Front of the Class: Lessons & Laughs Learned from my Middle School Classroom
As a public educator, I aim to share my story with those interested about what really happens inside today's classroom. I hope my stories inspire, educate, and entertain you, as the calling of teaching is never neat or predictable. Please note that my blog content does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints or beliefs of my school district or colleagues.
Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of DiscoveryEducation.com
Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown
My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.
"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather
Ten schools have been identified as intervention, innovation schools in Montgomery County, MD for the 2013-14 school year. I am currently teaching in one and will be the Staff Development Teacher at another next year.
MCPS Daily Press Highlights
by the Department of Public Information and Web Services, Room 112, CESC
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
react to new innovation, intervention plan (Gazette)
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P.
Starr said he believes there is no one-size-fits-all approach to school and
student success. Starr and his team have designed a plan for next school year
that will allow central office staff to step in when they see problems, or
potential, at individual schools. Twenty schools will be named “intervention”
schools and work with a specialist to improve specific student outcomes next
school year. Of those, 10 have been named “innovation” schools, and will
receive extra support from central office to boost their current school
I love the Folger Shakespeare Library and its professional development opportunities!
We’re so excited to be offering two opportunities for
educators next month that can’t be found anywhere else! Join us for one
or both programs to experience performance-based teaching first hand, and join
your voice with that of the leader in Shakespeare education in America!
Get Shakespeare’s magical comedy on its feet in your
classroom with performance-based teaching techniques made specifically for
this whimsical romance. Then see the play come to life in Folger
Theatre’s dazzling production! A light breakfast and lunch are provided for
this full day of experiencing Shakespeare Set Free for your classroom.
Register in the link above!
Join Folger Education to discuss new practices,
resources, and more from a host of authors, educators, scholars and
students as we explore the fast-growing field of Shakespeare in Elementary
Education! Perfect for teachers and teaching artists of K-7 students, ESL/ELL
students, or any educator interested in learning more about the practice of
performance-based teaching! The conference is full of
exciting workshops and discussions – a full list of speakers and a link for
online registration can be found in the link above. The Early Bird Registration
discount is only available through June 3rdwhen the cost will increase to $150, so don’t
If you have any questions about these or other Folger
Education programs, please don’t hesitate to ask. We’d love to hear from you.
Polish orphans provide
unlikely lessons in thriving World War ll refugees provide unlikely lessons in thriving. http://wapo.st/18QVB6Z
But in another sense there was a
happy ending — one that we might usefully contemplate. In recent years, the
gap in educational attainments of rich and poor Americans has grown wider, largely because of the enormous
resources those of us who can do so now pour into our children. Success, we
have come to believe, depends on excellent schools, carefully organized leisure
and, above all, on high-concentration, high-focus parenting.
The orphans of
Pahiatua did not have any of these things. On the contrary, they had witnessed
the deaths of parents and siblings, experienced terrible deprivation and lost
years of education before finding themselves in an alien country on the far
side of the world. And yet they learned the language, they
assimilated, they became doctors, lawyers, farmers, factory workers,
teachers, business owners.
It's May. It's spring in Colorado. My 6th graders are starting to sound, smell, and act like ... 7th graders. Sunshine and storms trade places depending on the day, so outdoor recess is not a given. Energy is high and motivation is a struggle. Summer is just around the corner and weeks, days, and hours away. Many instructional hours away.
And yet, it's been a great week in room 214. A rich week of learning. Why?
I wasn't flying solo—I had backup. Every day, but especially in May, students need their teachers' A-game. I've noticed that I'm more willing to take risks, try new things, and reflect "in the moment" with a colleague in the room alongside me.
On Tuesday, Joe Dillon, the instructional coordinator for educational technology in Aurora Public Schools, supported me in my classroom. We talked through the lesson, he observed my class, and he interacted and conferred with kids. Following the lesson, he provided me with meaningful feedback around leveraging digital tools to increase student ownership.
On Thursday, Lori Nazareno, teacher-in-residence with the Center for Teaching Quality, visited my classroom. She helped me monitor the "double bubble" Socratic circle as kids engaged in text-based discourse—face-to-face in the inner circle and on Edmodo in the outer circle. This was the first time I'd tried this twist on the Socratic circle with this group of students. Having two adults monitor the live discussion and push the online discourse to deeper levels was invaluable.
Neither visitor is my evaluator. But I respect them both highly as accomplished educators who know their stuff and "get" adolescents. Their mere presence in my classroom makes me a better teacher.
The great poet Maya Angelou says, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, be better." I've adopted this as my new teaching mantra.
Seeing Things Anew
Becoming better teachers is easier than we sometimes think. At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about doing the work alongside students as a way to vet the quality of our tasks, prompts, and assignments. Letting others into our classrooms is another way to get better. Just opening our doors, wide and often, can help us see our students and practices with new eyes.
How can we do this?
• Start small. Invite a colleague in during their planning period and reciprocate by visiting their classroom during yours. Bonus points if you share students and can see them in action in another content area.
• Get bigger. Host a "Bring the Community to School Day" as a way to "flip" the "Bring Your Child to Work Day" annual event. Create several "visit" days throughout the school year as a way to showcase student work and strengthen community partnerships. Invite parents, school board members, and other district and community leaders. Great teaching and learning deserve an audience.
• Leverage tools. Be your own coach by videotaping frequently and sharing clips with colleagues you trust, your evaluator(s), your students, and others. Watch the footage yourself to see your classroom from an outsider's perspective. Follow teacherpreneur Ryan Kinser's approach to "blowing the doors off your classroom" by starting your own VLC (video learning community).
Opening our doors, videotaping instruction, and sharing our practice can be scary. Classrooms are unpredictable places and interruptions are inevitable. Even the most well-planned lesson rarely goes exactly as planned. I was reminded of this when I had to reschedule my colleague's visit multiple times due to testing windows that invaded our protected learning space. Be persistent and take the plunge. It's worth it.
If you haven't done so already, consider going through the National Board-certification submission process, which includes videotaping and reflecting on your practice. Engaging in the certification process has helped me identify the professional-learning experiences that have made me a better teacher. (Hint: Transformative experiences rarely happen in "traditional" professional-learning structures like staff meetings, conferences, or workshops.)
Videotaping instruction and hosting visitors motivates me to reflect on why I do what I do, and how I can do it better. What would happen if we taught as if every lesson was being videotaped for an external audience or being observed by someone whose opinion we valued? Collective improvement.
If you want to get even better—starting today—open your classroom door and let the camera roll.
This looks like a fantastic presentation on how to better reach and teach minority students. Please consider attending!
Dear MCEA Activist, The MCEA MAC Committee would like to invite you to a conference on "Educating & Advocating for Minority Student Success." Guest Speaker, Leticia Smith-Evans, NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
As the Common Core debate heats up, we’ve heard a lot from policy makers,
politicians, and even TV talk show hosts about the challenges posed by the new
standards and whether they’ll help or hurt education. With all the chatter, the
voices of the professionals who are actually responsible for implementing the
Common Core has been all but drowned out in the mainstream media.
To get their perspective, NEA Today convened a panel of educators from
around the country who were attending NEA’s Common Core Working Group in
Denver, Colorado – a strategy- and ideas-sharing meeting of education
professionals from the 46 states who have adopted Common Core. (Find out more about NEA’s
involvement in the Common Core.) They told us there’s a lot of
anxiety among educators about the Common Core, and a lot of unanswered
questions. How do we best implement them? How do we train more teachers? How do
we help students master the new content? And what about testing?
But despite these significant hurdles, the overwhelming consensus of the
educators we heard from is that the Common Core will ultimately be good for
students and education. Read on for six reasons why.
1. Common Core Puts Creativity Back in the Classroom
“I have problems and hands-on
activities that I like my students to experience to help them understand a
concept or relationship,” says Cambridge, Massachusetts, high school math
teacher Peter Mili. One of his classic activities is taking a rectangular piece
of cardboard and asking the students to cut from each corner to make a box.
They learn that different sized boxes need different lengths in cuts, and then
they fill the boxes with popcorn and measure how much each box can hold.
“I haven’t been able to do that in years because of the push to cover so
many things. Time is tight, especially because of all the benchmarks and
high-stakes testing,” Mili says. “So I’ve had to put the fun, creative
activities aside to work on drill and skill. But the Common Core streamlines
content, and with less to cover, I can enrich the experience, which gives my
students a greater understanding.”
Mili says a lot of teachers have fun, creative activities stuffed into their
closets or desk drawers because they haven’t had the time to use them in the
era of NCLB tests and curriculum. He thinks the Common Core will allow those
activities to again see the light of day. That’s because the Common Core State
Standards are just that — standards and not a prescribed curriculum. They may
tell educators what students should be able to do by the end of a grade or
course, but it’s up to the educators to figure out how to deliver the
2. Common Core
Gives Students a Deep Dive
When students can explore a concept and really immerse themselves in that
content, they emerge with a full understanding that lasts well beyond testing
season, says Kisha Davis-Caldwell, a fourth-grade teacher at a Maryland Title 1
“I’ve been faced with the challenge of having to teach roughly 100 math
topics over the course of a single year,” says Davis-Caldwell. “The Common Core
takes this smorgasbord of topics and removes things from the plate, allowing me
to focus on key topics we know will form a clear and a consistent foundation
Davis-Caldwell’s students used to skim the surface of most mathematical
topics, working on them for just a day or two before moving on to the next,
whether they’d mastered the first concept or not.
“Students would go to the next concept frustrated, losing confidence and
losing ground in the long haul,” she says. “The Common Core allows students to
stay on a topic and not only dive deeply into it, but also be able to
understand and apply the knowledge to everyday life.”
3. Common Core Ratchets up Rigor
The CCSS requires students to
take part in their learning and to think more critically about content, as
opposed to simply regurgitating back what their teachers feed them, says Kathy
Powers, who teaches fifth- and sixth-grade English Language Arts in Conway,
One way Powers says the standards ratchet up the rigor is by requiring more
nonfiction texts to be included in lessons on works of fiction, and vice versa.
She uses Abraham Lincoln as an example.
A lesson could start with “O Captain! My Captain!”, the extended metaphor
poem written by Walt Whitman about the death of Lincoln, and incorporate the
historical novel Assassin, which includes a fictional character in the plot.
Then she’d follow that with the nonfiction work, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, and
have students also look at newspaper clippings from the time.
“Or if we’re working on narrative writing, I can have them read The Lion,
the Witch and the Wardrobe, and ask them not to just absorb the story, but also
to evaluate C.S. Lewis as a writer, and then to try to write a piece of narrative
in the style of C.S. Lewis,” she says. “In the past we’d ask them to simply
write a story. But this requires more critical thinking, and this kind of
increased rigor will make students more competitive on a global level.”
4. Common Core is Collaborative
The Common Core allows
educators to take ownership of the curriculum — it puts it back into the hands
of teachers, who know what information is best for students and how best to
deliver that information.
“Not only does it integrate instruction with other disciplines, like English
and social studies, or literacy, math, and science, the common standards will
allow us to crowd source our knowledge and experience,” says Kathy Powers of
Kisha Davis-Caldwell agrees. “The Common Core will create opportunities to
share resources and create common resources,” she says. “We can discuss what
isn’t working and use our voices collectively. That way we can all be part of
the conversation about assessment of teaching, learning, and the standards
Peter Mili says the key word to focus on is “common.” He believes there is
far too much academic variability from state to state and not enough
collaboration. With the Common Core State Standards, “the good things that may
be happening in Alabama can be shared and found useful to educators in Arizona
because they are working on the same topics.”
5. Common Core Advances Equity
Cheryl Mosier, an Earth Science
teacher from Colorado, says she’s most excited about the Common Core because
it’ll be a challenge for all students, not just the high achieving students,
which Mosier and her colleagues say will go a long way to closing achievement
and opportunity gaps for poor and minority children. If students from all parts
of the country — affluent, rural, low-income or urban — are being held to the
same rigorous standards, it promotes equity in the quality of education and the
level of achievement gained.
“With the Common Core, we’re not going to have pockets of really high
performing kids in one area compared to another area where kids aren’t working
on the same level,” she says “Everybody is going to have a high bar to meet,
but it’s a bar that can be met with support from – and for — all teachers.”
Davis-Caldwell’s Title 1 school is in a Washington, D.C., suburb. In the
D.C. metro area, like in other areas in and around our nation’s cities, there
is a high rate of mobility among the poorest residents. Students regularly move
from town to town, county to county, or even state to state – often in the
middle of the school year.
There has been no alignment from state to state on what’s being taught, so
when a fourth-grade student learning geometry and fractions in the first
quarter of the school year suddenly moves to Kansas in the second quarter, he
may have entirely different lessons to learn and be tested on.
It also helps teachers better serve their students, says Davis-Caldwell.
When teachers in one grade level focus consistently and comprehensively on the
most critical and fundamental concepts, their students move on to the next grade
level able to build on that solid foundation rather than reviewing what should
have been learned in the previous grade.
6. Common Core Gets Kids College Ready
“One of the broad goals is that
the increased rigor of the Common Core will help everyone become college and/or
career ready,” says Peter Mili. Preparing kids for college and careers will
appeal widely to parents and the community, especially in a struggling economy
where only 31 percent of eleventh graders were considered “college ready,”
according to a recent ACT study.
If a student who was taught how to think critically and how to read texts
for information and analysis can explain the premise behind a mathematical
thesis, she’ll have options and opportunities, Mili says. Students with that
kind of education will be able to decide what kind of career path to follow or
whether they want to attend a university or any kind of school because they
were prepared to do a higher level of work that is expected in our society and
Student success is the outcome every education professional works so
tirelessly toward, and the Common Core will help them get there if it’s
implemented well, according to the panel of educators.
“Yes, it’s an extra workload as a teacher, and it’s difficult…but it’s for
the betterment of the students,” says Davis-Caldwell. “And if we keep that our
focus, I don’t see why we can’t be successful.”