A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
When reading these reports (see link buttons below), I was struck with a line in the Aspen Institute’s Roadmap to Improvement reading. The Aspen Institute said that current evaluator training and certification programs “… send the message that the main purpose of evaluation is to rate teachers, rather than support their professional growth.” I’m sure many classroom teachers could agree with this claim as the current state of teacher evaluation in the state. Even on a teacher level, colleagues will often focus on the rating as opposed to focusing on the feedback given. Getting anywhere near a reflective practice will require changes in the ways that leadership and educators in the classroom view evaluation and observation. The reflective nature of observation and evaluation is also highlighted in the principles listed in the CCSSO report titled Principles for Teacher Support and Evaluation Systems. The first principle listed sums up the main issue that the purpose of evaluation and observation must be better defined and tied to student achievement AND professional growth. Getting to a place where teachers feel supported through evaluation and observational feedback is an important goal. In order to increase buy-in and in some cases re-legitimize the profession as a profession and not merely a job is an important element too.
In my experience, there is a clear management gap that must be addressed at the leadership level in order to focus on selling any new observation or evaluation tool. Managing people is very difficult and does not come naturally to some people. I have observed nearly every leader I have ever worked with struggle to communicate with classroom teachers about observational feedback. The leader often presents as timid or overly aggressive and ultimately unfocused on the ultimate goal of professional development.
Student achievement can be positively impacted through effective observational feedback that directly relates to improving teaching practice. Also, doesn’t it just make sense to directly tie the feedback to the student’s ultimate success? Most teachers do what they do because they believe in their students and want to see them succeed. If the conversation is moved toward students and away from the hypercritical teacher centered rating I would say that the messaging issue relating to this being about the students and their success and not merely on the educator and their perceived challenge areas.
Fairness, credibility, and transparency would be my next area of interest. When I worked for General Electric in management many of the elements of an employee’s observation were available for viewing and analysis by the team. It shouldn’t be scary to share about your evaluation and observational feedback. I think that celebrating student achievement could be the focus of PD’s – discussing solid classroom practices that increase critical thinking while also positively impacting engagement. This is where I think that peer groups or professional learning communities (PLCs) could be a big asset to a refined evaluation model. A well implemented PLC program could be very beneficial when refocusing back to reflective practice and performance improvement. Colleagues can be a huge asset to improving teacher performance and nurturing/fostering an environment where that is celebrated would help educators and also leverage the highly effective qualities of others to improve our own performance in the classroom.
We ask students to constantly reflect on things and to consider new possibilities. I believe that teachers should be consistently engaged with doing the same thing about their own practices to positively impact student achievement. In the Aspen Institute report I was also struck with how they described how a prescriptive plan for improvement would be more effective to better develop teacher professional growth. I think this could be a very interesting way to use a Professional Growth Plan (PGP). In a perfect scenario, the PGP would be formed with the observer as a focus area for teacher improvement. Based on previous observations or evaluation information, feedback from PLC group, and self-reflections teachers could work with their evaluator to monitor and improve teacher effectiveness. This would of course look differently in every setting, but I think some fluidity at the local level could allow the PGP to be a tool for student achievement and at the same time be a conversation point or focus area for the teacher and evaluator throughout the year.
Addressing the guiding question, I believe that the stigma of evaluation needs to be addressed and many people in leadership roles need to be better versed in the objective of the evaluation. If the evaluation/observation is used to encourage teachers to do better for their students and their future students, then the evaluation system can be used as a level for improving student achievement. Secondly, I think that addressing this messaging concern could also help to make the experience for new teachers and those who are veterans more rewarding. By encouraging improved performance for students through reflective critique and peer support systems we could also impact the severe problem of teacher retention. Elevating the job of teaching to the profession of educating is a message I believe anyone in the field can get behind.
Here are links to the articles I referenced in the post:
Continuing on yesterday’s post on technology in the classroom and how I (a high school English teacher) use it. In the part I post I detailed several key sites and apps to make life easier. If you picked up one or two (MAX – it’s the rule) of those tools, be sure to master them before moving on a new tool.
CURRICULAR TOOLS FOR THE ELA CLASSROOM
I teach English and reading at a high school level, so the majority of tools I will share are those that will work best in an upper grade application. I am sure my lower grade teachers could also use some of them too with minimal to no modification.
Hope you can take away some ideas from this post of curricular technology tools and their potential applications in the secondary English classroom. Next time, I will post on some tools you can use to help keep engagement during lecture presentations. Until we meet again.
One thing that teachers (newbies and veterans) always need to talk about is technology in the classroom. New teachers tend to be so tech heavy they literally fall apart (I’ve seen it) when the inevitable projector bulb goes out. Veteran teachers tend to be a bit fearful of change to the classroom environment and at times the element of handing off control to students becomes an issue with technology application during instruction. Overall, this was one of my most successfully taught professional development courses, because it seems that everyone is searching for more opportunities to leverage technology in the classroom.
START SMALL AND BUILD ON SUCCESS
Don’t try to do it all! Try to use one (or maybe two) of the tools – master their use and application to your classroom and then move to another tool. If you try them all at once you will fail, you will feel the failure, and it may turn you off from trying again. Whatever you think, DON’T DO IT! I am especially speaking to the newer teachers out there.
There is more to being successful with technology in the classroom than being able to use the tools yourself. The real magic of technology in the classroom is when it helps students to connect with content, learning, and ultimately increases achievement. This is not something that will come right away, and teachers should prepare to start small and incorporate management tools and technology to make life easier before jumping head first into some of the more “feature filled” applications.
MAKING LIFE EASIER
I use a variety of technology tools to make life easier on me. Many of these tools have an initial investment of time and labor (setting up classes, assigning logins, etc.), but really pay off once you have them operational.
This is just part one of my list – in a week or so I will be posting a comprehensive list of tools to use in the classroom with students to increase engagement and achievement.
On Wednesday (11/23/16) president-elect Trump announced he was selecting school voucher and privatization advocate Betsy DeVoss to lead the US Department of Education. Unlike her predecessor, DeVoss has no history working with public schools, never attended a public school, sent all her children to private school, and arguably is woefully unprepared to lead the US Department of Education.
The primary objective of Betsy DeVoss throughout her time in educational politics has been to increase access to school vouchers and thereby increase the charter school landscape in many American cities. DeVoss and president-elect Trump both are in support of increased access to school vouchers, which has consistently been proven to be a nightmare for already disadvantaged students attending public schools nationwide.
In Michigan, the state where DeVoss has made most of her efforts in education teacher attrition is at an all-time high. Research has always proven that students are not best served by inexperienced, unprepared educators. In Michigan, the “business cycle” has been impacting student performance for quite a while. The privatization of education is well known in New Orleans, and Michigan has been going through big changes toward charter schools since 1993. The Great Lakes Education Project, which DeVoss started and funded, pushes charter schools (particularly in urban settings) and has not been able to produce results. As a matter of fact, in 2009 Detroit’s school system (heavily inundated with charter school operators) was the lowest performing district in the nation – New Orleans was not far off.
When looking at ideas like DeVoss’s we must focus on the key objective – the welfare of our students. In cases where charter schools and school choice really took off we cannot say that there have been major successes. Most of the growth is minimal and cannot be sustained over extended time periods – indicating that students are not succeeding. I would argue that students would see more success if we encourage stability in the system, not massive change. Students in high school today have already undergone at least 5 major curricular policy changes during their academic careers. They have dealt with numerous changes to testing at an almost unthinkable level. Teacher attrition has reached a crisis point, especially impacting students of color and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. While I am not saying all this is attributable to DeVoss and people who think about educating the nation like she does, I am saying that the key objective is not being met if we stay on a track where mediocre results can be spun into gold through the mouths of billionaire lobbyists who have a vested interest in ensuring that society creates more worker bees instead of educated thinkers and critical analysts. I propose that we stop pretending like political elites know what’s best for students and focus on retaining talented educators in our public school systems to ensure that students are well served and provided with a well-rounded education.
If you are anything like me you have probably wondered to yourself (more than a few times) HOW AM I GOING TO GET THE KIDS INTERESTED IN THIS. Well, that can be one of the most challenging or exciting (depending on why you do what you do) aspects of the profession of education. How do I deliver this content or skill to the student, while keeping them engaged and committed to success.
I actually think about this quite frequently when planning lessons, units, and especially when I am reteaching something that didn't quite go as planned the first go around. I always ask myself this fundamental question: How can I make this thing relevant to kids? If you are planning amazing questions without a focus on the relevancy you are not able to get into the deep analysis level that makes me (an English teacher) so excited.
I'll admit it. I'll do almost anything to make a lesson come to life in the classroom. I've read books like Teach Like a Pirate and Ditch that Textbook and have really embraced the full engagement model in the secondary classroom, at times, to my great personal embarrassment. However, with personal embarrassment can come professional triumph. Getting kids engaged in content is key to developing skills they can use later on in their lives to achieve their goals, their dreams, and will directly impact their families and futures.
Our class has been working through The Odyssey and has done a great job sticking to our objective:
Students will be able to analyze elements of an epic poem, such as, plot, setting, character, and figurative language.
We just completed student presentations, prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday, where students (in pairs) dissected, analyzed, and presented to class about a movie selection of their choice and how it fits within the elements of a Hero's Journey.
Coming back from class I hope to reinvigorate students in the story as we move to Part II (The Homecoming). Leveraging the viral social media sensation of the mannequin challenge students will be asked to in three scenes produce, film, and publish an original mannequin challenge video in small groups acting out scenes from The Odyssey. Students will be required to work together to tell the whole story (think Cyclops, the Sirens, the Lotus Eaters, etc.) in a three scene mannequin challenge format.
Leveraging relevancy (viral nature of the project) student engagement will skyrocket and they will (without knowing it) be analyzing the plot, setting, and characters in a three scene tableau. See how easy that was? To make it even easier, I have posted the assignment and rubric I created for this project below.
I am so excited to be selected as a LEAD Fellow for the 2016-17 cohort representing the State of Louisiana. This is an amazing advocacy and professional practice improvement program that believes that regardless of zip code EVERY child should have access and opportunity to have an amazing education.
Over the next few months I will be elevating my voice as an educator and advocate for all students. I am hoping that the work conducted and the lobbying done will make improvements for both students and professional educators through the state.
If you want to read more about the fellowship, you can check it out here,
Mr. J is a high school teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. J believes in the power of educators to help children and families achieve. Follow his blog for tips and techniques to keep engagement high and student achievement at the forefront.