate of planning backwards, I had initiated collecting benchmark assessment data when our school used StoryTown as a resource for teaching Language Arts curriculum. I believe I am a learner by choice, so I absolutely enjoy what I do. I alter, I change, I reflect, I give prompt, timely and specific feedback, yet I struggle to sustain the change in my learners. This feeling made me uncomfortable, I wasn’t at rest. It is then that I evaluated myself in the light of the equation and questioned:

  1. Do I put in the effort required to reach out to my students?

The answer was, “Yes.”

  1. Do I have the knowledge, the ability and the age appropriate pedagogy to impart that knowledge?

The answer was, “Yes.”

  1. Do I differentiate my instructions in a manner that the tasks that I assign students are manageable?

The answer was, “Yes.”

  1. Do I achieve a 100% success?

The answer was, “No.”

Then, what is it that I am doing wrong? What is it that is hindering it from happening?

The answer was right in my face… HIGH EXPECTATIONS! I believe I am unconsciously talented with high self efficacy, but still struggled with developing student affiliation to learning, simply due to parent student relationship.

I needed to lower my expectations from student community, parent community, school community, in a nutshell everything. I had to step into the uncomfortable zone. I had to leave my comfort zone, where I felt safe.

Trying out new things, effort exerted: zero. WHY? It comes to me naturally. In fact I have a high appetite for experimenting crazy ideas. They give me an adrenaline rush.  Stepping into a new system of imparting the curriculum, effort exerted: two I just had to read, and be prepared. I love reading, so that wasn’t much of a challenge, preparation took time and energy. I enjoyed it so, effort exerted: two. Reaching out to peers and parent community, effort exerted: 10. I wrote detailed newsletter every week on padlet, posted anything and everything on google classroom that I thought students would need to perform. I enrolled them in tons of different forum such as newsela, readworks, khanacademy, vocabularyspellingcity, flocabulary, seesaw, flipgrid, kahoot, farfaria, epic etc anything and everything I thought useful under the sun. I guru the art of integration, I thought I was doing my best...But who knew, that is exactly where the change was required. That’s where I had to change. Change in Teacher Behavior. Shift Mindset. I learnt that from a colleague of mine with a similar mindset, but realized it only when I worked with a colleague who had a totally and absolutely opposite mindset. For whom, effort was zero. 

It’s absolutely acceptable if my co-partner doesn’t feel as enthusiastic about Reader’s Writer’s Workshop as I do. He/she chooses it that way. It’s absolutely acceptable if the learner chooses to come and go from class without applying anything; well, he/she chooses it that way. So, the Challenge was “What ingredients do I use to instill conscientiousness, to instill ownership, to instill accountability, to instill meeting deadlines, to instill collaboration.”

So, I changed where I exert my energy.

I researched, not that I hadn’t before, but this time just motivational speeches, because in my diagnosis that was the ingredient lacking. I reached out to people with specific questions in webinars, I attended mindvalley. I studied cultural mindset, I studied child psychology, I conducted inquiry questions not only about reading and writing, but about their interests in music, in art, in Netflix episodes, etc. I played Minecraft, played Fortnite. I accepted the fact that I’m here and they are now and if I don’t embrace them for they way they are, I can’t be on top of the case. I changed. Instead of resisting, I accepted and thought of me as part of the Gang.

What’s not acceptable is being indifferent about teaching or learning. What’s not acceptable is, me spending hours on a newsletter over the weekend, that my parent community won't even bother to read. What’s not acceptable is,  learners slipping out without consequences if they forget their material. What’s not acceptable is, having a culture that says, “IT’S OKAY TO FORGET!” 

So I...

  1. I stopped writing newsletters on padlets. Instead, I updated families on what we do in the week through videos and pictures and a few lines in an email. I ask my learners to come back to me to talk about what was their parents opinion about the pictures and videos I shared. What comments did they make and what explanations did the learners give. I modeled the behavior of interaction and communication. I shared links of family role play and quality time.

  2. I stopped posting unnecessary things on google classroom thinking that my students would benefit from it. Instead, I always asked them to let me know if they’d like me to post it on google classroom and if the majority voted for yes, I’d go with the popular vote. 

  3. I stopped having parent teacher conferences. Instead, I moved to student led conferences followed by a contract that we, parents and I, as the learner’s facilitators signed as an agreement document and accountability.

  4. Above all, I stopped using checklists and rubrics for accessing. Instead, I used them as resources for writing letters to my learners highlighting what they do well and what they need to work on. This gave them direction, ease in goal setting and above all absolute and complete ownership. This developed relationship, trust, and utmost a concrete bond. This gave purpose to their learning and helped them in making wise choices. Above all, I stopped calling myself a teacher. I address myself as a Reading Coach, Writing Coach or Social Skills Coach. 

So, what exactly did bring about success. Deep Character Study, not the UNIT, but the conscious application of the unit in my students. Analyzing students in my class and writing my story everyday with them as if taking the characters on a test drive. Believing they are here to enrich and perfect me.

I changed the picture and not the FRAME!