Join a conversation about leadership and literacy priorities. I will be hosting a Twitter chat with #educoach to discuss Chapter 5 from Regie Routman’s new book Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success (ASCD, 2014). Topics such as leadership characteristics and instructional walkthroughs will be discussed, starting at 9 P.M. CST tonight (10/8/14). For a preview of the questions we will be asking tonight, click here. A transcript of tonight’s chat will be available on the #educoach wiki later this week.
Permit yourself the luxury of doing just one thing.
It’s Connected Educator Month. Every day, different learning opportunities are offered for teachers and leaders to expand their skills and personal learning networks.
One activity I am participating in is a Book Club for Kathy Cassidy’s resource Connected From the Start (PLPress, 2013). In the introductions, participants were asked to share an unusual thing about themselves. I noted that our home has been without a working microwave for over a year. Here was Kathy’s response:
Congratulations on going microwave free. I appreciate people who can do without things that seem essential in our lives. I wonder if this will lead you to re-evaluating other things as well… I guess time will tell.
It’s funny she asked this. I recently agreed to teach catechism for my church. My classroom is as technology-free as you can imagine. There are no projectors, tablets, or laptops available. We don’t even have a whiteboard, and when I say whiteboard, I mean the kind that uses dry erase markers. Instead, I have a chalkboard, with real chalk.
Your first reaction might be that our classroom environment is lacking. How can we reach our learning potential when we are deprived of all the potential connections we might make?
And you know what? It is freeing. These perceived constraints have helped me focus on good pedagogy. There is no worrying about whether technology should be a part of my lesson plan. We still have connections, but it is between each other and within ourselves. In the context of religious education, technology might actually be a deterrent to our progression toward the learning outcomes.
In a previous post, I suggested that a teacher could never reach the pinnacle of their capacities as an educator if they weren’t more connected. I still believe this. However, these connections we make beyond the classroom walls should never replace the connections we make within them. There is this prevailing misconception floating out there that we should be connected 24/7 to ensure we don’t miss anything important. But if we are always connected, how do we find time to reflect on these great ideas we discover and apply them within our context?
As we embark on this annual learning journey with Connected Educator Month, I am doing my best to remember that the effectiveness of technology is explicitly reliant on the presence of good pedagogy. This means allowing ourselves the luxury to do just one thing at a time. Mindfulness and connectedness are not mutually exclusive.
Every two weeks we receive a vegetable box from our community-supported agriculture, or CSA. If you are not familiar with this concept, a cooperative farm offers “shares” that others can purchase to receive locally grown food that they raise. People receive what is in season. This week, it was tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, onions, parsley, leeks, and even mushrooms! The fun part is finding recipes that incorporate these ingredients for healthy meals for our family.
I share this because as we peered into our box this evening, it reminded me of a tweet I sent out last Friday. It received quite a bit of attention, in terms of retweets and favorites.
Standards are just the ingredients. Teachers make the recipe. -R Wormeli #sblchat
— Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample) September 26, 2014
Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli2) addressed our entire professional staff last Friday regarding differentiated assessment and grading. The analogy he used, regarding standards as ingredients, is a great way to think about how to integrate the Common Core into our instruction. I believe this was the intended spirit of the developers of the #CCSS. They did not want to dictate curriculum, but rather provide benchmarks for educators as we prepare for coherent and appropriate instruction.
What are your thoughts? How do you make sense of the Common Core State Standards and put them in perspective? Please share in the comments.
- The September 22, 2014 issue of Time
I try to stay up to date on my magazine subscriptions, but I often fall behind once the school year starts. This issue, however, I have made time to read. The cover story “Never Offline” by Lev Grossman and Matt Valla was exceptionally well written. They profile the new Apple Watch within the larger context of how technology is consistently creeping closer toward us as wearables. What’s next? The future is both bright and disturbing. The related articles are also worth reading.
- The New York Times
I started subscribing back in July. They have an educator’s discount for digital editions Monday through Saturday, and the paper edition on Sunday. The local and state papers were fine, but I felt like I was missing out on a larger conversation, both informatively and culturally.
- Educational Leadership, “Instruction That Sticks” (October 2014)
To be honest, I have just perused the titles of the articles when time has allowed at school. Every one looks excellent. Another principal in Wisconsin uses grant money to provide subscriptions of this educational journal for all of his staff. I can see why.
- Teacher Rounds: A Guide to Collaborative Learning In and From Practice by Thomas Del Prete (Corwin, 2013)
This resource provided the template for visiting staff last year when they came to observe our teachers as part of a grant we received. Now I am reading through the entire text, before we move forward with our own teachers observing each other. Getting to this point has been a process, but the destination would not be attainable without building relationships and developing a culture of trust with staff first.
- The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 10th Anniversary Edition by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2007)
Our first meeting for the school year was facilitated by two Courage to Teach trainers. We didn’t look at new curriculum materials, discuss the assessment calendar, or introduce technology into our busy lives. Instead, we gathered at a shelter surrounded by woods and lake, wireless gladly absent, and reflected on why we became teachers in the first place. This led me to start reading the book this program was based on. With everything coming at us as educators, I cannot imagine a better time to remember why we do what we do.
- Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (Penguin, 2013)
I wish Michael Pollan cared as much about education has he does about gardening and food. He has a true passion for his subject – he lives it. When he writes about gardening, he gardens. When he writes about cooking, he cooks. Today’s educational journalists would be wise to emulate Pollan’s approach and actually teach a class or two before writing about what it is like to be a teacher.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown, 2012)
You may have noticed that I read too much nonfiction. With that in mind, I have decided to try this title and recently read the first chapter. My wife highly recommended it. I can see why. The opening immediately sets the tone for the entire book (I am guessing, anyway). With the movie coming out soon, I will be interested in comparing both versions.
- Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger (Harry N. Abrams, 2014)
I read aloud the first title in this series to my son. What a great story! He has proceeded to read all the subsequent titles up until this one. We were informed by a friend that there is a chapter that has some content that I may want to preview first. My son is only a second grader and reads about grade level, so he might not be ready for this content yet. I’ll have to determine that before letting him move on.
On the eve of the summer, I posted about four middle level books that I had planned on reading during my time away from the office. I think it is important that all educators who teach and promote literacy know the literature that we are teaching and promoting.
Instead, I read these four books:
This book was hard to put down. I would read a few chapters aloud every night to my son, but then he would read on after I left. This meant that I would have to quickly catch up the next day! Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Westing Game. This book would be a great recommendation for reluctant readers.
This informational text was highly recommend by my friends on Goodreads. Moonbird is that rare book that entertains as much as it informs. The author chronicles one breeding cycle of a red rufa knot, B95. He is the oldest known shorebird of his species. The challenges B95 faces, both natural and manmade, bring a lot of suspense to the topic. I found myself cheering for the researchers who kept persisting in their inquiries about why the red rufa knot’s numbers are dwindling. It could serve by itself as the primary resource for a unit of study. You have got geography, history, environmental science, biology…and that is just the content areas.
My son started reading these books and was constantly giggling. I had to find out what was so funny. A misfit (Dwight) finds his niche when he decides to fashion a paper finger puppet that resembles Yoda. He then dispenses sage advice to his peers through this origami puppet in Yoda language. Or is it Dwight? The main character, Tommy, struggles with this question, as to whether Origami Yoda is actually real and not just a channel for Dwight’s imagination and his desire to be accepted.
Beyond the humor, this book actually has a lot of heart. You can see the characters develop over the course of the book. Themes such as bullying, tolerance, and courage run throughout the story without coming across as preachy. I actually think this would make a terrific read aloud, with the help of a document camera to highlight all the doodles and comments in the margins. It would also serve well as a mentor text when teaching perspective.
This story, about a toy rabbit who travels between different owners through a lifetime, will make for a good read aloud in the intermediate classroom. In fact, it is one of the choices for The Global Read Aloud. The themes of loss and love are pretty deep and will require some extended discussions.
I still plan on reading the middle level books I had initially listed before the summer. But I have learned that while we should pick the books we want to read next, sometimes the books pick us.
School leaders: Every time we enter a classroom, we don’t have to sit down and commence with a ten minute formal walkthrough. Instead, consider using a photo app such as Skitch to take a picture of best practice. I like Skitch because I can annotate the image with feedback, email it to the teacher, and save it to their digital portfolio in Evernote. This opportunity to celebrate what they do so well can take place in less than five minutes.
I share the teachers’ notebooks with them, giving he or she access to these artifacts stored within Evernote. Later, they can put artifacts of their own in this notebook, as well as pull pieces out to upload to their teacher evaluation platform. To organize the notes, use the tagging system to categorize artifacts based on elements from teaching frameworks, such as Charlotte Danielson’s.
If your stretched for time (and is there any school leader who is not?), when appropriate consider using a mobile device, Skitch, and Evernote to capture, advance, and celebrate learning.
After seven years, I am back in the classroom. Well, sort of.
At a recent mass, our priest made an appeal to the congregation asking for volunteers to teach religious education on Wednesday nights, also known as CCD. I would already be there, dropping of and picking up my son, so I volunteered to be a catechist.
I had everything I needed: A teacher’s manual, textbooks and activity books for the kids, a roster, and a template for preparing lessons. The lesson plan framework was pretty specific. It was suggested that we detail the pages to be read, activities to design, what types of discussions to facilitate, and any assignments I might want to have my students do as homework.
As a beginning teacher, these would be very helpful. I was appreciative of having all of the material ready for me ahead of time. But prior to becoming a principal, I was an intermediate teacher for seven years. As an observer and evaluator of instruction in classrooms for an equal amount of time, I have come to the belief that the lesson plan is more than a series of steps. There is a flow to a great lesson. It considers how to engage the learners. An excellent plan of instruction considers what should happen, but also considers what might. The plan always is steering toward that essential understanding or skill, but is able to change directions or provide multiple pathways to get there.
That is why I use the simplest framework I could think of: BME, or “Beginning-Middle-End”.
I have no idea if someone came up with this before me, so if I have replicated anyone’s work, my apologies.
When I prepared my lesson (the concept was “faith”), I thought about how I would want to begin. What would capture their hearts and minds – a question, a quote, or maybe sharing an interesting piece of information? How I did elect to start was directly related to the concept. However, I did not post the learning target on the board and point my finger at it, saying, “In today’s lesson, we are going to…”
As I developed the meat of the lesson – the middle – I described the activities I wanted the students to participate in, but not too specifically. I wasn’t 100% sure how the beginning was going to play out, so I wrote a few instructional strategies to consider once we got started. It was during this time that I specifically pointed out what we were learning.
In the end, my plan was to have the students motivated enough to find the answers to their questions that they couldn’t help but share with the class with the help of the text. I modeled how to organize our information around the concept of faith using a Frayer model. I demonstrated this first, and then stood by and wrote their responses on the easel paper where the organizer was drawn out. Students who felt comfortable writing their responses independently were handed the marker. I closed out the lesson by commending everyone for such thoughtful responses and being active learners. We went through each response together to review our thinking before we left for the night.
To be honest, we didn’t respond to every question in the activity book, nor did I take their workbooks home to check their answers. If I gave my students a test on the content from the textbook, they may not pass. I guess that is something to be aware of for next week. On the bright side, I felt like we had a better understanding of the concept of “faith”, and how it applies to our own lives. I also feel good about giving the students a few learning strategies while attempting to understand the content. I’d like to think it was integrated, authentic, and meaningful.
I hope through my experience as a teacher again, however limited, that I will keep my instructional skills sharp, develop a better perspective about the role of the teacher in today’s educational climate, and try out some of the great strategies I see my own staff using every day.