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I remember the moment clearly when my mindset changed. I was sitting on the couch with my three-year-old two weeks ago. We were both happy. Him watching Toy Story 2. Me sitting next to him. He reached out and grabbed my hand. For the next 3 minutes he held it. We didn't say a word. We didn't need to. We just shared a blanket, enjoyed each other's company, and what was on TV.
As an often nervous parent, I am prone to overanalyzing situations involving my children. (I hear others are prone to this). I run through a litany of questions, chief among them: are my boys happy? Are they safe? Am I doing the right thing as a parent? These, and a multitude of other questions often blind me to what's in front of me -- two healthy, happy little boys, eager to experiment with the world and all the things within it. It is my neurosis that gets in their way.
As Jake held my hand and we watched the movie, the whispers I often hear did not creep into my consciousness. I didn't think: is he watching too much TV? Am I just being a lazy parent? Instead my thoughts kept drifting back to one feeling, that I was truly content. I didn't want to be anywhere else. And, neither did my son. It was a simple moment, and it was beautiful. I wondered, how can I hold on to this? Recreate it for others?
All people should have the feeling I did, especially when it relates to being in school. Too often I hear of friends who have had less than positive experiences as former students. That saddens me. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn in a positive environment, to enjoy the learning process, and feel comfortable and content within it. To think to themselves, as I did when watching TV, that this is a perfect moment and I don't want to be anywhere else.
So, now I ask myself each day: how can I capture this moment and keep it with me wherever I go? How can I use this as the driving force within my teaching, so no matter how challenging it gets professionally, I can always come from this place of contentment, of love? And, how can I share this with my students, their families, and my peers so they identify their own moments, their own love, and utilize their own 'moments on the couch' to drive them forward? Because if I don't, I've wasted the moment Jake and I shared on the couch. That would be sad, too.
A friend of mine who is not an educator told me recently that he felt badly for me. He cited the usual challenges I hear (students, parents, expectations, government, etc). My reply was quick, "I've never been more positive about my field and my role in it." I think he thought I was full of it. And he'd be right, I was full of it: full of joy and happiness, all because of one moment on the couch.
This blog is cross-posted from: http://wsascdel.blogspot.com/
The first job I ever had was working as a courtesy clerk at a grocery store. Working their, my main tasks were bagging groceries, gathering carts, and cleaning up messes. I was also instilled early on by my managers, that as a courtesy clerk, I was on the front lines of superior customer service. “People can shop anywhere for groceries,” I was once told, “we are all selling the same pack of Oreos. Customer service is what creates loyalty and commitment. Customer service is what separates good stores from great ones. Customer service makes the Oreos taste fresher.”
I recognize that my school is like most other schools. We are all selling the same Oreos. We all are offering our students a basic education, that will hopefully allow them to lead the lives that they desire. What separates the good schools from the great ones is a commitment to superior customer service. Great schools go above and beyond to deliver high quality service to their students, families and communities, even when they do not have to. Below are the rules of customer service that I learned in my days as a courtesy clerk and still serve as the foundation of beliefs about what great schools do.
1) Welcome Everyone in a Friendly Manner - Schools, like stores, are big intimidating places. When someone visits for the first time, the worry about being lost, not finding what they need, and just want to get in and out as quickly as possible. We want our students, families, and communities to feel like that the school is a place where they feel comfortable and want to return to again and again, not a place of anxiety and dread. Being welcoming and friendly can accomplish this. My manager told me to greet like I, “was running for office.” Now when I see someone new to the school, I ask their name, what they need and tell them to find me if they need anything. I want everyone who walks in the door, to feel like they are part of something special, and to come back again and again.
2) Anticipate Need and Escort to Item - At my store, we could never just tell a customer where the eggs were, we had to show them. Along the way we would have a conversation and the customer felt like they were getting the personal attention they may not get other places. At my school, if I see a parent in the hallway, I stop and ask them if I can help them. If they are looking for an office, or a teacher, I walk with them. I find that it allows me to have a few more seconds of personal connection. I find that many times, parents do not feel like the get special attention, and often times feel in the way. With every interaction, I try to show them how special they and that they have a welcome place inside our school
3) Handle Special Requests Promptly - I am a firm believer in dealing with problems at the lowest possible levels. In the classroom, I try to deal with everything with the student first, before I involve anyone else. The more people that are involved, often the further we get from a desirable solution. In the school if I am asked about a problem, or just a general question, I try to answer it right there. While schedules, or athletics eligibility, or bus schedules are not a normal routine, if I can find the answer I do. If I do not have an answer, I make sure I explain how I will find the answer or take them to the person who can. In my experience people often want to see that their questions are valued. The answer is important, but how the questions are handled expresses more than the answer ever can.
With a great customer service, everything about the school becomes better. It builds deep connections with those inside and outside of the school. It builds loyalty and commitment. It separates the school where you run in, get what you need and run out from the one where you feel welcome and return often. If a great school is one in which students feel welcome, parents feel respected, and communities feel engaged, then they can be achieved with a focus on customer service. I feel like this is a secret to school success and all I had to do was bag groceries in high school to figure it out
Student feedback can be heavy. I know that it can be an invaluable tool in improving instruction, but collecting, interpreting, and using the feedback can be grueling nonetheless. First, it is scary to be judged (especially by learners that may harbor grudges from you upholding the policy on "no late work" or even from the younger, hormonal teens that are driven by their emotions). Second, student opinion becomes a part of your official teaching record/standing when the student evaluations are submitted to the school administration. Finally, it is difficult to know how to interpret the overall meaning of the evaluations (void of your emotions) and then PRODUCTIVELY use the data to inform your teaching.
In hopes of making the student feedback process more bearable this semester, I decided to focus on specific ways to use the feedback. Typically as teachers, we invest a huge amount of time in collecting student opinions. for example, english teachers may focus on the thoughts/actions of literature characters. Similarly, science teacher may focus on getting students to share their view of a particular theory. As teachers, we really need to dedicate just as much time (if not more) to exploring student feedback. Below are 5 ways that may help in critically examining student feedback:
1. Table the Issue
I love the organizational properties that tables provide for data. When examining student feedback, try to create tables to house the information. You can use an "Affect vs. Action" table that will show your emotions toward particular student feedback and how you will respond to that comment. For example recently on a feedback sheet, a student wrote that it seemed like I jumped from one idea in the text book to another. In the "Affect vs. Action" table I would write that "I felt that I did move quickly from one concept to another, but in the future, I would provide an outline for the notes in addition to the basic daily agenda in hopes of guiding the student better."
Another option would be creating a table of the themes that become evident from the feedback. When you review the feedback, what patterns seem to emerge or jump out at you? If you find multiple comments about curriculum organization, practice time, or assessment, then these ideas should be highlighted in your table.
2. Identify the Circle of Control
Do you remember the movie "Meet the Fockers" and how Deniro kicked his future son-in law Ben Stiller out of his 'friend circle'? The idea is that there are things that we as teachers control and there are things that are beyond our control. In that movie, Deniro had the ability to be friends (or become an enemy) to his son in law. As teachers we have a great deal of power. We can choose particular aspects of our curriculum (dependent of course on our district), but we have to acknowledge that we can not control everything in our classroom. For instance, on a recent feedback form, one student reported the expense of the textbook as a barrier to learning (university text books can be 100 dollars or more typically). I can not control the price of the text (that is required through the university), thus this was a factor that was beyond my control.
3. Highlight Student Voice
More than likely, your evaluations will include both positive and not-so-positive feedback. Embrace both. In the past I have saved student comments and displayed them at home for quick reference. Of course, I enlarge and use flashing lights to frame the postive comments (just kidding), but the point is, that I continually revisit the student's words in order to stay focued on growing as an instructor.
Another option is to use the student's comments during parent conferences to provide feedback about your current teaching style. You can format the feedback in a table or even compile a series of comments and create testimonials regarding how students feel about your instructional methods.
4. Explore Alternate Explanations
No evaluation process is perfect. Even though we try our best to collect valid and reliable data, sometimes extraneous variables get in the way (review number 2 on this list). If you obtain negative comments about your teaching, the odds are that factors outside of your teaching ability/effort are involved. For instance variables such as the frequency of data collection, the student response rate, and social desirability (or the need to rebel) contributed to the feedback that your students provided).
5. Stay in the Know
For years we have heard about the research to practice gap in education. Don't fall into this gap. Stay abreast of the research and information regarding student feedback. The New Directions for Teaching & Learning Journal is a great resource for information on collecting and using student feedback (This journal's volume 2001 issue 87 is dedicated to student feedback).
There are websites that offer pdf's and other resources to help teachers make sense of student feedback. The Teaching Channel website (www.teachingchannel.org) includes a video "Improving Practice: Learning From My Students". In addition, The Center for Teaching & Learning offers a document titled "Interpreting and Working with your Course Evaluations" (www.ctl.stanford.edu).
Yes, student feedback can cause anxiety, but it does not have to. Try the strategies listed above and let me know how they work (if they work for you). I would love to know how you survive student evaluations at your school. Please leave any teacher eval survivor tips in the comment section below.
*Please note that this is the final post in the 3 part series on student perception.
When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.
The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art at one time, are now DVR’s, even more state of the art. The world has been changed and continues to do so at a rate never before imagined. Technology continues to expand and catalogue all knowledge. The methods we use to access, curate, communicate, and analyze all of this information have undergone continuing change in the last few years.
We have come to recognize that technology has expanded our access to so much information, in so many different forms, that there is a need to recognize many other literacies beyond just reading and writing. In a technology-driven society being literate enough to only read and write may be enough for our kids to get by, but will they be able to compete, thrive, and succeed? Digital Literacy has blossomed with this digital age. It provides an understanding and ability to adapt and use digital tools to access, curate, communicate, and analyze information in this time of digital access. It also enables us to collaborate on a global scale. These are all necessary skills for success moving forward into the world that our kids will occupy.
Education has always taught literacy. Education’s function is to create a literate citizenry. In order to accomplish that, we have always used educators with credentials of proven literacy to educate our children.
That may not be the case today when one considers additional and necessary literacies that may or may not be being addressed in Higher Education, or in the professional development of existing educators. That is certainly true of digital literacy.
Does the hiring process of teachers and administrators call for a proven demonstration of digital literacy? Are schools directing and supporting professional development to address digital literacy for all of their educators. Are Administrators digitally literate enough to recognize a digitally literate educator during the hiring process? Does a school have a model of what skills a digitally literate educator should possess if not master? Hopefully, those skills exceed the ability to do a Google search, or a Power Point demonstration. Even the CCSS recognizes the need for digital literacy and requires that it be demonstrated within the curriculum. Are all of our teachers prepared for that component?
A literate educator in the 20th Century is not the same as a literate educator in the 21st Century. Our education system is loaded with many 20th Century holdovers. Most are great people, and good teachers, but they are illiterate in 21st Century terms. We need not cast them aside. They are valuable and revered sources and educators. We need to support them with methods to upgrade their literacies. It must be a priority.
Additionally, we need to update our hiring procedures. We need to better define the educators we want. They need to be literate in every sense of the word. They need to possess multiple literacies in order to accommodate the needs of today’s learners, our kids. If we continue to support illiterate educators to teach our children, we can only expect our children to be illiterate as well. That is not properly preparing our kids for the world in which they will live.
In one of his academic articles, Andrew Burke reports that teachers make some 30 non-trivial work related decisions every hour and engage in as many as 1,500 interactions with students every day. No wonder teachers are so exhausted!
The opportunity to engage with students as many as 1,500 times every day presents us with lots of opportunities to “get it right”—and just as many opportunities to fall short.
While these four strategies from blogger and ESL teacher Larry Ferlazzo won’t guarantee that we “get it right” all the time, they may prove useful for strengthening your relationships with challenging students.
Simple Ways to Reach Your Challenging Students
Conduct regular student reflections
Most of us regularly tell students what we expect of them; less often do we ask them to set expectations for themselves. One way to have students take stock of their behavior and intellectual growth is by having them write weekly reflections. As an example, you might consider having students answer and discuss prompts like these:
The idea is for each student to write about how they see themselves in the context of that particular topic and determine if they are satisfied with themselves. If not, encourage them to reflect on how they can improve.
In his class, Ferlazzo begins each week by having students write a goal and closes each Friday by asking them to assess whether or not they were successful in reaching it.
Use daily evaluations
Writing students’ names on the board is one amongst many “old school” methods of discipline still used in the classroom.
Instead of resorting to this, try using daily evaluations instead.
To start, discuss important elements of a healthy classroom. This should be a conversation that includes everyone. Based on this discussion, develop a check list, have students grade themselves on each criteria and assign themselves an overall grade at the end of each day.
Self-assessments should only take a few minutes to review and comment on.
No more phone calls about bad behavior
Instead of calling the parents of a student who was not behaving well, Ferlazzo suggests telling disruptive students that you will not be calling their parents—at least not that day.
Instead, let them know that the phone call will wait until the following week so that you can report all the good things they’ve done and how they’ve improved in the last week.
Arrange a secret sign with students that lets them know they need to stop
Private conversations usually help curb disruptive behavior, but they may not be necessary if you and the student arrange a “sign” that lets the student know a specific behavior needs to stop. This may be as simple as standing next a student or tapping on his or her desk.
If you stop by Mr. Ferlazzo’s blog, you’ll not only find a collection of useful teaching resources, you’ll also be able to read the six remaining classroom management tips we mention here.
When the news that Kidblog is no longer completely free hit cyberspace, reactions poured in on this blog and on social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook.
|Kidblog CEO Matt Hardy|
Kidblog, arguably the most popular education blogging platform, recently, and rather covertly, rolled out a three-tier pricing program, which includes a premium option that costs $2.00 per student per year.
Granted, there is a middle tier that is just $60 per year (reasonable for a quality program like Kidblog), but even this is too much for many teachers, already bogged down with expenses that paltry budgets won't cover.
With traffic to the original news-breaking post increasing exponentially, Kidblog CEO, Matt Hardy, decided to weigh in on the discussion. Here are excerpts of his comments, posted here.
"Making these adjustments involved tough decision-making. . . As I'm sure you can also understand, it costs a lot to provide a great free service like Kidblog. To ensure that we can continue to provide long term value for teachers and students, we rolled out premium features for those users who need extra resources. This will allow us to maintain a sustainable business that can grow and respond to our users' needs."
In his comment, Hardy also claims that Kidblog has received "overwhelmingly positive reactions to the premium plans," although it's not clear what this means.
While I appreciate Hardy making his way to this blog to respond to upset users, and I understand that there may be a need to generate company-sustaining revenue, I'm still not happy that one minute all my Kidblog features were free, and the next minute some came with a fee.
I think an email or a post on Kidblog's own blog page, explaining the move would have been appropriate. What about asking longterm loyal users which features were most important to them, so perhaps those could have remained free -- like student choice of themes?
I have championed Kidblog as the hands-down best education blogging platform for years on my how-to video site, Learn it in 5, and at workshops. I'll continue to do this, I'm sure.
Sadly, now I have to add a footnote. Kidblog is free. . . well, sort of.
Cross-posted at Mark Barnes: where conversation begins
I have been involved with Education chats on Twitter from the beginning. I am a cofounder of #Edchat, so over the years I have gotten to know my way around chats. I delight in the fact that there is now a huge list of chats educators may participate in. The weekly chat list abounds with a variety of areas in education that would interest educators from almost any area of expertise. The best part about Chats is that if nothing is meeting your need, you may start your own chat to address it. Here is the current Schedule for the Weekly Chat List.
Every week #edchat offers up five education Topics to choose from on a poll open to all. The Top vote getter is the 7 PM topic, and the second top vote getter is the Noon Chat Topic. Each week however, I need to come up with five new topics that we have not yet discussed in the last six months. It is a chore. One method I use to come up with #Edchat Topics is to bounce into other education chats to see their topics of concern. Often times I just lurk, or I might interject a provocative question on the Topic to stir things up a bit. On occasion I find myself engaging in the discussion, pulled in by someone else’s provocative comment.
Yesterday, I found a chat that intrigued me, and a tweet from an educator that grabbed me, so I bounced in. The Topic was on student voice and students having more of a say in the decisions about their own learning. This is a very relevant topic in education today. What drew me in was an educator’s tweet:
I dont get overly excited about student control bc theyre still kids. They arent capable of knowing whats best. As a long time educator I recognize this to be partially true, and maybe someone needed to say it, but it is also a condition that we as educators have created in the system that may be in need of change. If we continue to say kids are incapable of knowing what’s best, and do not address it, does that condition immediately and completely change on its own when kids become 18? Although I attempted to engage this educator in a dialogue on this topic, the response was that it was a scary thought and barely a consideration because it was a ridiculous idea. With that response I knew I had nowhere to go, so I left the discussion. If it were an #Edchat I probably would have taken it on, but I am a believer in the idea that there is a 10 percent mark of people who do not change their minds regardless of the facts. This educator had all the symptoms.
This set me to thinking down two paths of thought. First, Why do educators, who are set in their ways, and unwilling to open up to a different perspective, engage in chats. It is good to have opposition to ideas. That opposition both tests and strengthens new ideas. It forces compromise or it debunks ideas that have no real foundation. The idea of the chats is to explore the options, and be open to alternatives. If everything worked, as everything should, there would be no need for chats. Let us recognize that change is inevitable in everything, and that it is better for us to control that change than to have that change control us.
The idea of these chats is to explore what we do, and see if we can do better. The idea of collaborative chats is that the participants are varied and many. This offers us a range of experiences gathered for a chat that could never before been done virtually. It is in the sharing of these varied experiences that we may glean the best of the best and root out that which is not working. For any of this to work however, we do need to come to the chat with an open mind willing to explore change.
Of course the more important take away for me from this engagement was that there are still educators out there who believe kids incapable of making decisions that affect their lives. Of course, if we program kids to believe only adults may determine what kids should learn and how they should learn it, we are not creating or even encouraging life long learning. We need to begin programming kids to make decisions from an early age. We as educators need to instruct, mentor, and guide decision making in students until they can take it on fully on their own. Their decisions need to be real with all the rewards and all the consequences. The decisions need to be gradually upgraded and age appropriate, but by high school our students should be making academic decisions for overall courses as well as in class decisions. We as educators need to get from teacher centric lessons to student centric lessons giving weight to the decisions kids make.
Left to that educator that I encountered in that chat, kids would never make a decision because they are not mature enough to do so. The irony is that we demand mature behavior from kids every day, but we do not credit them capable of mature decision making, because we rob them of that ability. Decision-making is a learned skill like any other and it is a life skill, yet we limit our children’s ability to make them even in the areas that affect them most every day. We limit their decisions and turn them out into a society that demands decisions on a daily basis. Who benefits by this process?
I love getting my hands on new software, especially when it’s free, but I’ve noticed something: While all of these pieces of software are ultimately “cooler” than Power Point, student presentations aren’t necessarily more engaging or organized because of them. In fact, the presentations are almost exactly the same—they’re simply dressed up in a different outfit.
But it’s not just students who are giving bad Power Point presentations
Most of us do way too much telling and not enough showing. Instead of providing our audience with an engaging image and a half dozen words, most of us load up each slide with a bulleted list, a crutch, that we not only read directly from, but rely on to convey our message.
Power Point or not, how do we teach our students to give better presentations? And how do we start giving better presentations ourselves?
To help answer this question, I’d like to share a few ideas from blogger and teacher technologist, Clint Walters.
How to Put a Little Power Into Your Students’ Power Point Presentations
Don’t write everything you want to say on your PowerPoint slide
Presumably your audience already knows how to read, so there’s no reason to load up your slide with text and read it back to them.
Stay away from bulleted lists
Use no more than six words on each slide
Unless you are quoting someone, stick to as little text as possible.
Do use a variation on the PechaKucha (20x20) technique
If you’re not familiar with this technique, it’s all visual—there’s no text at all in a PechaKucha presentation.
Here’s how it works: twenty slides, twenty seconds of talking accompany each one. Each slide contains a sleek, visually engaging image and no more than six words.
While the 20 slides, 20 second formula is probably too much to ask of students right away, you might start with 10 slides, 10 seconds.
If you are looking for free, high-quality, creative-commons images, check out a few of the sites below: