New Faces in the Teachers’ Lounge

I hear from time to time that things in education are difficult to change or the status-quo goes. It is possible to make a shift but that takes time, leadership and often a large amount of support. One thing that has changed quickly is the amount of teacher movement this summer. The sheer amount of teacher and admin position movement this summer is on the rise and I do not think we have seen the end of it. Political and systematic issues have created a challenging atmosphere in schools. More than a few teachers that I have interacted with over the past decade have moved to different positions and/or have switched careers altogether. While I am sad to see them go I am also excited for the new adventures that await them.

Now here is the situation. I am assuming that there will be many new faces in teachers’ lounges across the nation – recent hires and transitioning teachers. More so now than in most year. How will established school communities embrace these new employees? I truly believe having a staff with diverse backgrounds benefits a school district. The new hires have strengths and talents that should be highlighted. I wonder what will be in place to encourage new staff to feel empowered to bring their ideas to the table? What supports exists to sustain and retain teachers for the 22-23 school year?

I do not have clear answers to these questions, but it is worth digging deep to find solutions to make teaching a more sustainable profession. Optimistically, I would like to see the education transitioning tides change and to be able to look back and remember the 22-23 school year as one of the better ones in recent memory.

2012 in Review – Statistics

2012 Statistics
2012 Statistics

After reading a few “2012 end of the year review” blog posts, I decided to write my own. This blog started out as a math lesson bank and has evolved into a reflection / feedback tool for the #elemchat and #mathchat communities.

Educational Aspirations, the title for this blog hopes to communicate the importance of creating a culture of continuous learning.  Throughout 2012, I’ve utilized my PLN to implement lesson ideas / strategies in my own classroom.  Blogging has enabled me to reflect on my own practice and receive feedback on thoughts related to education. In an effort to be more organized and concise,  I’m going divide this blog post into a few statistical lists.

Most Visited Blog Pages:

1.  Educational Aspirations Homepage (7,853 visits)

2.  The Real Number Line (4,947 visits)

3.  Geometry Birds (1,815 visits)

4.  Goal Setting for Students (1,044 visits)

Top Views by Country

1.  United States

2.  United Kingdom

3.  Canada

Most Popular Tags:

1.  Education

2.  Math

3.  Elementary Teaching

2012 Referrers

1.  Google Search “number line” “the real number line” “educational aspirations”

2.  Pinterest

3.  Twitter

Outbound Clicks

1.  Angry Birds Templates (652 clicks)

2.  NRICH Enriching Mathematics (302 clicks)

3.  Elevated Math (195 clicks)

Picture Credit:  R. Krishnan

Recruiting, Developing, and Retaining Effective Teachers

Does the above picture remind you of a teacher professional development session?

According to the US Department of Education, states that receive Race to the Top money are asked to advance reforms around four specific areas.  One of the specific areas revolves around recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals.

Recruiting, developing, and retaining effective teachers can be problematic.  In some states, 1 in 5 teachers leave the profession within the first five years.  As Forbes suggests, training new teachers costs school districts a significant amount of money. This link provides graphs and documentation that points to the dire situation.

Recruitment begins by having an effective professional development (PD) program. Developing effective teachers starts with having an exceptional PD program that gives accurate support and feedback to all stakeholders. Often, teachers will seek out PD opportunities outside of their school district because there is a lack of targeted PD support from their employer.

One size fits all PD support continues to be on the endangered list, as the approach shows that it’s not effective in promoting permanent change.  Having a self-selected PD growth model can encourage ownership and lead to best practices. When possible (I hope often) educational administrators need to release a bit of the control in the professional development department.  Teachers are professionals, and most understand where they need additional support.

How can the current PD model change to better reflect teachers’ needs?

Here are a few ideas that involve PLNs:

Teachmeet:  The first TeachMeet occurred in Scotland in 2005 and has been spurred through learning networds enabled by Twitter and Facebook.Teachers at TeachMeet  meet at local schools or establishments to inspire each other with interesting and useful ideas, develop and maintain a network of partners in teaching and learning, and share ideas and strategies to use in the classroom and beyond.  One teacher characterized TeachMeet as professional development unplugged.  Teachmeet can also lead to e-learning opportunities.

Twitter & Facebook:  Twitter and Facebook have become resources that teachers visit to gain insight into best practices and methods to integrate technology and learning. Educational Twitter chats also offer opportunities for teachers to engage in meaningful conversations with other professionals across the world through various hashtags.

Survey & Implement:  Administrators may use teacher survey data to tailor multiple PD opportunities for educators.  Notice that I said multiple.  Giving teachers choices often encourages ownership and higher probabilities that the PD sessions will have lasting value.  Teachers should have an opportunity to select from various sessions to maximize their PD.  After the sessions, surveys should also be used to document the effectiveness of the sessions.

How would you change teacher PD?

* Picture credits (2) to Renjith Krishnan

The Value of Self-Correction and Student Ownership

This year I’m continuing to find that student ownership plays a critical role in the learning process.  Students often become more responsible for their own learning when they are given additional opportunities to show their learning.  I’m finding that part of the key to increasing student responsibility depends on how it’s communicated by the teacher.  Students can’t be expected to own their learning without any guidance.  The gradual release of student responsibility can benefit the overal climate and achievement of a classroom.  In the past, I’ve used student journaling, plus/delta, surveys, choice boards, self-selected research projects, and other strategies to promote student ownership.  This past week I introduced another strategy that involves self-correction.  Here are the steps:

1.)  Students complete an assignment in collaborative groups or independently.

2.)  Students finish the assignment and self-correct using the Teacher’s Manual.  This can also be applied to digital progress monitoring tools.

3.)  Students independently use markers to indicate wrong/right answers.  If needed, students will write in correct answers.

4.)  Students utilize their math journals to reflect on the assignment and their feelings about the topic and achievement.

5.)  Student turn in their paper and journal to the teacher

6.)  Optional:  Students use multiple journal entries for individual goal setting

It might seem simple, but I’ve had terrific results from using this strategy.  Overall, I feel as though the students benefit from practices like this.  The self-correcting / journal process took modeling and practice at first, but the benefits are starting to become apparent.

A New School Year – New Possibilities

Image by:   Scottchan

It’s already been one week into the school year and I’m finding myself reviewing goals for this year.  After spending time on Twitter this summer, specifically following #mathchat,  #elemchat, and #cpchat hashtags, I’ve decided to implement a few ideas this year.  I’ve included two of the ideas below.

Homework ≠ Grades 

I’ve been tackling the issue of the role and value of homework over the past few years. This topic has been debated by educational experts for a number of years.  So why am I so worked up over this?

Many years ago I remember grading every student’s paper (homework, test, quiz, etc.) that crossed my desk.  Most teachers at my school would do this, so I thought I should as well.  I would assign a fraction and percentage for each assignment (example:  14/18).  Homework was a certain percentage of the student’s grade, as well as tests, and other in class assignments. Generally, the homework grade often inflated the overall grade for the student.  This idea made me uncomfortable and made me question the value of homework.  Over the next few years I incorporated exit cards into my instruction and began to research the value of homework.  The more that I’ve researched the topic and value of homework, the more I’m finding that it needs to contribute to the learning process.  Homework shouldn’t be assigned or perceived as busy work. The more that I read over the summer, including @yourkidsteacher‘s post and @alfikohn‘s post, I decided to try something a bit different this year.

Homework is not part of the student’s grade, but it’s still part of the class.  Not giving homework to my students isn’t really an option.  To be proactive, I communicated to the community that I would be giving feedback and not grades on the homework.  In an effort to bring more direct feedback to the students, I decided to use the check / minus method, which I blogged about a while back.  The review checkpoints are a form of an exit card that the students will complete after being taught a specific concept.  The review checkpoints will be given 3 + times per month and would count towards their overall grade.

After reviewing the homework, I give specific feedback on the student’s paper.  I’m planning on having the student review their homework pages and feedback on a regular basis.  The new homework policy is still in the refining process, but I feel as though the students/parents appreciate the feedback and find it more useful than a stagnant 13/15 on the top of their homework sheet.

Special Projects

I’m already planning on a special project for every grading period. My students have created Podcasts, Photostory projects, mathematician biography reports, and hosted a math concept fair in the past.  Some of the projects were better than others, but the students always worked in collaborative groups to complete the projects.  I’d like to incorporate more math projects this year.  I believe that the learning (academic and social) that occurs during math project sessions benefits all students.   When asked, students often list the math projects as one of their favorite activities in math class. This is also a non-traditional method to assess student learning.  I generally use a rubric to assess a special project and it’s part of the student’s grade.

So You’ve Been to a Common Core Training?

The words above seem true.  If you work in education, you most likely have heard about the math Common Core Standards.  Many educators have been given instructions and maybe even have had the fortunate experience of attending a PD session on the Common Core.  According to WAT, approximately 70% of teachers have received some type of Common Core training.  Maybe your district now has a Common Core “aligned” curriculum or manipulatives that will be utilized in the classroom that emphasize the main points of the Core?  Regardless of your situation, the content that you teach may be impacted by the Common Core Standards.  Many educators/administrators are asking questions about the Common Core and seeking answers on their own.  Common Core PD sessions have allowed teachers opportunities to ask questions and receive clarification on what is expected.  Here are a few statistics:

If you are like many educators, then you’ve been trolling to find additional information about the Core and resources that will enhance your instructional practice.  I’ve created a list below that may help us (as we are all in this together) unravel the Common Core and the changes that it will elicit over the next few years.  The links below aren’t listed in any prioritized order, but they are categorized to help you (and me) find and use the information quickly.  I have many of these sites already bookmarked, as I receive questions on the Common Core and it’s far reaching impact.

Blog Posts:

General Info on the Common Core:

Livebinders / Digital Newspapers:

Testing Questions / PAARC / Behind the Scenes:

Differentiated Instruction

Image by:  Grant Cochrane

Lately, I’ve spending time preparing for the 2012 – 2013 school year.  Last week I had a conversation with a teacher in another district about student achievement data, specifically MAP data.  We discussed similarities/differences in general student achievement data.  The achievement data inside a typical elementary classroom can range significantly.

This data along with teacher input can bring awareness to academic strengths and concerns.  Educators are responsible for teaching all students regardless of prior knowledge.  I think most stakeholders would agree that prior academic background knowledge vastly impacts instruction and pacing.  What happens if that prior knowledge is missing, partial or incorrect?

All students in a classroom should have the opportunity to experience success.  That success depends on the environment and instruction that occurs throughout the school year.  What do teachers proactively do to meet the needs of all students in their classroom?  Treating all students to the same instruction, same assignments, assigning same goals, same homework, same _____ doesn’t help all students meet their potential. I’ve found that differentiating my instruction is one way to meet the diverse needs of students.   What does differentiation look like in the classroom?  “Differentiated Instruction is matching instruction to meet the needs of individual learners ” –FCRR.  I’ve included strategies with links for more information on differentiated instruction below.

The links below have been helpful in writing this post.

Gifted Differentiation  GT Webinar  Instruction for Gifted Learners  Flexing Differentiation Ideas for Teaching

My Job and Your Job – Community Builder

Image by Sheelamohan

No, I’m not talking about classroom jobs, like the all familiar paper passer, pencil sharpener … etc.  I’m talking about using the idea of jobs as a community builder.

The new school year is here.  I’m once again finding myself digging up lessons from the past.  For the past six years I’ve used an activity that always seems to generate student interest and builds a positive learning climate.  This activity can also be utilized and referenced at back to school night.  I’m referring to the activity My Job, Your Job, Our Job.  Here are my subjective steps to implement:

1.)  Pass out a Post-it note to each student in the classroom.  Ask the students to write down 2 – 3  sentences (or it can be just a few words) that describe their teacher’s job.  In other words, what is the teacher’s job?  Often, you’ll get a few surprised looks and then the students get busy writing down their ideas.  I try not to model too much during this, as I want the students’ original thoughts and ideas.  I then ask the students to place all of the Post-it notes under the “Teacher Job” category on the whiteboard. You can write out the answers or just use the Post-it notes, as it adds to the authenticity of the activity.

2.)  Follow step one, but instead of writing about the teacher’s jobs, the students will describe their job.

3.)  Students will describe their parents’ jobs at home (not their employment).  This may require a bit of modeling, as some of the answers may be way off base (although that may add value and humor to the activity).  I remember one student of mine a few years ago wrote down that her parents’ job was to provide health insurance for her.  The parents thought that was hilarious, especially coming from a second grade student.

4.)  In my opinion, the “Our Job” portion is extremely important and what I generally emphasize in class. I ask the students to think of a common goals that all participants (teacher, student, and parent) share.  I ask the students to write down their answers and the class starts to conclude that all stakeholders seem to be working together (for the success of the student).  This is a unique learning experience and also provides a critical foundation during the beginning of the year.

5.)  Optional – Take a digital picture of the poster that was created and show it to the parents during back to school night.

A few examples are below.



Or students can fill out their own individual sheet …

Additional Resources:  MCPS Baldrige and Word template for activity.

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