Tuesday, December 18, 2012

OUR students......OUR teachers

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut shakes me to the core! As an administrator, this was my worst nightmare that something would happen to my administrators, teachers, support staff AND the children in my school district. The events of September 11th, started my career as a school superintendent. This was an unsettling time as we had not faced this type of incident before. Later that fall, we had an 8th grade student commit suicide and we found out five minutes before the school day started. I experienced several students passing on because of cancer and other medical problems, a teacher and several teacher's spouses who passed away and bomb threats for two consecutive days where we had to evacuate the schools each day.

With all these crisis events, we had plans in place in our crisis manual, that were written to assist us with various scenarios. What I learned is that each situation has its own caveats and that while the manual gave you guidance, it did not help you to deal with the FEELINGS and EMOTIONS of the people. Luckily, I had a great team of school social workers, school psychologists, school nurse and guidance counselor, as well as administrators, that I could depend on to help guide us through these situations. Our police and fire departments as well as the county police and the local city were also supportive during these times.

What was amazing during these times, was that the teachers were able to keep the kids calm, supported and feeling safe. Even finding out about the death of a student five minutes before school started, everyone pitched in to meet with the faculty, prepare statements, provide support for students immediately and contact parents. The teachers tried to put their own feeling and emotions on the back burner, to first help the students get through these difficult situations. Following protocols, giving extra time beyond their school day, and giving their feedback on how the situation was handled were important to them and to me. The middle school and high school kids wanted to be at school during and after some of these events, with their friends, teachers and support staff to talk to at the school.

Our teachers do more than just teach 9 months a year, with summers off and an 8-4 job. They are with their students almost 8 hours a day! Our teachers mean a lot to most students, especially elementary students, who love their teachers. Our teachers love their students, protect them, help them, support them and love them, besides teaching them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

5 Professional Competencies to Focus on Developing

Teaching is hard work!! Teachers need to develop Professional Competencies that will make you more attractive as candidates for prospective teaching positions as well as for further developing your skills for those already teaching.

1. Collaborator - Collaborators work together to achieve a common goal. Working in collaborative teams has a direct impact on improving student achievement, if teachers are focusing on the "right things." The right things are: What do we want students to learn? How will we know that the students learned them? How will we respond when some students do not learn? How can we enrich and extend the learning for students who already know it?

2. Learner-- You finished school, have your degree and have your first job!! You think, "I am so glad I am finally done with school!" As a new teacher, you will be learning every minute of the day!! You will need to master your teaching skills, and that will be a huge learning curve in itself! With social networking now and the internet, the answer to almost every question is at your fingertips! Believe it or not, your students will teach YOU a few things. Reflecting on your teaching and learning is a critical piece to your life-long learning. You don't need to go to a professional conference to continue your learning; you will learn from your team members, from professional development in your school and from professional reading.

3. Data User--Using student data will help you to understand how students are learning and what skills and knowledge they have mastered. And I don't mean the grades in your grade book. Data can be collected at the district level, at the school level and at the classroom level. The data collected at the classroom level is the most powerful....where you can reflect on your own practices, determine effectiveness of instructional practices, determine and utilize new strategies for student learning, and make sure that students are learning the implemented curriculum. Again, back to the first PLC questions, what do we want all students to be able to know and do, and how will I know that the students learned it? Data will tell you, from your classroom formative and summative assessments.

4. Communicator--Teachers communicate to students, colleagues, parents, and other school personnel. As a teacher you are creating interest in learning, listening to students and colleagues, discussing learning with team members, interpreting data, talking to parents about student progress and using non-verbal communication every day. Being a good listener is critical to be an effective teacher. Communicating clearly and making sure students know what the goal of a lesson is will engage students in the learning. Use of humor is also a skill that improves communication. Teachers need to be open and approachable. Use of technology in communication is now being used, e-mails to colleagues and parents, and while this is time efficient, be mindful of school policies and how you are communicating via e-mail; re-read your e-mails and make sure that they say what you want them to say. Don't write anything that you don't want on the front page of the local newspaper!

5. Instructional Practices -- Examining your instructional practices and discussing them with other teachers, can help you develop them over time. Knowing best practices that are research based, meaning they are effective practices for student learning, will help you develop your units and lessons and communicate the instructional targets to students. Students need to be engaged and be able to demonstrate their learning through a variety of performance tasks. Formative assessments of learning needs to be incorporated so that teachers get the feedback they need to provide supports to students or extend the learning activities. Again, in your teams, discuss the 4 PLC questions that will help you design your instruction.