Tag Archives: professional development

I Am a Chronic Absentee.

Cranky Blogger’s Warning:  I’m disgruntled today.  If you are looking for rainbows and sunshine, don’t read this post.  If you want some perspective on what life is like for American schoolteachers, though, keep reading.

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A few weeks back, a local news channel here in the Triangle covered an issue that they feel is a major problem:  Teachers who are “chronically absent.”  

Their definition of “chronically absent?”

Any teacher that misses more than 10 days of school in a single school year.

By that definition, I am a chronic absentee.  

I’ve missed right at 10 days of school this year.  I’ve missed six days alone attending professional development workshops and educational technology conferences — coursework that improves my practice and the practice of everyone around me.  I’ve also had to take two days off to take my daughter to doctor’s appointments — something that wouldn’t happen in other professions where I could “slip out” during the workday without question as long as I didn’t have face-to-face meetings or phone calls to tend to.

Oh yeah:  And I took one day off because I was sick as a dog.

#manyapologies

My favorite “absence”, though, will happen later this month when I call in sick so that I can get to our team’s upcoming field trip — a ecosystems-themed scavenger hunt — early.  I want to get the hunt set up before the kids and the parent chaperones arrive, but I can’t do that because I need to cover my first period class.  The only solution:  Call in sick in order to get a substitute teacher in the building to cover that one class and then spend the entire day working with my students anyway.

#sheeshchat

Can you tell that I’m bugged by this story?

The suggestion that teachers are automatically failing their students when they are out of the classroom is flawed thinking to begin with.  The time that I spend learning and thinking and reflecting on instructional practices translates directly into the work that I do with my students.

Need proof?  Check out my digital portfolio project (see here and here), which is a direct result of a session that I sat in on at a county wide professional development day back in November.  Conservative estimate: The lessons that I am learning and the content that I am creating will be shared across dozens of classrooms, both in my district and across the country.

Was that absence worth it?

To make matters worse, I’ve used sick days and pulled cash out of my own pocket for registration fees to attend professional conferences dozens of times over the last decade simply because my schools couldn’t afford to cover those costs or to provide me with a substitute teacher.  So not only was I working to improve my practice while “being chronically absent,” I was subsidizing our poorly funded public school system — covering costs that no other professional would ever be expected to cover out of their own pocket.

And that earns me uncomfortable questions about whether or not I am making a positive difference in the lives of my students?  

A friend asked me the other day to explain what’s changed about education since the time that I entered the profession.  “You knew the work was going to be hard,” he said.  “Why are you surprised by that hard work now?”

The answer is simple:  What’s changed is the professional respect accorded to classroom teachers.  I knew that I was signing up for long hours and low pay when I graduated way back in 1992.  But in return, I also knew that (1). I was going to get to change lives and (2). I was going to have the respect of those in the community that I served.  THAT was a trade-off that I was more than willing to make.

Today — almost 26 years later — I still get to change lives every day.  But I also bear the brunt of a sea of never-ending attacks lobbed at educators– including comments from the President of our nation, who used his inaugural address to push the notion that our nation’s public schools are “flush with cash” but leaving “our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

That criticism hurts.  And it makes me wonder more and more about my decision to stay in the classroom.  I want to serve kids, but I am really tired of being the community’s punching bag.

#trudatchat

#sorryfortherantchat

 

Session Materials – Indiana Connected Educators Conference

Over the next few days, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at the Indiana Connected Educators conference in Noblesville, Indiana.  The goal for most of the participants will be to question our core educational practices and to imagine new learning spaces for the students in our classrooms.  Sounds awesome, right?

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the conference.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:

 

Our Students CAN Assess Themselves!

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog when he wrote, “So I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?” Dean’s challenge resonated with Solution Tree author and sixth grade teacher Bill Ferriter, who had always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work being done in his classroom. This session will introduce participants to the tangible steps that Bill has taken to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into his classroom as a result of Dean’s challenge.

Session Slides

Session Handouts

Make Copies of All of Bill’s Student Involved Assessment Handouts in Google Drive

Nicole Ricca has developed a unit overview sheet for Kindergarteners that she is giving away for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Read more about Ms. Ricca’s work with unit overview sheets here on her blog.

Download Ms. Ricca’s unit overview template here on her Teachers Pay Teachers page.

 

Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

If schools are truly working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences need to be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. In this presentation, Solution Tree author and full-time classroom teacher Bill Ferriter will introduce participants to a range of digital tools that can be used to provide structure for differentiated classrooms.

Session Slides

 

Creating Purpose Driven Learning Experiences

In his 2012 Kindle Single Why School, technology expert and educational change agent Will Richardson argues that classrooms as they are currently structured are failing our students. “We focus on the easiest parts of the learning interaction — information acquisition, basic skills, a bit of critical thinking, analysis — accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored,” he writes. “Learning is relegated to the quantifiable” (Kindle location 227). To create highly engaged learning spaces, Will believes, classrooms must instead be reimagined as places where students do work that matters with others — a process introduced by sixth grade classroom teacher Bill Ferriter in this October 2016 presentation to the participants of the Indiana Connected Educators conference.

Session Slides

Session Handouts

Student Work Samples

Session Materials – Solution Tree PLC Institute

Over the next few days, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in San Antonio.  The goal for most of the participants will be to find ways to polish their collaborative practices in order to help kids learn.  Together, teams from individual schools will study everything from the core beliefs that support learning communities to the nuts and bolts of making collaboration more efficient and effective.

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the Institutes.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:

How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC

For professional learning teams, collaboration can be nothing short of demanding.  Developing – and then organizing – collections of shared materials, making important decisions, and communicating with colleagues across grade levels and departments often requires additional time that classroom teachers just don’t have.

As a result, many teachers question whether or not the costs of coordination outweigh the benefits of collaboration in Professional Learning Communities.  In this session, full-time classroom teacher and Solution Tree author Bill Ferriter introduces participants to a range of free digital tools that 21st Century learning teams are using to make their collective work more efficient – and therefore, more rewarding.  Participants will also discuss ways that tools that facilitate collaboration can be used to make differentiated instruction doable.

Session Slides

Student Wiki Sample

Edpuzzle Tutorial Sample

Using Digital Tools Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitating collaboration between teachers.

BYOD Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitiating learning in a BYOD classroom.

Teaching the iGeneration Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitating learning with technology.

#kinderchat and @mattBgomez – Oftentimes, participants in this session want to see examples of digital tools being used in primary classrooms.  The best source for those examples is the #kinderchat hashtag and Texas Educator Matt Gomez.

For more information on using digital tools to facilitate collaboration or classroom instruction, check out Bill’s newest books —How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC and Teaching the iGeneration (2nd Edition).

Small Schools and Singletons:  Structuring Meaningful Professional Learning Teams for Every Teacher

The PLC concept resonates with most educators, but making collaborative learning work in small schools or for singleton teachers can be challenging.

In this session, participants will explore four different models for creating meaningful professional learning teams for singletons and teachers in small schools:  The creation of vertical teams studying skills that cross content areas, designing class loads that allow teachers to teach the same subjects, using electronic tools to pair teachers with peers working in the same subject area, and using student work behaviors as an area of focus for nontraditional learning teams.

Session Slides

Sample of a Student Survey as Common Assessment

Our Students CAN Assess Themselves

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog when he wrote, “So I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?”

Dean’s challenge resonated with Solution Tree author and sixth grade teacher Bill Ferriter, who had always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work being done in his classroom.  This session will introduce participants to the tangible steps that Bill has taken to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into his classroom as a result of Dean’s challenge.

Session Slides

Make Copies of All of Bill’s Student Involved Assessment Handouts in Google Drive

Nicole Ricca has developed a unit overview sheet for Kindergarteners that she is giving away for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Read more about Ms. Ricca’s work with unit overview sheets here on her blog.

Download Ms. Ricca’s unit overview template here on her Teachers Pay Teachers page.

 

 

 

 

For more information on structuring high functioning Professional Learning Communities, check out Bill’s books — Building a Professional Learning Community at Work – A Guide to the First Year and Making Teamwork Meaningful.

And don’t forget:  You can read all of my PLC related posts on the Radical by clicking on this link.  

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Related Radical Reads:

The Power of PLCs

Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch

These are OUR Kids

New #atplc Resource: Tasks Teams Tackle Document

One of the questions that I get asked all the time when I’m working with schools and districts that are functioning as professional learning communities is, “We get that we are supposed to ‘collaborate,’ but what exactly does that MEAN?  What does collaboration look like in action?”

The simple answer to that question is that collaborative teams spend their time working together to answer four questions for every unit in their curriculum:

  1. What do we want our students to know and be able to do?
  2. How are we going to assess the progress that our students are making at mastering the skills and content that we’ve identified as essential?
  3. What will we do to intervene on behalf of students who haven’t mastered the skills and content that we’ve identified as essential?
  4. What will we do for students who have mastered the skills and content that we’ve identified as essential before our teaching even begins?

To help learning teams better understand their work, I’ve developed a quick checklist of tasks that teams tackle when they are working on each of the four key questions.  

Check it out here:

Handout – Tasks Teams Tackle

What I love about using this document is that almost every team can find something that they are ALREADY doing, something that they are READY TO START doing, and something that they’d NEVER CONSIDERED doing.  The result:  Teams that walk away feeling better about the work they’ve done and excited about the work they are about to do.

So what do YOU think?  Is this a handout that you’d consider using with teams?  

__________________

Related Radical Reads:

I Finally Drank the Kool-Aid

Drinking the Kool-Aid, Part Deux