It’s great that we’ve been blessed to see the beginning of another year! This is the time we normally set resolutions for the new year on things we’d like to do better or different. For educators, resolutions mean something else. We’ve already made a commitment to students at the beginning of the school year and we won’t abandon them. What this time offers us is a break/opportunity to disengage [for a moment] so we can re-engage and come back stronger.
The following was part of our faculty meeting on 12.8.10.
Our school was gifted with a set of books, ‘Listen Up, Teacher!’ I’d been toiling with what would make a great first book for a book study and this turned out to be a right-on-time gift. It’s a great, quick read written by educators using students’ perspectives. Below, I took several pages and just highlighted some key points. There are a lot of worthy points in this book and we can spend days on one chapter, but this was cool for idea generating and experience sharing:
Dedicating our lives to teach kids means we will engage in a lifelong pursuit to better our skills but we can’t forget that we teach kids, not subjects.
This year our school has committed to really honing in on and implementing what we consider impactful learning strategies. This goes beyond our ever developing and growing understanding of rigor, relationships and relevance. These are all shared strategies and observances from visiting other classes and schools wherein educators are making a huge difference in student learning.
The strategy featured here is instructional walls. Transitioning language and beliefs from word walls to instructional walls has helped us describe in better detail the desired outcomes we’d like to see in teachers’ rooms. We are all familiar with word walls. Commonly, we will post key vocabulary around the room after, or sometimes before, we’ve gone over it in class [can’t emphasize enough the importance of key vocabulary]. Instead of posting the words out of context, an instructional wall shows the key vocabulary in action.
Below are some great examples of instructional walls in my school and around our district:
Slides 1-5: These were taken from a high school math teacher. Its evident that she teaches Geometry and Algebra, each section of the room is dedicated to a subject – it shows vocabulary, calculator strokes and formulas, key learning! [Check this teacher out]
Slides 6-12 – This room shows a clear progression of learning and how information is tied together. Look carefully and you’ll see some familiar information [Check this teacher out]
Slides 13&15 – These are from a science/reading teacher in my building. 13 is cool because its a growing bank of all year words for different categories. 15 shows a plot mountain that 7th and 8th grade are working on. The pictures I took of the student samples didn’t come out well but you can see the model from which they were completed here. [Check this teacher out]
Slide 14 – In house math teacher – cool archiving of essentials. [Check this teacher out]
Slides 16-17 – A math counterpart from across district. Great key information! [Check this teacher out]
Some key points to remember for all these teachers:
Please share out any great examples you’ve seen. We have a desire and need to get better for our kids!
I recently ran EVAAS Data reports for some of my teachers. EVAAS is North Carolina’s customized program that provides all kinds of data for teachers, schools and school systems. Data is a great conversation starter and this information helps teachers with planning, decision making and forecasting areas of high need. I wanted to highlight a couple of areas we will be focusing on:
This does mean more work for us – but we didn’t get into teaching for us, we chose to become supermen/superwomen to make a difference in their lives.
|Jedis vs Clones|
|Starfleet vs Borg Collective|
Think of our favorite Starfleet captain and the out-the-box-thinking he had to come up with to pass the Kobayashi Maru [link provided for those who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Trekdom]. Our efforts should focus on challenging and producing that same game-changing behavior. Thinkers are needed – we all place a high value on the individual and lateral thinking but what systems does our instititution/classrooms promote?
We’ve recently had our first principal’s meeting with our new superintendent, Dr. Dale Ellis. We heard a lot of great things about outlining our future efforts in reaching and teaching kids. As he talked about making a difference and the importance of good decision making, he spent a great deal of time speaking on ‘what’s best for kids is often not the easiest thing for teachers.’ This really captured some of great conversations I’ve recently had with veteran and new teachers.
Bell to Bell Convenience [not so much] – Our efforts to design quality lessons for student learning won’t always be done between the opening and closing bells. Planning a quality unit, lesson or assessment won’t look the same every time and it can’t be a systematic or formulaic process. It will and should be different each and every time we sit down because we should be expecting different outcomes. Inspired planning isn’t on a schedule.
Working out of your zone! – If we are truly designing learning for our students, we should see a significant shift of work from our end to the students’ end. ‘Parking lot planning’ is desperate and last minute – when we aren’t prepared we resort to it. It looks like generic work sheets and reflects the lowest of expectations, for our students and ourselves. We won’t prepare students for their world if we aren’t moving away from the safe and easy plans. It takes inspiration to start the race and determination to stay in it.
We owe it to students to do more for their learning. Here are two things that will make a big difference.
Big Picture Planning – We are a Learning Focused school district. There are several planning options from designed to accelerate and/or support learning on all levels. Student Learning Maps are used outline the key learning concepts, organize them and provide a clear picture of what we want students to know at the end of the unit. Essential questions and Vocabulary are critical to this process. Identifying them won’t happen in the parking lot.
PLN / PLC – Another killer to student learning and achievement has been solo planning. Don’t get me wrong, individually we can come up with some good, creative activities for students. But imagine how much more impactful our learning efforts can be if increase value added support from our colleagues. Seeking out input from others could make the difference from having a teacher-centered lesson to a student centered one; a fact-finding reading assignment to an activity that requires analysis and evaluation.
We signed up to become teachers to make a difference and be a difference for students. We owe it to them to be the best educators we can, that will mean moving out of our comfort zone and gathering as much support as we can from each other.