New School Year, New Goals

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This past week marked my 25th year as a classroom teacher. As others have aptly posted (as evident in my Twitter feed), there’s no tired like first day of school tired. #truestory But I’m excited for this new school year because it’s another chance to do things better. Each year, I set goals for myself. Some of them pertain to me personally, others are for my students. This year (and I’m putting this out there in the universe to help me stay accountable) is the year that I will finally have my students reflect on their learning via a blog or vlog. I’ve been wanting to do this for many, many, MANY years…but something always took precedence.

Not this year.

Having just finished my doctoral studies, I’ve found myself with quite a bit of free time. One of my personal goals is to be more consistent about reflecting on my teaching and learning via my blog. One of the goals for my students is to give them opportunities to reflect on their learning journey via their own blog.

Though I’m still marinating on the details, this is what I’ve decided so far:

  • Students can choose to write or record a video of their learning
  • Students can reflect individually or with a partner
  • Their reflections need to be somewhat public (meaning at least their peers need to be able to see/comment)

That’s all I have so far. I’d love for parents to be somehow involved, but I’m not sure how that will work or even where to start. If you have any ideas, I’ll take them!

Potential platforms/apps that students can use:

  • Google Slides
  • Weebly
  • Wakelet
  • Flipgrid
  • YouTube
  • ???

I’m going to let my students choose whatever medium best works for them. Links to their reflections will be posted in our PowerSchool site as I think keeping the information in a central location will help when it comes time for students to review the work of their peers.

I’m thinking that students will post a reflection once a week (due Sunday by 9PM). I’ll hold myself to the same standard in which I will post a reflection at least once a week, too. Though I have six sections of world history, I think I’m going to roll this out just to my GATE/PreAP kiddoes at this time. I need to take baby steps because I’m not sure how this will play out. If all goes well, I’ll push out blog/vlogs second semester to the rest of my classes.

Wish me luck.

#fingerscrossed

I’m an adult. Thanks.

So, we have a new textbook this year and with that comes mandated workshops to teach us about our textbook and how to…for lack of a better phrase….use it.

Yes, you read that correctly, we have mandated workshops to teach us how to use our print and online textbooks.

For the past two days, I attended PD in which I was not an active participant. We were told to close our laptops so that we could pay attention to someone talk at us for hours on end. We did not interact with much of the information presented to us. And when we were given time to talk, we were told to “talk to your elbow partner” or “talk to your shoulder partner.”

Since when has it been appropriate to talk to adults as if we were children? Oh, some may say that the presenters are modeling a strategy for us, but I have never uttered the phrase “talk to your elbow/shoulder partner” to my students. Maybe that phrase works for young children still learning about body parts or who may find elbow partners a neat idea. But in my circle of educators…nothing turns us off more quickly than to be told to talk to our elbow partners.

Now, in my district, the term elbow or shoulder partner is something that the majority of presenters or facilitators say, but that phrase is not exclusive to my district. At a regional conference two years ago, I was told to talk to my elbow partner. To be clear, one of the facilitators yesterday was from the textbook company–she was not from our district–yet, she also used that term with us. So…yeah, it’s a bigger problem than I thought.

Do you want to know a quick way to get adults to shut down during a workshop or meeting?

Tell them to talk to their elbow partners.

I wonder, is this phrase uttered at administrator meetings? How about school board meetings? Has anyone in higher education been subjected to this condescending directive? Or does that phrase exclusively live in K12 education? Is this somehow connected to Mehta’s (2014) notion of the (de)professionalization of K12 versus higher education?

In my research on professional development, I have come across numerous reports and studies (Avalos, 2011; Borko, 2004; Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, 2017 ; Desimone & Garet, 2015; Matherson & Windle, 2017; Penuel, Sun, Frank, & Gallagher, 2012) that have investigated best practices for professional development. In fact, for my dissertation, I used Desimone and Garet’s (2015) work, which stipulated that effective professional development consisted of five components: content-focus, active learning, sustained duration, coherence, and collective participation. When I designed my intervention–a peer-to-peer coaching model–I incorporated all five of those into my 8-month study. And from the quantitative and qualitative data, the participants were satisfied with the level of support and design of the intervention.

It’s not rocket science.

Trust me, my husband is a rocket scientist. And he laughs at the absurdity of the phrase “talk to your elbow partner.”

If you have ever…EVER…sat in the audience of a workshop, I guarantee that you already know what makes a PD effective or not.

What I went through the past two days was exactly what PD should not be. And yet, it was. And these people are educators. They call themselves teachers…but if they taught their classes as they facilitated the PD, then their classrooms were definitely teacher-centered.

This is what gets me. We are told to make the learning engaging for our students. To put the onus of learning back on them. To let them do the work. So why is it different when it comes to the learning for teachers? Why are these basic elements of effective learning ignored when it comes to adult learners?

Is it that these presenters like being spoken to in a patronizing manner? Do they enjoy being treated like a young child? What gives?

Did I mention that I have three more full-day sessions (on how to use this new textbook) in my future? #sigh

References*

Avalos, B. (2011). Teacher professional development in teaching and teacher education over ten years. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 10–20. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.08.007

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (with Espinoza, D.). (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev

Desimone, L. M., & Garet, M. S. (2015). Best practices in teacher’s professional development in the United States. Psychology, Society, & Education, 7, 252–263. doi:10.25115/psye.v7i3.515

Matherson, L., & Windle, T. M. (2017). What do teachers want from their professional development? Four emerging themes. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 83(3), 28–32. Retrieved from http://www.dkg.org

Mehta, J. (2014). When professions shape politics: The case of accountability in K-12 and higher education. Educational Policy, 28, 881-915. doi:10.1177/0895904813492380

Penuel, W. R., Sun, M., Frank, K. A., & Gallagher, H. A. (2012). Using social network analysis to study how collegial interactions can augment teacher learning from external professional development. American Journal of Education, 119, 103–136. doi:10.1086/667756

*not an exhaustive list of studies and reports

#Truthbomb

Today I came across a blog post by Larry Cuban which deeply resonated with me. During my doctoral studies, I read several of his books and studies. You will find references to him peppered throughout my dissertation. And, I had a total #fangirl moment when he came to speak at Residency in summer 2017, and I was lucky (LUCKY!!!) to be able to sit down in a small group with peers from my cohort to discuss issues in education. His words of wisdom stem from his many years as a classroom teacher, administrator, researcher, and professor…and I hung onto every.single.word.

Yup. Totally #fangirling.

His latest blog post “One Way or Two-Way Traffic? The Policy to Practice Street” included a phrase that all stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, administrators, teachers) would be wise to remember:

Teachers are not passive recipients of policy but active participants in the policy-to-practice journey

Larry Cuban (August 17, 2019)

The disconnect between research and practice is only surpassed by the HUGE gap between policy and practice. Having been in the classroom for almost a quarter of a century (gosh that makes me sound old), I have seen the trends come and go. In fact, I have been in education long enough for the pendulum to swing back (almost) to where it started when I first walked into my own classroom.

I mention this because change is hard. Very few people like change. It’s easier to maintain the status quo. But what is progress without change? One cannot better themself in anything if they are unwilling to let go of past thinking, habits, etc. Now, I have not agreed with many of the restrictive policies that have come down the pipeline from legislatures far removed from the classroom. But I’m not insubordinate. I’m not going to NOT implement the policy. But I will add my own twist to it. As Cuban wrote in his blog post, “teachers are not passive recipients of policy but active participants in the policy-to-practice journey” (Cuban, 2019).

Most teachers will take whatever comes down the pipeline and add their own twist. Now, I don’t think that their twist is done out of malice, but rather it’s because of past experience and knowledge. We are not tabula rosa. Even new teachers have an idea of who they are, what they believe in, and what works for them. This reminds me of another phrase (also used in my dissertation) from Tyack and Cuban (1995) and that is the notion of the grammar of schooling.

Anyone who has gone through the American educational system believes they know how schools should work because they experienced it first-hand. Some of us experienced 12 years of American schooling as a child. So, sure, why wouldn’t we know how schools should be run? We knew which teachers were good (or bad); we knew which strategies we liked better (and hated); we knew which classes we enjoyed more (and why). So, yes, we all have an idea of how education should “look”…

But the educational experience is different when viewed through the lens of a teacher. Teaching is hard. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean that one can’t absolutely love it. I love teaching. It’s my calling, and I cannot image a more rewarding profession to be in.

Back to my point…

Teachers are not passive recipients of anything. The policies that come down the pike may be mandated (or highly suggested), but how those policies relate to practice is a whole other story. Each school is different. Every classroom is unique. Teachers are individuals and so are their students. Cookie-cutter anything does not work. It just doesn’t.

So…my point is that anyone who is in a leadership role (whether an administrator, program specialist, professional developer), please keep in mind the end-user of your policy or strategy: teachers. We are not out to thwart your efforts at change (at least most of us aren’t), but we aren’t an empty vessel waiting to be filled either. Don’t view us as passive recipients (and don’t mistake our bored looks as being passive-anything). Don’t patronize us because you’re the one standing in the front of the room. Contrary to what the media might say, we do care what happens to our students. We want the best for them. As I’m sure you do, too. Just remember that we’re the ones who will be doing the enacting, the real application-to-practice…in conjunction with 30 to 210 unique little individuals. So don’t judge or chastise us if we don’t implement your program or strategy as it was envisioned in your head. We are not robots, so it should come as no surprise that we will apply what we’ve learned…the best way we know how…keeping in mind the diverse set of individuals who walk through our doors every day.

And that’s just my two cents.

#controlenthusiast

Both gratifying and frustrating is my penchant for perfection. It began with pressure from my Japanese mom to make sure that I always gave my best in all of my endeavors. And while I can honestly say that I give my best most of the time, I have to admit that sometimes I’m so tired that I give just enough.

Don’t tell my mom.

Being the oldest sibling, I also felt (still feel?) the need to set a good example for my brother. And so I made sure to do my best for him, too. But I think…no, I know, that the pressure to excel contributed to my need for control…over basically everything.

I don’t kid myself that I can control what goes on around me. But I can certainly control my thoughts and actions. This reality comes in quite handy as a classroom teacher and doctoral student. In fact, I think one of the reasons why my dissertation adviser (@skprosser) and I hit it off so well is our innate need to control things. We are two controlling peas in the same pod.

But what does that mean for me as a teacher?

As the new school year quickly approaches (trust me when I say that I’m relishing the last few days of summer), I am reminding myself that though I need to set the standard for my students…I also need to show them the humanity behind my craziness. Though I constantly feel the need to be perfect, to give my best in all of my endeavors, I also need to be okay with giving just enough when the situation warrants. And I need to help my middle schoolers (those little perfectionists in the making) to see the same thing. Perhaps more importantly, I need to help my middle schoolers to see the humor in imperfection, no matter how much pressure parents put on us…I mean them.

The Missing Link

It has been approximately nine days since I defended my dissertation on my study titled “Supporting Teacher Technology Implementation Practices Through Peer-to-Peer Coaching: A Mixed Methods Study.” It was the culmination of three years of work, and it was worth every single minute.

The purpose of my study was to investigate if peer coaching would influence teacher technology practices. The focus stemmed from what I saw and heard regarding how teachers and students used technology in the classroom.

Working at a Title I school, we were able to purchase quite a bit of technology over the years. With the introduction of the SBAC, our mode of testing switched from scantrons to technology devices. Because we now had even more technology in the hands of teachers and students, I felt the need to share with teachers ways to integrate technology so that students would learn with it, instead of from it. In other words, my vision was for technology to serve as a tool for learning, and not the end itself.

But the questions remained: How to go about supporting teachers so that they see why change was necessary? And how to go about making that change?

All too often (and usually after a one-shot workshop), teachers are expected to implement the change and then student achievement scores would naturally increase. Easy, right?

Ha!

When this video came across my Twitter feed, my first thought was “This is really cute” . . . and then I realized that this is the reality of poorly-designed PD when teachers aren’t given the proper support structures.

If school leaders want teachers to change their instructional practices, then they have to provide professional learning opportunities that include the following:

  • Active Learning
  • Content-based Focus
  • Sustained Duration
  • Coherence
  • Collective Participation

These five components are from the work of Desimone and Garet (2015) and served as the framework for my dissertation study. Other researchers (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, 2017; Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter, 2016) have offered their own list of must-haves for PD, and they more or less include the same components.

What is missing from most PD is follow-up support–sustained duration. It seems obvious that in order for change to occur, learners need a strong support structure. When you equate it to effective classroom practices with students, as teachers, we know that one lesson on a particular topic or skill is not enough to effect change. We have to provide multiple opportunities for students to practice and refine their learning. Talking at students does not equate to learning.

So why do we expect that from teachers who attend PD?

And why is this such a hard concept for school leaders, program facilitators, and PD providers to understand?

My dissertation study showed promise in using peer coaches to help teachers change their instructional practices to include meaningful learning with technology. The 8-month study included multiple opportunities for teachers to ask for and receive support from peers. Both novice and expert users of technology seemed to benefit for this symbiotic relationship. As the teachers came from multiple disciplines (i.e., English language arts, history, mathematics, science), they were also exposed to various ways that technology could be used to support student learning. The next step is to see if this informal support network can be sustained for the upcoming school year. #fingerscrossed

What I’ve learned from the research and my dissertation study is aptly summed up by a quote from George Couros:

If we want people to take risks, they have to know we are there to catch them and support them.

(Couros, 2015, p. 7)

We cannot expect change to take hold if we don’t, first, provide support for the change-makers.

References

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (with Espinoza, D.). (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-prof-dev

Desimone, L. M., & Garet, M. S. (2015). Best practices in teacher’s professional development in the United States. Psychology, Society, & Education, 7, 252–263. doi:10.25115/psye.v7i3.515

Jensen, B., Sonnemann, J., Roberts-Hull, K., & Hunter, A. (2016). Beyond PD: Teacher professional learning in high-performing systems. Washington, DC: National Center on Education and the Economy. Retrieved from http://www.ncee.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/BeyondPDWeb.pdf