Saturday, October 19, 2013

Really a Risk-Taker?

If you did not follow #satchat this morning, you really missed a great discussion on Autonomy and the Learning Process in Education. The moderators did a great job posing questions that challenged conventional thinking on Professional Learning for Educators to creating a challenging environment for students as well.

The part of the hour that really hit home for me was a side conversation I had with Dea Conrad-Curry (@doctordea) about the impact of testing on teacher risk-taking. I started with a statement about state testing crippling the risk-taking of educators. I stated without these tests, teachers would feel freer to take risks in their classrooms. We would be able to create a culture for learning that we know should exist in every classroom.

This was followed up with a thought from Dea: "On Twitter we talk risk taking because we are risk takers. Reality: we are a minority. On the whole, educators not risk takers."

I immediately responded with: "I just do not know how much risk taking we will get when state tests are about half of teachers' evaluations."

Dr. Conrad-Curry followed with the statement that is the thesis of this post: "But before Educators can control they must become learners who apply their learning for change. Right now too many avoid stretching."

This statement hit me like a ton of bricks. The reason why? I AM ONE OF THOSE EDUCATORS! I have attempted to make adjustments in my instruction/assessment (many thanks to @WHSRowe, @garnet_hillman and @jsprfox for your continued conversations in this area). I have made changes in my availability to my parents and community by joining Twitter and starting this blog. I have started making myself available for mentoring at school to assist new teachers on their journey to improve their craft...

That sounds good, but after honest reflection, I AM NOT FULLY COMMITTED! I read what @ScottCapro is doing in his classes with both project based learning and flipped lessons, and think to myself: this guy is really pushing the envelope!

Also, I read about @mssackstein using Twitter in her high school classes to create engaged students in a student driven learning environment and think to myself: Why can't I do that?

The bottom line? I can. The problem is, I can not break myself away from those state assessments. I am still holding on to the excuse that my students are not going to do well unless I follow the same script from the past several years. They will not grow unless I keep doing things the same way because my test scores are good...

I need to get fully committed. I need to jump into the deep end of the pool. Currently, I am in the part of the pool where it is just deep enough that I can use my tippy toes to stay above water. This is not an educational deviant. The social deviant would be in the deep end of the pool showing everyone else that it is a great place to swim. Encouraging both colleagues and students to join them where the learning is engaging, beneficial and relevant.

Thank you, Dr. Conrad-Curry for lighting the fire. I am hopeful we can do that research project we discussed. I believe that is just the work I need to do to get me into the deep end of the pool. My students deserve that bit of risk-taking from me.

How have you gained the confidence to jump into the deep end of the educational pool?

Monday, October 14, 2013

"When am I suppose to find time to teach?"

A couple of years ago, my school started treating Columbus Day as a day for Professional Learning for our staff. Prior to this, we typically treated it as a normal school day. The decision to switch this was voted on by our Association to give us a day of professional learning before January. As a group, we decided to give our staff a chance to learn some great new methods or strategies while the school year was still young, instead of waiting until it was half over.

Today, we focused on Student Growth Objectives and Tier 1 Interventions. I do feel these are two very important elements to not only a well run classroom, but a highly achieving school as well. Both of these areas are also very important for impacting instruction and achievement in every classroom. We were given a lot great information on how to help us write effective SGOs along with ways to implement Tier 1 Interventions for struggling students.

Even with all of this new information, I was having trouble quieting the voice in my head that was screaming, "When am I suppose to find time to teach?" See, each of these areas have a lot of paperwork to complete. Not just a sheet or two, but pages upon pages to complete during my "free time." This is time I am taking away from what is the most important part of my job: creating high quality, engaging lessons!

The implementation of our new RTI program includes a new computer program to learn that will help us document all of the ways we interact with our students. I know this is a critical component to creating a culture of learning in our classrooms. I know this will ultimately help me reach a number of students that maybe before I may have missed. But...

"When am I suppose to find time to teach?"

My main complaint is that all good teachers do this already. We take the time to pre-assess our students to determine their current level of understanding. We constantly provide formative assessments that assist us in adjusting our instruction. We reach out constantly to struggling students to find ways to get them involved in the learning that is going on in our rooms. But...

"When am I suppose to find time to teach?"

I am insulted that now we need to document all of the things that we do naturally. I do not like that I have to take time to fill out forms on how I am helping Johnny instead of actually helping Johnny! I am now expected to use a checklist to document my conversations or actions with a number of my students to show my effectiveness as a teacher. Yes, I am offended...because..."When am I suppose to find time to teach?"

Where on these forms is the place to check off that through my relationship with a struggling 8th grader, I convinced him to sign up for the school newspaper because I know he likes to write his own rap lyrics? Where on the form is the spot to check off that shows I can now hold a conversation with a student that last year grunted at me with his head always down? Yes, I am offended...because..."When am I suppose to find time to teach?"

Good teachers do these things naturally. Not because we want to fill out forms, but because we genuinely care about the people that occupy those desks. I did not become a teacher to fill out forms. I became a teacher to make a difference. I hope making teachers complete these forms does not have a negative effect, our students do not deserve that!

Thank you for giving me a chance to vent my to get started on my lessons...because... "When am I suppose to find time to teach?"