Category Archives: Professional Development

The Neglected PD

Thursday, in one of my last spring conferences, one of my moms was pretty tense. That was unusual. After all, she and I had known each other for three years now, after two children in my 4/5 class, and we got along well. Eventually she came out with the cause. A few days earlier I had sent her an email that upset her. She proceeded to tell me that I had handled things completely wrong and how I should have done it.

My first instinct was to explain the circumstances from my point of view and tell her in some detail why I had done what I did. Then I bit my tongue. I said simply, “You are right. I am so sorry. I should have done that better. I apologize.”

She continued to talk about why she was upset, explaining what had happened to her in the past—incidents at another school with another staff member—to make her so emotional in her response. I told her I understood. After a few minutes we got back to her child’s conference.

At the end of the conference, as she stood up to leave, I asked, “Do you forgive me?”

She said, “Of course!”

We hugged, and she left smiling.

Let’s be clear here. I botched the communication I sent to her. (Emails have the advantage of providing brief and rapid communication. The disadvantage? They can more easily cause miscommunication!) I am completely comfortable with acknowledging the fact that I made a mistake and apologizing.

Friday I was at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair with the students from my class who entered the fair this year and their moms. While the students were in the auditorium with the judges, the moms and I sat around a table and talked.

One mom asked if there was a time the two of us could get together so I could give her advice for how to handle an issue with a colleague in my district. I told her, “After I retire.” She said that wouldn’t be very timely.

Then a parent who’s a doctor asked if I’d ever done teacher training. Yes. I’ve done in-service training on subjects from classroom management to science to social studies to all areas of language arts. I’m a regional trainer for Highly Capable. I’ve done a lot of teacher training.

That wasn’t what she was interested in. She wanted to know if I’d ever taught a class to teachers on how to interact with parents.

I said no. I must have looked surprised.

“Don’t you take classes like that?” she asked. “Isn’t that part of your regular teacher training courses?”

“Not that I know of,” I said—it certainly wasn’t a part of mine. At most I’ve seen a few handouts over the years about how to talk to parents put in my box around conference time.

Apparently learning how to interact with adult clients was part of her training to be a doctor. She roleplayed meeting with patients while a psych observed. The interaction was videotaped. She and the psych watched the tape later and discussed what they saw. She says she learned a lot from what she did well and even more from what she didn’t do well.

As a teacher leader, I’ve taken classes on how to train adults and how to communicate with peers. The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession has helpful material on their leadership framework. However, all the materials I’ve seen and all the classes I’ve taken are geared towards making teacher leaders effective at providing professional development to their peers.  While the materials and classes have crossover applications, I haven’t seen any classes specifically designed to help new teachers learn how to interact well with parents. And how helpful would that kind of training be?

There have been times in my career when I knew I was headed into a difficult conference, and I asked the school counselor to join me. Having the counselor there helped, but I believe now that at least one particular difficult conference would have gone so much better if she and I had role-played the conference ahead of time, practicing for the real thing. I never considered doing that with her, and she never suggested it to me.

There were other times, like this week, when I had no idea there was a problem coming at me in the conference. I wouldn’t have known to role-play in advance. But what if practicing before conferences was part of my routine? What if our team used one PLC time before each set of conferences to get ready by role-playing some possible scenarios?

All teachers have to learn how to teach our subjects areas. We have to learn how to teach our students with all their social and emotional needs. We take classes to learn how to do those things.

Teachers need to know how to interact with parents as well. Maybe we need some classes—pre-service, in-service, or just practice training sessions—to learn how to do that too.

A “High Functioning” PLC

It’s like a unicorn. Or a clearly articulated Trump policy. I can’t seem to find convincing, real-world examples anywhere. A “High Functioning PLC” seems to be the sasquatch of the education world…or at least my education world.

For over a decade now, my district has been a “PLC” district. There is specific time carved out in the school week for each staff, usually about 45-50 minutes, that is explicitly dedicated to PLC. Throughout this time, PLC has evolved through various iterations, oscillating from highly micro-managed to an administrative laissez faire policy and back again. (And then back again…)

During this decade we’ve had the typical staff churn: people retire or move on, more families move into our community thus necessitating new hires for growth, and now a mere fraction of our “original” staff remains from those long-ago-days when PLC was first introduced.

We teachers have been trudging along, compliant but with more than a little uncertainly. We recognize there are tasks our PLC is “supposed to” do, but more often than not, those tasks felt at odds with the overall purpose of PLC: “Mutual professional development to positively impact student learning.” We move forward through time, completing our tasks and submitting them to our bosses, all the while feeling a little like we are either engaged in a dance or spinning our wheels. Too often, the PLC work doesn’t clearly translate into our classrooms.

In the last few years, I’ve scoured the internet and my networks of teacher connections to find examples of what a strong and high-functioning PLC is “supposed to” look like. Every teacher I speak with talks about PLC’s at best with an attitude of indifferent “take it or leave it” and at worst with an overwhelming rage at the waste of time and energy it seems to be. On the internet, I find contrived and awkwardly scripted videos that feel more like a painful role play or a stilted staff meeting. I find case stories that hover in the world of theory, never really giving me a clear picture of a real PLC. Or, I find stories of what someone coined “co-blabboration” instead of “collaboration,” with the former defined as “teachers just getting together to share practices.” (Which IMO would be awesome.)

I’ve already written about how difficult “collaboration” is for me, and how, quite frankly, I’d rather not be forced to do it with a contrived group for a contrived purpose. Our teacher-leader team in my district has been wrestling with PLC structures and systems as our “problem of practice” this year, and this is what I personally have found: PLC, as it is enacted in many places, does not exist to serve a clear need that cannot be addressed in other less messy or more efficient means. Rather, PLCs are task groups. Where do those tasks seem to come from? Well, to be honest, they seem to be coming from someone asking the question “What should our PLCs be doing?” The “L” of PLC seems to be completely forgotten.

A few weeks ago, I led a teacher-leadership workshop about the interpersonal dynamics of a PLC and how a teacher leader might use his/her understanding of adult learners, communication, systems, and change theory to interact more effectively with peers. It became clear within the first five minutes that the essential premise of PLC, Mutual professional development to positively impact student learning, was widely approved of…but that the premise was not emerging in system practices. PLCs had tasks to do, and while the value of those tasks sometimes ran the gamut, what PLCs didn’t have clarity around was how to work together for a purpose.

While it emerged to be true that what was missing was, in fact, a clear and meaningful purpose, these teacher-leaders also surfaced that they simply were not equipped with the tangible nor intangible resources needed to accomplish the work: The tangibles might be routines or protocols; the intangibles being the nuanced interpersonal skills to coach one another through conflict or past resistance.

In my sasquatch search for examples of “High Functioning PLCs,” I predictably have not found a Grant Unified Theory of PLC. I say predictably, because if we think about any complex process, highly effective applications of that process will have infinite manifestations. A highly functioning complex process will be nuanced, unique, and tailored to a context. That’s why it functions so well.

This, I believe, is the root of our problem. Our systems have been looking to emulate this undefined “High Functioning PLC” by trying to pour ourselves into a mold rather than make space for authentic innovation and leadership.

One of my colleagues yesterday (at PLC, during a discussion about how PLC wasn’t working) came up with this simple, but brilliant solution…No forms, no mandates, no special tasks. The only requirement placed upon a PLC must be that at the end of the year, they can offer a clear and convincing response to this question: “How did your PLC help you improve your teaching in order to make an impact on student learning?” It should be up to school leadership to offer the learning and resources around the tangibles and intangibles of how to do the work; it should be up to the team to decide what work to address, keeping essential question in mind.

How did your PLC help you improve your teaching in order to make an impact on student learning?

If an individual can answer this with enthusiasm, the PLC has done its job.


Photo Source: Miami University Libraries, Digital Collection – Ohio State Normal College Faculty Meeting, 1910.

 

Collaboration, Introversion, and Stifled Innovation

There’s a stage of social development that most kids go through somewhere between ages one and three where they engage in “parallel play.” At this stage, kids will play near one another, enjoy one another’s company, but are more “coexisting in play space” than interacting with one another’s play. One child’s play might influence the other, but they can’t really be said to be playing together.

At the risk of casting myself as developmentally arrested, parallel play is how I prefer to collaborate in my job. (We each do our own thing, have the chance to see how the other plays, maybe get inspired by what we see, and we can ask for things if we need them.)

Despite the work I do daily, I am a remarkably introverted person. I think of all of the quasi-social moments (adult to adult) in my work and how painfully exhausting those moments are… and how deeply, deeply awkward I feel when I’m not in teaching, coaching, or facilitating mode. Try to strike up a social conversation with me and I want to either (1) change the subject to talk about education policy or (2) hide under the table. Oddly, when I am in front of a classroom full of teenagers or even when I lead teacher or principal PD, I shift confidently into what, by all outward appearances, is a distinctly extroverted disposition. Though I almost always end up physically exhausted, those kinds of interactions are intellectually invigorating.

Where my introversion does emerge in my work is very specific: I do not like collaboration as it seems to be happening in the profession right now, with the emphasis on “group production and alignment” and what often feels like the sacrificing of individual innovation in order to appease the common. The net product almost never feels as satisfying as if I could have just worked independently with occasional advice and consultation of peers, then reported back to the group.

A recent article grabbed my attention because it pinged twice on my radar: It referenced teacher mentorship and introversion. The article from The Atlantic about how teacher burnout is more likely among introverts (the link is worth reading from to top to bottom), highlighted how collaboration is prized so vehemently in modern school systems and how incompatible and unsustainable these are for those of us who tend toward introversion… to the point that it drives some out of the profession altogether.

What it boils down to for me personally is this: for introverts, collaboration isn’t actually about doing work. Collaboration is a social exercise. For an introvert like me, such a social exercise is stressful and exhausting and inefficient. Worse, it feels like it allows no room for any innovative or creative impulses that don’t feel instantly palatable to the group.

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ESSA and Gifted Education

For my entire career in education—and I started teaching in 1977—the federal government limited its involvement in gifted education to Javits grants, investing millions of dollars over the decades in scientifically-based research into gifted education.

Javits grants have not gone away. But the federal government has finally moved beyond Javits grants in addressing the needs of gifted students in America. I am thrilled that directives regarding gifted and talented students are peppered throughout the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The overarching goal of the ESSA is “to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education.” The law requires that “each local educational agency will monitor students’ progress in meeting the challenging State academic standards by … developing and implementing a well-rounded program of instruction to meet the academic needs of all students” (page 134, lines 10-22, emphasis mine).

In the past, states and districts reported data for students performing at the proficient level and below. Now they must also provide data for students performing at advanced levels. That PLC question 4 might look a lot more important to school and district administrators when the high scores are disaggregated out!

The feds know their requirements are going to cost money, so for the first time they say districts (“local educational agencies”) may use Title I funds to “assist schools in identifying and serving gifted and talented students” (page 138, lines 17-18, emphasis mine). One huge impact that funding could have is allowing districts to employ universal screening for gifted and talented programs, which we do at my district in second grade and which can help overcome the “gifted gap” among racial groups (see article).

Districts applying for Title II professional development funds must supply “a description of how the State educational agency will improve the skills of teachers, principals, or other school leaders in order to enable them

  • to identify students with specific learning needs, particularly children with disabilities, English learners, students who are gifted and talented, and students with low literacy levels, and
  • provide instruction based on the needs of such students” (page 328, lines 9-17, bullets mine).

In that professional development, districts are to provide “training to support the identification of students who are gifted and talented, including high-ability students who have not been formally identified for gifted education services, and implementing instructional practices that support the education of such students, such as:

  • early entrance to kindergarten;
  • enrichment, acceleration, and curriculum compacting activities; and
  • dual or concurrent enrollment programs in secondary school and postsecondary education” (page 343, lines 1-13).

Let’s look at the kinds of practices the feds recommend, starting with early entrance. At a Washington Association of Educators of Talented and Gifted (WAETAG) conference years ago, I met a parent who came to get advice about her four-year-old son. He was auditing courses at the university where her husband was a professor. She said she didn’t want to enroll him and make him a media sensation, but those classes were the only places where he got his intellectual needs met.

I asked where they lived and told her they might want to consider moving since there were about five schools in the country with elementary programs for the severely and profoundly gifted. She said if those schools existed, then moving made sense. “After all, his little brother? He’s even smarter.”

Some students need to start school before five years old.

When you think of enrichment activities, don’t be limited by suggestions in trade books. Gifted students crave novelty—they find learning brand new information and skills exciting. My lesson comparing causes of World Wars 1 and 2 went well over an hour, and when I finally put a stop to it, my students objected vehemently. “No!” they howled. “Don’t stop! Keep going!” Why? Depth and richness of information. The students were building connections. I was helping them make sense of the world.

There is more research in the literature supporting acceleration than any other intervention for gifted. My student who is currently triple-accelerated in math (my fourth grader in seventh grade math) is one of the best students in his math group. He could probably move up another grade level, but then he’d be working on his own, and his mom and I decided we’d keep him in this group this year. He’s happy there.

Curriculum compacting has been around for decades. My high school teachers did it in the 1960s. My sophomore year advanced placement English teacher gave our class the end-of-the-year exam at the beginning of the year. After he graded it, he told us, “You know most of the stuff on the test except you are shaky on punctuation, and you really don’t understand commas.” So we spent a month learning punctuation. Three weeks of that was commas. At the end of September we took the test again and did fine. Then we had the rest of the year to do the actual work of the class—learning public speaking. It’s a time-tested idea, which is probably why it’s on the list of recommended practices.

As for dual or concurrent enrollment programs, we do well. In Washington we have both AP and Running Start. But, in my humble opinion, we ought to be open, in a similar way, to students taking a three-year middle school program in two years. Or taking middle school and high school classes at the same time. Those options would certainly be allowed, and I think encouraged, under the ESSA.

The Javits grants studied gifted students for generations and decided that gifted students can be identified, they have educational needs, and that those needs can be met through several well-documented strategies. Now the ESSA is saying, “Go meet those needs. Here are some excellent ways to do it. And you can use federal money to help!” If your district needs help finding Highly Capable professional development specialists, go to the WAETAG site.

When Tragedy Strikes Over & Over & Over Again

 

Teaching in an urban, high poverty school isn’t like teaching elsewhere. The lack of resources, sporadic community support, systemic inequalities, and high mobility cultivates an environment filled with trauma. In this environment, it necessary to be in a constant state of alert. My kids are on guard. I’m on guard.

Tragedy is around every corner.

Literally. Every few months–it seems–there is an altercation that results in the death of a young man or a young woman. Usually a young man. A young man of color. It was Elijah yesterday.

Having taught in a suburban high school, I know this is not the same experience. Yes, there were deaths and sadness but there wasn’t an air of expectation. An air of resignation to the facts of life–that hardship, struggle, and sorrow are moments away. It’s an air of “we hope this never happens again” combined with a whiff of “we aren’t surprised anymore.”

Our students are constantly faced with loss and death, but are expected to be resilient and move on. They mourn in whatever way they can—through stories of precious moments, through over-sized T-shirts tagged “in loving memory” and through altars of remembrance. The district sends in extra grief counselors and we all pray the day hurries to a close so we can stop pretending to care about Shakespeare, transitive properties, and Government. Tomorrow will be better we tell ourselves. And it will.

But what about the days after the initial event? Who is there to help our students process this grief? How about the next tragic event? And the one after that?  Five counselors, two psychologists, and a few administrators can not carry the psychological and emotional weight of 1400 students and 90 + staff members.

Education administration professor, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, argues that urban youth are undergoing “toxic stress”. He further postulates that,

When we look at national data sets for trauma, the numbers suggest that one in three urban youth display mild to severe symptoms of PTSD. They’re twice as likely as a soldier coming out of live combat to have PTSD. In the veterans’ administration, this is topic number one. But in conversations about urban youth, it almost never registers. All data shows symptoms of PTSD are interruptive to someone trying to perform well in school and more likely to create risk behavior, [yet] the investment is being made on incarceration.

In a classroom of 30, that is one third of my students. Where are the discussions on mental health, toxic stress, or urban PTSD on the local and national level? Are we waiting to see how the Compton Unified class action lawsuit against the district for failure to respond appropriately to student trauma pans out?

I have my suspicions why few want to address these issues.  

Regardless, if our students are coming to school with more PTSD than a soldier, how are the staff in any building prepared to mitigate this? In 2012, the AFT published findings that 93% of teachers never received any bereavement training. The report elaborates that teachers are asking for it. Clearly, teachers want to be better prepared to serve all student needs not just ones related to Common Core. I think it’s just as important for Larry to know how to respond to his triggers as it is for him to read grade level texts.

Alas, when I browse through the catalogues of professional learning opportunities of surrounding districts, I notice I can sign up to learn how to set up a flipped classroom. I can get tips on how to use love and logic for my discipline plan. I can learn the ins and outs of the TPEP evaluation system. What I can’t find is anything on how to manage the grief my students bring with them to the classroom. I don’t see courses on mediating toxic stress for students or colleagues. I can’t seem to find a training on conflict resolution or tips for designing lessons that maintain academic rigour and give alternative activities to lower the affective filter. I can’t find a class to help me understand and respond to the differences between trauma and grief.

It is critical that schools with high percentages of students living with toxic stress receive more short and long term support addressing these conditions. Staff need more than momentary pep talks or a handout on the stages of grief. We need to acknowledge that it’s not enough to cry in the bathroom and then pretend things are fine and go back to teaching Things Fall Apart. We need to stop ignoring that our urban youth and their teachers have unique needs that aren’t being addressed system wide. We need professional learning opportunities that equip our teachers to handle grief—their own and a classroom full of it! If we develop sustainable programs truly addressing the whole child, then both our teachers and our students will be empowered to handle whatever is around the next corner.

Would we teach kids the way we teach teachers?

I have now completed two full months “out of the classroom.” I do miss it terribly, and to be honest, one of the things I miss is the ability to go to my classroom, close the door, and ignore the “big picture” that I’m now so tuned in to in my teacher-leadership role in my district. Sometimes I just want to go talk to some 14 year-olds about symbolism and metaphor. That’s a much more comfortable place than talking budgets and systems and human resources and how to create meaningful learning experiences for teachers.

The team of teacher-leaders in my district who are spearheading our professional learning system are working hard to make changes to how we design the learning experiences our teachers engage with. When I think about the many, many hours of “PD” I’ve sat through, the experiences that impacted me positively shared a common theme: they treated me as a learner, not as some container into which to stuff information I was obligated to accept. Too many experiences, though, left me feeling like that over-stuffed container, which was then promptly shuffled out the door to get to work.

I don’t think professional-learning design has had inadequate motives in the past. I just think that there was not the kind of expectation, systemically, that the design of teacher-learning deserved the same attention we’d expect to be given to the design of student-learning.

Here are the things that I think too much teacher professional development gets wrong… despite the best of intentions. Continue reading

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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TeachtoLead: Tacoma

Something I like about teaching in my district is that I feel like there is a clear balance of expectations and autonomy for a classroom teacher. I know what my standards are, as well as what “curriculum” and anchor works of literature have been approved, but I also have the autonomy to design instruction that fits not only my students’ needs but also my own teaching style.

Stepping into teacher leadership often means stepping into a much grayer zone. There are usually some expected measurable outcomes, but there is much more (or at least more noticeable) reliance on my creativity, influence, and problem solving than I have experienced in my career in the classroom. In my classroom, when I’m stumped about how to best teach a standard for a particular novel or unit in my classroom, Google can help me find mountains of ideas from fellow teachers: throughout the country, it is a safe bet that dozens if not hundreds of teachers have taught the same content to similar kids, and I can sort through their work to design lessons that match my kids’ needs.

In my role as a teacher leader, there is not the same kind of easy-to-access banked expertise just yet. Finding philosophy around teacher leadership is a piece of cake; finding specific ideas in the “just tell me what I need to do!” moments is much tougher. Continue reading

For English Language Learners, Intentional Collaboration is Key

Tamar Krames

Guest blogger Tamar Krames is a NBCT in English as a New Language, a certified GLAD trainer, and an ELL instructional coach currently working with OSPI. Prior to her work at OSPI, Tamar worked as a district GLAD trainer and coach, taught ELL classes and co-taught sheltered ELL content classes. 

I recently sat at a table in a windowless conference room with a 3rd grade team of teachers. As you might expect, the table was covered with grade-level ELA curriculum materials, open laptops, and copies of Common Core Standards. Far less common were the open and highlighted English Language Proficiency Standards (ELP), Tier 2 vocabulary lists, and the laminated pictures piled on the table. Two teachers were pulling up engaging image files related to an upcoming unit on their personal tablets and one was searching her phone for affixes and Latin roots to support their vocabulary mini-lesson. While the driving force of the co-planning session was ELA content and standards, addressing the profound language needs of their dynamic students was inspired. This is it, I thought, this is what best practice for ELLs looks like. These teachers were clearly committed to their craft and to their multilingual students. But what made that collaborative moment so powerful was the shared focus of the whole building to best meet the needs of their particular student body. The teachers had common understanding of second language acquisition and ELP standards because a team of teachers had requested ELL training for the whole staff. The planning session had the full support of the building’s leadership. Collaboration was not happening on the fly. It was intentional and deliberately supported.

As a traveling ELL instructional coach, I visit diverse school communities across WA State. The geographic context and demographic mix varies greatly. One school community is comprised of Spanish-speaking migrant families living in a small town surrounded by orchards and mountains. Another school has no clear ethnic majority, the students speaking 15 different languages in one urban classroom. Regardless of setting, I walk into my first building visits with one central question; What might best practice for ELLs look like in this unique school community? I ask this question to school leadership right off the bat.

More often than not, the answer to this question disappoints me. Consistently the first answer points to a single focal point. “ We are so lucky to have a wonderful ELL teacher named A” or “ We just purchased this amazing online language program called B”, or “ our ELL Para has attended a training called C!”. Clearly this singular view of best practice begs the question – What happens when A, B, or C leaves the building?

As far as I can tell, there is no right answer to this question of best practice for ELLs. The learning needs of multilingual students are complex and always changing. A linguistics professor once said to my class, “ if you remember one thing about second language acquisition, remember this – language acquisition is without fail developmental”. For teachers this means that the ELLs support structures (scaffolding) must change and flex as their students’ English proficiency and content mastery develops. On top of that, the rate at which ELLs develop proficiency and mastery varies drastically in relation to a seemingly endless set of factors (literacy in first language, status of first language in the dominant culture, educational background, poverty, learning disabilities, access to quality instruction…)

If you need further proof of the complex and ever-changing learning needs of ELLs, try navigating though the English Language Proficiency (ELP) standards (An amazingly thorough matrix that outlines language development by grade level in relation to common core standards). Best practice for ELLs is truly a moving target as students trudge through the stages of second language development and academic literacy at their own unique pace.

More than a “right” answer to this question of best practice for ELLs, what I hope to hear is a plural answer that points to shared ownership instead of pointing towards one program or person. Whatever the site-based vision for ELL support entails, it must involve intentional and ongoing collaborative structures. Collaborative structure is different from collaboration as it is proactive and systematic – it implies a deeper commitment than amazing content teacher, X, that collaborates with one-of-a-kind ELL specialist, Y. Intentional collaborative structures answer questions such as, How and when do counselors, administrators, content teachers and ELL specialists work together to best schedule ELLs according to their developing proficiency level? How and when do content teachers investigate and integrate ELP standards into their grade-level planning? If the ELL specialist is ‘pushing in’ to core instruction – how and when do teachers learn about, experiment with, and reflect on co-teaching models?

Ultimately, the goal of any ELL program model is to expedite the academic English language/ literacy development of multilingual students so that they can meet grade-level standards and breeze through any gatekeepers they encounter on their path towards earning a diploma. Supporting ELLs through the K-12 system is not about finding the right teacher, program, or PD session. It is about shared ownership and commitment to refining best-practice, uniquely designed for each community, together.

TamarArt

The above drawing is an original piece done by Tamar Krames.

Feeling “Distinguished” …but Being “Basic”

Over the last few years, a confluence of ed psychology fads, being a parent, and trickle-down acronymage has had a profound effect on the way I see myself and my students.

When the “Growth Mindset” fad hit education, it like every fad before it risked being distilled down to soundbytes and sloughed off as trite. Though I was actually not a fan of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset (I tell folks that there are about seven really good pages in there) the idea is simple, brilliant, and exactly what I needed at this stage of my life and career.

In my teaching, growth mindset manifested in my drive to make learning progressions clearer for my students so they could understand “what growth looks like” rather than blindly throwing darts at an unclear target (“Will this one get an ‘A’? Let’s give it a shot…”). Showing a student who is operating at an “F” level what an “A” looks like isn’t helpful: Showing what a “D” looks like makes growth seem possible.

Around the same time I was reading and learning about growth mindset, I found myself sitting at the dining room table watching as my eldest son deflated when I pointed out the one (one!) error he had made on his weekend math homework. I realized that growth mindset needed to be considered in my parenting as well as my teaching.

And simultaneously: TPEP.

I’m National Board Certified (and working on my renewal). I’ve received awards and been teacher of the year (ain’t I special). Even RateMyTeacher has nice things to say. And when I’m honest with myself on my evaluation, there are some “Basics” in there.

As there should be.

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