Tag Archives: professional development

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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Filed under Best Practices, Master Teaching, Reflection

To Speak or Not to Speak — That is the Question

I read an article prompting public school teachers to speak out about public education. As the initial step according to this article, Chris Janotta encourages public school teachers to “wear red for public education” on Tuesdays. My first reaction to this request is, “This is harmless. I can do this.” As I continued to read the article, there were several ideas Janotta raised in “What Teachers Need to Do Next” that stirred the advocate in me. (http://www.sosmtm.com)


Who best to ask about what works in the classroom versus what doesn’t work if not teachers?”

In my classroom I am constantly trying new strategies, implementing new uses of technology, changing the routine, offering a variety of assignments all in the name of student engagement. Gone are the days of public school students sitting in rows, waiting patiently, listening quietly like little sponges . . . at least in my classroom. In fact, the only days my students’ desks are in rows are for standardized testing, and the rows negatively affect me more than the students. I fall back into that old school teacher from my childhood who made us sit in alphabetical order, or worse, in the order of our class rank in that particular class. I become an angry, bitter watchdog looking for cheaters and stealers. I begin hating myself and questioning why I became a teacher. However, standardized testing will never cease, so I tolerate these demons for the testing days and come back to the reality I create for my classroom.

Old school does not work in my classroom, for my students or for me. My students’ desks are arranged into groups of four, making a table for collaboration, discussion, inquiry, peer revision and many other life-like skills that my students will need in our society, our world, when they complete that graduation ceremony. It is very important for students to learn how to work with others, including those people who are different.

There is a time to play and a time to work; however, working does not require silence. My classroom is rarely quiet, and I like it that way. In fact, the only time it is completely silent is during a standardized testing situation, but I digress. I encourage must students to talk, read their writing out loud, ask questions and be vocal. I cannot imagine a classroom that does not foster these skills. One question people ask me when they realize I am serious about allowing (but really encouraging) “the talking” (shutter the thought) is, “How do you get their attention?”

There are two strategies I use regularly to get my students’ attention when I want to address the class. Neither is always effective, so I adapt when necessary. Nevertheless, I either stand at my lectern silently and wait (there is usually one student at each table who sees me, knows what that means and quiets the table) or I raise my hand and walk around the classroom. These strategies are based on classroom NORMS (which is a different topic – not discussed in today’s post).

I require all of my major work to be uploaded to Edmodo http://www.edmodo.com where I can download it and grade it right in Microsoft Word. This is beneficial for both the students and me for several reasons. I know longer have to drag a crate behind me to and from work with all their papers, which means I am working on going green. I can access their work from virtually anywhere I have Internet access and Microsoft Word. The students can set up their Edmodo accounts to be notified and/or alerted when I have graded their work. The grade and feedback is private. There are fewer excuses, and the list of advantages continues.

” . . . problems teachers face on a daily basis such as dealing with a lack of resources or technology, having no control over the curricula they are forced to teach and test on, and having to make accommodations due to overcrowded classes, . . .”

Yesterday I had lunch with a great colleague and friend who does not teach English. After much talk about our personal lives (catching up on what has been going on with each of us since we last saw each other), the topic, as it always does, shifted to school issues. I continue to be shocked at the number of teachers who are required to teach to a specific curriculum because the school district paid for it, especially when the curriculum does not meet the standards for the state requirements.

There are some things the public needs to know and inquire about at their schools. The standards for Texas schools are listed on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) website. In fact, each district website usually has a link to TEA. These standards are referred to as TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=6148), not to be confused with TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index3.aspx?id=3839&menu_id=793). The similarity in both of these titles gives the impression that the state test is an assessment of the listed standards, which is true. However, in another article written in response to effective teaching, Bill Dillon reports that Vicki L. Phillips (director of education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) concludes, “Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests . . . It turns out all that ‘drill and kill’ isn’t helpful.” It should be noted that this survey and these results were not in response to Texas schools. Also, Vicki Phillips, Bill Dillon, and Bill and Melinda Gates are not in Texas public classrooms observing this for themselves. However, neither are the TEA employees, nor the administrators in most public school districts. Therefore, I must concur with Janotta in that classroom teachers are the ones who are in the big middle of things in our public schools. That’s not to say that all teachers are good at teaching (which includes more than educating students).

See Bill Dillon’s New York Times article here . . .http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/education/11education.html

” . . . the rotten teachers that are dragging the education system down with their tenure, and their unions, and their implied lack of proper teaching techniques.”

Let me clarify a few things before I step on my soapbox and vent about apathy and incompetence:
  • Not all teachers with tenure are bad. There are some fabulous tenured teachers who are professionals and are still teaching because they are passionate about teaching, whether it be their subject area and/or the students who keep them going.
  • Texas does not have teacher unions, but rather professional organizations. Texas teachers are not allowed to go on strike.
  • As in any profession, college does not always prepare people for every situation in a career. Therefore, there are teachers who are not prepared for what comes with the job.

There are not many things that aggravate me more than incompetence and apathy. With that being said, there are many reasons people become teachers. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to teach. I liked school from kindergarten to graduation of high school and was good at the structure it offered me. I enjoyed reading and writing although neither was easy for me, nor was I excellent in either field. In college I chose English as a major because I enjoyed stories and characters as well as reading and writing. When it came time to chose a minor field, I picked reading for two reasons: because I had to have a minor; because I was not a fast reader like many of my friends and classmates, and I wanted to know why I was not a good reader and how to fix that problem. After I began my internship, which is really overstating “visiting another teacher’s classroom, I realized how much I loved kids and being a part of their learning process. There is something really special about being with a child and/or student when he/she “gets it.” I still get that “warm and fuzzy” feeling inside and the goosebumps that go with it when that “light bulb” comes on. THAT is what keeps me trudging through the public school system! However, with the good comes the bad. Other reasons people become teachers:

  • layoffs
  • desire summers and holidays off (with their children)
  • love of the subject are alone
  • Got any others? __________________________
The PDAS (Professional Development and Appraisal System) is supposed to be a monitoring system for administrators to view, critique and provide feedback on the teach strategies of their teachers. Like any system it can be abused and manipulated to benefit and/or destroy the one being appraised. However, many administrators are just “talking the PDAS talk” by making sure they meet their quota of walk-throughs and and formal evaluations for the calendar period. If the evaluation (formal or informal) is anything but positive, one leaves the door open for discussion, questions, more walk-throughs and re-dos, which in turn creates more work for everyone. Instead of using the system properly to give firm evaluations of teachers and provide feedback with honest comments in areas of concern and/or growth, many administrators have moved into a “get ‘er done attitude when it comes to evaluations. If all the teachers are receiving decent to good evaluations, the teachers are not complaining. If the teachers are not complaining, I have less work. All in all, this would be acceptable if all the teachers were decent to good teachers, but they are not. There are some public school teachers who should not be teaching our students. Whether they are rude, disrespectful, mean and/or down-right demeaning, or they are not teaching the students the content needed; there are teachers on many campuses who should not be there. It is obvious by their attitudes, their work-ethic, their behavior, their comments, and/or their incompetencies. The question remains: why are they teaching? Good question. The PDAS system should be and can be used to remove these teachers from the public schools. All it takes is a willing administrative staff to use it to their advantage.

Not about what we are so upset with, why we feel under attack, or how tired we are of feeling misunderstood, but about who we are, what we do, and how we think public education needs to be reformed.”

Public education needs to be reformed by allowing teachers to create, collaborate and communicate more effectively. I enjoy learning new strategies to use in my classroom and collaborating with colleagues who enjoy learning new strategies as well, whether they are another English teacher or not. In fact I have worked with a math teacher in learning and implementing new technologies in my classroom, allowing my students to communicate with her students on assignments, encouraging peer revision and critique.

Not all students will go to college; therefore, we as educators should understand this choice and allow different routes for a high school education. College-bound students should not have to sit in the same English class as students who plan to go to work right after graduation. There are different expectations for the post high school work force than the post college work force. We should be preparing students for both worlds respectfully.

Teachers should be expected to have a rigorous curriculum that is based on the state and national standards, which should be vertically and horizontally aligned. This does not mean that each teacher should be required to teach the exact same lesson, the exact same way on the exact same day. Having a vertically and horizontally aligned curriculum is different that having a cookie-cutter curriculum with no teacher-input that has been mapped out for the entire district.

Teachers should not feel pressured to change a grade or dumb-down the assignments or give multiple chances for students to turn in assignments and/or pass the assignment, test or grading period. Students should be allowed to fail and be able to use coping mechanisms to deal with that failure. Parents should allow their student to fail early on so the consequences are not a high stakes situation, like a standardized test. Students need to rise to the occasion and put forth the effort to earn the grade they desire instead of expecting the grade they feel they are entitled to be given.

Public schools should not have to create reach-out programs to encourage parents to be involved in their students’ academic career. Many parents are involved in parent-teacher organizations such as PTA and PTO in elementary schools. There are many parents who volunteer at the elementary schools. Where do these parents go when the students enter the 5th and 6th grades? Middle school, junior high and high school students need parent involvement just as much, if not more, than elementary school students. The middle grades are when kids are the most influential and impressionable. Nowadays, the middle grades are when kids are pressured about sex and drugs. These students are dealing with constant bullying at school and through social networking, which means students are constantly in contact with each other, whether it be in a positive or negative way. Parents need to foster independence, responsibility, goal-setting, coping skills, respect, and many other tools students need that should come from home instead of the public schools.

Limited English Proficiency students as well as Special Education students need to be carefully monitored to ensure they are placed in the best classrooms for their disabilities where they can grow and be successful in a safe environment. This programs have become too much of a paper trail and have much more of a business out-look than a student-centered perspective.

Moreover, every administrator (including the ones in the campus building, in the administration building across town, the ones in Austin in the Texas Education Agency building and the politicians, who think they know what is going on in public schools) should be required to teach at least one public school class. It is important for administrators and politicians to stay abreast the challenges both the students and the teachers face in day to day education in the classroom. How else will they really know and understand what is going on daily unless they are in the classroom? Anything less would be based from memory or hear-say.

In response to Chris Janotta, I am not only wearing red on Tuesdays now, I am also going to be speaking out about issues in my blog postings. Although I felt silenced last spring and summer due to some gossip about feelings in response to my perspective on educational issues, I have since tackled my fears of being censored and/or reprimanded for them.

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Filed under Reflection, Writing