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?

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.