Category Archives: Education

TPEP 2: Personnel Supports–Impact and Reflection

This is the second post in a series regarding the current Teacher and Principal Evaluation System (TPEP) in Washington State.  Each post will examine findings from the University of Washington’s Final Report on TPEP, titled ‘Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation System:  Examining the Implementation of a Complex System.’  The full report can be found here:  http://www.education.uw.edu/ctp/sites/default/files/UW_TPEP_Rpt_2017_Rvsd_ADA.pdf  

In my last post I examined the challenges of the comprehensive model.  I also shared my building’s first go around with comprehensive and how we established systems to make the process a bit more manageable.  My administrators reworked their schedules, which created greater capacity for time in the classroom and meetings with teachers.  This shift has been a positive one, accentuating discussion about teaching/learning and not about student discipline/classroom management, only. In the recent University of Washington report on TPEP Implementation, teachers noted increased engagement of instructional leadership by administrators, including use of the instructional framework and feedback on student growth goals (Elfers and Plecki, 25).  Administrators concur with the findings of their teachers.  “A majority of principals (70%) and assistant principals (79%) agree that TPEP has allowed them to to focus more on instructional leadership (Elfers and Plecki, 25).  

TPEP fundamentally changed my school and my job. While my administrators made some serious adjustments, I did, too. Three years ago I became a .2 instructional coach. My responsibilities are diverse in many ways, but essentially I assist our teachers with TPEP.  I support student growth goal writing, coach/reflect with teachers on lessons taught, and implement new technology and engagement strategies. Over the past three years, the demand for coaching time has increased resulting in the expansion of our model. I am now one of two instructional coaches–I serve as a .4 and my colleague is a .2 release.  Basically, we’re the eyes and the ears of the teachers, not the administrators. Our job is to help our teachers navigate design and delivery of instruction, assessment, management, goal writing, and whatever else they need.  This is good work. This is important work. This work impacts students and teachers each day. This was absolutely driven by TPEP. That’s not to say that this is a negative.  New technologies and strategies have developed because of our coaching model.  In some ways, work that individual teachers took on has been shifted to our coaches.  It’s surprising to look back and consider the supports teachers should have received for years but didn’t.  Maybe teachers didn’t even know that they could ask for those supports?  In any case, TPEP was the catalyst.

My building is not alone.  “59% of superintendents and 15% of school administrators said that they added time from instructional coaches, TPEP coaches, or department heads”  (Elfer and Plecki, 41).  The results are staggering. There is a cost.  An increase in coaching and department head work results in loss contact time with students.  When I decreased my teaching load from five courses to four and then from four to three I immediately realized that I’d be working with fewer students.  I was acutely aware of what I was missing but also worked to amplify the relationships that I was building with the students in my remaining three class periods.  But, in all honesty, I miss the kids that I’m not teaching.  

Clearly TPEP has increased workloads for administrators. The report indicates, “About three-quarters of principals and assistant principals who responded to the survey agreed that TPEP has reduced their ability to perform other essential duties (76%) and reduced the amount of time interacting with students (73%)” (Elfers and Plecki, 28).  So, if we’re going to do TPEP “right” and make it meaningful, teacher driven, a natural harvest of work, and focused on student learning outcomes, how do school manage the logistics of this work?  Has an increase in coaching been the only solution?

UW’s report also speaks to the rise of administrative positions as a result of TPEP.  The Seattle Times asserts that TPEP led to a “hiring spree” (Seattle Times, Ed Lab, January 9, 2018).  The most significant impact in hiring came in the form of the assistant principal position where growth far exceeded the expansion of principal positions.  From 2010 to 2016, the number of principals grew by 4% compared with a 29% increase in assistant principals (Elfers and Plecki, 41).  The largest area of growth within the market was at the elementary level. The Seattle Times highlights that this was a 126% growth for elementary school assistant principals.  The data begs questions. How many of those schools that saw growth never had an assistant principal?  In schools where an assistant principal (AP) was added, how has the principal’s job changed?  What’s been taken off of his/her plate?  What’s been added?  What’s multiplied?  The diverse landscape of our state is made up of small schools, many which may have traditionally only had one administrator at the helm.  Is the increase in administrative positions, particularly with regard to the elementary assistant principal, directly caused by TPEP related duties or correlated with TPEP and the outgrowth of stronger instructional practices and resuscitated funding emerging out of an improved economy during this time span?  

TPEP isn’t binary and it’s not useful to think about who/what systems win and who/what systems lose as a result of the implementation.  Instead it’s far more useful for buildings and districts to consider the voices of stakeholders and reflect and adjust. Perhaps supports were needed for quite some time and TPEP created the impetus for the change? But, even with these report findings, I can’t say that definitively.  What I do know is that teacher quality and student learning isn’t easy to measure and systems must reflect those obstacles and provide flexibility in order to demonstrate fidelity to the evaluation process. To do so may require these personnel supports but without integrity to this process, TPEP will surely collapse.

Snapshots of Co-Teaching

When I returned to classroom teaching after five years at home, there was a lot of newness for me. New building, new Common Core standards, new SMART boards. But perhaps the biggest “new” was the teaching model I’d be using: co-teaching.   My high school, like buildings throughout my district and country, are using co-teaching as the means to support inclusion of students with IEPs in general education courses. This means that a certificated specialist (sometimes an ELL teacher, sometimes a Special Education teacher) is paired with a general education teacher; the two teachers work together to support the needs of all students in the classroom, ideally using a mixture of the six approaches outlined by Dr. Marilyn Friend, one of the leading advocates of the co-teaching movement.

Fortunately for me, I was paired with an incredible educator last year, Monique LeTourneau, and we continue our partnership together this year. There are many resources out there to explain what co-teaching is and advice on how to make it work for teachers and administrators. But for the purpose of this post, I’d like to give you some snapshots of what co-teaching is like, a glimpse into what the policy looks like in practice in one classroom in one school in one city. With two teachers.

I.

It’s Wednesday night and I cram in a few last minutes of planning for the next week before my weekly planning meeting with Monique the following morning.   I type in the plans for each day, referring back to our co-planned scope and sequence, making notes on what we need to discuss.   Should we try station teaching with 5th period? Does she know of a more complex text we could offer students as an optional extension? How can we make sure 6th period can access the texts we’ve planned? Could we offer a “huddle” for students who want more support during our writing workshop?

II.

With seven and a half hours of arena-style conferences ahead of us, I shove a table in next to Monique’s. I leave a note by the “Hs” that Ms. Hanawalt can be found by Ms. LeTourneau.   A student comes in with his mother and we both lean in, active and equal partners in supporting this student.   The student mentions he is struggling with his independent reading; Monique informs him that because he has an IEP, he has access to an audiobook service through the district. He seems relieved. We all stand to shake hands.

III.

During third period, I stand at the door, fist-bumping students on their way in. Monique is inside, helping students get settled and started on their “Do Now.” I see one student walking slowly towards the door, tears in her eyes. I am scheduled to be the lead teacher for the opening activity, but I peek in, whisper a few words to Monique, and the student and I head out for a walk and talk. Monique takes over the teaching without hesitation.

IV.

We are reading a challenging James Baldwin essay. I give students two options for their learning for the day: if they want to read it out loud and dissect each paragraph, they will stay in my classroom; if they feel ready to dive into discussion, they will walk across the hall to Ms. LeTourneau’s room. Students make a choice and some pack up their stuff and walk to the other room.  The learning continues.

V.

I’m sitting with a student, listening to her concerns about balancing her academics with sports. She is concerned about her academic eligibility and wonders if her IEP allows her to have lower grades and still be eligible. I respond that I don’t think that it does, but that she should check with Ms. LeTourneau because she knows all about IEPs. The student looks at me with raised eyebrows: “She’s a Special Ed teacher? I didn’t even know.”

 

Co-teaching doesn’t feel so new to me anymore, but it definitely is not easy. As in any relationship, Monique and I must invest energy to make our partnership effective.   And sometimes, even though two minds might be better than one, putting those minds together takes extra time and communication. But this collaborative and trusting relationship allows us to serve the needs of our collective classroom community more effectively, while also giving us the flexibility and space to respond to the needs of individual students.

National Boards: Let Me Tell You Why

Washington State just welcomed 1,434 new National Board Certified Teachers. That makes 10,135 statewide. The popularity and support of National Board Certification indicates an emphasis on quality education for the students of our state. We are fortunate to have support at a level that teachers in other states can only imagine.

Suddenly, all around me, teachers are taking notice and asking about National Boards. What is it like? Should they do it? Is it worth it?

Good questions. I think I have some answers.

I am a National Board Certified Teacher. And that matters. Now let me tell you why.

NBCTs demonstrate a new levels of dedication to their students. Certainly, I was thoroughly dedicated before I certified, as are the majority of teachers. I was the sort of teacher that was always looking for ways to improve my practice. I wanted to be the teacher my students deserved. And I was willing to work for it. This is just the sort of teacher that decides to pursue certification.

It takes a certain work ethic to pursue certification, but the extra work is worth it if students benefit. When it’s all said and done, certification is a badge of honor, proof of dedication.

NBCTs take increasing pride in their work. And yet there is a certain humility that we cultivate as well. We know that everything we do is grounded in our knowledge of our students and their needs.

I was the first in my small, rural district to certify. Hardly anyone seemed to notice at the time. Despite that, I was overflowing with pride in my achievement and a new level of confidence.

That newfound confidence led me to do something bold on that very day. I was looking for my name on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website. I just wanted to make sure it was there, that I really was an NBCT. An announcement on the webpage caught my eye. The NBPTS was looking for applicants for its English Language Arts Standards Committee.

I had just certified…just that day. But did that keep me from filling out an application? No, it did not. And, by some miracle, I ended up on that committee.

With the NBPTS ELA Standards Committee, I had the experience of working with passionate and talented educators from around the country, creating standards that made us all very proud. The experience left me with a weird mixture of humble gratitude and elevated confidence in my abilities.

My certificate- A student’s reflection is visible, if you look closely. It has a place of honor in my classroom, as a reminder to keep my students at the forefront of my practice.

For many NBCTs, the journey doesn’t end at certification. NBCTs don’t retreat from the work. They know that we have to continue growing and improving as professionals, just as we want our students to grow and improve.

My professional journey has made me a much better learner alongside my students. I have learned to adjust on the fly, and to tweak activities and instructional tools to work for individuals, small groups, and whole classes. And, most of all, I know that we are all works in progress. My students and myself, we have a lot of growing to do. My NBCT journey gave me the confidence to always be in the middle of it, never just coasting on what I have always done before.

NBCTs develop the courage to look back and ask hard questions about their practice. We know what it is like to be judged by our peers, and, as unnerving as it is, the growth we achieve through the process propels us, perpetually looking back in order to move forward. The NBCTs I talk to always say that the certification process forces them to increase their ability to reflect and seek feedback. There is always something that can improve.

If you are trying something new, if you are pushing yourself to improve, you will find yourself in uncomfortable territory, where failure is possible. Not everyone is up to this, but NBCTs are ready to reflect and to adjust their practice as needed.

NBCTs seek opportunities to collaborate with others to provide the best experiences for their students. That means reaching out to their colleagues, their communities, their online resources and beyond. Our access to ideas and support is virtually limitless. For years, this pursuit of a network of support has bolstered my practice, increasing my confidence and filling my toolbox full of instructional tricks of the trade.

With the new interest in National Board Certification in my rural region, it became part of my journey to become a cohort facilitator and help others on their path to certification.  Local cohorts like ours are making it possible to get rural educators on board.

This year, two of my colleagues certified; so there are three NBCTs in my district now, and five more candidates in the process. The fire that has been lit across the state has ignited in rural Lewis County after all.

So, if you or someone you know is considering National Board Certification, if you are wondering what all the fuss is about, let me tell you:

Through National Board Certification teachers validate their practice and gain confidence to take it to the next level. Certification begins a journey of professional development that can be richly rewarding.

I highly recommend it.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

With the recent news that 1,435 teachers recently earned National Board Certification and 533 teachers renewed National Board Certification, the State of Washington has much to celebrate. This achievement means a great deal to the teachers, districts, cohorts, and our state education system, including a variety of agencies and organizations that provide supports to those seeking certification. However, for those who’ve just earned certification, your race to the finish line might feel it’s over, but In fact, it’s just beginning.

Thirteen years ago I began my National Board Certification journey. I was a fourth year teacher, both new to Washington and my district.  I was the first in my district to attempt certification much less complete the process.  I remember trying to explain it to my students–many had never seen a video camera in the classroom before. Most people in my district hadn’t heard of this certification, much less how to support it. I struggled through the certification process without the supports that exist in the system today, but with the mindset that I would finish what I started.  And I did. In all transparency, I barely made it and certified by one point. That one point might have made the difference between certifying in 2005 versus 2006 but the process involved created more growth for me than just arriving at the destination.  After certifying, I took on a challenge.  I wanted to open the doors for other teachers to deeply analyze their practice using the structure and framework provided by the National Board process. This is where my leadership began. I wanted to be the person who helped clear the pathways so that others who wanted to, could travel with a bit more ease. Thirteen years later, I’m proud to say that my district has many National Board Certified Teachers and an effective cohort system that supports teachers and counselors as they journey down this road.

I oftentimes share with candidates that the process of earning National Board Certification is more of a marathon and less of a sprint.  Figuring out when to start the race depends on the individual teacher/counselor. There is no perfect time to start. I started the process at a critical time in my career. I was just past the triage stage–you know, when you’re staying up until midnight planning for tomorrow’s lesson, unsure of where you’re going or how to get there.  Now, I could see the big picture and better understand my pacing, skill development, and how to write assessments.  But I certainly didn’t feel settled. I needed National Board Certification to push me, to develop me, and to help me find more rhythm. I questioned the triage strategies and routines I’d already established. I needed this, like a runner needs fuel.  Analyzing my work fed my soul and honed my skills to make me a reflective practitioner.   

The growth didn’t just come from the process.  Certification was a pivotal turning point in my teaching career. Who knows, perhaps it was the one point differential that activated change in me.  Perhaps it was the adrenaline rush that comes from finding out that I certified.  But after learning that I certified, I began to see myself as a teacher leader.  I became more involved in organizations that promote and support highly effective teaching practices. I began advocating for students at a building and district level. I understood that my voice could be heard and that my personal struggle through the process brought validation and credibility to the table when I talked with administrators about the needs of students.  I took on more leadership roles, participated in building decision making, and felt inspired to be a change agent for my community.  I took risks–used cutting edge resources, created new lessons, developed new strategies and all the while, reflected upon each change to determine what worked, what didn’t, and why (a process I practiced through National Board and continue to use today).  And while many of my colleagues who aren’t NBCTs may be doing these things too, this certification caused me to go down this path.  The best part is, that my journey into teacher leadership is still ongoing. Like so many other NBCTs, my race isn’t over yet. Heck, we’re just now picking up speed. 

 

 

Not Neutral on Net Neutrality

Last week my eighth graders presented their independent, interest-based projects, the culmination of two months of research and applied learning. Elizabeth showed us her original comic, which she published online. Maisy displayed her handmade quilt and told us about the history of quilting in America. Sam presented his Claymation short film. Dana taught us about installation art and demonstrated the infinity mirror she had made.

These projects were impressive examples of what students can do when they have access to the right resources. For Elizabeth, Maisy, Sam, and Dana, that meant high-speed access to specialized websites, including the publishing platform Webtoons.com, the Emporia State University archives, and the Seattle Art Museum’s website.

If the school’s broadband provider had blocked access to some of these sites because they don’t bring in money, if it had slowed the connection speed in order to provide other users with faster service, or if it had required the school district to pay extra for access to less lucrative sites, these and the other student projects would never have happened. And that bleak scenario is exactly what schools across the country are likely to face in the wake of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s) recent repeal of the practice known as Net Neutrality. Teachers and students will have fewer opportunities, and those with the fewest resources will, of course, suffer disproportionately.

What is Net Neutrality?

Since the internet’s inception, internet service providers have treated all content equally. They do not restrict, discriminate, or charge differently based on content, user, or type of device. This is the concept of net neutrality. In 2014 President Obama sought to ensure the continuation of net neutrality, and to that end asked the FCC to recategorize internet broadband service as a utility. The FCC followed this recommendation in February 2015, instituting regulations that prevented broadband companies such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, from slowing or blocking access to legal websites, artificially slowing access for some customers while speeding it up for others, and charging customers extra for access to certain websites.

Net Neutrality in Schools

According to the 2017 State of the States report from the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, 97% of Washington State’s school districts had the necessary fiber optic connectivity to meet the FCC minimum goal of 100 kpbs per student. At my school that means my colleagues and I can stream videos and download resources from YouCubed to help our students develop mathematical mindsets. This amazing website is helping us transform our practice. And we are not the only ones. As of this writing, YouCubed has received 22,895,390 visits. But what will happen if we can no longer freely access YouCubed or the countless other sites that support our teaching and our students’ learning? According to Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, “when carriers can choose to prioritize paid content over freely available content, schools really are at risk.”

In high-poverty schools such as mine, the risk is especially great. The internet provides access to experiences that our schools could not otherwise provide, such as authentic science investigations and contact with project mentors. Many of our students also live in homes without reliable internet access; they depend on having it at school not only for their assignments, but to develop the technological literacy that all students need and deserve.

Net neutrality has helped to reduce inequities between well-funded and under-funded schools, between students of privilege and students of poverty. If such access disappears, the equity gap will increase.

Broadband service providers argue that net neutrality stifles the free market. Other opponents fear that regulation allows the government to invade our privacy. Those arguments do not persuade me. There is no financial incentive for broadband companies to provide unrestricted, high-speed access to consumers, including schools. If they have the opportunity to make money by restricting access to certain websites, or by charging consumers for access or faster service, they will do that in order to satisfy shareholders. We may well find ourselves living in a world that our students will recognize from their favorite dystopian novels: a world where access to information and expression exists only for individuals with the most power and the most money.

I asked my district’s chief technology officer if the district has a plan for how to respond to the effects of the repeal of net neutrality. He replied, “We had no impact before the change and from what I’m reading/seeing/hearing, the impact back may be just as little. This is a move to free market service, not the end of access. It’s high on my radar. I deal with the FCC almost monthly. I’m watching it.”

We all need to do more than watch. While there was no impact on schools before the net neutrality regulations, that does not mean broadband companies would not have moved in the direction of restricting access and speed.  If we remain passive, if we wait to react until there is a change that harms schools, our students will lose.

For information on the efforts of various state leaders to ensure net neutrality in Washington State, go here.

Oh Pioneers!

 

 

When I think of a pioneer, I think of nineteenth century people willing to take chances by moving west, astronauts empowered by mathematicians and scientists that sought space exploration, and characters in a Willa Cather novel.  In the past, I hadn’t really thought to apply that word to teachers. Yet, in so many ways, teachers are pioneers, seeking to open up a new activity, a new line of thinking, or a new development in the education world.

Look around on Amazon and you’ll see teacher authors selling books on new engagement methods and strategies. On Twitter, teachers are organizing, leading, and participating in chats. I read the books from my teacherpreneur friends and participate in weekly chats on Twitter.  I’ve learned a lot over the past few years about education and how to help my students engage within the classroom.  Yet, some pioneers seek to create a bridge to engage the outside policymaking world with the needs of students and teachers within the classroom.  Enter WATAC. Taken from their website, “The Washington Teacher Advisory Council or WATAC is the voice of accomplished teachers advocating for student success.  We inform education decisions and influence policy, promoting equity, and excellence for all.”  WATAC is functioning on a new line of thinking– open up the lines of communication between those education decision makers and teachers who are impacted by policy.  Pioneering, right?  So maybe on paper, this doesn’t sound like a new development in the education world. But talk with teachers and you’ll soon find that we are rarely consulted about how an educational policy is impacting our kids and our work.  While there are some opportunities for work groups to flush out policy implementation (I participated in one for TPEP analyzing the first few districts to pilot the new evaluation system), educator voice is needed at all steps in the policy process, not just at the work group implementation stage. Much less, we’re even less likely to be approached with what legislative or policy needs we have. Until you’ve established a line of communication between yourself and your local legislator, it’s unlikely you’ll be consulted about potential legislation (although to be clear, I’m a huge fan of talking to my legislators and I’ve had a positive experience with this over the past year).  So, to take up the cause, WATAC seeks to do this work and to help teachers learn how to advocate for their students and their classrooms, too.  Basically, WATAC wants to ensure that there is teacher voice involved in creating policy and evaluating policy.  Because who better to know what a policy can do to a classroom, than the teachers who work with students who are impacted by the law?  

How do we create and curate teacher voice in education policy decisions?  What systems need to be in place to ensure that teachers have a voice?  What systems need to be in place to ensure sustainability regardless of who the education policymakers are? Clearly, I have more questions than answers. WATAC is still new and this is pioneering work that these educators have taken on. Engaging in education policy advocacy isn’t something teachers have a lot of training in how to do and frankly, it’s hard to find the time to eat lunch, much less read up on laws moving through the state legislature (by the way, save yourself some time and consider signing up for weekly legislative updates here: http://cstp-wa.org/policy-dialogue/legislative-updates/.   You can also sign up to receive updates from OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) and PESB (Professional Educator Standards Board) here:  https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/WAOSPI/subscriber/new.)   Creating systems that partner teachers with policy makers is going to take time, some careful planning, and serious assessment.  We need clear deliverables in statutes that require practitioner voice.  We need systems in place for how to do this.  

I have faith.  WATAC’s work has just begun but the foundation’s laid.  A network of award winning teachers has been established and a leadership team of teachers assembled.  Last Spring, WATAC held its first conference, engaging educators in policy advocacy at the local, regional, state, and national levels. The result? 75 educators came together to learn how policy is constructed, and how to ask for change in their schools, their districts, and at the state level. Educators learned about ESSA and had a chance to talk with legislators and policy makers from OSPI and the Governor’s Office.  The network is growing. Like pioneers, the pathway may not always be clear as to how to get to the goal, but the vision is there.  Planning is key for a journey like this.  But promoting educator voice is worth the expedition.  

Leveraging Technology: Support vs Distraction

Our phones are powerful tools.

They are computers in our pockets more powerful than most of the science fiction I read or watched growing up ever conceived of. Even Star Trek the Next Generation had stacks of iPadish computers full of data on the Captain’s desk—each only held so much data. Now, something a little larger than a deck of playing cards holds or has access to more data than the entire ship they flew in threw galaxies.

I love technology. I combined my English major with a computer science minor and assumed it would be a practical and useful piece of my education. It largely has. Most of what I learned is outdated now, but the minor taught me how to think in different ways and provided me a comfort with technology in general. I learned quickly that technology’s broad offerings could distract me easily and therefore made a personal mantra: technology must support what I’m doing not distract me from it.

Humans are highly prone to distraction. Recent brain science shows regions light up and fire when we are distracted by multiple stimuli, and that concentration uses glucose at different levels, and is thus more effort and exhausting. It makes sense that we, especially teenagers, would choose distraction over concentration, even to our own productive detriment.

I keep thinking of the Jimmy Kimmel sketch in 2015 where Christopher Lloyd in his Back to the Future character holds a smartphone and says, “This tiny supercomputer must allow astrophysicists to triangulate…” and Jimmy Kimmel interrupts to say, “no, we use it to send little smiley faces to each other.”

My teaching has always involved technology. The only room I’ve taught in in 14 years without a set of computers is my first, I’ve taught with a smartboard for nearly a decade, I keep my curriculum as public as I can (minding copyright) on my website (which is also my plan book) so students and parents have continual access, I’ve used online classroom environments, and I’ve required students to turn in papers or projects digitally.

Ironically, as my district (and most surrounding districts and the national educational conversation) adopts and repeats the phrase, “leverage technology,” I’ve found myself pulling back from using technology. My mantra has remained the same: technology must support and not distract, but my experience and observations in the classroom lead me to believe technology does not agree. It seems more and more that technology is inclined, and even designed, to distract and not support productive work or learning.

Tech insiders seem to agree. The glamour and glitz and impressive largeness of technology continues to dazzle society. Many parents, teachers, community members I know and work with believe in technology with a faith I find confusing. I’m sure this post will garner me the label of luddite, etc. But I don’t use social media (in any form) because it is a black hole of distraction for me. It keeps me from the things I value: my students, my family, good literature, the immediate world around me. I know it is the great connector for many people, but for me I’ve never felt more superficial and isolated than when I followed my graduate school cohort to Facebook. Turns out pictures of meals are boring no matter who posts them. I stuck with letter writing (letter emailing). I recognize this is a personal choice, and not one made by the majority of culture.

But I am not a luddite. I use a computer and smartphone every day. I teach fully online classes at my community college. But I do believe that if educators use technology such as this nature sound map (recently promoted by my district), and never take students outdoors (even in urban centers) to listen and categorize and be present in the actual world, not just the virtual, we risk doing serious damage.

As Marshall Mcluhan said, “the medium is the message.” This is not a bad/critical/negative thing. But it becomes dangerous when forgotten. Shouldn’t part of the conversation (at least) center around deciding what technology best serves our educational outcomes? Maybe it is for many, but in my experience the devices eclipse the outcomes, and I increasingly find students struggle to use devices without distraction, and I find I turn to it less and less for lessons, despite being asked to include it more often.

The Worldwide Woes of Rural Education

It’s no secret that there is a shortage of teachers entering the workforce in Washington (OSPI has a page on this). But have you seen the news from rural China? Recent articles explain how education in rural China is in a crisis. Due to the developmental divide between urban and rural areas, and the low wages for teachers, young Chinese teachers entering the profession have little incentive to work in rural areas, far from the conveniences of the larger towns and cities. Likewise, wealthier rural families send their children to schools in more urban areas for better opportunities. Meanwhile, the students who remain in rural schools suffer from ever-decreasing quality of education, high teacher turnover, and limited programs of instruction.

Yunnan Rice Fields

I wish these articles were as exotic and foreign to me as the locale would suggest, but, line after line, I kept seeing a parallel to my own teaching context.

First of all, Chinese villages are inconvenient, with transportation issues for students and teachers. Transportation is a problem in rural Lewis County, too. Some students who attend my small, rural school in Southwest Washington, ride the bus for more than an hour from their remote homes. And, teachers who want to eat at a nice restaurant, shop at a large store, or get the oil changed in their car will have to drive at least forty minutes from our little neighborhood. Okay, it is probably worse in rural China, but who wants to drive forty minutes for fast food?

Another parallel? Rural Chinese teachers have little or no social life. Likewise, although many young teachers take rural teaching jobs in our region, it takes very little time before they realize that these remote, depressed areas are not exactly conducive to meeting other young singles. They have to travel for socialization, and, let’s face it, first-year teachers don’t have the time or money for the traveling.

Yamdrok Lake, Tibet, China

Other Chinese programs have cropped up to create incentives for teachers and young college graduates, even if they have no long-term wish to teach at all. These young people are encouraged to “volunteer” to perform a service for less privileged populations. They often start out enthusiastic and effective, but rarely last as teachers. They are a temporary fix that leaves needy rural students feeling abandoned after a short time.

This is a problem in our school, too. We have several positions filled by people who would not normally qualify for the jobs. For instance, our secondary special education teacher is a long-term substitute without prior experience in special ed. This is her second year. That would be especially terrible, but we are lucky, and she is doing a super job. But how fair is it that someone is doing a job they were not trained to do, without receiving benefits? She doesn’t plan to stay in the job.

Riffe Lake, Mossyrock WA

Another program that China is developing is a pipeline for rural educators, starting with high school students. They are incentivizing young people, getting them to promise to work in rural areas in exchange for their college education. This is where the parallel ends. I wish we had incentives for young people in rural communities to go into teaching. Our rural county is lacking in high school programs for future educators (such as Recruiting Washington Teachers), and that is especially frustrating.

Look, it takes a certain kind of educator to work in a poor, rural area. We are remote. We lack conveniences. Plus, we have kids that need us desperately due to poverty, homelessness, and domestic issues. We have diverse populations with needs that are sometimes hard to meet with limited resources and staff. It is hard to come from somewhere else and fall in love with this community, despite its beauty and the charm of the people who live here. Candidates for teaching jobs need to be up to the challenge.

My idea of a solid solution is our own local pipeline. I can imagine some of my current students as future teachers in rural Washington. They would know what they were getting into. They would understand the rhythm of the place. They would know the people. They would speak the languages. They wouldn’t mind the drive “out town,” which is our particular colloquialism for the big cities of Chehalis and Centralia. These kids would be perfect for the jobs. And we need them- desperately.

Lewis County Blueberry Fields

But this is not China, and no one is offering them money to become teachers and come back home to teach. In fact, we struggle to get programs for these promising students to earn college credit in high school. Unlike most urban schools who can attract teachers with advanced degrees to teach college courses in a high school setting, our teachers are often teaching several subjects, some of them far removed from their original major. Like rural China, our best students leave us for the better offerings of larger towns, such as Running Start or schools that offer more AP courses, clubs, or arts programs.

So, despite having students who would be excellent future teachers, we are losing the opportunity to give them an early start on that journey, to win them over to the joys of rural education.

Because it is joyous.

It would take so little to solve so much. Before it is worse, before we seem even more like rural China, we need to get our policy leaders to incentivize the education of future rural teachers.

National Board Certification, the Second Time Around

Shelly Milne

Lately, I have been reading a lot about the importance of helping students develop a growth mindset. A student with a growth mindset knows she can grow through hard work and perseverance. Right now, I am totally embracing the concept of the “not yet” mind set. Thank you, Carol Dweck, for celebrating the idea of encouraging students to ‘stick with’ hard things. This concept is especially important to me because I have been a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence English-Language Arts (EA ELA) since 2004, and three years ago I decided to attempt certification in new area.

After renewing my certification in English-Language Arts, I moved to the position of Library Media Specialist in my building. As a Jump Start trainer and year-long National Board candidate support provider, I started reading the standards for Library Media Certification, and, yes, I saw some connections to my language arts standards, but I also noticed other areas that were unique to Library Media. I started thinking, “I need to learn these new standards and work on a second National Board Certification.”

Now achieving National Board Certification in Library Media is important to me because, after spending over three years working as a Teacher-Librarian, I realize the role and importance of Library Media Specialists is not fully understood. I earned a Library Media Endorsement from Antioch University three years ago, and before that experience I didn’t really know the significance of the role either. Earlier this school year, I was asked to cover another teacher’s class. I said, “I would, but I have a 5th grade library class coming in at that time.”

I was surprised when I heard this response, “We’ll get someone else to cover the library, so you can cover a core language arts class.” Fortunately, I have been around awhile, so I felt comfortable saying, “No, I am going to stay with the class I prepared to teach because I am doing important work in the library.” This attitude that library media is an extra add-on that isn’t as important as core classes is something I would like to address as a teacher-leader and earning my Library Media Certification will help me with this task.

I may be feeling anxious about finding out my scores, but working on a second certification has reminded me of just how much courage it takes to open up your practice for evaluation. It’s more than just a considerable time commitment. As a National Board Candidate, you tell assessors what you did; how and why you did it that way; and share student results and your reflection on the process. Then you send in your work and wait…and wait…and wait some more. Waiting for the score report where assessors tell you how much evidence of accomplished practice they found in your written commentary and other submitted artifacts. No teacher wants to read the words: shows little or no evidence of accomplished teaching practice.

So like all candidates who are waiting for their scores, I am nervous. As a National Board support provider, I am also nervous for the candidates I have been working with for the last three years. I know first hand how much energy, time, and commitment they have invested in this process. When they started in 2014, they didn’t know what score it would take to certify, but they were willing to open their practice to scrutiny and start the journey toward certification. I have the utmost respect for the pioneers of the NB 3.0.

I have been rehearsing what I will say to people if I don’t certify on my first attempt in this new certification area. When people ask I plan to remember the work of Carol Dweck and simply say, “Not yet.” This mindset is actually not a new concept for me. I have always embraced the “not yet” mindset. Not yet just means I am continuing to grow. As a 30+ year educator, a growth mindset makes sense. In over thirty years in this profession, I have never completed a school year, and yelled at the end, “I nailed it! All of it!” This teaching thing is complex. Like all accomplished educators, I always end the year reflecting on where I nailed it, and where I missed the mark.

So even though I am a little nervous as I anticipate Score Release Day on December 16. I do know this if my score is 110 or more, I will celebrate with all the thousands of new NBCTs across the country, and if my score is 109 or less I am still going to celebrate the growth I have experienced so far after digging deeper into what an accomplished Library Media Specialist knows and is able to do. After seeing my scores, I will do what I have always done. I will roll up my sleeves and decide what I need to learn, understand, and show in my next attempt because that’s what accomplished teachers do every single day.

 

Biography: Shelly Milne is National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence English Language Arts. LA. She certified in 2004, and renewed in 2012. Four years ago, she moved from a 7th grade Humanities classroom teacher at Cashmere Middle School into the position of teacher-librarian. She earned her endorsement in library media from Antioch University. She is currently a National Board Candidate in Library Media. She provides candidates with yearlong support and works as a Washington Education Association Jump Start Trainer. She’s also member of the National Education Association Jump Start Team.

Making a safer classroom for students’ gender identities

On the first day of school this year, I asked my students – 6th graders – to write down their personal preferred pronouns on an index card, along with other info about themselves. I demonstrated writing mine (she/her) on the document camera, and gave other pronoun examples: he/him, they/theirs.

I got a few blank stares, and a few clarifying questions. Mostly I saw expressions that belied the feeling, “Uh, why are you asking me this?” (Or so I assume.)

I was posing this question to them because asking about others’ preferred pronouns has become common practice in more and more of the other spheres of my life. Why wouldn’t I introduce this practice in an art room, where I want to foster trust, and create a safe space for sharing essential aspects of ourselves?

As a cisgender woman (I identify as the same gender that I was assigned at birth), sometimes telling my pronouns feels tedious (“Nothing surprising here…”). But I agree with the idea that our society is a safer, better place for everyone when we all define and redefine our gender expression throughout our lives. 

My students are young – eleven years old, mostly. They are growing up in a world that has categories for gender expression that certainly weren’t available to me in my small town in the 90’s, when I was in 6th grade. Language is continually evolving and shifting as our collective understanding of gender shifts: labels like “gender-non-conforming,” “non-binary,” even “transgender,” are relatively new. The term “intersex” might not be new, but understanding of it as an identity is changing.

When I read students’ index cards later, I was touched by the fact that they simply did it – they wrote down their preferred pronouns, even if it felt like a “No duh,” and maybe that act, alone, got them thinking about gender in new ways. I regretted not having them share their pronouns with others in their table groups – that’s at least as important as telling me. I made a note to myself to do that part differently on the first day of school next year.

A few weeks later, we were watching a short video interview with the artist Louie Gong – he talks about his identities. This idea, that we all have many identities, was new to many of them. I used some examples, “Maybe you identify as a young person, as a Muslim, as a boy, as a skateboarder, as an East African.” The concept that identities are overlapping, and not necessarily fixed, connects to their understanding of their gender. You might be “he/him” today, and “they/them” next September.

I haven’t yet seen examples of students explicitly exploring their gender identities in their artwork, but then again: when was the last time I made artwork directly about my own identity as “female”? Maybe it’s creeping in, in their sketchbooks, or in questions I hear about whether the people in their drawings look “like a girl” or “like a boy”?

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction outlines the rights of WA state students around Gender Identity and Expression. “Students have the right to express their gender at school – within the constraints of the school’s dress code – without discrimination or harassment.” But how do we prevent discrimination and harassment?

Students also have a right to use restrooms and locker rooms “consistent with their gender identity.” A federal decision in 2016 requires all states to commit to these policies to protect transgender youth, or risk losing federal funding. 

My school has a single gender-neutral, single-occupancy bathroom available to students – it’s near the main office, and I used it one day last week. I noticed some discreet graffiti along the doorframe inside. “Hey queers.” “If you’re cis and straight, don’t use this bathroom.” I moved in to look closely and saw more. “I want to die” was followed by a suicide hotline number in different handwriting.

How do we develop students’ empathy and understanding for others’ gender expression, and for their own? A gender-neutral bathroom is a great start, institutionally, for protecting the needs of transgender students. I’m also heartened by the ways that queer students are showing up for each other – through sharpie messages on the walls, and otherwise. But we need classrooms, and hallways, and locker rooms that are safer and more welcoming of all of our unique gender expressions and bodies.

I’m looking for more ways to expand students’ understanding of their own gender identities, and I hope that creates more appreciation for others’ evolving selves.