Thursday, October 16, 2014

rejuvenation

It's hard to believe that it is already mid-Oct, and for those in Minnesota, that means it is MEA weekend. The Education Minnesota conference is going on today and tomorrow, and it provides teachers a chance to connect, learn, get some freebies, and have lunch for longer than 18 minutes with friends and colleagues. For others, this weekend is a chance to get away - one last fall weekend to the cabin. The chance to play with your children, read a book, knit, work on the yard or house projects that desperately need finishing before the winter. Whatever you do this weekend, take some time for yourself. Take a few minutes to do something YOU love to help you handle the stress of being a teacher. It is HARD WORK being a teacher, and you are pulled in many directions all at once. Sometimes we need a break.

While you're at it, perhaps you can develop some ways to handle the stress of teaching during the week too. Some teachers I talked to recently said they started to walk around the block at lunch. They ate their apples and yogurt on the go while chatting and getting some exercise. Since we all know how long the winters get, being able to get outside, even for 10 minutes, can boost our spirits and make us happier and more patient in the classroom. Maybe you could start noticing things your colleagues are doing well and write them a post-it note to leave in their mailbox. It might start a trend of positive feedback throughout your building. Maybe you want to learn about meditation and think a few minutes a day might help. Of course, there's an app for that. Or maybe, just maybe, you can ask for help. Think about what really stresses you out the most and ask for help.

Check out other posts about taking care of yourself here.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

what new teachers want

I was out at a school last week and ran into a new teacher. She said that of all the things she needed support on, she was currently struggling the most with grading. She wasn't sure about her expectations for student work and how to evaluate it. Was she on the same page as the other teachers at her grade level? This conversation reminded me of an article in Educational Leadership from a couple of years ago. The article, What New Teachers Want From Colleagues written by Deborah Bieler, shared themes from conversations with new teachers about what their experience colleagues could do to help support new teachers.

Bieler, in her conversations with new teachers, found that above all else, new teachers are looking for help with teaching ideas, curriculum questions, classroom management, and someone to observe and reflect with them. And, the idea that connected to my conversation, help with grading. Grading is something that many teachers get less practice with throughout their preparation, while they get lots of practice writing lessons and teaching lessons, but collecting assignments, evaluating them, and using them to plan future instruction is something many new teachers feel less confident about. Grading an assignment given by the new teacher or a common grade-level assignment together with an experienced colleague could help enlighten the goals of the school/grade/department and help the new teacher feel more confident in their grading.

So what does this all mean? Well, maybe you have a faculty mentor and you can ask them for some support in these areas. OR, you can request that some of your grade-level or department meetings be devoted to curriculum, management, and grading. If you don't feel confident yet having this conversation with the whole group, perhaps bringing it up with one colleague and asking them if this could be a focus for common planning time would be a good place to start.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.
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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.
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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!

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