In My (Summer Vacation) Feelings

Concluding this year has brought a multitude of emotions ranging from pride to anxiety and just about everything between the two.

The myriad of headaches that come from being a public school classroom teacher were really digging deep in my nerves this year. The struggles of my school and district combined with the pressure to pay student loans drove me to question staying at my current position. This led me to doubt and despair as I exclaimed to family members (and some colleagues) that I was ready to leave the field of education. I saw no reason to stay. My mind was focused on the emerald shining grass on the other side.

In past jobs I have reached the point of no return. That moment when you realize that you will no longer be working with that company much longer. This felt different. I was exhausted and deterred; regardless, I turned my attitude towards empowerment and engagement. I was determined to do all that I could to prove my skills with or without assistance. For those of you that have been following, my assistance came in the form of a pilot program. I took on this pilot and integrated it into my classroom immediately.

My reward for taking on the pilot was a leadership conference and a live filming of one of my classes. The consequences of my decision reaffirmed the valuation of my skills and refocused my sight on my goals within the field of education. This led to the realization that the majority of problems I faced were self-created. Accepting this enlightened my mind to creating positive solutions for the problems I would encounter in the next school year.

Over the summer I have the chance to reflect on the past years struggles and victories, and I realize that there is an incredible amount of work still to be done. I became determined to get right into busting the myth that teachers have the summers off; I began developing a year long curriculum of professional development. The curriculum is aimed at assisting educators in my school earn their Google Educator certifications. This professional development will provide teachers with ideas for implementing digital tools in the classroom and will transform the way teachers address collaborating with colleagues and students. The next project was to build an Applied Digital Skills curriculum for my English 2 and English 3 courses to take in the following year. I do not want to reveal any more about that being that there will be surprises hopefully coming for the classroom in the form of a co-teacher. This brings me to the end of June and a project with the district.

One of the struggles of this year was working while being unsure if we would be compensated for the raises earned the following year. The union and the school board had been struck at impasse for the entire year, and salaries were froze where they were concluding the end of the 2017-2018 year. I watched the school board meeting regarding solving the impasse while working on this project for the district. I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was supporting and working for the district that, at the same time, was vastly underpaying me (I have a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education and make almost 10 thousand dollars less than the average salary in the district). My thoughts on the matter will be further explored as I continue through the summer building curriculum and collaborating with colleagues to prepare for the next school year.

I am most certainly Buzz in this meme. I cannot help but be excited for the opportunity to build new relationships, teach skill and develop my craft. If you haven’t seen Toy Story 4 yet, I highly recommend it. I do not want to spoil anything; however, for those that have, I will most certainly be listening to my inner voice the rest of the summer in preparation for 2019-2020 school year.

What I Did With My Chance

The first thing I wrote in my complimentary Hilton notepad with my complimentary Hilton pen was “*savor being the least experienced in the room LEARN from everyone around you.” Choosing the pre-seminar session with Carol Jago was a no-brainer when registering for the summit. Carol had presented a professional learning seminar two summers ago for Brevard Public School literacy coaches and teachers. I saw a seat near the front and got settled. The educators that I sat down with introduced themselves and where they were from. Southeast High School in Manatee County. It had just so happened that my Heritage High School TSA Chapter competed in the state competition with Southeast High School, a convenient ice breaker in a room of expert educators. Carol’s enthusiasm for reading provided a backdrop to an engaging evaluation of vocabulary instruction. I felt a tap on my shoulder during a table talk and was promptly asked to share my idea with the rest of the room. When the speaker asks you to share, it is hard not to feel enthused enough to put on the teacher voice and take a chance. A page of scattered bullet points, two-pages of book recommendations, and a completely refocused strategy for effective vocabulary instruction later I made my way to lunch. Shout-out to the Hilton for providing a delectable spread each day of the summit. I met up with Lisa Davis and found my seat in the ballroom.

Bill Weiler got the summit started and was followed by Noelle Morris. After a short reading of The SunCatcher, Noelle led us through an inspiring welcoming activity. While reflecting on the Owls and Wrens of our professional learning network, we set goals for the next few days and introduced ourselves to our colleagues. David Bain and Connie Harmon explained a refocused lens on the data behind teaching a diverse range of reading levels in the same classroom. Interactive charts asked us to assess our schools’ data and to decide if there was a more effective process to raise student achievement for each student in the classroom.

Having read Reading Nonfiction, Kylene Beers’ and Robert Probst’s names caught my eye when previously reviewing the agenda for the summit. Neither speaker disappointed. Kylene instilled a growth mindset with her reflections on engaging students, “You cannot improve competence without improving confidence.” Bob recounted the learning environment he and Kylene created to promote students conversation between each other and not the teacher. By using the “3 Big Questions,” students engaged in meaningful peer-to-peer conversations. Video displayed a group of five students reflecting on author’s purpose and diction. These three questions allowed students to convey an analysis and evaluation of the text by making genuine connections between the text and their understanding of the world.

After soaking up the experience surrounding me on the first day, I was ready to make an impression on the second. The day began with Rose Else-Mitchell. Rose challenged us to ensure the development of significant learning environments by leveraging technology to implement the best possible instructional practices. To inspire and create a culture powered by the growth mindset, leaders must model by starting with the end in mind and making choices that support those that the choices affect.

Noelle Morris provided a personal reflection on her story and reminded us the power of recounting our past in order to stay connected to our “Why?” Noelle asked us to think back to our first memories in the classroom and pair a song to them. Newly married, Chance the Rapper’s All We Got came immediately to the front of my mind. While Chance may have been exclaiming his desire to give music everything he has, as an educator I have brought my best to my field day in and out with the same priority put on the education of America’s youth. In the word’s of one of Chicago’s most empowering sons, “This is all we got. Isn’t it all we got. So we might as well give it all we got.” It was a most excellent surprise to learn that Noelle was not only familiar with one of my favorite artists, but she was also a fan.

Anthony Colannino’s interactive session focused on developing a deeper understanding of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. The audience was asked to dedicate their conceptual understanding of learning to include the stance that all humans have the ability to develop intelligence and abilities. Anthony closed his session with a numbers race that demonstrated the affect of preparing students with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

My chance had become a shining gold paper plane in front of my eyes. Mike Dey coached us through effective strategies in communication and leadership. To emphasize these strategies and the growth mindset, Mike continued the summit’s “chance” motif. What Do You Do With a Chance? reminded the audience of the power educators have in providing chances to those in our professional and personal lives alike. Feeling empowered, the audience took a guided tour through Writable from Monica Graham.

Educators gained a hands-on experience with Writable at the HMH Literacy Leadership Summit.

Monica paired her demonstration with a live-pilot of the program in which the educators in the room developed a piece of writing and reviewed each other’s work. The audience took advantage of the opportunity to move through the platform as students would in order to gauge whether it would be a student-friendly tool. My chance became a reality when I was asked to provide testimony to the product within the breakout session. Furthermore, my chance developed into an interview with Monica that was posted via multiple social media accounts.

The last session of the summit was also the most anticipated. Earlier in the school year, I had the opportunity to “Say Yes!” to 2015 Newbery Award Winning author Kwame Alexander. A second opportunity to hear the uplifting messages and anecdotes from Kwame while his friend Randy Preston accompanied him with his guitar and voice was a chance that must be taken. Kwame rekindled the love for words and their power to change lives. He shared steps in his process to become the human that stood in front of us exclaiming the importance of truly believing in the mantra “Change the world, one word at time.”

As I exchanged farewells and thanks for chances and opportunities that had been provided to me at the summit, the growth in my professional learning network was confirmed. The people that I had met provided me an outlet for advice, encouragement, and reflection. Aside from the books that I acquired and strategies learned (both incredibly important to my professional development), my teaching philosophy and approach to teaching were confirmed by a group of the most credible and qualified educators in the country. I look forward to the continual growth of my classroom and my career as I strive to be a literacy hero.

A Display of Future Innovators

The 2018-2019 school year brought with it a large share of new opportunities and experiences. Joining Heritage High School’s TSA (Technology Student Association) chapter as a sponsor continues to highlight this school year with moments of personal and professional growth. In the fall, I attended the Florida TSA Leadership LEAP Training and Competition. Students attended sit in seminars, participated in problem solving competitions, bonded with their chapter members in a haunted house, and competed against each other in the annual Aligon Bowl. In the following months after the Leadership Conference, students at Heritage High School came together after the school day to develop, build, construct, and explain a variety of projects aimed at developing skills necessary for leading in a technical world. February 27th through March 2nd, those students put their skills and products on display against over 1800 other students from Florida.

Heritage High School 2018-2019 TSA Chapter

One of the events at the competition and conference was the Vex Robotics Competition. Students were required to build and pilot their robots to be used in the competition. Students earned points in the competition by flipping the coins, knocking down the flag targets, placing balls back on flipped coins, and maneuvering to the top platform before the end of their two minutes.

The newest competition in the event is the Drone Piloting competition. Students must construct a drone that fits the specifications of the competition. Students then pilot that drone through a tent of obstacles to earn points. Points in the first portion of the competition are earned by piloting the drone around a target and returning to the launchpad within a time limitation. The second portion of the competition asked pilots to use a claw attached to their drone to pick up targets, fly them to a specified location, drop them in the specified location, and then return to the launch pad. Other competitions varied from fashion design (students competed to develop the best example of a cosplay costume) to bio-technical design (students identified and created solutions for issues surrounding the maintenance of Earth’s oceans) to a dragster competition (students designed and constructed their own Carbon Dioxide powered dragsters).

Dragsters move down the 66 foot track in less than one second.

My first year with the Heritage High School TSA chapter has been full of rewarding experiences. Assisting students develop their projects and watching their display in competition provided me the ability to continue developing my leadership skills and knowledge of the technological world. Students used digital tools along with their collaborative and leadership skills to brainstorm, develop, and produce their projects honing skills necessary to compete in the digital age’s job market. Our success in the State Competition has earned a place at the 2019 National TSA Conference in Washington D.C. I look forward to assisting the Heritage High School students in furthering the development of their projects and competing at the national level. Until then, congratulations to the finalists and medal places from Heritage High School, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your growing chapter.

Before We Teach Students, We Must Teach Ourselves

Each day as an English Language Arts teacher, I ask my students to participate in a thinking process that aims to develop critical thinking skills. My students then participate in a multitude of activities that range from identifying specific diction that creates tone to applying seminal documents to the topics found in everyday American discussion. My students’ success in properly analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing the information that I procure for them depends heavily on how I model the process.

A common practice of professional development tends to be the introduction of information without determining first if the audience comprehends the conception being conveyed. An instructional coach that places this image of Hattie’s Effect Size within their presentation must first ask if the audience has an understanding of what effective implementation of each cause entails. That same instructional coach will also include a summary of the information regarding the how and why of Hattie’s Effect Sizes similar to the information conveyed by Chris Barlow in his post “The “Effect Size” in Educational Research: What is it & How to Use it?” found on Illuminate Education‘s blog. The problem is that the teachers’ understanding of Hattie’s Effect Size means very little if the same teachers do not have a conception of how to effectively implement the causes for each effect. The instructional coach that does not first identify if their audience has a common understanding of what effective teaching looks like gives that audience information they do not know how to use effectively, wastes their audience’s time, and contributes to a culture that overlooks the root of problems in search for a quick fix. The largest effect size on the provided list is “teacher estimates of achievement.” Does the instructional coach have the same estimates of achievement for the students as the teachers that will implement the causes to determine each effect? Do the collective teachers in the same school, building, or even hallway have the same estimates of achievement for their students? Without answering these questions, the instructional coach is providing the message of “hold your students accountable to an expectation” without displaying what that expectation should demand.

Another practice that finds itself near the top of Hattie’s Effect Size list is scaffolding. Classroom teachers around the world will agree that chunking a concept for a student allows that student more opportunity to develop a more complete comprehension of a concept or skill. Do our instructional coaches scaffold their lessons for the teachers they are instructing? Do those same instructional coaches observe the practices of the teachers they have been placed accountable for developing professionally? After the teachers have been observed, do they receive meaningful feedback from their coach? I ask these questions because as life-long learners attempting to create more life-long learners, it should be clear that we must role-model the teaching and learning process within the system of professional development. By role-modeling effective practices top to bottom teachers are going to build their skills and have confidence in transferring those skills to their students. Teachers must be introduced to examples of effective practice within their professional development. In addition to the examples of effective practice, those same teachers must display learning and effective practice in order to understand these practices for themselves and in order to impact student learning. Administrations that offer their faculty an effective professional development will benefit from better managed classrooms, a common vision of effective teaching, and a growing culture that emphasizes value on the learning process from the top to bottom.

A Stride in the Right Direction

Throughout the Digital Learning and Leadership program at Lamar University. I have been introduced to the idea that the end product, vital behaviors, or BHAG will only be reached if that final output receives first priority in all circumstances. The presentation that will follow, as my “What,” combined with a teacher leader presenter, will move educators within the entirety of academia to the agreement that Professional Learning must evolve with the coming of the Digital Age. We have also been instructed to develop our projects in the hopes that we will use what we are learning within our organizations. This simultaneous advancement and employment of teacher leaders across the country will expedite our field’s move to the Common Core Standards. I, originally, had my sights set on a near-unreachable goal. Once I realized I did not have to bound through my career, I adjusted my stride to accomplish a necessary step within my current organization. This presentation aims to inspire questions throughout its audience. This presentation finds its “What” in a hopeful pursuit to create the urge in teachers to take back the power of being a life-long-learner. The survey titled “How Do You Want to Learn?” will act as radar for which teachers will be enlisted to assist in spreading interest and which teachers will be targeted to develop new interest.

A Blended Approach to Professional Learning

How Do You Want to Learn?

The “How” of the presentation defines itself as all great ideas do: a collaboration of a few good ideas and less bad ideas. After viewing How Presentation Zen Fixed My Bad Powerpoints and How to Avoid Death by Powerpoint, I took to my Microsoft Office with tenacity and determination. I had my BHAG; I was going to join the worlds of K-12 public education and the world of higher education. Districts would pair with online graduate programs to provide teachers with courses aligned to eventually earn a Master’s Degree in focuses such as Educational Leadership, Digital Learning and Leadership, Special Education, Teaching English as a Second Language, and more. Great ideas also need the counseling of an outside source. After consulting with my professors, I decided that it was best to focus my presentation on achieving the goals I had set out for with my innovation plan. An upcoming outline will determine my agenda for enlisting the peers of my organization to ensure my organization takes the steps needed to implement my innovation plan and more importantly, save teachers from out-dated, ill-used professional development.

Even good plans can change

In EDLD 5305, I was asked to develop an innovation and an outline for that innovation to be implemented. My Outline for Proposal to Adopt Blended Learning Program was more than I could handle. The plan was not received well in my organization, and I knew that I needed to re-prioritize my goals to achieve the original innovation plan down the road. I aimed my sights at something more manageable. I observed that even though the bellwork plan at our school had created growth in student achievement, the bellwork plan was not working to its full potential. This led me to develop a a new innovation plan. I followed this innovation plan by developing a 4DX model of implementation. I believe that achieving this WIG foremost will provide me with the credibility within my organization to revisit my original innovation plan to incorporate a station rotation model of blended learning in my organization.

Let’s Bring Departments Together

A major reason for the lack of collaboration in my organization is the psychological separation between departments. Not only do departments section themselves off during faculty meetings, celebrations, PD, etc. they separate themselves by their content areas to the students. My goal is to role-model collaboration to the students by increasing collaboration between departments. Observation Games outlines my proposal to change the way bellwork is being observed at Heritage High School. I would like to change the amount of observations and the way observations take place. My experience with bellwork observations is as follows: an administrator arrives in your room unannounced, observes your bellwork exercise, and places the rubric in your mailbox with a few points circled and maybe a sentence of feedback. I aim to change this practice of  observation using the six sources of influence.

1) Personal motivation: Currently in our district, teachers may earn an infinite amount of compensatory time, but can only use 16 hours over the course of the year, 8 in the first semester and 8 in the second. For a teacher to observe a peer they must give up their valued planning period, so why should they not receive comp time for their efforts to collaborate with their peers? However, the ability to earn comp time does not translate into motivation to earn that time if you cannot use the hours you earn. Therefore, I move that teachers be allowed to use 16 hours of comp time a semester to motivate teachers to complete their observations and participate in the other various methods of earning comp time: chaperoning after-school functions, teacher-parent conference nights, etc.

2) Personal ability: Observations are of no use if they are not done properly. A teacher that views checked boxes of a vague and confusing rubric to receive feedback on their performance may hear the wrong message or feel they were observed unfairly or unjustly. Observations need to incorporate deliberate practice. Teachers should discuss what the observer will be observing in detail (this could happen face-to-face or through email), record meaningful feedback to give back to the observee, and feedback should be discussed between the two teachers and if possible an administrator/3rd party. Teachers will need to know what this practice looks like; therefore, it could be modeled during a pre-planning day or in-service day. Teachers will then have the proper skills to observe each other displayed for them.

3) Social Motivation: This proposal asks teachers to complete more work in an already busy school-year. There will no doubt be an enormous amount of resistance to the idea of more observations and observations of other department members. The way to combat this is to gain support from the teacher leaders within the school. These are not necessarily the department heads. Teachers that are respected within the school must be part of teaching observation skills, and the professional development sessions must include as many teachers as possible to reinforce skills taught and learned. Endorsement of observations by the teacher leaders wipes the dirt off what is an obvious way to better personal skill within the classroom.

4) Social Ability: This is where observation of different department members comes into play. I would argue social ability is the reason teachers stick to their own departments rather than the departments not getting along. It is much more comfortable to socialize with peers that have commonalities through content area, than trying to empathize with peers outside of your content area. Teachers that observe classes outside of their department will come face-to-face with the goings-on of the teachers in their school and build relationships between their peers through noticing similarities and differences that each content area poses. This strengthens the bonds between the teachers and promotes further collaboration.

5) Structural Motivation: Why will teachers want to perform proper observations if improper observations are accepted? My organization uses the professional development platform ProGoe to document peer and administrative observations. This allows the observer to simply check a few boxes, click submit, and move on to the next task. This is an efficient way to document the observations but not necessarily meaningful. While there is a place to write in feedback, I have noticed that many teachers “pride themselves” in accomplishing their observations as quick as possible; therefore, I’m assuming checking boxes is the most used practice. I propose a mandatory write-in piece of feedback for at least one aspect of each of the five dimensions included within the observation.

6) Structural Ability: If teachers are going to be mandated to give written feedback, then they better know how to give proper feedback. The collaboration that happens during the reading or listening of feedback by the observee is arguably the most crucial point of the observation. I, personally, was lost for a week or two after my principal threw me through a loop by giving me feedback for my lesson planning when he only saw the implementation of the plan. Teachers must be instructed on what proper feedback looks like and sounds like. Teachers must also be instructed on how to respond to feedback. This is something that I believe can be accomplished by demonstrations by the teacher leaders during a pre-planning day or in-service day. Teachers are tired of seeing the same PD slideshows every year anyways.

This is going to be a mountain of a hike to accomplish, but by arranging support in the right places and dedicated work it is attainable. Teachers will not easily see the obvious opportunity to better their practices and their peer practices. However, by using crucial moments to demonstrate proper skills and value of observations, teacher leaders to create a bandwagon, and speaking up against those that aim to devalue the change, schools will build a strong culture of inclusiveness and collaboration starting with the teachers and ending with the students.