4 Tips for Planning Better Lessons with Purpose

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Think back to your undergrad work. If you’re like me, you probably can still remember the first lesson you ever created for a methods class. “Caring for Commas” — that was my first lesson (I guess I was a grammar geek even back then). I spent countless hours planning this 15-minute mini-lesson, working tirelessly to ensure all the variables were considered before delivering this masterpiece to my college classmates.

We can all think back to that first lesson, and the hundreds of lessons that we’ve planned with a similar focus and fervor throughout our careers. But there are so many more lessons that we plan with less intensity, less excitement, and that’s okay. However, I’ve recently been thinking about the ways that I’ve grown as a planner, and how I’m able to save time and energy, while still planning purposeful, precise, and passionate lessons for students.

These four tips may help you plan better lessons on purpose, too.

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Diving into Classroom Culture

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As the school year comes to a close, you and your students may be taking time to reflect on the year, especially the culture of your classroom. What went well? What would you change? Perhaps you feel like you and your students built the bond of a lifetime! Or, maybe things felt a little off.

Since the building of class culture starts the very first day of school, summer can be a great time to plan how you want to build your culture next year. Since every educator’s summer plans are different, Teaching Channel has a variety of learning options for how you can deepen your understanding of building class culture, including a brand new course. You may even be able to do some of these options poolside, lakeside, or wherever your summer vacation takes you.

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Tch Tips: How to Deal with a Chatty Classroom

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Your students just won’t stop talking. You feel like you’re constantly talking over people just to be heard. We’ve all been there!

If your classroom has become too chatty, start by figuring out if the talk is productive or not. Sometimes talking is actually a good thing. If students are talking about the task at hand, you may want to encourage them to continue (just at a quieter volume!). But if students are off task and chatty, this requires a different approach.

Use these tips to help your classroom become more peaceful:

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Five Worthwhile Risks for New Teachers

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The concept seems contradictory, right? You’ve been trained to keep your head down, do your work, and try not to get noticed. You’re a new teacher; tenure is two to four years away, and you’re just trying to survive. But these first few years are not only pivotal in creating your own teacher identity but also, and perhaps more importantly, to establishing your own happiness in the field.

Teacher retention is a huge issue in education today, and I’d argue that one reason (out of a litany of other reasons) newer teachers choose to leave the field is because of this very concept: self-imposed isolation until tenure.

There are a million books out there that provide tangible strategies for new teachers, offering suggestions on the importance of classroom management or connecting with kids and so much more, and all of that is great. But I’d like to present to you, the new(er) teacher, a paradigm shift: don’t wait to take risks. The time is now for you to be you, and here are five areas in education for you to begin taking risks as soon as yesterday.

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Teacher Appreciation, Solidarity, and Strife in Kentucky

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Teacher Appreciation Week has once again come and gone. Lauding and applauding for five days, from those who have been impacted by an educator, directly or indirectly. Whether it be the third grade teacher that taught cursive writing or the high school teacher that inspired a love of writing or civics, the second week of May is the perfect time to show that teachers matter and that their role in your life — or your child’s life — has a special place in your heart.

As an educator, I always look forward to Teacher Appreciation Week. It falls during state testing, providing a brief respite from the high-stakes atmosphere that not a single teacher, student, or family relishes. The reinforcement of a hug, flowers, handwritten notes, or handmade crafts brighten my day. A small token of appreciation from the PTA or the staff luncheon provided by the administrative team is a welcome break from the monotony of the daily grind.

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Teacher Appreciation Amidst a Political Maelstrom

This year, however, Teacher Appreciation Week has lost some of its luster. While the aforementioned gifts and signs of appreciation still came, teachers across Kentucky are suffering from repeated personal attacks by Governor Matt Bevin. They’re underappreciated and often deceived by the Republican leadership in Frankfort.

In a heated battle that’s served as a call to action for the over 40,000 educators across the Commonwealth, pensions have been threatened, state education programs have seen their budgets slashed, and districts are facing the real possibility that they will not have the funds necessary to stay in operation.

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Dr. Stephen Pruitt: The Highest Distinction is Service to Others

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Teacher appreciation is something I think about a lot. When I was in the classroom full time, I so appreciated the notes from children and families — especially when they arrived at times other than Teacher Appreciation Week. However, it’s really awesome to be recognized as a group with your colleagues, and for that reason I’m thankful for the special things that happen each year at the beginning of May.

As a #NGSS teacher, learner, and coach, I have so much for which I’m thankful. I write this post to give a shout out to those who have been instrumental in helping me to become a much better #NGSS advocate and guru. Through my own learning, I became a better listener and collaborator, and now I can pay it forward by working with other teachers. There’s no educator who has had a greater impact on my #NGSS journey and my work than Dr. Stephen Pruitt.

Dr. Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt, who I like to call the “Father of NGSS,” was my first NGSS teacher. There are so many things I’ve learned from Stephen that they would be impossible to enumerate in full.

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  • Most notably, he taught me how important it is to believe in myself as a science educator.
  • Stephen helped me to understand the importance of the three dimensions of NGSS, and how weaving those strands into meaningful science teaching and learning makes a strong and beautiful rope. While each of the dimensions is important as part of the foundation of learning, sense-making doesn’t truly happen until each of the dimensions are interwoven.
  • Stephen also taught me how to “eliminate black boxes” as an adult learner, so I could use that learning in my work with teachers and children.

These are just three examples of the ways that Dr. Stephen Pruitt has impacted me and my work as an educator. I appreciate him tremendously and I find myself wondering, if Stephen had such a profound impact on my work, what impact has he had on educators across the country? I decided to ask a few colleagues for their thoughts in an effort to find out.

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If You Aren’t Frustrated, You Aren’t Learning: Flipping the “I Do, We Do, You Do” Strategy

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Since my very first day of teaching, I’ve always preferred to focus on the hope of what students can do as opposed to the fear of what they cannot. Of course, there are limits to what any human realistically can or cannot do, but I’m increasingly frustrated by the all-too-often teacher reply of, “But my students can’t do that” when discussing changes in curriculum or creation of common assessments. However, until about seven years ago, one of my most consistent approaches to teaching was inherently grounded in a version of this very sentiment I loathed — it was just slightly softened to become, “But my students can’t do that… without my help.”

It was with this unconscious mindset that I so often employed the “I Do, We Do, You Do” strategy, providing students with a safe pathway for growth and learning through imitation. I would supportively guide students through my own thinking before letting them work with a partner or in a group to further their understanding, before finally allowing them to try the skill on their own.

And then I read it…

“Mr. Bronke’s class is great. As long as you follow all the examples he gives, it is a really easy class.”

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I still remember the very moment that these two simple sentences permanently pierced my teaching soul. I’d volunteered to let a previous district in which I taught test out a possible student survey, and this was some of the feedback I received.

Now in the grand scheme of feedback students can and do give, this really wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, it was a compliment on many levels — the student liked my class and found he could be successful in it. Some might say, “Isn’t that the goal of teaching?” However, I’ve never wanted student learning to be “easy” in my class.

I spent that summer reflecting upon my approach to instruction, thinking of ways to make my class more of a challenge, and that’s when it hit me,

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“I need to make learning messier, less controlled, and more student-centered; in short, I need to get out of the way.”

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Transform Your Teaching: Developing a Personalized Professional Learning Plan

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“To turn off your iPad, you press the button on the side. Let’s practice turning it off and on, and our next steps will be to explore the App Store.”

This professional development on “iPads for Teachers” was genuinely a great recipe for PD:

  • Hands-on teacher involvement
  • Opportunities to put ideas into action
  • Immediate followup in the classroom during the coming weeks

Unfortunately, I found myself bored to tears. The school where I’d previously taught was 1:1 with student iPads and I’d been using them in the classroom for at least three years. What I anticipated as an opportunity to enhance my instruction using digital tools turned into a daydreaming session on all of the work I could’ve been doing in my classroom.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been there. We’ve all found ourselves in a well-intentioned, yet not relevant, professional development session generalized for a staff of perhaps several hundred teachers. Personalized learning for students and differentiation have been a focus in the world of education for several years and considered a must in the modern classroom. However, this type of thinking around learning has not been universally adopted for teachers as learners. If we’re expected to provide personalized learning for students, what can be done to support teachers in their quest for lifelong learning?

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I Choose to Teach

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“What if you chose to teach, because you could be anything.”

~ Talia Milgrom-Elcott, 100kin10 2018 Summit

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Remember when you wanted to be an ER surgeon who performed on Broadway during the weekends? No? Well, what about that summer you wanted to be a pink flamingo? Still no? Ok, well, do you remember that time when you chose to be a teacher?

Looking back, none of these career choices would have been easy (especially that flamingo gig); but teaching is hard — really hard. We may have chosen this job, but at this time of year, with all the challenges of the day, why do we continue to do this? Why do we continue to push students to become their best selves, towards what we believe they are capable of — shooting for the moon and beyond — even when they don’t understand why?

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