Post-Semester Teaching Reflections

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From Getting Ideas Into Action (Bryk, Gomez, Grunow, 2011)

A week before this semester began, I was asked to teach ELPA 875, Theory and Practice in Educational Planning. This post is a summary and brief reflection of this experience and how I might improve the course in the future. The image above was a focal diagram that we returned to throughout the semester. The PDSA image comes from

Course Theme

Broadly, this is a class about planning for and effecting change in an organization. Through the lens of trying to impact change, we considered

  • Scale – district, building, classroom, learner. For example, we explored how defining problems at a large scale, such as the achievement gap, can make them feel unsurmountable and consequently disconnected from daily work. We worked to define problems in a way that was connected to our daily work and aligned with organizational goals.
  • Design – we talked about a design strategy of starting with small, iterative testing rather than large-scale changes all at once; seeing the system that produces undesired results; and considered the importance of including different perspectives – not just to be “midwest nice” – but because no one person can see all the pieces of a system,
  • Change as relational – bringing people together to solve common problems can be the work that builds a positive culture where people trust and support each other.

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Book Notes & Thoughts: Inevitable, Mass Customized Learning

inevitable

They apparently couldn’t choose a title, so there are three:

Inevitable

Mass Customized Learning (MCL)

Learning in the Age of Empowerment

by Charles Schwahn & Beatric McGarvey

I’ll admit, I did more skimming on this one than usual as it is meant to be a vision to practice manual and I’m not actually working in a school right now. I’ve also been part of a research group studying personalized learning schools for the past year, which means I’ve heard and seen a lot of these stories. I think for teachers and leaders in traditional school settings, however, this could be a powerful book for reimagining what learning can look like. The authors do a nice job of pairing vignettes from multiple perspectives – students, teachers, parents, leaders – with specifics about support systems or assumptions that we make.

One of the most compelling and frustrating aspects of educational change is that “we all know these things. Yet, our behaviors do not support them.” (p.82) When you finally see the disconnect between the way we do school and the way we choose to do the rest of our lives, from shopping to listening to music to hanging out with friends, you can’t stop seeing it. Some people might challenge that school shouldn’t be the same as real life – it’s “work” after all, whatever that means. I was recently reading over an interview with one of the teachers in our study and she said that her former colleagues keep commenting how she looks so much more relaxed and happy this year. It seems we are all perpetuating a system that stresses us out (kids, parents, teachers, and leaders included) just because that’s the way it is and always has been? So much of what we do – one test for all kids, writing papers and getting feedback a week later, sitting in lectures – isn’t actually the best way to do it. If our purpose is to facilitate learning, if this is the function of schools, then the form of our schools needs to follow this (p.78). Capitalizing on the technology and resources that are already at our disposal means that it’s possible.

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Org Theory Reading Reflection 2: Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages

From https://thosewhoteach.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/blameteachers.jpg

This week’s assignment was to choose one article to summarize and analyze.

Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis, American Educational Research Journal. 38(3): 499-534.

Having not yet taken Intro to Quantitative Methods, I still feel like I don’t quite grasp the full picture of articles like this because I don’t understand all the methods, but it helps that the article’s argument is clear and laid out logically from the literature review. Ingersoll articulates how his research is a departure from what has typically been done, which has been studies of the characteristics of teachers, versus a study from an organizational perspective. Essentially, he asks whether there are organizational conditions of schools associated with turnover. He uses data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and the supplement, Teacher Followup Survey (TFS). Importantly, the TFS is a subset, those who had moved from or left their teaching jobs, were contacted after 12 months later to fill out a second questionnaire, along with a representative subset of teachers who stayed in their teaching jobs.

Some key findings:

  • Hiring difficulties were not primarily due to shortages in qualified teachers.
  • Demand for new teachers more often due to “preretirement turnover.”
  • School-to-school differences in turnover is significant: “Schools that do report difficulties in filling their openings are almost twice as likely to have above-average turnover rates” (p. 515)
  • Private schools have higher turnover rates than public schools.
  • Predictors of turnover, after controlling for teacher characteristics, are likely to be teachers under 30 or over 50.
  • In public schools, higher raters of turnover in high-poverty schools as compared to more affluent schools.

In particular, I liked the approach he took of distinguishing between “movers” and “leavers” because both have an impact on the schools they leave. I will say that quantitative articles always leave me hanging when they make interesting conclusions: but did you talk to any teachers? It feels like a first step in the study but an incomplete story in the process of understanding what is happening.

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Reaction 6: Teaching & Learning Environments

From Getty Images

Reading this week:

Bransford et al. (1999). How People Learn, Chapter 6: Learning Environments

Jenkins et al. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Hattie, John. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence?

Reading Hattie’s article about expert vs. experienced teachers went straight to my heart. It made me want to be back in my 7th graders in science class, getting a chance to do many things the same and many more things differently. Several of his points made me appreciate the individuals and the communities from whom I learned to teach. Though both my parents were teachers, I went to school in the same building my mother taught in, so I usually knew the students in her class and got to see her as a teacher. To me, she epitomizes the expert teacher who respected students “as learners and people, and demonstrate[d] care and commitment for them.” (Hattie) I’ll never forget asking her how she could teach 4th graders who “didn’t really know much.” She replied that you just start by asking them questions, and you’ll find out they know a lot. To this day, she gets invited to college graduations for kids she taught in elementary school! The communities that I learned and taught in both had a positive impact on how I saw myself as a teacher. Hattie and Bransford et al. basically say the same thing about classroom and school communities: “learning seems to be enhanced by social norms that value the search for understanding and allow students (and teachers) the freedom to make mistakes in order to learn” (Bransford et al., p.133); “[Expert teachers] build climates where error is welcomed, where student questioning is high, where engagement is the norm, and where students can gain reputations as effective learners” (Hattie). These were the teachers I taught with. One of my colleagues shared with me that when a student answers a question wrong or asks a question that reveals a misunderstanding, he replies with, “Thank you for your answer/question – I’m so glad you said that because that helps me know what we need to do next.”

I think assessment is something that teachers in traditional classrooms (this was certainly true of me) struggle with, whether it’s doing enough formative relative to summative, using it to inform their own practice, or actually assessing “higher level thinking and deep understanding.” (Bransford et al.) The result, unfortunately, is assessments that seem more like judgements about students themselves rather than an accounting of what they learned (or didn’t). Participatory cultures, where there is “strong support for creating and sharing one’s creation” (Jenkins et al.), are really good at assessment, because members are constantly sifting, sampling, and sharing. I see this as a hope of the maker movement in schools, where the artifact being criticized is literally and physically separate from the creator. This allows both the creator and assessor to examine it, and the creator almost becomes a witness to the assessment rather than the target.

It would be interesting to apply Hattie’s characterization of expert teachers to participatory cultures to see what characteristics of an individual teacher might also be present and available, though in a distributed way, to learners in an affinity space.  It would be ironic if networks of people, with dynamic structures and teachers, designed for innovation and creativity, was the “idiot-proof” solution.

Beginning Teaching in Outdoor Education (or, How I was Inspired to Teach)

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Warning: This post is going to be a little more nostalgic and personal than usual maybe because I just cleaned out a box of letters and pictures from my childhood, maybe because I saw a former student who has since moved abroad and we compared notes about international schools and sports trips, or maybe because it is the beginning of another school year. Whatever the motivation, this reflection is part of understanding who I am as an educator.

When I graduated from college, I wanted as far away from academia as possible. I was tired, very tired, of memorization and tests that had sapped the joy out of learning. Now, I’m beginning my eighth year as a teacher, enthusiastic about learning, and am applying to graduate school. What? Continue reading “Beginning Teaching in Outdoor Education (or, How I was Inspired to Teach)”