Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Hopes as an Educator

As I exit the classroom, I am coming to terms with the reality that my impact on students will be in another forum as Assistant Principal.  A secondary impact on students as the Guy-Who-Schedules-The-School isn't as glamorous as creating an awesome learning expedition that directly impacts students and their learning...but just as important?  Yes, I think so.

I dusted out my journal from my first year of teaching and revisited some of my journal entries and reflections.  Much of what I reread from those years ago still applies to my hopes as an educator of middle schoolers, though not as a classroom teacher:

1st Year Teacher Reflection Administrator Hope
"Overwhelmed and excited.  These are the two words that describe how I am feeling." (September) I hope to feel mostly excited (though I'm sure I will feel overwhelmed at some point!) throughout the entire year.
"I didn't realize how much I would be looking back and thinking about what I had taught and how I had taught it." (October) I hope to always be willing to hit the drawing board again and again.  Continuous improvement is sometimes about reflecting on successes and failures.
"I probably should have different ways of delivering instruction, and in chunks.  Kids need a way to reflect and process the information." (November) I hope to be honest and reflective about my leadership, and continuously work to improve it.
"I think that we, as a cluster or grade, miss a lot of potential for interdisciplinary units." (December) I hope to systemically encourage staff to collaborate, go beyond their comfort zone, and create meaningful learning experiences for students.
"I still feel passion for teacher (and know I always will), but feel like I am getting into a slump with my creativity." (January) I hope to be balanced in my professional and personal life, and recharge my batteries; I've got to take care of myself to be there for others.
"I wanted to do something different than my colleagues, but I wondered: how much would I be rocking the boat?  Would it be acceptable to create these other options?" (February) I hope to be a boat rocker.  I hope to be a boat rocker that is respectful, inquisitive, and listens.  But still rocks the boat.
"My colleague and I both contributed ideas to this exciting lesson plan, but all our students benefited from the expertise of two brains.  I wonder where and how this can happen again?" (March) I hope to encourage collaboration and develop structured PLCs that improve student learning!
"If students are motivated through something they are god at as well as the desire for more knowledge, their overall engagement and comprehension will increase." (April) I hope to encourage good behavior and relationships through my interaction with students.  I hope my interpersonal connection with students will increase their learning.
"It is a great way for students to begin the process of researching, writing, notating, paraphrasing, and note-taking." (May) I hope to encourage teachers to focus on academic skills, 21st century skills, and content knowledge.  Middle school must be a blend if our students are to be successful in their next setting.
"This week I encountered my first instance of plagiarism.  At first the girl denied it, then she denied she meant to do it.  I feel like the most important consequence should be what she learns from the mistake." (June) I hope to always remember that kids are kids.  Perhaps the most important impact I can have on their lives as an AP is to have them reflect and change their behavior and attitude for the better.

So what have I learned from this reflective exercise?  I have learned that I am still an educator, that my role has shifted but the genesis for why I am a teacher, for why I am involved with educating our youth, and why I want to make the difference in the lives of others is still the same...I just needed to revisit how it all began for a little reminder.

Monday, July 19, 2010

School Opening Kickoff Videos: August Inspiration

After spending time scouring the web, I've zeroed in on the following videos clips as the ones I believe to possess the most potential to use with staff to kick off the school year in August.  Please feel free to comment, add to the list, share, RT, or let me know what you think!

If you have a video that's worthwhile to share you think is missing from this list, please, by all means leave a comment below or tweet me with the URL.

A Vision of K12 Students Today A Vision of All Kinds of Students
Shift Happens (2010) Did You Know (4.0)?
The Essay Education Today and Tomorrow
A Brave New World-Wide-Web I teach, therefore you learn...or do you?
Mr. Winkle Wakes Pay Attention
No Future Left Behind Baby Squirrel Learns
Do You Teach or Educate? 100 Ways to Show Children You Care
Starkville MS: Believe We Think
Dalton Sherman: Do You Believe in Me? Adora Svitak: What Adults Can Learn From Kids

Kurzweil in Middle School

I am not a reading specialist.  And I do not play one on TV.

I am, however, a middle school educator.  And I know what works.

Through several years of trial and error, research and reflection, I found the value in using Kurzweil, a text-to-read program, which I believe can transform the way students read and write.  Initially introduced to me as a special education accommodation (for which it works well), I discovered the power in using it mainstreamed across the curriculum and across all classes.

From what I have seen, good readers don't just happen.  Certainly, some students are simply gifted readers, but even the "best readers" in middle school are likely good readers because they work at it: they are avid readers, and therefore have become good readers.  The best readers have created and/or learned strategies that work for them to make them effective readers.  Weaker readers don't lack the ability to be good readers, but just lack the strategies that good readers possess either intrinsically or have adopted as second-nature, much like playing a musical instrument - after a while, seeing the music and pressing the correct key is second-nature, after practice.

What makes Kurzweil so valuable in this process of teaching readers to become stronger readers is that it creates structures that allow and encourage students to use those "strong-reader" strategies that strong readers might not even know they are using.  For example, teachers may imbed reading comprehension questions, definition requirements, multiple choice questions and other options that require students to stop, summarize, confirm their understanding, and proceed.  If used regularly, students should acquire these strategies and generalize them to anything they read, without Kurzweil.  It is the lifevest which can be gradually taken off until students are ready to swim, grow stronger, and hopefully are competing in swimming competitions - and winning!  Two other components of Kurzweil that make it worthwhile for all students includes the writing function, which provides graphic organizers that automatically transform ideas into outlines, and provides a split screen off of which students may write paragraphs.  Finally, Kurzweil allows for successful differentiation by giving the teacher (and student, if they are ready) the ability to provide various levels of scaffolding to support their reading and writing level, depending on their ability grouping.

This video, filmed by Kurzweil in my classroom over a course of two days, illustrates these benefits of Kurzweil - certainly worthwhile for a variety of classroom settings and learning styles.  Do not hesitate to contact me with questions about integration!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Becoming an Administrator

We ask our students, especially in middle school, to work on transitions, changes, to Never Give Up!  Reach For The Stars!  Change Is Good!  And now, here I am, hovering above myself, trying to remeber the advice I gave my students.  I am two weeks into a new path, a shift in my professional life, and it is exciting, scary, challenging, and invigorating!  I have shifted my middle school educator role from classroom teacher to assistant principal.  With no students in the building, it has become a great time to reflect about my hopes, fears, challenges, and excitements.

More than anything, I am excited to impact the lives of middle school students on a broader scale.  Looking back to my purpose for wanting to become an administrator, it was that - I want to help impact the lives of more students than just those in my classroom.  It is with this idealistic view that I enter into July and August, albeit with no students or staff in the building!  I am excited about helping to develop protocols to support struggling learners, and ways to extend the learning for those students that are ready to move to the next level.  I am excited about cultivating student life, developing the adult-student bonds in the school, and viewing excellent learning and teaching.  I am excited to get into classrooms and see great instruction happening, and help improve student learning.

My fears - so silly, as I fear like a middle schooler myself with these fears, but perhaps that means they are human, and not age-based - are that I won't know names and faces of staff, and that I won't know the answer to something that I should have!  (Uh, sorry, I went to the bathroom during that part of my degree program...I'll have to look that up.)  I worry about some the technical learning curve that exists, such as in scheduling, but know that like my students, I need to remember to stick with it, and not get frustrated.

This is all so new, that sometimes I have an idea (Eureka!  Oh, well if only I was an administrator, I could...), and then a moment later, I realize - wait a minute, that is something that could happen because of me!  This is great! 

Now I know it's not all peaches and cream all the time, but the excitement of trying new things and helping to improve student learning and student life for more kids is invigorating to me.  I need to remember to come back to doing what's right for students, and need to spend some time observing - months, probably, listening, watching, asking questions, and seeing how my new school works.  It will be a steep learning curve, but one I'm excited for and ready for.  I need to preserve these feelings - and remember that this is what many of my students will be feeling - perhaps every day!