The Constant Learner

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. Jiddu Krishnamurti

My Very Own Teaching Philosophy

A position has opened up in my school, one that I really want. The district has moved into the 21st century and now has an online application system. So, to apply for this job, I had to go through the application process. Although I find it tedious to complete any kind of application (really, do they need to know my high school gpa after twenty years of teaching–OMG I have been teaching for TWENTY YEARS???) there was one part where I basically had to express in writing my teaching philosophy. There were two prompts: 1) Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher and 2) How would you address a wide range of skills and abilities in your classroom?

I really think that teachers need to reflect on questions like these more often than, well, never. I have been forced to think about these things before because they were part of my principal training, which I completed in 2011. That training included many hours of reflective thinking and writing.  I don’t think I would have taken the time on my own to think about things like my vision as a leader or my leadership philosophy. So, even though I am scared to be judged by what I believe, I do think that these types of reflections really need to be written. When things are written, they are there for you to review and maybe rewrite and change as you change.

We want our students to do the same thing…duh! In all of my reading about teaching writing, everyone says that the teacher must write right along with their students. I have tried this, and I haven’t done a good job at it. But now, after answering those prompts and thinking about what I really believe I need to do to be an outstanding teacher, it has helped me focus on my goals for learning in my classroom next year. Putting things in writing holds you to a standard. I think that to make me stick to my beliefs, even in those times when all I want to do is cry, I might print out my beliefs and post them in my classroom. Why not? If I truly believe in what I write about teaching, then why not publish it?

Here are my answers to the prompts from the application:

Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.

I believe an outstanding teacher is able to lead students in learning that is meaningful, applicable to real life, and challenging. Teachers must lead students to identify what is important and relevant in today’s world and use technology to enhance learning. Tackling real-world problems and developing real-world solutions requires students and teachers to step outside of their comfort zone and make connections with other teachers and students to create a collaborative environment that allows students to challenge themselves by working on projects and activities that enhance their strengths and abilities. An outstanding teacher must also know, and let her students know that failure is one of the most fundamental steps leading to success.

How would you address a wide range of skills and abilities in your classroom?

As classes become more inclusive, especially due to changes in the state’s standardized assessments, understanding students’ differences in learning is vital. The most important thing I do is try to create a learning atmosphere of respect and acceptance. I believe that when students understand that each of them has a voice in the class without the fear of being judged or ridiculed for their ideas, then the class becomes more open to differing ideas. Once respect and acceptance are the norm, then student collaboration becomes an effective way to allow students to participate according to their abilities. I also set goals for learning, use technology, provide feedback to students both individually and as a class, allow time for student reflection, use deep and meaningful questioning strategies, provide rubrics for assignments, give choices in learning, and provide many ways for students to show what they know.

The Importance of Getting Teachers to Let Go of Traditional Ways of Writing

So, I am reading Troy Hicks’ Crafting Digital Writing and as I am going through this book, I totally get what he is saying. He points out that we must be using technology to teach writing. Kids are using technology every minute (it seems) of their lives and most of that time they are sharing their thoughts digitally, whether it be Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

The only problem I see with this is that most teachers I know, especially English teachers, refuse to dip their feet in the technology mud. I am calling it mud because there is so much out there to learn. I have my feet in it, but it is all getting squished between my toes. I am having trouble figuring what I should focus on. Which apps do I have my kids use? What kind of digital writing should I start with? Where do I get examples of good work? Do I stick to using blogs, or do I insist that we move into wikis or other web based tools? Do I totally embrace Google Docs? Ahhhhhhh!!!!S&#*T!

Troy Hicks’s book has great examples and he provides websites to support anyone wanting to take the mud bath. But still, where do I start? I started using Kidblog last school year. For the most part, I think it went well. I posed questions, kids answered questions, and I expected a conversation to develop between these transactions. It rarely got that far. I think it was successful in the fact that I got kids who wouldn’t typically say anything willingly in a whole class discussion to write their thoughts. But then, when the time for commenting came around, I still fought for meaningful and thoughtful discussion. I got more “great job, I like what you wrote”, than anything else.

I plan on using Hicks’ guidance in my mud bath, but I am struggling with where to start. I might just have to message him on Twitter!

Now, here comes the part about the other teachers. I have observed over the last several years the most used process for teaching research at my school. I teach at the high school and we have gone 1:1 with iPads. We also have access to computer labs and the kids have access to computers and printers in our library.

With access to this technology, I have noticed that the English teachers are still using 20th century technology. Yes, the students are using the computers for looking up information, yes, they type their reports double-spaced and print them out. But that is it. (Just a note, I don’t have direct observations of any other presentation, I am only making a logical guess.) For about two weeks, I watched a senior English teacher roll a cart down the hall to the computer lab. The cart was loaded, very neatly and well organized, with manila envelopes, index cards, and other stuff that I couldn’t see. The index cards bothered me. There is nothing more tedious than writing a “bib card.” I can only assume that after the kids hopefully used EasyBib, they had to write with correct form the citation on a note card. Then, I guess the notes they took on their topic were tediously written on other note cards. I could be wrong, I didn’t observe that part, but it is the inference I got from seeing that cart rolling down the hall.

So, what is the problem? Well, those kids will get to college and be able to write a research paper, but they won’t use paper note cards, they will use digital note cards. With a quick Google search for “digital note cards”, I found a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiaNfejKfi0) on how to use Evernote and Google Docs for collecting research information, a wiki titled DIRT Digital Research Tools Wiki (https://digitalresearchtools.pbworks.com/w/page/17801672/FrontPage), and even a blog post from Troy Hicks titled Do You Use 3×5 Cards? Rethinking the Research Process (http://hickstro.org/2009/10/07/do-you-use-3×5-cards-rethinking-the-research-process).

It is easy for me to search for information; I know how to use keywords that find me the information I want, no problem. But unless you teach the kids in your classes how to use digital note cards, they may end up spending extra time having to learn how to do that on their own! What a waste of time.

This is the important part: kids must be taught how to use digital tools to write their research reports, and it must happen now! Kids should be using digital tools for all of their writing!

To compete in today’s global world, teachers must let go of traditional methods of writing. Research needs to move into the digital age as well. Gone should be the days of using paper note cards and other archaic means of collecting data and information. The final product of that research doesn’t have to end up being a formal paper typed double spaced. Yes, a written part can be included, but what else can the kids do to show what they have learned? What would they need to do if they were presenting their findings to a panel of board members, advertising executives, product designers, or wherever else one of our students might find themselves one day, needing to share their expertise in some engaging way.

The question then becomes: How do we lead teachers into teaching students to become digital writers if the teachers aren’t using digital writing? How do we explain the immediate importance of changing the way we teach writing to reflect the 21st century skills needed to compete in today’s world? How do we go from “I have always done it this way”?

My question is, “Where do I start?”

Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is being used in my school district as a means of supporting students with disabilities in the general education classroom. I believe that when done right, both teachers have a great experience and the whole class benefits. Differentiated instruction is the biggest advantage to co-teaching, and I think along with that goes the benefit of having someone to collaborate with when teaching.

Special education teachers are–and this is my observation–left out of the mainstream when it comes to teacher collaboration in my school. I am the only English teacher for students in what I call a resource class. I am certified as a special education teacher as well as a “regular” English teacher. Yet, I feel that the other teachers in the English department don’t see me as a teacher who can teach with the rigor required for general education classes. My classes, until this coming school year have been driven by a modified curriculum because my students took the Modified STAAR assessment. If you don’t know what that is, it is the Texas standardized assessment.

The 2014-2015 school year requires all students with disabilities to take the STAAR assessment with no modifications. This means that many students who would have been in my classes, will be placed in “inclusion” classes with a special education teacher and the general education teacher.

I have two observations about co-teaching: the general education teacher needs to want to co-teach and the general education teacher must be willing to look at their lessons and redesign them to utilize the co-teacher. I believe it is very difficult to find teachers who want to do this. Also, if a teacher is willing to co-teach and redesign lessons, then the question of time comes up. Collaboration between the co-teachers to look at a lesson and rethink it takes time. Teachers are always complaining about not having enough time.

Special education teachers are some of the most flexible people I know. We are expected to support teachers and students in many different classes. Next school year, even though I am only certified as an English teacher, I am also assigned to co-teach in two different social studies classes (two different teachers). I have no idea what the TEKS are for those classes. I don’t even know the teachers. The flexibility continues when we are pressured to complete the mounds of paperwork needed for ARD meetings, work with students on our caseloads, track student progress…

This is what it really boils down to: I just want to teach. I want to collaborate with my “inclusion” teachers and help them redesign their lessons. I don’t want to stay in classes where the teachers rely heavily on worksheets and meaningless tests as their assessments of progress. Inclusion classes require teachers willing to do things differently, willing to listen to another teacher about what could be improved and what does not work. I have only worked with one teacher willing to do that. She was great, we worked together two years, and then I got pulled from her class to work with a teacher new to our district.

So, what to do? We don’t have a district-wide co-teaching model. I have never sat in on a district-wide co-teaching professional development session. There is no alignment between the schools when it comes to special education. I don’t know what co-teaching looks like at the junior high or elementary levels. We don’t even have a full time special education director. The whole department is fragmented at best.

Our district must create a district-wide co-teaching program. Everyone must be trained the same way. Teachers must be held accountable to redesign their lessons to not only benefit the included students, but to utilize both teachers so that everyone is successful. Staff development time must be given to achieve solid and uniform implementation of a co-teaching program. Administrators must support their teachers as they are learning how to co-teach. Formative assessment is good for kids and teachers.

Enough of the willy-nilly way of doing things.

I will do my best to work with the three teachers I am assigned to for the inclusion classes. I will have to go beyond my comfort zone and take the initiative to help these teachers understand what is needed for all students in the classes to be successful. I will offer to give my time to help them work through their lessons to make them better for all students.

I do things differently.

 

Easily Distracted

I have thought of so much that I needed to write down, but now that I have the time to write, it is all fragmented. So, here are the things I want to write about:

  1. Co-teaching
  2. Using technology in the classroom and getting teachers to do it.
  3. Student Assessment
  4. 4.   Crafting Digital Writers
  5. 5.   The Sixth Extinction
  6. CLMOOC
  7. SummerLS
  8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I keep getting distracted…the couple of lizards bravely exploring my patio, a phoebe that has found something interesting at my back door, listening to the TV, and stuff like that.

During my morning walk, I listened to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I bookmarked the parts I want to review and comment on, now I just have to do it. The lizards are still distracting me. I really want to see one catch a bug and eat it! I have plenty of those.

So, I am going to start with the CLMOOC cycle 1. I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do. The challenge was to create a “How To…” I started off with thinking that I am not a very creative person, and that my “How To” would be boring. Then as I continued to mull it over, I thought about a recent crisis with my daughter and how she came out of it confident and with a goal in mind to address the crisis. I thought I could write about how to raise a confident young lady. Had it all worked out, but the voice in my head told me that was too personal to put out there in the CLMOOC.

So, I had to think about it again. I really think that my ideas are not interesting and that no one wants to hear them. Hopefully the 7 Habits will help me to reframe my thinking on that.

I finally came up with “How to Bake Anything Well.” I do love to bake. I wish I could do it more than I do, but who would eat it all? I also love Martha Stewart, who I think has the best recipes ever! So, my “How To” became a plug for Martha.