Engaging Beyond in Teaching

While teaching in K-12, I sought out additional opportunities on formally or informally that I describe here:

Social Media Community Norms (OES), April-June 2014

This spring, the director of communications asked me, along with the head of educational technology, to write a social media policy for our school. The direction from the head of school was that we needed to provide people with a guide for how to act, not a set of rules. My idea was to use the community norms we already have, and lay them over social media. The language I used was drawn heavily from It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, and Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson. I also met with several adept social media colleagues to ask for feedback, most notably shifting it from a “policy” to “community norms.”  The resulting document has been well received by the head of school, divisional leadership teams, the tech team, and other heads of schools in our region. The roll out will be this fall at opening meetings. (At this time the document itself is not ready for public release yet.)

Critical Friends Group (OES), 2011-2014

After returning from the Klingenstein Summer Institute, I wanted to bring back a piece of what I had experienced. I asked a couple colleagues if they would be interested in getting together once per month to do a critical friends protocol from the National Reform School Faculty. Our group included two lower school teachers, two middle school teachers, and one upper school teacher. We eventually added one more upper school teacher. I acted as the facilitator and have continued to be the organizer (scheduling meetings and keeping materials), but we have all taken turns presenting and facilitating. Our school began a cohort-based professional growth and evaluation plan this spring, which has mirrored aspects of our group. We will begin to document what we have done and also look to branch out from just the critical friends protocol to probing questions protocols, book studies, and classroom visits.

Integration of Gaming: SimCity (OES), 2011-2014

In my second year teaching 7th grade science at OES, I designed a unit on using SimCity to achieve content and learning goals around systems thinking and sustainability. Even once the novelty of playing a video game for class wore off, my students were stopping me in the hallway to get help or talk to me about their cities. I’ve continued to support the project as the tech coordinator and have presented the unit at NCCE 2013 and ISTE 2013.

Parent Education/Outreach, 2011-2014

As technology coordinator, my role is to facilitate the use of technology by students, faculty, and families. I have reached out to partner with parents on many occasions, such as conducting sessions on Facebook privacy settings, using Google Apps, personal 1 on 1 meetings to set up calendars or accounts, Instagram, Parent Speedgeeking, and PAL discussions. I value these conversations because it builds a common culture in all members of our community.

Self Study Committee (OES), 2011-2013

Just after being hired as the MS Tech Coordinator, I was asked by the self study team chair to join the team to support the technology that would be needed for the study. Over the summer, I built a website (example here) to give a frame to the task. We used it to embed documents for everyone in school to see and for team resources like calendars & meetings minutes. I used a folder in Drive to manage sharing. I was also the liaison to Science, Math, Health & Safety, and Counseling & Academic Support. I was helping troubleshoot documents and publishing from the very beginning until the Friday before the visiting team arrived!

Master Plan Taskforce (OES), 2011-2012

Interim Head of School Kathy Layendecker asked me to be on the Master Plan Taskforce as a middle school and dorm representative. I relished the opportunity to meet board members, interact with teachers and administrators from other divisions, and think creatively about the spaces we work in. It was fascinating to hear the history of the school and the various phases it has gone through. As the newest OES member in the meetings, I focused on the trends in independent schools regarding learning spaces and the effects that I would feel as a teacher and dorm parent. The process of selecting the consulting firm was completely new to me, and I gained appreciation for the important perspective offered by board members with non-education expertise. Additionally, observing the negotiations between the consultants, board members, and administrators was eye opening to the diverse pressures on every decision made by the school.

Essential Competencies (OES), 2011

In 2010-2011, I was on a committee to determine the “Essential Competencies” of an OES student. I contributed a few key elements that I share here:

My Diagram:

Essential Competencies Early BrainstormMy thoughts after one particular meeting

The video I created to introduce our work to the school: 

The essential competencies have gone on to inform all of our curriculum initiatives pK-12. It is one of the things I am most proud of in my teaching career.

Klingenstein Summer Institute (OES), 2011

I applied and was selected to participate in the Summer Institute and it turned out to be the most influential professional development I’ve done. I spent 14 days with other early career teachers from other independent schools. We had seminars and small group work at every level from the global perspective on change in education to practical strategies to use in the classroom. We talked about motivation and growth mindset, science curriculum and assessment, lesson planning and inquiry, diversity and intercultural competency. This is where I learned about the Critical Friends Group protocol that I brought back to my school and where I wrote down my educational philosophy. It was the first opportunity I got to present my work with SimCity. On a daily basis I find myself using phrases or mindsets like “1% change” that I learned from KSI.

International Collaboration on Sustainability (OES), 2009-2012

When I was hired to teach 7th grade science at OES, I also assumed the responsibility for the partnership with Turning Point School in Culver City and Goulburn Valley Grammar School in Shepparton, Australia. Each year, the schools got together with 8-12 7th grade students for a conference on sustainability and a travel adventure. My first year, I traveled to LA with a colleague and 8 students for 4 days of sessions at the school and then 5 days of “study tours” and outdoor education style camp. My second year, we hosted the collaboration and my colleague and I arranged all the logistics and curriculum for the two visiting schools. In the final year, I traveled with 12 7th graders to Australia, including 2 days of sightseeing in Melbourne, 4 days at an outdoors camp on the beach, and 4 days in a conference at GVGS.

6-9 Science Curriculum Reorganization (Bement), 2008

Miniterm Committee (Bement), 2007

Mini-term was the three week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations when the entire school would select one topic to study together.  The goal was for there to be an increased connection between lower and upper school students and faculty, to integrate the same theme into different disciplines, and to depart a little from the traditional school schedule. Each year, a committee took the responsibility of organizing and scheduling activities for the school. In 2007, the selected theme was “The Environment,” and, because I felt strongly about the current necessity and relevance for the study of this topic, I wanted to be involved in how it was implemented.  Subordinate goals that we kept in mind throughout the term were that the students gain an appreciation of their impact on the world and that they not use more resources in order to simply make products to show their learning.

One way that I took advantage of being on this committee for professional development was to attend an AISNE conference on the topic of the role independent schools play in the teaching and modeling of sustainability.  This gave me a forum to hear other teachers discuss the initiatives at their school and share some ideas of my own. I definitely brought many ideas back to Bement.

During the fall, the committee met somewhat regularly in order to work on the combining the needs and desires of both the lower school and upper school teachers.  There were four key parts to our mini-term that I felt were unlike any other: upper and lower school combined activities in the mornings, a daily schedule, guest band and instrument making day, and a trip to a recycling center.

The five combined activities were doing yoga, making boxes with old record albums, making envelopes with recycled paper, making beeswax candles, and writing nature poems.  I felt that these met everyone’s needs: the older students got a “buddy” in the lower school that they had to help with each activity, which helped them develop bonds; teachers were assigned to help with one activity, but stayed with it each time, so they enjoyed the routine of always teaching the same thing; and we focused on either using recycled material or not producing a product at all.  At the end of term, many teachers said how much they enjoyed this structure.

A second innovation was having a daily schedule.  In the past, teachers had complained that they were always confused where to go when or that they would get surprised with an hour of time that they would have to improvise.  This made sure everyone knew well in advance where they would be.  Also, we tried to set up as many routines as possible.  For example, Monday and Wednesday mornings were always the activities or Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were always a special performance or movie.

The band Daisy Mayhem and Rani Arbo came to put on a concert for the whole school. This related to the environment because their drummer, Scott Kessel, played on a kit made entirely of recycled material.  The concert was full of energy, dancing, and singing, students were engaged and enthusiastic.  The following day, Scott came back and did a session with all the students by grade.  We had collected recycled materials for the previous month and he helped turn them into drums, harmonicas, and shakers.  We played rhythms together by grade and then again as a whole school.  This was another success in achieving a feeling of school unity.

In culmination, our final school meeting before winter break was nearly two hours!  I was overwhelmed to see all that teachers had done: Emily Lent’s class talked about the book, If the World was a Village; another class made game boards about saving wildlife; an upper school elective group sang their song about being environmental detectives and all the changes they had made to the school; and on and on.  I was certainly not the only one amazed and impressed.  Many other teachers commented that this had perhaps been one of the best final meetings ever.

Overall, this was a rewarding and eye-opening experience.  It was a lot of work to coordinate with everyone and hope for flexibility in the details that others would pick up as needed.  I kept waiting for people to come to me with “I just don’t understand this,” but mostly people said, “This is great – I know exactly where to go,” or “You have done a great job.”  I think getting the small bits of recognition for the hard work was really important for me since I had been warned that being a part of this committee would be nothing but stress.  It certainly gave me perspective on how the school is run.  I think the best thing that we did was having clear principles and goals that we stuck to throughout the planning process.

During the following year, while not an official member of the committee, I did some “consulting,” as Dean Fusto, Head of Upper School, put it.  Frank and I met during lunch one day to discuss the process of signing up for electives, and I helped him see the parts of the process and the potential pitfalls and areas to smooth over, such as whether teachers announce their own electives or they are read anonymously.  The argument is always that if kids know who is running an elective, they will sign up based on the teacher rather than the subject.

When he brought this up during a faculty meeting, I spoke up that I did not think it was so bad for kids to choose their elective based on their favorite teacher, especially given that this is one of the only times all year that they get to choose.  Nonetheless, everyone agreed to have it read.

After kids had voted on their electives, I saw that Frank needed help in arranging the elective groups.  I spent a few class periods that Monday and the better part of the week working out how to make sure kids and teachers were happy with the placements. The issue was that everyone signed up for four electives, which meant most would get their second or third choice.  I called a miniterm meeting on Friday at recess so that we could discuss the process further, then Dean, Amie, and I spent the next class period making the groups.  In the end, I think we grouped the kids in was that everyone (teachers included) would be happy.

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2 thoughts on “Engaging Beyond in Teaching

  1. Pingback: Summertime playtime no-tech time | Julie Robison

  2. Pingback: Schematic of Gamer Progression #videogamesandlearning @coursera | Julie Robison

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