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V_Vasquez_Robles | Education | July 8, 2014

An Eye On Your Actions

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While attending a public meeting, I saw a child out of the corner of my eye staring at every move her mother made.  When her mom clapped, she clapped.  When her mother nodded her head in agreement, so too did the child.  After a few moments, the little girl proudly tapped on her mother’s shoulder and whispered, “I am copying you.”  The mother looked at her.  And, again, the child stated, “Look Mom.  Everything you are doing I am doing, too.”  The mother smiled and continued to direct her attention to the speaker.  And, so did the child.

 The interaction I observed guided me to think about our students at school and what they might see us, adults, doing on a regular basis.  What do we do?  What do we say?  How do we speak to one another?  How do we express our emotions?  And, are we ok with how we do what we do?  In other words, would we be proud to see a student act like we act? 

While studying to attain my admin certification, I recall learning from the actions of one of my mentors.  Regardless of how he was spoken to or the situation which he faced, he always kept a calm demeanor.  I was amazed.  At moments where I thought he was going to scream, he would keep a respectful tone and carry on.  This was by far the most important skill I learned from this individual.  But, this led me to ponder that if I observed and tried to mimic his behavior, who might be watching me?

When I observed the child’s mom simply smile, I later thought about the confidence she must have had in her actions.  She seemed to be quite pleased that her daughter was mimicking her every move. 

As we celebrate last school year and prepare for the new, let us take time to remember we have many eyes on us.  And, they aren’t just looking.  

L2Gura | July 2, 2014

The Passionate Teacher

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Passion.  It’s what drives people to do the extreme, whether it’s beautiful, ugly, funny, romantic, violent, or crazy.  Passion is defined as “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something.”  Teachers are passionate people.   What gets us through the day?  It’s our passionate desires to ignite the fuse of learning within our students, provide opportunities to achieve long-term success for the families in our communities, and create safe environments in which children can excel.   Are we truly zealous for the children?

Once upon a time, one of my principals told me that I am a very passionate person.  I was not impressed with that observation—I felt like it was a polite way to say I’m an outspoken pain in the butt.  Throughout the years I started tapping into what being a passionate teacher was—I was firmly convicted to be the best teacher possible for my students.  As Salvador Dali stated, "Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings."  Yet after this school year, I didn’t feel so zealous.  I lost the “fire in my belly” for something meaningful in my daily life in school.  Why bother teaching if you’re ho-hum about it?  It will kick you in the teeth and leave you down in the gutter of despair.  I knew I needed to get my vigor back in order to successfully impact students’ lives.  What is the meaning of a purposeless mindset towards teaching?

We’ve had a month off from school; it’s definitely time to refuel our educator batteries.  We need to reevaluate what provides the fuel for our drive as educators.  What gets us going each day during the school year? 

I have taken some time to reflect on what makes me a passionate teacher.  What do I deeply care about for my students?  It’s time to choose a few to actively pursue.  Here is my list (in random order):

  • Providing an abundance of purposeful, intensive opportunities for students to break the cycle of poverty and successfully compete with peers to achieve success
  • Breaking the cycle of child abuse which is protected by the bureaucracy of the government
  • Be a safe place for children of illegal immigrants
  • Hands-on learning
  • School gardens
  • Equal attitudes from all investors (politicians, administrators, educators, students, parents) about the ability of Title 1 schools to succeed
  • Purposeful professional developments which provide teachers with valuable tools and takeaways
  • Inspiring principals
  • Teachers are ALL leaders
  • Elimination of standardized testing and increased use of portfolio/ reflection assessments

So now it’s time for the next step…… my actions.  I have a great list, but it’s all theory until I put it into practice.  Now it's time for me to determine my future actions of this next school year to ensure I am  attaining one of these goals.  Passion is a wasted emotion if not acted upon.  Let’s inspire our students with our fiery passion to motivate change in our classroom, school, district, or nationwide educational system.  What will you motivate change to impact your students this upcoming school year?

 

John Spencer | Current Affairs, Education | June 26, 2014

These Are People, Not Ideas

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Every person employed in public education is a civil representative of the public. It’s our job to serve the public. As a teacher, I might not agree with a parent’s decisions, but it is my duty to love that family and to provide the best possible education I can for them. So, when a public servant makes pejorative (even hateful) statements about a group of the population, that person is failing to fulfill the bare basic job of a public servant.

It's a big deal. 

I’ve seen it in the schools and I’ve seen it on both sides. I heard a teacher say, “Another parent e-mail? I shouldn’t have to listen to those crazy conservative Bible thumpers.” I heard another teacher say, “I don’t care if it’s a kid’s parent, I’m not okay with doing parent-teacher conferences with gay parents.” Most of the time, it’s more thinly veiled. Statements like “these kids” and “those kinds of parents.” Other times, it resorts to outright name-calling.

This isn’t okay.

Often, this is justified as having the permission to believe something politically. We have permission to engage in political discourse. I want to see teachers disagree on core political issues and advocate for or against policies. However, ad hominem attacks aren’t merely political discourse. They’re attacks on people. Real people. It’s not about ideas. It’s about treating people with respect and dignity.

Whether it’s spoken in a staff lounge or through the veil of online anonymity, when a public servant uses hateful speech to attack the students I love, I’m not going to sit quietly and let it go.

Mike Lee | Education, Education Policy |

How About Just One Standard?

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Keep-calm-and-don-t-feed-the-troll-22

I've been thinking - and the current controversy involving our state superintendent only makes it clearer to me - that we should agree on a curriculum of simply one standard.  I know it sounds crazy, but hey, Jack Black once wrote a "One Note Song."  Chris Rock once asked for "just one rib" when ordering at a restaurant. Why not one standard?  Think of the money we could save in printing, or how fast you could download the PDF if the document simply stated:

Students will understand that they could be wrong (regardless of how passionately they feel about their position).

Alright, I know, I know.  Everyone loves decimals and secret coding in their standards.  Let's try:

Life Readiness Standard One

Strand: Becoming an Informed and Productive Citizen

LRS.1.S.BPC 1.1 - Students will know they could be wrong (regardless of how passionately they feel about their position).

Those of you who wanted decimals in your standards are probably fuming about the paranthesis, but work with me.

What drives inquiry?  Curiousity.  Why be curious?  To gain insight and to inform your perspectives.  However, why should I need to inform my perspective if I'm convinced I'm already right?  Heaven forbid citizenry means we have to engage in a nuanced discussion where both positions bring elements of truth.  

Want an example of where the lack of command of this standard is most obvious?  On the internet boards where the so-called "trolls" incessantly insult each other, but gain no ground, change nobody's opinion, and generally waste a whole lot of time.  They are so busy being entrenched and convinced that they are right, they learn nothing and get nowhere.  However, I guess they feel better after calling others idiots, morons, liberal comunisocialists, or right-wing nut jobs.  Come to think of it, maybe there should be an additional standard:

LRS.1.S.BPC 1.2 - Students will skillfully dialogue with those offering opposing viewpoints without name calling or leveling insults (and stay out of the digital gutter known as message boards).

I don't know.  I think it could work. But, I could be wrong.

Julie Torres | Education, Life in the Classroom | June 25, 2014

Teacher Resignations

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I’ve come across a few blogs and Facebook posts that include letters from teachers that have decided to leave their current teaching positions and have completely resigned.  Most of these pieces have been very heartfelt stories that included the reasons why they left and why others might be leaving as well.  I started to notice a similar thread to these posts and began to wonder if the challenges teachers are facing in Arizona are the same ones that are plaguing the educational system throughout America. 

Here are some of the common themes:

Time: Teachers have reported working far more than eight hours per day, on weekends, during the summer and winter break and being asked to return to school early in order to prepare for the next school year without pay.

Paperwork: Teachers are being asked to use curriculum that contains teacher directions, to rewrite those directions into lesson plans and to follow up with writing them once again in an electronic grade book.  Lesson plan templates are also becoming more routine; they tend to be multi-page endeavors that require coding, differentiation, strategies, and my personal favorite - scripts.  Redundancy is rampant in education and it has very little to do with teaching and a lot more to do with compliance.  There is a time and a place for things like this but it has gotten out of hand.  A teacher might spend over an hour writing out a lesson that only takes 20 minutes to deliver.  Over the course of a school year this adds up to endless wasted hours for teachers.

Professional Development: This is the area that creates the most frustration for many teachers.  Learning and refining the art of teaching has been compressed down into endless hours of data talks, data notebooks and analyzing data.  This is slowly killing the spirit of teachers everywhere.  Data is important but it is only one facet of a much bigger picture.  Very little time is spent on learning new skills to support the diverse needs of students in professional development.

Differentiation: This seems to have become the get out of jail free card for school districts.  Students come with many different needs, in the past teachers have collaborated with families as well as with school resources to create learning that met the needs of students.  Resources have now been pulled away and teachers have been told to differentiate, with very little training, if any, provided.  The needs of students are growing and teachers can’t do it alone.  When teachers ask for support they are often told to differentiate and unfortunately teachers might not always speak up and ask how.  The message is do more with less.

Hearing No: Teachers have a lot of barriers to overcome when attempting to navigate an educational system.  They also hear ‘No” quite often and this is because even though it may appear that school districts make decisions in a transparent fashion the reality is that only a handful of people in a school district get to make the important decisions.  This means that only a few people are truly empowered to provide a teacher with a “Yes” to a policy change, program change or the development of a new program for students. 

Last year, I had a meeting with one of these decision makers and brought up this idea of ‘No” and how many times a teacher might hear that in a school year.  I was quickly told that that was not possible and that leadership strives to blah blah blah…I completely tuned out because the scenario that I was describing as a problem was reenacting itself right in front of me.  I was being told “no”, “no that doesn’t happen here”.  I had a flashback to the movie Inception and started to smile.

Compensation: Teachers can no longer afford to teach!

Beliefs: All of the resignation posts I’ve read have stated the same thing, teachers are willing to put up with everything described above, but they could not compromise their educational beliefs.  Education has changed and continues to change in a direction that is not about students and their needs, but about numbers and compliance.  Good teachers refuse to teach to the test, test for the sole purpose of generating data and watch students become pawns in a larger educational game.

Students: No teacher stated that they were leaving because of students or families.  They all seemed to mourn the loss of a career filled with pride and a sense of purpose tied to students.  The real losers in this are students, experienced teachers are leaving in waves and new teachers are replacing them but often leave the profession within three years.  The vast pool of knowledge and experience that teachers have is dissipating at a rate that cannot be replenished. 

I type these final words with sadness because I too have chosen to leave.  Although, I was not a classroom teacher when I resigned I saw these things happening to teachers around me and could no longer bare witness.

 

 

 

John Spencer | Current Affairs | June 24, 2014

The Definition of Family Is Expanding

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I was in my second year of teaching when a boy walked in with two older men for parent teacher conferences. "Which one is your dad?" I asked.

"Both of them."

"I'm so sorry," I said. I stumbled my way through the whole conference. I still cringe about the way that I said "partner" instead of "husband." I was trying to hard to prove that I wasn't being judgmental that I failed to provide the one thing Pedro needed the most: his parents being treated as parents. I still cringe as I think about how I handled that.

Later, I ran into my team in the staff lounge. "That was awkward," a teacher admitted. "Not half as matter as it is for his dads. Every day. No, really, every minute," a teacher pointed out. That moment stuck with me. Sometimes in the midst of my interactions with LGBT friends, I forget about that - not the fact that they experience these things, but that these moments are constant. I live in a world of heterosexual privilege. 

Whether a teacher feels comfortable with it or not, children will show up to school with families that break the previous cultural norms. The definition of family has expanded. How a teacher feels about this change is irrelevant. Our job is to care about students and honor their families -- regardless of what the family make-up looks like. It’s not a personal choice. It’s a professional responsibility.

In many cases, those families will have experienced things that I’ve never had to deal with as a heterosexual, married man with three kids. Often that child has had to watch the two people who love her the most experience this injustice amid apathy and silence from the community.

What will you do when a kid says "that's gay" as a slur and you know that those words are burning the insides of one of your students? What will you say to a child whose mom has cancer and she's scared that her other mom won't be allowed to adopt her? What will you say to the teacher or the parent or the student who says, "Gays can't be role models?"

If the answer is silence, then it's the wrong answer.

Greg Broberg | June 22, 2014

What Does Quality Homework Look Like?

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For so many teachers the summer is all about reflection, and I am no different.  As I plan for my first year in middle school, one question keeps nagging at me: What should I do about homework?    It plagues me because so many of my middle school colleagues tell stories related to the large number of students who fail to complete homework which translates into poor academic performance.  However, as Alfie Kohn points out in his book The Homework Myth, no study has found a correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school.   In contrast to Kohn’s claim, a number of sources argue that the true purpose of homework is to teach self-discipline, time management and other non-academic life skills.   My classroom experiences with 4th and 5th grade students represent aspects of both of the previous claims.  For students who struggle academically in a particular subject, a regular amount of homework practice (typically 15 to 20 minutes) gives them an opportunity to “work through” difficult concepts without the time constraints of a typical school day.  However, students who are more advanced typically get this work done in several minutes – which calls into question the true value of the assignment.  In terms of non-academic life skills, students and parents alike seem to have an expectation of homework.  A failure to address this expectation can create a strained parent-teacher relationship.  Assuming that some type of homework is valuable, and as we move deeply into the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the question that may need to be addressed is: What does quality homework look like?

Quality does not mean quantity.  With the CCSS focus on critical thinking homework may involve students answering “big questions”.  For example, in language arts this may involve deep thinking in terms of a critical comprehension question.  Assigning a single focus question for homework that can be used within an upcoming instructional unit gives students time to “think” and re-read text for increased understanding.  This emulates a typical expectation in college courses, and assigning this type of homework may instill a regular discipline of reflection.   For some students, the chance to re-read and process text is a necessity especially if they tend to get distracted easily during the hustle-and-bustle of the classroom.    

Choice.  One of the things that I hope to include in my homework plans is to provide choice or options for students.  My goal is to connect homework to home life.  Giving students assignments that require interaction (i.e. interviews or discussions) with adults builds home-school connections that parents relish.  Also, allowing students to use technology to take pictures or record video in response to focused questions offers an alternative to traditional pencil-paper work.  The trick may be to keep things fresh.

Collaboration. I think it is a safe assumption that most students really want to succeed at homework – just like they want to succeed at many things in life.  The issue then shifts to understanding the barriers that keep students from completing homework.  I often times hear teachers refer to home lives or structure as a definitive answer to homework completion issues.  This certainly can be true, however, if this is the case then building peer, collaborative networks may be important.  Helping students find a “homework buddy” may provide a potential answer.  Certainly teachers can be used in this role; however, students tend to be more open about their struggles with peers.  Also, discussions with peers often times lead to different perspectives and insights (a second way) that may be more beneficial for a struggling student.     

Communication.  Setting expectations with students and parents offers a key first step in developing homework quality.  I typically use a homework “bill of rights” that frames homework as a positive part of my school practice.  I also include a right for parents to “excuse” their child from homework on nights where homework completion simply was not possible.  Developing a relationship where parents are seen as partners in homework completion along with regular feedback goes a long way to reducing the stress for all involved.

Teachers must value homework. Probably the most important lesson that I have learned from students is to value their homework.  If I didn’t actively value homework, using it in the classroom in some meaningful way, homework completion rates drop significantly.  Valuing homework means more than simply giving it a grade.  Students need to see that their homework is useful in order for them to give it the necessary attention.  Using homework as mentor texts or artifacts to be shared as part of future instruction sends a clear message to students that there is value in their work, and a certain level of quality is expected.  Also, I regularly celebrate homework – focusing attention on the unique ways students answer questions or solve problems.     

If the CCSS are expected to bring about quality instruction then homework needs to be considered as a means rather than an end to that goal.  As teachers we need to ensure that our homework practice is not an afterthought.  Instead, it must be a central practice to help differentiate and engage students in the task of learning.  Providing unique and student-centered homework that values choice and builds on a student’s passion or home life experiences may provide the greatest possibility for success.

Jen Robinson | June 20, 2014

Fortunately

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Tumblr_inline_mmsqoo62Ht1qz4rgpI first learned about the book, Fortunately by Remy Charlip in a professional development about the six traits of writing. The book begins…Fortunately he is invited to a birthday party, unfortunately the party was in Florida and he lived in New York. Fortunately a friend loans him an airplane; unfortunately the motor exploded. Fortunately there was a parachute on the airplane; unfortunately there was a hole in the parachute. The book continues with this same pattern throughout. This story makes me think about the state of education today.

Fortunately, our district adopted a new curriculum framework supporting and sequencing the standards; unfortunately teachers received implementation training one day before school started.

Fortunately, teachers use current data to inform their instruction, teaching skills and standards to mastery; unfortunately our benchmark assessments measure all grade level standards whether or not they have been taught.

Fortunately, we have early release time every Wednesday; unfortunately district and state mandates and initiatives substantially limit time spent on teacher collaboration, planning and reflection.

Fortunately, teachers implemented and taught the state common core standards; unfortunately we assessed on the old state standards.

Fortunately, we piloted the PARRC assessments this past spring; unfortunately our state pulled out of the consortium and it is unknown what state assessments we will use next year.

Fortunately, we are changing the existing teacher evaluation models to reflect teaching and learning; unfortunately we failed to take into account the toll implementation of new standards, a new evaluation tool and new state testing would take on our teachers.

What would your fortunately / unfortunately education sentence stem sound like?

Sandy Merz | Books, Current Affairs, Mathematics | June 19, 2014

Unfinished Thoughts

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Well, I missed my second deadline in a row and can't claim to have been too busy. Truth be told, I haven't been able to string together enough complete thoughts on a single topic to hit our 600 - 800 word target. I wonder if there's such a thing as Late Onset Attention Deficit Disorder. As soon as doctors discover it, I bet there will be a pill. 

So instead of one topic, here are a bunch of unfinished thoughts.

1) Trying to balance work and personal life is a struggle across society these days. Two related books that are fun to read in tandem are Living With Complexity by Dan Norman and The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda (easy to find as a free PDF). The first is more conceptual, the second more practical. I lost my notes to them when my IPad crashed recently and am looking forward to reading them again.

2) A lot of bloggers have been posting examples of bad Common Core lessons, many of them sent in by frustrated parents. Teachers have responded defensively, and often condescendingly. One even offered a template for parents about how to write a letter to a teacher. Isn't a better response to counter the bad examples with good examples? There are plenty out there.

3) I wrote in my Digressive Discourse blog that regarding the Common Core Debate I'd rather be well than right. Won't you check it out?

4) The adopted algebra text that my district uses has "Core" written on almost every page, but I've yet to find a substantive difference between it and the previous edition. The workbook on the other hand has potential. But only about 3 out of 30 of this year's class could work independently in it, and it's got a lot of typos that throw those kids off. 

On the other hand I got a hold of the workbook that accompanies the adopted text of different district. It's excellent and will be my anchor for my planning this summer.

5) Why couldn't the Common Core be implemented a grade or two at a time? I'm not sure about language arts, but the 8th grade math sample tests I've seen are easily a couple of years ahead of our current 8th graders. Who will be blamed when only a handful of students meet the standards on whatever assessment is used? Classroom teachers.

6) If you could change places with a non-teacher who would it be?  And I don't mean in a "What would you do if you won the lottery?" way. I mean truly. The question makes me think of Stigmata with Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne. It's good and scary. In one scene sexual tension is building between the Arquette character and the Byrne character. That's awkard because the Byrne character is a priest, but wasn't always. She asks how he could give up whatever the opposite of celibacy is called. He responds that it was a matter of changing one set of complications for another. I wonder if that's what it's like when teachers leave the profession and discover the complications along their new path.

Oh, by the way, I'd be a Space Ranger. 

7)  Can I just say I love my career? There's a picture that often shows up on Facebook pages of Snoopy and Charlie Brown dancing. The caption is, "What if today, we were just grateful for everything?" It's a fair question. I wonder if the networks of gratitude in teaching are matched in any other career.

8) I'm turned off by hearing people say they just want what's best for kids. Does it really add anything to a debate? Here's an example of a better way, offered by my friend Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa Education Association: Adequate pension plans help kids because teachers can retire on a living wage when the time is right. The alternative, which she documents has occurred in some private schools, is for teachers to continue long after they are still effective because they can't afford to retire. 

 9) Finally, in Smilla's Sense of Snow, also with Gabriel Byrne, lead actress Julia Ormand plays a mathematician. In one scene she explains how number systems - you know - whole numbers, integers, real numbers, etc. - have parallels in a person's emotional development. That inspired the attached slide show. Feel free to use it. I haven't attached a document to a post before so leave a comment if you have trouble downloading it and I'll email it to you.

Julie Torres | National Board Certification | June 18, 2014

8 Reasons Why You Should Become a National Board Certified Teacher

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The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is evolving, making the certification process more affordable and accessible to teachers.  You might be wondering what this means for you as an educator.  The time has come for our profession to have a certification process that is rigorous and respected.  If you are on the fence about becoming a National Board Candidate, you might find the reasons listed below helpful in making a decision.

1. Only you know what your students truly need. It is critical that you as an educator are at the forefront of the decisions made in your classroom.  The National Board process can help you to craft the language necessary to effectively advocate for the needs of your students.

 

2. The National Boards is releasing its third version. Candidates will now have the opportunity to work at their own pace while reflecting on their practice at a deeper level.

 

3. Working at your own pace also means paying at your own pace; affordability and access are now available to teachers.

 

4. Our profession needs to raise the bar. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must be courageous enough to put our practice up for public review.

 

5. This process requires deep analytical and reflective thinking that is not the norm in most teachers’ professional development opportunities.  This strengthens teacher practice and improves student achievement.

 

6. Becoming an NBCT means that you teach to the National Board Standard, the gold standard in teaching.

 

7. Every student deserves the best teacher possible and National Board Certification is one way to identify the best teachers in the profession.

 

8. If not you, then who? If not now, when?