In case you are wondering why I have not blogged in awhile (and I know you are), I have been in a state of transition as I accepted a job as an Elementary Assistant Principal with the Williamsport Area School District. Right now I am working between two primary K-3 schools. I have reached the point where I am settled down enough to start blogging and reflecting upon my current job. But first, I thought I would answer some questions from a reader of my blog. (I promise that I did not make up these questions!) In order to keep my posts shorter in length, I will answer the first half of the questions now, with the second half of the questions and answers coming later this week.
1. If you had a million dollars and 4 weeks to train someone to teach like yourself, what would the program look like? What if you had 8 weeks?
I really do not think a great deal of money is necessary for quality professional development to take place. However, at the minimum I would want (1) each teacher to come with his/her own laptop, (2) access to Google Apps for Education to share and/or collaborate on resources, and (3) access to Apple Keynote to create my slides.
In a nutshell, the professional development would focus on the following topics. More time would mean a more in depth study of each one. When applicable, we would review technology tools that would help in redefining our instruction.
- Unit design – The Understanding by Design framework would serve as the basis for this portion. My teaching drastically improved when I started to primarily focus on unit planning through backwards design, as opposed to tedious day-to-day planning.
- Rigor and letting go – We need to spend our time letting go and allowing students to be at the center of the learning process through productive struggle. In order to “meet teachers where they are,” start with the current series (from any subject) with which teachers are familiar and work on reinventing it in order to make it more inquiry-based.
- Formative assessment – In short, “How do we know if students are learning what they are supposed to learn, and how are we responding to this evidence?” Professional development would include explicit strategies that teachers could use with their students.
- Professional learning communities – Everyone benefits when teachers collaborate with one another, but defining “effective collaboration” is not easy and as a result it does not often take place. We need to open up discussion in regards to what an effective teaching team should look like.
- Close reading – When I first started teaching the biggest mistake I made was thinking that reading comprehension consisted of not much more than students reading stories and then answering questions. We need to focus on what great readers do while they are reading through such strategies as inferring, visualizing, questioning, etc.
2. What are the biggest errors teachers make in your opinion, and in what way can they be fixed?
Here are three common teaching errors. Admittedly, I was guilty of all of these at one time or another. Also, not surprisingly, some of these mistakes tie into my answer from Question 1:
- Teachers working in isolation – Make a conscious effort to get into the classrooms of other teachers, both in your building and throughout your district. Go ahead and schedule these appointments in your calendar to make them a priority. I am sure your administrator(s) would be more than happy to cover your classroom so you and your colleagues could learn from one another.
- Avoiding the less is more approach – True inquiry-based learning is based on thinking routines in which students are forced to grapple with information in order to uncover and develop deeper understandings. We must not only create this environment for our learners, but also understand how to promote problem solving by providing students with just the right amount of information. Also, do not try to “cover” everything in your curriculum. If you have taken 85% of your curriculum and taught it in depth (and then covered the remaining 15%), you are fine.
- Consistently giving students “one more chance” – When it comes to classroom management it is easy to remember to praise in public and correct in private. At the same time, we must also remember to deal with problems, quickly and efficiently. The “one more chance” approach rarely works, and all it does is lead to further distractions.
3. If you had to boil your teaching style down to 20% of your “toolkit” that produces the majority of your fantastic results, what would the tools be?
- A positive attitude and genuine care for students – It all starts with relationships. If your students know that you care about them, everything else comes that much easier.
- An ecosystem that is used to communicate with students and parents – Tools can include a classroom website, a classroom Facebook page, Twitter, blogs, Google Apps for Education, a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle or Edmodo, the Remind app, etc.
- The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units – The original Understanding by Design book is long and could be somewhat difficult to consume. The Design Guide summarizes the main points with simplicity and clarity.
- Strategies That Work – From my experience, no other books comes close in (1) breaking down the importance of close reading and (2) providing teachers with resources and lessons to immediately get started with close reading in their classrooms. Everything beautifully ties into the explicit reading comprehension strategies that are touched upon in Answer 1.
- Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics – Three different versions of this book are available: K-2, 3-5, 6-8. In the district in which I used to work, every teacher at the elementary level was provided with a copy in order to support our transition to the Common Core and inquiry-based mathematics. Go buy this book now!
The remaining four questions and answers will be posted later this week.
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