Leading from the Classroom

How might we support teachers to grow and learn through out their career? What drives people to be motivated to continue to learn and grow? How might the teaching profession keep the spark of curiosity alive? These are important questions for schools and teachers to ask themselves since the answers are extremely important. We want teachers who are curious and life-long learners. We want teachers who continue to learn and grow, not only so that they are modeling what it means to be a learner for students, but because learning keeps teachers relevant and can help keep teachers passionate about being in the classroom. It’s impossible for teachers to learn everything they need to learn in a credentialing program — especially with the changing roles teachers are being placed in. It’s not just enough to know your content but you need to know how to be a counselor, a pr person (tell your story! Tell your student’s story!), a nurse, and as well as other hats that you end up wearing during the course of a day and year.

How do you find teachers with passion for learning? How do you sustain that passion? As a school, these are some of the questions we’re grappling with. We have a strategic planning strategy around it and have attended two Teach to Lead summits as part of our work. We’re exploring two different aspects of this with our work with Teach to Lead, both connected — looking at how to create pathways for teachers so that they have options beyond becoming an administrator or continuing to be “just a teacher” and how to support new teachers as they transition into homeroom positions.

Our first initiative looks at how to support and retain teachers through the creation of a career lattice (we’re currently calling it a “professional pathways plan”) so that they can set goals and focus their learning both on what is happening in their classroom and where they want to go in their career. How might we support teachers in leading from the classroom? What other opportunities are there for teachers so that they continue to be inspired, to grow as teachers and to positively impact student learning? We know that teaching one subject/grade level at one school for an entire career is no longer the norm for most teacher, but school systems are not set up to support teacher growth in meaningful ways once a teacher is not a new teacher. Most professional learning is geared toward the lowest common denominator and does not meet individual teachers’ needs. We want our teachers to be inspired, to want to grow professionally, and to be able to be what they want to be regardless of what path they want to pursue. Leading from the classroom, teacher coach, mentor teacher, administrator, education advocate — there is not “just a _________” about any of those roles.

Our second initiative, which we had the opportunity to work on at the Teach to Lead Summit in Washington State in September, focuses on the transition to becoming a classroom teacher. We currently have an associate teacher (AT) program, where a (usually new) credentialed teacher works with three classes and supports the homeroom teacher and students to improve student learning. Since our ATs are credentialed teachers, they are able to use the year they are associate teachers to grow as teachers while learning more about our school and its idiosyncrasies (of which there are a lot). The AT program is a great way for us to find teachers to become homeroom teachers and so the hiring process for AT is very important. Our work from the Teach to Learn summit is about becoming more intentional with our support for ATs and what that support might look like. Included in this plan is looking at what support/learning is necessary for both ATs and the teachers with whom they work. Add learning how to be a leader, a mentor, and/or a coach of adults to the list of skills teachers aren’t taught in credentialing programs and may never learn.

Our glorious logic models from both Teach to Lead summits provide a path for our team to follow as we explore teacher leadership, professional development, and adult learning. Reading blog entries from the New Teacher Project, the New Teacher Center, and Center for Teaching Quality (among others), show that looking at teacher learning and teacher leadership is a hot topic and serve as resources/inspiration for us on our journey. It’s not easy especially since it will only be successful if teachers are motivated to join the journey with us. We need to spark their curiosity and tap into why they became educators in the first place. We’ve only just begun the journey but are excited to where it takes us.

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The “Tech Day”

I am lucky to work at a school that values professional development and actually offers 10 days of paid PD before school starts. As a team lead, I often run many of the PD sessions for new and returning teachers. This year one of my tasks was to co-facilitate the “tech day” for new staff. Our staff needed to leave the day  with the following objectives having been met:

  • How to use, at least a basic level, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Forms, Google Slides, and Google Drive (since as a staff we use GAfE for everything)
  • How to create a website and newsletter

But as we knew that we had to make the day more than just a tech day–that we needed to model that tech was a tool to be used in the classroom but that it was not the end point. So we decided to reframe the day as a day focused on building communication and collaboration skills. Our objectives became

  • How to use technology (including GAfE Tools, a website, a newsletter) to communicate and collaborate with others
  • To have fun
  • To build a community
  • to practice a growth/risk-taking mindset

We started the day off with a stoke activity called Long Lost Friend–to boost energy and to nurture camaraderie. This activity provided an opportunity for everyone to mingle and to create shared experiences with multiple partners. They greeted each other as long-lost friends, as if the person you are greeting just told you won the lottery, as if the person just told you that they ran into your ran, and as if they were your 80 year old grandmother. Lots of laughter and ridiculousness ensued. A quick debrief on the purpose of the activity and a tone was set that today was going to be fun and funny but also might ask you to step outside of your comfort zone to try something new and crazy but that we were all going to travel this journey together.

Continuing with the focus on building a community and starting a conversation about collaborating and communicating, we moved into the handy spaghetti/marshmallow challenge (thanks to my Google Certified Teacher Academy, #mtv14)– asking the new teachers to work in small groups to see which could build the highest tower using just the materials provided. Once everyone finished their tower (or didn’t-depending on the success of the tower), we debriefed the activity–what worked well and what didn’t work so well? How did the team work together? What was each member’s communication style? How did working as a team help (or hinder) the team?

The next activity, an Amazing Race Activity (another shout out to my GTAMTV#14) asked the new staff to work in teams and to work with GAfE tools to solve challenges about the school and to think about communication. To create the activity, I create a series of tasks for the participates to complete using GAfE tools. Once they completed a task, they entered a URL into a google form to get the next Google Map location and the next clue. And then entered the next URL for the next completed task into another form to get the next clue. Each location was significant and so the participants learned about the school while completing the tasks and learning about the tech tools. Some of the tasks asked them to brainstorm about communication such as Newsletter Dos and Don’ts

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First Clue

Team members who knew more about the different tech tools helped those with less knowledge with prizes given out to the winning team (and to the team who went above and beyond). Again, we debriefed the activity, focusing this time not just on collaboration and communication but also on how the activity could be used in their classroom and the difference of learning technology through a project than just learning a tool for the tool’s sake. Participants also shared stories on how the different GAfE tools could be used for other purposes–forms to collect classroom information, Google sites to share information, etc.

To share out information that the teams had included on their slide decks about communication, we modeled how to create a Google doc and how to share it with others via email and asked everyone to go to their gmail and to open the doc. Groups then shared out and posted some of their ideas to the shared doc. This allowed us to talk about communication dos and don’ts without having to talk at the participants while giving them opportunities to learn how to use the tech tools we use to communicate with students, parents, and each other.

Next up was website design. We had already discussed how to use tech (including websites) in the earlier activity and so quickly shared out different examples of teacher’s websites–pointing out examples of good communication. Teachers can use a variety of options to create their websites so we talked about the options and the teachers regrouped into groups using similar website programs (including Weebly, Wix, Google Site, and Blogger) to help each other with the tech. In addition, I created a series of help videos on “how to” on using Google Sites and Weebly as website platforms so that there was “just in time” PD around creating a website. Everyone worked together, sharing tips and ideas; again collaborating with each other to create a better learning experience for everyone.

All in all it was a successful day of professional development–our new staff learned how to use a variety of tech tools to communicate while using the tools themselves to collaborate with their new colleagues. They had fun, laughed a lot, and learned.

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Learning Spaces: #yourEdustory Week 9

Clearly a bit behind on my #youredustory blog postings–it is week 9, and my last post was week 2. Ooops.

This week’s posting is about space and design–well, it’s to put together a design brief for a new learning environment. Instead of writing a design brief, I am going to ramble about space 🙂

Space and its impact on my teaching has always been a concern of mine–ever since my first year teaching some 16 years ago. I remember walking into my new classroom–I was a brand new teacher, not even fully credentialed–and thinking, wow, this is small! And it was small. With 20 desks, one small round table, two book shelves, and a teacher’s desk (I didn’t know enough to get rid of it though I did stuff it in the corner), you could barely walk through the room. If the students were in the room and had their backpacks and coats hung on the chairs, you couldn’t walk through the room without knocking over someone’s backpack. I taught second grade, and there wasn’t enough room for a reading area–not even an area for the students to sit and listen for “rug time.” I had my students move their desks when we were on the rug and move them back when they needed to sit at their seats. The lack of space made for some interesting behavior issues–I couldn’t separate students; everyone was practically touching elbows.

The one good thing about that space was that I had a connecting door inside my classroom to the next classroom. The teacher next-door, another new teacher, and I would often prop the door open during the day. She also had a small room but had a third door out the back. We would spread students out between the two rooms and outside, using the door in-between to keep an eye on students in the other room.

The next year, I was a second year teacher, which meant that I could get a bigger room. I moved into a room where the desks fit and you could walk around them without hitting a backpack. There was built-in storage and sink with drinking fountain (which my last room hadn’t had). I could have a reading area and a rug area that was permanent. Honestly, the biggest benefit of the space was that students could spread out. They could read and work in many different places and didn’t hit elbows while working. It was fabulous.

Later, I measured my first room since they were looking to turn a room into a computer lab. After looking at the measurements, the IT guy mentioned that it was legally too small for a classroom. He suggested that my room and the room next to it had been one room before California had enacted class size reduction; hence the door between, the small sizes, and the lack of outlets on the wall between.

My more recent rooms have been bigger and more standard (since they are portables). I have come to value the flexibility portables have–I can make the room into whatever I want. A couple of years ago, I started to collect extra white boards (both ones on the wall and moveable ones), seeing the value of students being able to work anywhere they want. The more flexible I made the room, the more the 8th graders utilized it–creating workspaces that met their needs. Being in school should not be uncomfortable and a good work space is conducive to working. I am always amazed how much students enjoy using a white board and something about being able to erase seems to encourage brainstorming.

My ideal space would involve flexible furniture with different seating options. Students would be able access white boards that they could continue to use for long term projects. There would be storage space for student projects.  If money were no issue, this is what I want (Stanford d school-inspired):

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I have been collecting fun furniture and learning space images as inspiration for my students when they do their “design a school of the future” intersession. It is amazing what some schools and businesses have in terms of flexible and comfortable spaces–https://www.pinterest.com/jessicalura/school-of-future-intersession/ .

Do you need to have an innovative space to be innovative? Probably not but I am sure that it can’t hurt.

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