Monday, November 23, 2015

Ways that we can #TeachStrong for teachers and students

Being a teacher is a pleasure and a privilege. I value collaboration, connectivity, creativity, innovation, and reflection.  These are important ideas I engage in continually as an educator because they stem from what I am passionate and curious about - learning.  

However, these values are not always apparent in the systems impacting the teaching profession. New demands are constantly being placed on teachers, making it difficult for us to find the time and space for professional growth, building connections, and fostering creativity. So how can we advance the teaching profession to offer these things to all teachers? How can they be modeled and taught explicitly, and shared with others who are entering the profession?

I have a few simple ideas:
  1. Time.  Time is not something that we have a lot of, regardless of our profession and the work we engage in.  But the ways we are able to use and organize our time might be one step towards providing more opportunities for professionals to connect and collaborate.
  2. School Day.  We should think about being flexible with our days and the time we have school.  Are we limiting ourselves because of our schedules?  Why can’t they be changed?  It is worth looking closely at the needs of children first, then see what opportunities become available.  I think this would offer professionals another lense to look at the work we do each day.
  3. Standards.  It is important to have standards and realistic ways that we can measure our growth as professionals.  This is critical for reflection and next steps.  When we are observed once a year or every few years, how does this help professionals sustain their work and grow?  Are there other ideas that we can provide teachers, like stronger mentoring and time built into our days that allow, encourage, and support colleagueship and collaboration?

A bigger idea is the amount of time that teachers spend providing enriching learning opportunities for their students and families.  I am fortunate in my school district because I have strong leadership support for my own professional growth.  Without this support I would be limited in opportunities for engagement and growth.

A new campaign called TeachStrong wants to modernize and advance the teaching profession. I believe this needs to be done, because currently how many schools are not able to provide teachers the flexible time they need to grow and connect as professionals?  What are schools doing to support the growth of educators for a world that is changing fast and rapidly increasing technology?

I believe teaching is an art. It is something that evolves from our own dispositions and learning.  It evolves from our ideas that we are curious about and want to know and share.  

Learning needs to be available to all of our students.  Through our willingness to offer hope, invitations to learn alongside each other and solve problems, this can happen.  Lessons need to be global in nature and not limited to our classroom walls.  Social media and blogging are opportunities for this to happen.  Teachers need to learn alongside others who are involved in innovative and creative teaching where the focus is on learning, not the skills.  Skills and content are important, but our students need to connect with the content and grow to develop passions and interests in  what we are exploring.  How can this happen if educators are stuck inside their classroom walls, with schedules that are not what works best for students,?

A change is coming…it has to. Our students need us now more than ever.  We have opportunities to engage and use tools that will explore and reflect learning itself.  The heart of our work is with our students; how will we ensure to get at this work with longer days, inservice on top of an already 6-7 hour teaching day? The systems impacting the teaching profession needs to improve and advance to meet the needs of both students and teachers.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

New York City: Reflecting, Rethinking

Arriving early in the morning this past Thursday in New York City was the beginning of an amazing weekend filled with inspiration, critical thinking, collaboration and growth.  As my plane began it’s decent I had the pleasure of watching the sunrise as I began what was going to be a very memorable, weekend of professional growth.

Leaving the airport I began my journey visiting City KnollMiddle School in Manhattan.  As I dragged and struggled my suitcase out of the cab I was struck at the flood of children heading into this school.  What struck me was how friendly and engaging the security guard was, smiling, greeting all the children with a friendly, genuine, "Good Morning!” Then I was greeted and given directions on where to check in.  Again, another security guard was present.  She was smiling, engaging with all students wishing everyone a good day.  I also was struck by how some of the students gave her a hug as well.  While I waited to be greeted in the office I observed yet again another adult greeting students with a smile and asking what they needed and offered support.  So now all the students who entered school have had 2 positive interactions with an adult and those needing additional support, 3!!

Then I met a very inspirational and engaging leader, Victoria Armas.  She was personable, welcoming and proud to share her school, students and other educational leaders with me.  Right away I was struck at how personable and welcoming this school was.  I think about how important it is to have positive interactions daily with our students and the students of City Knoll already had 2 before their day even started.

One of the things I really appreciate about being a part of this national fellowship, America Achieves is the opportunities that are available to all fellows who wish to push their thinking, widen their perspective and connect with other talented educators across the USA.  I am very grateful for my journey as a fellow which is ending this spring, but I am also grateful to know that I will always have this fellowship as a place to encourage my thinking, support me when I need it and to continue to suggest ideas to pursue.

Beginning together alongside many wonderful, inspirational leaders, Rehva Jones, the senior director of America Achieves posed a question; "What Can We Expect From You?"

I have been thinking about this and the change that needs to continue with the important work I engage in each day. 

Expect that I will continue to have hope for all students and their families.  The heart of my work is through my willingness to be open minded and fluid in my thinking.  Expect that I will have high expectations for all my students.  This was really crystal clear for me after hearing David Kirkland share his perspective of what needs to happen in regards to ensuring equity and success for all students. Poverty does not =disability!
Expect that I will question, reflect, rethink and rephrase my thinking and ideas about what needs to happen.  Education is changing constantly, but as a teacher I have the ability to model, offer invitations of hope to my students and their families.  Expect that my greatest gift is being able to give the gift of learning.  My hope and dream is for all my students to learn how to learn themselves and to be invested in their ideas, what they are curious about.  A big goal, dream and wish, but through hard work and sharing my #edvoice I am able to have my thinking challenged, supported and inspired.

After hearing David Coleman speak I was also reminded about the importance of helping ensure that students receive and get the opportunities they earn.  Being involved in meaningful learning opportunities engages  and promotes learning because it comes from a question, a desire to learn more about something that matters.

So what is next for me?

1. My learning is never complete.  I have the pleasure and privilege of being a teacher, so I need to continue to grow and change globally.  
2. Thinking about the tools of the age, connectivity and the richness it can offer for students and families. Remembering to embrace digital learning as a way to build connections globally to solve world problems and connect through what we are curious about.
3. Thinking about my own mindset and checking in with my own thinking..  Am I offering invitations to learning alongside me, not just from me.
4. Student voice is the heart of my work.  Is this present? How will I know? What do I need to do to ensure this?
5. Families matter.  They are important stakeholders and need to be part of their child's learning journey.  Success follows if we can bridge strong relationships with home.
6. Sharing my EdVoice! I will find ways to be a part of important conversations nationally to support learning for all students and also hoping to make a difference...
7. Foster hope and success....  Thanks to David Kirland for this message....  Left a huge impact.....

Grateful for being a part of America Achieves National Fellowship because it has given me and continues to give me opportunities that enrich my own growth which in turn I am able to enrich my students and their families.....