Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Help students with challenging behaviors without 'fixing'

I am often tempted to want to fix a situation, or worse yet an individual, when I am suffering the consequences of reckless behaviors, irresponsible actions, or disrespectful attitudes. As educators we work with many students each day and want them all to be successful. Moreover, we need them to be successful. We cannot succeed in our teaching mission if our students are not cooperative learners.

But too often students are dealing with issues in their lives that complicate their efforts to learn. It's been said, hurt people hurt people. So as students enter the classroom, so do all of the imperfections we share as humans. Students aren't always going to be kind, cooperative, and focused. Sometimes they will act in ways that completely contradict what the teacher needs for a successful classroom.

As a young teacher, all too often I would become terribly frustrated by negative student behaviors and fail to see the unmet needs, buried under the surface, that were triggering the harmful actions. I would focus my attention on addressing the undesirable behavior with 'increasing consequences' and protect at all costs my 'authority' in the classroom. The result of course was torn relationships and even greater feelings of hurt and rejection on the part of both teacher and student. Not good!

So it's never productive to try to 'fix' our student's behavior. It is our job to address non-learning behaviors by simply stating our observation of the behavior and how it is impacting the classroom. Sometimes, we must take further actions to protect the learning climate. But when we create a classroom of acceptance and caring, students are more likely to feel safe enough to actually address their own issues. This ownership is actually the only way to achieve lasting change.

Here are a few ideas for being a helper and not a fixer:
1. Care more about who your students are becoming than how they are acting in the moment.
2. Know when to put aside a conversation and pick it up later.
3. Believe the best of your students (most people are doing the best they know how).
4. Teach positive behaviors.
5. Approach a difficult conversation side-by-side and not from behind a desk or nose-to-nose.
6. Listen to your students.
7. Don't try to prove you're in charge. You have a teaching contract that establishes that.
8. Worry more about acting with character than losing face in front of your students.

Monday, December 22, 2014

9 ideas for teacher growth that are more effective than performance ratings

Teacher evaluation has been a reform topic of late as policies at the state and national levels further require schools to rate teachers and even include student achievement data in evaluations. These efforts seem to be the result of the perception that there are many poor teachers who are allowed to continue in the profession with no recourse. I think this perception is greatly exaggerated, although like in any profession, there are certainly individuals who are under-performing.

As a principal, it is part of my job to evaluate teachers. And, in alignment with state requirements for this process, part of my job is to rate teachers against “research-based, proven performance targets.” Our district created a system to align to the state requirements, and I am doing my best to implement it in a way that can be as effective as possible. When it comes time to actually ‘rate’ a teacher, I explain that while the rating process is imperfect, it is an opportunity for reflection and only represents my perspective in collaboration with the teacher being evaluated.

But when I consider all of the strategies that are available for teacher growth, performance ratings are not at the top of my list. I believe there are so many other ways teachers can learn and grow. Most importantly, teachers with greater ownership of their own professional learning will seek the kind of feedback that leads to growth. In this type of environment, teachers would be empowered and inspired to achieve, and even expand, their own potential.

1. Collaboration- Teachers meet with other teachers, especially ones who teach the same curriculum to discuss student learning, plan for instruction, and review student work.

2. Classroom visits- Since becoming a principal, the opportunity to frequently visit classrooms and observe great teachers doing their work has been perhaps the most powerful learning experience I've had as an educator. We need to do more to give teachers the opportunities to visit other teacher’s classrooms.

3. Student feedback surveys- These surveys would be used to inform the teacher’s own practice and not for evaluation. Great teachers have the ability to see the classroom through students’ eyes. Surveys can be another way to inform teachers about what students’ are experiencing. This example survey is just one possibility. Ideas for surveys can be readily found online.

4. Video- Every high school football game (and other sports for that matter) is videotaped and examined for every possible opportunity to improve. And yet it is rare that teachers use video to reflect on their own teaching. I would challenge teachers to occasionally record a lesson.

5. Goal setting- When teachers set their own goals it has far greater power to impact learning than goals that are set at the building or district level.

6. Reading- We can stay current and evaluate new ideas in the profession by reading books, articles, blogs, etc.

7. Develop your PLN- Establishing a PLN (personal learning network) allows every educator to have a team of educators from whom to learn and grow. My PLN rocks and has been a source of excellent professional learning.

8. Peer Coaching- We are blessed to have instructional coaches in our building who provide feedback to teachers, facilitating the efforts of other teachers as they move towards a goal. Consulting and mentoring can also be helpful.

9. Teacher-led professional development- Instead of bringing an outside consultant to lead professional development, this method has teachers develop learning experiences for their colleagues. When possible, it’s best to offer teachers choices for the sessions most relevant to their goals.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Help wanted: Educators who give that little extra

One of the things I look for when hiring a teacher is what extra efforts a candidate has done either in previous employment or as a preservice teacher. What did the applicant do to extend or enrich learning opportunities that he or she didn't have to do? Maybe it was volunteering to tutor, helping with a club or organization, or assisting with an athletic team, school play, or service project.

The reason this is important to me is that it shows how the individual is passionate about working with kids and not just looking for a job. To be effective, any professional has to go above and beyond in ways that aren't always rewarded in the pay check. This extra effort demonstrates a strong work ethic and a desire to contribute and leave a lasting legacy. A school is faced with many challenges day-by-day and to be successful we need team members who are willing to pitch in and pick up the slack.

Here is an illustration of the power of that extra effort. At 211° water is only hot. But at 212° water boils, and boiling water creates steam. With steam you can power a locomotive. Amazing! The extra degree makes all the difference between just hot water and a powerful force than can send a train down the tracks. Just that little extra.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Digital leadership requires setting an example

In a recent survey of our students, over 90% indicated they believed technology would be increasingly important to their future. We all know the internet isn’t going away anytime soon, and if we are paying attention, it’s easy to see more and more ways technology, and those who can use it effectively, add value to life and work.

But we still have many educators who are not recognizing the importance of using technology effectively in our schools. We need leaders to model the use of technology and find ways to use technology to support learning goals. It’s hard for us to expect students to use technology for learning if we aren’t modeling it.

I’m very proud of teachers in our building who, even when feeling less than 100% confident, have taken risks to try new things and be learners themselves. This willingness to change and to adapt is admirable.

Here are 10 ways teachers and principals can demonstrate digital leadership:

  1. Set up and use Remind app to communicate with stakeholders.
  2. Use S’More to create classroom or school newsletters.
  3. Use technology for formative assessment.
  4. Start a blog.
  5. Have students demonstrate learning using a digital tool.
  6. Video a lesson or provide information to parents through a screencast.
  7. Try Google classroom with your students.
  8. Advocate for greater access to digital tools for your students.
  9. Approach your principal about developing and online course.
  10. Use Twitter to share information and engage your community.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why technology won't replace teachers

As important as I feel technology is in the classroom, I want to make very clear that I don’t believe technology can ever fully replace an effective teacher. Learning is more than content delivery. It is about a sacred relationship between teacher and student. It requires a real person to develop the nuances of relationship and develop a culture of learning in the classroom.

So technology won’t replace teachers. However, teachers who use technology will eventually replace those who don’t. Our world is becoming increasingly digital (for better or worse some might argue), so the future demands that digital tools are used now for learning experiences to help students become savvy digital citizens. Teachers who don’t embrace digital opportunities for learning will become more irrelevant with each passing day.

If you don’t feel your classroom or school is digitally relevant, it’s never too late to start even with small steps. It’s most important to acknowledge with students just how important technology will be in their future. It’s also important to be a learner yourself and show your students you want to learn. They will admire your willingness to increase your digital skills.