* “They Call Me Mom”

They Call Me Mom,” by Pete Springer is a real gem! Don’t be fooled by its easy readability; this book is jam-packed with powerful advice. What makes “They call Me Mom” so special? First, Pete Springer’s passion for teaching lights up the entire book. His core values are clearly articulated. But the real treasures in this book are revealed through thoughtful, funny, and honest anecdotes from his 30 year career.

Springer’s book is divided into the main issues faced by both new or experienced teachers: how to organize your class, work effectively with students and their families, and work collaboratively with colleagues. The chapters on frustrations and humorous events are yummy icing on the cake.

Pete Springer is not just a great teacher, he’s a natural writer. “They Call Me Mom” would make a perfect Christmas present for your teacher friends (or your kiddo’s teachers)! His blog is also a great read, with news about his successful efforts to publish, volunteer, and support educators. He tells some powerfully encouraging stories of the many reasons to be grateful in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Thanks again to Sally at Smorgasborg for introducing us to this awesome educator!

* National Board renewal!

I am going to renew my National Boards this year! Yea! I was initially certified as an Exceptional Needs Specialist 20 years ago and have already renewed once.

As I approach my 7th decade, you might wonder why I’m doing this. My reason is simple: I want to continue improving my teaching skills. Teaching is a lifelong commitment for me. I take and facilitate classes, cannot seem to retire, and LOVE my students. I started blogging because I wanted to encourage teachers and parents as they navigate the educational waters.

I have over 600 followers now, many of whom are not formally in education. But how important it is to think about how our brains work and how our attitudes affect others. Many readers will face issues of funding at the voting poll. Others will have young relatives who struggle with math. And others may want to find a great book or magazine subscription for Christmas.

Whatever the outcome, I am delighted to continue my National Board adventure. Once I went through this rigorous process back in 2000, my understanding and practice of my profession was changed for the better. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has been a game-changer for thousands of professionals and I’m proud to be a part of that group!

* Microcredentials

If you’re a teacher and earning CEUs to renew your license, there are a lot of terrific inservice opportunities.  Many districts offer their own packages and provide in-school workshops.  As a longtime National Board Certified educator, I am really pumped about microcredentials.  These are additional credit options which allow you to extend and personalize your online learning experience.

My experiences are based on the Friday Institute through the North Carolina State University’s College of Education.  Their MOOC courses are FREE premium offerings for folks worldwide.  I am still in the process of completing some microcredentials for a fantastic course called Problem Solving in the Digital Age.PSDA

How do microcredentials work?  They provide the option of going beyond the basic course requirements, while earning more CEUs, of course.  In my case, I am taking the skills I learned and applying them to a real world teaching problem.  I took this course to solve a particularly perplexing problem and I emerged inspired and equipped.  Now I am demonstrating my learning while continuing to address my complex problem.

Earning microcredentials is a lot like the National Board process, with an emphasis on best practices, applying research, and lots of reflection and processing.  It’s a data-driven process, but meaningful- not just plugging numbers into boxes.  What’s better than the pure application of learning to your current practice?

Some of my past experiences with staff development were awesome.  But other “opportunities” left me wishing I could have gone swimming instead.  As I glanced around the room, I could see teachers struggling to stay awake, doing lesson plans, passing notes, and keeping a neutral expression while desperately wishing they could use their time productively.  Online learning (at the Friday Institute level), in conjunction with microcredentials, provides authentic learning experiences which can be tailored to suit my individual situation.  Isn’t that what we want for our students?  Lauren Acree has written a comprehensive evaluation of microcredentials, in case I haven’t convinced you!

* Education DIVE

I’ve been reading Education Dive for a while (it’s free!) and enjoy their quick scan of interesting articles related to higher ed, K12 technology, curriculum, legal/courts, online learning, and for-profit issues  This group also publishes Dive online news for a variety of professions, including health care and construction.  If you want a brief overview of trends, top newspaper articles, and even more in-depth reporting, Education DIVE fits the bill.  Politically, they take a liberal stance; I make note of that because our public school system is definitely governed by politics and bureaucracy.

Education DIVE selected Richard Gordon IV, principal of Paul Robeson High School, as their Administrator of the Year.  He took the helm of a failing school which now has a 98% graduation rate and 50%+ of its students go to college.  The interview with Gordon is encouraging.  What an excellent educator!  He believes that relationships with students and changing their belief systems are two keys to success.  He noted that his urban students lacked confidence in their abilities (and were shocked that he knew them by name).  Kudos to Mr. Gordon for his success!  I would love to see his approach replicated across the nation.

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It’s easy to subscribe to Education Dive and there’s a lot to interest educators from all specialities!

* 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

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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!