Monday, February 28, 2011

The Evolution of Professional Development

On Friday we are having our 4th and final Professional Development day of the year. With both the support and assistance of our administrative staff we have been making some great strides when it comes to PD, and I can honestly say I am proud of the day we have planned for our teachers. The purpose of this post is to tap into the power of my PLN to get feedback and suggestions. Particularly, I am interested in knowing if other schools and districts are using similar formats, as well as any ways you think we could improve upon our offerings and/or the structure of the day. Thank you in advance for your assistance!

We have full-day PD days, and consequently we have divided the day into 3 parts:

Part 1 - 8:00am - 11:00 - 3 sessions on a rotating basis

Our staff is divided into 3 groups: Group 1 is Math and English
                                                Group 2 is Science and Social Studies
                                                Group 3 is Vocational, Practical Arts & Humanities
                                                *Special Education is with their cooperating department

Fedex Time: We will be providing our teachers with 45 minutes to research, explore and discover something educationally related. Our goal is to reinforce the notion of autonomy among our colleagues, while also giving them the necessary time to explore. The last 15 minutes of this session will be used to share resources and links. Additionally, we will be providing a Google Doc for teachers to list the links and a brief description of what they discovered.  

Service Learning: This session will provide additional time to share and collaborate ways in which our staff can implement Service Learning projects with the local establishment we have teamed up with. Either as individual classes or groups within departments, this time will be utilized by teachers to help put their plans into action.

Advisory: In this session we will get the opportunity to talk about and discuss our upcoming half-day. This is the first year of our school wide advisory program, and as such we have been spending a lot of time talking about ways to increase its effectiveness and ways we can improve upon it for next year. The advisory session helps to model different strategies and methods our teachers can use with their students to both establish and strengthen relationships.  

Part 2 - 11:00am - 12:00 - Powerlunch *Optional and NOT required*

"Powerlunch" is a working lunch where both teachers and administrators spend an hour talking about any and all issues related to education and ways we can improve student achievement at our high school. Our goal is to provide a relaxed environment where educators can feel free to talk and discuss educationally related topics. This is only the 2nd time we have offered a "powerlunch."

Part 3 - 12:00pm - 3:00 - 6 sessions: Teachers choose to attend 2 of the 6 sessions

In an effort to meet the needs of our teachers we are constantly polling and asking our teachers to evaluate how we are doing as a Professional Development Committee. We have selected sessions that teachers have expressed an interest in, and we hope that by providing 6 different choices we can meet the needs of our staff. We have been using and will most likely continue to use building teachers to lead our sessions because we believe in empowering and developing leaders among our staff. We sent out a Google Doc last week for our teachers to sign up for their two sessions.  

Session 1: Building and establishing student rapport - Lead by a building science teacher

Session 2: Video clips + discussion - Lead by me

Session 3: Blogging + readers & online animations - Lead by building English teacher @JPPrezz

Session 4: Brain research and classroom application - Lead by our Deputy Superintendent

Session 5: Strategies to increase parental involvement - Lead by two building math teachers

Session 6: Gradebook session - Lead by a building science teacher

Here is the schedule we have provided our teachers: 3/4/11 PD Schedule

A special thanks goes out to our presenters, and most importantly @thompson_shs, @JPPrezz, and our building Principal @mrgrimshaw for their hard work in making this day possible.

What are your thoughts...?   

Friday, February 25, 2011

Add a little "Jing" to your day...

Today in my German 2 and 3 classes I experimented with Jing. I discovered Jing while reading a blog post on "speedgeeking" by @Holtsman. After watching the example I was immediately in love with Jing, and consequently I proceeded with the free download. Within minutes Jing was up and running, and before I knew it I had created a short explanation of Google Reader.

I began to envision how Jing could be used as a tool to communicate with students, colleagues and even parents. Shortly after the first video I created a second video for my High School's upcoming Professional Development day. The power of this tool was becoming quite clear to me.

The next logical step was trying to figure out how I could use Jing with my German students. I decided to create 4 videos that would provide my students all the information they needed for the day's activities. The idea was great...the kids loved it...the results were fantastic...Jing worked perfectly...bystanders were impressed...BUT...

1st issue: After about 35 seconds students began to have problems with their Jing videos. It wasn't really a problem, but it is a problem when you have 27 students trying to watch the same video at the same time. The videos were requiring more time to buffer than what I had imagined. Long story short, I asked my students to be patient and to check out Free Rice to practice their German vocabulary (and to help the hungry).

2nd issue: After about 35 minutes in first hour all the links to the videos stopped working. Talk about a you know what kind of moment. After what seemed like 27,000 students calling my name at exactly the same time, I quickly realized there was a problem. Jing gives you 2GB of free 27 students in first hour used up the 2GB in 35 minutes. After a minor freak out I searched for answers. Long story short, I purchased an additional 200GB for $10. This is a monthly charge, and I am not sure if I will continue this.

3rd issue: I thought it would be a good idea to take a few videos from YouTube as discussion starters. The idea remains good, however when using Jing the videos came out a little choppy and didn't run as smoothly as I had hoped. Long story short, I don't plan on using too many videos from Youtube when using Jing.

Conclusion: Overall I was happy with today's results. Now that I am more aware of Jing's strengths and weaknesses, I believe I will be better able to use it more appropriately and effectively. I still see a ton of potential with Jing. It's a great tool that can help share a quick burst of information or explanation from your computer screen. I hope this post provides a little real world experience, and if you would like to talk to someone else with more "student Jing experience," I would encourage you to contact @Grade1...happy Jinging!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

10 videos that WILL ignite a discussion: Part 3

If you didn't know, I really enjoy watching short videos. In particular, I really enjoy watching videos that get me thinking and reflecting on my educational practices and beliefs. I have been using short videos in Professional Development sessions to get educators at my high school talking and discussing issues related to education. This is the third installment of the series..."videos that WILL ignite a discussion." I encourage you to check out 7 videos that WILL ignite a discussion - Part 1, as well as 10 videos that WILL ignite a discussion - Part 2. As always, please let me know what others videos you would include on these lists. Enjoy!

Seth Godin on Education

Response to Principal who Bans Social Media - @innovativeEdu

Teacher Motivation - @justintarte

You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader - @mark_sanborn

What Teachers Make - Taylor Mali

Education is Broke - @chrislehmann

A Vision of K-12 Students Today

Fixing America's Broken Education System - @dianeravitch

Add Value to People - @johncmaxwell

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - Patrick Lencioni

Friday, February 18, 2011

Evaluating educator evaluations...

Teacher and administrator evaluations...surely a topic that will garner the attention of all educators!

Yesterday I was sitting in my Advanced School Law class and we started discussing teacher evaluations as they pertain to contract renewals and dismissals. As my professor continued the discussion, I started to hear some great "tweetable" statements. For those of you in the Twitterverse, you know how great it is to hear "tweetable" statements while listening to a presentation or a discussion...needless to say, I went to work.

Within a few short moments the back channel tweeting had come alive, and before I knew it I was in the middle of a conversation with @Akevy613, @L_Hilt, @skulpa, @pete_rodrigues and @davidwees.

Now, one of two things happened here...either people really just love having conversations with me on Twitter (not likely), or people have really strong feelings about educator evaluations and how we can work to improve them. I'm going to go with option # 2...

Here are a few things I took away from our great conversation:

- The evaluator should be focusing on what the students are learning, not just how the teacher is teaching...

- Teacher evaluations should be about reflection and learning...not about paperwork and protocol...

- A negative teacher evaluation is not negative if it is helping to get the best educators for kids...

- We need shorter, more frequent observations with less formulaic write ups...cut and paste doesn't work...

- Our students deserve the best teachers possible...this should be our # 1 priority when talking about teacher evaluations...

- Evaluations are not about punishing teachers...they are about helping teachers to increase student success...

- We need to streamline the evaluation process so we can spend more time discussing and reflecting...

Please share what you are doing at your school and in your district as it pertains to educator evaluations...both for teachers and administrators. Additionally, how do you think we can improve the evaluation process so we are focusing on educator growth and development...?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The #noteachday has arrived!

After thinking how cool it was for @datruss and @dwight_carter to have their own #noofficedays, I began to start thinking about what I could do as a teacher. I thought about having a #noclassroomday, but there are lots of days when I am not in my classroom. I then shifted my focus to something I have been trying to do a lot more of this year with my German students...a #noteachday...
I have started a cultural shift in my German classroom that is putting more responsibility and accountability on the students. Now, don't misunderstand what I am saying...the students are not being held responsible and more accountable for additional work, but rather they are being held responsible and more accountable for their own learning. My role as the teacher has shifted from a holder and distributor of knowledge to more of a facilitator and guide of learning.

My German 2 students were starting their very first Glogs, while my German 3 students had the choice of using Glogster, Prezi, Xtranormal or Storybird to do a presentation about a famous German. I didn't teach my students anything about any of these platforms...instead I gave them links to resources and any additional information that could help them, and I allowed them to explore, discover and teach themselves how to use these platforms.

On a side of my German 3 students taught me something that is great for educators who are unable to access Youtube at school. Additionally, one of my German 2 students started her Glog the day before the rest of the class because she checked my blog and wanted to get started. A student working on something not even assigned yet on a Sunday...definitely shows the power of social media and an engaged student...

I encourage all educators to let go a little and empower your students to take more control over their learning. As difficult as it is to imagine, the less we as educators do in the classrooms, and the more the students do, the better. I look forward to hearing your comments on my first #noteachday!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reflections of an Educator - Guest blogger Tonya Thompson

A few days ago, Justin and I got the privilege of spending a few hours with the ever-insightful and inspirational author and speaker Mark Sanborn. We had unknowingly crashed a professional public speakers meeting, and we got a chance to have an experience that was both unusual for us and really, really interesting. While Mark’s speech was directed more at the business end of being a public speaker, I felt like I took away some great ideas that easily translate into my career as an educator.

* If you don’t know the biggest titles and the seminal works in your area, you’re not an expert... 
“Whaaaat? I teach, that means I know things! Of course I’m an expert!” Could we even name the most important titles in education today? Sure, we all read Harry Wong in college. But how many of us have picked up a book that’s been written in the last 10 years? 5 years? We ask our students to read to learn and keep their minds sharp, but are we following our own advice? Whether it’s a book on theory, or methodology or subject-area specific… all of us could use a page-turner to stay fresh.

* Forward to normal. You can’t benchmark normal in the past; it has to be in the future...
I don’t think anyone would argue that the times are a-changin’. Just look at the kids in your classroom. Are they the same kind of kids you had 5 years ago? Basic kid things aside, of course they’re not. Their attention spans are shorter, their outside influences are crazier… these are different kids. So why are so many of us still operating on the “if it ain’t broke, it don’t need fixin” mentality? If we don’t have the same kind of students, why is education as a whole still operating the way it did 50 years ago? Change has to start somewhere, so decide what’s going to be “normal” for your classroom and go charging full-speed ahead.

* Being different is worthless, if it’s not valued…
A few years ago, we had a student that had (I kid you not) an 18 inch high blue mohawk. Most of the teachers probably just viewed him as another potential problem child, so the mohawk and tough attitude were worthless to them. But the other kids in the hall… they watched him with wide eyes and a fearful sort of reverence. He dared to stand out and that had value to the general population of students. 
You could tap dance and sing at the beginning of every class, and while that would certainly make you stand out, would it necessarily add value to what you do? You’d be entertaining, but would you be a better teacher because of it? If you read “The Giver” (Lois Lowry), as everyone should, you’d remember “sameness” made for misery. Even as adults and educators, we have to learn to separate ourselves from the masses and be willing to stand out, even if it’s not popular. Embrace new ideas, because someone along the way WILL find value in them.

While Mark doesn’t write specifically about education, his books are certainly worth a read. Be sure to check out “The Fred Factor” and/or “You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader”.

This post was written by guest blogger Tonya Thompson (@thompson_shs). Ms. Thompson is a Library Media Specialist at Seckman High School in Imperial, MO. This is Ms. Thompson's 2nd guest blogger appearance. You can find her first blog post here: The School Family 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fear of the unknown...

I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of the teachers at my school of whom I have great respect. We were discussing some of the issues that were both preventing and slowing further growth of our colleagues.

The ultimate reason we came up with kind of surprised me, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense; FEAR. When we are talking about educators and the future of education, there is always one big variable...the variable of the unknown...

Whether we are talking about professional development, Twitter and blogging, new and innovative ideas, or a new approach to education, educators are faced with the possibility of having to rethink and reconsider their educational practices and beliefs. As all educators know, rethinking and reconsidering educational practices and beliefs can be easier said than done.

New ideas and new concepts mean change, and change is scary, and when times are scary people get afraid, and when people get afraid they shut down. When we approach our colleagues with new ideas or suggestions of how we can improve education, we need to remember and be aware of how they are going to feel. Even if the new idea or concept is guaranteed to produce amazing results, educators will still be afraid of the unknown. We need to anticipate and address their fears and concerns before fear limits forward progress...

What strategies and methods do you use to help limit the effects of fear and the unknown when presenting new ideas? How can we create an environment that encourages risk taking among educators in an effort to improve the educational climate?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let's keep our focus...

I recently read a blog post by @johntspencer titled "Techno-Shame." John eloquently explains why he has removed most 21st century technology blogs from his feeder. I will be taking a line directly from John's post because I don't believe I could say it any better...."Over time, I've dropped most of those blogs from my feed, realizing that the utopian dream is a powerful hallucinogen that will prevent me from seeing the often humble reality of my own classroom."

I believe John is making an excellent point here, and if I was to be 100% honest with you, I would say I have definitely fallen into the trap of over excitement when it comes to technology integration. Educators across the world are finding new and innovative ways to increase educational effectiveness, and for the most part this is a good thing. There are the obvious advantages to using technology, but the not so obvious dangers still linger. Technology is not a silver bullet and will not guarantee student engagement and academic achievement...but it can help.

If you knew me or have read my blog you would know I really enjoy technology and I am always looking for new ways to use technology in my classroom. Technology has allowed me to do some awesome things with my German students this year, but technology has in no way replaced the foundation of my classroom... technology has become a tool I use to enhance my classroom. A normal day for me includes pencils and paper, students sitting in desks either alone or in groups, and most days do not include any fancy or neat pieces of technology.

By no means am I saying technology is a bad thing...I would argue that it is a fantastic thing, but I agree with John that there are some concepts that might be better without the use of technology, and for the educators who aren't using technology every day in class, it's okay! There is no rule that says if you don't use technology every day there is no way to teach and prepare students for the 21st century. If technology can be used to improve and enhance the learning environment it should be used, but it should not be forced for the sake of using technology. Our focus as educators should and must remain on doing what is right for our students, not what new cool gadget or technology program we can use...

I can only hope that my thoughts and ramblings came out as eloquently and as clear as John's "Techno-Shame" post...

I would love to hear your thoughts on technology integration and how technology should be included...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

10 videos that WILL ignite a discussion: Part 2

Here are 10 videos that will get you thinking and reflecting on your educational practices and beliefs. I did a post a few months ago with 7 different videos, and the response was quite positive. Leave a comment and let me know what other videos you would add to the list. Thank you and enjoy!

1) - The Flipped Classroom

2) - Mark Sanborn - The Fred Factor

3) - When I Become A Teacher

4) - You Can't Be My Teacher

5) - Facebook Privacy - A New Approach

6) - Digital World: Teachers Today

7) - Technology in Schools: 25 Students Sound Off

8) - 21st Century Education Remix

9) - Magnolia High School - Katy Perry

10) - Daniel Pink - A Whole New Mind

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's never too late...

I got the idea for writing this post while listening to a Taylor Swift song (insert laughter/joke here). Yes, I happen to enjoy the occasional song by Ms. Swift. By no means is this post meant to change the world or is it meant to provide some great insight into an educational problem. It is however, meant to encourage and motivate you.

The song is titled "Innocent," and there was one particular line that struck a cord with me...

"Today is never too late to be brand new"

I highly doubt this line was meant for educators, however I believe it has a ton of relevance for people of all walks of life.

If you are anything like me, you have most likely made a mistake (or several in my case)...

You have most likely done something not quite as well as you would have liked...

You most likely know people who don't really know the "true" you...

You most likely could use a "fresh" start in some aspect of your life...

The good news is..."Today is never too late to be brand new!" Take this opportunity to reflect and find a part of your life, either professionally or personally, that seems to be lacking or untrue to yourself, and make a change. This quote by Anne Frank sums it up quite well:

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Leading by example...

A couple weeks I decided to do something most educators would never dream of doing. I gave all 140 of my German students the opportunity to assess me. I explained to my students that the assessment was 100% anonymous, and the most important thing was to give me the truth.

Here is the link to the "Herr Tarte" assessment. There were 9 required questions, and 3 optional questions to provide me with additional feedback. I would like to thank @shannoninottawa for providing the idea and model.

Here are the 9 questions and my "scores." It was on a scale of 1 to 3: (1 was the best, while 3 was the worst) therefore, the lower the average score the better.

1) - (1.34) - Herr Tarte cares about me and takes an interest in my hobbies
2) - (1.16) - Herr Tarte is respectful and treats all of his students with respect
3) - (1.19) - Herr Tarte is always fair, open and honest
4) - (1.11) - Herr Tarte wants me to succeed in learning as much as possible
5) - (1.30) - Herr Tarte is clear in his expectations and directions
6) - (1.20) - Herr Tarte makes learning in German class fun and interesting
7) - (1.23) - Herr Tarte successfully integrates technology into German class
8) - (1.42) - Herr Tarte gives me a voice and a say in how we do things in German class
9) - (1.36) - Herr Tarte is someone I trust and feel comfortable talking to

Here is the link to the final results if you would like to read the responses to the last 3 questions.

I know most educators have an idea of how they are performing, but I believe it is important to check the "pulse" of your students from time to time. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous and afraid of what the students would say...but a part of me just thought, maybe their feedback and assessment of my instructional methods would help to make me a better educator in the long run.

By taking a risk and allowing my students to have a voice in assessing me, I think I am helping to break down the barriers between the student and the teacher. I don't want my students to think my job is to have all the answers and simply pour information into their heads. I want my students to see me as a continuous learner who is always trying to improve. I want my students to see me as someone who is willing to take a risk in hopes of improving and doing better next time. In education, we are always talking about leading by example...what steps are you taking to lead your students by example...?

Additionally, what are your thoughts on giving students the opportunity to assess their teachers...?