Sunday, June 11, 2017

Year in Review - June 2017

As the school year comes to a close, I am wrapping up my year of blogging and guest teaching.  I reflect on what I have accomplished this year and what goals I didn't quite reach.  Looking back on my first blog post, I was so excited to begin to guest teach.  I still believe that it is such a valuable opportunity.  And, to clarify, when I was guest teaching I had collaborated beforehand with a teacher and planned to teach the lesson.  This is completely different than filling in when a teacher is absent.  When I sub in a classroom we may just have a reading day, a work day, a movie day, or open gym.  When I guest taught, I met with the teacher before the lesson and we discussed objectives, methods, and outcomes.  I practiced and prepared and then taught a full lesson.

Some of my favorite memories of guest teaching were the funny things students said when I was in their class - "feces" rather than "thesis."  And when we made slime as a science experiment.  And leading the whole band through an entire song successfully!  I taught several different classes: PreAlgebra, Math, Literacy, Language Arts, PE, Video Production, Personal Development, American Studies, Global Studies, French, Band, and Special Education.  I was able to work in a different capacity with teachers.  They were teaching me and letting me in on their world.  I worked with students more individually and they were always so excited to have me in their classroom.  I learned a lot about what happens in our classrooms each and every day and the struggles and triumphs our teachers face.

I did not make it into everyone's classroom.  It was my intention and goal at the beginning to get everywhere, but it didn't happen.  I often ran out of time in my schedule or didn't work hard enough to schedule guest teaching into my schedule.  There were some teachers who were not interested in having me guest teach.  For example, the art teacher did not tell me to stay away, but the couple of times I approached her the students were in the middle of a project and there would be no real teaching happening.  Other teachers were very protective of their classrooms and worried about letting go.  Honestly, I also chose teachers and classrooms I knew I would be successful with to start and saved the others for last - and then ran out of time.  I did not get into Mr. Norton's advanced math classes or Industrial Technology, both of which I was nervous about in my first blog post.

The end of the year came up quickly and I spent a lot of time in classrooms substituting when we were short on classroom subs, but no real guest teaching happened in the month of May.  Over the school year I was able to use this blog space to discuss other things I believed in and worked on - PBIS, staff engagement, my one word, shadowing a student.  I am proud of my efforts to begin blogging and plan to continue doing it.  I am glad I tried guest teaching and am happy with what I did.  I would like to continue guest teaching next year and make it to the classes I didn't get to this year, and maybe even some of the ones I did.  Reflecting is an important part of professional growth.  I am able to see where I was successful and admit where I can improve.  I will blog again in the fall with a fresh start to guest teaching and a new school year!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Video Production - April 18, 2017

Video Production class is a highlight for many of our students.  They record our daily announcements like a television show.  They also record commercials for upcoming events and speeches for student council elections.  I was able to sit in on one of the class periods.  I'm not sure I would call it "guest teaching", however.  The students were teaching themselves!

Mr. Raaf, the teacher for the class, was in the room as a guide and a reminder to students of what needed to be done.  I was along to observe and offer some simple suggestions to improve the show.  I also recorded a commercial to promote our final all-school PBIS incentive for the year - lunch outside with free ice cream!

The students did amazing work.  They wrote the script, determined the background, edited images and captions, programmed the sound, and practiced as anchors.  At times it seemed like one person or team had more to do than others, but Mr. Raaf assured me that the roles switch each week.  So one person may seem to get off easy, but then will have to work hard the next week.  I was very impressed with the professionalism behind the cameras.  Students were working hard and working together to create a good show.

It was a great experience for me to see how things work in this class and go behind the scenes of the morning show.  I think it also made me realize how valuable this resource is.  We need to encourage more classes to use the video production room and equipment.  I need to get in more often to be on camera and to promote things that are happening in the school.  Could we also use it for parent news?  There are lots of possibilities.  We just need to get in there and do it!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Language Arts 8 - March 30, 2017

My latest adventure took me to 8th grade Language Arts where they were conducting lit circles around different books they have been reading.  I wasn't sure what a lit circle was, so I visited Ms. Williams' class the day before to watch her in action directing a circle.  It is basically a Socratic seminar about a book students have read with some specific requirements for students.

It seemed like an easy task to facilitate the circle.  The students would be doing most of the talking and I would just listen and moderate.  However, I was unable to stay quiet!  I violated the fidelity of the student-led circle.  I just couldn't help myself.  I wanted to help facilitate the questioning and the understanding of each particular book.  I had been an "outside circle" member the day before and knew that the inner circle members needed to speak up and be clear with their statements.  They weren't really doing so, so I stepped in.  It made for a more lively discussion, but probably not exactly what Ms. Williams was hoping for with a student-led circle.

The books seemed really fascinating to me.  One was Schooled about a boy who lived in a hippie commune, but when his grandmother falls ill he must move in with a counselor and start going to real school.  The students thought the main character was pretty weird.  The other book we discussed was Monster about a boy who was part of a murder that happened in a store.  It was written in play format from the boy's perspective in jail.  We had quite a discussion about his innocence (or guilt) in the circle.  You can imagine now why these two compelling books had me jumping in with questions, clarifications, and connections.

Another great experience getting to watch and participate in two days of literature circles with our fun 8th grade students.  Their insightful comments always inspire me.  And their desire to be heard and appreciated humbles me.  I can't wait to get back in the classroom for the next adventure!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring break = spring reset

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As spring break is winding down, I am thankful for the break from the hectic pace of school and now reflect on the goals I set at the beginning of the year.  Only about 50 days of school remain in this year.  I think back to our keynote speakers at the beginning of the year as well as several articles I read to kick off the school year.  They had one main thing in common - why.  What is your why?  Know your why.  Focus on your why.  Share your why.

I set several goals for myself including to engage more with parents and the community and to guest teach in all teachers' classes.  I started off by engaging parents through a dinner at our back to school night.  I have worked with our PSTO and CPSO to encourage more parent participation.  Why is this important to me?  I know that students do better in school when their families take pride in it as well.  And parents will take pride in a school that they feel welcome in and a part of.  We have a very diverse community and need to celebrate it.  For the last part of the school year I would like to host a family night event at school to welcome our new feeder elementary schools and connect them with our current community.  I have already created a rough draft and hope to work with the PSTO during the next meeting.

I have taught several classes for teachers, yet have several yet to go.  It has been difficult to find the time to teach classes and to coordinate with teachers' schedules.  I have found that it is hard for them to let go!  Why is this important to me?  It gives me a purpose and a reason to connect and work with my teachers.  It gives me the opportunity to spend time with students and see how they learn and act in a classroom environment.  I plan to continue this endeavor and teach as many classes as I can in the time that remains.  However, I now realize that I might not get to teach every teacher's class.

I also shadowed a student this year, led our PBIS team to model distinction by our AEA, and helped to decrease the achievement gap in our Iowa Assessment scores.  I attended the PLC institute and led our Instructional Leadership Team to implement the PLC process in collaborative teams.  Yes, these are all great accomplishments, but I know that there is more work yet to do.  And I have more goals yet to accomplish.  That is why this is not just a spring break, but a spring reset.  Time to have recharged, reflected, and refocused.  Why?  For the students, staff, and for yourself.  Have you taken the time for a spring reset?
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Language Arts 8 - March 10, 2017

Sure, I'll teach your class on the Friday before spring break..... said no one ever! But I did.  I took over Ms. Starr's 8th grade Language Arts class Friday afternoon before we all left for break.  Everyone was ready to get out of school, including me.  But the students were willing to participate and complete the work we needed to get done.  Thank goodness for such good students!

Our task was to read the next section of Flowers for Algernon and make connections.  This is something students had done previously in the week.  I read this book many years ago.  So I asked students to help me remember what was going on in the story.  Students did a great job of filling in the gaps that I couldn't recall.  We read the section where the narrator was beginning to gain intelligence and discovered that people were not actually his friends.  Students made so many good connections and we had a fantastic discussion about whether or not it was worth it for the narrator to become smarter yet lose his innocence.  The vast majority of students said yes.  They argued that they wouldn't want to be left in the dark or that it wasn't fair that the other students could pick on the narrator.  Several students participated in this discussion, even ones I know were struggling with things outside of the classroom.  Students also made connections to times when they had been bullied or thought that someone was their friend and then realized they were not.  Someone also made the connection to the Tom Hanks' movie Cast Away by noting that it is almost like the narrator was marooned on an island until he began to gain intelligence.

Although we all had several other things on our mind (sun, sand, vacation), we had a great discussion and finished what we needed to do.  Students also made their selections for upcoming book talks that I hope I get a chance to hear!  I'm so thankful to have had a great class to work with before leaving for break.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

American Studies - February 17, 2017

Mr. Schroeder was absent today so we planned that I would take over his Sheltered American Studies class for the day.  Sheltered is for ELL students only.  It is a slower paced American history class that focus on big ideas, concepts, and vocabulary.  The hope is that students build their capacity to be successful in regular classes in high school.  I have never taught a sheltered class, but I have taught basic government, which was for lower level special ed students and ELL students.  I hoped that experience would help me be successful teaching this class.

Luckily for me, the students were working on creating a presentation about the three branches of government.  I taught governemnt for 10 years, so this was totally my thing!  I told the students and they thought it was cool to have an "expert" in class.  Mr. Schroeder wanted me to focus on presentation skills rather than content, however.  So we begain by making a list of things a good presenter would do.  Here is what the students came up with:

Eye contact/look at the audience
do not just read the slides
loud, clear voice
don't be shy
give examples
be prepared for questions

I thought it was a great list.  Then I took a practice presentation and presented to them poorly.  They had to note what I did wrong and how I should improve.  It was fun to really do it wrong!  The students even giggled at some of my mistsakes.  Then I did it the right way and they attentively listened.  I gave them some work and practice time.  Then we had one volunteer to practice his presentation in front of the whole class.  He was pretty proud of himself and did a great job remembering our presentation skills.

The take-away from this guest teaching lesson is that these students are really no different than any other students we have.  They want to learn, they are excited to share what they know, and they can learn.  I think that sometimes we think that they are lazy or don't care because it takes ELL students longer or they need different types of instruction.  I had fun working with these students and loved seeing their creative juices flowing as they worked on their projects.  And a big shout out to Gamal for being brave enough to practice his presentation in front of all of us!

Shadow a Student - February 16, 2017

I recently participated in the national Shadow a Student challenge.  I thought this was a great way to experience life as a Northwest Junior High student.  And it really goes along with my goals for the year - connecting with students and staff.  I chose Tyquanna, an 8th grade student, to shadow.  She wanted to make sure she wasn't in trouble, but then thought it sounded like a cool idea.  I chose her because she is an average student - no learning support classes, no advanced classes, no music.  She is also a student that has come a long way in her two short years at Northwest.  She has grown and matured so that she is prepared to be successful in high school.  I'm really proud of her.

We started our day doing volunteer work in the modified special ed class.  This was probably my most favorite part of the day.  It was fun to work with the students and even more fun to see Tyquanna thriving with these students.  She was kind, patient, and helpful.  It was a great example of how very different students can work together and make each other better people.

The rest of the morning was filled with academic classes.  The afternoon had two study halls and two academic classes.  A couple of my take-aways from these experiences included hunger and boredom.  After working hard all morning, I was starving by lunch!  Now I know why so many students complained first trimester about lunch being late.  We did move it up, but I was definitely hungry.  I was also really bored in the afternoon.  Two study halls and a language arts class that was having a reading day did not make for a very exciting learning experience.  No wonder why students end up sleeping or acting out.  I also learned why students complain about not having enough time between classes.  Sure, you can make it from one room to the next without a problem in four minutes.  However, if you need to use the bathroom or want to talk with your friends for the first time all day - it is nearly impossible.

I did see lots of good things happening in classes.  Teachers were always prepared and they seamlessly included me in their class, like I was just another student.  You could see the pride teachers take in their lessons and their craft.  This was unlike an evaluative lesson where they knew I was coming and prepped a special lesson.  I told them the day before that I was planning to be there, but I don't think I gave them enough warning to change their plans.  It was so great to see teachers in their element working with all types of students.

I encourage anyone who can take the time to shadow a student to do so.  I learned a lot about our school, our teachers, and the experiences we are giving our students.  Thanks to my student for letting me tag along all day!