I Have Failed and I’m Proud of It!

So much has been said lately in education regarding perseverance and grit. The work of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck has been widely embraced. As educators, we don’t always have opportunities to model these traits, but pursuing National Board Certification has given me this opportunity. In 2012, after teaching second grade for 8 years, I was selected as a National Teacher Fellow with America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers & Principals. At the spring conference they asked all the National Board Certified Teachers/Principals to gather for a photo. I looked upon that group and was inspired. On that cold day in February in the Memphis Marriott I decided I wanted to be in that picture.

America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers & Principals cohorts I & II
America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers & Principals cohorts I & II

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My Top Ten Tweet-able Takeaways from #NNSTOY15 Conference

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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.

  1. 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 oneLily 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.

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Building Student Relationships that last past June


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There has been a lot of research on the importance of relationship building and its impact on learning. Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that when students experience a supportive relationship of mutual respect with their teacher they are more engaged in their learning. A study was conducted by German researcher named   Liselotte Anhert and her colleagues to see if friendly supportive pre-school teachers had an impact on the academic performance of their students. Their research provided evidence that students with supportive teacher relationships did better than those who did not have them. In the online journal Parenting Science an article titled, Student-teacher relationships: Does it really matter if students and teachers like each other? © 2013 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.

 “To test this, the researchers have taken photographs of all the children’s teachers. And just before being given a new problem to solve, each child is shown her teacher’s face. The image appears only for a split second, a time span so brief the kids aren’t even aware of what they’ve seen. It’s subliminal. But it has an effect, because the kids who have close, affectionate teacher relationships – as opposed to distant ones — end up solving many problems faster (Ahnert et al 2012).”

The German researchers followed the students into their early primary learning years and found other interesting connections between the relationship and hormone fluctuation related to stress levels. Students with better relationships experienced less fluctuation. The power that a relationship between a teacher and student can have on a student is extremely important because it can impact future learning in addition to what goes on during the year they spend in the same classroom.

“Then there are the big, longitudinal studies, studies showing that kids who experience supportive student-teacher relationships in the early years develop fewer behavior problems years later, and show more engagement in the classroom”

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Student Surveys Have Tremendous Value, 21,600 hours of classroom observation per year

Using student surveys to improve teacher practice I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Ron Ferguson at an America Achieves Teacher Fellowship convening in February 2014. Dr. Ferguson, creator of the Tripod Student Survey, was presenting to the Fellowship on the research conducted as part of the Measures of Effective Teaching project (MET), that was conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The study used Tripod surveys, classroom observations and value-added measurements of student performance to identify effective teaching strategies and the best ways to identify them in a classroom. Of the three, student perception surveys proved to be the most valid. “Analysis by the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) projects finds that teachers’ student survey results are predictive of student achievement gains.” The study also found that, “student surveys produce more consistent results than classroom observations or achievement gain measures.” I find this to be extremely valuable to me, a classroom teacher. I often felt that my students were an untapped resource in the attempt to gauge my effectiveness as a teacher. One student will sit and observe me for 900 hours a year. If we do not use student surveys we are overlooking a total of 21,600 hours of observations over the course of 180 days in my 24 student class. On the other hand, the traditional observation conducted by highly trained administrators equates to less than 2 hours over 3 days. Surveys are easily administered and relatively inexpensive.

student survey stats

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Is fear keeping Teachers from taking risks with their students?

I love rules. They create order, and a parameter for fair play. Rules can help alleviate stress by taking decision making out of your hands: you simply follow them and all goes well.

So why do I break so many rules in my classroom? Well, let’s look at a scenario. The Developmental Reading Assessment 2, DRA2, clearly states that if the student takes more than 3 minutes to read the level 24 sample of text I am to stop the assessment and intervene. The student is suffering or struggling to an extent that the test is no longer beneficial. But, I have a hunch and refuse to stop the little girl sitting across the kidney shaped desk from me reading about a rabbit named Roger who found a giant cabbage in the middle of the road. She takes so long that by the time she reaches the end of the selection the timer on my clipboard shows 5:32. I fear there is no way she will be able to tell me what this story was about. She has clearly struggled with the text to a point that her ability to focus on the story must have suffered. Her word accuracy was spot on. So, I ask her to retell the story, and out comes a flawless, detail-laden account of the rabbit’s problem and how he solved it. She successfully answers even the difficult higher level thinking questions about what the author was trying to say with the story. I can’t tell you how many 7 year olds read that passage within the time limit, only to say the author wants you to invite rabbits over to eat some cabbage. I feel that this reading assessment was just right for her with the exception of her pace of reading. The test showed me where I need to work with her. What would have happened if I had followed the rules? Had I stopped and moved down a level it would have robbed her of a chance at reading material that she was clearly ready to. I would have underestimated and shortchanged her.

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Teacher PD (painful detention) becomes both Professional & Development

For Teachers the initials PD often mean Painful Detention instead of Professional Development. The traditional format of having educators learn new strategies or methods has been to sit in a room and listen to a person speak. The “Sit & Get” is horrible and in about 15 minutes a quick scan of the room you find most on their phones. Just check out this Chicago Public Schools example.

The worst is the PowerPoint from hell. An endless parade of slides with too much on each one. There ought to be a law that states you must warn attendees to the total number of slides before beginning. To make matters worse the room is full of extremely talented teachers who possess a high level of expertise across a myriad of topics and skills. The shifts in the paradigm in education sometimes seem to be occurring at a glacial pace. But then there can be a shift so noticeable you sit up and appreciate the new.

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Worksheets aren’t the problem.

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Much is said about the worksheet. All I ever hear is that there is a better way to teach than to use a worksheet. I disagree. I am putting myself out there for judgment and ridicule but I can prove that worksheets are not the problem but instead it is how you use them.

Today I asked a question of my second graders about what state Ruby Bridges moved from when she was 4 years old. We have been studying her life and story of integrating an all white school in New Orleans. The students starting responding with names of cities, states, countries and towns. So I immediately began planning our afternoon lesson on becoming more familiar with the 50 states in our amazing country. I printed out the map worksheet for each student and began to brainstorm how could I make this interactive and engaging? Then it hit me, I will use songs.

Using YouTube I cued up several songs, then checked their lyrics to assure at no point would they become inappropriate for 7 year old ears, and then started the lesson after lunch.

Students worked in pairs and were told to put their name of course on top of the evil worksheet. Then I told them to grab a blue crayon and when they heard the name of a state they had to find it on their maps and color it in. And so began our afternoon jamathon that caused other teachers to open adjoining doors and stick their heads in to sing a few lines of the catchy songs. The kids would moan when I would end a song early after all had completed the coloring in. I stayed a few states ahead of the class and we got a whole bunch of states colored in. Here are just a few songs we used today. Be forewarned there are few ear worms in here. It’s all about how you use it folks, there was nothing wrong with this worksheet! I had 100% engagement and kids were learning, laughing, dancing and singing. Geography and Social Studies should always be this much fun.