Tag Archives: reflection

#5Wins (1)

Reflecting with #5wins

Hey everyone,

It has been a while since I’ve blogged, as life and work has been busy. Each day brings news challenges and opportunities, and there have been many days that I have worked long until the evening.

Sometimes, as a coach who works in multiple schools, I begin to doubt my impact. In my classroom, I had a regular barometer of my effectiveness with my students’ engagement and progress. As a coach, this is somewhat true, but results are often more delayed. In addition, when you are involved in so many activities, it is sometimes difficult to assess your effectiveness because you are always working on to the NEXT THING.

In the past several years, reflection was a required part of my life – as I worked on a Master’s degree, the Governor’s Teacher Network and National Board renewal. But this year, I have not had so many additional projects — which, quite honestly, has been a breath of fresh air.

But, there has been a downside.

When I am so busy during the day and I am not regularly reflecting, I begin to doubt myself. I begin to wonder about my impact.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Baruti Kafele speak about evidence and reflection. He essentially said, “Look at yourself in the mirror, and ask yourself, ‘what is my evidence of effectiveness?'”

I feel like I have been neglecting that question: “What is my evidence that I am an effective instructional coach?”

So, I came up with an idea. Each weekend, I am going to reflect on my week and post #5wins from the week. I am going to look at impacts and evidence of growth in students, teachers, and myself. Here are my tweets from this week.

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I think this will be a good way for me to make progress transparent. If you’d like to join me, please post about your successes from the week with the #5wins hashtag. I’d love to be inspired by what you’re accomplishing as well.

teamnbct1

Want Personalized PD? Become a National Board Certified Teacher.

Hey, that’s me (circa 2006) when I first embarked on the National Board journey.

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I learned a lot about myself, my students, and my teaching in the rigorous process of certification. You see, National Board Certification holds an honest and unflinching mirror up to your practice. Once you deeply understand the standards and the expectations of the process, it becomes pretty clear where you have room for growth.

So, with all the discussion about how we personalize professional development, becoming an NBCT should certainly be part of the discussion.

When we think about how to personalize professional learning, we often think about offering choices or personal goal setting. Or we sometimes think about assessing the practice of educators and giving them specific trainings or goals. Although all of these are good options, I feel National Board does a little of both.

Investigating the standards objectively helps us see where we are successful — without rose-tinted glasses. Videos, student work, and independent assessments provide evidence of what’s working and what’s not. Feelings are not facts, and this evidence shows us where the real work is – not just where we think it is. Obviously, feelings and facts don’t always correlate.

So for each of us, the National Board process reveals something different about our practice, and that’s why it is a great form of personalized professional development.

Where were my weaknesses in 2006? I couldn’t effectively use groups in my classroom. I didn’t know how to support English Language Learners. I didn’t know how to formatively assess and personalize writing instruction.

So, I went to work learning about these areas. I asked my fellow colleagues for ideas and strategies. I read professional books. I tried out hunches in my classroom and made tweaks — just as any action researcher might do.

And I got better.

My students showed me with their progress, engagement, and feedback.

I would not have made the progress as an educator that I have without holding up a mirror to my practice, so I could objectively see my strengths and weaknesses.

National Board Certification was that mirror.

teamnbct1

When White was White, and Other Ugly Truths from My First Year Teaching

I am constantly inspired by the positive work that I see others sharing on blogs and social media.  I, too, find value in sharing what works, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of learning from mistakes.  So, I am sharing some of the poor choices I made when I first  taught and reflecting on my growth since then. Isn’t it wonderful that we have the capacity to grow and we are not defined by our past mistakes?

During my first year teaching, I entered the classroom of a rural and mostly poor community unprepared. Not only were my practices instructionally poor, but they were culturally blind. I did not consider my students’ cultures at all, and I wrongly assumed that their beliefs, interests, and values were identical to mine simply because I was white and so were most of them. I set the same standard for all students.

For example, I taught two standard-level English IV classes that first semester. I assigned a paper that required the students to write about Beowulf’s heroic characteristics. Assigned is the appropriate word because I did not really teach my students. I never assessed their prior knowledge to determine how they viewed the term hero, nor did I ask them about people who they believed to be heroes. In essence, I did not tailor my instruction to students at all; I believed that they all viewed the concept of hero in the same way that I did. My practice at the time reminds me of a quote from Gloria Ladson-Billings in her book The Dreamkeepers, “Often they [teachers] believe that ‘culture is what other people have; what we have is just truth.” I thought that my view was true, and I could not understand why my students did not share it.

I did provide my students with a rubric and a thorough explanation of the assignment; however, I never truly taught them how to write.  I never modeled writing, never use pre-writing activities to help them brainstorm ideas, and never helped them organize their ideas. I believed that, as seniors, they had these “prerequisite” skills.

Since I did not assess my students’ prior knowledge, did not know them as people, and I did not provide quality instruction, most of my students did not achieve. Many did not write papers. Some turned in papers that they had plagiarized from the Internet. I gave them zeroes. I was angry, and I blamed them. Most of the students who received zeroes were economically disadvantaged. I unknowingly punished them for lacking my culture and knowledge; thus, I perpetuated their learned helplessness. For the rest of that semester, I developed much lower expectations for those students. My instruction did not excite or challenge them, and I had many discipline issues.  I still think about those students today, and how I underserved them.

So, it is quite serendipitious how I began reflecting on this part of my career that I’d rather forget.   As a literacy coach in my school district, I now work with teachers to integrate effective, engaging literacy practices in their classrooms. Now, I am much more cognizant of and responsive to cultural differences. My current role operates on the philosophy that we as educators should have high expectations about student capabilities and that we are responsible for tailoring our instructional practices to support all students. It is through this work that Beowulf came back into my life.

Recently I had the opportunity to collaborate with a new teacher who was teaching Beowulf. There is a stark contrast between my first-year of teaching this material and the way I co-planned and co-taught this time. The new teacher and I decided to collaborate on a lesson where she would have students read an informational text, introducing the Anglo-Saxon culture of Beowulf to her students. Her class is culturally and linguistically diverse, and the text she had chosen was quite difficult. I encouraged her to use the difficult text but to use scaffolding to support students in a way that respected their differences.

Before the students read the text, we had them do the “Say What?” strategy. This strategy lets students preview the text for unfamiliar words and share the meanings they know with one another. Next, we gave explicit instruction on any remaining words that students could not teach one another. We operated on the belief that students were competent enough to teach one another words they knew; in fact, they were more effective than we were because they explained terms in language their classmates readily understood.

We also assessed the students’ prior knowledge so we could give appropriate instruction. We used several other techniques to support students such as chunking text and establishing cooperative groups. After several difficult weeks with these students, the new teacher was pleasantly surprised by both the students’ excitement and the sophistication of their work. She told me that she had originally planned to make them copy overhead notes before we decided to work on the lesson together. In fact, she said the students developed much better summaries of the introduction than she would have.

And in my own personal “re-do” of Beowulf from my first year teaching, we planned lessons where students described characteristics and examples of “heroes” according to their own viewpoints, and then they compared and contrasted their views to how Anglo-Saxons viewed heroism.

When I look at my teaching journey, I notice that early on I only tended to behave in more culturally proficient ways when I worked with students who were  linguistically or racially different from me. Ironically, I was most unsympathetic to white students, who I believed were intentionally doing the “wrong” thing. Most of the students I failed in my first year were white. Since our skins shared color, I mistakenly believed we shared culture. Thus, I think we as teachers need to understand that culture is not fixed by race nor ethnicity or even income. Culture is a complex set of ever-changing factors that are different for every individual . We must look critically at our own cultures to understand that they are not the “truth”.  Our goal should be to learn about each of our students as individuals, allow them to connect to their own background knowledge to make connections to content, and become more cautious in how we interpret the actions of our students through our own cultural lenses.