August 16

2 Days of Relationship Building? But how?

We’ll be starting school a week from today but many teachers have already begun.  Relationship building can (and should) happen all year.  That being said, carving out the first two days for connecting with students sends a clear message:  “You matter to me and we matter to each other.”  After all, no student runs home to share their excitement over learning rules and procedures on the first day.  Let’s give our students something that will make them excited about the school year and looking forward to tomorrow.

But how?  Let’s consider a few ideas around relationship building:

Teacher/Student Relationship Building

Share YOURSELF!  Prepare a short presentation that includes your interests, family members, love for teaching, and most recent learning experiences.  Share PICTURES.  Share a time when learning was hard for you and you persevered in it.  Share your personality and quirks.  I used to tell students that my daughter thought the word “adorkable” best described me.  It is amazing how disarming it is to students when teachers admit their humanity,  struggles with learning and genuine passion for teaching.

Focus on getting to know your STUDENTS!  I’ve done this many ways over the years.  There were times I had students fill out an personal inventory index card that I could then use to keep in hand as a way to make sure I call on all students.  I love that Google forms can offer an efficient way to survey; but I find, personally, that it’s hard for me to associate the information with the face from a spread sheet–perhaps you are better at that.  A written survey can do the trick as well.  I’ve asked for the following information in the past:

  • Your Name
  • Your interests (How do you spend your free time?)
  • Your feelings about math (What words do you associate with math?)
  • I learn best when…
  • One thing about me I think you should know is…

I LOVE these 5 questions to ask your students at the beginning of the year from George Couros.  They really probe into the heart of students!

  • What are the qualities you look for in a teacher?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is one BIG question you have about this year?
  • What are your strengths and how can you utilize them?
  • What does success at the end of the year look like?

In addition to surveying your students, COMMIT to getting to know their names and saying them CORRECTLY.  I know this can be challenging, especially if the students in your classroom come from a tradition other than your own.  But, your effort to know the name by which they’ve been called their whole lives speaks volumes.   Name tents can be helpful with that.  Teachers have also used the inside of name tents for students to provide some feedback like Sara Van Der Werf, high school Math Teacher from Minneapolis.  You can find her example here.

Build COMMUNITY through relationship building!

Generating Norms  One of my favorite activities on the first day is to put students into groups of four and give them an envelope of icebreaker questions.  In doing this activity, I explain to students the procedures for getting into groups and we begin the discussion on group norms.  The best way to arrive at student generated norms is to ask students, “What makes group work horrible?”  Have students work in their groups to write down each idea/problem on an individual sticky note.  Students then can place sticky notes on the board, placing ideas that are similar together.  From there, the class can generate a list of positively stated norms for the class to follow.  For example, the complaint “One person ends ups doing all the work” can be avoided by the positively stated norm “Everyone will contribute to the group work.”  If you have more than one class (as in middle school or high school) you can take the sum of all the norms from your classes and generate a list for ALL of your classes, to avoid your own personal confusion.  I would also suggest that you make posters like Sarah Carter’s (aren’t they amazing?).  While I advocate for explicitly teaching and modeling rules and procedures, I believe they are best demonstrated in context.  By that I mean, when you need them.  Want to teach the paper passing procedures?  Wait until you have to pass out or pass back papers, etc.

Small/Whole Group Bonding Activities

Plotting Personalities I believe I learned this from Dan Meyer and I LOVE this for math, science or even social studies (any subjects that use axes to graph information).  Have students create an x/y axis and label them with personality traits as they’d like.  Perhaps the x-axis measures “Structure” and the y-axis measures “Sociability.”  Students can graph a point with their name on the coordinate plane they feel their personality would land and then, explain WHY!  It makes for a great conversation.

3-2-1 Biographies  Students write a biography using six words.  For example, “write three descriptive traits about yourself, two hobbies you have and one thing makes you unique.”

Two Truths and a Lie  I love this one, because I use it for content related material throughout the year.  Have students create three statements about themselves–two are true and one is a lie.  The other students guess which is the lie.  The goal is to make all three statements seem viable or not-viable.  In doing this, we learn interesting, perhaps even unbelievable, things about our students.

Me, too  The first student gives a fact about themselves—I love basketball, I have two sisters, etc. If that statement or fact is true about another student, they stand up.  Continue until you’ve gone through all students.  Require students give a statement that wasn’t previously given.  It will get more tricky (and fun) as you move towards the end of the class.

Team Building Activities

Breakout EDU A colleague of mine did a GREAT team building activity on his first day last year.  He created a Breakout EDU.  What’s that, you say?  Similar to breakout rooms you’ve seen popping up, Breakout EDU challenges our students’ ability to problem solve and collaborate to “breakout.”  Gerry Marchand, Biology/Anatomy teacher from Illinois (and personal friend), blogged about the experience, which you can read here.

Use CONTENT to Puzzle Find something related to your content that you’d like your students to discuss and debate in order to generate a creative solution.  I have a colleague who asks her geometry students to decide where the new Chipotle restaurant should be located in town.  Students will discuss proximity to roads, centrality of location to ensure fair access to all residents in town (after all, it’s Chipotle!), etc.  So fun!

The precedent you set in the first few days sends a powerful message to your students.  After all, if we want to commit to the powerful collaborative work of the 21st century skills (as discussed in my previous post), we have to cultivate the soil.  That begins day ONE.

I hope your first few days are amazing.  PLEASE feel free to share ideas on how to best connect with students in the first few days.  Let’s connect, educators!  The more ideas, the better!

 

 

 

 

August 3

2 Days of Relationships Building – But, why?

A colleague of mine once taught in a school where teachers received a directive to spend the first two days of school working exclusively on relationships.   Why?

Yale educated child psychologist James Comer claimed that “no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”  I believe that truth and hold it as a personal value.  Might I suggest, however, that relationships are even MORE important now than in generations past?  

If you haven’t noticed there has been a MONUMENTAL shift in education.  After all, for most of the history of American schooling has been centered around providing, what was deemed, important information.  In the era of the internet, students find themselves with a plentiful supply of information.   It is readily available at overwhelming quantities and speed.  That being said, the lower parts of Bloom’s Taxonomy are becoming increasingly less relevant.  Rather, the world and workplace demands we ask students to engage with information at much higher levels.   Consider the 4 Cs of the 21st Century Skills and how they might influence the value of interpersonal relationships in the classroom.

Collaboration  I’m sure when the great minds behind the Partnership for 21st Century Learning formulated the 21st Century Skills, they did not simply intend for students to sit in close approximation while independently looking at their phones or working on their projects.  Rather, they envisioned lively debate, discussion, and a greater product for having worked together.  Asking students to engage at this level is no easy task.  However it begins with building relationships.  After all, I do not risk sharing ideas, let alone dare to disagree with others, if I do not feel the trust and safety to do so.  Think of your best collaborative piece of work.  Did you accomplish it with virtual strangers? OR people with whom you shared a trusting relationship?

Critical Thinking  In the CCSS Mathematical Practices, this might manifest itself in the 3rd Mathematical Practice which includes “critiquing the reasoning of others.”  Yep!  I’m not doing that! I don’t feel comfortable correcting the work of a complete stranger.  Might they be offended?  Will I look like a know it all?  The safety to do so, my fellow educators, is a culture we must build in our classrooms.  We must communicate to students that whether they be right or wrong, we debate ideas.  This is a safe place to do so.  We must have an engineering mindset.  Let’s share ideas and then improve upon them with each iteration!

Creativity Let’s face it–we need people to find solutions to serious problems we face.   Information is not the problem.  We need people who can look at them with a new and creative lens.  That being said, some ideas will sound crazy–until they are crazy good. Someone will have to be the first to throw the spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks.  After all, Rutherford B. Hayes scoffed at Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, saying “Who would ever want to use such a thing!”   Your classroom has to be a safe place to openly share ideas.  Oftentimes, the most creative people are often the most quiet in the classroom.  Getting them to speak and risk the sharing of ideas, will take some cajoling on both the part of the teacher and encouraging peers.  We must daily put relational deposits in the emotional bank of introverts.

Communication After 23 1/2 years of marriage, I think my husband and I have mastered communication.  It took about 10 of those years for us to really make it work.  It’s getting more difficult now that we are both older and our hearing is waning.  It is not unusual to hear one of us screaming “What?” from another room.  That being said, communication is one of the most relevant skills for one’s personal and work life.  It allows us to deeply know and understand another person and their ideas.  It also helps us to accurately communicate our thoughts and feelings, in order to avoid the unnecessary and emotionally draining drama of being misunderstood.  That being said, face-to-face communication is becoming a lost art.  I’m not judging.  I, too, have caught the smart phone bug.   As educators, we must realize as information has become more accessible, opportunities for our students to engage in face-to-face communication is decreasing at alarming rates; and not without consequence.   Our classrooms are a laboratory for practicing this essential life skill to build both empathy and understanding.   On this particular “C”  I would say the needs are flip-flopped.  You don’t need relationships to build communication as much as you need communication to build relationships.

So, let’s start there.  Let’s communicate with our students and give  them ample time to communicate thoughts and ideas with one another.  We can teach them the art of active listening, talk moves in response and academic risk taking.  It’s an exciting time to be a teacher, but the demands are different.  Let’s teach them the 4 Cs in the context of our content.  Let them talk about math, create solutions to the world’s science-related problems, let them communicate their thoughts and ideas about the Civil Rights Movement.  All of this will happen more powerfully if we invest in the building of relationships.

If you’re on board but you want some new ideas on how to build those relationships…I’m working on that post next!  If you have ideas, please share!  Just for fun, here’s a fun 4 Cs Poster for your classroom from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

References 

Curley, R. (2010). The 100 Most Influential Innovators of All Time. New York, NY: Britannical Educational Publishing .

Scherer, M. (1998, December). Is school the place for spirituality? A conversation with Rabbi Harold KushnerEducational Leadership, 56(4), 18–22.

 

 

July 30

My 8 Pillars of Assessment–for now…

I am instructional coach and challenging thoughts about practice because “that’s what we’ve always done” is part of my job.  I start with my own.  I’m a product of 16 years of traditional US education and, let me tell you, I was GREAT at it.  I loved grades.  They were part of my identity:  hard working, law abiding, bright girl.  How many of my views about grading came simply from my experience?

Assessment is a hot topic at school.  People are asking good questions, but change is scary–and we don’t want to change things for the worse!  It’s time for a thoughtful look at assessment.  To that end, I spent the summer taking an online course on assessment.   My last assignment was to develop my personal philosophy of assessment.

  1.  Grades should measure student performance towards achieving the standards and not behaviors.  To that end, standards must be made clear to students and should be an integral part of the instructional process.  Students learn best what they are expected to learn is clear and they can assess their own progress towards the goal.  That being said, grades should be assigned at the end of learning, that is, for summative assessments, alone.  In addition, since behaviors have nothing to do with the standards, including them in the grade would taint the accuracy of the measure.  Such behaviors include, but are not limited to, late work, absenteeism, and cheating.  Those behaviors deserve a behavioral consequence.
  2. Students should be given ample opportunities to demonstrate their learning.  The shop for learning should remain open as long as is feasibly possible for the teacher and student.  That is, I believe in retakes at any time.  I believe students must earn the right to retake by showing they have done sufficient work to be able to demonstrate mastery for the standard that they were unable to perform previously.  I believe in using a four point scale over 100 since there is greater inter-rater reliability.
  3. Frequent, clear and positive feedback and student reflection are essential to learning.  Formative assessment should be ungraded, provide feedback that a student can act upon, and positive in nature.  It is our instinct to find errors and correct them, and that is important.  However, feedback, particularly in standards that are demonstrated best by writing or presentation, can actually be more powerful when a teacher highlights the strengths of the student’s performance and then make suggestions towards improvement.  Formative feedback may be simply a conversation between teacher and student (conferencing) or can be written feedback on a formative assessment.  Providing time and a structure for student reflection towards his/her own progress towards the standard is a powerful tool for the future, teaching students how to monitor their own learning throughout their lives.
  4. When it comes to standards, less is more.  US math text books contain 175% of the number of German standards and 350% of what Japanese texts cover.  Both countries outperform the US in math (Schmoker).  That being said, we should carefully select which standards are essential for student learning and report on those standards alone.   If time is prioritized to treat each standard with due diligence, students will be able to access the standard at a level of greater understanding and rigor.
  5. Standards should be assessed at an appropriate level of Depth of Knowledge.  If the standard is “to make inferences,” for example, simply identifying a correct inference from a select response item is not asking students to perform the standard as intended.  Rather, asking students to read a passage and then, make an inference providing evidence for their reasoning from the text, is better suited to the standard.
  6. Assessment is best when it is authentic.   For example, asking students to compare and contrast two different systems of government is best done in either a presentation or written form, not a standardized multiple choice test.  When assessing speaking and listening skills, students should be assessed performing those skills in a manner they might be expected to in the future—before a real audience outside the classroom would be even more powerful and would motivate students.   Standards should be assessed more than once and by a variety of means.  In fact, a standard assessed by three different means is ideal and is referred to as a “triangulation of data.”  In addition to written exams, portfolios, blogs, videos, essays, presentations, projects are all viable methods of assessment.
  7. Growth mindset goes hand in hand with standards based assessment.  Students must know that all formative work is to prepare them to master the target.  The focus should be on learning and not on “point getting.”  Initially failing to meet a standard while learning, is expected and normal.  In addition, allowing students to retake assessments in order to improve their performance provides hope and motivation for them to continue to learn.
  8. Differentiation is important for student learning.  That being said, students who are working toward standards that are above or below his/her grade level standard is appropriate, but should be denoted when reporting out to universities.   High school level students who are working towards grade school standards should be measured against those standards alone.  However, it should be noted that they are working at grade 6 standards, for example, on their report card.  Likewise, students taking courses that require students to master more difficult or additional standards should be rewarded as well.  This has traditionally happened through a GPA bump.   **Note:  I’m not sure how grades for special needs students are reported at my school.  This are my thoughts alone.

This is my CURRENT philosophy on assessment.  It is organic and a work in progress.  I’d love to hear from you–feedback?  Questions?  Thoughts?

Bibliography

Schmoker, M. J. (2011). Focus: elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

June 3

3 Simple Suggestions: Growing as a Team–without derailing it!

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”  – Benjamin Franklin

Growing isn’t easy.  Thus, the phrase “growing pains.”  Yet, we work in a field that is a highly interpersonal, social experiment in learning.  In fact, teams of teachers are assembled to improve teaching and learning, creating opportunities for students to live their best lives possible.  It is noble and important.  That being said, teachers certainly don’t walk out of our teacher training programs and into the classroom as the best version of our teacher selves.  We have to grow!  But, as I mentioned early, growing is painful–especially for groups.  There are several reasons why this is the case.

In the last 10 years, the greatest decisions for change were legislated at the state and federal level  (No Child Left Behind, Response to Intervention, CCSS, NGSS, C3, PBIS, etc).   These sweeping changes cannot be simply adopted overnight.  After all, in order for meaningful change to occur, teachers need to understand the desired change, believe it is what is best for students,  and then be provided time and training to implement the change.  This is no easy feat!

While many districts do their best to provide what is necessary to accomplish those things, what often is not addressed however, is how the stress of change affects a group.  Studies show that people will respond to change in different ways.  A select few will be “Innovators” or “Early Adopters,”  also a small number will be considered “Laggards.”  Most likely your personality will determine where you’ll land.

Imagine now, that these people are all in the same room tasked with change.  The Late Majority and Laggards are often traditional and skeptical.  It takes time to for them to internalize the need for change and make important shifts.  That being said, if they adopt them, they will do so judiciously.  Innovators and Early Adopters are often frustrated with the apparent “unwillingness” to change on the part of Late Majority and Laggards.  This will influence their Image result for early adopted cbamperceptions towards one another negatively and add to the stress of group change.

Innovators and Early Adopters will most likely be eager to get the ball rolling.  After all, why not?  However, to the Late Majority or Laggards, Innovators and Early Adopters can appear “rash or daring.”  The (often necessary GENTLE) pressure to adopt change can be a great source of anxiety to this group, and can manifest itself in anger towards or negative judgments against their colleagues.

Think about it, you can probably graph the faces of your colleagues on this graph right now!  Reflect on how it influences your opinions of one another and how you interact.  So, what now?  How can your group survive the next change that comes their way (Face it!  You’re a teacher–the faster you realize it’s part of the gig, the happier you’ll be!)?  A few things:

Acknowledge it!  Before the next curriculum review or district initiative, admit that change is hard and have a chat about being sensitive to people on both extremes.  After all, we can all understand being frustrated by someone who refuses to budge OR being pushed into something we weren’t comfortable doing, right?  This would be a great time for a pep talk, “Our goal is for all of us to understand, be comfortable with and implement this change–not just a few of us.  We’re in this together!”

Recognize the feelings behind the behavior.  If teachers seem angry or frustrated, there is a reason behind it.  Is it because the teacher is not convinced that the change benefits students?   Are teachers avoiding work because they hope the pressure to change will just disappear if they ignore it?  Are they just overwhelmed by the stress of change?  All of these are normal reactions, but certainly need to be addressed for a group to work effectively and move collectively towards the goal.

Provide time and training to reduce group stress.  As mentioned before, teachers need to understand and believe the innovation is good for students.  I don’t know any teachers who, when convinced that there is a better way to serve students, refuse to do so.  To be convinced, teachers will need to see the innovation in practice and data that supports the need for change.   Meaningful professional development will clearly outline the innovation, rationale for change, and practical strategies towards change.  Also, instructional coaching can play a role in group change.  Instructional coaches can partner with teachers, making the innovation feel less intimidating as teachers bring the change into their classrooms.  Without time and training, the pressure associated with change can feel like a turning vice for a group.

Change in education is inevitable, and need not break your group.  Acknowledging personality differences and group dynamics will help you all to keep your sanity in the pursuit of a better way to serve students.  At the end of the year, take some time to acknowledge all you accomplished and, though difficult, discuss how you are all better for it!

For more information and resources for dealing with stress of change on your PLC, see this fabulous Learning Forward newsletter.

 

 

January 8

These are a FEW of my Favorite Things… I’ve used in my math classroom. Thank #MTBoS!

I am a member of the #MTBoS (Math Twitter Blog-O-Sphere).  If you are a math teacher, you are too!  To find them, you need only jump on Twitter (@ExploreMTBoS) or search the #MTBoS hashstag and enjoy all that is available to you.  #MTBoS teachers share everything from their philosophy on what is BEST Math Teaching PRACTICE to the details of the lesson they did TODAY. The #MTBoS has challenged its members to blog once a week for the next month.  This week, the challenge is to blog about our favorite thing(s).  Here are some of my FAVORITE THINGS I’ve learned about/stolen from this group.

  1.  WODB (@WODB) or “Which one doesn’t belong?” has been a fabulous resource for eliciting high level discourse with students.

    This puzzle can be found on the WODB website and also on Chris Hunter’s “Reflection in the Why” blog.

    These WODB K-12 puzzles are low entry/high ceiling problems that will meet your students exactly at their level of understanding.  Your job is to push their thinking by asking questions.  I’ve shown an Algebra example to the right, but there are graphs, number, shape puzzles, etc.  Enjoy them!

  2. Class Norms Signs – If you’re looking for GREAT classroom signs and resources, Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) is your girl!  She makes some SNAZZY stuff!  But, these signs definitely served

    Here you can see “Class Norms” above my board in my classroom.

    two purposes in my classroom.  ONE:  They are darling and decorated my room nicely and TWO (and most importantly):  They served as principles that guided the collaborative work in my group.  I only had to say “Helping is not the same as giving answers!” or “Can you read the green sign I am pointing to?  What does that mean?  Please be a respectful group member and do that now.”  I LOVED having them to point to!

  3. Sum ‘Em Up – This is a game/activity that requires both individual and group accountability from your math students.  The idea is from #MTBoS’s Kate Nowak’s (@k8nowak)
    “Function of Time” blog.  For each skill, you make four problems of various degrees of difficulty and for students you’ve placed in a heterogeneous grouping.  Each student works individually and then, students sum up their totals.  At that time, they can ask the teacher if they are correct.  If they are NOT correct, the students have to decide which student(s) made the error and why.  This leads to great mathematical discourse and “critiquing the reasoning of others.”  You can find more details to this fabulous activity in the link above.

Obviously, this is just a taste of what you can find from teachers on Twitter, but I wanted to whet your appetite for more.  The treasure of #MTBoS is yours (and mine)…enjoy!  Go, search #MTBoS and see what happens…

 

January 1

6 Steps for a Second Semester Reboot

Okay, it’s time to face reality.  Your winter break is just about over and in a few days you’ll be looking into the faces of your sweet students.  If you’re like me, you’ve been dreaming about how you might do things differently next semester.   Ah, where to start…

  1. Reflection is one of the most difficult but helpful practices for teachers.  Nonetheless, a teacher who wants to make positive changes towards growth, should make it a regular practice.  If you’re looking for a second semester change, ask yourself a few reflective questions about the first semester.          Reflect on WHAT?   How about… 
    • Classroom Management–This is easy!  Ask yourself: what behavior is the most annoying?  Is  it students distracted by cell phones?  Is it language?  Is it off task behavior?  Can you get students undivided attention when you need to?  Do you have a “quiet signal?”
    • Classroom Climate–Does your room have a positive or negative vibe?  Do students want to or even look forward to coming to your class?  Are students kind to one another?
    • Student Collaboration–Are they really collaborating or just seated closely?  Is there individual and group accountability?  Do students hold each other accountable?
    • Instruction–Are you bored by your own lessons?  Is your instruction teacher or student- centered?  Do your lessons require students to go beyond note taking?  Are students invested enough to debate and argue?   Are students given the opportunity to grapple with tough questions and space to problem solve?
    • Assessments–Are your students given opportunities to think critically?  Do your tests reflect higher order thinking?  Is everything on your test “Googleable?”  For more advice on creating questions that are not “Googleable,’ click here.  Do your assessments give students opportunities to demonstrate what they really do know and understand?  Are your assessments tightly aligned to your standards/targets/objectives?
    • Curriculum–Are you “covering” too much?  Does it feel like your students are only getting a superficial understanding instead of a rich understanding?  Is it time to consider removing content that you’ve typically covered?
  2. NEWSBENJIVERTS.  I’m not even sure how that’s spelled.  I was introduced to this acronym while watching this episode of  the Middle where Brick, the little brother, tries to coach his sister, Sue, for her audition for the school newscaster position.  Brick starts with this small acronym to help her to remember key newscaster skills:  NEWS; Natural, Eye contact and Winning Smile. But, Sue needs so much help it grows to NEWSBENJIVERTS.  During her audition, she is so overwhelmed by her the huge acronym that she performs with huge eyeballs, an awkward smile and, frankly, looks ridiculous!  All this to say we often look ridiculous to our students when we tackle more than we can handle.  We end up back-tracking on our commitments, which only breeds a lack of confidence in our words and actions.  Choose ONE, maybe two, things to tackle.  Larger, sweeping adjustments can come next year.  
  3. Ask yourself probing questions to problem solve.  After you determine what you’d like to change, ask yourself how this student behavior, instructional approach, classroom culture, etc.  has become a pattern in your classroom?  What is the root of those behaviors?  Come up with at least several causes beyond student motivation or administrative mandate to these problems. After all, you have no control over them.  Look for causes within your circle of influence.  Make a plan to address them.  This is where the internet and your colleagues are great resources.  If you have instructional coaches in your building like I do, you might want to elicit their help in brainstorming solutions or processing root causes.
  4. Everyone needs a pep talk.  Okay, it’s your first day back.  Imagine your classroom is a locker room full of athletes and they are looking eagerly to you, their coach, as you prepare to give them an inspirational half time pep talk.  Don’t let them down, Coach!  Remind students that you are there for them, care for them, and want them to be successful.  Tell them what they, as a class, did well last semester and point out areas where they are growing but aren’t quite there yet. Tell them second semester offers a fresh slate. Tell them that you expect that second semester will be challenging, but that you’ll get across the finish line together.  However you word it, speak it from your heart.  Kids can smell insincerity a mile away.
  5. Take a moment to reconnect.  Show pictures of how you spent your break.  Give them an opportunity to share about their adventures.  When we do this, we are creating a safe space for students and communicating that we care about them.  It also allows them to open the doors of communication with a topic that is comfortable for them.  This will make it easier when you ask them to engage in content related discussions.
  6. Honesty is the best policy.  Okay, time to get real.  It’s time to make a change.  You don’t have to pretend with students.  Unlike administrators they are there every day and know exactly what it is like to be in your classroom — for real!  Share how you’ve reflected over your break and your plan to reset for second semester.  One caveat:  if you say you are making a change, you have to stand by it.  Telling your students means they WILL hold you accountable–as they should.  When choosing a solution to your problem, choose a plan that you can carry out. Avoid developing systems that will be difficult to manage.  You’re too busy for that!

Who doesn’t love a fresh start?  Let’s make a resolution to keep making resolutions.  After all, the key to our growth as educators (and people) is reflection, plan, change, REPEAT.  Keep fighting the good fight, my friend!  The fruit of growth is always joy.  

September 22

Living out my CORE VALUES through #instructionalcoaching

Always growing.  One of my favorite things about teaching is that it NEVER grows old.  Each year you’ll meet new students, new colleagues, perhaps teach a new course.  Circumstances aren’t the only things that change with each passing year, our thoughts about teaching and learning change, too.  That is, if we continue to grow and learn.  I have a ravenous appetite for new ideas.  Thanks to the internet (predominantly Twitter) there is no end to the creative ways I can teach students.  If it was something that worked well in class, I would burst if I didn’t share them.  As a classroom teacher, I’d like to think I was generous with my findings, but as a coach it’s my job.  The luxury to scour the internet and think systemically on how to best encourage and support good teaching school wide is not lost on me.  I feel blessed.  

img_4503I LOVE to talk shop!  I find most teachers do.  Even teachers who might not admit it if you asked them.  If you start bringing up issues related to teaching and learning (growth mindset, PBL, etc), the ideas and opinions will fly.  Mixed in those opinions are arguments for pedagogy and philosophy that influence practice.  This sharpening of irons spurs growth.  Ironically, at least in my building, there is precious little time for productive teacher talk.  

Coaching lets me talk teaching all day.  The only difficult thing is that by nature people (including yours truly) are reluctant to change and can be initially defensive when their regular practice is challenged in anyway.  However, I’m hoping most teachers ruminate on constructive criticism and come back willing to try new ideas.  I love this quote from Elena Aguilar, “The art of coaching is the art of nudging without leaving bruises.”  So true. I want to push to the point of “cognitive dissonance” but without closing relational doors.  I do believe this is an art and I’m hoping to master it.  I’m nowhere near an artist.  Right now, I’m a two year old with crayons.  

LOVE is my quintessential core value.  “Above all, put on love which binds us together in perfect unity,” Colossians 3:14.  My hope is to be loving and kind in every interaction, to believe the best, seek the best for and encourage the whole teacher.  My motto this year has been “teachers are people, too.”  We have personal battles, health crises, families that need our attention and, let’s face it–teaching is hard!  I hope that teachers feel as though I’m on their team–even when they resist change–I’m FOR them!  Coaching gives me the time to listen and empathize with their concerns.  As a teacher who tried to do that for students all day, I often didn’t have time to stop and give undivided attention to my colleagues.  I can and do make time for that now.

A Unifying Force.  I love how Colossians 3:14 says that love “binds us together in perfect unity.”  As a coach, I can be an agent for positive change.  We can help to resolve relational conflict and find systemic gaps.  The goal–a healthy learning community.  This is the messiest part of coaching.  People and relationships are a mess.  I once read a book entitled Relationships:  A Mess Worth Making.  Isn’t that so true?  We are better when we join forces, but only if we can move in the same positive direction.  We won’t always agree and we’ll be better for it.  I often think of Hegel’s Dialectic:  how the debate of thesis and anti-thesis bring us closer to the truth. We’re better together if we can debate these things in a loving, self-less, humble way.  “Love binds us together in perfect unity.”

September 18

Blogging and My Reflections of the First Month as an #instructionalcoach

One of the best things I’ve ever done as an educator was join Twitter.  I really didn’t understand it at first, but the connections I made over time have impacted my classroom more than any other face to face professional development.  The teachers of the #mtbos (Math Teacher Blog-O-Sphere) have had the greatest impact.  They’ve recently started a blogging initiative and I thought I’d participate, which might be challenging consider that I’ve moved to an instructional coaching position this year.  But, I’ll try to do my best to adapt the questions to my new role.

Blogging helps teachers to be reflective–honestly, a luxury for which few teachers have time.  Nonetheless…important for teacher growth and satisfaction.  If you haven’t started a blog–maybe now is the time!

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal? 

In my new role, the most important thing is for me to grow in listening and helping teachers to reflect on their own practice.  My temptation is to say “what I would do” is…  I’m working on that.  At times this week, I’ve done a good job of keeping this is the forefront of my mind.  Other times, I’ve failed.  I am praying that the wonderful teachers I work with will remember I’m a rookie at this and extend grace when necessary while I work to hone my skills.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately? 

Transitioning to this role was a risk.  After all, I KNOW I LOVE teaching.  Will I enjoy coaching?  I’ve second guessed myself quite a bit in this first month.  Teachers, who I considered my friends, are starting to treat me differently.  While I was told this would be true and would be hurtful, the fact that it was expected doesn’t make it any less hurtful.  If they knew my heart and my intentions, they would never question that they are for the good of all teachers and all students.  I am here for support and encouragement.  I want teachers to love their job, love their school and feel so supported and encouraged that there is no other school they’d rather serve.  None the less, people question my motives and it makes me sad–flat out sad.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

This has been the biggest challenge for me–relationships are messy!  I have to admit I don’t have the best “filter” when it comes to sharing my thoughts.  What I do have going for me is that I am well-intentioned.  A proverb says “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Since I know I have very little control over my mouth, I’ve committed to work on the nature of my heart.  Are there issues of conflict that are unresolved?  I best resolve those lest something dangerous sneaks right out of my mouth.  Ugh!  For that reason, I’m quick to fix things with others.  I’ve had one misunderstanding this week that I was quick to resolve with a co-worker face to face (I’ve also learned to be careful with e-mail and that some conversations are meant to be face to face).  Another co-worker, where I asked for grace and a second shot.  Both were received gracefully and I’m so grateful that I work with people who can extend forgiveness so generously.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

I have several goals.  Probably my greatest goal professionally is to learn my new job.  I am reading a book called the Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar.  This has been a great inspiration.  I want to help teachers reflect on their beliefs about students, learning and innovation and not just coach teachers to do “what I would do.”  This is definitely an ART and I am only an apprentice.

My personal goal is to achieve a greater work/life balance.  My daughter left for college this fall.  She isn’t far but she isn’t here either.  I have only three years left with my youngest and I want to make those years count.  In addition, my husband and I will be empty-nesters in 3 years.  I want to pour into us as we reinvent this relationship post-kids in the home.  These are without a doubt my MOST precious priorities.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I am a person who thrives when given positive feedback.  While I am definitely open to constructive criticism, especially in my new position, the words of encouragement I’ve received from a few teachers has helped to keep me going through this transition.  Perhaps I have made the right move.  Ask me in January :).

September 11

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun!

“What?  Class is almost over?” 

If I heard that from a student, I knew that we were heading in the right direction.  Psychologists call it “flow.”  I’m sure you’ve experienced it.  That moment when you realized that you’ve lost several hours because you became so caught up in your work or play.  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who is most identified with Flow Theory described  “flow” as  “An optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging to one’s skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction.”

Yes!  “High levels of personal and work satisfaction.”  Exactly!  But how do we get our students to a state of flow?  Here are a few thoughts I’ve been tossing around:

Give the students the PlayDoh.  Let me explain.  I think that the content we hope to impart to our students IS the PlayDoh.  If we hold it in front of the room, explain how it feels, describe its general shape and color, our students will learn a few things about it.  Imagine, instead, that we give them each their own PlayDoh.  They feel it in their hands, pull it to see how far it will stretch, create new things out of it, then surely they will have a greater sense of what they are holding in their hands.  They may get so caught up with it, they forget to pack up their bags before the bell rings.  That’s flow!

Plan the party.  Okay, is it wrong to have two metaphors in one post?  Well, I’m gonna…When you plan a party you need to create an environment of structured freedom.  That may sound like an oxymoron.  You wouldn’t invite 10 eight year olds to a party and say “Have at it!”  They might get bored or worse-naughty!  We plan games, activities and we manage them loosely so as to not be the party police.  We structure the play, but let them play!

Likewise, in order to send students in the right direction and give them an opportunity to play with our content in a productive way, we have to use some sound research-based structures:  collaboration (“Let’s talk about the Playdoh and make a plan to build something great.”), asking higher order thinking questions (“What impact has Playdoh had on children around the world?”),  and graphic organizers (“How does this Playdoh experience relate to other information I know?”).    One caveat:  Your activities must be “appropriately challenging to one’s skill level.”  Be mindful of that when you’re planning the party.  You wouldn’t plan a rollerskating party for toddlers.  You wouldn’t, right?

Watch it unfold.  Usually it looks busy.   It can be loud.  It’s marked by “high levels of personal and work satisfaction.” Personally, this is the point where I find greatest joy in my teaching.  Ironically, students oftentimes forget you are there. Don’t feel as though you aren’t working.  You’ve done amazing work behind the scenes, Party Planner!  As long as they have “Playdoh” in their hands and they are talking about it, writing about it and playing with it.  Your mission is accomplished!  They’ll be late to their next class because they lost track of time.  That’s okay.  Your class wins!  They’ll be sad the party’s over.

References 

Flow (Csíkszentmihályi) – Learning Theories. (2016). Retrieved September 11, 2016, from https://www.learning-theories.com/flow-csikszentmihalyi.html

 

 

 

September 4

WHY did you become a teacher?

I’ve ALWAYS wanted to teach.  Since I was a young girl.  My dad had discovered a desk in the garbage at his work that was an exact replica of my teacher’s desk at school.  I was thrilled.  He also found a chalkboard which he mounted in the basement next to my recycled desk in my make-shift classroom.  My sister was four and a half years younger than I.  My curriculum, however, consisted of recouped purple dittos from my teacher’s garbage can.  Therefore, as my pupil learning what I had just learned, she was well ahead of grade level.  Her willingness to please her older sister made her a highly motivated student.  Her kindergarten teacher reported to my mom that her writing was exclusively in cursive and could she be convinced to print, thank you.

 
I love it all, the lessons, the learning, the art projects.  I was hooked.  However, who and what to teach was still a question mark for me all the way until I entered college.  I loved learning and typically I wanted to teach whatever subject I loved most and at my current age.  Since my last stint in school was in high school, I selected teaching high school.  After all the content was so challenging and interesting.  I was torn, however, between History, Spanish and Math.  You might be surprised that I selected Math.  Well, at least based on the responses I get from EVERYONE I tell that I teach high school Math.  I loved that it was so clear cut.  I could clearly discern whether a student understood the content or did not understand the content.  It was step by step procedure and seemed “easier” to teach.  Since then, I’ve changed my mind about Math’s predictability, methodology and the importance of unscripted rich problem solving.  But, that’s for another time–this is the BEGINNING of my story.  

For approximately every 30 children in the US, there is a teacher.  We are an army of face wipers, coaches, and empathetic ears.  We deliver content, challenge, tutor and seek to inspire.   But, what brought us to this point?  What drove us to do, what I believe, is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs?  I’d love to hear your story!  Please share in the comments below.  Include in your response if you would have chosen the same age & subject if you could do it all again.

August 15

A Co-Teaching “First Date”

Last year was the first time I co-taught Geometry with a Special Ed teacher.  While originally hesitant to share my classroom (I definitely have control freak tendencies), I LOVED it!  It was wonderful to have two professionals in the room to instruct, assess and care for our room full of kiddos. You can read a bit about my co-teaching reflections here.

While my experience was extremely positive, that might not always be the case for all co-teachers.  For some, relationships between co-teachers can seem like an awkward partnership.  Some are just “playing nice for the kids.”  We can do SO much better than that!

Co-teaching workshop 3 - Copy

In an attempt to get a jump start on establishing solid co-teaching relationships, the instructional coaches provided a Co-Teaching workshop on the first inservice day of the new school year.  After a brief presentation given by my co-teacher Jeff and I, and our new instructional coach Emily (who is a huge advocate for co-teaching) we provided an opportunity for a co-teaching “first date.”  The “first date” consisted of  a list of conversational topics from personaCo-teaching workshop 1lity type to classroom management styles.  The main objective was for teachers to find a common, workable ground for their classrooms.

I’ve included both the presentation and the “first date” discussion sheet.  Perhaps you and your co-teacher might want to have a “first date” as well?

Best wishes to all those co-teachers out there partnering to provide the best possible experience for those sweet faces in their classrooms!  Make this the #bestyearever .

August 13

Being a Rookie Teacher is Not for the Weak!

Change is Challenging

My role at school has changed this year and it has me feeling like a rookie all over again. I’ve already made a few mistakes and I haven’t even officially started!  That hasn’t dimmed my excitement; however, but it does have me feeling reflective about my rookie years in the classroom.  Part of my new role is serving teachers new to the field or just new to our school.  I want them to know that I remember…it’s hard!  But, it’s SO worth it!

 23 and Teaching in the 90s

My first teaching job was a challenge.  I graduated in December and was teaching in January in a small rural school.  The department chair had, like many other educators, decided to leave the field altogether to join the private sector.  I took over a few of her classes and they traded out her Calculus classes with another teacher and I took over a few of his classes.  After all, I was just fresh out of the gate.

They handed me an Algebra book and said, “get as far as you can get.”  That was the curriculum, I guess.  The tests were written by hand and each teacher wrote his/her own tests.  I tried to partner with another young teacher who has since moved on to teach at another school (as did I).  She was experimenting with cooperative learning, to the point that students received group grades on all things, etc.   It was the 90s after all!

Easy Prey 

I had one student who saw this tiny (I’m 5’2″ on a good day) little insecure teacher and would have a field day with me.  I’d get anxious and sick to my stomach before that class everyday.  He’d see every chink in my armor–every inconsistency.  His class had been transferred from the teacher who still remained at the school.  He was a baseball coach and well liked.  Kids didn’t mess with him.  He’s still there.  

I remember one student saying, “I don’t even remember Jake* being in the other class.  But he’s all we talk about in this one.”  I distinctly remember that girl.  She was tiny and athletic.  Had a tom boy mannerism about her that gave her a toughness that was intimidating as well.  She had a buddy in the class who was a farm boy.  He also played football and his appearance embodied both those things.  He was tired on days they were seeding or harvesting because he woke up early.  I felt that they were both judging me for not having all together.  And I didn’t.  

Tried my Best

I did everything I could to manage Jake.  I called mom and she said he had no other issues with teachers.  I talked to the dean.  She said just write everyone up and she would deal with it.  Really?  I was just glad I only had him for a semester.  I would start over next year and never let myself get wrangled into such a negative relationship with a student again.  Ugh!

It Gets Better  

Not to say I haven’t had issues with students.  But, honestly, I’ve never felt they were out of my control or that I was helpless in solving them.  I’ve come up with some tried and true methods that have yet to fail me.  Through it all, though, I never doubted that I wanted to be a teacher.  Not even once.  I was born for this.

*Name has been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

Your thoughts?  Did you have a rough first year?  A student you went rounds with?  Were you able to connect with that student for a positive outcome?

December 31

This Teacher’s 5 New Year’s Resolutions

090

This post could also be entitled:  “Stuff I learned from Twitter over Christmas Break.”  One of the things I love about break is the chance blog binge and peruse twitter for ideas.  I have a folder in my g-mail entitled “Read over break” and LOVE when I get to crack it open.  I bore easily and without new ideas, (gulp!) even teaching might become stale for me.

1.  Wingman  I watched a great little video regarding a strategy called Wingman from the Teaching Channel.  Here the most pensive and quiet student is asked to engage by observing  the group and giving feedback later.  I highly value student to student communication in the process of learning.  That being said, I know that my class must be an introvert’s nightmare.  This will allow the introvert to be an observer and  still participate in the learning.  The video demonstrated the Wingman strategy in an ELA class but I would give it a little twist in my HS Math classroom.  I’d most likely hand the “wingman” a sheet to keep a record of when students apply one of the 8  mathematical practices and encourage groups to make sure they touch on at least four or five of them.  At the end the “wingman” could give a report to the group on their progress and point out individual strengths.

2.  Closure Strategies  I found this great article on Edutopia on 22 Powerful Closure Activities by Todd Finley.  While quite of few of them were either ELA or elementary in nature, here are a few I’d like to try:

High-Five Hustle

Ask students to stand up, raise their hands and high-five a peer — their short-term hustle buddy. When there are no hands left, ask a question for them to discuss. Solicit answers. Then play “Do the Hustle” as a signal for them to raise their hands and high-five a different partner for the next question. (Source: Gretchen Bridgers)

Exit Ticket Folder

Ask students to write their name, what they learned, and any lingering questions on a blank card or “ticket.” Before they leave class, direct them to deposit their exit tickets in a folder or bin labeled either “Got It,” “More Practice, Please,” or “I Need Some Help!” — whichever label best represents their relationship to the day’s content. (Source: Erika Savage)

3.  Kick me.  The first rule of “kick me” is NO KICKING.  Good to know.  I found this great strategy on the Teaching Channel as well.  I teach Geometry and this strategy allows me to help them solidify their understanding of the plethora of vocabulary associated with the topic.  I would probably create a sheet that includes several figures that demonstrate the vocabulary word.  Students would have the vocabulary words taped to their backs and would have to search out the matching vocabulary.  This might be a great “beginning of the school year” activity that would allow them to mingle AND give me some idea what geometry concepts that they brought with them from middle school.

4.  Better Quiz Corrections  Okay, this one I THUNK up myself…well, sort of.  It started when I began only highlighting errors on quizzes and giving students 5-10 minutes to make corrections after they were returned as a result of watching this fabulous video from…the Teaching Channel (have I mentioned how much I LOVE this Twitter follow?).  I thought that I might make a half slip that students can fill out that might give them (and me) more feedback: You can view that here.

5.  Reflecting on Student Work.  This idea came also from a video from Teaching Channel but I can’t seem to find it.  The idea is to take two students from the class and follow their work throughout the year.   I would love if several of my colleagues could join me in this.  We can see the types of errors our students are making and what antidotes we have, as a team, to counteract them.   Since PLCs seem to be a major goal in our district and school this year, this sounds like a good place to start.

Well, here’s to a fabulous 2016!  Wishing teacherdom all the best!  What are your resolutions?  Please share! 🙂

September 13

Jumping aboard the Co-Teaching Train

 

This is my first year that I’ve had the privilege to co-teach a class.  After reflecting on the first 2 1/2 weeks, here are some thoughts:

Things going well:

1.  Formative Assessment – My co-teacher and I have freedom to regulaIMG_2283rly require students to do a problem on a 1/2 sheet and turn it in.  One of us can walk around to make sure students are on task and available for students with questions.  The other can collect the sheets and offer quick feedback.  We do this, typically at the beginning and end of class.

2.  Yin and Yang – My co-teacher has a great calming affect on our classroom.  This is especially good for students who panic when they don’t understand.  I can think of one student, in particular, who needs regular reassurance.  I, on the other hand, can best be described in three words, “too much caffeine.”

3.  Foldables – I think these have been helpful to all of my students for taking down key information and/or formulas.  In addition, students with IEPs may be allowed to use them on quizzes and tests.

4.  Planning – We have a common plan!  Though my co-teacher is often running around meeting with students during this period, he usually makes time to meet with me briefly to go over the next day’s lesson.  That’s been fabulous!

  Under Construction:

1.  Differentiation – It is still a difficult balance to not overwhelm some and bore others.  One day, as an exit slip, we gave a more challenging problem to about 5 students that I had printed out earlier.  It’s progress, but we’ve got a ways to go.

2.  Grouping – Though it is nice to be able to group students who are stronger with some who are weaker in order to explain misconceptions etc., some of the stronger students are leaving the weaker in the dust.  Should we group our weakest students together with either my co-teacher or I to coach them?  Not sure.

3.  Collaboration – There is not enough collaboration in this group yet.  I’m not sure if weaker students are intimidated by the stronger or just have lost interest.  I could also do more to encourage the communication.  I thought about doing some brain-based instruction.  Thoughts?

As I mentioned, this is my first year as a co-teacher and I’d love some feedback.  Those who have been doing it forever, fill me in! 🙂

 

 

 

 

August 6

Why I hate the first week of school (and other positive thoughts)

Typically, I would say that I am a POSITIVE person–cup half full.  You know the type…annoyingly so.  In fact, I’m absolutely sure that there are some teachers that are curmudgeons by nature at my school that find it difficult to even be in the same room  as me.  That being said, last year I finally admitted it:  I HATE the first week of school!  It’s not that I lack excitement about new possibilities or methods I might try.  I do!  That makes me excited about the school YEAR.  I’m talking about the first WEEK.  Here’s why:

They don’t know me.  My students, that is.  We haven’t established trust and rapport–we aren’t family yet.  I’m some stranger to them.  They may have heard about me.  I don’t know…they just seem cynical at first.  Like they’re saying, “Sure you care…prove it!”  That’s exactly what I go about doing day in and day out until the work of trust is firmly established.  But it’s hard work and it is just a given later in the year.  I remember, on the third day of school last year, one of my students said (read in teenage girl voice), “Are we going to do any lessons?  Like, will there be PowerPoints?”  I thought to myself, “Have I not been teaching for the last three days?”  It takes time for them to get to know me and how I operate–which is often different from their previous teachers, which only makes them even MORE skeptical of me.  Most importantly, I have to convince them that what I do is good.  I start to doubt myself and think, “By the end of the year, they’ll get me and, hopefully, math! RIGHT?”

A lost puppy.  Just as much as being positive is my nature, I’m a girl of routine.  I need to know where to be to be productive during prep and lunch periods.  I spend the first week, looking for those places–access to copier, not too many people so that I get caught up in nonsense chatter (which I am also VERY good at!).  I’m like a lost puppy and each night I go home saying, “I got nothing done at school today!”  Augh…Can’t wait!

Unrealistic expectations.  I think it’s a “mom thing,” but each new year I tell myself that I’ll be able to still make dinner nightly, workout, have quiet time, etc once school starts.  For the first week or so, I try to make sure that is the case.  By late September, I’ve long given up the dream.  My children return to their self-proclaimed status as “dinner orphans” and honestly, we’re all happier for it!  But that first week, I kill myself trying to add in an after school workout, making dinner and doing school work I neglected to do while wandering the building looking for a place to work.

No worries, though.  I know that the first week in each new year is like a newborn baby.  I will get to that happy place where they KNOW me…no more proving myself, I’ll stop spinning my wheels and, maybe this year, I’ll leave dinner up to my kids on that first week.  You’d think I’d learn after all these years!  Here’s to realistic expectations and a great SECOND week :).

December 30

Stop the Politicking–The Supreme Court of Education

While I’m no expert on politics, I feel their impact daily with the new federal and state mandates that trickle down into my classroom.  Each new president is the “education president” and has a plan that will turn around a fledgling American education system.  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, VAM for teacher evaluations, charter schools–all valiant efforts to be the equivalent “get rich quick scheme” of public education.  What anyone who works in a classroom knows, is that the problems are too deep, too complicated, too sweeping to be fixed so easily.  Each President and appointed Secretary of State has, at best, 8 years to return the US to its former educational glory. He/she must present his/her education agenda du jour before he/she enters office and must stand by it even if, after time in office, one has a change of heart, for fear of flip-flopping (see Peter Green article linked for more on that).

What I propose is a new decision making body for education in Washington.  What if we didn’t move the cheese for teachers and administrators across the country every 4-8 years?  It may sound crazy to you but it makes perfect sense to this teacher in suburban Illinois:  A “Supreme Court” of Education.  Like the Supreme Court, presidents could appoint men/women (hopefully educators–perhaps each National Teacher of the Year?) to a body that would right the ship of public education that would serve 10 years?  15 years?  life?  The implications of each important, but worth a discussion.  Let’s think outside the current constraints of the political box.

What has each successive regime brought us (both democratic and republican)?  Heavy standardized testing, school closings that (in Chicago) break the hearts of students and have families taking to the streets in protests, public funding going to private for profit schools that show not to be any more effective except for those who champion their for profit cause,  teacher shortages due to teacher disillusionment and distrust…Should we continue the course?  Top performing schools on PISA exams (International Exams) like those in Canada and Finland are doing the exact opposite!  Read more on that in the link attached.

From one of the greatest minds in the 20th Century:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”    –  Albert Einstein

October 5

Keeping from Disillusionment Amidst Constant Educational Reform

How it all began  When I was just a little girl, I began stealing extra dittos out of the garbage can at school.  These blue, fragrant copies became the basis for the curriculum for the home school I conducted in my basement.  The school had one pupil, my sister.  Who, I must say, was a willing participant and excellent student.  As such, I take full—no (insert conversation with said sister) partial–credit for her academic and personal success.

I’ve always known that I wanted to be a teacher.  As I progressed through each new grade it became the grade that I hoped to teach.  This continued through high school.  Although I knew that I wanted to be a teacher, my commitment to subject matter fluctuated from foreign language, to social studies, to mathematics, and back again.  To be honest, I can not remember how I settled on mathematics.  Perhaps it was the concrete nature of the subject or my success in mathematics.  I do, however, remember that one of the teachers I most admired during my high school years was also a mathematics teacher.

My first teaching experience began quickly after graduation nearly 20 years ago at  a medium sized high school in a rural community in the far far northwest suburbs of Chicago.  Excited and nervous to begin a career I’ve spent years training for, I entered the classroom of a teacher who had given up on the field altogether and was leaving for work in the private sector.  I wish I would have asked her why.  Though I had much theoretical training, I had very little experience, practically speaking.  My best education was about to begin.

What I lacked in experience, I made up in earnestness.  I asked teachers about their practices and ideas.  During those early years, I focused primarily on classroom management.  I knew if I could not engage my students in productive learning activities, our time together would be wasted.  During those years, I taught Algebra, Geometry and Sequential Algebra (the first part of a two year algebra program—as was the trend for lower-achieving students at that time).  Now, almost half of our students take Algebra in 8th grade.  I spent two years at my first position.

I began teaching part-time at a high school in a northwest suburb of Chicago after my daughter was born.  The community is affluent and teachers’ salaries in this district are among the highest in the state.  I taught Algebra and Geometry to lower-leveled students.  I found that I worked well with these students.  They responded well to my methods and I was pleased.

At that time I took a sabbatical from teaching to stay home to care for my two small children.  7 years later, I accepted my current teaching position at the fastest growing district in the state, where I taught remedial Geometry and Geometry.  It was interesting to step into a school that was hiring, on average, 2 new math teachers a year.

 I returned to the classroom to find that the world of education had changed.  The focus had shifted to standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind legislation.  In addition, terms like “best practices,” “PLCs” and “RtI” were thrown around.  I left with the odd feeling that, although I had stopped teaching, the world of academia had certainly not stopped spinning.  Education reform, as is the norm, was still at work, but had taken a new direction while I was gone.

I was adamant that I would return and find success in the classroom, after all it was a passion that was birthed early in my childhood.  I joined committees and did my best to catch up with both pedagogical and ed tech trends.  It wasn’t easy–but I did it.  I caught up, primarily with the help from a teacher who was younger and more current than I.  I’m so grateful for the help of good colleagues who were generous with their time and talents–creating an amazing atmosphere for collaboration and school pride.  Before long I was as current as the next educator.

I ALMOST caught my breath–but then, bad news regarding US performance on international PISA exams and a demand for new more rigorous standards resulted in the Common Core Standards.  Don’t get me wrong–I certainly want to be part of the solution and I believe the Common Core has so much to offer our students in depth of understanding.  But, yet again, the cheese has been moved.  It is easy to become disillusioned as a teacher–content and instruction will have to be overhauled.

One thing remains constant in education:  Change.  That’s it!  That’s what I’ve learned.  Teaching is the most political position outside of Washington and each new administration will have its own spin on how it will reform American education.  We have to run each reform through the filter of good pedagogy and a heart that wants what is best for our students.  Some things will pass the test & some will not.  However, I will never know unless I’m open to change.  It is SO easy to see what is already working and hold too tightly to it–missing out on the opportunity to go from good to great.

How do I keep from disillusionment?  I remember why I became a teacher.  I accept change as an educational lifestyle.  I love kids–I can’t lose focus of those things.  How do you do it?

 

    

September 28

My 10 Commandments of Teaching and Learning

This year I have a student teacher.  She’s fabulous–eager, positive, motivated!  One of her assignments was to ask my partner in crime and I about our “philosophy of teaching.”  I told her, “Actually–I wrote a paper as an assignment for a graduate class I took several years ago!”  Bringing it up again, it remains true today.  I have changed A LOT of things about my instructional strategies but these values I still hold true.

  1. Students must believe that you care.  By way of introduction, in my class, I tell all students that I am a member of their team.  Their success is my success and vice versa.  It is amazing to me that any student would think that a teacher is “out to get them.”  I want my students to believe that, more than anything, I want them to shine.  If I can get each one of them to believe that he or she is my favorite, I’ve done just that!
  2. Active students are thinking students.  Although I avoid lecture as much as absolutely possible, there are times when I believe direct instruction is the clearest method of instruction.  I want students to be sorting, moving, thinking, describing, hypothesizing…active!
  3. Never waste a minute.  In my classroom, everyone (including me) is working hard from bell to bell.  There is so much to think about and discuss, I don’t want to waste even a minute…and I don’t!  When students say that my class is the fastest class in the day, I know that I must be doing something right.  After all, time flies when you’re having fun.
  4. Students want to succeed.  Many of my colleagues have said that students don’t care.  They are lazy and uncooperative.  On the contrary, every student I have ever had has wanted to learn.  Some students have become experts at masking the desire to learn because they’ve been unsuccessful for so long, it is easier to pretend like you don’t care than to admit failure.  I truly believe that if students are convinced that you believe they can learn, they’ll start believing, too.
  5. Students have learned when they can show you they have learned.  Over the years I have become a huge advocate of the use of exit slips.  In my class, I refer to them as the “Ticket to Leave.”  I tie the question strictly to the objective for the day.  The exit slips have become an accurate litmus test regarding the success or failure of all of my instruction.  I also love being able to have one on one contact with each and every student.
  6. Be silly!  Though I am, without a doubt, a type A person, I am also very silly—particularly in front of my students.  When I let my guard down, so do they and we become like family.  By the end of each year, I truly love my students and I’m convinced I will never love another group as much…that is, until next year.
  7. Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.  I’m not sure who first coined the phrase, but I believe it!  Shhh!  Don’t tell my boss, but there are days that I think I’d do my job for free.  Everyday, I have eager students with a desire to learn and provide me with more encouragement that any person deserves.  I hope my students can find a similar passion in life.
  8. Everything that is self-fulfilling follows hard work.  I might have been a Puritan in another life.  I believe in a hard day’s work and feeling good after a hard day’s work. Sure, my students can take an easy class where they can simply breathe and earn an A or they can challenge themselves.  Though it may require more work, in the end, the payoff is a better education and the ability to think critically.
  9. Model good character.  I’m certainly not perfect, nor do I pretend to be.  However, I believe maturity is measured by progress in the qualities of goodness, honesty, integrity and humility.  In addition to the Pythagorean Theorem Corollary, I would hope my students would walk away from my classroom with a lesson on these critical character traits.
  10. Praise!  Praise!  Praise!  While I don’t feel students should receive hollow compliments, a thoughtful word of encouragement can change someone’s life.  Critics of this generation say that they’ve received too much praise.  I disagree.  The truth is that the world regularly beats us down.  We never feel smart or attractive enough.  Insecurity is the unfortunate mantra of every teenager.  During a time when parent-child relationships are strained, an uplifting word from a trusted adult is just what the doctor ordered!

How about you?  What would you add as one of your Ten Commandments?

 

September 7

Happy Surprises from “You, You all, We” in the Classroom

I wrote earlier in my blog about an article I had read on “Why Americans Stink at Math” by the New York Times (you can read both the post and the article by following the blog roll to the right) and how it just may have revolutionized how I teach.  Well, I’ve been continuing to use this method and I’ve stumbled upon some happy surprises. Here are a few:

Everyone’s engaged.  Yep!  Everyone!  I ask students to work individually on each problem and I walk around.  This frees me up to see who is staring into space–which rarely happens. Most students have some ideas about where to start.  They also want to be ready to share something with their partner when we switch to “You all.”  It’s amazing!  If students are stuck, I’m freed up to ask them questions about the problem that might trigger a thought.  From my Honors Pre-Calculus class to my average Geometry class–it seems to put everyone to work.  During the “You All” talk time, students seem to all be talking to each other ABOUT MATH.  Awesome!

Problematic thinking is head off early.  Because students generate the ideas, the most common misconceptions quickly come to light during our “We” discussion.  We are able to discuss each of them and why the idea might not work.  In addition we tackle, as a group, the points where students get “stuck” and identify why it is a difficulty.  At that point, we generate ideas to respond to the difficulty until every student is satisfied with the solution.

I facilitate, they solve.  By the time we finally get to the “We” discussion, I am able to direct the discussion so that students alone are able to (1) solve the problem and satisfy student curiosity about the problem  and (2) flesh out all the faulty thinking and “stuck” points.

Obviously, I’m sold.  The one down side is that each problem takes longer.  As a result,  I’m trying to find the perfect problems that generate the discussion I want.  I end up doing about 3-4 examples only.  In the past I would have done 5-7, but I don’t think I had the engagement or understanding I am getting now.  It’s a trade off–one that I’m convinced I should take.

Have you tried it?  What do you think?

August 30

Stop! Collaborate and Listen…

If you’re thinking this is a Vanilla Ice fan post, you’ll be disappointed.  However, “You’ve got a problem–Yo! I’ll solve it!” is the motto that my math team borrowed from the rap icon.  No, this is a post regarding some of the collaborative methods I use in the classroom.

The first method is MAN OVERBOARD.  In this activity I arrange students in groups of four and ask that they assign a “Captain.”  I leave this up to them–it’s always interesting to me whom they choose.  The Captain’s 1st job is to gather a marker board, marker and eraser for each member of his/ her group.  I present a problem and have each student work “secretly” on his/her board.  When the student has worked out a solution, he/she flips his/her board over.  When the Captain sees that everyone has finished, he/she will say “Man overboard!”  Then, the students flip their boards and discuss their responses until they can agree upon one.  The Captain also has the responsibility to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the agreed upon solution.  I’ve confirmed solutions for students in two ways:  either discussing it as a group when everyone has finished (this takes longer because I have to wait for everyone to finish) or I present the problems on cards that contain solutions on the opposite side.  Then, after the group has come to agreement, they have to reconcile their solution with mine as well.

The second activity is TAPS.  My friend across the hall found this on the internet somewhere and, like most things I do, it is either an exact replica or adaptation of something I’ve stolen from someone somewhere–most times I can’t even remember the source.  What I typically do is pose problems on individual slides in PowerPoint and print off the slides 6 to a page.  I write the solutions on the back of the cards by hand.  Then, I mass produce them so that each group has a set of problems.  I ask students to assemble in their groups of four and tell them that the person next to them in on their team and the people across from them are on the other team.  Students take one problem out of the envelope and all four of them work on the solution.  Teams are allowed to collaborate.  The first person to “TAP” the problem will have the opportunity to answer the question and check the solution.  If he/she is right, the team keeps that card and earns a point.  If not, the other team still has a chance.  One caveat is that students who are strong in the subject matter, and quick, can dominate this game leaving classmates in the dust and without adequate review.  I made it a requirement that the winner of each card present the solution to the rest of the group and answer any questions other group members might have.

Lastly I will present to you KNOTTY PROBLEMS.  I found this on a DePaul University website I’ve attached under “links.”  This activity requires a really difficult (AKA KNOTTY) problem.  Students are given several minutes to solve the problem and identify key frustrations or difficulties they are having with the problem.  Then, he/she presents the difficulty to an assembled group.  They listen without interruption.  After the student explains the difficulty, the rest of the group offers solutions.

I read recently that true collaboration really doesn’t happen unless the problem is too difficult/knotty to be solved by just one mind.  Just a thought.  

I’d love to hear what type of collaboration techniques that you’ve used, too–especially in a HS math classroom!