Category Archives: Mentoring

#ObserveMe II: We Need Perspective

Last August I discovered the #ObserveMe movement. Within a few days, several brave staff members took on the challenge at Lincoln High School. I wrote about this process in my post “Goals for a New School Year.” What I’ve learned the most from this experience (so far), is that others see my classroom very differently than I do and I need their perspective in order to grow professionally.

I like to think I have teacher hearing and eyes in the back of my head. But I know I miss things. Teachers are 1,500 or more tiny decisions each class period, trying to capitalize on each teachable moment and fix everything that is “wrong” in order to maximize the learning experience. I can simultaneously be thinking about how to redirect Mike, tell Josie to “sit like a scholar” and ask Gabe a question that prompts his reasoning. An outside perspective, shared through an #ObserveMe reflection form gives me a new point of view.

One of my goals this year states, “Consistently incorporates and values diverse multiple perspectives in the lesson and classroom discussions.” As I track who has/hasn’t spoken during a class period, I’m critically aware that Jonah has spoken 3x times already while Miriam hasn’t said a word. I sometimes finish a class period feeling guilty because although I told myself to bring in Marcus, I forgot to use cold calling—or any other tool in my tool bag—to bring him into the discussion. The feedback offered by outside observers provides snapshots of whether or not I’m actually meeting my professional goals. Here are the comments I received from four different observations of this particular goal.

  • Different ideas related to similar pieces of evidence.
  • Absolutely. Students were highly engaged in a discussion guided by the teacher regarding rhetoric. Students were able to provide varying perspectives that were acknowledged and validated.
  • Political cartoons relating to racial justice in the US. And political climate.
  • invites multiple students to contribute. Amplifies a comment from a para that provides insight into cultural traditions/insight.

The first comment tells me that I’m encouraging students to rationalize and explain their reasoning based on evidence. It also tells me that I’m trying to encourage students to see how the same piece of evidence can be used to support varying points of view. The second comment shows me that all the effort I’m making to help students feel safe to share opposing views is actually working. The third comment adds a new layer. It tells me that the observer noticed that I was including multiple perspectives in the texts we analyzed. Although I chose the cartoons intentionally, I hadn’t really thought about how choosing a text was helping me meet my #ObserveMe goal! The fourth piece of feedback reminded me that I am working to intentionally include my para educators (I have two) in the classroom as sources of knowledge and experience. Again, something I just do because it’s just what I do, right and natural to me but I’m learning–from conversations with my paraeducators– it is actually not that common. I know that I can be more intentional about using these women as resources to improves student learning. Are these reflections life changing? No. Do they help me see my practice in a new light and challenge me to be more intentional? Heck yes.

Early on I received feedback that I should use an online form in addition to my paper system. So I converted my observation chart into a MS form and added a QR code. Now half my data is in an easy-to-digest format online. If you are adept at using technology or want to grow in this way, I highly recommend providing an online survey option.

I personally feel that one of the greatest strength of this process is the openness and low-stakes nature of it. Since it’s non-evaluative I don’t care about how much feedback I get, how often I get it, or how it’s phrased. I’m not stressing about a pre/post observation conversations. I am not up late trying to craft a perfect lesson on my Graduate school lesson plan template that highlights my teaching strengths in 30 minutes. I can take or leave the advice I receive. Nobody cares–including me! For someone like me who struggles with a type-A personality and anxiety about living up to my students expectations, using #ObserveMe to improve my practice is perfect. And so far it’s a reminder that all the effort I’m putting into lesson design and instruction is working.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this kind of feedback loop works for everyone. When I asked my peers about their own results here are some of the replies:

  • Few people have given me feedback, but I’m still going to keep my sign up and see what happens the rest of the year.
  • I realize I need more consistent, on-going feedback from our instructional coach rather than drop-in feedback.
  • I love it. I hand a reflection sheet to anyone who walks in.

As you consider what to change or modify for second semester, I urge you to set up an #ObserveMe sign and recruit a couple other friends to try it with you. Not convinced yet?  Read Sherry Nesbitt’s impression or Nate Bowling’s experience and share your goals online with the #ObserveMe hashtag.

Professional Development—The Long View

I’ve reached the point in my career where people have started to ask me, “And when are you going to retire, Jan?” After all, a lot of my friends and contemporaries have quit teaching. What am I still doing here?

I see the shiny new teachers, just out of the box, full of energy and enthusiasm. I must look so old to them. (“But wait! Inside I am still shiny!”) They are up to date on all the latest instructional strategies and educational jargon. They are ready to take on the world. (“Me too! I still want to take on the world!”)

I remember my initial certification program at San Jose State in the (gulp) 1970s and my earliest professional development classes. My career began in the days of Assertive Discipline and Madeline Hunter. I can’t begin to recount all the different permutations of trainings I have been through since then to improve my teaching skills and classroom management. Just in the last few years it’s included extensive GLAD training and PBIS training.

From my perspective here’s what I can say about all of them. They were all introduced with great fanfare as a sweeping solution for the whole school or district. They all had positive aspects. They were all eventually superseded by the Next Big Thing.

Here’s my take-away. I eagerly adopt the best of each program and incorporate it into my practice. (Notice, I carefully make professional decisions about what works best in my particular classroom culture.)  I am totally willing to work with the school or the district on whatever system they adopt for as long as they want to use it. And then I wait. Because I know the Next Big Thing is bound to come along eventually.

In the meantime, if I find a better Next Big Thing, I promote it to my admin.

Does that make me jaded? I don’t think so. I continue to learn from each new training, I keep adding to my tool kit, and I keep looking for even better new options.

Meanwhile, I synthesize what I’ve learned from multiple trainings over the years. For instance, GLAD wants to have the walls “dripping with language.” But I learned early in my career that having a lot of visual clutter on the walls badly distracts ADD/ADHD kids. It makes it hard for them to focus. So, for example, instead of keeping my Cognitive Content Dictionary on huge swathes of butcher paper on the walls, I write the information on the white board and erase it when I’m done. Meanwhile, I require my students to copy all the day’s dictionary information off the whiteboard into a composition book that they keep in their desks. An added bonus is that they have access to their vocabulary words all year! I’ve modified other GLAD strategies too, so I can use them and still keep my walls pretty clean. People walk into my room and comment on how calm and organized everything looks. I believe my room helps my students be calm and organized too.

All that training, all that synthesizing, all that experience pays off over time.

The research says so.

The Learning Policy Institute recently published a review of research into teacher effectiveness as teachers become more experienced. They said that as teachers gain years of experience, you can expect to see positive gains in student achievement. What was interesting for me to learn was that, while the steepest gain was in the first few years of a teacher’s career, the gains “continue to be significant as teachers reach the second, and often third, decades of their careers.” Not only did students do better on standardized tests with more experienced teachers, but they had other positive outcomes, like fewer absences.

Besides supporting increased student learning in their own classrooms, experienced teachers also help support greater student learning for other teachers in the school. They benefit the school as a whole.

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Of course they do. This last year I met with multiple brand-new and fairly-new teachers to help them with multiple issues from technology questions to classroom management to how to deal with parent issues to how to craft a particular lesson. Most of those meetings weren’t formal. A lot of them started in the hall or workroom. Individuals shared a problem, I offered help, and they accepted, or they approached me and asked for help. At the end of the year, I got thank you notes, but not for any specific problem-solving. For the hugs and smiles and sense of support I offered.

Hm. Maybe I have good reasons to stick around.

 

Teacher Induction Programs

Over the next two weeks, thousands of teachers, new to teaching or new to a school district will gather in excitement to learn details about their new jobs.  Many of those teachers will find themselves deflated in hours.  All too often, new teacher training days end up as Intro to Human Resources 101, far from focused on the realities of teaching and learning.  I’ve been witness to such programs and I’ve wondered, what did these teachers get out of this day?  Did we just curb their enthusiasm for this job?  Did teachers feel supported and mentored and were we (those who put on the training) good stewards of our practice?  After all, we know that supporting new teachers can lead to a reduction in attrition and can go a long way for a new teacher and a district.

So how do we balance the paperwork and the practice?  What should a new teacher induction program look like?  What goals do these programs aspire to meet and how will they evaluate when those goals have been met?  

Admittedly, until about six months ago, I hadn’t put much thought into this.  I’ve attended our new teacher meeting each year.  I’ve seen the revolving door of district staff and administrators introducing our newest staff to the paperwork, policies, and website.  I’ve been part of that revolving door, advocating for National Board Certification and working as a mentor teacher over the years.  For the most part, I thought that we had done a nice job introducing the new teachers to the must know information for the job.  And then I learned about the Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) program.  

BEST is a program designed to help administrators and mentors support novice teachers as they make the transition into the classroom.  This program was designed by OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) and funded by the state legislature.  The program has three goals:

  1. Reduce educator turnover.
  2. Improve educator quality for student learning.
  3. Ensure equity of learning opportunity for all students.  

You will notice that nowhere do you see — “4.  Learn how to put in for a substitute teacher when you are sick.”  

When our district hired several novice teachers, our assistant superintendent applied for and received a BEST grant.  The BEST grant partnered our district with our local ESD to support  a year-long mentoring project with our novice teachers.  One of my colleagues, Malinda, dove into the work of BEST and attended several academies and conferences, so that she could better understand what supports were needed.  Malinda brought back to a team of administrators, instructional coaches, and district support staff a set of standards, created by OSPI and CSTP for Teacher Induction Programs.  I should preface this by indicating that I’m not a BEST mentor and I have not been thoroughly trained by our state’s BEST program.  However, I’ve seen the impact of that training and having witnessed our first teacher induction program as a result of BEST training,

Our team of instructional coaches, human resource coordinators, building and district administrators came together and studied the standards.  We worked independently to see where we were in approaching those standards and we learned quickly that we were deficient in several areas.  To respond, our team came together every two weeks for several months to create a game plan for how to meet those standards.  Although BEST helps support novice educators, we wanted to ensure that we were supporting veteran teachers who were new to our district, too.  Malinda worked diligently to keep us focused on the standards and after months of work, the team established a game plan that included strengthening our hiring process, partnering with local universities, and developing a standards based teacher induction program.

Our new teacher induction program kicked off this week.  It is no longer a one day, rotating door meeting.  Instead our new teachers began their career in our district with a focused, five day training.  Our new teachers (novice and veteran) worked with district administrators, building administrators, instructional coaches, and peer to peer mentors.  They met together as a team of new teachers and were also broken into smaller teams, based on buildings/grade levels.  They worked to establish procedural plans and assessment goals, and also learned about curriculum and instructional materials.   And when the week concluded, the music was cued and the lyrics “Money, money, money, money” by the O’Jays blared while our Payroll Staff handed out paychecks to our new teachers for the week’s worth of time/work.  I heard shrieks of excitement and even an “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!”

So was the work worth it? I sure hope so.  It’s too soon to measure whether this induction program is going to meet the three BEST goals. That will be better assessed later in the school year.   But anecdotally I feel that we are on our way.  I witnessed those smiles and heard those conversations.  I spoke with a new-to-us teacher who indicated that he could see our district’s vision being emulated in the staff’s passion for teaching and learning and the work that had been put into planning for the week.  Our new teachers felt valued.  

A growing attrition rate coupled with a teacher shortage requires that schools and districts critically examine the supports that are in place for new teachers. Supports must include thoughtfully planned, goal oriented, standards based teacher induction programs.  If we want to keep good teachers teaching we must demonstrate that we value their professional growth at the onset.  Let’s keep these teachers enthusiastic about the work that lies ahead and give them the tools early on so that they may be successful in accomplishing those goals.  

Caution: Disillusionment Phase Ahead

Next week is our first support group meeting.

By name it is a “New Teacher Workshop,” but I know what it really is. When we gather those dozen newly-minted first-year teachers together, it isn’t going to be a time for “digging into the framework” or “unpacking standards” or “doing a data dive” (whatever that is). Instead, we’ll have an hour or two, with snacks and school-appropriate beverages (this time) where we can just be in a room with the only other people who understand what we’re facing: the October-January “Disillusionment Phase.”

This chart may be familiar to some. It originally came from Ellen Moir in 1999 as part of the Santa Cruz New Teacher project, and described her observations about first-year teachers:

Phases of first-year teachers' copy (1)

Image Source: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org

You’ll notice I’ve lumped myself in with that crew, even though I’m solidly “mid-career.” The reality is that I am a novice in my new work of working with novices, and I too am facing that roller-coaster of feelings: we’ve sped swiftly past the “survival” stage and the track is pointing down, down, down.

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Beginning Educator Support

By Rob

The top priority of the Quality Education Council Report is to “Make Progress Toward Ample Funding for Basic Education.”  The QEC recognizes many “non—basic education programs to be essential for providing critical services for students” – including funds for professional development.  A little further down the list of priorities is support for the recruitment, development, placement, and retention of educators who are culturally competent and possess skills and competencies in language acquisition.

That’s what I do.  I am part of a team of six Instructional Mentors who oversee the novice teacher induction program.  But funding for our position does not come from the state.  

 

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The National Board Wait

by Maren Johnson

The Wait. It can be stressful. One National Board candidate-in-waiting said a few days ago: "Just rip the band-aid off!" A renewal candidate emailed his thoughts in the week before renewal decision release–here's his exact quote: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggghhhh!"

It's a bit like Christmas Eve, but you don't know what kind of present you will be getting in the morning. All across the country right now, National Board candidates are waiting for score release, the day they find out if they certified, or did not certify yet.

National Board Certification has a cycle. First candidates make the decision to pursue the rigorous certification–it's extraordinary professional development, but also a lot of work! The next phase of the cycle? Completing a portfolio based on a set of national teaching standards. Finally being able to hit "submit" on the ePortfolio is a big moment. Taking the assessment center exercises can be intense, and often happens near the end of the school year. The shared experiences throughout this cycle contribute to National Board teachers having something of a group identity–when meeting for the first time, they know they have a background in common!

We are now in the waiting portion of the cycle. The wait is a unique time. A few years ago, in the last few weeks of waiting to find out if I certified, someone pointed out to me that adults don't always get as many opportunities for anticipation as kids do–and waiting to find out the results of National Board Certification is one, so try to enjoy the period of anticipation! It wasn't bad advice.

Then, of course, the ever-cheerful candidate support providers weigh in with a chirpy, "It's a three year process!" And it is a three year process. And while it may sound trite, simply submitting a complete National Board portfolio is in and of itself a huge accomplishment–it's almost impossible not to develop as a reflective practitioner just by pursuing certification. Candidates who do not certify the first time face disappointment, but often those who decide to continue a second or third time report even greater professional growth. Score release is a time to congratulate those who certify. It's also a time to support those who do not certify in providing more evidence next time if they wish to continue.

So there is a cycle, and with National Board 3.0, that cycle is going to be changing. What will that look like exactly? Well, we should be finding out more this upcoming year. For the moment, however? Let's put our thoughts towards the candidates, the individuals who have worked so hard this past year. Good luck to all those current candidates-in-waiting!

 

Translation from Finnish

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The following is a guest-post from Sarah Applegate, an NBCT teacher librarian at River Ridge High School in Lacey Washington. She is passionate about quality information literacy instruction, working with teachers to provide a wide range of resources for students, and dark, bitter Finnish licorice.

I have a confession. 
I am a “Finnophile” (“one who
loves all things from Finland”) and a “ChauvaFinn”
(“one who displays excessive pride in Finland”) yet I hold an American passport.
 My friends and colleagues will
tell you that since I returned from a Fulbright study in Finland in 2011, I
have sought out every opportunity to reflect upon and share what I learned and
observed during my research on the Finnish education and library system.  Some might say I sought out TOO many
opportunities- during casual dinners, on long runs, and while watching our kids
at the park,  to share memories,
insights and observations from my time in Finland. While embracing my Finnish obsession,
I have continued to reflect on what I observed while in Finnish schools and
libraries. I have constantly considered how schools in Washington could learn
from Finnish education practice and translate them into Washington state
settings.

On September 21, I was finally able to make connections
between what I had learned and observed in Finland through a Finnish Education
Conference, funded by the US Department of State with support from CSTP and
WEA. We gathered 50 teachers from Washington to hear and think about what makes
Finland’s education system work and how their approaches could be used in
Washington state schools. I brought together four US Finland Fulbright
teachers, as well as two Finnish teachers, to speak on how Finland organizes
their education system, designs and delivers instruction and trains their teachers.
During the morning, participants were able to learn about Finnish education practices
and in the afternoon, teachers a chance to “translate” what they had learned to
their own teaching context and plan for potential implementation of Finnish
practices in their Washington state setting. What we translated has some promising implications for us in our schools – read on to see what we cooked up.

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Finally: Growing our Newest Teachers and Leaders

File523f26e8d88c7By Mark

I had an amazing mentor my first year of teaching. Fresh out of my M.A.T. program and almost three hundred miles away from my small-town home, she was exactly what I needed. 

A great start makes all the difference.

Any investment we can make in a great beginning is a worthy investment, whether for our pre-K kids, our own new students in September, or for those teachers just starting their careers. Of course, resources are sometimes the stumbling block. However, the Beginning Educator Support Program is a way to provide opportunities for early-service teachers. Grant applications are due October 4th… so get those ducks and row them up. Here is the text of a recent email from CSTP about this work:

Districts or consortia of districts may apply now for grants from the Beginning Educator Support (BEST) Program, administered by OSPI and funded by the legislature. BEST provides competitive grants for districts to create comprehensive support for early-career teachers. Specifically, BEST grants provide $2500 per first year teacher, $2000 per second year teacher and $500 for other provisional-status teachers who change assignments. Districts agree to provide a paid orientation for new teachers, well-trained mentors, professional learning for both new teachers and mentors, and release time for mentors and mentees to observe others. 

Applications are due to OSPI by 5 pm on Monday, Oct. 4. You can find the application and more information about BEST here - http://www.k12.wa.us/BEST/

To read the State's Induction Standards go to CSTP's website -  http://cstp-wa.org/sites/default/files/CSTP_ind-standards.final_08.pdf

 

As exciting is the recent news that the state of Washington has been selected to part of a $15 million, three-year grant program from the U.S. Department of Education via the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and which will be collaboratively administered by the powerful trifecta of WEA, OSPI and CSTP in the coming school years. These grants are in part aimed at cultivating teacher capacity as instructional leaders. The name of the program, SEED (which stands for Supporting Effective Educator Development), says it all.

A New Role

By Rob

Mentor
Some time ago I was struggling to set up procedures during my literacy instruction.  I was attempting to meet with a guided reading group while the reminder of my class was engaged independently in a meaningful activity.  For some students the “independent” activity was a too challenging and they needed support.  For other students it was too easy and they were finishing early.  Other students had difficulty remaining on task and caused disruptions.  These are the challenges of a novice teacher.

All things considered I was doing pretty well but I knew it could be done better.  But I wasn’t sure how.  I was building the boat as I was crossing the ocean.

I spoke with some other teachers and we shared the same struggles.  After I confided in my principal I found this “struggle” reflected in my evaluation.  Prior to that evaluators found little to criticize.  I regretted opening up my practice.

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It’s the Principal of the Matter

Picture 1By Travis

Principals are near useless. Near…I would not be so mean as to say totally. I know they serve a purpose. But, hey, let’s be honest. How often is your principal in your classroom? If you are lucky, it is twice a year for the district mandated formal observation. Principals do not teach classes so how could a principal possibly understand life in your classroom? They cannot relate. When seen in the big picture, principals do not do much to impact instruction, and as such, are near useless.

However, my principal is not. Lisa teaches.

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