Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why educators need to be students too

Being in a doctoral program is teaching me so much.  But it's not just the content of the classes that I'm learning. I'm propelled into deep reflection about teaching and learning during each class weekend.  After this weekend's marathon session of classes, I am reminded that it is vastly important for teachers to be students themselves frequently.  I need to make a strong distinction here: I am not advocating that educators be life long learners (although I do believe that this is also an essential requirement for educators); rather, educators need to be enrolled in someone else's class as a student and be in the role of the learner frequently during their career. Here's why:

As a professional educator also engaged in the role of a student, you:

* Develop empathy for your students -- you remember what it's like to learn something brand new, what it's like to feel clueless, you do everything you can to try to sit and listen with perfect behavior for 7 hours straight, remember what teamwork/collaboration feels like, recall how much you strive for a great grade but often times feel like its out of your reach (yes, tough day in my stats class!!)

* Insight deep reflection on practice --  is a traditional grading system fair, is it good enough to cover the content or do students need to learn it, how do visuals/technology/collaboration enhance learning, how do formative assessments inform instruction, how do you measure learning, what makes content memorable and meaningful

* Remain current, fresh and alive in your practice by 1) seeing the strategies another teacher employs, 2) feeling the impact of those strategies as a student and 3) importantly, taking the time to reflect on both to adjust and improve your practices

Specifically, as a student again since January, there have been several huge areas that have become of major interest to me because of my experience as a learner.  They are:
* the need for physical movement
* the importance of collaboration
* the difference that true feedback makes on understanding, learning and development
* the value of formative assessment and student input/feedback regarding instruction
* assessment and grading practices and policies (including the supreme benefit of re-do policies)

With these thoughts, and more importantly, experiences fresh on my mind, I plan to actively advocate for what's best and what's right for students with regard to these topics when we return to school in the fall.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Brain fog resulting from working in silos

It's not often that I have an experience that reminds me distinctly of high school, but around midnight tonight I did.  Throughout the day today I did several things all related to my growth as a professional and as a learner, including:

  • Worked on a paper for my educational planning class
  • Completed a module for an online class about the CCSS Math standards
  • Read two chapters in Essential Questions by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
  • Investigated the NBCT renewal process and started planning my journey
  • Read and tried to comprehend chapter 7 of my stats class 
As I was finishing the chapter in stats and muddling through the practice problems, I realized that 1) it was beyond my brain's optimal work time and 2) all of the concepts and thoughts were swirling randomly in a fog of unrelated learning.  In that moment, I remembered high school...working on Algebra 2 problems followed immediately by some AP European history mixed with a little chemistry and lets not forget a novel study of the Grapes of Wrath.  No connections or relationships, just a series of tasks that had to be done before school the next day.

Unlike yesterday, where I blogged about experiences coming together, today there is no overlap. No commonality, and no break through of thought.  And, no application or way for me to use all this new knowledge.  Learning skills in isolation doesn't work too well for me. And, it certainly doesn't work very well for our students.  But yet, it is still common place in schools from elementary school to doctoral programs. 

Education reform can't come quick enough for me!  I dream of the day where content is truly embedded in real-world, inquiry based problems and experiences, where content is carefully and meaningfully selected and organized to maximize the understanding and depth of learning for students.  

Unfortunately, my world will continue to remain in these silos for the next year. Perhaps my task needs to be to find the common, intersecting points between each of these long-lasting expenses I've gotten myself into.  One thing is for sure: a lot of reflection on the learning process awaits me.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Energized by excellent summer of Professional Development

With just about one year since I last posted here, I'll skip all the reasons why and jump right into the content of my post.  As always, I'll aim to post much more frequently and to actually develop a habit of blogging.

With the summer about 1/2 way done, my brain is shifting to the task of preparing for the fall.  For me, the biggest, most important task I need to prepare for is teachers' first week back, ... well actually teachers' first day back.  This is the day that I get to collaborate with my colleagues, establish our tone and purpose for the year and set the course for an excellent year.  While I've not yet come up with my theme for the year, many topics are swirling around in my head ranging form innovation, invention, excellence to global connections, deep learning and many more.  Eventually I'll find just the right theme to embed all of these ideas into one and it will all fall in place.

Along those lines, I'm finally at the place where all the wonderful PD opportunities I've experienced this summer are all starting to gel in my brain and shape my thinking for the coming year.  Here's a quick summary of the highlights of my summer PD experiences so far:

  • Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, visited George Washington University right after school let out for summer and really made me think.  My biggest take away:  the success of the Finnish Education system is due in large part to the country's firm commitment to education and a culture that truly values education. He also stressed the importance of having kids invent.  
  • ASCD's Conference on Teaching Excellence held at the National Harbor Convention Center in Maryland. Where I had the opportunity to:
    • Join Grant Wiggins for an extended session about his book Essential Questions.  Perfect timing for this book to debut as my school just started working with this and we need guidance!
    • Delve into the Habits of Mind resources and ways of thinking
  • NAESP's Annual Conference held at the Baltimore Convention Center here in Maryland.  My key takeaways from this experience were:
    • Crayola's session about creativity in leadership (creating a new species from Model Magic was incredible!-- Go Team, Bunkie!) [Note to self, this experience made higher level thinking skills tangible]
    • Eric Jensen's KeyNote session was an inspiring reminder about the impacts of poverty, chronic stress, and the need for strong early education, vocabulary development and caring teachers who hold students accountable while believing that brains can change.
  • Numerous summer reads including,
    • Elements of Assessment by Douglas Reeves
    • Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers
      • "We must be the learners and leaders we wish our students to be." pg. 13 
    • Essential Questions by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (just started officially today)
This is the abbreviated list of excellent content that has been streaming through my head since mid-June.  I am so excited to finally have it all start to come together.  I'm in the beginning stages of planning the three 1/2 day sessions I'll have with my teachers to kick-off an incredible year and I'm so excited about it!  

To top it off, tonight I finally sat still long enough to learn Evernote.  I fell in love with it in minutes and don't know why I didn't start using it instantly when I downloaded it last year!  

I love the speed of summer since it allows time to digest and process information!