Last year was a whirlwind of educational initiatives in our high school—14 on our agenda as I recall. I’m not sure how many items were officially launched, implemented, or addressed, but I do know very few were carried out to a point where they may be evaluated for level of success. The conversations about technology integration, teacher effectiveness, student learning and behavior, and (insert 21st Century buzzword here) were stimulating, necessary for progress, and—as many would admit—frustrating. The purpose of these initiatives will become much clearer now that our district has adopted Wisconsin’s CESA 6 Educator Effectiveness model to evaluate teachers. Educators must reflect on their performance and growth in the following six standards, so I figured I would get an early start.
Understanding the Common Core—fortunately, there was little adjustment needed when the Common Core was adopted; if anything, it just organized the basic expectations of English Language Arts students. Skeptics must understand the CCSS is not the curriculum, nor does it limit creativity in my classroom. It simply validates the education we provide the students in our department courses.
I’ve never taught to a state or national standardized test and never will. If standardized test results are the purpose of my teaching, I am a hypocrite every time I urge students to be individuals and create original products. I provide strategies for success (in life) and challenge critical thinking, maybe even point out how knowledge or a strategy could be helpful on a test, but there are better indicators of my performance if I am being evaluated. My true evaluation comes much later, when former students keep in touch, share stories of college success or visit my classroom in their military uniform or wave a labor charge as long as I have replacement parts available. I don’t need to be rated or given a grade to know I had some influence on those majoring in creative writing, communications, English, or education.
The one area I need to improve upon is keeping up with new literature and the fine arts, as well as discovering informational texts to pair with other course readings. As the new department chair, I have to keep my colleagues informed, but will rely on their expertise and professional knowledge to support my efforts. I also have to learn about budget and policy matters to fulfill my new role.
Much of my focus during the school year was designing thematic units based on open-ended, essential questions to shape our curriculum. I created several unit-planning forms/spreadsheets which I shared with the staff to model a backwards design process. To make our purpose more transparent, I crafted and posted visible learning targets attached to standards assessed in each unit. I want to continue to provide opportunities for all learners by finding effective ways to differentiate instruction.
Last year, I improved my class website, where I provided helpful resources and updates, but I want students to make greater use of the site, possibly by flipping some lessons. Now that I have a handle on short- and long-range curricular plans, I feel prepared to personalize learning as much as possible—my long-term goal.
As far as I’m concerned, instructional delivery involves acting on the other five standards. Is the learning environment active, differentiated, project-based, student-centered? Are students engaged as a result of curiosity, variety, and resources? Do they know what and why they are learning? All of this should be a natural daily occurrence if the teacher is passionate, prepared, reflective, and understands the needs of his/her students.
The most common form of differentiation I use is planning for students in two levels of understanding: “Got It” and “Not Yet.” Accommodations need to be made for both groups with flexible boundaries built in and multiple opportunities to show growth toward each learning outcome. Reinforcement of a growth mindset maintains a positive attitude—one of improvement—without categorizing kids as smart or not smart. Students are more likely to stay engaged and complete coursework knowing there is always a chance to show learning over time.
My most unique strategy for instructional delivery is through a paperless classroom, which utilizes the Google Apps for Education. I have documented our digital success resulting in my seniors’ improved in writing. The approach is personal, feedback is specific, and progress is easy to monitor. Writers are able to verbalize their rationale for revisions and work from anywhere. I am efficient, students are organized, and the writing produced is ready for publication.
Assessment For and Of Learning
Many educators will be surprised to discover this standard will have the greatest impact on student motivation and success. Standards-based learning, grading, and reporting is my passion as well as the reason some colleagues avoid conversations with me. My quest is to transform our school into a culture of learning—not a simple task. I introduced the importance of growth mindset and shared my “10 Steps to Promote a Culture of Learning” during the spring in-service. Formative assessments guide instruction and summative assessment expresses level of proficiency. Students are not graded on percentages. Grades are no longer averaged. Constructive, frequent feedback has replaced letter grades on all work. I have an on-going dialogue with each student on everything they share with me. I want every student to know what and why he/she is learning from day to day and have a specific plan for personal, long-term growth. That is why I developed a system of tracking student progress using spreadsheets to chart and communicate performance.
I began sharing this information with parents, something I would like to improve upon this year. Reporting will be an emphasis of my growth. When more teachers, schools, and districts move from traditional grading practices to a more logical, purposeful competency-based system, I will be happy to share how assessment can guide planning and instruction while providing a clearer picture of what each student knows and can do (without saying, “I told you so”).
The A15 “Clubhouse” motto “learn with a purpose” creates an environment of trust and invites collaboration. Last year, I experimented with concepts of a model classroom in personalizing education for students, paying particular attention to the physical layout of the room. I even added a comfortable reading area with carpeting and a couch.
I eliminated several desks, added tables, created collaboration stations, and left some traditional seating, hoping to accommodate every learning style.
The student-centered environment also includes elements of readers’ and writers’ workshop—complete with mini-lessons, cooperative learning, conferencing, and work time.
Students are constantly in motion and emit a buzz of productive interaction—organized chaos which makes some educators uneasy. My favorite classes are ones in which I step aside, careful to avoid interfering with the flow of learning. By fourth quarter of each year, I have established an environment where I can move freely around the room simply observing, inquiring, and appreciating the conversations.
I have always provided students with choice in their education through a project-based or passion-based approach, but will continue to increase my documentation of the process. Last year’s 20% time/genius hour was an overwhelming success and gave me time (and an excuse) to write about the experience. Throughout the last two years of posting on my blog, eleventh grade student learning in Perspectives in World Literature and Composition has been a frequent topic. This year’s goal is to give students more opportunities to network with classes around the globe (especially in a world literature class), share learning through class blogs or websites, and continue to impact their world. Access to a set of Chrome books will help.
I will even play along with PBIS as long as we continue to separate behavior from learning in calculating and reporting grades. Reality says we have really good kids who do not need rewards to behave appropriately, but any acronym with “positive” is positive for a school culture.
As an education PD junkie, this is the standard on which I spend the majority of my time, and to be honest, would dispute any evaluation below distinguished. I crave opportunities to learn, reflect, and collaborate. My Twitter feed is constant and at times, overwhelming. I pay attention to the waterfall of information, but use TweetDeck for clarity and follow hashtags to narrow the focus. I will continue to be part of several regular chats, to collaborate with and be challenged by both familiar and new perspectives. There is value in staying current, to be a resource for and representative of my district.
Last year was the most significant in my professional career, as I took great initiative in increasing my leadership, networking, and sharing with others. I was sent to conferences, attended edcamps, and served on a number of committees which provided opportunities for growth as a teacher leader—an invigorating step in my professional development. I learned more in one year than in any of my nearly two decades in education.
But the thing about learning is it carries little meaning if not reflected on and transformed into new practice. Last year also confirmed I need opportunities to connect with other professionals—to feel respected as a professional and challenged intellectually—but my place is, as it always has been, in the classroom.
My leadership and learning continues throughout the summer. I am honored to help plan and facilitate our district’s first Summer Teaching Summit, three 3-day professional development sessions. Day 3 of each session will be highlighted by the inspirational, compassion-based presentation of Oliver Schinkten (@schink10), an emerging voice in education I admire and cannot wait to meet in person. Teachers will walk away from the three day summit with renewed passion for their craft, clear purpose and direction, and practical resources for implementing strategies to make them more effective educators.
The challenge for everyone is to take action on something introduced last year. Dive in. Invest in one—or if equipped—several areas of emphasis and make an impact on our culture of learning. Now, my duty is to organize my learning, reflect, and turn ideas into action. I owe it to my district, myself, and most importantly, my students.
This post was inspired by #COLchat on June 30, 2014
Topic: Reflective Practice
Question #6: What is the most important step of this cycle: practice, reflect, or take new action?