Editor’s Note: This blog is the first post by Jennifer in the Upcycling Series about heading back to the classroom after time as an instructional coach. Join us in following her journey.
An empty classroom with towers of boxes welcomed my creative mind. I couldn’t wait to unleash last year’s learning, as a district math coach, on this year’s class. Utilizing my insights that grew from spending a year looking through the lens of a variety of stakeholders at the district level, I was ready to dive in to applying all that learning to my newly formed classroom. I knew that analyzing information through multiple perspectives had increased my critical thinking skills as an instructional coach, and I wanted to share those ideas and experiences with others. I had just spent an entire year developing my coaching practice using this strategy and I was pretty sure it would work for others.
As a coach, I was able to help teachers look at learning through a student lens to improve their practice, and watch video of their practice as an observer. Both these strategies provided teachers with evidence to revise their practice and get better at their work. Now that I was developing my classroom skills in project based learning, I wanted to use video-based evidence to revise my projects and look at my work with a scientific eye.
Developing projects for project based learning requires collaboration and feedback from colleagues as we cycle through the theory of professional learning. As I headed back into the classroom as a teacher to instruct through Project Based Learning, my puzzle of practice was: Would the strategy of looking at multiple perspectives in the projects I was developing for my classroom increase rigor and critical thinking skills in my students? Would using the Theory of Professional Learning (TOPL), Teams, and video improve my practice and collaboration with my colleagues?
With my new venture, I knew I would need to offer multiple opportunities for my students to analyze information through multiple perspectives and partners to collaborate with on projects. Introducing different disciplines and acquainting my students with these lenses was one strategy I hoped to implement. Going back into the classroom, I wanted to make sure that I incorporated scaffolding the discovery of disciplines for my students from day one. Who knows, maybe this would inspire the next conservationist. I decided one way of introducing the disciplines could be classroom jobs.
With the help of my two colleagues, Kristyl Nuckolls and Ashley Evans, we brainstormed and designed classroom jobs that fell under the discipline descriptions, making them meaningful to students. The results have been amazing! My students were able to internalize disciplinary knowledge that transferred over into our animal investigation project where we researched animals through multiple disciplinary lenses, and created a community of problem solvers who are ready to attack anything that should come their way.
In this video, you’ll see how my classroom jobs have matured into inspiring research, problem solving, and critical thinking skills.
We have a public relations person who is in charge of creating a positive classroom image within and outside of our doors. Our conservationist is currently concerned with the drought in California and the endangered species on the Channel Islands. The communications specialist is always thinking of ways to improve communications on the phone, within our teams, and around campus. Our botanist not only cares for our classroom plants, but also provides us with information about plants from around the world. Our classroom flourishes with an environmentalist that makes sure our environment is safe, clean, and fits our needs.
Nine jobs, in all, that have job descriptions and duties we created together as a community. Each student is responsible for creating efficient systems, forms, and communication for the classroom through the lens of their discipline, and we continue to improve on them weekly. Our work is always about getting better together, and just like Austin’s Butterfly, we continue to revise our work.
As I reflect on my practice through the use of Teams, and by implementing the use of different disciplinary lenses, I realize that one small idea placed in the hands of students and three dedicated educators can grow into building grit and craftsmanship within classrooms. We’re improving by uploading videos onto Teams and capturing ideas for how to improve our practice, along with moments of exciting learning. We can really dive deeper into how to make our work better without ever leaving the classroom.
Coaching is now a part of our practice. Together we watch the classroom videos with a scientific eye and follow a critical friends protocol to coach each other even though we’re at different sites within our district. Teams breaks down walls for us to expand our view of Upland Unified School District beyond our classroom doors, which enables us to better serve our students and continue to grow in our practice.
Jennifer Morris, M.A., is an instructional coach turned back-to-classroom PBL teacher for Upland Unified School District. She has worked with hundreds of teachers to improve instructional strategies and student learning. Jennifer has developed and presented staff development workshops in writing, math, and differentiated instruction utilizing effective teaching strategies. She facilitates collaborative planning in all subject areas and has conducted extended education workshops at Southern California Universities in differentiated instruction. Her hands-on teaching style engages and challenges all students, which is perfect for her ventures in PBL.