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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Creative Commons photo by Andreas Ebling on Flickr

Think about how you learn best.  What motivates you?  Excites you?  Encourages you to know more about a subject?  If you could learn using any instructional strategy you wanted, what would you choose?

Next, think about how you teach.  What is comfortable for you?  What strategies do you enjoy using most and are your “Go-to” instructional methods?  If you’re having a tough day and didn’t get the time you wanted to plan a stellar new lesson, what practices do you rely on? What methods do you struggle with, enjoy using the least, or possibly avoid?

Now, think about how your students learn.  What motivates them?  Excites them?  Encourages them to know more about a subject?  If they could direct how you teach, what would have you do?

For some students, how they learn and how I learn fit very well.  When I plan lessons and think about learning, I feel I can do pretty well by them.

For other students who learn differently than I do, it can be a struggle.  I have to consciously make an effort to include instructional strategies that I don’t like, because I don’t learn that way.

I am more of a visual and auditory learner.  It’s pretty easy for me to come up with teaching techniques that utilize these types of learning.  I am not a very good hands-on learner.  I have to work pretty hard to come up with something that engages my students who learn this way.  I have been lucky enough to work with some fantastic colleagues who are hands-on learners.  They have helped me to develop a better understanding of this learning style and how to better integrate it into my own teaching.

When I discuss with students what works for them and what they’d like to see more of in my classes, competition is almost always one of the responses.  I struggle with competition.  I am not a competitive person and I don’t understand this mindset very well.  It’s actually something that can set me on edge.  When I think about the students I have difficulty motivating or don’t connect with as well as I’d like, many of them have a competitive nature.

So I’m asking for your help.  I am looking for resources and instructional strategies on how to better reach my competitive students.  What works in your classroom?  Are you someone who enjoys competition?  How do you leverage that for your own learning or teaching?  What instructional strategies do you find comfortable or challenging?  Do you find yourself teaching how you learn?

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“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving…”

-Goethe

I learned a lot during my first term as a Developmental Educator for college freshman.  To continue moving forward, I have decided on the following three goals for the upcoming winter term.  We are on the quarter system, where a term lasts 10 weeks.

  • Feedback – I will provide students with timely feedback.  As I’ve said before, I feel that quality feedback is an area that should be continuously worked on.  While in the past I’ve also focused more on informative and specific feedback, I’ve decided to work more on the timely aspect this quarter.  I feel I am giving informative and specific feedback.  However, I have noticed that my tendency towards perfectionism in those two areas has bogged down the grading process.   With only 10 weeks in a term, it is crucial that students know how they are doing right away.  My motto has become “Prompt, not perfect feedback.” (Thanks Molly Smith!)  This is one of the reasons why I am having students turn most assignments in using Google Docs.  I tend to do better with electronic feedback rather than toting around the stacks of paper.  Since I have a toddler running around, I do a lot of sporadic grading (a few papers here and there instead of all at once).  Doing it electronically helps me to keep track of where I am without my daughter trying to use a stack of papers as confetti.  :)  Typed comments also take much less time than handwritten ones, so I am more efficient.  Side note: I will be thinking about how I can use Standards Based Grading practices in my CORE 101 the next time around.  I am thinking of setting up a mastery learning system for study skills.
  • ConnectionsI will better emphasize the connections between class activities, course assignments, and how they are related to the life of students at EOU.  Thanks to inspiration from a colleague who is great with the big picture, I realized that my courses need to be a more coherent whole.  It can be easy to get caught up in specific study skills, reading strategies, and what not and lose site of the overall purpose.  I will strive to make clear connections for my students so they see how things are integrated.  This will hopefully help them easily transfer what they learn to the rest of their college education.  I will do this by stating specific connections more often, planning more from the big picture than just teaching isolated skills, and pushing students to make their own connections.
  • Instructional MethodsI will diversity the instructional methods I use in class.  I realized over the past term that as I was learning the ropes of my new job, I tended to fall back on the instructional strategies I found most comfortable.  I need to go back to the drawing board and review a multitude of strategies to find those that will best help my students learn.  I noticed that many of my students are more hands-on, so I need to do more in that area in particular.

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  I would appreciate any advice, resources or insights.  What are your goals?  I encourage you to post them here or elsewhere.

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Yuyuan Garden, "The Garden of Contentment" - Shanghai, 2009

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s largest cities is the Yuyuan Garden.  Here you can find a fairly quiet bench to sit and contemplate, while taking in the garden and watching the koi glide through the water.  When you are ready, you can go back out into the metropolis and continue on your way.  I feel like I’m at that point right now.  I am in the middle of ever-busy Shanghai again, only this time it’s the life of a teacher and a new parent.  Writing about my progress is a chance for me to sit on that bench again, take stock, and make my way back out into the city.

Using this photo is also my way of celebrating the acceptance of my elective world history course proposals for next year.  I am very excited that I will get to teach two of my favorite classes again: Asian Studies and African Studies.  I already have enough student interest to have at least one section of each class.  Being an educator is that much better when you get to share what you are passionate about with your students.

I have been making steady progress on some of my revamped goals for the 3rd Quarter.

Assessment – I will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn.

Progress: I feel I had some good improvement in this area.  I used the unit outline created by U.S. History PLC team for our Civil Rights Unit.  I felt that it not only helped to inform students, but helped to keep me focused and on track with my lessons.  It was also helpful to have the test written before planning the activities of the unit.  I enjoyed using the outline so much that I used the same format to create a unit outline for my Vietnam unit.  I will use this outline the same way we used the Civil Rights outline to write the assessment for Vietnam.  Going through this process has helped me to fine tune what I want students to learn and it has helped me to have a better focus.

Revamp: I will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. I will be keeping this goal as is and focus on making it a habit in my planning process.  I hope to create unit outlines for each of my remaining areas of study in U.S. History.  I will give those outlines to students at the outset of a new unit and refer to them frequently in my planning and with students in my teaching.  In the future, these could be a good basis for creating my historical content standards in my move towards more Standards Based Grading practices.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: Who would have thought that changing one word in your vocabulary and thought process could be so challenging?  Going from the concept of grading to feedback seems like it should be easy, but it hasn’t been.  I’ve come to realize how entrenched the concept of grading really is for me.  However, I have begun to focus more on formative assessment and reminding myself that feedback doesn’t have to mean a letter grade.  As for the timely aspect of things, I still need lots of work here.  The times I had set aside to grade didn’t really work out as I had hoped.  The baby had her own schedule in mind and it was different than the one I had so neatly planned out!  Ha!  I did use our grading program, Infinite Campus, more this semester.

Revamp: I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I am going to continue to work on shifting my mindset from grading to feedback.  To help with this and to get at the more timely aspect of this goal, I am working on incorporating more formative assessment opportunities into my lessons.  Both my students and I need to have a better grasp of what they are learning and what needs to be retaught.  I will be going through my resources and working with an Instructional Facilitator to incorporate this more regularly into the teaching and learning that happens in my classroom.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.

Progress: I didn’t get to everyone.  My plan was to call about 2 parents each day after school.  Someone pointed out to me the idea that the urgent (what someone needs right now) can often take away from the important (what I value and am striving to achieve).  After school became more of a time to complete the urgent things, rather than the important things.  This meant that fewer calls were made than I would have liked.

Revamp:   I will communicate more regularly with parents by calling or communicating by email with a minimum of 20% this quarter.  I know I need to remain specific with this goal.  I decided to move from focusing on just one class to an overall number.  I also decided to include email because some parents prefer this type of communication and I have had some good conversations this way.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: While there is always room for improvement, I do feel like I am starting to find a rhythm with how I’m using my time.  The use of the class calendar in FirstClass to post make-up work has saved me a lot of time.  I need to be better about making sure students know how to use it well, since the user interface isn’t the most intuitive.  There were also a few times I didn’t get things put in right away, but I am working on making this a consistent habit (urgent vs. important).  My time with Instructional Facilitators has been helpful and I feel I am good at telling them exactly what I’m looking for.

Revamp: I will be tweaking the way I use the class calendar to try and make it easier for students to use.  I will continue to work on carving out time to provide detailed feedback and to use our Instructional Facilitators as a resource.

Overall – I feel that I am finally “getting my groove back” in the classroom.  I have begun to feel more comfortable, which helps me to better adapt to my students’ needs.  I am starting to pull the small things back into my teaching that I found effective in the past and I find my students are finally getting comfortable with my teaching style.  They have had a lot of inconsistency this past year with three different teachers and three sets of expectations.  And the biggest change for me is that I’ve started to enjoy teaching again.  I was very stressed (and sleep deprived!) the first few months, but things are becoming more consistent.  Having a job you love makes things so much easier.

My "Favorite Student" & Gratuitous Baby Picture: From bouncing to sleeping in 4.1 seconds!

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals?

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Photo by kris krug (kk+ on Flickr).

In my first quarter back in the classroom after two years in another job and after just having my daughter, I felt like this kid kept smacking puck away from the net. (Or may the dearth of hockey in Wyoming is really getting to this Midwestern girl. Ha!)

But I did make some progress on the goals I set.  I have decided to keep the same four goals for the rest of the year, but I have tweaked them a little.  Here is the lowdown:

Assessment – I will be work to develop more effective assessments.

Progress: I did not make as much headway here as I had hoped.  I ended up revamping some of my old tests in the interest of saving time and my sanity after many sleep deprived nights.  In order to improve, I made a plan and began working with one of our Instructional Facilitators to do some backwards design and dig into creating a more effective assessment for my Medieval Era unit.  Then we created PLC teams a little over a week ago, and some common assessments were written by the teams for both my U.S. and World classes.  I was on the U.S. PLC and not really involved in the Medival Era test created for World History. While the World PLC wrote a good test, I was a little bummed I didn’t go through the whole process myself.  However, I don’t feel that my previous work on that unit was for nothing.  I was more interested in the process of writing the test and thinking more about #sbar than the test itself.  And I feel that I was able to do that at least a little.  This last quarter I was able to better define for myself exactly what I want my students to get out of that unit and my Cold War unit in U.S. History.  In both classes I feel that I did well on purpose of this goal, which was to work towards better defining for students what I want them to learn.

RevampI will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. Since my department is stepping up the PLC work and tackling common unit assessments, I am tweaking this goal to focus on one of the reasons why I created my original assessment goal.  This will also allow me to continue to work towards Standards Based Grading as I continue to define for my students exactly what I want them to be learning.  I will work on providing students study guides outlining the learning expectations at the beginning of each unit (in the past, I’ve provided these guides shortly before the test).  I will then refer to them throughout the unit in an attempt to make more solid connections for students.  I will also explore other ways to clearly define learning outcomes for students.  Any suggestions or information on how you approach this would be appreciated.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: I feel that when I gave feedback, I was more informative and specific.  However, I do not feel that I was very timely.  My largest obstacles to overcome in order to meet this goal are efficiency and time.  One type of feedback that I felt was helpful this past quarter was the use of individual grade conferences with my World History students.  I had some good conversations and learned some helpful things from my students.  I would like to continue to experiment with this idea.

RevampI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I have decided to keep this goal pretty much in tact, but I will focus more on the timely aspect of things.  I am setting up regular times in my schedule to give feedback and I plan to do so more often.  I have found that if I specifically schedule this, it’s more likely to get done.  I have also decided to try to shift my mindset from that of “grading” to that of “feedback.” When I think of “grading” I think of a task to be done, like filling out needed paperwork for the office.  When I think of “feedback” I actually think of teaching and learning.  I also have a more positive attitude and willingness (even excitement) to get things done.  I will also be trying to give better feedback through our online grading system, Infinite Campus.  With no training on the gradebook portion of the program and no manual (I’ve asked), it’s been a bit challenging for me to use the system.  However, many students, parents, administrators and tutors depend on this form of feedback, so I need to better utilize this tool.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents.

Progress: While I had some good conversations, parent communication pretty much only happened when it needed to.

RevampI will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.  I realized that I need to be more specific with this goal.  There are so many things I want to improve, but I know I need to break it up into specific parts in order to be more successful.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: I made a lot of headway with this goal.  I have been using every second of my available planning time and lunch.  My after school time could be more efficient, but I’m finding that my energy is so spent by that point that I’m not as efficient with my time.

RevampI will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. Mostly, I need to find a rhythm with how I use the time that I have.  One of the areas I will be focusing on is make-up work.  I have a new system I plan on implementing this semester in which students use their FirstClass accounts to access make-up work on their own.  I am hoping 10 minutes a day updating this will save much more time in the long run.  As mentioned earlier, I am building regular times into my schedule to provide students with feedback.  I am also scheduling regular times with our Instructional Facilitators to work on unit planning.  I am hoping that this will help me to stay on track and ahead of the game, as well as produce better quality lessons.

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals for the semester?

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Flickr photo by Wesley Fryer.

Today I had the opportunity to attend NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Town Hall online.  While I have my concerns about bias, I am glad there is a lot of attention being paid to education right now.  But rather than rehash my experience and opinion of the Town Hall, I have chosen to be inspired by Paula White, L. Lee and other colleagues on Twitter.  I am choosing to write about possible solutions and what I see working in education with the hope that these ideas will help others to find their own solutions.

Instructional Coaches/Facilitators

An alternative to traditional professional development, coaches are typically veteran or master teachers who collaborate with other teachers in small groups or individually to improve instruction and to raise student achievement.  What better way to improve teacher practice than to individualize and differentiate for our teachers, just as we like to do for our students?  Please keep in mind that coaches are not intended to be “teacher fixers” or traditional evaluators, but rather work with any teacher who choses continual improvement.  After all, we can all strive to be a better educator.  (Full Bias Disclosure: I worked as an Instructional Facilitator for 2 years.) You can read more about Instructional Coaches/Facilitators at the following links:

Collaboration Time

During the 2009-2010 school year, I had the opportunity to study Professional Learning Communities (or PLCs) for possible implementation in our school.  During that time I talked with people doing PLCs and visited schools currently using the PLC model.  While the PLC model is generally positive (there are negative aspects as well), what I took away was the value of built-in collaboration time for teachers.  The schools where this really seems to work have created time for teachers to collaborate within the school schedule and outside of regular planning time (because teachers have enough to do already, right?).   And by outside, I don’t mean before or after school.  It is built into the school day either on a frequent basis (an extra planning type period every other day) or less frequent on a monthly type basis.  I’ve also seen principals willing to provide subs for teachers who want to occasionally work together in this way.  Teachers seem very positive about this time to work with their colleagues and even “non-believers” have come to value this time once they have experienced it.  I often hear people say that teaching is an isolated profession.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  We can find ways to value and protect collaborative time with our colleagues.

Choice

A best practice I have seen many teachers employ is that of student choice.  When it comes to professional development, teachers also deserve that choice.  Whether it is choosing which PD session is most relevant to them, whether or not to work with an Instructional Coach and more, choice will yield better results in teacher improvement.

What have you seen work to help improve teaching and learning in our schools?  Please feel free to comment here or write your own blog post with the tag #educationnation.  Also, feel free to comment on or ask questions about the three options I’ve written about here.  Let’s focus on solutions and move forward!

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Creative Commons photo by Andrew Becraft (Dunechaser on Flickr)

Today I had the chance to read Jamie’s goals for the year over at Dontworryteach.  This was a good reminder for me, as I feel it is important to state your goals.  This will be an interesting year for me with a lot of change and adjustment.  Not only will I be going back to the classroom after two years as an instructional facilitator, I will have a new daughter (any day now!).  Stating my goals now before the chaos hits will hopefully help me to stay focused and roll with the punches a bit better.  Feel free to check up on me and ask me about my progress.

I tend to develop my goals on a quarter by quarter basis.  Since I will not be in my classroom the first quarter of this year, here are my goals for the first semester.

  • AssessmentI will be work to develop more effective assessments. This involves not only the method of assessment, but what I am assessing.  This is part of my quest to move in the direction of Standards Based Grading.  By focusing on improving assessments, I will also be working on better defining for my students exactly what it is I want them to be learning.
  • FeedbackI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. This can involve spoken or written comments and discussion.  I will go beyond “Good job!” and other vagaries to tell students exactly what is or is not working well.  This also ties in with Standards Based Grading as well as with my goal on improving assessments.  After all, what’s the point of a good assessment if the student doesn’t understand the results?
  • Parental CommunicationI will communicate more regularly with parents. My plan at the moment involves more frequent phone calls and email contacts for a variety of purposes and a blog site (which I realize parents may or may not utilize).  I want to be sure parents feel welcome in my classroom and comfortable communicating with me.  They are the experts on their children and an excellent resource.
  • Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. With so much changing in my life right now, I want to make sure I am doing a good job of balancing school and home life.  This will possibly be my most difficult challenge.

Have you tackled any of these things before?  What was your experience like?  I would appreciate any advice, resources or insights.  What are your goals?  I encourage you to post them here or elsewhere.

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving…”

-Goethe

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At the close of the school year, I completed my time as an Instructional Facilitator.  This fall I will be moving back into the classroom, where I will trade my adult clientel for that of teenagers.  The last two years have been a huge learning experience for me and I wanted to write down some of the things that have had an impact on my educational philosophy.

Professional Development – In my role as embedded professional development, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about or work on crafting PD for teachers.  I feel as though I could write volumes on this topic, so I’ll just address what I feel is the biggest point.  Teachers don’t really learn much differently than our students.  They deserve to be treated as learners with individual learning styles.  Choice in learning can have a huge impact.  One-on-one feedback can be very useful.  Listening to what teachers have to say about what they need to learn and what they want to learn is important.  Orchestrate opportunities for teachers to learn from the experts in their building, each other.

Teaching Strategies – I have had the chance to study many different teaching strategies in depth.  I feel like I have gone from having a tool box to a tool chest on wheels.

Technology – Working in a 1:1 High Access school for the first time, I have been surrounded by technology.  I learned a great deal concerning the ins and outs of our MacBooks, their programs, Web 2.0, and our filtering system.  But more importantly, I have seen the variety of ways other people learn about technology.  Different learning styles can play out dramatically when teaching tech skills.  Fear and confidence play a big part in the willingness to try new things.  And my own teaching philosophy has shifted as a result of what I’ve learned.  To me, it’s not about incorporating technology to build skills.  It’s about shifting from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered approach.

The Big Picture – Being more involved with both building and district level issues, I have gained a better understanding of the big picture of education.  I feel I better get the role of administrators and I understand that as a teacher there are so many things that go on behind the scenes to make my job better.  Decisions can be pretty complicated and there are many factors and people to consider.

Teamwork – Being part of a team of 5-6 Instructional Facilitators over the past two years has taught me a lot about what it means to work as a collaborative group.  The best teams aren’t those that think alike, but those that can meld different perspectives, talents and skills to accomplish their goal.  Not everyone will (or should!) agree or approach things in the same way.  What is important is how you meld those different perspectives, talents, and skills to accomplish your goals.

Change – I have been told over and over that as an Instructional Facilitator that I am an “agent of change.”  Sometimes that has excited me, and at other times that thought has been rather scary.  Change is a tricky thing.  One of the mantras I often repeat to myself is something I learned from Jim Knight.  Change needs to be easy and powerful.  If you want people to change, you have to make it doable.  It needs to be something easily within their grasp, not some sudden monumental shift.  That’s not to say that you can’t have multiple smaller shifts that lead to large scale change.  It just means that it’s something people can look at and say “hey, I can do that.”  If you want people to change, they have to see the impact of that change.  If the results are not powerful, people will wonder why they even bothered.  Make the change worth their effort.

What Great Teachers Look Like – Over the past two years I have been in many different classrooms and had the chance to observe and work with many different teachers.  Would you like to know what the perfect teacher looks like?  Well, I can’t tell you.  Why?  Because there is no prescription or magic pill for great teaching.  What one teacher does in their classroom would be a disaster if a different teacher tried to do it in their’s.  The best description I have been able to come up with for a great teacher involves two things. 1) They care about kids and 2) They continually strive to be a better teacher.  If someone has these two elements, they have the potential to be a fantastic educator.

My new classroom where I will be learning & teaching.

This is just a small summary of what I have learned over the past two years.  I could greatly expand on any of these or other topics.  If you have any comments or questions, please let me know.

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