A few weekends ago, I was playing music with some friends and we tried out the old standard, “Teach the Children Well” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Singing the lyrics reminded me that the teaching mandate goes two ways; the parents need a little guidance along the way as well as the children. The same applies, I believe, to education. Teachers need good teaching, and the basic principles of educational practice are essential for effective professional development (PD).
We are barely into the second semester, and at my school, we are well into planning our state-mandated testing.
We have a leadership team that works collaboratively to plan our academic goals, and testing is inevitably on the short list of priorities. It’s been a journey getting to the place where we have an administrator who sees the value in working with all of the staff to problem-solve. I must say it’s been worth the trip.
A common complaint about standardized assessments in this time of high-stakes testing is that while teachers and administrators are held accountable, students are not. Of course, teachers must be responsible, but by leaving learners out of the conversation, students often are not vested in the process.
Mastery learning is one of those buzzword phrases in education that pedagogists often toss about in an effort to define and refine good teaching practices. The term goes back to a true icon in the field of education, Benjamin S. Bloom, who suggested that all students can learn and achieve at high levels; they might just require different strategies and time in order to achieve mastery.
Mastery is generally defined as “command or grasp of something”. In an educational sense, mastery learning is achieved by an intentional strategy in which teachers decide on specific learning goals, make formative assessments to determine where teaching and learning needs to occur, provide directed instruction, and continue formative assessments and correctives until all students have achieved a preset level of mastery for the learning goals1. The concept of learning mastery is simple and nearly any educator would agree is desirable. The rub comes in the implementation. Mastery learning is hard work. Fortunately, today’s Internet resources provide a plethora of resources to help make the goal more attainable.
During a recent professional development training, I was talking with some teachers from neighboring schools, and the topic of our current contentious presidential race came up. One teacher said his school had decided to ban any sort of political campaigning or sign posting. He said the administration was concerned about inappropriate discussions and aggressive disagreements, so the decision was made to simply avoid the whole thing. I was flabbergasted. If we as educators can’t provide frameworks and processes for students to have intelligent and respectful conversations about the leadership of our country, where are our young people going to learn to be active citizens? In my mind, learning the art and practice of civil discourse is an integral responsibility of public education in the United States.
When I was a third-year teacher, I was asked to mentor a new teacher in our building. I wasn’t exactly asked; it was more like I was informed of this new opportunity for which I would receive a $150 stipend.
This new teacher was brand new to the profession, and she taught in a totally different discipline. Her prep period was in the morning and mine was at the end of the day. She was upstairs, and I was downstairs. We met sporadically and commiserated a bit. I was nearly new myself and had no training for this responsibility. I did my best. I observed her classes and congratulated her on what went well. I often baked brownies for her when she was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Yet, even at the time, I realized what I offered did little to help her develop skills for teaching. The money would have been better spent buying her a few Post-it®notes and some very strong coffee. Recently, I was again offered the opportunity to mentor some new teachers, and this time, with a bit more experience and training, I hope to do a better job. Mentoring fellow teachers is important work and can be mutually rewarding, but a mentor has to be more than just a paid buddy.
The week before school ended last spring, one of my students asked what I planned to do with my summer vacation. I told him I was taking classes at the local university, and he blanched. He paused a moment and then asked, “But why?” I smiled and told him that I like learning. He shook his head and then gave me a look of disbelief mixed, I think, with pity. We were on the cusp of summer vacation, so I can easily understand his reaction, but I do strive to be a lifelong learner. I think most teachers are addicted to learning. You have to love learning to choose an occupation that keeps you in school for most of your life. We know that lifelong learning is an attitude that can enrich our lives, but I believe it’s important to share this knowledge with our students.
Recent conversations in my faculty lounge have drifted to the sentencing of educators in Georgia who were convicted of tampering with test materials. How did people who presumably care deeply about children end up breaking laws and serving prison time?
We as educators are trained to look beyond the results of a failure and analyze the cause. So what happened in Georgia, and is threatening to happen all over the country? Perhaps the problem is that an assessment is being used for purposes beyond its scope. I contend that if we as educators want to improve our discipline’s professionals, we need to use tools that are proven to do just that.
The holiday divinity and fudge are just about gone, and the heart-warming Christmas movies seem to have been replaced by weight-loss commercials. I’ve made more than my share of New Year’s resolutions, and rarely have I stuck to the calorie-counting, mile-running regimens that I have planned.
This year, rather than set some lofty goals that I will most likely fail to achieve, I plan to stop trying to find who or what is to blame for the problems with education today. Instead I want to purposefully do everything I can to effect positive changes for my students, get to know them better as individuals, and connect their learning to content that they find valuable and relevant to their own lives.
As we quickly approach the holidays, if you’re still going strong with your classroom management, well done! The first part of the semester was critical to classroom management success, and now the goal is to maintain that momentum throughout the year.
The student teacher I mentored last year has her own classroom now, and she worked hard to start the year off right. We talked recently about how to keep her classes running smoothly.
I’ve been blessed with so many great mentors and some great professional development over the years, so I’m borrowing from that wealth of experience to identify three central practices that I’m confident will see her through. I call them my smooth-sailing standards.
I wonder if all teachers and students feel the slow drag of third quarter. By the time March begins, the class hours seem to lengthen with the lingering sunlight. Students acting as seventh graders normally do, bemoaning my latest project, seem more apathetic than hesitant. The gray mornings feel colder, and the weekends feel shorter. It seems the lion of March has slunk in, and that cat is crabby! It’s a good thing spring break is just around the corner with the promise of rest and rejuvenation for students and teachers alike.
A few teachers will escape to a warm beach somewhere and sip drinks with floating umbrellas. That sounds mighty fine to me right now, but I’m planning to try out some of the creative projects that I’d like to share with my students when we return. Spring break presents the opportunity for me to indulge in technology and take time for my “creative fix.”
The revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy shown here has “creating” as the pinnacle of the pyramid. It’s interesting that most versions of the spectrum actually changed the labels of stages from nouns like “comprehension” to action verbs like “understanding.” Students are no longer expected to be simply consumers of information; they are now viewed as active producers, expected to use the tools we provide them to produce and create.