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EDAD 6589 – Engaging Communities – Meta Reflection – Standard 6

Standard 6 – Teacher leaders communicate and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders.

“This journey that we are about to embark upon together is about the children, their families, and communities that we both will serve” (Haddix, 2014).

If I were to be completely truthful, I have to say that my experience and effort with engaging the community around my school has varied greatly depending on the school and my position. As a teacher in a small, rural, K-8 school where each grade level had between 50 and 65 students, I was very active and engaged in the community, and worked hard to provide opportunities for the community to come in to our school and feel comfortable in participating in their child’s school experience. However, as a secondary teacher in a high school building that has almost 2000 students enrolled, I have not reached out in any measurable active way. Beyond myself, I think this is something that many of my colleagues fall short on as well. With a school as large as it is, it becomes difficult to come up with ways to help connect families with the school; combine that with the fact that many families choose high school as the time to start disengaging with their children’s school to prepare them for college and what you end up with is a school full of teachers who aren’t engaged with the community around the school in any meaningful way. Entering into this course, my previous energy in this position has been put into being a leader within my school community and specifically my content department rather than connecting and engaging the community outside my classroom door.

One of the first understandings this course brought to light is what it must feel like to interact with a school where the teachers and administration looks so totally different from the majority of the student body. Our school population does have approximately 65% of students who are Caucasian, but that means that the other 35% of students do not match the majority of teachers in the school. Many of our students come to our school every year after moving to the country from other countries due to a parent’s job opportunity (for many this opportunity is in the technology field). The differences and expectations in the school culture are dramatic in instances like these, and it is the job of the school leaders and teachers to create a school community that is opening and engaging to the communities outside of it.

Moving from this understanding came the focus on what teachers can do to reach out to parents and to create opportunities for parents to come in to schools. Some key take away points from this are that it is important for teachers to connect with parents whenever, and however, they can. There are many families where families work during the traditional school day and they cannot take time off to interact in the school. There are many families that have one or more members who did not have a positive school experience so they are reluctant to try to engage in the school as a parent. Finally, there are many families who do not know how to be a part of the school community. One of the most powerful things a teacher or administer can do is to be aware of those hurdles and provide opportunities for families to engage. This can be as simple as meeting parents outside when they are dropping off their children to say hello and check in on progress, or coming up with events to invite the community to that will not interfere with traditional working hours.

It is important to not lose sight of the importance of forming relationships within the school community as well. It is very important for teachers to work together to create relationships with students, parents, and community members. An example of this with teachers working together with administration and parents to create a welcoming community is the ELL Parent Night that Redmond High Schools sponsors. At this event, all families are invited who have recently moved into the community from another country. Teachers, administrators, the attendance secretary, and a member of the counseling staff attend, along with interpreters in as many languages as possible. Parents and family members sit with the appropriate interpreter, and the staff members rotate through the tables, welcoming them to our school and inviting them to ask as many questions as they need to ask in the given amount of time. Childcare and transportation for families without are provided free of charge, and food is also provided. This is an example of an event where all stakeholders are working together to create a school community.

In the process of this learning, I created a community engagement plan. This was created by looking at the current work of the administration and teachers at the school, and considering what types of activities are working to engage the community around the school. An important difference to consider here is the difference between simply involving the community and actively engaging the community in the quest to provide a positive learning experience for every student and their families. It is necessary to not just let the community know what is going on and invite them to participate, but rather to engage them in the process of creating an extended school community with the intentional goal of creating the best learning experience and environment for all students.

I also considered a situation that has recently occurred at our school. In my case study I focused on the most recently administered Smarter Balanced Assessment, and how many students actually attended to take the test. I looked at this through the lens of a teacher leader, or administrator tasked with improving what happened. This year, only approximately 40 students completed all four days of testing. I analyzed the way the testing was handled by the school this year and worked to come up with a plan that would generate a better outcome in the years to come.

In the future, as a teacher and teacher leader, I have a few ideas to implement that can improve my school community. To begin with, I am going to make a conscious effort to reach out to each of my student’s families at the beginning of each year. If I need to use an interpreter, I will do so. Secondly I will survey my parents and families at multiple points in the year to determine if their needs are being met. Third, I will continue to participate in events like the ELL parent night to make myself available and approachable by the community. Lastly, I will encourage my colleagues to do the same. In an ideal world, all teachers would participate in these types of activities regularly, but it is so easy to get lost in the day-to-day work of the classroom and forget about the world outside. Our job as teachers and teacher leaders is to serve our students, and that means more than just the 54 minutes they are in our classrooms.

Resources

Agbo, S. A. (2007). Addressing School-Community Relations in a Cross-Cultural Context: A Collaborative Action to Bridge the Gap Between First Nations and the School. Journal of Research in Rural Educatoin, 22(8), 1-14.

Castagno, A. E. (2013). Multicultural Education and the Protection of Whiteness. American Journal of Education, 120(1), 101-128. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/673121.

Elias, M. (2013). The School-to-Prison Pipeline. Teaching Tolerance, 39-43.

Haddix, M. (2015). Preparing Community-Engaged Teachers. Theory Into Practice, 54:1, 63-70, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2015.977664

Madsen, J. & Mabokela, R. (2014). Leadership Challenges in Addressing Changing Demographics in Schools. NASSP Bulletin, 98(1), 75-96, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0192636513514110

Robbins, C. & Searby, L. (2013). Exploring Parental involvement Strategies Utilized by Middle School Interdisciplinary Teams, School Community Journal, 23(2), 113-136.

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EDU 6526 Survey of Instructional Strategies – Meta Reflection – Standard 10

Standard 10: Teacher leaders understand effective use of research based instructional practices.

“Passionately committed teachers are those who absolutely love what they do. They are constantly searching for more effective ways to reach their children, to master the content and methods of their craft…” (Zehm & Kottler, 1993).

The portion of that description addressing a teacher continually searching for more effective ways to reach children is the best description of who I was as a teacher before this course. Over the last 11 years of teaching, I have spent a lot of time taking additional coursework, participating in workshops, and attending conferences, all related to the goal of increasing my instructional effectiveness to make the math I teach more accessible to my students. That being said, the major flaw in my process was a lack of measurable effectiveness. I would learn and try new things, and I would consider student data before and after implementation, as well as empirical evidence on how the students were reacting to the strategy and I even included student surveys, but I never had a quantifiable way to determine what the best strategies were, or why.

The first evening of this class, we discussed a variety of strategies and considered their importance in terms of instructional effectiveness. I’ve included my Instructional Effectiveness Survey, adapted from John Hattie’s (2012) book Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. This survey was highly impactful and caused me to consider many of my previous understandings. One portion of this survey that I would love to have a conversation with John Hattie about is the idea that a teacher’s level of subject matter knowledge is something that has a very low instructional impact. This is something I end up butting up against regularly; I am not a math major, but I teach in a single subject math classroom. I have worked with many colleagues throughout the years who feel that my lack of a major in mathematics is something that will harm my students. I have always maintained that I have enough of a level of mathematical content understanding to be able to successfully teach my students, but I do believe that the more a teacher understands a subject, the more they can identify common misconceptions, understanding the conceptual basis for theorems and rules, and explain connections across coursework and into other subjects, thereby making their instruction more impactful. I would really like to learn if there is a level of understanding that is a required minimum in order for any additional knowledge to not matter when considering a teacher’s subject matter knowledge and how it relates to instructional effectiveness.

Throughout the course we were challenged to learn about different, highly-effective, instructional strategies and to create lesson plans to implement those strategies. A traditional math classroom has students in rows facing the front, with the teacher working through example problems and the students dutifully copying them down. Then a significant amount of time is spent allowing the students to work through more problems on their own for homework. This process is repeated daily, and is only interrupted by formal assessments. This traditional method is not effective, and must change. Although I had already started to make changes, this course provided me with multiple effective ways to implement the changes. One of the strategies that I took the most away from was collaborative groups. However, due to the traditional method of math instruction, I also chose to research direct instruction as an instructional strategy as well to determine its effectiveness and place in a classroom. A link to my collaborative groups lesson plan can be found here and my direct instruction lesson plan can be found here. What I learned in research and implementation of both strategies is those both are highly effective and have a place in the mathematics classroom.

My most successful lessons are lessons that implement multiple strategies from this course within the 54-minute class period. It is imperative that my students know what they are learning and why what they are learning is important. The most effective way to do this is through the use of intentional learning targets that are revisited throughout the lesson and to close the lesson. Many of the lesson plans I created as part of this course included direct instruction, and at least one additional strategy. Graphic organizers, summaries and note taking, and cooperative groups became very normal in my instruction. A wonderful resource for secondary math teachers when looking for examples of graphic organizers can be found here. My classroom is organized in intentionally assigned groups of four students. Students in each group have an assigned role in group activities that rotates so all students have an opportunity to be in each assigned role. Often, the most effective way to introduce a new math topic is by direct instruction, but this does not mean it is the only thing that happens in my classroom. I regularly use graphic organizers to activate schema before introducing the new concept, or as a method to compare or index the new material with prior knowledge. Students are given opportunities to “think-pair-share”, or to “rally coach” when working through problems. An example of a lesson plan where I implemented the rally coach strategy is available here. I often question student responses, asking them why they answered the way they did, and then calling on other students to critique the response and provide additional support or to challenge the answer with support of their own. When I do these types of activities, I am striving to create a dialogic classroom. Hattie (2012) states, “Dialogue is seen as an essential tool for learning, student involvement is what happens during and not ‘at the end’ of an exchange, and teachers can learn so much about their effect on student learning by listening to students thinking aloud” (p. 83).

Another main focus of this course that was very valuable to my development as a teacher leader is the importance of feedback. As a teacher who has worked in a small rural school where I had 50 students all day, and in a large departmentalized school where I have 150 students each day, I know the challenges that are faced by all teachers when attempting to provide authentic, meaningful and appropriate feedback. Shute (2008) created nine guidelines for teachers to use when providing feedback to enhance or improve the learning:

  1. focus feedback on the task not the learner;
  2. provided elaborated feedback (describing the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’);
  3. present elaborated feedback in manageable units for example, avoid cognitive overload);
  4. be specific and clear with feedback messages;
  5. keep feedback as simple as possible, but no simpler (based on leaner needs and instructional constraints);
  6. reduce uncertainty between performance and goals;
  7. give unbiased, objective feedback, written or via computer (more trustworthy sources are more likely to be received);
  8. promote a learning goal orientation via feedback (move focus from performance to the learning, welcome errors); and
  9. provided feedback after learners have attempted a solution (leading to more self-regulation). (as cited in Hattie, 2012, p. 152)

These nine guidelines are very helpful when trying to wrap my head around a task that can be very challenging. As a result of our readings and discussions on feedback, I have made it a focus of my teaching, but in a way that I feel is more manageable. For instance, I will work to give 5-7 students task feedback in each class a day for a week. By the end of the week, every student has received at least one instance of feedback from me in this way. Then the next week I will give 5-7 students process feedback on each day in each class. I will continue to do this until all students have received at least one instance of process feedback. Hopefully as I intentionally do this daily, it will become easily and more natural for me to work this into my daily routine.

In conclusion, as Hattie (2012) states, “Our role is not to enable students to reach their potential, or to meet their needs; our role is to find out what students can do, and make them exceed their potential and needs” (p. 93). The only way to do this is through intentional creation of daily lessons and activities that use a multitude of instructional strategies. Relying on only one method of instruction will not allow all your students to grasp the material, nor will it engage all students and help each exceed their potential. As I continue to be a teacher who is constantly striving to find the most effective strategies to instruct my students and engage them in learning, I will continue to work to find ways to implement the strategies covered in this course. I will continue to make my math classroom stretch and work away from what is traditional to a way that engages all students most effectively.

References:

Dean, C., Hubbell, E. , Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012) Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Donohoo, J (2010) Learning How to Learn: Cornell Notes as an Example. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 54 (3), 224 – 227. http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/JAAL.54.3.9

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That AllTeachers Should Know. American Educator, 12-19, 39. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf

Tovani, C. (2012). Feedback is a Two Way Street. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 48 – 51.

Zehm, S. J, & Kottler, J. A. (1993) On being a teacher: The human dimension. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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