Monday, August 27, 2012

Celebrating Strengths

In the opening days of school last week, a  presenter was having a hard time with the display of her computer on the Smart Board.  A co-teaching pair was nearby and I asked Christina if she’d help the presenter.  With a few swift clicks, the screen was on display.  Christina’s teaching partner, Joan said, so that all in the session could hear, “Christina is just great with technology.  Even better than that, she is so helpful and doesn’t make you feel stupid because you couldn’t figure it out.”

We often fail to compliment our peers publicly, or at all.  This co-teaching pair has been very intentional to do just that as they began working together a year ago.  When they began their partnership in 4th grade, Joan and Christina attended a 2- day workshop and explored what they each liked, couldn’t tolerate, did well, hated to do, and more.  They learned a lot of co-teaching strategies that they have made work well in their classroom.  But none of those strategies would be effective if the co-teaching pair didn’t get through the hurdles that we encounter in any close relationship, i.e. a marriage. 

Christina and Joan model their good working relationship for their students.  In the first days of school, I visited their classroom as they guided the students through various routines and use of materials.  The two teachers compliment each other, thank each other, offer to help the other one—all things that we want our students to do with each other. 

Encourage teachers who work together closely to find the strengths in each other as well as themselves.  Acknowledging them openly will strengthen the relationship of the pair as well benefiting the students.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Engaging New Teachers

Like many districts around the country, our district is conducting our new teacher induction week.  We've made some drastic changes considering the fact that our district, in a week's time, will be fully 1:1 with every student having an iPad or a macbook 24/7.  Our icoaches (instructional coaches), also new this year, were very instrumental in the planning of the induction week's activities.  We "flipped" some things that we gave way too much time to in the past-- mandatory training videos.  Teachers were issued their laptops before the week began so have a chance to watch the videos at home rather than spending time in the sessions.  Our icoaches structured the week so that the new teachers would learn the Apple products, iLife and iWork, Google docs, e-chalk, Discovery Education, as well has how to develop their personal learning network.  By week's end, we hope to have them connected in a Diigo group as well as following the hashtags I mentioned in Sunday's blog post, #edchat, #cpchat, #engchat, and #sschat .  Our staff presenters are ever conscious of the fact that the learner needs to be doing more work than the instructor.  So we chose to use Today's Meet  to keep the questions that pop up as the participants work on sample projects.  One of us responded in real time.  All the participants can see the Today's Meet screen so the rhythm of the "classroom" is  undisturbed.  Today's Meet would be a great tool to use in staff meetings, "town hall" events, classrooms, and  PTA meetings, and maybe even school board meetings.  It keeps the "back chatter" down.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Supporting New Teachers

What’s a way to make sure that learning is accessible to all students?  Make sure that their teachers are adequately supported, and not just by the administrators, but by all the teachers in their school and beyond.

Last week I had the privilege of working with a group of 13 teachers who are going to be mentoring first or second year teachers.  Here’s some important points to keep in mind when working with novice teachers:

·      Mentor roles:  advocate, listener, resource, problem-solver, collaborator, coach, learner
·      There are phases of teaching within the school calendar.  August brings Anticipation.  September/October is about Survival.  November/December bring Disillusionment.  Rejuvenation follows the winter break, followed by  Reflection in April and May and back to Anticipation in June.
·      The mentor should match up the new teacher needs during those phases and provide appropriate supports, ie:  provide resources to take the sting out of the first parent/teacher conferences or offer to sit in on them.
·      In order to develop autonomy in the new teacher, the mentor must effectively support him/her.  Listening well and observing will help the mentor assess the type of support the new teacher needs.  At the very beginning, the new teacher may need the mentor to control the interaction and provide resources, anticipate problems, co-construct solutions.  As the new teacher becomes more adept, the mentor guides the interactions without necessarily controlling them.  The mentor begins to act like a facilitator with the mentor and new teacher co-constructing solutions and materials.  As the new teacher moves toward full autonomy, the new teacher directs the interactions.  The new teacher self-assesses and self-prescribes, with the mentor acting as a co-facilitator.
·      Mentors need to be observant to the cues, clues, and circumstances provided by the new teacher to determine the level of support needed.
·      Establish a focus for the work of the new teacher/mentor dyad through listening and either paraphrasing or clarifying concerns of the new teacher.  Support the new teacher through direct teaching or resources, collaborative problem solving or advocacy or collaborative problem solving and reflective questioning.

We discussed the need for all teachers to develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and read a great article from the May, 2012 issue of Educational Leadership for ideas.  A suggestion from the author of that article was to connect the  teachers on Twitter and use hashtags to access resources easily.   Some great hashtags for teachers: #edchat, #cpchat, #engchat, and #sschat.

No amount of support from a mentor will be sufficient without making sure that your school is a supportive environment for new teachers to thrive.  Does your school:
·      Provide opportunities for teachers to visit each other’s classrooms and give feedback?
·      Share ideas and materials?
·      Have common plan time?
·      Provide opportunity for teachers to grade/analyze student work?
·      Choose books to study together?
·      Limit the numbers of difficult students assigned to a new teacher’s class?
·      Share responsibility for student learning and discipline?
·      Use the knowledge and experiences that beginning teachers bring as an opportunity to learn?
·      Principal visit classrooms often and give teachers feedback?

Many of the new mentors that I worked with said that all of the above contributed to their success as a new teacher.  The mentor and new teacher relationship is the most significant element that will ensure the new teacher’s success.  But the school leadership and culture are also vital to growing and keeping great teachers in the classroom.