Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Be the Learner

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Laura Lee D. Stroud, Elementary English Language Arts Specialist

Superintendents expect principals to learn. Principals expect teachers to learn. Teachers expect students to learn. The field of education sets high standards for our children but do we hold ourselves as educators to the same standard? How often do we engage as learners outside of the classroom ourselves? We want students to ask questions, seek the answers, problem solve and ask more questions, pursue learning; but are we doing the same? Are we pushing ourselves beyond what is comfortable, beyond what we know?

Whether you are a principal, an academic coach, specialist, parent, or all of the above—you are a teacher. And someone is learning from you. Watching you to see if you practice what you preach. Watching to see if you are engaging in the types of literate activities you have assigned to them. Stellar leaders, whether classroom teacher leaders or superintendent leaders, are learners. They are stellar because they spend time learning through reading, writing, and discussing their profession in order to be better at their craft. They are stellar because they are action researchers who reflect on their practice. Stellar because they adjust instruction to fit the needs of their learners.

In this day and age, there are shifts in pedagogy that require our attention. Our students have vast amounts of information at their fingertips but need us to structure the environment for collaboration, discussion, critical thinking and relating with their peers in academic discourse. Our learners are different than the learners we were. No longer is it valuable for them to answer our questions and forget theirs. Our world is different. Technology is redefining the way text is processed. So we must do what we can to stay on top of the changes, zone in on our students’ instructional needs, and adjust our instruction to maximize their learning.

With encouragement from Ghandi, I would like to empower educators with this phrase: be the learner you want your students to be. There should be an expectation that educators and students alike continue to push themselves to become the best they can be.

Time, or the lack thereof, is often used as an excuse for limited learning and growing as professionals. Professional development opportunities on a district level often tend to provide one-size fits all learning. On the other hand, each of us is aware of our individual needs as learners. We know where our understandings are solid and in which areas we require growth. We have the ability to tailor make a menu of professional learning for ourselves.  But where to go from there?  How do we get the necessary information to meet our individual needs?

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are groups of educators dedicated to supporting each other in achieving learning goals. So create yours. Ask yourself: where is an opportunity for growth in my practice? And then research, try new ideas, read, write and blog, ask others, take risks, reflect. Just as Ronnie Burt, a participant in the Twitterverse expressed, “…I realised that developing a Personal Learning Network is an empowering, transformational process, which fundamentally transforms your professional learning and teaching approach. And my experience is hardly unique…”

Just like our students, we may need a little inspiration to work harder. Here are a few things you can do to get started:

  1. Find fresh texts for your students to read and discuss based upon their interests. Share the outcomes along with the text with your colleagues. Follow this link to Tcher’s Voice, a blog from TeachingChannel.org that incluldes a wonderful annotated list of sites to find such texts.
  2. Contribute to our profession through writing a blog and reading others. To discover a great way to begin blogging follow this link to Slice of Life Writing Challenge.
  3. Participate in a twitter chat. Need help to understand how to participate? Look at this Edublog site for all you need to get started: Step 3: Participate in Twitter Chats and then click here find a twitter chat relevant to you.
  4. Or, last but not least, read a trade book on literacy practice. Need a suggestion? For elementary practitioners, Jennifer Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book has teachers raving about the accessible, “implement tommorow” content and format. Although Serravallo’s latest work has strategies for beginning readers, it is appropriate for all levels because of the complexity of comprehension strategies it includes. All grade level teachers can find ways to help their readers slow down and notice author’s purpose through Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.

Once you have engaged in one or more of these suggestions, share what you have learned and ask others about their new understandings. Decide what you want to put into action in your practice.  Be a risk-taker and be prepared to reflect on and learn from your mistakes. And repeat. In this way, educators continue to refine and improve our craft.  So, what kind of learner are you going to be?

References

  1. Burt. (2014, September 23). Step 1: What is a PLN? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://teacherchallenge.edublogs.org/pln-challenge-1-what-the-heck-is-a-pln/

Formative Assessment in Science: Three Big Ideas

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Cynthia Holcomb, Education Specialist, Elementary Science

It’s a hot topic: Formative Assessment. Every resource will define it for you in basically the same way: formative assessment is for learning while summative assessment is of learning. But in plain language, formative assessment is an activity in which students share their developing ideas while the learning is still taking place. It’s a very active approach to learning.

So, how do we use formative assessment in science instruction? By nature, science is an active process that provides opportunities for students to discuss what they are learning as they practice what they are learning. Science instruction should provide experiences and types of thinking used by all scientists.

Consider these three Big Ideas about formative assessment in the science classroom.

 1.  A critical part of science teaching is having a dialogue, not a monologue, with students to clarify their existing ideas and to help them construct the scientifically accepted ideas (Scott, 1999). An activity to promote rich discussion is called the S.O.S Statement. The teacher presents a statement (S), asks each student to state an opinion (O) about the topic, and then support (S) his or her opinion with evidence. This activity can be used before or during a lesson to assess student attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about a topic. It can be used at points throughout a unit or lesson to assess what students are beginning to understand about the topic. And it can be used at the end of a unit to see if ideas have been influenced or changed as a result of new learning.

2.  No matter how well-planned a lesson, the need to determine student understandings through unplanned formative assessments may arise. Clock Partners is a method of creating sets of partners for spot checks of content knowledge. In this activity, each student is given a copy of a Clock Partners sheet (a picture of an analog clock face) at the beginning of a grading period, unit of study, or other desired length of time. Each student meets with classmates to write their names by a corresponding hour of the clock so that the resulting partners have each other’s names on matching hours. To pair students for discussions, announce a time slot on the clock; partners meet to discuss, clarify, or summarize content ideas. Have partners report out their key ideas as a means of assessing their understandings of the topic and to determine if re-teaching is necessary. For more information on Clock Partners, see http://www.readingquest.org/strat/clock_buddies.html.  (This site includes a downloadable clock template.)

3.  For a quick but effective formative assessment activity, ask students to create an analogy about content. When students create metaphors and analogies, it can express a level of understanding that traditional questions and quizzes don’t address (Wormeli, 2009). A student-created analogy provides a map of how the learner links ideas together; it shows insight regarding connections from prior learning as well as highlighting misconceptions.  Periodically, present students with an analogy prompt: A ________ is like _________ because ______________. (Example: A cell’s plasma membrane is like a factory’s shipping and receiving department because it regulates everything that enters and leaves the cell.) This high level of application requires students to think deeply about content as well as to help guide instruction.

As an added benefit, while the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are still happening, the process also provides practice for the student and a self-check for understanding during the learning process.

 

Sources

Scott, P. (1999). An analysis of science classroom talk in terms of the authoritative and dialogic nature of the discourse. Paper presented to the 1999 NARST Annual Meeting. Boston, MA.

Wormeli, R. (2009). Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject. Stenhouse.

New Educator Evaluation System Ahead

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

In spring 2012, based on feedback from the field, the Texas Education Agency began taking steps to overhaul state systems for training, evaluating, and supporting teachers throughout Texas. This process has included multiple iterations of stakeholder input, piloting of innovative evaluation systems, and the development of new standards for teachers. The Agency is now ready to take those efforts to the next level and begin implementation of new, better-aligned tools and resources related to evaluation and professional development for teachers. Toward this end, TEA will be piloting a new state-approved teacher evaluation system in approximately 70 districts in the 2014-2015 school year with statewide implementation beginning in 2015-2016.

The state’s goal for the new evaluation systems is to shift the culture of appraisals from a compliance-based exercise to one of support and collaboration for all educators on a campus.

For more information, go to http://txcc.sedl.org/our_work/tx_educator_evaluation/index.php

The Power of Reflective Practice

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Lauralee Pankonien, Senior Coordinator for Certification Administration

 

“If only I had time to think!” This sentiment may sound familiar to all of us as busy educators, but research shows that in order to be effective in our work we must treat time for reflection not as a luxury, but as a necessity.  Adults can develop the habit of mind that engages in reflective practice in order to make more informed decisions.  If teachers and school leaders are more reflective, they will be better placed to make good judgments about appropriate instructional leadership, accurate evaluative criteria and useful responses to group problems and other matters.  Therefore, informed decision making can be considered essential to effective leadership (Brookfield, 2002).

Reflective practitioners check their assumptions about good practice against the insights gleaned from colleagues, examine their colleagues’ perceptions, unearth and challenge their assumptions, and use their own autobiographical experiences and reading of educational research to help them view their practice from different, and helpful, angles (Brookfield, 1995).  These leaders are interested in understanding and questioning their own work because they take their own practice seriously.  Although today’s school leader does not enjoy an abundance of down time to kick back and mull over the situations encountered in a given day of work, it is possible to develop habits of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action.

Reflection-in-action is sometimes described as “thinking on our feet,” and involves looking to our experiences, connecting with our feelings, and attending to our theories in use, which causes us to build new understandings to inform our actions in the situation that is unfolding.  Following any given situation in their work environment, educators may write up recordings, talk things through with a supervisor or colleague and so on.  The act of reflecting-on-action enables us to spend time exploring why we acted as we did (Smith, 2001) in order to consider questions and ideas about our activities and practice.

Decades of education research have helped us recognize that meaningful learning occurs through reflection and resolution of cognitive conflict.   Time used to reflect critically on one’s work can lead to new understandings, important new questions, improved coping skills (who among us doesn’t need a little help coping?) and innovative approaches to problem-solving (Hirsh & Sparks, 1997, Peterson, 2001).  It may be a rare leader who has built complementary personal habits of thinking on their feet when necessary and deliberately creating time for personal collaborative examination of their own practice when possible. That balance, which best represents the true power of the reflective practitioner, is a worthy pursuit for us all.

 

Sources

Brookfield, S. Using the Lenses of Critically Reflective Teaching in the Community College Classroom. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2002.

Hirsh, S., & D. Sparks. A New Vision for Staff Development. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1997.

Peterson, K. “The roar of complexity.”  Journal of Staff Development, 22, no. 1 (2001): 18-21.

Smith, M. K. “Donald Schon: learning, reflection and change.” (2001)  The encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/et-schon.htm (accessed October 8, 2012).

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist

 

There is a place where the learning process, fueled by pure motivation, engages everyone in the room and authentically integrates critical thinking with content concepts. This place operates beyond barriers, perceived or otherwise, and capitalizes on the efficient and effective use of talent and time.

Although this may sound unattainable to some, the reality is that this place can often be found within our own instructional choices.   Of course we, as professionals, operate within larger systems and, of course, these systems each have their own issues, but when it comes right down to it the largest influencer and indicator of student success is the classroom teacher. (Stronge,  2010)  While respect should be given to the realities of life and teaching in today’s world, it is imperative to acknowledge and appreciate that educators do not have a simple or easy task;  it benefits no one to dwell on daily challenges when our energies could better be spent upon enacting change in our own classrooms.  Educators everywhere collectively cry out for the path and the simple answer to integration.  The goal of this series is to focus on this desire and suggestions for steps toward accomplishing this as we journey to this place we so covet.

In this first installment, it may be an excellent time to try to define “integration” so that our conversations center on similar ideas and starting points.  Believe it or not there are many variations in how we use this word which are quite dependent upon the person using the term and in what context.  Obvious historical examples exist referring to actual student integration during the Civil Rights movement, but in this context we are referring to skills and concepts addressed  in our classrooms.  The term itself has been thrown around for a number of years and has recently regained momentum; unfortunately for some, it has become a symbolic “buzz word” without substance.

Humphreys (1981) offers a basic definition: “An integrated study is one which children broadly explore knowledge in various subjects related to certain aspects of their environment.”  That is a wonderful academic definition of integration but let’s get to the practicality of the concept. Curriculum itself is the relationship between three main components: the written curriculum, the taught curriculum, and the tested curriculum.   Ideally this triad operates in balance and responds to each of the other sections.  The written curriculum would be that which we find on our documents. Components such as scope and sequence, vertical alignment, and unit guides exist to help teachers identify and define the “what,” the student expectations.  While important, this written curriculum exists and is effective only when brought to life through the taught curriculum, or instruction. This speaks to the art of teaching. These are the two areas with which to begin the conversation.  As written curriculum is built from the state standards, it is dependent upon those standards. Content area standards do change and not at the same time.  Aligning and integrating them within a written curriculum, therefore, takes time and may be at a slower pace than the call for it would like it to be.  One must know and understand the separate content areas’ requirements in order to accomplish the task of integrating them effectively.  This is not to say it cannot be done, but the reality is that written curriculum, as dynamic and living a document as it may be, is not equipped to change on a daily basis when classroom teachers must make instructional choices and connections, nor could it and remain credible and consistent.  What, then, is a teacher to do?

We turn to instructional integration.  This is where educators can capitalize on the information a written curriculum provides to them by seeking commonalities.  Learning does not occur on a bell schedule or subject shift during the day. Children and adults alike learn throughout the course of experiences rather than isolated skills or facts.  By embracing this continuous learning idea, even when operating on a much-needed school schedule, we can build transferrable skills in a more effective manner rather than feeling the need to “close out” Subject 1 in order to begin Subject 2.  These same real-life skills can be found within every content area as can almost endless content/concept connections. The key to locating these areas lies in working toward a core and solid understanding of what the most recent and required student expectations actually communicate.

Our next conversation will continue with this idea and explore how to use the required state standards and other information found within our written curriculum in order to effectively utilize and maximize the integration potential.

Humphreys, Alan, Thomas Post, and Arthur Ellis. Interdisciplinary Methods, A Thematic Approach. Santa Monica:

Goodyear, 1981.

Stronge, James. Effective Teachers = Student Achievement: What the Research Says. Larchmont: Eye on Education, 2010.