Category Archives: Master Teaching

PLNs Please

Reflection is a part of teaching. As summer begins every year, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Professional Learning Communities have been all the rage in the last few years. These PLCs can be defined by one’s common planning time/conference period, the entire core subject department, the grade level of the department and/or team teaching, but they do not have to be limited to these groups.

Regan suggests in her blog posting on Master Teaching that “teachers need time with their colleagues outside the classroom, . . .” and many teachers and administrators would agree, for how can one mentor another if they do not spend time together outside of the classroom? Too often we hear the quick response, “There’s not enough time!” Here is the clincher; we must make time to mentor new teachers. Moreover, we as veteran teachers  must make time to rejuvenate our teaching practices. It is important to stay relevant and have the ability to connect to our audience.

Collectively, all teachers need to asses their instruction to create better teaching. This is where teaching becomes a craft. Any great craftsman hones his craft, which makes him a better craftsman in his specific field. As teachers we have many options in professional development; however, what is better than analyzing and developing our own craft of teaching? Reflection, discussion and analysis can be great avenues in improving our teaching skills and assessment strategies. Collaborating with our peers and colleagues can allow for success all around – for new teachers, veteran teachers and students!

It is an ideal situation to be able to use our conference period(s) and/or common planning time(s) to meet with our colleagues in a physical PLC. What do you do about developing your PLC, if the ideal situation is not realistic on your campus? For example, what does a teacher do in this instance if her planning time is not the same as her mentor teacher’s planning time (imagine the endless possibilities of variables in public schools that create challenging schedules to accommodate our students, much less our teachers!)?

Professional Learning Networks not only can be far larger than one’s department, but also can be more accessible, more informed and resourceful and very positive. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest are just a few networks which allow teachers access to the entire world. I enjoy connecting with other teachers and administrators from other subjects, grades, districts, states and countries around the world via Twitter. There are numerous positive elements of using social media networks for professional learning and networking.

How do you create more effective instruction and assessment in your classroom? In your department?

Mentors and veteran teachers, what suggestions would you share with new teachers about perfecting his/her instruction and/or assessment?

Do you use an effective format for your PLC on your campus? Tell us how it works for you.

If you use Twitter (or any other social media network for your PLC) and you are willing to connect and network with other teachers, please feel free to comment and share your contact information and other resources.

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Beginning with the End in Mind

Reflection is a part of teaching. As the new calendar year begins, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Step 5: Perfect Instructional Practices and Assessment Skills

How does a teacher assess mastery of skills? When does the student receive feedback on his performance? How is what we are doing today relevant to me?

These are the three questions that project what activities I choose to assign on any given school day. The objectives need to be determined in order to create assessment. Assessment needs to be created before the assignment, lesson or mini-lesson is introduced. Why?

Assessment should drive the curriculum. The teacher should know from the beginning of a unit what objectives she wants her students to master. One can only prepare for this instruction if the assessment is created before the instruction is given. Instruction is more meaningful and relevant to the students if it is delivered with a destination and/or goal to be reached.

Instruction and activities lose their meaning and relevance if the student is simply completing an assignment for a grade. Purpose drives assessment. Purposeful instruction promotes and maintains motivation.

“Why are we doing this, Miss?” and “How is this going to help me in my ‘real’ life?” are questions we can avoid as teachers if we are prepared to guide our students with better instructional practices.

How can we instill the significance of sharing this better practice with other teachers on our hallway, in our department, or on our campus? How can we better mentor our new and/or young teachers in this better instructional practice?

Assessment of Self Study

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Curriculum Conundrum

Reflection is a part of teaching. As the new calendar year begins, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Step#4 – Design Curriculum That Works

We often hear teachers say they do not have enough time. There are days where I wish I could just sit in my room and quietly grade papers. However, there are many more items on my to do list which are far more important that sitting still. Our world is changing, and we better start changing with it. If we as teachers do not embrace that change, we will be the ones left behind. Far gone are the days of the Mimeograph machine and using the same lessons that the kindergarten teacher used when we were in her class.

Curriculum is touchy word these days. I feel it is extremely important to have aligned curriculum, both vertical (k-12) and horizontal (across the department). Many teachers have often created their own curriculum, designed their own lessons, and made their own assessments using the Scope and Sequence the district offers and/or demands.

At a conference last summer, a teacher from Arkansas asked me about Common Core. I had not heard of it until then. I began discussing Common Core with a few other teachers and realized that the purpose of Common Core was to provide the continuity of curriculum across the nation. The problem with that is not all states will agree to one curriculum.

C-SCOPE is another name that has often surfaced in Texas Education. There are varying opinions of both Common Core and C-SCOPE. In Texas, we have TEKS, which are the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and these TEKS are assessed by the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or TAKS test, soon to be known as the STAAR test. My question has always been, does the test drive the curriculum, or does the curriculum drive the test?

My experience with a curriculum program in a suburbia area of Texas was positive. I see the value of having the same skills being covered during the same time frame. There was a time when our families were not as migrant and mobile. Education today is much different than it was 10, 20, and/or 30 years ago.

What are your thoughts on Common Core and/or C-SCOPE? Do you use a pre-planned curriculum? Did you have a part in planning it? I would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

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Tired Head or Beat?

Reflection is a part of teaching. As the new calendar year begins, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Step#3 – Pool both Patience and Perseverance

A family friend who is a few years older than I am, graduated high school, then college and started her teaching career. I was so excited for her! She was completing the dream I wanted for myself. I envisioned the way my friend would decorate her classroom, align her desks, design her policies and procedures, and define her classroom rules and expectations.

To my surprise she quit after her first year of teaching. I could not understand how anyone could quit something that was engrained in her as a calling.

We played golf every morning in New Mexico.

The statistics are outstanding! Ten percent of teachers quit after their first year. Many articles have been written on why this might occur – salary, student behavior, work load, etc. When it comes down to keeping our teachers, we must share with them that it is acceptable to take time for themselves. Teachers need to use their weekends to re-energize/revitalize themselves. We cannot let each other get stuck in the ruts of the job.

When my husband and I leave for the day (He teaches at the junior high, and we commute.), one of use asks, “Are you tired head or beat?” which means, “Are you mentally exhausted, or are you physically exhausted?” Usually, on Fridays I am both!

I am and will always be a teacher. It is not my job but my calling in life. Because it is my calling, it is my duty to make sure I am at 100% when I go back on Monday morning. Neither I nor my students can afford to lose any instructional time. It is imperative I find ways to recharge mentally and physically.

This weekend I treated myself to a manicure/pedicure with my mother. That is two hours of serene pampering for me from me!  But there are many other things we can do for ourselves.

Other activities that bring a revitalizing energy to my inner teacher are: playing golf, sparring, boxing, writing, reading, browsing the book store, shopping, watching movies, and/or meeting friends for dinner.

Other ways I recharge mentally: participate in a Professional Learning Network  like #edchat #engchat on Twitter (there are many others!); read inspirational books, blogs, articles; listen to music; take a class (scrapbooking, photography, Zumba, jewelry-making, etc).

For the first 12 years of my teaching career, I taught summer school. The last two years I declined teaching summer school because I now need the summers to find my inner peace and re-energize the teacher in me. Instead of summer school, I have kept my nephew Will and my godson JD. Being able to spend time with them (and at the pool, soaking in vitamin D), has given me a new appreciation for “me time.”

How do you re-energize/revitalize your inner teacher?

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Student See. Student Do.

Reflection is a part of teaching. As the new calendar year begins, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Step#2 Cultivate Ethical Behavior in Your Students and Yourself

Modeling has been an educational buzz word for decades, yet we can never model too much. In the season of high stakes testing, teachers tend to become on-edge when losing time before the big day. Change is not always welcome in our diesel engine of a school year; however, change is common in every day life.

Do you have a daily routine? What happens when that routine is broken?

My nephew and godson had a play date on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I have the honor of keeping both of them on such holidays because we have common holidays while their parents must continue to work.

My nephew Will fell off his motorized scooter at one point during the morning. He had two choices: stay on the ground and moan, cry, complain (and waste his playing time); or get up, shake it off and use his play time wisely. After a few minutes and a few tears, Will was on his scooter again. I am amazed the resilience of children!

Like Will, teachers have two choices. We can teach our students that change only has negative connotations by moaning, complaining, and wasting our precious time becoming aggravated; or we can embrace it and use it to our advantage, teaching our students how to bounce back into a positive state of mind.

Cultivating ethical behavior is as simple as getting back on the scooter! Mohandas Gandhi always has great advice; we as teachers “must be the change [they] wish to see in the world.”

We have to be the models for our students as well as our new teachers. Let’s make the teacher’s lounge, work rooms, and meetings places we all want to be – positive, encouraging and productive.

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Reflection is a part of teaching. As the new calendar year begins, I find myself rethinking, reworking, and reorganizing for my students. In response to Margaret Regan’s Edutopia posting Six Steps to Master Teaching: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner, I am dedicating the next several blog entries to these six steps.

Step #1 Understand Your Reasons for Teaching

Regan mentions that many teachers are inspired at a young age as students by some of their own teachers. However, my reason for teaching is much more intricate than solely the influence of a another teacher. I have had a calling to teach, to educate, to lead since I was in the first grade. Neither of my parents were involved in education, nor were my grandparents. Teaching has always been the forefront of my existence. It is not just what I do, teaching is who I am.

There are a few teachers who inspired me during my years as a student. Mostly, I was influenced by teachers who were excited and passionate about teaching. The most influential teacher was my sophomore English teacher. She taught me how to think independently, and that skill made a world of difference in my life.

English language arts and reading were obvious choices for me as subject areas because I enjoyed literature in school. My best grades were in English. Ironically, I was not a good reader, but I loved books; therefore, I wanted to know why I had problems reading, which led to my minor at Stephen F. Austin State University. The confidence in good grades and the passion for literature led to my avenue for teaching English/language arts. However, I take greater pride in teaching students than teaching my subject area.

I challenge each teacher to reflect to the early years and name that teacher who inspired and/or influenced the teacher in the mirror. What are the qualities that this teacher portrayed that made all the difference?

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It’s All about Perspective

My parents taught me at a young age to always have clear expectations of what I wanted out of life. When I was a tween (after the “big talk”), my parents encouraged me to make a list of expectations in a potential husband. I began the list of “musts” and “cannots.” Shortly, my mother (and I know she did this lovingly), redirecting me to one of the “must” items on my list that read “He must be a Christian,” said, “Don’t you mean you want him to be a Baptist?”

“Sure,” I responded crossing out the word Christian, replacing it with the word Baptist, all the while knowing that my husband being a Baptist was not at the top of my “musts” list. Honestly, I didn’t care then, and I do not care now. Furthermore, I became a Catholic, which at first seemed like the initiation of the Spanish Inquisition, but overall, my family handled it with grace.

Whether a Christian is a Baptist, or a Catholic, or a member of any other denomination (or a non-denominational Christian, for that matter), they all believe in God. They all have their codes, standards, practices, and rituals, but ultimately, in my opinion; religion is nothing above a man-made organization in which tries to make logical sense out of something that must be taken on faith alone.

In that moment I realized that I was an individual, separate from my parents. I spent the better part of my teen years trying to convince my parents that I was different than them. My father is a very logical man and would sit down and discuss things with me. My mother and I did not have logical discussions about anything. We mainly argued about everything. Those were some tough years for both of us. Luckily, we are very close now. Somehow along the way, we learned how to just be. I have many characteristics that come from both my parents, but there is enough of me that is different to make my parents ask each other, “Where did that come from?”

Autonomy is a wonderful thing. The allowance of autonomy is even better. I think we as educators try so diligently to teach the way we were taught. I mean, what else are we supposed to do, right? I certainly did not learn everything I needed to know about teaching in college. In fact, if we were to survey teaching styles and learning styles, most teachers teach how they learn. I know I do. I am very visual as a teacher and a learner. I have to see it, draw it, plan it, picture it. I get lost in lecturing. Sure, I like to have class discussions, but a straight lecture? I do not remember the last time I lectured in a classroom. Present and discuss, now that I love. When I think about the word ‘lecture,’ I remember my biology classes from college where the professor lectured in a lecture hall, and we all copied his notes word for word off the chalkboards. It was boring as hell!

If we teach the way we were taught, then we must also manage our classrooms in the way we were managed, or dare I say disciplined? I remember just a handful of teachers I had throughout my entire educational career that treated me and my classmates like we were idiots.

Most of my teachers were kind, loving, caring creatures that I did not realize existed outside of the school walls. I remember being startled by the site of my elementary school principal at the grocery store. There are two teachers, both of which I did not have in school, who became friends with my mother. I still keep in touch with both of them, although I would never consider them colleagues. They are more like mentors to me.

Here is where the controversy will begin . . .

I have taught and currently teach with some adults who treat students so poorly. I am actually appalled by these adults. (In the background of my mind I hear the theme song to this paragraph, Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good” . . . It’s a new dawn . . . It’s a new day . . . It’s a new life . . .”) . . . I know there was a time when a child was taught that he was to be seen and not heard. I know there was a time when a child was taught not to speak until someone has spoken to him. I know there was a time when a child was to show all others his elder respect by saying, “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Sir.” And, there is nothing wrong with those teachings or the time in which they were taught. However, with that being said, that time is not today. The students who walk through our hallways deserve to be treated with dignity and grace. The students who walk through our hallways deserve to be shown respect. Yes, I said respect!

The days when the old saying that one must show respect to receive respect is leaving this world if it is not already gone. Today a teacher needs to show respect in order to receive respect. I understand how this may sound to some people. On the other hand, I see how teachers disrespect their students, and try to play the “Well, when I was in school, I would have never even thought . . . ” card. Newsflash, honey . . . those might have been the days, but “It’s a new day!” Change has arrived.

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