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Curriculum and Instruction
If teachers don’t ask meaning-filled questions, then how can we expect students to give meaningful answers.
I went to a GATE magnet school where even if I did not like the subject matter, the assignments were engaging, had a purpose, and were challenging. When I became a teacher, I assumed that all schools and classroom would resemble the experiences I had in my education. But I became a teacher during the “drill and kill” days of No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing.
Curriculum and instruction is a board subject, and there is a lot one could cover. I hear they even give degrees in it. I am always wondering about assessments and the need to use formative and summative testing. Even the method of grading is a big conversation, and my district has explored alternative grading methods. After all, no two students learn the same way, just as no two teachers instruct in the same way, Yet, I feel that a method like the gradual release of responsibility is effective no matter the classroom setting. I know that there are important conversations around the nature of homework. I would want to look at what the research says about effective homework practices and work from there. I am very much aware that some teachers are still grappling with the new Common Core State Standards.
Common Core seemed like such a massive undertaking and at the larger state level I sure it was. Let the Standards guide your instruction. When teachers follow the Standards, there is the ability to create engaging lessons that also provide a depth of content. Many teachers belly ache about not being able to give students that piece of the curriculum that they love. For example, teachers complaining about not being able to teach poetry because of the CCSS. The CCSS are liberating, not constrictive. In fact, that Standards allow almost any teacher passion project. The teacher just needs to let their expertise and experience support the learning goals.
I would like to share my own experience with teaching middle students poetry. The Common Core requires teachers to move away from covering a broad range of topics and seeks to have a focused attention to the content. I therefore assist students as they do a deep reading of 5 selected poems. This process takes an entire quarter and results in a student's writing a five paragraph essay. This the depth versus the breadth. The CCSS state that in Literacy 6.1 demonstrate command of conventions of English. I also teach this standard through poetry. An even better example would be CCSS Literacy 6.5 demonstrate an understanding of figurative language. Educators talk about the word “rigor” a great deal. Lessons exploring simile, metaphor, and personification through poetry sounds pretty rigors to me.
Technology in the Classroom
Technology is just another classroom tool that requires good teaching practices to make it effective.
I serve as a Technology Liaison, where I help to build teacher technology competency and act as a communication bridge between the district and my school site. I was one of the first teachers to be awarded Google Certification by my district. I am also Technology Innovation coach and working on a Master in Educational Leadership with a focus in Technology.
I want to be clear; I am focusing on the use of technology for instruction. We could talk about networking, the need for robust systems, and the challenges of standardization of data. For example, my current district data from the SIS only flows one way to the LMS. This is a challenge when it comes to reporting cards. I could bring up the subject of the vital need for Information Technology Enterprise Architecture. But it is technology in the classroom that I want to make my focus. The actual machines and apps where students can engage in collaboration, communication, creative expression, and critical thinking. For student to achieve in what we call The 4Cs, then teachers need to be trained in SAMR.
SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. This is a process of change and improvement. At the Substitution level, teachers are having students write essays in class, print them out, and returns the graded reports. In Augmentation, what is done begins to become unique. Students can take a quiz on Google Forms and get instant feedback. I created a lesson where student teams created quizzes on Early Humans and then have students from other periods take these student made assessments. Moving to the Modification level this is where students might create a Slides presentation, on cells, and then add a voice over to their presentation. Here is where what is being done can only be created through a technology device. Now, Redefinition is where computers support student-centered learning. As a fan of Projects Based Learning, the Redefinition level is exciting because it is at this level where collaboration has to happen through the technology. Students develop skills and master content through the creation of authentic products. It is no longer about teachers uses the computer as a tool, it’s about the students using the tools to engage in their own learning.
Discipline and School Climate / Culture
Every behavior is a form of communication.
The student that is acting out in class and the introverted, shy kid in the back of the room are both communicating their message. It is the job of a professional educator to understand just what a student is trying say.
I am a middle school teacher, and I have seen countless students sent to the office for being “defiant.” This leaves me to wonder about the effectiveness of sending students out of the classroom for behaving like a middle schooler. I have had many meetings with parents about their student’s grades and lack of organizational skills, mostly with boys. I frequently tell the parents, “You have an average middle school boy.” Middle school can be a very confusing time. Understanding the expected behaviors of a developmental level is part of being a teacher. Sending a middle school student to the office for normal middle schooler behavior is odd. From my experience, it seems that the removal does not address the student’s problematic behavior. It’s a teacher being honest and authentic that opens communication with the student and starts to change behaviors. With that being said, a Classroom’s safe learning environment must be maintained.
There are cases where a student must be removed from a classroom. I am a big fan of two behaviorists by the names of Mendler and Curwin. They focused their research on at-risk populations, and with almost 70% free and reduced lunch families that make up my school district, Mendler and Curwin’s theories need to be used. They message, distilled down to two words is “Dignity” and “hope.” When dealing with those students who have transgressed against classroom expectations, school rules, of state law, I still need to give those students hope and treat them with dignity. Therefore, consequences for misbehaviors need to be fair, firm and fast. I can not let my emotions affect restoration process. When adults, teachers, and administrators, are firm with students they set the boundaries of acceptable behaviors. If a student's actions require consequences from the administration, for example, detention, then the detention needs to happen that day. From my experience, I have seen students get a detention for a misbehavior from three weeks past, and there is no connection between behavior and consequences
Parent and Community Involvement
Educators must remember that we are part of the service industry.
We provide the service of education to children. We also provided services to families, as well. The actions of educators and administrators should reflect a service mindset.
If I had all the time, I wanted I could talk at length about getting parents and community members onto a campus. Parents need to be on a school’s campus. Many regulatory committees require parent involvement. All most all of my students have families where both parents work, sometimes multiple jobs. Bringing those parents to campus requires creative solutions, like childcare, dinner service, and even setting up appointments during off hours. There is the challenge of getting communication to parents for opportunities to get involved with the school. Communicating with parents is a priority and finding new, technology-driven methods can help, like e-mail. One of the great tools for getting parents on the campus is the most obvious one, students. Award and recognition ceremonies are very powerful for families. My site provides student-led conferences with an almost 85% parent attendance rate. Another very rewarding experience is a student project fair. What I think is it exciting that as educators we can provide the service of allowing parents to see their child as students and as a learner.
There is a lot to say about providing quality service. I worked my way through college doing restaurant work. I was even employed at Disneyland, which takes providing quality service to a whole new level. Schools should take some ideas from a restaurant, or even a restaurant at Disneyland. When someone enters a school campus, parent or students, they should be greeted. This person is here, at your school for a reason, therefore find out what are their needs. Office staff must be inviting and honest listeners, as they are the first faces a parent sees upon entering campus, and not all parents come to a campus happy. A friendly person, who is honestly listening to needs of an angry parent can change that parent’s mood for the better. It seems like a Zen Koan, but making a school a welcoming place will make parents feel welcomed. When there is a welcoming experience, there will be more parents wanting to visit the campus.
When I first got this assignment I thought ‘how easy, ’ but I was wrong. I soul-searched long and hard, I doubted some of my own beliefs and had several great conversations about non-negotiables. After pondering long and hard, my answer became simple; don’t be a jerk. However, I am writing for a professional audience and defining a goal of what can be done is better than say what can not be done. When we deal with other people in our life, not matter what the age, we must act with respect. After all, whether in the classroom, school, or community we are all on the same team. Because of this connection we should operate with a “Win / Win” mindset. Let me say my non-negotiable in another way, my line in the sand is this then;
When the horrific events of September 11th occurred, our nation fell into a state of shock. But as the days and weeks passed many voices began to be heard, and not all of them were kind. There were many people who openly expressed anger, hatred, and fear. As I went about my day, I began to say “We are all on the same team.” This was my mantra to remind myself that whoever I encounter throughout my day, this person and I are both part of the same experience. Healthy work environments foster this team mindset, unhealthy environments do not. The same is true for a school or classroom that everyone on a school’s campus is on the same team. Stepping onto campus one can quickly get a feeling when the school’s culture fosters unity.
In the work environment, factions can be created. The same inter-office conflicts happen in education. Some educators have an attitude of ‘teachers versus students.’ An “us versus them” mindset just does not work. Covey (1989) teaches that the way to be successful with others is to have a “Win / Win” approach. This is the nature of education, both the teacher and the student working together toward success. When one is stuck with Win / Lose fame of view there is the need to have the other person, or group, be the loser. However, too many professional educators are stuck in the Win / Lose paradigm. If educators embrace the idea that students and teachers can win together, then new and exciting lessons happen in the classroom
Covey, S. R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Simon and Schuster.
I work from a belief that as a leader it is my job to support my team. Through meeting the needs of my staff, I hope to foster connections and build trust. I give my team the tools they need to be successful in their jobs and let them do their job. This is a matter of simple respect, and it is reciprocal. Through the idea of servant leadership, the use of power and authority is not needed, as the staff understands that I am there for their needs. My team knows that I am working in their best interests. If there is a problem, a transgression is made, or needs are not being met I believe that my staff will know I am humble enough to seek out solutions and resolutions (Green, 2013, p.73).
I do not possess the most skills in my work environment. I am not the best person to do every job. In fact, I firmly believe that my staff and I all have enough diverse skills and abilities that when all members contribute, then the work environment becomes better. This process is the best way to meet the needs of the ever change demands of current education. By practicing distributive leadership, I treat my team like the college educated professionals that they are. As Green (2013) stated, “school leaders are being asked to become facilitators, exhibiting behaviors that enhance the collective ability of a school faculty to adapt, solve problems, and improve student performance” (Green, 2013, p. 103). My school becomes a better place when all members of the staff can be part of the process of successful change.
“Leaders who do not acquire an understanding of self and how their behaviors affect others are subject to continuous errors” (Green, 2013, p. 111). We all have the challenge of trying to see our self as others see us. An out of balance ego can distort the mirror of truth. It is my goal to foster open and honest communication so that I can better understand what others envision my leadership as. I would like to believe I would be a democratic leader, but maybe my staff views me as more laissez-faire. My focusing on using disruptive and servant leadership styles I hope to foster open communication, in both directions, with my staff.
Green, L. (2013). Practicing the Art of Leadership: A Problem-Based Approach to Implementing the ISLLC Standards. 4th Edition. Pearson Education (Allyn & Bacon)
Live Oak Elementary School, Live Oak School District
I worked as a 50% teacher for a self-contained fifth-grade class and also the designated substitute teacher for the Special Day Class, mild to moderate. I owe a lot to that little school in Live Oak. I was employed from 2002 to 2003. Here was my first regular teaching job. The teacher, who I shared a contract with, Hecate Rosewood, was a perfect mentor. I was still new to the rigors and the demands of teaching, and it was a gift to study under Ms. Rosewood, an experienced professional who made a challenging job look effortless.
Delta Charter School, Santa Cruz County Office of Education
I worked for the Delta School from 2003 to 2005. It is here where I started to become a teacher. Delta is an alternative education school for “at-risk” high school students. My teaching time there was an eye-opening experience. All grades were combined, so I had grades 9 - 12 in my classes. I taught multiple subjects, from English to Math. I even taught an elective class on improv comedy and Shakespeare. I was required to actively engage in classroom management for “at risk” teens. I was responsible for creating my curriculum that adhered to California State Standards. I also had the responsibility and the privilege of mentoring a class of 15 to 20 students. I found a great personal connection with many students, through the establishment of a Dungeons and Dragons club. Many of those students I am still in contact with today and have seen all of them go on to have significant achievements in their lives.
Kirby Preparatory School, private school
A unique experience from 2005 to 2007. At Kirby, I began to understand why I became a teacher and who I wanted to work for. I was the U.S. History teachers for grades 7th to 11th. I was required to create my own curriculum, which had to be reviewed by peers, and approved by the administration. My lessons were skills based and performance based, they were at a level of rigor that met the needs of a college preparatory school. My greatest success was in establishing a portfolio-based assessment system for all middle school students. I served on the school's cross-curricular committee which created a school wide scope and sequence for student learning. I was also the head of Student Activities, which required lots of time a dedication, in relation to the size of the student population. I also served as an advisor to a club called “The League of Evil Geniuses” which supported geek-culture throughout the campus.
Rolling Hills Middle School, Pajaro Valley Unified School District
Here is where I am, 2007 to present. The first day I walked into my classroom, I knew I was home. I have been a Humanities instructor, for grades 6 - 8, and have focused on standards-based instruction. In my first year of teaching, I received the ‘Teacher of the Year’ award, through a vote by my school’s parents, students, and fellow staff members. In over nine years of working, I have never taught the same grade level two years in a row. This flexibility is one small way I can help my administration. I have taught Newcomer and English Language Development. Through these classes, I received a great deal recognition. Through the District, I was recognized as a ‘Teacher of the Month.’ I was also recognized for the use of innovative technology, in both my ELD and Newcomer classes. Many of my lessons are common practice throughout the district. I am also known for being a teacher that promotes Project Based Learning in the classroom. I have served on my school’s Leadership Team for over eight years, and through this team, we have sought to improve our school’s culture. I created a behavior reporting system, using Google Apps for my school, allowing for better teacher and parent communication. I have served as our site’s Technology Liaison, for nine years, and help to be a bridge between the district office and my school site. I am also a district Technology Coach, training countless teachers and staff in a variety of programs and applications. I was one of the first teachers to be Google Certified by the PVUSD.
Summer School Principal, Pajaro Valley Unified School District
I have done this for the last three years, 2014 - 16. It was during these summer sessions I began to think about my role as a leader. I operated a four-week session for students needing additional academic support. I hired a staff of teachers, administrative support staff, and created school schedules. I was responsible for holding students accountable for their behaviors. I created a behavior reporting systems that allowed better record keeping for all summer school sites. Each year I also served as the head for the Summer Migrant Education Academy of Art and Science, which supports and fosters non-native speakers.
The horrific tragedy of September 11th forced me to become an educator. I was working for UC Santa Cruz in their events departments and making real money. But the hours were often long, the work was very physical, and the head of the events departments believed that the reward of a job came at the end of the month in the form of a paycheck. Then one day, as I was busy setting up some dean’s party, over 3,000 people died in a terrorist attack. I came home that day, lit some red white and blue candles and thought long and hard about the brevity of life and what I valued. The next day woke up and started a new journey in my life. I was going to be a teacher.
Look, I wasn’t meant to go to college. Growing up, my large family was poor and lived in section eight apartments. I have vivid memories of the excitement, each holiday season when the local charities would bring food boxes to my house. Mom was a waitress and dad, who did not graduate high school, was a janitor. Needless to say, I didn’t much help with my homework. College was never talked about in my house. My dad wanted me to eventually take over his custodial job, and for awhile I worked with him, cleaning up all kinds of messes. It was a horrible job, and I stayed with it for several years after high school. The adventure of college was just not part story for me.
My journey, from cleaning vomit off floors to putting myself through college and graduating from UC Santa Cruz, came with allies, mentors, challenges, defeats, and victories. It was truly an adventure. No one else in my family had gone to college, and I needed all the help I could get. I even bought my own, the first computer, which was like having magic. When I discovered Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" I found I was on the right path to my own Hero's quest.
I am not joking when I say that students are heroes. I have been in their shoes. Their challenges of their home life added to the rigors of school life are not easy. Each student is on their path and it is my goal to help them along their journey
As Campbell once said, "In the cave you fear to enter, is the treasure that you seek."
Children are heroes. At the start of every day, school-aged children depart their homes and go on an uncertain journey. They cross the threshold of the classroom, where we hope the teacher serves as a mentor and not as the adversary. Along the course of their day, the student will make allies, they will encounter ordeals, there will always be tests. When the last bell rings and the day are done, the heroic child returns home a little wiser, only to start the whole journey over again the next day. Perhaps that is why comic books, adventure, and fantasy stories have always captured the hearts of school aged children? What Ironman does in the movies and what Harry Potter does in his books, children do every day going to school.
In that great book Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen (1995) stated that education is indoctrination. I believe that education is indoctrination into the expectations of societal norms. Education prepares students to be part of shared set of values. After all, in the course of a week students spend more waking hours at school then they spend at home with their family. State education takes students from their homes, brings them together in age arranged groups, and tells the students what is and is not important to know to achieve the next level. Education says, “this is what our culture values and you will need to be successful in our culture.”
Loewen, J. W. (1995). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: New Press.