Saturday, March 22, 2014

10 Things That Separate Good Teachers from Great Ones

Cross Posted at Brilliant or Insane 

What separates a good teacher from a great teacher?

1 -- Good teachers teach the subject matter. Their students do very well on assessments.

2 -- Good teachers have high expectations for their students.
Great teachers have high expectations for themselves.

3 -- Good teachers are acutely aware of their surroundings. Their classrooms are well-oiled machines.
Great teachers "pick-n-choose" their battles. They recognize that each student should be treated fairly, but not necessarily equally.

4 -- Good teachers have students who produce.
Great teachers recognize that they are responsible for what their students produce.

5 -- Good teachers reflect.
Great teachers look to their peers, administrators, online, and read books to improve. Most importantly, they look to themselves for answers.

6 -- Good teachers seek to improve themselves.
Great teachers push their peers to become better. 

7 -- Good teachers provide consistent feedback.
Great teachers possess a growth mindset and constantly praise efforts.

8 -- Good teachers arrive to school on time and complete all their duties and obligations.
Great teachers go above and beyond for their students and their school. They never quit and never complain about the hours.

9 -- Good teachers are respected by their students.
Great teachers are loved by their students. 

10 -- Good teachers know their students.
Great teachers know their students better than they know themselves.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cougar Communication: Graphic Organizer, 1-3-6 Protocol

Excellence in Education: Graphic Organizers
We’re all aware of the research that says students should create graphic representations to assimilate knowledge. Graphic organizers allow students to visually categorize information, their student friendly and creating them enables students to retain and remember the information. Additionally, when used as a study aid, they’re a lot easier to look at and understand than notes or text.

Over the past week, I’ve seen several graphic organizers used as
1.     a summarization activity in preparation for a quiz (Venn Diagram)
2.     part of a guided reading activity (a story strip)
3.     a means of providing structure to a class-wide conversation (viewpoints-reactions-reflections)
4.     a timeline of events
5.     a pre-writing strategy (RAFT-Role, Audience, Format, Topic)

In teaching academic coaching, I kept a binder of graphic organizers. Students were encouraged to find/create their own graphic organizers to represent information from their core classes. Through this process, I learned that it’s often best to allow students to create their own graphic organizers because this requires them to determine what graphic organizer best serves the class’s learning target. 

Ideas for the Classroom: 1-3-6 Protocol
The 1-3-6 protocol puts students in charge of their learning. Working both individually and in groups students develop ideas and opinions about an reading or topic. Most importantly, the students are responsible for their learning and are actively engaged.

1.     Students are given an article to read.  
2.     Students write their responses to the article. For example, you could ask students to write the 5 most important facts from the article.
3.     Students are placed in groups of 3 where they share their ideas. Each group classifies/group their ideas and write a list on newsprint, an overhead, etc.
4.     Merge 2 groups (6 people now) and have the students share their ideas.
5.     Again, groups of 6 write a list of their ideas and bring them together.
6.     Each group of 6 shares their list with the whole group.

Obviously, this is similar to think-pair-share, but by creating larger groups you can more easily manipulate the flexible groups to meet the diverse needs of your students. For example, in a think-pair-share setting, one student may do the majority of the hard work while the other is passively engaged.

Other points:
1.     It need not be an article. Students can be responding to an article, a topic, a video, etc.
2.     A simple graphic organizer can be created by you or by your students.
3.     To get to a higher level, it’s important that students classify their information in the group stages. Alternatively, students can evaluate/rank the ideas. In other words, take this beyond simply summarizing.
4.     In a class with tremendously, diverse students, you can assign and change roles. Some possible roles: summarizer, discussion leader, note-taker, presenter.

Administrative Notes
Please don’t forget that current employees that are covered by VRS may elect to opt-in to the hybrid plan, but this ends on April 30.

With the snow days, we’ve fallen behind in positive referrals. Please take a moment to nominate a student

Saturday, March 1, 2014

6 Simple Ways to Energize Your Lessons

Last week I wrote about the importance of greeting students as they entered your classroom. Now once they're in your class, how do you hook them?

Within the first minute or two of a TV show, we’ve made a decision: Is this show worth watching or not?

The first few minutes of class are no different; student know whether the lesson will be engaging.

To inspire and engage students in learning avoid these engagement killers 
  1. I’m going to come around and check your homework. 
  2. Read through the roster to take attendance. Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, for example, only introduce the contestants after game play has started. 
  3. Give a graded quiz (students who do poorly may shut down) 
  4. Read announcements. Could you imagine a television show starting with the credits? 
When students walk into your classroom their curiosity should be piqued and their imaginations stimulated. Excite them.

Six simple ways to energize your lessons
  1. Ask students to make a guess or a prediction. We kill the love of learning by simply giving the answer. By asking the question first, students will be motivated to find the answers. I observed a science class where the teacher had posted a picture of robin's eggs on the projector. Individually students were asked to hypothesize, Why are robin eggs blue? Every student was hooked. They wanted to know the answer. 
  2. A two or three minute video clip can effectively introduce a topic or plant in their minds what they’re about to learn. The brevity of news stories lends themselves perfectly to this. 
  3. Give students a prop as they enter your classroom. These can be elaborate or simple. A math teacher gave students a golf ball and asked them to count the number of dimples (he later showed them a way to accurately figure it out using math and not simply counting). A world history teacher gave students a piece of paper with a role that the students would assume throughout the class. Students were hook
  4. In a BYOD classroom, post a QR code for students to scan. 
  5. Use art or music as a prompt. Ask students to respond to a song or artwork or have them create a drawing of their own. 
  6. Have students respond to a controversial statement. 
As an educator your success depends on your ability to engage students. If students aren’t hooked at the start of the lesson, chances are they won’t be engaged at the middle or end. Strive to start each class with an activity that will energize your students and inspire them to learn.

What are some of your favorite ways to hook and engage students? 

Helping a Student (Me) Break Out of My Shell

It’s safer to be quiet.

As a freshman in high school I was the prototypical geek, weighing 92-lbs with the glasses to match. I earned A’s, did all of my work and was never a problem student. But, I was silent--and I mean as silent as a stone--in every class. My silence was often incorrectly attributed to being shy. In truth, it was masking much more. I hide in the back of my classes. When asked a question, my standard response was, “I don’t know,” even if I did know. I was insecure and suffering emotionally.

One teacher saw me as intelligent but failed to see who I was. In class he called on me whenever another student answered a question incorrectly. “Reed, can you help explain to John why his answer is wrong?”

Despite knowing the answer, I’d purposefully fumble the answer or mumble, “I don’t know.” No way on Earth was I going to correct another student.

As the teacher pushed further for the answer, my heart would race, my palms would become clammy, and my breathing would become shallow. Fairly or unfairly, I grew to hate that teacher. What a jerk.

It was simply safer to be quiet.

Fortunately, most of my teachers supported and nurtured me. In essence, they cracked my outer shell to expose my strengths. They slowly built me up but never let me off the hook.

How’d they do it? 
  1. My math teacher always gave me a heads-up before asking me to go to the board. “Reed, I see you got number 5 right. Show me how you did it….Great! I’m going to have you answer that one on the board.” Even though math was my worst—and least favorite class—I became increasing comfortable. 
  2. In health class, a class that relied heavily on class discussion, my teacher always allowed us to pass on answering any question. In a class where personal matters were often discussed (and I wasn’t ready to share anything about my personal life), this was vital. By allowing us to opt-out, he created a safe and more welcoming environment. 
  3. My English teacher's constant use of think-pair-share also allowed safe participation. Instead of sharing with the entire class, I was given time to develop my own answers and discuss them with a classmate whom I was comfortable with sharing. Getting over this initial hurdle allowed me to become more comfortable in the whole class sharing portion. 
  4. Honestly, I don’t remember any of my teachers making use of wait time, but perhaps no instructional strategy is more important than making use of wait time when trying to encourage all students—especially, shy students and/or those lacking confidence in themselves or their abilities. 
While it didn’t happen overnight, I became more comfortable in who I was, and by my senior year, I became a school leader. None of this would have been possible had my teachers not taken the time to get to know me. They built up my confidence slowly. They worked with what I did well and expanded on it.

They believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Don't Measure Me By My Students' Test Scores

Cross-posted at Brilliant or Insane 
As a lifelong educator, I’d like to believe that all teachers and administrators understand we can’t use standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. So, I was shocked the other day when an educator, one who I think highly of, used test scores to compare two teachers’ effectiveness.

All of teacher A’s students passed the standardized test. Teacher B’s students didn’t fair as well, but teacher B’s classes were filled with special education students, rule breakers and fence-riders (those students who are easily swayed by their peers).

As a teacher, I loved teaching the most challenging students, so I was taken back by this educator’s dubious claim. If he were to look at my standardized test scores, would he think any less of me as a teacher?

When you teach challenging students, the state-mandated curriculum must not be ignored, but often it should take a back seat to the unwritten curriculum. Comparatively, the standard curriculum is easy to teach. If test scores were my primary concern, when a student misbehaved, I could have simply stated, “John, do the work or get a referral.” I then could return to teaching the mandate curriculum. My students’ test scores may have been higher.

But, I aimed to teach life skills, to build trusting relationships with all of my students and to help students learn from their errors (be they academic or behavioral).

Teaching the unwritten curriculum includes no absolutes. Every decision is complex and weighs heavily. Instead of focusing solely on test scores, I aimed to build students’ social and life skills. Instead of plowing through the curriculum, I taught with empathy. I tried to never leave a student behind; I never gave up on a student.

Sadly, test scores cannot measure these attributes. Teacher effectiveness can only be marginally reflected in the scores of our students. Please, never rely on test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.

What We Can Learn From Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin and Public Reaction

Cross-posted at Brilliant or Insane

The recent release of Ted Wills's report on Richie Incognito's bullying of Jonathan Martin brought workplace bullying to the forefront. 

Sadly, what happened in the Dolphins locker room occurs far too often in our schools. In watching, listening and reading media and public reaction to the report, I've been shocked by how often I've heard the following two statements.
  1. People need to understand the context and the dynamics of a football team's locker room.  
  2. Jonathan Martin will not be welcomed back into the Dolphins' locker room or ANY NFL team's. 
Is it any wonder why schools have trouble preventing bullying and harassment when such drivel spews from the mouth of experts, former players and the common man?

Let's examine the two offending statements:

People need to understand the context and the dynamics of a football team's locker room. The actions of Incgonito and two teammates are never permissible. As an educator, I've heard similar statements echoed by parents, students and even teachers,"They're just teasing" or "Boys will be boys."

Whether it's a highly educated, intelligent 312-lb professional football player or a 65-lb, bespectacled, prepubescent boy doesn't matter. The treatment of Martin was offensive and unacceptable. Where Martin "should have the opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL without being subjected to harassment," students should be able to pursue their education at school and be who they want to be. 

Jonathan Martin will not be welcomed back into the Dolphins' locker room or ANY NFL team's. Far too often the targets of harassment are vilified when they've done nothing wrong. According to Wills's report,  "the fear of being labeled a 'snitch' or a 'Judas' played a role in Martin's decision not to report the abuse from his teammates. Martin believed that going to his coaches...meant risking ostracism or even retaliation from his fellow lineman." Attaching such a stigma to telling undermines everything we should stand for.

Like many schools, the Dolphins failed to protect the target of bullying. Organizations--be they Fortune 500 companies or elementary schools--must create a safe climate, one in which everyone is respected and where inappropriate actions are reported by either the bullied or by bystanders. It's not enough to post anti-harassment posters and have a training session or two on proper conduct. Corporations and schools must establish a positive climate and culture where people can develop, be productive and pursue their dreams.

10 Reasons to Greet Students at the Door

Cross-posted at Brilliant or Insane

When you walk into restaurants and many shops, someone greets you as you enter. With a welcoming smile, the host makes you feel welcome and sets a positive tone for your dining or shopping experience. The same principle applies to students entering your classroom. While not always possible, we should strive to welcome our students to our classes every day.

10 Reasons to Greet Students at the Door
  1. Build relationships with your students and meet your their emotional needs
  2. Offer praise and feedback (this need not be class related)
  3. Some students, like those with ADD/ADHD,  have trouble switching classes. Greet these students at the door with explicit directions about what to do. For some of my more challenging students, I would essentially escort them to their seats to ensure they started class on task. 
  4. It gives you a chance to connect with every student and to gauge their emotional state.
  5. Students have a lot to say and we should take the time to listen to them
  6. Albeit brief, it's a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with a student 
  7. It gives you an opportunity to model (and for students to practice) socially acceptable behaviors, like eye contact, a firm handshake, and good posture.
  8. You can ask each student a question to formatively assess their understanding of the previous day's lesson. With some classes I'd take this a step further and ask a question which the students had to get right before entering class.
  9. Teach the students respectful behaviors. My rule was a simple one, "Every time I ask you a question, please answer the question and ask a question in return."          Me: Did you watch the football game last night?
              JJ: Yeah, I can't believe the Redskins lost. Did you watch it?
              Me: Of course. Not sure why it surprised you though. They've been awful this year. 

    A matter of caution, I'd often ask about their lives outside of school and about their weekends. For students with horrible home lives, doing so sets them back and can ruin your effort at fostering a welcoming classroom environment.
  10. It can be a time saver. While I had a consistent classroom routine, greeting students at the door would allow you to cue them to something that may be different (please be sure to turn in your homework or please pick up the work you missed yesterday from the absent folder)
Simply greeting students at the door has been proven to increase student attention to learning (on-task behavior) and it establishes teacher rapport with students. It's simple and effective and worth the little extra effort.