Posts Tagged: Professional Development

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.

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
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.

In the Classroom Leadership
Music Teacher to Reading Interventionist: Helping your non reading/math teachers fill your need for RTI interventionists
December 19, 2016
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Music Teacher to Reading Interventionist: Helping your non reading/math teachers fill your need for RTI interventionists

Crystal Nelson
@CN628

RTI2 (Response to Intervention and Instruction) is no longer a new concept for many schools, but some are still trying to figure it out.  Finding the personnel to teach reading and math intervention groups has led many administrators to pulling in non-reading/math teachers to lead these interventions.  I was asked, as a music teacher, to take on a first grade tier 3 reading intervention group.  Based on my experiences, I have compiled some suggestions for administrators to support teachers who are asked to step way out of their comfort zones to teach something they have never taught before.
  1. Understand teachers might be dealing with some cognitive dissonance. Even when the  teacher wants to be flexible to do what’s best for the students and the school, it’s difficult not to question, “Is it reasonable to ask me to teach math or reading (already the subjects that get all the attention and emphasis) when I’m a music teacher (aka teacher of a subject that is already way undervalued in education and possibly in your school)?”  The positive attitude is the teacher’s responsibility, but you still need to be aware these are very real feelings grounded from a very real place. Furthermore, it is probably a reality that the non-tested subjects in your school have probably had their time cut or have students pulled out, or both.  When I first started, I was getting my Master’s in Educational Leadership, so my perspective had shifted with that program of study to where I was able to approach taking a reading intervention group differently than I would have two years earlier. Mentally, I was already there, so my principal did not have to make the case with me. For administrators with teachers who aren’t coming from this same place, I would suggest creating a need for those changes. Pose the problem in a context that allows the teacher to see the larger picture and how these changes are necessary to student success.
  2. Provide helpful training. Effective training can reinforce the benefits of a structured program teachers are using during intervention time and help fill in gaps in knowledge. If a structured program is not available, good training is imperative. Luckily, the state of Tennessee was providing some Intervention and Common Core trainings the summer after I started RTI interventions. These trainings detailed the components of learning to read (decoding, fluency, comprehension, etc.) and intervention strategies for those components.  Your state’s department of education might have resources or materials available to help train your teachers.
  3. Create a safe environment. Remember, these teachers are possibly feeling really insecure about their ability to teach something new and might be a little terrified they’re going to permanently damage the children. (Rationally, they know this isn’t likely, but it’s still a fear!) Your teachers need to feel safe enough to ask questions about what they are doing and to be able to address concerns. It’s a good idea to provide some extra supervision or informal observations in the beginning. My first year, I started out at a table in a strong teacher’s room with my intervention group, and she had another group at another table. She was able to monitor some to know I was on-track, and it made me feel a lot better. Later in the year, I moved into a quieter area, but my assistant principal was still in every so often to do fidelity checks. I had no qualms saying, “Let me know if I need to do something differently.” In a way, it’s easier to ask for help when you aren’t supposed to be the expert. I would be less eager to show my vulnerability in the music classroom. Last year, I had a math group for the first time, no structured program— just me trying to figure out what the students needed and trying to figure out the most logical way to structure the content. I was somewhat uncomfortable with my assistant principal in there watching, but I said, “Feel free to jump in if you see something that I should do differently.” I recognize doing right by the students trumps my discomfort at someone else observing me do something poorly. As it turns out, she was happy with the work I was doing. Being able to discuss why I chose the focus I did and having discussions about how I’m teaching, helped me feel a lot more secure.
  4. If at all possible, have your teachers use a structured program. This provides the appropriate sequencing and activities needed to teach the given skill. Using a structured program gave me a solid foundation of knowledge and gave me a sense of security knowing I wasn’t going to do anything horribly wrong. As confidence builds, it doesn’t take long before teachers can use their best judgement and make modifications as needed.
  5. Encourage teachers to make connections between teaching their subject and teaching a totally new subject. I have discovered that teaching reading is incredibly similar to teaching music. There are content-specific things I need to know and have learned, but the “how” of teaching decoding, building fluency, analyzing, and teaching from literature is shockingly similar. Even when it came to math, I just used my knowledge of how to break down the goal, “what I want the children to be able to do,” and take it back until I’ve figured out the steps needed to meet that goal.

Obviously, how you approach your non-reading/math teachers with leading intervention groups will have to do with the individual personalities of those teachers, as well as the resources you have available. You might have a situation where the teacher can observe other groups, you might need to set up clear expectations for how intervention time should look, etc.  But I wanted to share what made me successful as an interventionist.  Basically, provide teachers with the resources they need to be successful (materials, training) and treat them with the same understanding you would need if you were in the same situation.

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.

Professional Learning
Space Academy for Educators Take Aways
August 5, 2016
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Space Academy for Educators Take Aways

Debbie Hickerson
@DebHickerson

In July I had the privilege of attending Space Academy for Educators (STEM focused) at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  What an adventure!  I had no idea how these four days would change me both as a teacher and a learner.  So while it is all still fresh, I thought it would be good for me to record my big take-aways from the grueling 14-hour days spent at camp.  Like childbirth, time softens your memory.

image03Take Away 1:  Expect to stay busy.  There’s great pride in hard work well done.

First, there’s a reason why you leave with 35 PD hours: you start the day at 7:00 a.m. and end the day at 9:00 p.m. with 30 minutes built in the schedule for meals.  Maybe this is the reason you don’t receive a schedule until you arrive?  We were informed on the very first morning, “There’s no tired like Space Camp tired.”  It’s true.  I ended the first day wondering if I had gotten too old for this, or if my energy-packed multivitamin would ever kick in.  The chatter on the bus that was there on the morning rides in certainly had settled down on the bus rides back after dark.

Take Away 2:  No man is an island, teamwork is key, and don’t leave anyone out.

Each day was filled with challenges that made me wonder if I was smart enough to be there. I learned that it’s okay if you don’t understand everything going on, though, because someone else on your team will.  We spent most of our class time in the Marshall Education building for most STEM challenges, and this room was filled with Alphas.  Everyone wanted to work on a team, but most of them expected to be the brains behind the project.  People who are more laid back, like me, had to get pretty loud to be heard over all the ideas being tossed around.  I have to say, though, this was a very creative bunch.  No slackers here. 

Take Away 3:  Learn all that you can from each other.image00

I always learn something new and interesting when talking with other teachers, especially from other states.  We all have our struggles within our schools, districts, and states, but I learn and grow when I hear teachers talk with so much modesty about the amazing things they are doing every day in their classrooms.  These teachers inspired me to try new things I would have never even thought of (i.e., Troy and his after school robotics club in Iowa, Ashley and her soda bottle ecosystems from found materials on her school campus in Tennessee).

Take Away 4:  Pay attention and follow directions.  

The simulated Mission to the International Space Station was a major focus for the camp.  Everyone depended on communication from all other areas.  We wanted to have fun, and we were encouraged by the camp counselors to rely on our training and relax, but every teacher in the Mission Control room—whether piloting the spacecraft or acting as scientists/astronauts—took this as seriously as though were were actually in flight.  This group of obvious overachievers was desperate to get our astronauts to their destination and safely home.  Problem-solving was the name of the game here.

 

I left Space Academy for Educators with a deeper appreciation for NASA and all that they have achieved over the years.  I also understand why it takes years to make a mission come to fruition.  Viewing the actual Saturn V that traveled to the moon while on a docent tour with a retired NASA engineer was absolutely priceless.  Having an astronaut in the room, giving first-hand experience of his time in orbit, just left me speechless.

For those of us who thought NASA wasn’t doing anything anymore since the space exploration program lost its funding a few years ago, boy, were we wrong!  Being treated as an elite group, we received a tour of some of the NASA buildings in Huntsville and actually saw in live time the astronauts at work on the International Space Station while visiting the Payload Operations Center.  Did you realize the ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes?  Or that you can apply for your students to talk with them as they fly over your school?  I had no idea that was even possible!

The common thread that I notice in all of my takeaways, is that these are the same things we try as educators to emphasize to our students.  Work together, don’t leave anyone out, learn from each other, be proud of your hard work, pay attention, follow directions!  How many times a day to you say at least one of those? 

I cherish this experience and can’t thank the other teachers enough for all that they taught me as well as the camp counselors for challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will never take for granted.  

To learn more about NASA, check out their website:  www.nasa.gov.

With twenty years of teaching experience, Debbie holds a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, a Master of Education as a Reading Specialist, and an Educational Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision from Middle Tennessee State University. A former President of the Murfreesboro Education Association, Debbie currently serves on the National Advisory Board for Scholastic, is a Mentor Teacher for MTSU’s MTeach Program, a judge for CODiE Awards of the Software & Information Industry Association, is on the Member Advisory Panel for the National Education Association and has written numerous grants totaling more than $10,000 during her teaching career. Debbie is actively involved in The Last Minute Toy Store, Haiti Relief, Feed the Hunger, and Blue Raider Athletic Association. 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
Leading From The Classroom
July 22, 2016
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Leading From The Classroom

Originally posted and featured at TNEdreport.com

Debbie Hickerson
@DebHickerson

E very professional journal we see these days contains an article which examines professional development for teachers. It is thrilling to see the educational community focus on ways we can better our practice, hone in on our talents, and strategize ways to find more tools for our classroom teachers.

The highly regarded educational trainer and author, Harry Wong, has told us for years, “It is the teacher – what the teacher knows and can do – that is the most significant factor in student achievement.” (The First Days of School, 2001). This tells me that we must find the time, money, and support that will allow us to invest in our teachers. I have an idea on how we can do just that.

School districts are making requests for more substantial budgets today than they ever have. Even small school systems are seeking millions of dollars for operating costs. With so many school districts looking for ways to make the most of their allocations, it’s time to get creative with professional learning. It just makes sense to capitalize on the assets by having teachers instruct, not just mentor, one another and share their talents, skills, techniques, materials, resources, and strategies. Tennessee State Teacher Fellows working with the non-profit organization, Hope Street Group, produced a report in January 2016 containing data from teacher surveys and focus groups held throughout the state in the Fall of 2015. The press release states, “The Hope Street Group report focuses on professional learning and teacher leadership, with results indicating that over half of the survey respondents aspire to a teacher leader role while remaining in the classroom.” Tennessee teachers didn’t want to leave the kids, they just wanted to help maximize their colleagues’ effectiveness.

These findings should cause principals to take a look at their faculty. The school is filled with scholars! These are highly educated people, with various degrees, skills, and talent. Why not tap into all that expertise?

What would leading from the classroom look like? “Teachers teaching teachers” is not a new concept, but it is one that is underused. This type of professional learning provides many opportunities for teachers to step up to take active roles in peer training. Districts who implement this style of teacher leadership have teachers who are leading in-service professional development. They may have book talks or hold lunch-and-learn sessions, lead professional book clubs, and occasionally spend time during faculty meetings giving presentations, sharing ideas, pedagogy, and/or strategies. Why not allow teachers to sign up once a month to conduct after school professional learning workshops?

Costs. Teacher-led professional development fosters accountability, collegiality, and teamwork. Schools receive funds earmarked for professional learning, so why not have teachers leave campus to travel to other schools and use these funds to cover the expense of substitutes? That afternoon, the same substitutes would be moved to different classrooms for another set of teachers to leave campus to observe lessons. The cost to the schools, and disruption to the students is minimal. The cost would be even less if paraprofessionals were used in place of substitutes.

True Collaboration. Language Arts teachers could spend one planning session a week with Drama, Social Studies, History, and Science teachers teaching them how to do a close reading of their content area materials. The following week, the content area teachers could provide valuable background knowledge for the Language Arts teacher before he/she begins a new topic as well as providing ideas for projects, differentiating lessons, and multisensory activities. This type of planning would be critical for arts-integrated lessons, particularly as many districts are embracing STEAM activities and strategies now.

Using built in PLC days. School districts that build in half days to the yearly calendar, could maximize those afternoons by offering break-out sessions for which teacher leaders offer a variety of professional learning workshops allowing teachers from any school to attend based on their own need and interest. Teachers would then have the option to receive specific methods, activities, hands-on materials, make-and-take manipulatives, as well as new strategies to take back and share with their teams. This would also provide an opportunity for teachers to discuss current trends in education, legislative bills that are coming up, or learning how to use Twitter, Linkedin, or other social media to their professional advantage.

It takes a village to raise a teacher. There are so many online webinars for teachers to earn PD credit, wouldn’t it be great to have a team who previews those and only shares the best, most valuable information? Many districts have parent conference days, classroom work days, and half days in which the special area teachers (also known as related arts) have nothing required of them. (Special area teachers include Drama, Music, Chorus, Band, P.E., Art, Library, STEM, Guidance Counselor, and the like). Having them work on a committee to preview PD webinars could potentially be a great school improvement project that would benefit everyone on the faculty.

Teacher buy-in is essential. Teacher leadership is going to require whole-hearted teacher and administrator buy-in, but the facts are indisputable. No intervention can make the difference that a skilled, knowledgeable teacher can, it is cost effective, makes the best use of our time, and is collaborative in nature. Since our schools receive school-wide scores and grades, quite frankly, the truth is when our colleagues look good, we all look good.

With twenty years of teaching experience, Debbie holds a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, a Master of Education as a Reading Specialist, and an Educational Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision from Middle Tennessee State University. A former President of the Murfreesboro Education Association, Debbie currently serves on the National Advisory Board for Scholastic, is a Mentor Teacher for MTSU’s MTeach Program, a judge for CODiE Awards of the Software & Information Industry Association, is on the Member Advisory Panel for the National Education Association and has written numerous grants totaling more than $10,000 during her teaching career. Debbie is actively involved in The Last Minute Toy Store, Haiti Relief, Feed the Hunger, and Blue Raider Athletic Association. 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.