As a 2012 finalist for NJ State Teacher of the Year I am fortunate to be a member of The National Network of State Teachers of the Year, NNSTOY. This past week I attended NNSTOY’s annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The theme of the gathering was Transformers: Innovating Education. Here are my top ten takeaways from the amazing and inspiring conference.
- Transform the way we measure student performance. Lily Eskelsen Garcia
One of the speakers was NEA President and 1989 Utah State Teacher of the Year Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Her inspiring speech was well represented in an article by Morgan Jacobsen. Lily raised a question that many teachers have asked, where is the system that allows you to classify a student as gifted and talented in humanity? Her message was simple, we need to transform the system of how we measure student performance. We must use multiple measures that paint an accurate picture of a beautiful child and end the current practice of using just one standardized test which happens too frequently.
- Transform and personalize the learning experience through innovation and technology. Eric Sheninger
Eric Sheninger, a principal at New Milford High School, New Milford, New Jersey, has had a lot of success in transforming the student learning in his school. He presented many ways educators could infuse technology and use innovation to deliver lessons. Part of his message recommended moving away from grades as they are viewed as finish lines and often result in students stopping the learning process.
.As a matter of fact his school has been featured on the news numerous times. The flipped classroom is just one example of how the learning environments are being transformed in his school. Mr. Sheninger presented numerous ways educators can use technology to enhance learning but he pointed out that technology will never replace the teacher.
- Transform the way you teach, make the classroom receptive to all students. Pernille Ripp
One of the highlights of the conference for me was hearingand meeting a 7th grade teacher from Oregon Middle School in Wisconsin named Pernille Ripp. Her speech retold the story of how she became a teacher, followed the rules and produced just fine students. Pernille had an epiphany -producing “just fine” students was not the reason she became a teacher. So she set out to transform her teaching and classroom environment. Her simple question is one that can lead to transformative reflection:
Would you want to be a student in your class?
Would you want your children to be students in your class or a teacher like you?
Pernille with humor and grace spoke from very personal places involving her 5 year old daughter’s introduction to school. The culture and climate of the Kindergarten class was uninviting and her child began to hate school. We as educators must constantly challenge our students to attain high levels of success in all areas of academic, social and emotional development while making sure the journey is enjoyable. How can we expect students to come and be somewhere for 6 hours a day if they are miserable there? If we were in that situation we would try to change the environment or change jobs. Students have neither of those choices. Pernille reminded everyone present of the incredible power and responsibility we have each and every day working with the young students. We have the power to transform what we do so that our students grow and learn while enjoying the process. If we don’t advocate for them and fight for what we know is the best educational policies for them, who will?
- Ask three simple questions when you reflect on your teaching. Shanna Peeples, 2015 Texas & National Teacher of the Year
When we decide to transform how we teach we should take the time to reflect on what we are doing and then ask these 3 questions.
- What is working well in your class?
- What needs improvement?
- What do you want to do?
Candid responses to these questions will lead to meaningful insight into what we should do next. We need to personalize our teaching as much as the students need personalized lessons.
- Transform the way we listen as coaches and teachers. Joellen Killion Senior Adviser Learning Forward
Joellen Kilion’s session was primarily geared towards those in teacher leadership roles where supporting colleagues is a central focus. What I found was that her message was universal. As part of the presentation Ms. Killion had everyone pair off with someone we did not already know. Then the instructions were to listen without speaking as one spoke for 2 minutes about something they felt strongly about. For such a simple activity the gains were impressive. We naturally want to help solve problems and often we need to just listen. This can easily be applied to working with students as much as it was intended for teachers helping teachers. Ms. Killion also made a very salient point when she stated, “Imagine what would happen if you believed in the power that you have.” Teachers impact students in immeasurable ways and we have the power to impact policy. The skills of being a good listener are key to helping in the classroom setting but they also will serve you in the process of working with politicians and decision makers.
- Transform what we do: “Take those ‘Leaps’ they will lead to the best days of your teaching.” Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 Iowa State & National Teacher of the Year.
Taking risks in teaching are an absolute necessity according to Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 Iowa State & National Teacher of the Year. Students are constantly changing and our classrooms must be ready for them. If we are going to achieve deep and meaningful learning we must be open to trying new strategies and methods to reach our students. Sarah had so many points about how teachers need to demonstrate how to handle failure when some of these “Leaps” don’t land so well. Only then will our students believe us when we foster in them the growth mindset that failure is just a step towards success. By honestly showing how vulnerable we are can we develop trust which will lead to the students taking those “Leaps”. We are there to catch them and help them try again.
- It’s time we transform how we work with policy makers. Sharon Gallager-Fishbaugh, President of Utah Education Association & 2009 Utah State Teacher of the Year, and Governor Herbert Gray
Sharon Gallager-Fishbaugh and Utah Governor Herbert Gray both delivered similar messages. There needs to be common ground for teacher leaders and politicians to work together to come up with policy that will have a positive impact on students and learning. In times where so much contention makes the news or YouTube channels it was very inspiring to hear both of these speakers share stories of working collaboratively. It gave me hope to hear that they had not always been partners in education and that their journey has led to a more positive place.
- Network, Collaborate, Be Inspired. #BeTheChangeYouWantToSee
Something amazing happens when you attend a conference filled with people you follow on Twitter or Facebook. There is a professional learning network that you virtually interact with in chats. So often these people inspire you to try something new in your classroom or they give valuable insight into a student who is struggling. Then you meet them in person.
They are genuinely happy to see you and it takes the relationship to a higher level. Teachers are forming these networks with the best teachers in the country and beyond. The experience of spending a few days in the company of such amazing teachers pushes you to leave your comfort zone and take those “Leaps” Sarah Brown Wessling mentioned or to reinvent what you do like Pernille Ripp did. The field of education can be a difficult place to be in the current climate but events like this conference can be life savers.
- Transform the limits of your classroom via Skype. Dyane Smokorowski, 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year
Diane has inspired me to pursue an interest of mine in using Skype in the classroom. I have for some time wanted to be able to bring experts in the field into my classroom so that my students could interact and learn from them. Recently on a trip to New Orleans I met an amazing artist and wanted a way for my students to see her surrounded by her culture and her work, Skype is the answer. But Diane showed so much more can be achieved by using this technology in the classroom. The resources were amazing and the included ways to improve classroom management in the early elementary classes like mine. When I went through the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards process I learned the importance of connecting what I do as a teacher leader to student learning. I will bring back what I learned and improve my lessons with authenticity.
- Working with 4 year old Jayden at the Glendale Learning Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
NNSTOY always has a day of service as part of their conferences. This year two groups visited The Glendale Learning Center and the Intermountain Primary Childrens Hospital. I was fortunate to be able to work with a little four year old who was heading into Kindergarten. My first year of teaching was in a pre-school 12 years ago. I was so happy to relive some of the joy that is found in a pre-school setting. Volunteers were able to read to the students and then accompany them to the playground before engaging in activities that supported the reading and writing lesson. It was great to spend time in a local school connecting with the students who we dedicate our professional lives to. Even though it was just a few hours I and the other volunteers made connections with our students for the day. The magic of teaching is that connection, the relationship that had already begun to form that morning. Those relationships sustain teachers through some of the most challenging hours of our careers.
This conference had concurrent sessions and the examples presented are just a fraction of the excellence in education that was shared. In addition to these there were sessions focusing on such issues as personalizing the learning for students, Teacher Leadership and Professional Development, Cage Busting Teachers, The Model Code of Ethics for Teachers, and many others. The impact this all will have on my classroom and students is going to be big. I have all summer to reconstruct, rebuild and regroup. Thank you to NNSTOY and the presenters. This conference is open to all and next year will be in Chicago so keep an eye open for the dates.