* Keep Your Passion

I am shamelessly borrowing Kendrick Vinar’s message and applying it to a passion for teaching.  The big question is: What drains your teaching battery?    Around here, next Monday is the grand opening!   Best to explore these issues BEFORE the school year starts, right?battery

Kendrick gave six examples of Passion Drains:

  1.  Unaligned priorities.  Ask yourself, “How am I actually spending my time?”  (Not “How do I wish I were spending my time?”)  You might think that you are devoted to parent-teacher relationships, but how much time do you spend talking to parents?  Or perhaps lifelong learning is high on your written list, but do you really devote time for reading and collaborating professionally?
  2.  Unbalanced schedule.  I can provide the perfect example of this, being the only teacher with 40+ years experience who worked at school every weekend.  Uh-oh.
  3.  Unresolved conflict.  This is an emotional drain which may lead to darting into closets to avoid the principal or refusing to make eye contact with another teacher.  For my part, I was actually oblivious to the anger I had stirred up in a colleague.  Yikes.
  4.  Unforgiven sin.  OK, you don’t have to be a Christian to understand that those lies or mean-spirited words can’t truly be ignored or swept under the carpet.  They will come back to bite you unless you make things clean.
  5.  Undernourished soul.  Ever feel like you are running on empty deep inside?  Our spirits need nutrition, just as our bodies do.
  6.  Unclear purpose.  It’s natural to feel some discomfort when vacations end, but do you also feel a genuine excitement about getting to know your new students and families?  Are you excited about all the fun that is to come?  Is it a thrill to inspire others to learn?  Don’t stay in teaching if there’s no passion in your heart.

You owe it to yourself and your students to blaze with the joy of teaching.  

* Back to school we go

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As long as I can remember, each year begins at the start of school.  I may be semi-retired, but I’m already having those back-to-school nightmares dreams!  Here are some teacher survival tips for handling the new school year.

  1.  Never live for vacations.  Sure, they can be marvelous, but there’s no telling what might happen during that supposedly carefree time off.  I’ve had a taste of that disappointment.  Live for each day instead.  Live for each school day.
  2.  Cut yourself some slack.   The beginning of school can be hectic, so don’t beat yourself up if those trips to the gym or time with a loved one get squished a bit.  Or a lot.  Give yourself time to get into the workplace rhythm again.
  3.   Set up your room early, if possible.  If you get a head start on organizing bulletin boards and arranging tables and chairs, you’ll have more time to catch up with colleagues and offer support to others.
  4.  Assess your digital organization.  Maybe your desktop is neatly organized without stray files and your documents are not tossed into one humongous file called “school.”  If not, this is a great time to think about more specific categories for documents, purge junk, and clear that inbox.
  5.   Get back on a workday sleeping schedule.  If you’re a night owl, it’s time to transition to being an early bird.  (Hey, wasn’t that clever?)  There are apps for that transition; iPhones also delight in giving you bedtime reminders.  If you have to drink a lot of caffeine to focus, you might not be getting enough sleep.
  6.  Remember that the only behavior you can control is your own.  Sure, you must set up an environment and use strategies that encourage cooperation and a sense of community among your students.  But in the end, all you control is your response to those around you.  Respond with kindness, patience, self-control, and flexibility.
  7.  Look forward to all you will learn this year.  Isn’t that why we teach?  Because we love to learn?  You’ll learn from everyone, including those tough kiddos, if you have that growth mindset we are endlessly hammering into kids.
  8.  Teach all kids well, not just those who look like you.  

I hope your new school year is a wonderful adventure!

* A-Z challengeD: E and H and J

This is my way of catching up on the A-Z challenge.  Not sure it’s legit, but whatever.

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I’m currently taking two education online courses, both of which are Excellent.  But that’s not the E on my mind.  I am feeling Jaded at times because J stands for gallons of Jargon oozing through the discussion forums (and I’m not innocent either!).  The Highlight of the courses is learning cool ideas to improve my teaching, but I don’t approve of Hijacking familiar terms and reworking their use.

One example of Hijacking is “affordances of technology,”  which was originally coined by psychologist Ian Hutchby “as a reaction against social constructivism. ”  Yeah, I thought so.

An example of Jargon-creation is arbitrarily changing the definitions of words, such as this new one for abstraction: “Removing extraneous/irrelevant details from a problem to define the elements of a solution that are consistent.”

If you are still with me, can I hear a “HuH?”   On the other hand, folks got to make a living, right?  So is this what it means to be a 21st century learner?

 

* Blogging A-Z: ASCD

ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, has a lot to offer teachers as well as administrators.  The organization was founded in 1943 and has continually provided high quality professional development, current research and issues, along with a commitment to improve education, one child at a time.

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How does this play out for special needs kids?  ASCD supports a positive approach to neurodiversity, which means celebrating learning differences and improving students’ ability to understand their unique strengths.  This also means less emphasis upon labeling/pathology, less test-driven assessment, and more technological support for struggling students.  With state and federal monies dependent upon labels, is this possible?  Certainly!  Most elementary students are oblivious to the behind-the-scenes labeling process.  As they mature, students can participate in that process with a secure awareness that there is no average learner.

Check out the membership options for ASCD.  You’ll be glad you did!

* Mathematics discourse

Mathematics discoursequotation marks 2

That’s another name for providing students adequate time to discuss and reason in math instruction.  The current issue of Teaching Children Mathematics describes Tracy Shannon’s delightful classroom where math instruction is engaging, hands on, and allows students time to talk and solve interesting problems.  The authors, Gina Gresham and Tracy Shannon, provide a useful framework for other teachers who want their students to improve achievement and motivation.  Is it reasonable to think this can be accomplished, given all the time and testing pressures faced by classroom teachers?  YES!

Here is Shannon’s sample schedule of a 75 minute block of math instructional time:

  • 15 minutes: whole-group, teacher-led instruction
  • 10-12 minutes: Station 1- Teacher-led activity with small groups
  • 10-12 minutes: Station 2- Hands-on game activity with small groups
  • 10-12 minutes: Station 3- Computer activity with small groups
  • 15-20 minutes: Whole-group wrap-up lesson and exit slip

It’s obvious that this approach requires careful planning and access to digital resources, in addition to developing a community of students who support and encourage one another.  The authors also discuss the challenges of mathematics discourse, including how much struggle to allow students as they solve problems.  Teaching with mathematics discourse requires a skillful teacher and most likely, a solid team of professionals.

* #teamNBCT: renewal

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As we come to the end of a week’s celebration of National Board Certification, how apt to consider the renewal process.  I have already renewed my certification once and look forward to another renewal opportunity in about 5 years.

Why should National Board Certified teachers renew their certification?  First, I would ask anyone to explain why they shouldn’t renew!  This certification is far more rigorous than at the state level.  It’s my hope that all educators and licensing agencies across the country would recognize the NB process as the ultimate professional achievement.

Why renew if you have retired from fulltime teaching?   I will renew because I am a lifelong learner and still have room to grow.  I owe it to my students, whether I’m teaching part-time or fulltime, to be the best teacher I can be.  If I should ever stop teaching, I will continue to share my experiences and support others; current National Board certification both validates and encourages my attempts to give back to the field of education.

This week’s reflection on National Board certification has helped me better appreciate the countless hours that others have poured into this endeavor.  To those with the vision, the determination, and the willingness to score all these portfolios- thank you for advancing our awesome profession!

* #teamNBCT: mentors

In honor of this week’s celebration of 112,000+ National Board Certified Teachers, I will focus on what NB certification, the gold standard for the teaching profession, has meant to me.

One of the most satisfying aspects of becoming certified has been the opportunity to mentor other teachers through the same process.  I found it interesting that I could mentor folks from general ed to PE to special ed.  In all cases, I was looking for those 5 core propositions and knowledge of the standards unique to their fields.  Sure, I had to keep referring to the standards, but what a privilege to walk alongside those marvelous teachers!

All candidates must videotape at least once for their portfolios, which made for fascinating viewing and analysis.  The cool part was that even those inevitable glitches did not spell doom.  In fact, if teachers can see where and how they “missed” something, it becomes an effective part of the NB process.  I would have been a little worried if someone didn’t catch the kid facing the wrong way throughout a lesson.  And that brings back a memory….

Years before my own certification, I used videotaping routinely to observe my own behavior and that of the kids.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t as eagle-eyed as I became during the National Board experience.  I remember a principal asking me to share a classroom video of my self-contained class with uncertain parents of a prospective student.

I pulled out a video (filmed with parents’ permission!) and we watched a 20 minute segment.  The couple who observed were reassured and entertained, but all I could see was a kiddo with his finger up his nose the ENTIRE lesson!  Yikes!  Somehow, that had escaped me, both during teaching and when I’d observed the video itself.

The bottom line is that all my mentees received NB certification.  And there were no kids with wayward fingers on their videotapes.

* #teamNBCT: professionals

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In honor of this week’s celebration of 112,000+ National Board Certified Teachers, I will focus on what NB certification, the gold standard for the teaching profession, has meant to me.

When I first heard about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, I was a bit doubtful that it would impact the teaching profession.  I’d been around long enough to know that my salary didn’t reflect my graduate degree and experience, that I had no opportunity for advancement unless I became an administrator (heaven forbid!), and that I would work many more hours than a 9-to-5 profession.  And what did novice teachers face?  Exactly the same, if they actually stayed in the profession.

What could the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offer?   It has helped reshape our profession into a Profession.  I couldn’t have imagined the effect of a certification process that is clearly associated with better student outcomes!  And salary!  And improved resources and support for novice teachers!  But not shorter working hours, at least for me.  That’s why my dearest teaching widower spent so many nights with me at school.  Even NB certification has not fixed that glitch in my approach to preparation.

I am particularly thrilled that NBCTs have impacted the performance of minority and low-income students.  Do we have miles to go before we rest?  Indeed.  I’ve written at length about the racially predictable test scores and low minority achievement which plagues our country.  (As we go brown and gray in the US, it won’t be minority achievement anymore.)  Our failure to teach ALL of our kids is dreadful.  How can we encourage blacks and Hispanics to enter the teaching profession?   The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards could reverse the current trend of fewer minority and male teachers with higher standards, higher salaries, and support for novice teachers.  I hope I am around to see that happen!

 

* #teamNBCT: effort

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In honor of this week’s celebration of 112,000+ National Board Certified Teachers, I will focus on what NB certification, the gold standard for the teaching profession, has meant to me.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the effort required to attain National Board certification.  It was seriously grueling, in part because I started the process in the second half of the school year.  Organized teachers start to prepare before the year even begins.  Even with a full year’s focus on the process, the effort required is daunting.

Is it worth the effort to become National Board Certified?  Oh yes!  The effort, and its consequent reward, comes first as teachers dive into the NBCT 5 core propositions:

Proposition 1: Teachers Are Committed to Students and Their Learning
Proposition 2: Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those
Subjects to Students
Proposition 3: Teachers Are Responsible for Managing and Monitoring Student Learning
Proposition 4: Teachers Think Systematically About Their Practice and Learn from Experience
Proposition 5: Teachers Are Members of Learning Communities.

Next, teachers explore and apply (and read and reread and analyze and reread) one of 25 unique standards for their certification area.  Here’s a link to the Exceptional Needs Standards.  It’s 79 pages of gold!  The bar is very high but well worth the effort.  It’s been a few years since I read this document, so this is a perfect opportunity for me to appraise my teaching compass.

The National Board certification process is a marathon of alignment, exploration, validation, and presentation.  I lived and breathed that process, discovering that I was solidly on track in many areas and relatively weak in others.  I applied considerable effort to understand the complex questions and develop portfolios to demonstrate my skills.  And there were glitches.  On steroids following a serious poison ivy encounter, I compulsively cleaned my classroom and threw away important documentation of my achievements.  In one portfolio, I realized I’d misunderstood the primary question only a few weeks before the submission deadline.  About that same time, I was waiting in my car when a dump truck plowed into me and the doctor advised me not to sit at a computer for a few weeks!   Crazy suggestion!

What reward was gained from my effort to organize and present my teaching skills, to incorporate new techniques, to analyze, to write, and to videotape?  My teaching advanced to a new level.  Seriously.  I felt both exhausted and exhilarated as I completed the process, like standing on a mountain top and surveying the complex and sometimes rocky path that led me there.

* #team NBCT: reflections

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In honor of this week’s celebration of 112,000+ National Board Certified Teachers, I will focus on what NB certification, the gold standard for the teaching profession, has meant to me.

It’s been 16 years since I was first National Board Certified as an Exceptional Needs Specialist.  I applied for certification in the 2nd year of that category’s availability, with only one other special ed teacher in my district having completed the process.  I had little idea what impact this certification would have upon my practice or how much effort would be required!

Why was it worth becoming National Board Certified?  I had started teaching in 1970 and much of my career had been reactive.  I was desperate for solutions, so I read, took classes, and experimented with approaches.  I participated in many leadership roles related to special education.  My kids made progress but I was always searching for that magic bullet, a perfect set of materials or scope and sequence.

What was missing in my practice?  REFLECTION.  In the busyness of teaching, I was assessing student performance but didn’t spend much time analyzing my teaching practices.  Sure, if I had a terrible-horrible-no good-day day, I would dissect every word and action.  But that wasn’t the daily norm for me.  During and after the NB process, I couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to that “disaster” style of analysis or a fruitless search for the perfect curriculum.  I now spend much more time thinking about where the kids and I are going and how my decisions impact student learning.  I’m processing information on a deeper level and encourage kids to do the same.

Did I enjoy that learning curve on reflection?  Honestly, it was a bit too steep for comfort, but I needed to be shoved out of my “routine” teaching.  The NBCT process changed my trajectory forever.  It’s delightful to reflect on my teaching practice and see how mindfulness is the new normal for me!