Wednesday, August 31, 2011

First Day Homecoming

I'm home!!

Back in the day...after I completed my middle school student teaching placement, I vowed to do my best to avoid teaching middle school again.  Ever.  Of course in real life, we take the job that is offered, so newly married and expecting my child, I took a job teaching eighth and ninth grade French.  Well the undeniable thing about middle school age students is that they grow on you...perhaps like a fungus, but nevertheless  it's a truly unique experience.  After several years, our district shifted the ninth grade to the high school, and I became a traveling teacher.  I adapted.  Several years after that, due to a scheduling change, I was teaching exclusively at the high school.  I adapted.  Now, again several years later, another scheduling change, and I will be four classes out of five back at the middle school.

The first two days before students begin their school year are reserved for professional development.  The first PD handout to catch my eye as I walked into the middle school cafetorium was a Thinking Map with "Teacher as Facilitator" at the center.  That was the moment that my apprehension fell away, and I truly felt like I was back home.  I am thrilled to be back in the midst of a group of teachers and administrators looking at the learning process in this way.

Now although I was pleasantly surprised, I admittedly was not entirely looking forward to these two days.  Although billed as PD, what they usually are, in total honesty, are a series of long meetings that accomplish little.  Still, several years ago, having sat through countless hours of minimally valuable PD, I made it a personal goal to walk away with at least one new and useful tool or concept to run with.

So that is my challenge to you.  Your school-sponsored PD may not give you a feeling of homecoming like I had this morning, but at your next PD gathering, make a point to find at least one new and useful tool or concept you can add to your teaching bag of tricks.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Examine your Assumptions

I recently watched Sir Ken Robinson's 2010 TED talk in which he encourages educators to "disenthrall" themselves from what they take for granted.  This clip begins with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln:

I was reminded of this clip earlier today.  In the process of giving some well-deserved kudos to Todd Whittaker and John Bernia, I commented that I had come to Twitter with quite a jaded opinion of administrators.  John asked me why.  This is one of the reasons I feel blessed to have John as a member of my PLN.  He challenges me to think and question.  Shortly after tweeting a brief response to John  about having been evaluated for four years by an administrator who has never set foot in my classroom (more on that...) I had the luxury of a twenty minute drive.  (If I could find a safe way to blog and drive, my life would be so much easier! -- My best thinking happens in the car.)  As I drove, I pondered John's question.  A lot of bitterness was taking hold.  I revisited my early Twitter days, and I am ashamed to admit to the number of times I rolled my eyes and said to myself "administrator" when I would see a tweet posted by a man in a tie.  Talk about assumptions!

I don't want in any way to imply that I have only worked with "bad" administrators -- on the contrary.  I actually tend to understand (often more than many of my colleagues, ironically) that when building principals put pressure on teachers to raise test scores, they are responding to pressure from superintendents, who are responding to pressure from the state, and so forth.  I have worked with several administrators for whom I have immense respect, despite the fact that I may not always agree with them. Still, somewhere along the way I allowed myself to slip into an "us" "them" mentality, even though consciously I know how counterproductive that is.  So thank you again to John and Todd, Patrick Larkin, Bill Burkhead and other administrators in my PLN for sharing their passion for continuing to learn and grow, but mostly for continuing to challenge and question their tweeps.

Going forward, I will be teaching 4/5 of my day at the middle school with three administrators I have not worked with in that capacity.  I am entering this new school year with optimism, and hopeful to develop positive professional relationships.

So given all of this, I need to remember the title of my own blog, and identify my realm of control.  To the end of breaking out of the "us" "them" mindset, here are my goals:

1.  invite the two assistant principals at the middle school to join Twitter

2.  join the communication committee at the middle school

3.  actively invite administrators into my classroom

Here is my challenge to you:

Challenge your assumptions.  Disenthrall yourself from what you take for granted.  Go for a drive and think about how you would finish one (or all) of these sentences:

administrators are                                                                

students are                                                                         

parents are                                                                          

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beyond the Rhetoric Part 1

I've been slowly putting together a series of posts for this blog called "Beyond the Rhetoric".  They were initially going to be the introductory posts for the blog, until I exploded my pen in the Promethean workshop and, the previous post if you want the whole ugly story.  This post wasn't even going to be part of the series until I read Dan Brown's post "After the Save Our Schools Blown Opportunity, Where Do Progressive Educators Go From Here?"  Family commitments kept me from attending the SOS march, and quite honestly, I do not usually participate in highly organized productions such as this because they seem to me to be machines of rhetoric rather than vehicles capable of meaningful change.  Yes, most of the message is good, but what do they really accomplish?

When you have two opposing sides with opposing positions, and both sides continue to publicly build the walls of rhetoric ever higher, ever louder, the only thing accomplished is further isolation and the promise that no change will come.  This premise was clearly illustrated by the fact that SOS march organizers turned down an invitation to meet with President Obama's Education advisors before the march.  They chose rhetoric over conversation and potential compromise.  What did they really accomplish?  Is the situation any better for students as a result of this march?  Isn't that what this is supposed to be about?

On a smaller scale.  When we complain to and with our colleagues about various situations in our departments, in our buildings, in our districts, we create our own rhetoric.  It can grow, and bring down morale.  My challenge to you is to choose one area of your professional life that you are prone to complain about, and be proactive -- that may mean changing something on your own, working with colleagues to make a change, meeting with admin or union leaders, but make a change.  One small change can change your outlook, raise your morale, and lead to bigger things.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why We Need to Individualize Instruction

I've decided to start a new blog, not because I need one more thing to do, but because my other professional blog is intended to discuss technology in the foreign language classroom, and the more time I spend with my PLN, the more I find myself wanting to write about broader ideas about changing the way we go about "business as usual" in education.

My first post is an attempt to answer the question why do we need to individualize instruction.  The answer is becuase I'm still "that kid".  You know the one I mean.  I sat in a workshop this morning -- Promethean Boards:  The Basics.  I got bored.  If you've read any of the posts on my other professional blog, you're probably wondering why I would bother with a tech course entitled "The Basics" -- it's just asking for trouble.  Here's the backstory.  I am one of the few teachers left in my district without a Promethean Board.  So I made it my mission to find ways to use other technologies to do what I needed to do.  Then we were told that this fall everyone would have a Promethean board in their classroom.  So, in an attempt to play nice, and since our admins have been known to randomly stop teachers at random in the hall to ask "Have you used technology today?" I decided to learn how to use the Promethean properly, and signed up for the workshop.  Thank God for the internet, because I could have learned all the material covered in the workshop in about 20 min.

So I headed to hootsuite and followed a half dozen hashtags.  I filled out my paperwork, and exploded my pen (that's when I truly realized I was "that kid"). I browsed Promethean Planet.  I read a few blogs about using IWBs in class (incidentally finding many teachers of the opinion that they are merely expensive overhead projectors. -- See my other blog in a few weeks for my opinions.)  I also helped the teacher next to me who -- despite step by step instructions for everything we did, repeated at least once each time -- still just didn't get it.

This is in no way a knock against that teacher.  She's probably a math teacher, and I can barely count to ten -- on my fingers.  My point is that we all have our strengths and weaknesses -- just like our students.  This workshop did not meet my deeds, nor did it meet my colleague's needs -- she will likely be unable to replicate most of what was presented on her own.  I don't think the presenter was at all aware of the disparity in our learning, because we were all presumed to be beginners.

It is true that we may have started at ground zero, but we all came from different backgrounds, with different comfort levels regarding technology, and different learning styles -- just like our students.  As a professional, I was able to use the internet to quietly and independently expand my learning.  Johnny Brilliant in my class, however, might alternatively use his boredom to text his friends to coordinate a flash mob in the admin suite at noon when the educators from Japan are due to visit.  My colleague, as a professional, was willing to ask me for help, while Nora No Food in the House might get frustrated and just shut down.  We aren't all the same.  Neither are our students.

My challenge to you:  Try flipping a lesson on one small concept.  Create a 5-10 minute video or podcast for students to consume outside class.  Come prepared the next day to teach each student individually where they are.