Archive for February, 2018

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast – Episode I: Fitting It All In

We are excited to launch a new podcast series about mentoring new teachers. Stenhouse author Shawna Coppola has been talking with Laura, a new kindergarten teacher. Join us and follow along as they discuss Laura’s first year of teaching.

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast-Episode 1: Fitting It All In
By Shawna Coppola

When Stenhouse asked me if I wanted to mentor a new teacher through her first year and record the experience for posterity, I barely took a breath before saying yes. As someone who has taught for nearly two decades, I still feel the desire to be mentored, to surround myself with supportive individuals who understand the joyful, yet challenging, life of an educator and can occasionally offer a sage piece of advice, a thought-provoking question, a listening ear, or–most importantly, for me anyway–a much-needed laugh.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway, and loudly, for those sitting in the back) that teachers are engaged in some of the most complex work imaginable. If you don’t believe me, spend a day in a public school classroom; it’s all the time you’ll need to witness the hundreds of important decisions made (often on the fly), the masterful integration of a seemingly endless variety of skills, and the near-superhuman capacity for empathy and grace.

Laura is an educator who, even in her first year, demonstrates all of these things. A kindergarten teacher in a K-6 public school serving approximately 300 students, Laura confessed to me during our very first conversation together that she knew from early on that she wanted to work with children. This year, she teaches–largely independently, with only occasional access to a classroom aide–22 of them, although the number varies depending on the fluctuation of families moving in and out of the community. According to Laura, the students she has this year are kind, motivated to learn, and, for the most part, “want to be” in school.

Like many teachers, though, Laura finds it difficult to balance building positive, healthy relationships with her students alongside “managing” them as a whole group. One of her biggest challenges is related to planning and making all of the (aforementioned) decisions she must make as a teacher–both ahead of time and “in the moment.” She worries about how to fit in valuable instruction around skills that many perceive as “non-academic” or “soft” along with more traditionally-recognized “academic” skills.

In this first audio post, which was recorded in October of 2017,  Laura and I discuss the enormous, all-too-familiar challenge of “fitting it all in”–particularly with regard to literacy–and how to maintain a daily schedule for her students that is meaningful, engaging, and developmentally appropriate.

RESOURCES & INSPIRATION:

Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2006). The Daily 5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

#kinderchat (Twitter chat, Mondays 9:00 PM EST)

Mraz. K. & Hertz, C. (2015). A mindset for learning: Teaching the traits of joyful, independent growth. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mraz, Kristine. Kinderconfidential [Blog]. https://kinderconfidential.wordpress.com/author/kristimraz/

Keep reading for the full transcript!

Add comment February 27th, 2018

Fostering Professional Relationships to Facilitate Peer Observations

In the third installment of our series by elementary principal Matt Renwick, he talks about how–and why–he encourages his teachers to observe each other in the classroom.

We know that one of the best ways to improve collective instruction in a school is by watching excellent teaching in action and then applying these strategies to our practice. We know this, yet we often fail to act even though excellence might be a few doors down from our classroom.

What dissuades teachers from watching each other teach? Time, for sure. We also might feel guilty about leaving our own students in order to invest in ourselves through peer observation and peer coaching. “What will our kids do without us?” we might ask.

In my own previous prodding and nudging of teachers to get into other classrooms, often resulting either in failure or compliance, I have discovered there needs to be a safe and innovative school environment for genuine peer-to-peer learning. Teachers need to feel like they can take risks in letting someone come into their classroom, as well as in acknowledging that they may still have something to learn.

A high-quality learning environment has two elements in place: strong levels of trustand clear communication within the building. You can see evidence of this in schools, such as in the informal collegial conversations among faculty and in the high-quality student work posted in the school hallways. The walls do talk.

When trust and communication are high, professional relationships have the potential to be formed. Relationships can be defined as “the way two people are connected”. This connection, even a loose tie, is a prerequisite for effective peer observations to take place.

The rest of this article describes the steps our school took to facilitate peer observations with our kindergarten teachers. The purpose was to discover new ideas for literacy instruction.

Identifying a Need

Our school’s newest hire is one of our kindergarten teachers. Knowing high-quality professional learning includes peer observations and peer coaching (Routman, 2018, pg. 76), I connected with the kindergarten team to consider this possibility. All were open to it.

A Connection to Relationships: It helped that this team has taken the initiative to create a collaborative learning environment not only for their students, but also for themselves. For example, they turned their storage space into a team meeting room. They use this room to meet for PLCs as well as to have lunch together during their noon break.

Scheduling the Visits

One of those challenges with peer observations is finding coverage for the visiting teacher. I offered my time, although I am sometimes called away as the principal to deal with a behavior issue or a pressing matter. Fortunately, our district leadership had the foresight to create an instructional coaching position. This person stepped up and offered to teach kindergarten while one teacher was observing their colleague’s instruction.

A Connection to Relationships: Our instructional coach, new this year, has gone out of her way to foster connections with every faculty member in the building. One way is by stopping into classrooms on a regular basis. “I am simply coming in to get to know you and your students a little better” was her brief explanation at a staff meeting early in the school year. These regular touches, non-threatening and from a point of curiosity, has fostered professional relationships in several classrooms. The results has been multiple teachers volunteering for coaching cycles with this specialist, including this learning experience.

Initiating the Peer Observations

The day had come. Our new teacher was up first, coming into visit a more veteran colleague. The other two observations would commence in the subsequent days. The host teacher shared her intentions for the day’s lesson ahead of time. My role was to provide minimal guidance for our new teacher. I gave them a form I use when conducting my instructional walks as a way to frame the observation.

Student Goals Written by Teacher

Student Goals Written by Teacher

 

A Connection to Relationships: Prior to this learning experience, I had been a frequent visitor to every classroom. Acknowledging the positive aspects of teachers’ literacy instruction has helped create the conditions for this innovative work to occur. They have become comfortable with my presence as a principal because I focused first on strengths. From the teachers’ perspective, I imagine having another teacher in their room might be even less threatening.

Celebrating and Reflecting on the Experience

“I was impressed with how she is already having her students learning sight words.” This comment, shared with me from a veteran teacher, came after she had observed our newest colleague. Soon after, I relayed this information to the first year teacher. “Oh, wow, that’s nice to hear,” she responded.

We could have gone with a structured reflection and debrief led by me. But it didn’t feel right. I wanted to give them ownership in the process and treat them like the professionals that they are. Plus, they had taken time out of their busy days to make this happen. So I provided lunch the next day, along with a thank you for participating in this experience. “If you want to just chat and enjoy yourselves, that would be great. Not necessary to have any formal reflection.”

A Connection to Relationships: Did any debriefing happen? I’d like to think so. Even if not, I felt good about how the peer coaching experience went based on their comments and my observations. Regie shares her own wisdom in building trusting relationships among administrators during a school visit. “I know they were surprised when I said, ‘Let’s not work through lunch. Let’s take a well-deserved break and just enjoy our time together.’ We wound up talking about our families, hobbies, cooking, and favorite things to do and eat. At the end of lunch, I felt closer to each one of them” (pg. 10). The relationships formed today can lead to powerful learning in the future.

Giving teachers time to form relationships, with their students and with each other, is built on the foundation of trust and communication. The experiences we facilitate in our schools, such as peer coaching, can only be successful with these elements in place. While the ultimate goal is literacy engagement, excellence, and equity for all learners, as literacy leaders we have to remember and attend to the means to achieve this end.

Add comment February 26th, 2018

The Secret to Teaching Writing Well

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge kicks off March 1 and we are excited to have this guest post from author Stacey Shubitz on the secret to teaching writing well. (Shhh, it has to do with being a writer!)

The Secret to Teaching Writing Well
By Stacey Shubitz

secret-2725302_1280Last month, I was eating lunch alongside a dedicated fourth-grade teacher whom I’ve been working with this year. She’s the kind of teacher who reads professional literature regularly. She co-creates charts alongside her students and refers to them in mini-lessons. She spends hours providing feedback to her students on their drafts. Despite doing all of these things, she felt as though the teaching of writing challenges her in ways she didn’t anticipate when she began using the workshop model a year-and-a-half ago.

“Am I doing anything wrong?” she asked.

“Not from where I stand. You’re well-prepared daily and consume so many professional texts.”

“What’s the secret?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“What’s the secret to being a great writing teacher?” she asked.

“No one’s every asked me that before,” I said. I pondered her question, then asked her one of my own. “Are you writing every day?”

She looked away and said, “no.”

“That’s the secret. You have to be a teacher who writes.”

“But I don’t have time to write every day,” she confessed.

“What if writing every day will make everything you do with your students easier? Would you be able to find ten minutes in your day – daily – to do it?”

“If it would make teaching writing easier, then I would,” she said.

“Well, let’s work together to help you find the time.”

…..

My first literacy coach, Pat Werner, told me I needed to write alongside my students if I wanted to teach writing well. I was a first-year teacher who wanted to succeed so I did everything Pat told me to do. I published a piece of writing every single time my students completed a unit of study (which was eight times during my first year of teaching!). In addition, I started a writer’s notebook, which I wrote in regularly. I listened to Pat and therefore have never taught writing without writing regularly.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that being a teacher who writes is the secret to teaching writing well since you are a bona fide part of the classroom writing community. When teachers write in-service of creating teacher-written mentor texts for their minilessons, they’re able to tailor their teaching so they are not only teaching what a strategy is and why it matters, but how to carry out a strategy in their writing. Teachers who write and share their writing show their students the attempts they’ve made. When their attempts become mistakes, they’re able to talk about them and show students how they’ve grown as a writer by taking writing-related risks. In addition, teachers who write can anticipate the hard parts of the writing process during a unit of study, which helps them respond empathetically to students.

Living a writerly life can happen by devoting ten minutes of every day to writing in a notebook. However, many people find writing in a notebook isn’t enough for them since they need accountability partners and an audience to read and respond to their writing. If you fall into the second category, then I invite you to join the 11th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge on Two Writing Teachers.

(Click to enlarge.)

The Slice of Life Story Challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008. The online challenge’s mission is to support teachers who want to develop and sustain a daily writing habit. Over the years, the challenge has given rise to a community of teacher-writers who are better able to support the students they serve in writing workshops by helping them to live a writerly life. Every day, for the month of March, teachers are invited to write a slice of life story – an anecdotal piece of writing about a segment of one’s day – on their own blogs and then share the link to their story on Two Writing Teachers. Each person who leaves a link to his/her own blog visits at least three other people’s blogs to comment on their slice-of-life writing.

Many teachers have found daily participation in the Slice of Life Story Challenge has helped them find a tribe of like-minded educators who they can share pieces of their life with. Many of us meet up at local, state, and national conferences so we can connect in-person, not just online, about teaching and writing. In addition, participation in the Slice of Life Story Challenge provides many teachers with a special kind of camaraderie with their students. Being a teacher-writer means teachers can transform their students’ lives because they believe in the power of writing.

The people who participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge are a welcoming community of teacher-writers – at varying points in their educational careers – who come together to share blog posts about the ordinary moments every Tuesday and every day during the month of March. I hope you will join us for the 11th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which begins on Thursday, March 1stClick here to find out how to join our community of writers.

…..

Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant, an adjunct professor, and a former elementary school teacher. She’s the author Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective PracticeShe is presently working on a book with Lynne Dorfman, which has the working title of WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP (anticipated publication date: Winter 2018/19). She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter @sshubitz.

Add comment February 16th, 2018


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