Thursday, May 31, 2012

student surveys

I've talked a lot throughout the year about the importance of teacher reflection. What I haven't spent as much time on is the importance of having students reflect on their learning. I mentioned it in a post on student reflection on assessment, but here at the end of the school year is an excellent time for your students to do some reflecting for their own and for your sake.

Edutopia has a great post on how to design a survey that elicits student feedback. The site suggests creating a survey to get a sense of how much and what students liked about the class and/or school year, what topics they enjoyed learning about the most, activities that helped their learning the most, when they felt frustrated and when they felt successful and respected. You can ask students what advice they'd give to incoming students about the class/grade, and see how they think they've grown throughout the year. You certainly have some additional ideas for what you might be interested in knowing from your students. And if you give a survey to students, consider giving one to parents as well. I always found it very interesting to hear what parents' perspectives were on the classroom.

The information gathered from a student survey can really help you as you begin to refine what your plans are for the following year. Even if you are teaching at a different grade level or school, some of this information will be helpful for you in your general plans for your instruction, assessment, and classroom environment.

A student survey is a great use of time in the final days of the school year.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stand on my shoulders and reach

Somewhere up there is a star with your name on it. I might not be able to help you find it, but I've got pretty strong shoulders, and you can stand on my shoulders while you're looking for that star. You hear? For as long as you want. Stand on my shoulders and reach, man. Reach.

I recently read tennis player Andre Agassi's autobiography (a really great book, by the way). Gil Reyes, Agassi's trainer and as it turns out, the loving supportive father figure he longed for, is credited for getting Agassi in shape to maintain his professional career past age 35, which is ancient for tennis players. Most professional athletes, actually. This quote of Reyes', which comes about halfway through the book struck a chord with me. I think about how relevant it is to how we, as teachers, provide scaffolding for students' learning. And then let them go. Gil's commitment to getting Agassi where he wanted or needed to go was steadfast and strong. He taught, guided, and then let Agassi go.

Memorial Day is upon us, the school year is coming to a close. The end of the school year is bittersweet. You are exhausted. Especially if this was your first year, you may be more tired than you've ever felt before. You are mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. You are so ready for a respite. But if you're like me, you start to sense a loss towards the end of the year. These students, for whom and with whom you have worked so hard, are about to leave. We have been helping them reach all year, but it is time for them to move on.

I attended graduate and undergraduate graduations last weekend at St. Kate's, and watching students process in with proud tears in their eyes, walk across the podium to get their diplomas, celebrate with friends at the end of the ceremony, I had to fight back my own tears. Partly in pride for these wonderful students, but also with a profound sense of privilege that I get to do what I love for a career. What we do is so important. Maybe the most important. Our work is powerful. We carry many on our shoulders to reach until they are ready to go.

So here at the end of the year, consider: how did you help your students reach their stars?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

the end is in sight!

It is hard to believe that there is less than a month left of the school year. You have almost made it! May and early June for first-year teachers is often the reflection phase in the cycle of teaching. You begin to reflect over the year, take stock in the successes and the failures, the changes made in management, curriculum, and instruction that influenced student achievement and development.

If you haven't done so already (and before you get settled into a well-deserved summer break), take some time to craft a new vision for teaching for next year.  Consider:

  1. What was my overall impression for the year? How did I enjoy teaching, the school, the students?
  2. What were my relationships like with: students, parents, administration, fellow teachers, support staff?
  3. What was successful for me and for the students in my class(es) this year? Why was it successful?
  4. What concerns me about the progress the students in my class(es) made this year? What else concerns me?
  5. What can I try differently next year?
  6. What professional development would help me as a teacher?
You probably have a list of things you want to rethink over the summer, and these reflections might help focus what you want to accomplish over the summer. Setting new goals and creating a new vision for your classroom can really help you get excited for a new school year, even when you're exhausted from the current year.

Every teacher, no matter how experienced, can benefit from continual reflection, and these questions can get you started. I have some reflecting to do myself!

** Resources:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

finding a teaching job

Yes, it is that time of year. For many of you readers, you have a job and are fortunate to be staying put. Some of you will have been let go due to budget cuts, and others of you may still be looking for first jobs. Or (congrats!) you just finished your student teaching and are graduating soon and beginning your first search for a teaching job.

I did an entire series of posts about the job search last spring, and here are some of the specific posts you might want to refer to if you are conducting a job search:
If you look in the labels section of the blog and click on "job search," all the posts related to looking for a job will come up.

But I recently came across a great teacher blog that has some new posts related to the job search - The Cornerstone Blog. The blog has a series of posts including general job search information and advice, a page devoted to finding a teaching job - with some helpful hints about questions to ask in an interview and what to look for in a school, and a page of interview tips. A lot of this is information covered in the posts on this blog, but it is helpful to read it in more than one place in more than one way.

I'll be doing job search posts often in the coming months with new information to help you in your quest for a teaching job. Let me know if you have helpful tips to share!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

equity consciousness

The knowledge and skills to educate all children already exist... There are no pedagogical barriers to teaching and learning when willing people are prepared and made available to children. If we embrace a will to excellence, we can deeply restructure education in ways that will enable teachers to release the full potential of all our children. 
- Asa G. Hillard

Something I've been working on lately with teachers is to think about education in terms of equity instead of equality. The difference may be subtle to some, but to me, this is a huge shift in mindset. Equity is about providing the necessary and often different support and resources to ensure that all students can achieve high standards, which is different, then, to treating all students equally.

Your school may have a data team or may even have an equity team in order to wrestle with how to put this mindset to practice in the classroom. What we know from lots of data on schools in Minnesota that your data team might be looking at is that despite our efforts, we have not made enough progress to meet the needs of students of color in our classrooms. When we hold consistent for factors such as SES, students of color continue to fair worse on assessment measures, indicating we still have much more work to be done.

So what can you do? I'll be coming back to this topic several more times in the coming months, but for now, at this point in the school year, I think reflecting on your current practices and building a habit of thinking about equity is the best place to start.

One place I go to in order to prompt my thinking about culturally responsive teaching and a focus on equity is Teaching Tolerance (a site I've mentioned before), particularly the "Reflective Thinking" section of their website. There are some really interesting activities and writings designed to help you begin thinking about equity and culturally responsive teaching. It's a good place to begin.

You, no doubt, have heard a lot about reflecting in your preparation program, perhaps in a Master's program, or in your professional development at your school. And at times it can seem like an impossible task, given the constraints of time. But maybe while your students are taking the MCAs this week, you can use a little of that downtime to think about these questions to prompt your thinking and raise your awareness of your own teaching for equity.
  • How do I currently attend to gender, race, cultural and socio-economic equity in my
    classroom and school?
  • Who benefits from my current teaching practices and understandings? Do all children, parents and staff benefit equally?
  • What knowledge do I have currently about gender, race, cultural, and socioeconomic equity in my classroom and school?
  • What assumptions am I making about gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity in my classroom and school?
  • How do others in my current workplace understand and respond to the issues of gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity in their daily work?
  • How have I taken account of children's perspectives and experiences on this issue? Do I know what the students understand about gender, race, culture, and class?
  • How have I taken account of parents' perspectives and experiences on this issue? Do I know what parents understand about gender, race, culture, and class?
  • What are the differences between how I understand the issues of gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity and how others I work with understand them?
  • Whose interests are served by how I currently understand and practice gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity?
  • How might I challenge my current understandings and teaching practices and bring new insights to them?
  • What in my current understandings and teaching practices might restrict the possibilities I have for working more equitably?
  • What would I risk by working on a daily basis to promote gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity in my classroom and school?
**Adapted from the Centre for Equity and Innovation
Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

These are difficult questions to answer, sometimes because we aren't satisfied by the answers we're able to give. As I stated in the post on Teaching Trayvon Martin, students are interested in talking about race, equity, and culture, and they need opportunities to have structured conversations about these topics with caring adults (that's you!). 

I have found that the more time and energy I spend reflecting on these questions, the more capable and confident I am at leading conversations about equity in my own teaching. The questions posed here will have a different answer on different days, and every year you teach, your experience will lead you to different conclusions about your current understandings and evolving teaching practices. The value in this practice doesn't lie in the answers, but the willingness to engage.