Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Adopt A Classroom

New teachers know that setting up a classroom in your first year is challenging. You have fewer supplies and less access to instructional materials that a veteran teacher who has been saving materials for several (or many) years. But even veteran teachers spend up to $1000 of their own money every year on supplies for their classrooms. 

Adopt A Classroom, created in 1998, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission to support teachers in need of supplies and instructional materials. This year, they are launching a new program specifically for first year teachers in the 7-county metro area. Eligible teachers who register with AdoptAClassroom.org will automatically receive a minimum of $100 of funding for their classrooms. See the website to register your classroom and for more information. This is a great opportunity for some financial support for the needs of your students and your classroom!

Know someone who might want to donate to this great organization? All donations go directly to teachers, so supporters can know their donations are going to a great cause.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

team building

While the first day and week of school is great for getting to know you games and activities, this is work that can and should continue throughout the year. Building a community in the classroom takes time, and doesn't end after the first crazy week of school.

Below are some getting-to-know-you and team-building activities that you might try in your classroom, even though we're beyond the first week of school. Though you are waist-deep into curriculum now, you can make these fit your content needs so you can not only meet standards, but have fun getting to know your students too.

Time Capsule Activity: Have students divide a page into three columns. The first column can be "5 things I know already," the second can be, "5 things I wonder about," and the third can be, "5 things I hope to accomplish." Now that they've had some time to learn about grade X or your content, they're more likely to have informed "wonderings" and accomplishments to think about. Have students share with partners or small groups, and then keep these to hand back at the end of the year.

Snowball Fight: This is a more active version of the previous suggestion. Students draw 3 columns on a plain piece of white paper. In the first column they write what they are excited about, the second is for what they are nervous about, and the third is for something they want to learn. Students crumple their paper into a "snowball." Divide the class in half and students toss their snowballs to the opposite side of the room. Students take a snowball and try to find their partner.

I Am From:  One of my favorite getting-to-know-you activities is having students write "I Am From" poems based on George Ella Lyon's famous poem. There are templates out there to use, but I tend to like giving students freedom to really play with the style and make it their own. You can read about an example of teaching this poem structure here.

If You Build It: A classic problem-solving / team-building activity where students are given a set of materials and need to build a boat/castle/table in a given time period. Student teams can write about their process and then also write about what they would change for next time.

Worst-Case Scenario: Students are given a scenario (stranded on a deserted island, lost in wilderness) and come up with a plan in which everyone safely gets home. They can be limited to 5 items they have with them (and you can nix certain things like planes or time-machines :) Students can vote on the best solution.

I've written about building relationships here and here for "getting-to-know-you" activities. This is a year-long process, not one that is done the first week or month of school. I always love that I can learn new things about students the last week of school, that they can surprise me even then. Allow yourself that surprise and keep getting to know your students all throughout the year.

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Thursday, August 21, 2014

keeping the students in the room

For those of you that are about to begin your first year of teaching, "back to school" doesn't quite capture the feelings you likely have. While you have experienced the beginning of a school year many many times yourself as a student, there isn't anything quite like your first year as a teacher.

Those of you who have 2 or 3 or 20 years experience, this time of year probably has that bittersweet excitement - mourning the end of summer just a bit, but also energized for a new year.

When I was first teaching, during back to school workshops and early in the school year I focused much of my time on making my classroom cute. I color coordinated and played around with just the right border on my bulletin boards, and perfected the stickers on the mailboxes and laminated everything in sight. But after a few years, I realized that it was really only me (and sometimes the parents) that noticed all this work. What did my students want to see in their classroom? Themselves. Ann Marie over at Choice Literacy came to the same realization, and figured out how to make her classroom more for her students than for herself.

This year, as you're decorating and organizing, keep doing the things that make you happy to be in that classroom. But also think about ways you can leave room for the most important people in that class - the students.

What are some ways you incorporate your students into the decorating and layout of your classroom?

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Monday, August 4, 2014

guest blogger: mindframes

Rob Reetz is a Professional Learning Specialist for Mounds View Public Schools. He teaches Introduction to Education, General Methods/Classroom Management, and Foundations of Education for TC2. Rob also advises residents on the completion of their Portfolio of Effective Practice and manages TC2's Google platform. Rob has an Ed.S from the University of St. Thomas.
Within weeks, school doors will once again open to a rushing flood of eager students, wishing to reconnect after a beautiful summer. For them as well as their teachers, the first weeks of school are filled with optimism and excitement. There is perhaps no group more excited for learning to begin than that of first-year teachers. Despite being new to the school and profession, an experience similar to that of drinking from a fire hose, first-year teachers must immediately immerse themselves in a process of teaching and learning that includes:
  • the establishing of authentic and positive relationships with their students and colleagues
  • the creating of protocols and processes crucial to classroom management
  • the constructing/delivering of lessons that are engaging, measurable, and aligned to standards
  • the embedding of ‘assessments for learning’ intended to illuminate student understanding
  • the generating of a grading policy heavy on feedback that is fair, accurate, specific and timely.
  • the learning of how meet and exceed the needs of special learners

First year teachers should do all of these things and they should expect to fail. Hattie (2014) says of effective teachers that what they think is often more important than what they do. To maximize their effect, first year teachers, as well as their more experienced colleagues, must view hard tasks as worthy challenges, and failure, both their own and that of their students, as an invitation to grow.

To learn from mistakes and to ensure teachers are continually aware of their impact on students, Hattie (2012) writes that we must address the underlying mindframes that shape our thinking about teaching and learning. First year teachers who develop the ways of thinking outlined below are more likely to have a major and sustained impact on student learning.

Mindframes of teachers, school leaders and systems comes from Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie (2012):

Mindframe 1: Educators believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning.
The ultimate requirement of all new teachers is to develop the skill of evaluating the effect they have on their students’ learning. When teachers view their students’ results as a major indicator of their effectiveness, they are far more likely to alter their approach to teaching and learning when it’s clear students aren’t progressing.

Mindframe 2: Educators believe that success and failure in student learning is about what they as educators did or did not do.
Efficacy, a teacher’s belief in his/her ability to produce a desired result, is more crucial for learning than any instructional strategy. First year teachers must adopt the mindset that all students can learn and embrace the reciprocal relationship that exists between their effectiveness and students’ success or failure.

Mindframe 3: Educators should talk more about the learning than the teaching.
Many teachers, but especially those new to the profession, are not comfortable observing their students struggle. This often results in surface level learning, which is tantamount to giving a student water skis when they really require a snorkel. Teachers and their students need to become comfortable when learning is uncomfortable. Hattie (2012) writes that student achievement increases when teachers view learning through the eyes of students, and students begin to view themselves as their own teachers. The most effective teachers invest significant time learning from their students about what is working and what isn’t.

Mindframe 4: Educators see assessment as feedback about their impact.
Teachers new to the profession need to abandon many of their K12 learning experiences. Gone are the days of “gotcha” tests. Teachers must begin to view assessment results (both formative and summative) as a major indicator of their effectiveness. The most successful teachers wonder what they taught well and not-so-well, and more importantly, who they taught well and not-so-well.

Mindframe 5: Educators engage in dialogue, not monologue.
What are the characteristics of an effective learner? If words like quiet and compliant come to mind, you’re preparing students for a world of work that no longer exists. Effective learners are curious, persistent, determined, and selfaware. Unfortunately, most classrooms are dominated by teacher talk. First year teachers need to embrace their role as a listener they should listen to students’ ideas, questions, struggles and strategies for learning. They should promote student collaboration and teamwork and foster a classroom culture whereby students view error as a common component of the learning process and each other as learning resources.

Mindframe 6: Educators enjoy the challenge.

Learning is hard work. Students seek to know more about things for which they already have some surface level knowledge. However, the gap between what students know and what they are to learn has to be perceived by them as bridgeable. It is crucial that first year teachers have a strong sense for what comes next if they are to ensure the learning challenge for students is daunting but feasible.

Mindframe 7: Educators believe is is their role to develop positive relationships in classrooms and staff rooms.
Students learn as much for their teachers as they do from their teacher (Delpit, 2012). While it is important for first year teachers to develop warm relationships with all of their students, it is far more impactful to develop a culture of learning that embraces errors. Students have to feel comfortable taking risks or making mistakes in front of their peers. When it comes to learning, it is important for students to know it always okay where they’re at, it’s just never okay to stay there.

Mindframe 8: Educators inform families about the language of learning.
Effective school to home communication is crucial. Too often first year teachers rely on email to connect with parents. Phone calls home, both positive and negative, are far more likely to invite parents into the learning process. All parents wish for their children to experience academic success, but not all feel welcomed in schools or have schedules that permit them partner as much as they might like. First year teachers must avoid the tendency to makeup stories as to why a parent appears disengaged, and employ the same persistence they wish to impart upon their learners when or if communication home proves challenging.

Delpit, L. (2012). Multiplication is for White people: Raising expectations for other people’s
children. NY, NY: The New Press.

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. NY, NY: Routledge.

Hattie, J. & Yates, G. (2014) Visible learning and the science of how we learn. NY, NY: Routledge.
Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Monday, July 14, 2014

preparing to start

The most successful people I know got that way by ignoring the race to find the elusive, 
there's-only-one-and-no-one-has-found-it right answer, and instead had the guts to look 
at the infinite landscape of choices and pick a better problem instead.

- Seth Godin

When I first started teaching, every new situation I encountered seemed like a monumental problem to be solved. I was exhausted all the time from solving problems, most of which stemmed from just not knowing enough. I struggled to keep up with the pace of planning, instruction, assessment, reflection, planning, instruction... and balance committees and parents and find time to learn more about the areas in which I needed further professional development. I didn't know how to pick the better problem, because I did think there was one right answer and I was sure to mess it up. I know now, of course, that this is not true. And that even the solution to a problem one time is not likely to fix the situation the next time. So it is more important to spend energy on the big picture. 

Summer break is a wonderful time to reflect on the past year and plan for the future year. For teachers unsure where they will be teaching in the fall, the summer, though, can also be a time of anxiety. One thing that you can consider doing is joining one of the free MOOC (massive open online course) for new teachers through the New Teacher Center. The New Teacher Center is offering MOOCs designed specifically for new elementary and secondary teachers to provide them will some tools to start the year successfully. Each 4 week course starts July 21st, with an expected work load of 2-4 hrs/week. Not too much time involved, it's free, and it might be a way to channel any nervous energy for new teachers.

If you decide to try it, stop back and comment on this post to let us know how it went!

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Monday, June 16, 2014

guest blogger: reflections on fieldwork

Guest Blogger: Kelsey Riesterer, Teacher candidate from the University of Minnesota, Student teacher at Earle Brown IB World School in Brooklyn Center, MN

As the year comes to a close and I finish the first half of my student teaching I am both happy and sad. I’m sad to be leaving wonderful fifth grade students that I have gotten to know well. Next year they will venture onto middle school and I look forward to them experiencing their next step. I am also happy to be able to meet a new bunch of kids in the fall. In the fall my cooperating teacher and I will be transferring to fourth grade. I’m excited to work with a new grade and experience the differences. 
I am worried about classroom discipline as I get to know the students and they get to know me. I will try to stay firm so the students know my expectations. If I need help I hope to be able to ask my fellow fourth grade teachers for guidance. I may make mistakes but I will take each day at a time. I will get to know each of my students so I can teach in a way that helps each student. 
I believe that my grade level professional learning community and International Baccalaureate meetings will be beneficial each week. Each week I can talk about what I have been teaching and receive feedback from the other teachers. I will reflect on this feedback and change my teaching and plans as necessary. I will use these meetings as important personal development. Each day I will reflect on my teaching with my cooperating teacher. During this I will be able to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. This will be important as I continue to work on my teaching skills. 
Overall I am incredibly excited to continue my student teaching, learn more each day, and help each student on their way to success. 
Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Monday, June 9, 2014

coming to a close

Everything has to come to an end, sometime.
― L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

For those of you dear readers in the midwest (a.k.a. the land of the polar vortex), many of you had your school years extended due to school closings for cold and snow. Those days were necessary at the time, but for many, those added days are challenging now that summer has finally descended. 

The end of a school year is frantic, busy, and bittersweet. I find the reflecting stage of the end of the year invigorating. Many teachers find that they have them most interesting ideas for improvement during the ending weeks of the year and through the summer. Make sure you have a place where you can keep track of your ideas and that they don't get lost in the hustle and bustle of end-of-year packing (and throughout the summer at home). 

This time of year can also be a bit disheartening. There's so much I didn't get accomplished! This can lead to new ideas, though, and you can't forget all that you did accomplish! 

Congratulations on the end of the 2013-2014 school year. For you first year teachers, this is a particularly momentous ending. But with that ending comes anticipation for the 2014-2015 school year. Just don't forget to enjoy a bit of summer before then!

I'll be continuing to post throughout the summer. If any readers out there are interested in learning more about anything related to teaching, particularly as it relates to new teachers, complete the survey below with suggestions:
Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here