Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 19 - Described By My Coworkers

Q: How would my coworkers describe me?

A: I would think that my coworkers would describe me as calm and interested in what is best for my students. I try to find ways that I can best help my students, especially where technology use can help their learning. My coworkers would also comment on my desire to integrate technology within the classroom. Rarely does a week go by without one of my colleagues asking for help or guidance on some type of tech issue. I figure that I get asked these questions because I am one of a few on my staff who are consistently using technology, but that I'm also willing to use my knowledge to assist or at least attempt to assist in finding a solution to the difficulty. I'm glad that my coworkers feel comfortable asking me for help. This year I am also planning on being even more available to my coworkers.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 18 - Education Frustration

Q: What about education frustrates me the most?

A: I have an easy answer for that: testing. I absolutely cannot think of time that I spend more poorly in an entire school other than the week that where my students take standardized achievement tests. What frustrates me even more than the amount of time involved is how the tests are used. I teach at a private school so these test results are used as a yard stick to compare my school against other private schools in the area. In the past couple of years, I have often wondered whether this is truly a desirable path to go down. I know that test scores provide an "easy" measurement of student knowledge. I'm fearful and frustrated about certain leaders' in education desire to boil all student learning down to a quantifiable number.
As I have reflected over my work in education as an adult, I have come to realize that I am rarely tested or evaluated. Yet, why does the traditional education model continually test and grade student learning. Teachers absolutely need data that students are learning, but why can't this learning be demonstrated with informal types of lessons and assessments. Constant grading of work does little, and often nothing, to encourage student learning. I have come to see how I focus too much on grading not only as a teacher, but as a parent, and I don't focus on what my students and own children are learning.
I have made the decision to focus my evaluation of my students' learning towards mastery not perfection, or 100%. Yes, mastery and other levels of assessment criteria will be part of my thinking, but perfection and ranking will not. I know that these alterations in my thinking will require communication with my students and their families. I am excited and hopeful that the changes that I am making will result in greater student interest in their own learning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 17 - Most Important Thing You Learned In School

Q: What is the most important thing you learned in school?

A: One idea leaps immediately to mind: the value of relationships between a teacher and a student. In most of my school years, I was a decent to good academic, compliant (read: goody-to-shoes...) student. There were teachers that I didn't like though because they seemed to disrespect the students, learning, the school, etc. My favorite teacher of all time though was my middle school social studies teacher who was also my athletic coach for those three years. I went to a small private Christian school at the time. Multiple aspects of his character showed me then, and still today, how important respect for others and integrity are to any relationship. During this time, I also babysat his son occasionally, so I witnessed him in a variety of roles. He was and is a fascinating, passionate person and educator. Due to relatively low wages in private school teaching, he has had to work only part time in the classroom while he pursues his other, more lucrative passion of golf club making. Still, whenever a discussion of the impact of an educator in a person's life, he immediately leaps to my mind. Whenever I return to California for a visit, he is on my short list of people to visit. I was privileged in my first seven years of teaching to work as a colleague with him. Those years were excellent as well because he was still the incredibly funny, dedicated educator and man that I had known as a child. So this is a rather rambling comment on how much I value the lessons of character that this man taught me. My hope is that I can touch even one student in the way that he impacted my life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 16 - Biggest Regret as an Educator

Q: What is your biggest regret as an educator?

A: Unfortunately, I know that answer right away. I have often been unwilling to think outside the box and deal with potential conflicts, even when I know that my current situation isn't what is best for the students or me. My most vivid memory of a situation like this came early in my teaching career. In my first teaching assignment, I was paired with the other fourth grade teacher at my school. We divided up the curriculum and taught both sections of fourth grade each day. We made an effort to be as similar to one another as possible. The main difficulty in this situation is that my personality and temperament were nothing like my teaching partner. She was strict, in a traditional school way, while I was more laid back and easy-going. Often times, I was dissatisfied with the tone of our classroom environment, but I allowed the situation to continue because I was too fearful of dealing with the seemingly inevitable fallout of our conflict. Since those early years of teaching career, I have learned that most of the time my fears about conflict have been overblown. Even if my concerns were accurate, as they were in some cases, dealing with the effects of the conflict was more beneficial in the long run than allowing the status quo to remain in place. As I embark on a new path in my classroom, I'm expecting some bumps along the way, but I am excited to see where my new direction for my classroom takes my students, their learning, and myself.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 15 - Describing Yourself

Q: How would you describe yourself as a person and a teacher?

A: As a person, I would use the word multifaceted. I often choose to remain close to my family and home. Enjoying the simple pleasure of a board game with my sons or the allure of a fantastical plot in a thriller provides me with a sense of contentment. On the other hand, I appreciate the times to go out with friends and enjoy moments to relax and reenergize. Although my passions of teaching and gardening can get the better of me at times.
As a teacher, I would use the word reflective. In the years that I have been a teacher, I have learned the greatest lessons when I stop to think about how my actions affect other people. There have been some plainly uncomfortable reflections over the years. But without these reflections and subsequent changes, I probably wouldn't be teaching any more. I'm in the midst of making some radical changes in my teaching methods and I'm excited but a little nervous about how these alterations will proceed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 14 - Turn To For Advice?

Q: Who do I turn to for teaching advice and why?

A: In the last couple of years, my answer to this has expanded a little. My sources for advice are:

  • Fellow colleagues

I teach with enthusiastic, friendly people. Depending on the type of situation I am involved in, I ask a couple of different people for advice. I teach with people who have been educators longer than I have lived as well as been at my current school for two decades. These individuals give me a sense of long term trends in education and learning. If the subject is technology related, I speak with other individuals who are comfortable in that arena.

  • Twitter colleagues

A year ago, I didn't know what a rich source of advice and information my fellow educators on Twitter could be. I have reached out to a few of them in the past several months that I have been on Twitter and received valuable information and reflection that I couldn't have found at my local school. The willingness of many educators to take part in chats dedicated to a particular educational topic also enhances my learning and provides possible connections with other educators around the world.

  • My wife

My wife is not an educator, but she is my confidante and a parent. These two roles provide me with a perspective that I can easily lose sight of. Her outsider viewpoint assists me in the decisions that I make. I reflect better on my choices as a teacher when we discuss how my day in the classroom has been going. It's easy as educators to have our comments, support, and criticism of education and schools become an echo chamber. I greatly value having access to thoughts from outside the education world.

  • My mom

I know that this might sound hokey, but my mom is also a teacher. We teach vastly different grades (I'm in 4th, she's in kindergarten). But we share a common language of teaching and learning. She's also been a teacher for over twenty years and I value her experience as reaches the end of her career.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 13 - Helpful Advice For Working With Parents

Q: What helpful advice have you heard about working with parents?

A: First of all, I have to state that I rephrased this question to begin with. The original form of the question used the words "dealing with parents". First of all, I'm not trying to assign motives to the person who created this blog challenge by any means. I simply think that "dealing with parents" can have a connotation that creates difficulties between parents and teachers. So a few pieces of advice that have been given to me and that I would give out as a teacher and a parent myself:

  • Communicate

This point may seem like a no brainer, but I've gotten myself into trouble before when I don't make the effort. So whether you're making that initial contact before the school year begins or keeping a parent updated on their child's progress, some form of communication is a must. Multiple forms of communication are also welcome. As a parent and a teacher, I appreciate the ease of electronic communication. But I don't yet live on the computer, so more immediate forms of communication, phone calls, notes, or face-to-face talks, also work quite well for me.

  • Partners

I have had moments where I viewed a parent as an adversary instead of a partner. For me, I have had only a few rare occasions where a parent seemed to not have the child's best interest at heart. Sometimes, I became frustrated when I couldn't work out a problem with a parent. While attempting to resolve the situation in the best possible way, I have to remind myself that each person views the world in different ways. My thoughts or ideas may not be what will work best for a particular student. As parent, I want my child's teacher to respect my role in my child's life and not diminish my point of view. On the other hand, I hope that the teacher will be honest about how my child is learning and interacting with others and won't be tempted to make a situation sound better or worse than it truly is.

When I keep even these two concepts in the forefront of my relationships with the parents of my students, my relationships and opportunities with my students' parents are much more useful and beneficial. These benefits are not only mine, but assist each student as well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 12 - Keeping Up With Grading

Q: What strategies do you use to keep up with grading?

A: The biggest strategy that I learned to deal with assessing and evaluating student work began in my very first year of teaching. My teaching team at my first school work sent home evaluated work on a weekly basis, and I was expected to do the same. In following this basic policy, I ensured that I rarely fell behind in my assessing. I usually try to return an evaluated assignment within a week of the work being handed in. The only area where I struggle with this is with writing assignments. Needing to evaluate multiple, lengthy written assignments is my greatest challenge in assessment. No matter what I method of evaluation I use, writing evaluation feels quite subjective and time consuming. This is my one area where I feel the greatest need to improve upon regarding student assessment.
I will be interested to see how larger changes that I am planning for the upcoming school year will affect my evaluation processes. My assessment strategies will focus more on standards and I will need to spend larger amounts of time with narrative reporting. In the end, I believe this system will be more valuable to the students, their families, and me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 11 - Teaching Like You'll Be Observed

Q: What do you think about the phrase: "Always teach like you are going to be observed"?

A: For me, this phrase cuts both ways across my philosophy about learning and instruction.

  • I think that this phrase can have a positive value. If I am going to be observed, I would most likely heighten my focus on what and how I am guiding my students towards learning with that particular lesson. My focus on student attention and interaction might be more detailed than usual. I would most likely be more involved in all the aspects of how that lesson will be taught and possible pitfalls along the way.

  • On the other hand, this phrase could also carry some negative connotations. If I feel the pressure to teach like I am always under observation, I might decide to not attempt any new or original methods of learning. Depending on my relationship with my administrator, I could easily shy away from guiding my students in methods that deviate from "traditional" instruction.

Overall, I can imagine that depending on the people involved and the culture in which the learning takes place, the above phrase could have vastly different effects on an educator's actions.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 10 - The Ideal Administrator

Q: Describe the ideal administrator.

A: I've been blessed to work with two excellent administrators during the past 12 years that I have been teaching. Many of the qualities that I will mention I have seen at work in the schools that I have taught in.

  • Desire for all to learn

While this is easy to write, the opportunity to work with an individual who encourages all members of a school body, students, teachers, and parents, is truly a fulfilling opportunity

  • Awareness

Whether this quality shows itself in how a particular student or teacher is fairing at the moment or the status of building maintenance, I feel it is vital that an administrator have an accurate pulse on the what is happening in all aspects of a school campus.

  • Trust

This quality can be tricky to exhibit. I certainly appreciate my current administrator's willingness to allow me to significantly change policies regarding assessment and homework in my classroom. I, as an educator, also have to be willing to extend the trust that my administrator has given to me with my fellow colleagues. This can be challenging for me, especially when another colleague's classroom is run quite differently from my own. For me, the vitality of knowing that my principal will back me publicly in a confrontational situation is essential. If I have made mistakes, I will be admonished, which to me is appropriate, but I know that this will be dealt with privately between the principal and myself, as well as the family of the student, if necessary.

There are surely other qualities or qualifications that another individual would value. These are my most valued at this moment.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 9 - Staff Room?

Q: What do I want out of a "Staff Room"?

A: I guess that is a hard one for me to say. I have never really used the staff room at either school I have taught at. At my previous school, my class' lunch time was much earlier than most other classes' times so I wouldn't go there to eat. At my current school, I eat lunch in the cafeteria with my own students. I've never really valued a staff room as an important place for me, as an educator, to have or use. If I want to talk with my colleagues, I find them in their classroom, the hallway, or school office. For me, a staff room is not a priority.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 8 - Connecting with Students

Q: How do I connect with my students?

A: For me, listening is key. In the midst of a constantly harried world, moving my focus from what I feel that I "need" to be doing to a student and their "needs" is one of the most important things that I can do. I am by no means saying that shifting my focus is easy or always what I want to do. But if I am going to claim that I teach because I want to help my students, I must give them my focus and attention. If I can't do that, then my priorities are out of order. I certainly don't achieve this all the time. I'm looking forward to observe how my releasing more autonomy to my students will affect my relationship with them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 7 - Promoting Responsibility

Q: How can you best promote responsibility to your students?

A: This year I am taking my thinking about responsibility in a whole new direction. I will be stepping out of the teacher "limelight" and giving the students many more responsibilities on how they learn and how the each student will demonstrate their learning. I believe that dictating a great deal of what takes place in the classroom presents a great deal of difficulties. Unfortunately, I have often taught like this. I want the students to have a much greater voice in what takes place each and every day of their learning in fourth grade. Yes, I, as the teacher, have responsibilities to ensure that the students are learning. I am hoping that allowing each student greater autonomy in their learning will help to increase their responsibility for their own learning. I know that I would detest a teaching environment where everything had to be "just so" and I had no choice in how I helped my students to learn. Yet, this is exactly what I have been doing in my classroom for far too long. So I am giving my students the gift of responsibility. The choice to decide how each student will learn and how I can best help each student. I'm excited to see how the students and families will react.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 6 - Borrowing From Other Educators

Q: What have I observed of other teachers that might work in my classroom?

A: Since I teach in a small private school, there aren't any other fourth grade teachers. But I am frequently inspired by the first grade teacher at my school. She has created many instances where her Smartboard truly is interactive. Her integration of language and math skills throughout all aspects of learning encourages me to think of different ways that I can do the same. My observations of other educators doesn't end at my school doors. Through connections made from Twitter, I have been observing what has and hasn't worked for other educators. I am specifically altering my teaching style this year due to the conviction that what I have been doing isn't working and isn't what is best for the students I have been entrusted with. I'm looking forward to this upcoming challenge and sharing my learning with other educators.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 5 - Organizing Our Classroom

Q: How do you keep our classroom organized?

A: I try to find areas within our room, such as shelves in closets, filing cabinets, and plastic drawers, to store and organize the many tools that I use during a year in our room. Whether balloons for a static electricity experiment or air-dry clay for a pottery making session, it can be a challenge for me to store all the items that the students need during the year. I'd have to say that in general I'm a fairly organized individual, but I'll have to admit in the middle of a school year, the demands of teaching can lead me to leaving supplies sitting around on counter shelves and not being put away in a timely manner. During most of my teaching years, I don't let myself leave without having straightened and organized my desk each day. I try to leave at least half the surface area clear so I can use my desk in a way that is helpful to me. I can't say that I always enjoy doing this, but I don't function well as a teacher when the "stuff" laying around becomes a distraction to me and my focus on the students in our room.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 4 - Worried On First Day?

Q: What were you most worried most worried about as you approached your first day as a teacher?

A: Well, my first day as a teacher was 12 years ago. I'll have to reach back into my memory banks a bit. What I remember the most is worrying about how I would accomplish all the work that I knew would have to take place throughout each day. I'll have to admit that I learned a powerful lesson in the very first week of my teaching career. I had spent about 20 minutes wondering how I would get all my work done when I realized that I could be accomplishing things instead of worrying. I have learned a lot in the past dozen years of teaching. I'm excited to discover new directions and the pitfalls along the way to new strategies in my teaching.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 3 - How Can I Improve?

Q:  In which area do I think I can improve the most?

A:  Moving away from punishment/rewards issues is my biggest challenge.  This whole cycle appears in my room far too much.  Whether the cycle expresses itself in my interactions with students, peer-to-peer interactions, or the students' academic work, grading, I have become more and more frustrated with how this punishment/reward culture has permeated my thinking and actions with my students.  Since this is the summer time, I have resolved to eliminate as much as humanly possible these kind of punishment/reward situations.  I expect that I will have a challenge implementing this for a variety of reasons.  Altering my habits and the mindsets of students, parents, and administration will most definitely be a tall order.  But nothing that is truly worth doing is easy.  I'm excited about the plans I have been making for next year and I'm looking forward to observing how these plans play out in my work with students and their families in just a few short weeks.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 2 - Greatest Strength as a Teacher

Q:  What do you believe is your greatest strength as a teacher?

A:  I absolutely revel in spending my day with children and guiding them in their learning process.  This is my greatest joy as a teacher.  I'm excited about changes that I am making for this upcoming school and how these changes will impact my pleasure as an educator. As students open up each year and share their lives with me, I am humbled and thrilled that each child chooses to share what is occurring in their lives with me.  So as I recharge my batteries during this summer and make plans for a new school year, each day brings me closer to beginning this year with my new students.  I couldn't be more excited!

Friday, July 1, 2011

30 Day Reflection Challenge - Day 1 (Becoming a Teacher)

A big thanks to Julie Colque and her 30 Day Reflection Challenge for inspiring this and the next month's upcoming posts!

Q:  How did I decide to become a teacher?

A:  A few reasons exist:
  • Throughout my childhood I always enjoyed spending time with children younger than I was.  As a high school senior, I spent each day working 2-3 hours at an after school program at a local elementary school.  Although there were many challenges in this environment, I enjoyed playing, talking, and being with these children. 
  • I had been positively impacted by teachers in my life, my middle school coach and history teacher in particular.  Being able to interact with him in a variety of activities, I sensed that he truly loved guiding and directing young teenagers in many aspects of their lives.  His influence in my life made me want to have that type of impact with children as well.
  • Finally, most opportunities I had throughout my teacher preparation program to interact students was positive and confirmed my desire to lead and guide students in their learning. 
I'm excited about changes I'm making for this upcoming school year and how they will positively impact my original desires to guide and encourage my students' learning.