Thursday, January 21, 2010

Will Email Become the Next "Snail Mail"?

Being relatively new to Twitter and the blog community, I found it hard to believe that I would ever use these tools. However, a friend of mine, Deron Durflinger, helped me see how valuable using these tools can be in the education field. Because of my new obsession with these great resources, I started to wonder if email would become the new "snail mail"???

I used to rely on my inbox to give me the most updated stories and news that I needed. Then I would wast time by hunting around the web at the end of the day going from page to page to check all of my favorite news outlets. Now, with Twitter, I can receive instant updates and follow people throughout the greater education community. I can hear issues and opinions from varying educators in the field by subscribing to their blogs. Furthermore, Google Reader gives me the information at such a blazing rate that some days it is hard to keep up!

So, just like I have done with stamps, I say "goodbye" to my inbox. I won't miss your slow updates, the number of meaningless messages, or the fact that you just can't give me the information my job and life require.

Here is a great resource for educators getting started with Twitter.

My next task is to get this information in the hands of our students and learners.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What is a great teacher?

My last post on mediocre teaching created a lot of "buzz" in my elementary building. I'm not talking about the kind of buzz from too much coffee before an 8:00 am staff meeting, but rather the kind of buzz that energizes people into thinking about their practices in the classroom.

One teacher asked me if average teachers (I prefer mediocre) think they are good in the classroom. I quickly answered "yes" deciding that most teachers who think they are good instructors have obviously lost the ability to reflect on their practice. Instead, I asked the teacher this question, "Do our great teachers know they are great?"

Think about it. I have seen some excellent teachers in the classroom that leave the building each day asking themselves what they could have done better. Great teachers put in long hours each week, feel frustration when a lesson is not perfect, are dedicated to the profession, and constantly look for ways to improve. A great teacher has the innate ability to ensure that every child learns regardless of the child's circumstances or abilities.

We, as educational leaders, need to tell our great teachers everyday that they are the best person in that classroom!

The following excerpt comes from the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide (Grades 3 and up) by Ruth Culham. I think this best captures the qualities of a great teacher.

A Good Teacher
(Written by an 8th grader)

To be a good teacher, one needs to love kids, love education, be caring, dedicated, cheerful, etc. Yeah, we've all heard it before. We've been writing this essay since 2nd grade. It's what we're expected to tell you in our big, colorful words for our big, colorful grade. Sure, I agree, it does take all all of that, but maybe it takes a wee bit more, hmm?

Maybe a good teacher need passion. Not necessarily for teaching, but for life. Perhaps they need to be rebellious and independent, as opposed to standard issue Model A.

I think a good teacher should teach what's in their hearts. They should be outrageous and have fun with their subjects. They should be there to give advice, but they should not force it upon those who don't want it.

A good teacher should understand that being free spirited doesn't mean you're stupid and that being shy doesn't' mean you have no opinions. I think a good teacher could let loose and be causal. Let us have our freedoms without losing control.

They must realize that I am not 4, nor am I 40. A good teacher should never fear a new idea. They shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes. They should respect me and my privacy, understanding that this will bring respect to them.

A good teacher must realize that we are individuals. They should involves us in discussions and teach us about reality and things that are relevant to us. They should understand that we don't need to be sheltered as much anymore. Now we need to be taught.

A good teacher listens.

A good teacher learns.

If you leave the school building each day thinking to yourself, "What could I have done better today?" Take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You are a great teacher.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mediocrity in teaching

I start my first blogging "experience" with a topic that has bothered me ever since I started my educational career. What do we do with mediocre teachers?

For starters, and several have written on the topic, it has to begin with a better teacher preparation program. We need to find a way for pre-service teachers to be in front of a real-world class the minute they enter an educational program. Too often, a student-teaching experience is the first chance a person has to actual practice their pedagogy. The pre-service program must then assess the person early and if they have not shown the ability to effectively teach, then they are removed from the educational program. Would you want legal representation from someone who only had a few "field experience" hours in the courtroom? We don't want teachers like that in our schools.

But addressing mediocrity with teachers that are already on staff can be a challenge. One thing districts try to do is catch up those teachers that are behind. In a discussion with a teacher today, he commented on how frustrating it is to sit in professional development meeting and work with colleagues that show little or no motivation to learn or "get better". If teachers notice that about other teachers, how do you think the students feel?

So what do most districts do? They create staff development programs that address a broad range of learners and focus on the majority needs of staff. Isn't that what we're telling our teachers NOT to do in regards to instructing their students?

Instead, I propose we begin to look at professional development in a different way.

1. Get staff connected with the world of educators and allow them to use time to read professional articles, blogs, and collaborate with other teachers (This means that teachers could collaborate with teachers in other states or countries).

2. Use teachers and administrators to collaboratively plan professional development opportunities.

3. Quit the "one-for-all" approach to staff development and differentiate professional development opportunities based on the needs of the each educator (or group of educators such as special education or 4th grade teachers).

4. Connect evaluation systems with evidence of teachers' professional development: projects, implementation of new strategies, student learning.

The next step is then evaluating systems that break the traditional mold. But that's a whole other topic!

Tell me what your ideas are regarding innovative ways to fight mediocrity.