The Best Lessons Come When We Least Expect It

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It’s cold. It’s raining. I’m wearing a sweater as I write this, yet it’s late May and the “countdown” is on. Here at Downers Grove North High School, we officially have two days of instruction and three days of finals left before we can turn off our alarms and turn on the relaxation for a few months.

It’s at this time of the year that I always write some sort of year-end blog post. Typically I wait for that right moment of inspiration to drive me to the keyboard, and that moment happened just this past Friday on our seniors’ last day of classes.

It was like any other last day for the seniors, with former students randomly popping in to say “thank you” and “goodbye.” It really is a lovely and bittersweet day. And then a timid knock quietly reverberated from my door.

I finished typing a sentence and looked up to see Robert. A quiet and, on the surface, mostly disinterested student when I taught him as a freshman, he was the last student I expected to visit. After we chatted for a bit and he turned to leave my classroom, I knew what my year-end blog post would be.

Some of the best lessons come from some of the most unexpected moments in teaching in the form of small gifts from the students we teach. In short, this post is a thank you to my students for teaching me so much more than I could ever teach them.

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Home Stretch: Finish the End of the School Year Strong

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Sponsored content provided by Concordia University-Portland.

Any teacher will tell you that school doesn’t really calm down. The end of the school year is one of the busiest, most stressful times of the year. Testing, spring fever, events, final projects, grading—the home stretch is a doozy. While it can be easy for students and teachers to mentally slide into summer, here are a few ideas for how you can make the month of June truly memorable, impactful, and manageable.

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Back to School Starter Pack End-of-Year Reflection: Your Final Checklist

End of Year Reflection

Congratulations! You made it to the end of the school year.

Are you excited for summer? Are you already thinking about the next school year? Here at Teaching Channel, we sure are!

At the beginning of the school year, we launched our Back to School Starter Packs, a set of checklists and resources organized by grade band to help you start the year off on the right track. If you missed these packs at the start of the year, don’t fret! We’ll be refreshing them for back to school this fall.

In the meantime, we’ve created an End of Year Reflection to help you think about your year and plan for the next. While it sometimes feels better to simply shut the door and forget, if you take a moment now to reflect and plan just a little, your future self will be happy you did!

Take 5 (or a little more) to Reflect

Head over to our Back to School Starter Pack page and download the End of Year Reflection (you must be logged in). Print it out, and use it to assess your year in the areas of Classroom Setup, Lesson and Unit Planning, Class Culture, and Self-Care. We’ve made it simple and quick to use — just a check-list and a few spots to take notes — so no excuses. You can do this now and save yourself time later!

After you’re finished, you may even want to take it a step further by joining the conversation in Tch Video Lounge. Our interactive video, Take 5: End of Year Reflections, asks you and other educators to take stock of your experiences this year. Share your thoughts and see what others are saying about their triumphs and struggles. You might just learn something new.

Speaking of learning… be on the lookout next week for our blog series, I Want to Get Better At… We’ll be sharing resources for learning about four key topics this summer: Differentiation, Collaboration, ELLs, and Assessment.

If you try our End of Year Reflection, let us know how it goes in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Gretchen Vierstra taught middle school for ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. During her 15+ years in education, she’s also been a department chair, new teacher coach, curriculum developer, and policy analyst. She is Director of Educational Content at Teaching Channel.

Tch Tips: Four Ways to Gather Student Feedback

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As another school year comes to a close, I’d bet that you and your students are looking forward to summer break. While these last days of school can be crazy, they’re often reflective as well.

You’ve probably asked students to self-assess their learning, and you’ve probably been busy assessing their learning in final projects, portfolios, and report cards. Of course, all of this assessment of student learning is important — but remember, you were the one who guided them on their learning journey!

As an educator, it’s just as important to take time to ask yourself about your year.

  • What went well?
  • What will you change next year?

And, while you still have your students in the classroom, why not ask them for a little feedback? Sure, this idea may seem scary at first, but with the right setup, you can truly learn a lot from your students.

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Starting from the Beginning at Year 20

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Have you ever taught a lesson and realized too few of your students learned what you taught? You’re not alone! We’ve experienced this numerous times in our years as classroom teachers and in our current roles. In this blog post, Gabe shares his experiences from teaching and his role as elementary school principal. Together, we share insights from our collaboration and shared experiences.

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Gabe:

After 20 years of working with elementary school children, I finally started to find answers to the pedagogical questions nagging me since my first days teaching mathematics. I also realized how powerful it is to expand my understanding of math concepts beyond the narrow scope I’d experienced — and taught — my entire life.

As a systems thinker, I’d constrained math instruction to a series of prescribed steps, completely disconnected from the mathematical concept. I streamlined tasks into a sequence that could be introduced and modeled — steps that students could rehearse as many times as necessary. Most lessons were a version of,

Here’s the lesson objective, relevant vocabulary, and the steps we need to follow. Now, we will practice these steps as many times as we can before lunch.”

Over the past two years, I began to emerge from my constrained view of math instruction. More than any other aspect of teaching, math instruction is the domain I would revise if I could revisit my years as a classroom teacher. Now, as the principal of an elementary school, my role is to be the lead learner. To me, this means I must first experience the steps it takes to learn new instructional strategies and implement them in classrooms at various grade levels. To do this, I schedule the time to co-teach math lessons in classrooms at the school where I work.

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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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Five Assessment Myths and Misunderstandings

Tchers' Voice: Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

Walking around the classroom, clipboard in hand, I moved as quickly as possible, diligently checking for homework completion, assigning five points to those who had it done, two-and-a-half to those who had it partially done, and zero to those who didn’t do it. It was super scientific and truly measured learning… (he says sarcastically).

Luckily for my students, since then I’ve grown quite a bit in my understanding of assessment practices, and as I look back at them over the past 14 years, it’s not with disgust (although that would be justified at times), but with hope — and the knowledge that change is possible. I author this piece not to judge current practices, but in the hopes that some of the ideas below might shed new light on ways to take a fresh approach to assessment, and improve learning for all students.

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Glowing and Growing Through Self-Assessment

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Forward

by Teaching Channel’s Vice President of Engagement, Paul Teske

Paul TeskeThis summer, I was humbled and energized by the diversity, compassion, and wisdom of the educators that we convened as part of the Fab Five ELL Squad and California District EL Network. The goal in our gathering was to deepen our understanding of how best to serve bi- and multi-literate students. With the generous support of the Helmsley and Stuart Foundations, we came together to share our challenges and collective wisdom.

With the support of Sarah Ottow from Confianza, each member of the ELL Squad had a project with distinct goals for better understanding their puzzles of practice. Our Fab Five ELL Squad will be sharing their useful work in the upcoming months.

Damaris Gutierrez is first up in our Fab Five ELL series of blog posts. Damaris is from Northside ISD in San Antonio, Texas, where she served as the teacher of elementary refugee students in a sheltered instruction environment. In her project, she focused on reading instruction, culturally responsive teaching, and assessment.

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As a newcomer ESL teacher to refugee students in an elementary setting, my classroom was self-contained and I taught language through content in a sheltered instruction environment.

The thought of teaching self-reflection terrified me.

I just didn’t know how to do this with my students.

But self-reflection and assessment is a requirement of the SIOP Model I use with my English Language Learners (ELLs). I remember reading this requirement and thinking — how? How can I get my beginner ELLs, who have limited or no prior schooling experience, to reflect on their language development and content knowledge in English?

Throughout the process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher, I’ve had to assess my own teaching practices, plan to improve my instruction and act on those plans, view my own teaching, and reflect on my teacher actions and student learning. But teaching my students to self-assess their own learning really challenged my ideas about what they were capable of doing.

Self-reflection would first challenge me to think beyond my current expectations and then inspire me to explore new teaching practices. Read more

Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

I have long been skeptical of the “One Word” promises made at the turn of the new year.

On one hand, I totally get it; it’s an efficient way to stay focused on personal improvement. And like any goal setting, focus is essential to success; we often try to do too much with our goals — personally and professionally. In that respect, I see the value. However, the scope of one word seems, in some ways, too focused. I’ve struggled to see how a one-word focus would truly help me become a better me, a better teacher. But with this said, I also had no suggestion for a different approach.

So, as 2017 faded into the cold and dreary new year backdrop of 2018, I sat down to do my usual new year reflection and goal setting, resigning myself to this seemingly too-narrow approach for lack of a more effective strategy. It was while I scribbled in my writer’s notebook, jotting down key words and phrases that captured elements of my personal and professional growth that I hope to see improve in 2018, when the music in the background, which is always playing when I write, shuffled to a different song, grabbing my attention in a way it never had before. Having heard this song well over 100 times already, I couldn’t believe the way it was now inspiring my goal setting.

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PodcastPodcastTch Talks 24: Inviting Curiosity and Socratic Questioning Into The Classroom

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What are the questions that your students carry inside of them but rarely ever discuss?

2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples wanted to find out. What started as a small idea or strategy to help students build empathy transformed into nearly 15 years of work helping children — and adults — voice the questions they carry inside them. On this episode of Tch Talks, Shanna talks about why it’s important for both students and teachers to “Think Like Socrates,” to allow students to take ownership of their own learning through authentic questions, and to leverage student questions as learning experiences that develop critical thinking.

For Shanna, curiosity is key, and allowing students to own their learning through creating questions is the most fundamental change a teacher can make in their teaching practice. Listen in to find out more.

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