Every so often, like going to the dentist for a cleaning, school leaders need to check on the plaque line of their building. I know, gross metaphor, but hold with me. Ever so gradually and definitely with subtly, an erosion of morale and confidence a staff has for their work creeps up into the gums and starts to eat away at the productive, work of teaching children. And we lose a sense of what really matters. If, as building leaders, we don't take the time to do some serious, down and dirty check up and maintenance of our vision and mission for the work of our building we are doomed to decay, just like so many rotting molars.
Last week we worked with a local consultant who guided us through the process of checking up on our core beliefs, vision and mission for our middle school staff, students, and community. Before we got started on the messy but glorious vision and mission work, we had some popcorn and clementines while mulling over the hashtag = #WHYITEACH. The great folks at @Teacher2Teacher have created an excellent #WhyITeach toolkit that includes tweet bubbles, hashtags, posters, and promotional material to share your reflections via social media. This toolkit has everything needed to encourage colleagues to take a moment out of the day to reflect on why we got into this crazy, but always rewarding profession and share it out with their community. It was a very quick (took me about 10 minutes to print and set up), inspiring way to start our afternoon and generated loads of discussion about using twitter to build up that PLN! We had a blast taking pictures and sharing our love for learning! Take a few minutes to refresh your vision and encourage your staff to tell the important story of the work of your school.
Thanks @Teacher2Teacher for this free resource!
Register and download the FREE #WhyITeach toolkit here!
In our "real" worlds, many of us are constantly working on "hacking" life - decluttering our basements, paring down the number of toys our children (or dogs) have, trying to replace our screen time with talk time with our loved ones, carving out the space and time to reflect on the the simplest (and most meaningful) moments of our lives.
However, in public education nowadays our moments and days are anything but simple. Spend five minutes googling or pinteresting "common core" to find a million ideas, projects, and activities that you feel guilty about not doing in turn for the mounting anxiety about doing more "kill and drill" work with our students who are struggling. Every time we turn around, there are "new", "revamped" ideas about how to address the demands. How can step away from the chaos for a moment and do what has been shown to work most consistently to improve student growth? How can we "hack" our instructional planning to make it more simple and better for students?
Mike Schmoker's book, Focus, gives us a simple, back-to-basics moment to breathe. He provides a "plan" based on reading, writing, discussion and THINKING across the curriculum. In chapter 2, "WHAT We Teach, we read about how important it is to choose FOCUS standards - the standards that repeat, overlap, and are MOST ESSENTIAL for our students' futures as students and as PMOS's (productive members of society). As we have been deconstructing our standards to write scales, I believe we have really started to identify focus standards as well as the foundational learning targets (production behaviors) we want to see from our students.We're beginning to get an idea of what is most important for our students to know and be able to do.
Chapter 3, "HOW We Teach" provides us with a template for the key, tried and true, instructional elements that have lasted the test of educational time and research. This is my favorite chapter because it is just so darn clear. I found myself reflecting wildly on the elements that I most often had in my lessons and the ones that I always forgot to include. So, here we go!
Template for ANY EFFECTIVE LESSON
BOOM! That was simple, right?!
As a BONUS, Schmoker provides us with additions for an interactive "lecture-style" lesson (which sometimes we have to do) and a literacy lesson (which we do a lot!). Here we go!
Interactive Lecture Lesson (Direct Teaching)
The BIG THREE
As I reflect on these templates, I find myself making connections to work we are already doing and pieces I see in your classes all the time - LDC, Word Generation, MCD, Close Reading, Annotating, Collins, constant formative assessment and guided practices. BUT. Where are we at in the process of students becoming independent in their learning through these methods? Are we making our work more simple, or are we complicating it because of the pressures we feel from state testing, SLOs, O/S/E, data. data. data?
Complete this survey as a way to reflect on your own practice (anonymous!)
Growth only comes through incremental steps towards a goal and by practicing, failing, and persevering. What is one goal you can set in simplifying your practice and FOCUSING on most effective learning strategies for your students? Reply in the comments below. Thank you for all your hard work and effort to continue the growth!