As I shift my instruction to meet the requirements of the Next Generation Science Standards, I often ask myself: How can I make science a phenomenal experience for my students? I think the key to unlocking the answer to this question lies in discovery — in my willingness to figure out what the NGSS asks of me, as an educator.
As part of Teaching Channel’s Next Generation Science Squad, I spent a weekend in Washington D.C. working with the Squad to develop my understanding of the NGSS and was fortunate to attend a training on the latest EQuIP (Educators Evaluating Quality Instructional Products) rubric by Achieve.
As I approached the workshop, I wondered why I needed a rubric to ensure that my instruction is NGSS aligned. I didn’t see the logic. Wouldn’t that take substantially more time when I’m already working hard to incorporate the new standards without a rubric? Aren’t we professionals who know our craft and what we’re expected to do? Aren’t we well versed in pedagogical approaches and strong teaching methodologies? I felt I was doing a pretty good job with this “NGSS thing.” Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?
Tch was founded on a simple idea: To open classroom doors, elevate our ideas on what is possible, inspire and give hope, and ultimately, chip away at the isolation of our profession (the latter of these less simple, of course).
I joined Tch two years into this experiment as the Chief Academic Officer because it was a chance to improve for others what I felt as a teacher: being alone and scrambling for ideas and ways to get better, always. I wanted to be successful, feel successful, and do right –– every day –– by my students. Like everyone, I’ve felt pain and failure in my life, and yet little haunts me more than the feeling of letting down my students.
As a new teacher it struck me as odd, unhelpful, and unacceptable that teachers floated in different boats within a single school, when we loved and were responsible for students we shared. And thus began my passion –– working to reimagine, redefine, and breathe fresh, joyful air into who we are as a teaching tribe.
Leah Alcala, well known to the Teaching Channel community from her popular videos such as My Favorite No and Highlighting Mistakes: A Grading Strategy, talks with Sarah Brown Wessling about her teaching journey. Now a Math teacher at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California, Leah recounts what she’s learned over the years about the craft of teaching.
Most of us realize the importance of a warm-up to get our bodies and minds ready, whether we’re talking about exercising, singing, or learning. But what about the cool down? How you close a lesson is just as important as how you open it. Yet all too often, we run out of time. Or, we look at the clock, see our students are still working hard, and think to ourselves, why interrupt their flow? But there are proven benefits to taking even just one minute to wrap up a lesson.
In those last moments, you and your students have a chance to check for understanding, reflect on what you’ve learned, tie up loose ends, or make sure everyone is ready for the next part of the day. You could even just take a moment to breathe! If you’re looking for new ideas on how to wrap up your next lesson, here are five things you can try.
See Matt’s Video on Teaching Channel: Encouraging Students to Take Action
Teaching for civic engagement is rewarding, challenging, and uncertain work. Civic engagement is some of the most important and vital work I do as a teacher, but it’s also difficult to define, assess, and break down for students. Ultimately, it’s these challenges that make the work worthwhile. This series is an effort to document, share, and collaborate with the larger teaching community to try and make sense of the complicated work of teaching for civic engagement.
We’ve found collaboration with one another to be an invaluable component of our professional learning. In every conversation we have around the math, the lesson, and student work, we learn so much. Since we know it’s not always easy to find the time to meet, especially living on opposite coasts, we’ve found ways to be creative in our scheduling, planning, tools, and technology to make it happen.
We were fortunate to begin our journey together over two years ago when we worked on a project supported by Illustrative Mathematics, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia, and Teaching Channel. The project connected educators from around the country in a planning, teaching, and reflection cycle unlike anything we had ever experienced. Recently, NCTM’s publication Teaching Children Mathematics, published an article on this work and hosted a Twitter chat that generated an energetic conversation about collaboration that sparked a new idea for us to try.
This is something that often eludes me as I work through my day. Where does the time go?
One of my all-time favorite pieces on Tchers’ Voice is Sarah Brown Wessling’s blog post, A Letter to My Children: What it Means to be a Teacher. Throughout the post, Sarah shares the struggles and sacrifices that we all make as we attempt to meet the needs of not only our biological children, but also all of the smiling faces that walk through our doors every day. As a single father, coach, and teacher, this piece really hit home. Being a teacher is a balancing act. And that’s especially true if you’re a teacher leader.
Whenever I’m asked why I became an educator, my answer is short and sweet: “Because I want to change the world.” Not that I’m naïve enough to believe that my work will achieve world peace, but I have faith that there are enough like-minded souls spread throughout the globe to make a significant difference. Some of us are blessed with the opportunity to possess a leadership role within our profession. And it’s tough! Not only do we have to ensure a quality education to our own students, but we also have an obligation to provide support and resources to our colleagues.
So how do we find balance? Well, when you figure that out, please let me know!
While I do joke about it, there is truth to my previous statement. Even those of us that have lived a dual life for several years struggle at times. That being said, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned with you.
I am the baby of my family. For as long as I can remember, this placement has meant constantly trying to make sure everyone was taken care of and happy. By the time I reached school age, people pleasing was common practice for me. I wanted to make others proud of me. I wanted to be well received and would do whatever necessary to be well liked.
This led me to being a socialite among my middle school and high school peers. Yet, in seeking the approval of others, I taught the people around me what to expect of my behavior. I believed living for others, and living up to what I thought they expected of me, was the right thing to do. In school, I thought my role was to say what the teacher wanted or expected to hear. I was good at determining the “right” or “correct” response, so teachers enjoyed my presence in the classroom.
This people-pleasing mentality followed me into my adult life, but it wasn’t as effective. Although supervisors liked and respected my ability to follow commands, my ability to push back or give critical feedback on an idea was constantly compromised. I often sat in silent disagreement because I was too scared of retaliation to challenge any idea. It was easier to compromise my own beliefs to keep peace among the group, even if I knew my ideas had validity. Being likeable was much more valuable.
Five years ago, I had my first tangible opportunity to become a teacher leader. Selected to be part of a statewide grant, over a three-year period, I was asked to develop my own thoughts and support them with evidence. Intentionally, the facilitator didn’t validate my ideas. She forced me to take my own stance, knowing this experience would set me up to brush against my own insecurities. Rather than responding with excitement that someone was interested and invested in knowing who I was at my core, I grew frightened and afraid, crying out for the approval I knew well. Approval was always my validation and these new rules were uncomfortable.
Making change can be challenging. It requires us to take a step back, assess our current practices in schools and classrooms, and talk honestly about whether things are working for students. This often puts us in an uncomfortable place, because the safe feeling that comes with what we know, is often more appealing than fear of all the unknowns that accompany change. So even though we may know change is necessary, it’s still difficult and filled with many growing pains. Last year, my colleagues and I embraced the challenge of changing our school’s PLC structure to a more collaborative learning space called Learning Labs. I feel so fortunate to have had the support of my administration, teachers, and the Tch community to learn so much from the experience and document the journey.
This year, I’m excited to continue learning with everyone and working through another important change in the current state and district structure — RTI. For those who are not familiar with RTI, it stands for Response to Intervention, and I discussed it a bit at the end of my reflection post from last year. For RTI, we place students in tiers based on various measures, and pull the intensive students out of class for 50 minutes of extra support each day. While I love the idea of giving students the extra support they need, I can’t get past the labeling, grouping, and removing of students from their K-5 classrooms to get that support.
Editor’s Note: Interested in Culturally Responsive Teaching? Listen to our #anewkindofPD podcast episode featuring Zaretta Hammond. Subscribe here on iTunes or Stitcher for reminders of new podcast launches.
This school year, I have the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with teachers who are rolling up their sleeves and asking hard questions about how they can better serve their under-performing students who are disproportionately English learners, poor students, and students of color. They are working to incorporate culturally responsive practices into their classrooms.
I believe culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a powerful method for accelerating student learning. But truth be told, most educators are not really sure what it is or what it looks like. For some, it seems mysterious. A number of leaders discount it because it seems too “touchy feely” or only focused on raising students’ self-esteem, when they need to raise achievement levels. But CRT is so much more than that. It’s the reason why I wrote Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.
Two of the biggest challenges I see teachers struggle with when first embracing CRT, is understanding the role culture actually plays in instruction and how to operationalize culturally responsive practices. They worry that they have to learn 19 different cultures — everyone’s individual customs, holidays, foods, and language. This simply isn’t true. Here are four other big ideas about culturally responsive teaching to keep in mind: Read more