Mary Ewart's bPortfolio

Initial Reflection for EDU6528 – Accomplished Teaching

Reflecting upon my teaching was not something that was stressed when I went through my teacher certification program and, to be completely honest, was not something that I really put much intentional time into as I started teaching. I did consider what went well, and what needed to change during and after each period I taught a lesson, and often changed things during the day that did not go well the first time I did them, but I never sat down and intentionally and purposefully reflected on my practice. As I have matured in my teaching, and especially as I have moved to the high school level and worked under a principal who really believes in the power of reflection, I have started to spend a great deal more time intentionally reflecting on both my teaching practice, and collaborating with my content teams on our practice as a group. This has become an incredibly important piece in my planning component of teaching as well. This does not mean that I do this perfectly, and it is certainly an area where easy to “put off” because it is not critical to the day-to-day requirements of making a classroom run.

As I consider my strengths in teaching, the area I am most proud of is my ability to create a classroom environment where everyone feels safe, respected, challenged and able to take risks. This is an area that I feel is even more important because at least half of my day is spent teaching math to students who have been chronically unsuccessful in math. Many of those students haven’t been successful in math since some time during elementary school, if ever, and I see them starting in 9th grade. Another of my strengths is developing coherent, organized, well-structured lessons that use effective questioning and levels of understanding to bring all students to a defined minimum level of understanding. I have had students and administrators note for years that my lessons are organized in a way that benefits students, and many previous students have come back to me to tell me that using their notes and the note-taking skills they learned from my class has helped them in future math classes – all the way up to and including college.

There are two areas of teaching that I have identified as challenge areas I need to focus on to continue to grow as a professional. One is providing authentic feedback to students in a timely manner. Verbal feedback is easy for me to provide, and I do that on a regular basis, but providing written feedback on assignments/assessments becomes very daunting when I grade a minimum of 40 of each assignment at a time, and grading often takes me 3-5 minutes per assignment before written feedback. This year, I am trying a standards-based rubric with specific levels of success criteria for each problem in my Algebra 1 classes. My hope is this will provide students with more feedback on their assessment performance, and allow them to learn the steps necessary for additional success, but I am still looking for more ways to do this on assignments more regularly. The second area I am focusing on is extending my classroom from a teacher-directed classroom to a more student-directed classroom. Along this line, I am specifically focusing on incorporating more student-choice assignments and assessment opportunities. It is hard for me to come up with these types of activities, partly because I have never seen this modeled in a math classroom. I have, and have in the past, used these types of assignments in science classrooms, and have seen examples in most other subject areas, but math is an area where this seems to be something that is often not done. I will be actively researching and looking for ways to incorporate this into my instruction as I move on in my teaching career.

Considering the Danielson Model for evaluating teacher performance, I see many strengths and weaknesses. The strengths as I see them, are as follows:

It becomes very difficult to evaluate anything without a set of defined success criteria before starting the evaluation. Danielson provides a very comprehensive set of success criteria, with very clearly defined standards to achieve each level of proficiency. Having worked for multiple administrators, and with teachers who have worked for multiple administrators, I can say that having a consistent set of criteria is just as valuable when assessing teachers as it is when assessing student work. The criteria Danielson provides is expertly and thoughtfully woven together, and structured in a way that clearly identifies how to move from one level to another. Creating a common language to use amongst administrators and teachers is also a strength of the Danielson model. This allows both the evaluator and the teacher to speak with an understood set of terms.

The weaknesses also exist, and primarily, in my opinion, center on the assumption that good teaching is something that can be quantified and leveled on a rubric and pre-defined set of criteria. Any observation is going to be simply one snapshot into a teacher’s classroom. There are so many things that can go wrong on any given day that have nothing to do with the teacher’s effectiveness on a broad scale. There is an element of teaching that, in my opinion, is not teachable or quantifiable, it is an art form in its truest sense. You can learn the elements of it, and you can implement the techniques you’re given, but there is a part that is as beautiful as a piece of music or oil painting. In this way, any model of effective teaching is going to fall short, as you can’t truly standardize excellence.

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