Great teachers work best when they work together. TNTeacherTalk is a place for Tennessee teachers to connect, share our stories, and learn from one another. Join us as we discuss the issues affecting Tennessee students, teachers, and communities.

Leadership Policy Professional Learning
Get Caught in the “Web” of Teacher Leadership
August 29, 2017
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Get Caught in the “Web” of Teacher Leadership

Maureen Henderson
@MaureenHender18

Imagine a spider spinning a web.  It begins with individual fibers, then works to strengthen them, carefully finishing with their connection.   Across the state of Tennessee there are many strands of teacher leadership being spun.  Amazing initiatives and programs have been put in place to reinforce them.  What does it look like when these pieces are woven together to create a strong, powerful design?
Leadership Policy Professional Learning
Once a Fellow, Always a Fellow
June 22, 2017
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Once a Fellow, Always a Fellow

Diarese George
@DiareseGeorge

What’s my next move? What are my options? Are there opportunities for growth beyond the classroom? In the classroom? This time last year, these were questions that I had asked myself. At the time, I had just completed my fourth academic year of teaching and wondered what my professional trajectory looked like in the coming years. I transitioned into education after working in business for six years after college. In business, there was always an understanding that if you came into an entry-level role, depending on the company, you should be preparing for upward mobility within 2-3 years. Having surpassed that timeframe in the classroom, I was anxious to see what my next steps in the profession would be. That’s when I came across teacher education fellowship opportunities after reading Commissioner McQueen’s monthly Educator Update. (See past updates and sign up to receive them here.)

I decided to apply to Hope Street Group’s State Teacher Fellowship, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education’s Tennessee Educator Fellowship, and Education Pioneers Summer Fellowship. I was surprised to be accepted to each of them! At the conclusion of this year, I have completed each fellowship. Reflecting on them, I see they each offered unique experiences that have equipped me to be a better educator.

My Education Pioneers Fellowship placed me at the Tennessee Department of Education in the Office of Licensure and Educator Preparation. Last summer I worked on a project that explored the opportunities and challenges of school districts collaborating with education preparation programs to create partnerships. Working at this level helped me to see education from a broader lens, especially regarding an initiative like that. That experience helped me to reframe my thought process and view situations from different perspectives. It also gave me access to executive directors across various departments, professional development with the Commissioner, and a chance to view the Department’s five Education Priorities at work in real time.

I participated in both the Hope Street Group and SCORE Fellowships at the same time during the 2016-2017 academic year. The Hope Street Group Fellowship connected me with other teachers and local and national policymakers to give feedback on critical education policy issues, while serving as a spokesperson for positive change in the profession. I also was able to provide feedback to the Department of Education regarding professional development, chronic absenteeism, and RTI2. Additionally, Fellows convened throughout the year to receive advocacy training to aid in our roles. Three of the most helpful things that I learned are how to utilize Twitter for professional development, how to participate in and host Twitter chats, and how to conduct a meaningful focus group.

The SCORE Fellowship selects teacher leaders from across the state to train them to advocate and elevate their voices to support and advance student-focused education policy. SCORE provided the historical context of education policy in Tennessee, including where the state started and how it became the fastest improving in the country. This Fellowship connected me with key individuals and policymakers who played a role in the state’s improvement. It also equipped and empowered me to lead my own advocacy project, which centered on supporting educators of color in Tennessee. SCORE convened Fellows four times throughout the year to provide both advocacy training to support our projects and opportunities to meet key stakeholders, including Commissioner McQueen, executive directors from national education reform organizations, state legislators, and gubernatorial candidates.

My participation in each one of these fellowships has left me feeling enlightened, equipped, and energized to continue to engage in the policy work that I have begun. As my fellowships concluded, I remind myself that the work is just starting. We need more educators involved in education policy and engaging policymakers. When highly effective educators inform and shape education policies based on their practical knowledge and experience of excellent teaching and learning, the results are better for students. I highly recommend any of these fellowships to any educator who is looking to advocate on behalf of students and make an impact in the policy space. Each one of these fellowships proclaim once a Fellow, always a Fellow. For that, I will forever be connected to these organizations, their ongoing work, and the future Fellows who participate in them.

Diarese has taught Business courses at Clarksville High School for the past three years. In that time, he has served as a lead instructor for the school’s career Academy, member of the Instructional Leadership Team and an Academy lead in cross­-curricular collaboration for project­-based learning. He is a graduate of his district’s Leadership Development course, and a district­-wide Professional Development facilitator for Microsoft Excel training. Diarese holds a BBA in Marketing and Management and M.A. in Corporation Communications from Austin Peay State University, MBA from University of Phoenix and an Ed.D. in Leadership and Professional Practice from Trevecca Nazarene University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

Leadership Policy Professional Learning
Finding Your Teacher Voice
June 16, 2017
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Finding Your Teacher Voice

Hayley Cloud
@hcloud_tn

Ibegan holding adult conversations at a very early age. My vocabulary was well beyond my years, and I could hold a conversation with almost anyone who would listen, no matter the individual’s age, gender, or appearance. I wasn’t picky. Looking back, I’m sure the duration of my conversations sometimes reached the level of annoyance. I know my audience must have thought after a while,  “How do I get her to stop? How much more can I take?” Let’s just say that I have always had a voice, and it was a pretty strong one. I never had trouble finding my voice—until I became a teacher.
In the Classroom Professional Learning
Less Work (Teacher) + More Work (Student) = Rigor
June 10, 2017
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Less Work (Teacher) + More Work (Student) = Rigor

Cindy Cliche
@CindyCliche1

As another school year comes to a close, many educators reflect on successes and begin to set goals for the upcoming year. One word seems to be a part of many conversations: RIGOR. It comes up in evaluation conferences, Professional Learning Communities (PLC), and grade level planning team meetings. Yet many educators still seem to have some confusion about what rigor looks like in the classroom.
In the Classroom Professional Learning
Blended Learning and Education
June 3, 2017
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Blended Learning and Education

Elaine Vaughan
@evaughan77

Blended Learning: When I first heard those words, I was not impressed. I imagined all my students doing their math on a computer with little or no assistance from me. I knew that within 3 years my students would each have a laptop so I started doing some research on integrating mathematics and technology. I learned very quickly that my interpretation of blended learning would take on a new role and realized that I could combine classroom learning with online learning in which my students could, in part, control the time, pace, and place of their educational experiences. I also discovered two main ideas concerning differentiation and the mathematical practices and how my support of a blended learning environment within the classroom could enhance student learning.

Differentiation and Blended Learning: Every educator’s desire is to determine the learning styles (visual, kinesthetic, or auditory) of the students in the classroom and promote student investigation through multiple representations. Students may discover and experiment with graphing, examining tables, and analyzing concepts by using free online tools such as Desmos and Geogebra. A teacher should carefully evaluate the technological resources to assure the support of student learning of mathematics and the advantages offered in posing mathematical problems as well as illustrating mathematical ideas.

The Mathematical Practices and Blended Learning: Many of the Mathematical Practices dealing with problem solving, reasoning and constructing viable arguments, modeling with mathematics, and using appropriate tools are supported by various online programs and videos. Dan Meyer has developed many mathematical exercises that not only incorporate the practices into learning but also create scenarios that prompt students to stop and think about how to formulate solutions to the problems. One of these problems is called Meatballs and the Three Act Math Task: Will It Overflow? (http://www.101qs.com/2352-meatballs) Students work with the information observed in the three videos to solve the problem.  Educators may also choose Khan Academy, create flipped lessons, or use lessons from YouTube for students who need more practice or understanding on standards. Teachers also have various alternatives for on-line formative assessment such as Kahoot, Google Forms, Socrative, Quizlet, or student designed presentation using Screencast-O-Matic. Listed are just a few of the online learning tools for educators to use in the classroom.

Three years have passed since I first heard about Blended Learning. The ninth and tenth graders at my high school all have laptops for learning. I now realize that I will never be replaced by a computer and that I may serve as a facilitator in the classroom. The questioning techniques along with problem solving progress at a much higher level of learning for students. I am also preparing my students for the future world of work through the collaborative and communication skills they are utilizing with their peers. As an educator, one needs to keep in mind that all of the learning tools available for students take time to implement or adapt for multiple learning styles and that the technology should always support the mathematics. Also, an educator may want to investigate online professional development (MOOC-Ed, North Carolina State, https://place.fi.ncsu.edu/local/catalog/catalog.php). Whatever the decisions made in moving students forward in a technological world, the rewards far outweigh the drawbacks. I am now convinced that a Blended Learning environment will enhance my students’ work skills as they become productive citizens of the future.

Dr. Elaine Vaughan is a mathematics instructor at Oak Ridge High School for 20 years. She is a National Board Certified teacher, Professional Learning Communities Coach, and member of the Response to Intervention district and school board. Elaine is also a member of Delta Kappa Gamma and serves on the XI State Vision Board. Through this organization, she received both state and international scholarships. Elaine was a state mathematics textbook reviewer during the 2013-2014 school year. Elaine received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Mathematics Education from the University of Tennessee and her doctorate from Walden University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Professional Learning
Behavior Management with a PURPOSE
May 17, 2017
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Behavior Management with a PURPOSE

Michael Bradburn
@bradburnm

The first year of my teaching career was full of growth and a lot of professional learning.  Most of the growth occurred because of a young man who I welcomed into my kindergarten classroom during the second week of my teaching career. I got a call that I would be getting a new student in my classroom who has some “behavioral concerns.” As a first year teacher, I thought I was prepared for ANYTHING and ready for the challenge. Little did I know, he was ready for so much more! I met Aaron in August of 2004 and his impact on me as a teacher will never fade. The day started with me trying to convince him to stay in my classroom for all of the fun we had planned and the day ended with me convincing him the day was over and it was time to go home. During the day we were learning our colors and he got very angry because I asked him to use his purple crayon and he only had a violet. Each and every transition consisted of me setting a timer, dodging his shoes and school supplies, and typically watching my back for a punch or a kick. Aaron showed me that a behavior plan centered on a reward was not going to impact or teach him how to behave.

The why of management must be considered. We have to remember the goal when we manage our classrooms and potentially punish our students for misbehavior. It is because we, as teachers, want to help our students become better people not just compliant students. There are two questions that I think about when I am planning, implementing or reflecting on my behavior management and how we can help our students become better people.

What is the behavior that I want to teach them?
When we manage our classroom our goal should be to teach our students the appropriate way to behave. We have to ensure that we are clarifying how to respond appropriately. For example, when we have a student who is consistently interrupting we may ask the student to wait to speak or to raise his or her hand without any more explanation. However, if a teacher clarifies that we should raise our hand or wait to speak because it is disrespectful, the student can attach the behavior to an expectation. This clarification could be tied directly to a positive behavior plan and reinforcement because the positive choice is shared and the students can choose to be respectful and then be reinforced for that behavior.

Is this something I need to manage?
As teachers, we try to anticipate the actions of our students. One way we try to assist in smooth transitions and increase engagement is through structure and routines. However, these routines may cause us to manage our students more than we are able to teach. For example, I used to assign carpet spots during large group instructional time. This strategy worked for several years until I had a classroom full of students who needed to be separated. At that point, I didn’t have enough spots for them to be away from one another. This group allowed me to reflect on the need for spots. I realized I was doing the thinking for the students and not allowing them to make the appropriate choice.  From that point forward,  I allowed my students to select their own spots in the classroom. When students make the appropriate choice to separate from their friends or ignore someone talking with them I am able to positively reinforce that behavior and reward them.

With the constant push to implement positive behavior plans it is important to be familiar with the process and focus on the WHY of behavior management.  Our job is to ensure that we are teaching our students the appropriate ways to behave and choices that will make them better people and prepare them for their future.

Michael is an Instructional Coach at Alcoa Elementary School. He has been an educator for 11 years. He received the East Tennessee PreK-4 Teacher of the Year in 2014 and the Wal-Mart teacher of the year in 2004. Michael is currently working on the Tennessee Standards Mathematics Review Committee and as a Teacher Partner in his school collaborating with teachers to impact student achievement. He was a Common Core Mathematics Coach in 2013. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Bachelor’s of Science and a Masters Degree in Child and Family Studies. He holds an Education Specialist Degree in Instructional Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Leadership Professional Learning
Training New Teachers
April 26, 2017
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Training New Teachers

Jessica Childers
@JDouttChilders

For the past seven months, I have had a residency student in my classroom. Prior to this year, I had only had one student teacher who spent about six weeks teaching my classes. At first I was nervous about having another person teach my students for such a long time. But now that she is finishing her last week with me, I know my classroom will not be the same without her. During this school year, I have realized that training a residency student is a great responsibility and a great opportunity. Established teachers have an obligation to help train student teachers and residency students to be the teacher leaders of the future.

Current Education Law
In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA, to replace the No Child Left Behind law that was passed in 2002(1). Since that time, states have been working to create their own ESSA plans that follow the guidelines set forth by the new federal law. Here in Tennessee, Commissioner McQueen and the Department of Education have created a plan to build on the current education work in the state. According to the plan, there are five opportunities that the state will focus on. “Opportunity Four: Focus on Strengthening and Supporting Educators” deals with continuing education for current teachers and cultivating new teaching talent(2). To help support future teacher training, veteran teachers need to open their classrooms to residency students and student teachers.

Building Relationships
Future teachers participating in residency or student-teaching programs need to see the benefit of building relationships with other teachers in a school. Teachers can no longer be isolated in their classrooms creating all their own materials and speaking to no one. Teaching should be about sharing ideas, successes, failures, and innovations. Mentor teachers need to model positive relationships with others in a school setting. Hopefully, this will encourage graduates to seek out other teachers in their new schools and build those relationships for themselves.

Student teachers also need to see how veteran teachers build relationships and interact with their students. First-year teachers often struggle with classroom management, which is directly tied to student-teacher relationships. Mutual respect between students and teachers is built over time, starting on the first day of school. However, many residency and student-teaching programs do not start out the school year in their classroom placements. Hopefully, colleges and universities that partner with school districts will start residencies earlier in the school year in the future. Student teachers can still observe positive relationships throughout the school year but would benefit greatly from seeing those as they evolve from the start.

Technology
Most college students have no trouble using technology for themselves, but learning to teach with technology is a skill. Mentor teachers who have access to technology in their classrooms should model its use and explain the purpose behind the technology usage. What websites do you like to use with your students? How do you use Google Drive? What technology is the most useful for each subject area?

Also, student teachers need to learn how to monitor students who are using electronic devices in class such as laptops, Chromebooks, or their own cell phones. Many schools have certain sites blocked, but students are always finding ways to access them anyway. This will help prepare student teachers for their own classrooms and the problems that will eventually arise.

 

According to the ESSA Plan, Tennessee’s goals for education are that “districts and schools in Tennessee will exemplify excellence and equity such that all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to successfully embark upon their chosen path in life. Our work is focused on preparing students such that they have choice and quality options after graduation. This is how Tennessee succeeds.”(2) One way that Tennessee teachers can help support this vision is by ensuring that residency students and student teachers are fully prepared for their own classrooms after graduation.

(1) https://www.ed.gov/essa?src=rn

(2)http://www.tennessee.gov/assets/entities/education/attachments/ESSA_state_plan.pdf

Jessica has taught middle school math in Putnam County Schools for the past 7 years. She first worked at Avery Trace Middle School teaching 6th, 7th and 8th grade math. Then she moved to Cornerstone Middle School, which is now Upperman Middle School, to teach 5th grade math. During this time, she has served as the 5th grade team leader, mentor teacher, 2015 school level Teacher of the Year, digital transition team member and mathematics instructional specialist. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Multidisciplinary Studies – Middle School and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, both from Tennessee Tech University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

Leadership Policy
Opportunity to Learn: TN Teacher Fellows 2016-17 Report
April 25, 2017
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Opportunity to Learn: TN Teacher Fellows 2016-17 Report

Natalie Coleman
@NeasColeman

Any teacher can tell you that students who miss too much school are at a disadvantage compared to their peers. Regardless of whether absences are a result of illness, personal reasons, or suspensions, missed time in school is detrimental to the individual student’s learning. The Tennessee Department of Education hopes to improve students’ opportunity to learn by reducing absenteeism. In Tennessee’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, one nonacademic indicator for school and district accountability is the “chronically out of school” metric, which will evaluate progress in reducing the number of students who miss ten percent or more of the school year.

Before finalizing the state’s ESSA plan, the TDOE tasked the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows with collecting feedback from teachers across the state of Tennessee about their experiences with chronic absenteeism and with student discipline. This spring, the Fellows released a report based on the valuable input of over 2,000 teachers who participated in an online survey and nearly 400 who provided their insights in focus groups. The report includes six recommendations that the Fellows presented to Commissioner McQueen and the TDOE and is now available for the benefit of all stakeholders in Tennessee education.

The report details the results of the survey and summarizes the trends of teachers’ comments in focus groups, and a look through the report shows many connections between teachers’ experiences and the recommendations made to the Department of Education.

Recommendation 1 focuses on helping schools and teachers address the problem of students chronically missing school. Based on the survey data, even though 95% of teachers affirmed that chronic absenteeism affects student achievement, many teachers also reported that they have received little or no training in how to reduce student absences. 90% of teachers reported that they had not received training on strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism, and 92% reported that they were unfamiliar or only somewhat familiar with the state’s initiatives in addressing this issue. In response to this feedback, the Fellows recommend, “To ensure that teachers are fully aware of TDOE efforts, CORE offices could build teacher awareness of the draft ESSA plan (2016) through trainings that highlight key plan features that are designed to reduce chronic absenteeism.”   

Recommendation 2 seeks to provide schools and teachers with more resources to address this issue. On the Fall 2016 survey, 69% of teachers reported that they believe problems at home are the most significant barrier to student attendance, but only 30% report that they are aware that Family Resource Centers are available to help families and students who struggle with absenteeism. In fact, teachers who chose to write in their own answers about the family support services offered by their schools overwhelmingly responded with none. As a result, the second recommendation says, “To alleviate teacher concerns about this issue, TDOE could build awareness of an increased TDOE focus in 2017 on reducing chronic absenteeism through Family Resource Centers. Additionally, TDOE could remind teachers of the 103 Family Resource Centers in 78 districts and highlight the various needs-based services and training provided to parents and families through these centers.”

Recommendations 3 and 4 focus on student behavior and discipline. In focus groups, teachers shared various obstacles they encounter in implementing effective discipline policies. The third recommendation connects these teacher concerns to resources the TDOE could provide in conjunction with Response to Instruction and Intervention for Behavior (RTI2-B): “Because TDOE focuses on RTI2-B in the draft ESSA plan (2016), TDOE could expand the RTI2-B framework to reach more districts and schools through CORE offices or Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP), thereby providing additional targeted support in areas highlighted as obstacles by teachers.” The fourth highlights strategies for improving student behavior that are both research-based and frequently cited by teachers themselves in their focus group responses: “Through CORE offices or Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP), TDOE could emphasize how the following teacher suggestions for improving student behavior are research-based and addressed in RTI2-B: promoting positive behavior and prevention efforts and encouraging restorative behavior practices; involving parents in student behavior efforts; nurturing positive student-teacher relationships; and providing appropriate consequences in response to student behavior issues.” This recommendation encourages the TDOE to promote these research-based practices which teachers also know to be effective.

Recommendation 5 addresses the all-too-familiar concern of bullying in school. 14% of teachers report they feel unprepared or very unprepared to handle incidents of bullying in their classrooms, and 20% rate the effectiveness of their schools’ response to bullying as ineffective or very ineffective. These numbers show that many schools and teachers need additional support in addressing the issue of bullying and validate the fifth recommendation: “Because 20 percent of teachers shared that their schools’ response to bullying is ineffective, TDOE could provide resources to CORE offices for dissemination to districts and schools.”

Recommendation 6 highlights previous Hope Street Group findings about RTI2 and urges using prior teacher feedback to inform implementation of RTI2-B, Response to Instruction and Intervention for Behavior, which features in the state’s draft ESSA plan. This recommendation reads: “TDOE could revisit the recommendations provided in the Spring 2016 Hope Street Group Report on RTI2, including those related to scheduling and structuring RTI2; promoting whole school support and reducing negative perceptions of RTI2 effectiveness; and providing funding for additional RTI2 resources (e.g., professional development) and staffing.” This previous report, detailing teacher feedback regarding RTI2, is also available on the Hope Street Group website.

To learn more, visit the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows website and download the full 2016-17 report. You can also stay connected by liking and following the Tennessee Teacher Fellows’ Facebook page, Tennessee Teacher Voice

Natalie has taught seventh grade language arts at Shafer Middle School for eight years and was named Shafer Teacher of the Year for 2013-14. She sponsors the school literature and arts magazine, was a TNCore Learning Leader for 2014-15, and has served on district planning committees and as part of the Mid-Cumberland CORE Region Teacher Roundtable Discussion. Natalie graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2009 and was awarded Peabody College’s Kevin Longinetti Award for Outstanding Secondary-Level Teaching. Outside of school, she tutors for Begin Anew (formerly CWJC of Middle TN), where she has volunteered for nine years. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Professional Learning
Implementing Classroom Changes
April 19, 2017
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Implementing Classroom Changes

Crystal Nelson, Ed.D.
@CN628

fter a disastrous first year of teaching, I knew I needed to make some changes. I reflected on my year and identified areas I thought would make the biggest impact in the next year. That summer I worked on what I needed to learn and developed a plan to make my next year better. Thus began a habit of reflecting on my practice that has helped me to improve each year in my teaching career. I hope sharing these steps can help other teachers reflect and grow too:
  1. Identify where you need improve. What is going to make the biggest difference in student learning or even in maintaining order in your classroom? What is the goal of this change? Limit the changes you are going to make to no more than three. You can’t change everything at one time, and you may not see the success you’re looking for if you spread your attention too thin.  
  2. Decide how you’re going to measure a goal. Sometimes, my measurement stick is very specific and is exactly how teachers are supposed to goal-set: “I will use x instructional strategy 8 out of 10 lessons.” Sometimes my goal breaks the rules and lacks the specificity: “Don’t be terrible at x.”  Of course, you want to quantify any goals relating to student learning. However, changes relating to organization, classroom management, procedures, etc. can depend on where you’re starting, what the nature of what you’re trying to do is, and whether you have a clue what your “end game” should quantifiably look like. Sometimes the vaguer goal is just fine, and you will know if you’re happy with the change or not.
  3. Make a plan to make your change happen. If you aren’t sure and don’t know of anyone to ask, read. There is a book on every topic. Reading professional literature has been the biggest help to me, especially those times when I’ve felt like I had no one who could give me the advice I needed.
  4. Identify when to start. It’s hard to make “big” changes in the middle of a semester or school year. Because your classroom expectations and policies are already set, it often takes a lot of legwork at the beginning to make a new change successful. It might be better to start new changes on a fresh year with a new group of students when you’ve had all summer to let your ideas marinate and have had time to get new systems in place. It is possible to make adjustments and changes in the middle, but it really depends on what you’re trying to do, how you will be managing the expectations of students, and whether you physically have time to get the legwork in.
  5. Reflect on your new change throughout implementation. Is it better than it was before? Where are you seeing success and where are you still unhappy? Modify your plan as needed and figure out those problem-pockets. If you feel the plan is failing, you don’t have to continue living with something that isn’t working. However, analyze why it isn’t working and give it a real chance before you give it up completely. (Remember, if you’re attempting a behavior modification plan, the behavior might get worse before it gets better. If this is an area with which you don’t have a lot of experience and the behavior is especially challenging, get help from your principal or a teacher who has a lot of success in this area before implementing the plan.)
  6. Pick your next change if you’re happy with the results of your new change, or you’re at a place where you can handle something else.

My first year of teaching was incredibly challenging, as I know it is for many. I try to stay focused on what I can control and improve, rather than all the many factors outside of my control (lack of parent support, limited instructional time, etc). This has led to improved student learning, student behavior, and personal job satisfaction.

Crystal has taught at Camden Elementary for six years teaching PreK-2nd grade general music and reading intervention and serves as RTI Co- Coordinator. Crystal served as the Benton County Education Association president 2013-2015, is an active member of Delta Kappa Gamma, and was named Distinguished Educator of West Tennessee by the Tennessee Education Association in 2014. Crystal is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin where she earned a B.M. in Music Education. As a life-learner, she has also earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and an Ed.D. in Leadership and Professional Practice from Trevecca Nazarene University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

Leadership Policy
A Day on the Hill
April 18, 2017
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A Day on the Hill

Maureen Henderson
@MaureenHender18

I have never considered myself a very political person, but my work this past year as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow has ignited in me a new interest in the connection between educational policy and practice. One of Hope Street Group’s beliefs is that teacher input in policymaking impacts both teachers and students. The Fellowship is designed to improve education by making sure teacher voices are heard.

As a veteran teacher of nineteen years, I had always been under the impression that a classroom teacher had absolutely no involvement in state initiatives and education policies. In fact, over the years, I have heard colleagues make comments like, “It’s just something new THEY are telling us we have to do.” Assuming that THEY were the people at the state level (those in legislative positions etc.), I never imagined that those same people may actually want to hear from “us,” the teachers.  

SCORE Student Achievement Day on the Hill was revolutionary for me as a teacher!  Not only do policymakers want to hear from educators, but they are truly listening to what we say. I had the great honor to sit in several meetings and talk personally with five amazing representatives! Although each representative had very unique personalities, a common characteristic was that each one of them was eager to hear our concerns. The questions they asked were sincere in seeking to clarify why we thought they should or should not support a particular bill.

I have developed a greater appreciation for what our legislature does each day.  In fact, in a way, I feel they are a lot like teachers. Just as our list of responsibilities never ends—not only do we have to teach a lesson, manage discipline, analyze data, collaborate with peers, serve on committees, the list goes on and on—the same is true for our legislators. They are faced with so many responsibilities beyond education policy. There were droves of individuals from different businesses and organizations lined up waiting for a few minutes of their attention, hoping to impact the hundreds of decisions they face.

Representative John Forgety, of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, our introductory speaker that morning, made the perfect analogy. He asked us to reflect on a student for whom we have gone the extra mile, spent extra time, encouraged, and supported. How often do we receive recognition or praise from that parent? Yet, one unfortunate incident or circumstance in that child’s school day, and the parent is often quick to call and voice anger at the teacher/administration and demand justice. Just as teachers can often feel underappreciated, that is indeed how policymakers must sometimes feel. I can only imagine the number of phone calls, letters, and emails they must have received in the wake of the state testing debacle last year. I wonder how that number would compare with the amount of gratitude they got for supporting a salary increase for teachers this year.

In conclusion, for me the theme of the SCORE Student Achievement Day on the Hill was relationship building. Representative Forgety also made an extraordinarily powerful point when he gave all the educators in the room that day a test.  The test was simple:

  1. List the three richest individuals in the U.S.
  2. Name the last three Heisman trophy winners.
  3. Who were the three most recent winners of the Mrs. America pageant?

Not one person in the room made a 100% on that test. Then Representative Forgety asked us to take the following test:  

  1. Name your favorite elementary school teacher.
  2. List the name of your high school principal.
  3. Who was an educator who made a difference in your life?

 

His point was crystal clear to me. Relationships are what make a difference. I believe educators desperately want support and respect from policymakers, and in turn, I believe policymakers crave the same. The time has come for us to bridge the gap between “us” and “them.” Together we must continue building relationships and having critical conversations about policy and practice. Together we can make a difference in the lives of our great students in the state of Tennessee.

Maureen teaches fourth grade at Greenbrier Elementary School in Robertson County. Previously, she taught sixth grade at Greenbrier Middle School. She has been an educator in Robertson County for seventeen years. Maureen has served as a grade level leader and as a chair for the school’s math committee. During the 2015­-16 school year, Maureen served in the capacity of teacher representative for the Hope Street Focus Group and the Tennessee Teacher Leader Network. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Georgian Court College and Master’s degree in school counseling from Western Kentucky University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.