30 January 2011

Hot and Cold

I've spent some time this week thinking about what makes for a "good" teacher. There are much better minds than I (and others with far more influence, for better or worse) who are trying to get down to the nuts and bolts of good teachers---and I will leave them to their own work. Me? I've been thinking about perspective.

If I talk to parents about what makes for a good teacher, would I get a different list of attributes than if I asked a fellow teacher? What about the difference---if any---for different grade bands. Is a good elementary teacher different from a good high school teacher? What do students and administrators think?

What happens in a classroom is a complex dynamic. Can we...should we separate it from the factors that exist outside of it in order to identify what qualifies as "good"?

Part of what has been driving my thinking about this has been the projects I'm doing at work. Rest assured that I have absolutely no part of teacher quality discussions in this state. Rather, I've been interested to watch the participation in the ongoing field tests and opportunities for feedback and PD around the new assessments. Elementary teachers? They are ecstatic about jumping in to help. They communicate amongst themselves...collaborate and support one another in trying things out. They share. Middle school teachers? Maybe not quite as enthusiastic of a response as elementary, but still very collegial in their approach. High school teachers? *crickets* It is as if there is a continuum of hot interest to frigid refusal as you move up in grades.

Being a former high school teacher, I find this intriguing. Many of the high school teachers who have had at least a toe in this work are fantastic classroom teachers (by my personal standards). They give everything they have to their students, care deeply about their content...and struggle to commit to their own peers. This is not new to me---I could pull any number of posts from my archives detailing my frustrations with lack of support from other teachers in my high school. But recent events have me wondering: Can you be a good teacher if you're only good within the confines of your classroom?

24 January 2011

Get on the Stick

At long last, I have finished up a project that I started in October: scanning hard copies of information collected throughout my years in the classroom. Many of the items, such as handouts from conferences, only existed in paper form. Over the last three months, I have digitized (and recycled) what amounts to a four-drawer file cabinet. That's a lot of pounds of paper...and a lot of MB of data. I also went through all of my existing digital files from my 17 years in the classroom and cleaned them up. After shifting jobs over the last several years, I had ended up with several items in four different locations. Now, there is just one copy of each...and they're all in their places with bright shiny faces.

I am now a teacher on a (USB) stick.

It's been a long strange trip as I've completed this process. I have some truly cringeworthy examples of lessons from early in my career that I could have deleted, but didn't. I've rediscovered some fabulous activities---some collected and some designed by me. But the most unanticipated consequence is just how inspired I feel after seeing all this stuff again. I'm excited by the possibilities and feel like I'm clear about what I want to do with my future career (as well as what I don't want to do). I like the idea that I'm more mobile now...even if I don't have any particular place to go.

18 January 2011

Move It On Over

If you're so inclined, you can read a fusion of two of my posts (Faking It and Space: The Final Frontier) into something where two great tastes taste great together on the ASCD Blog.

Are you coming to the ASCD Annual Conference in March? I know Jenny and Jason will be there. Anyone else I should meet up with?

However, if you've clicked over here from the ASCD blog and are new to this space...first of all, Welcome! You can find more about me by clicking the "About Me" button on the sidebar or reading this interview. My blogroll is an eclectic set of my recommended reads on a variety of topics. The list is messy and I like it that way. This blog tends to contain a potpourri of posts, but here are a few of the most popular...along with a few of my faves.
So, take your shoes off...enjoy a post or two...and perhaps even a leave a comment. 

15 January 2011

Faking It

from http://www.merriam-webster.com; anus? really?
There might be a lot of talk about "authenticity" these days, but I found myself pondering the word "phony" the other night for various reasons. It might have been the beer whispering in my ear, but I started thinking about concepts of online and offline identity and punditry. (This is what happens when you have a long hard week at work, kids...don't try this at home.)

I'm not one for "musts" when it comes to using social media. No one will die if they don't use a Ning. Great teachers will continue to be great, even if they never Tweet. You can be a passionate and competent leader without a blog or Facebook presence. Some will say that it is the responsibility of organizations to reach out in as many ways as possible to their constituents. There may be some truth in that---which I will get to in another post---but for now, I'd just like to focus on the individual.

I have fretted here before about the plethora of pontificating pundits out there setting down the rules about how to use/not use online tools and further preach about keeping one's nose clean. I'm sure that these well-meaning experts believe that they're providing guidance for n00b5, but in doing so, they've forgotten the most important piece: the user. They haven't asked educators what they want to do and then helped guide them to do that. It's all back-asswards.

You're killin' me, MW. Rhyming words? No link to KC and the Sunshine Band?

But what I object to most is that educators are being told that they can only be educators while online. All those other wonderful facets which make you human---from your family and friends to world view to faults and foibles is to be locked away. (It might be okay to share on FB, but don't let anyone catch you.) Be a phony, teacher. Be as perfect and pristine as you are within your classroom walls...because, if you don't, the Internet boogeyman is going to get you and your life will be ruined---not that you would have been allowed to have one, anyway. All this and more will befall you if you dare to use Twitter incorrectly. Zounds!

I am not advocating that anyone be careless with their personal information---or violate whatever Code of Conduct exists in their state. What I do want to advocate for is for people to be themselves. If you want to talk about a hard time you've just had as a parent or spouse...or create a video about knitting...or post a scree about a public policy...Thank You. It doesn't mean I will like what you do (or choose to read/listen/participate), but I appreciate your refusal to sacrifice yourself because some phony out there doesn't want you to be human and put them out of a job.

11 January 2011

Jump On In

At long last, the second round of field test materials for educational technology are available. These assessments are integrated with science, math, health, and/or English Language Arts topics for grades K - 12. We need teachers who would be willing to test drive the assessments in their classrooms and collect student samples. We also are interested in feedback from any and all stakeholders. You can find more information about the assessments, including tutorials, FAQs, and links to supporting documents for administrators and IT staff here. Even if you are not a Washington teacher, we welcome your participation. You are also welcome to leave comments here about the assessments.

We will also be offering some free professional development about the assessments for Washington educators. We'll cover costs for a sub (if you need a one) and travel. The full-day workshop and clock hours are also free. The goal of the PD is to prepare you to go back and "coach your colleagues" within your school and district with using the assessments. We hope that you will register with a buddy (teacher, librarian, curriculum specialist, or administrator) and make plans to join us. Find out all the deets here.

Please consider joining us for the field test process or workshops. These are great opportunities and fabulous classroom tools, if I do say so myself. Jump on in!

10 January 2011

And Your Little Dog, Too

This time of year always makes me crabby. I'm tired to going to work in the dark...and coming home in the dark. It's the pacific northwest---so yes, there's lots of rain (and precious little snow). Nothing is in bloom. As a state worker, I don't get time off during the holidays. So I'm weary from slogging through things by now while my teacher friends had time to play. I am quite sure that all of this leads to a sort of attitude where, if a house were to fall on me, no one would be surprised if a bunch of singing and dancing little people toasted the occasion.

There are times in my job where I can't see the forest for the apple-throwing trees. There are so many pieces to coordinate...so many timelines to manage...so many details to track. Some things made all the more difficult by having to work with people who (unintentionally) sabotage the work at hand with their inattention. I have to say that these issues, along with the already present winter doldrums, has made me run straight for an updated résumé.

And then, there are those days like today, where my old Grinch heart grows three sizes. Hooray!

I (gently) poked some people who had committed to some work earlier in the year. I hadn't heard from them. I hadn't seen any evidence that they were following through. But nearly all of them responded today that they either had work completed or were almost done. One had been on maternity leave...another on long-term medical leave---and they were still doing their part. Still another had to coordinate with a fellow teacher to find an evening to look at the work of 50 students. Every story was full of efforts to do their very best to make the project special for everyone...even if those steps have been quietly taken.

I have to say that this really restored my sense of purpose and energized me to continue on with the next steps of the project. I feel hopeful again, even if winter is here for awhile longer. Maybe the last of my wicked witch impulses will melt away in the rain this week.