Monday, September 30, 2013

Professional Growth: One Size Does Not Fit All

Hello Education Universe-

I'm licking my wounds a little bit this week from a few rough classes and some revelations that I'm not getting some of the results that I want.

It's going to be one of those years where I learn just as much (if not more) than my students.  I go between the stress of that realization and the excitement in a challenge to get a job done.

However as all of us go through our triumphs and tribulations as educators, we need different ways to get feedback and seek answers.  Unfortunately collaboration and time to prepare are locked beyond a wall made of red tape that has made our jobs much more hectic and high stakes than it ever has before.

That's not an excuse, it's reality.

However just as each student is on their own educational journey, so are we as teachers.  Sometimes self-reflection is the best way to help us figure out our next step.  Other times time is our best friend.  A weekend to clear our heads and get back in the game may be all we need.  Sometimes our colleagues have the answers we're looking for, or the ideas we have not yet thought of.

But again, when?

This is why personal learning and professional growth cannot be the same for each of us, and needs to evolve just like our profession constantly does.  There is so much out in the world to be found that sometimes we just need the time and the direction to find it.

I work with about a dozen wonderful teachers.  And a lot of they have found the answers I need as they made their way along the trail.  So with little time to talk or collaborate, how do we tap each other's skills?

The answer:  a blog.

Just like this one.  What if all those emails that we send to each other or those lunchroom conversations were encapsulated?  What if we kept them somewhere?  What if we tagged them to help each other?  What if the question we wanted to ask the expert teacher or that newer teacher savvy in the new techniques could be placed in one spot and answered as we have the time?

Why not?

Now imagine if we each reached out in our own ways into the education community through the development of our own personal learning networks.  Some of us like to talk face to face, others like to read, and others like to use social networking.  So in our own ways we can bring a multitude of information to back to base to be used as needed.

I'm going to say something right now that not everyone is willing to admit.  I can't do this job alone.  I need help.   I need encouragement.  I need feedback.  I need ideas.

But so does everyone else.  I have some that you need, and I'm game for trading.  But how?  But when?  It's so frustrating to know you need help finding the help to help yourself.  It's like Kid President said:  "I'm on your team, be on my team."


If you're like me, you can't switch your job off.  And when you don't feel effective, when you don't feel happy with how things are going, you dwell.  I'd be willing to bet that most struggling teachers would benefit from a way to grow professionally that is easily accessible and constantly growing.  We all want to be great, and some days we are.  Other days we are not.  And those days when I'm not great, I lose sleep over it.

So as I learn to be an administrator and by nature an instructional leader, I cannot wait to implement this  type of professional learning community.  A PLC of PLN's...  now that sounds interesting.

Ok, better get back to class.  We're talking about something... I think.  Oh shoot, I have a presentation to give.

Sometimes you just get on a tangent, and you just have to hope it takes you back to the circle.  But I guess that wouldn't make it a tangent would it?

Until next time,

Mr. J.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Preserving Artifacts Isn't Just for Archaeologists... or Administrators

Well Education Universe, I have some news for you-

Charlotte Danielson and her four domains are going to invade your school if they haven't already.  If you are like me, an Illinois educator, you know that soon enough our evaluation will be tied to four domains:  Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities.

Most schools require a combination of walkthroughs and formal observations to p determine an overall rating.  The information from these encounters is presented in the form of "artifacts" or "evidence."  Administrators are trained to collect this evidence, and while most teachers are not, we still need to do it.

This is where Google can come to the rescue.

With a few short clicks, you can set up a Google Doc form to help you.  I have done so already.  Setting up some sort of "artifact collection system" is a good idea because it allows you to store your own evidence of your quality teaching and professional experiences.  Nothing is worse than being caught with your pants down come your end-of-the-year evaluation.  While it should not be perceived that you are "going to war" during your end-of-the-year meeting, you do want to go prepared.

Administrators are busy.  They can't possibly see all of the good things your are doing in your classroom.  They may see some, or see you on a day you could wish you had back.  But if you are keeping your own evidence and collecting your own artifacts, you can showcase yourself to the best of your ability.

It's one of those things where you say to yourself that you will do later on... but we know we get busy.  Do it as you go.  You'll be amazed at what you are finding.  Just like we can't possibly show administrators everything we want to, we can't possibly just remember everything we do in the year.

Many pieces of evidence aren't planned.  That talk you have with an upset student, the spur of the moment lesson deviation, and the parent conversation you just happen to have in passing as you went to the office can also be pieces of evidence.  You won't remember those next week, let alone in May.

So do yourself a favor, and keep track of how good you are at what you do.  Your students will be the ones who benefit from you being a more mindful professional.

Take Care,

Mr. J.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Flipped Classroom Check-In #4: The One Where I Called Time Out

Education Universe, I could use a pick me up.

What an exhausting week, and it is Wednesday.  My flipped video ambitions have been somewhat neutralized for the moment.  I have an 8th grade class that balks at them because "last year was easier," and a 7th grade class that needs to show me they can handle independent work and a classroom management interface like Edmodo.

Needless to say, I am a little bit disheartened.  We are nearing the end of a unit, which I'm hoping will end with some sort of positive... something.

I feel as if in my enthusiasm to practice what I have been learning about, I may have forgotten the most important and sacred maxim of teaching:  do what is best for your students.

I have 8th graders telling me how they want to learn.  It's not an outrageous request.  It's just what they are used to.  They want the security of doing things they know how to do.  I like mixing things up to keep them on their toes.  I also like preparing them for the undoubtedly 8 different personalities they will deal with in high school at a given time.  I am conflicted.

I have learned a few things in my first attempt at a flipped classroom however.  Let me share with you a few things I probably read about and forgot, or ignored in my pursuit of something I thought would be awesome:

1.  Videos really do need to be short.
2.  If students in general are just watching the videos in your classroom because they don't do the work at home, you are facilitating a computer lab in which you hear yourself talking all day.
3.  BYOD and flipped classsrooms share a connection that is not required, but should be at least considered.
4.  Independent work using the flipped model requires a recognition on the part of the student that they need to do their part, and ask for help when they need it.
5.  Ease into flipping, do not just go for it.  It's too much for a child to handle without letting them get their feet wet first.

There is more I have learned and filed away, but those were my biggest lessons.  I don't think that this attempt was a failure, because I learned something.  Actually, I learned a lot of things.  I figure this experience in similar to Edison's first few hundred attempts on that pesky light bulb.  Didn't go so hot.  But he figured it out... so I need to keep trying.

It's been one of those weeks where as a teacher I really feel like I am working hard to just tread water.  I'm outgunned at the moment, and I thought flipping my classroom would be like the cavalry riding in.  That hasn't been the case.

So as I have blogged countless times to share, to collaborate, and hopefully inspire someone, this evening I feel like I'm sending out the blog equivalent of an SOS.  I could use a hand.  I could use  a fresh idea or two.  I could use a second viewpoint, or an alternate perspective.  Unfortunately, no one in my building is attempting something quite like what I was envisioning. Additionally, only one other teacher teaches in my subject area.  Regardless, the time to collaborate is just not there.

So I am reaching out to the Education Universe.  You have great ideas, and as my Twitter page says, I'm always looking for the next great one.

Is it cheesy to quote the new Batman movies about why we fall.  So we can learn to get back up of course.

Alright, back to work.  I need to keep giving it my all.

Mr. J.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flipped Classroom Check-In #3: The One Where I Learned to Adapt

What a week Education Universe.

I'm about three weeks into school now, and I have tried to employ my flipped model and XP systems that I devised this summer.  The XP system, combined with Edmodo and Classbadges has been great.  The kids love it.

The flipped model... not so much.

This one is on me.  I gave the kids more than I should have and not enough time.  In my head, this utopian concept of the kids working, asking questions, and moving on through the activities made sense.  In reality, lots of questions, frustration, distractions, being a kid in general, and computer issues have been what I am dealing with so far.

Every year I swear there is this point, a moment in the year, where you decide to keep on with what you are doing because you're just into the year too far.  I'm afraid of that point, so I'm blogging my resolve to rally the troops after the unit finishes and take a new approach.

I tried to do a little too much.  I thought some of my kids would be done so early with the flipped videos that they would need more to do.  That hasn't happened yet.  My bounty system therefore hasn't taken off like I would want it to.  The good news is that on September 5, I already know the changes I need to make.

I feel like that first year teacher again.  Wide-eyed, enthusiastic, but missing the mark because I just didn't know better yet.

So if this were a baseball game, I think I probably didn't strike out, but hit a weak ground ball to first base.  Time to shorten up, focus, and simplify.  This IS going to work.  It has become a part of me.

Ok, time to eat my lunch.

Mr. J.