For the past three days I had the unique pleasure to attending the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) conference hosted here in my hometown of Philadelphia. It really reminded me of two major things: a) I love conferences and b) there are TONS of other people who do also!
ISTE is basically the largest concentration of nerdy educators (or wannabe nerdy ones) I have ever seen. Sessions are held all day long; special interest group meetings stretch late into the night; and free bowling offers time to make friends (shoutout to the Young Educators Network!). Since I don't want to bore you with small details, here are the basic take-aways for me, in no particular order:
1) There are people in tech companies that do care about helping you and your students. I met some great folks at various different companies that really wanted to help me, the teacher, work out something with their hardware/software that would improve my student's learning. Some companies even brought teachers to explain their first-hand experience (shoutout to Microsoft who brought me to ISTE to do just that).
2) There is a lot you can do with very little money. Aside from the idea I have shared already about bringing Chromebooks into my classroom next year (which I got some time to play with), there are plenty low-cost or free tech solutions for the classroom. Note-taking programs, organizer programs, engraved hardware specific to your school, etc. It is giving me hope that one person like myself can really get some tech out there for my students to use and learn from.
3) People are more important thing things. This one is a little obvious, but as I walked the magnificent halls of the newly-expanded halls of the PA Convention Center I met so many great educators who want help for their students just like I do. I chatted with superintendents, IT professionals, teachers, bloggers, and more. I often find the concept of "networking" to be a bit forced and for of an "It" type relationship (shoutout to Martin Buber!) so when I discovered that when I talked with these people I seemed to be forging friendships, it was amazing!
Basically, I had a great time working, learning, and meeting people from all over the world the past few days. I hope to mimic this experience next year at the NCTM conference hosted in Philly and maybe even at the ISTE conference in San Diego.
This year has been a whirlwind of excitement, annoyance, happiness, sadness, but most of all learning.
At the end of my second year of teaching in the School District of Philadelphia I can proudly say, "it's getting easier." I find that lesson planning comes faster and more ideas are rolling around in my head than ever before. This year has exposed me to so much more than I could have imagined in terms of technology and pedagogy that I cannot even remember
my thoughts at the end of last year. Here are a few of the highlights of what I've learned/done this year and want to continue/augment for next year:
- Conversations with students: I spent more time this year reflecting with my students on their learning. Starting with an issue-filled classroom that could not keep quiet, I spread a reflection day to my other classes where they discovered how difficult it is for them to get themselves quiet, even if they are only listening to each other. I used many tools from Restorative Practices to help me create these experiences and I want to improve upon them next year.
- Laptops: Providing at-will computer access has allowed my students to conduct research in real-time, use the tools of the business world now instead of waiting years, access information in multiple modalities (graphically, verbally, through audio, etc.), and to top it off has saved multiple reams of paper.
- Critical Friends: Being a part of a voluntary program with some of my staff to provide feedback on our classroom instruction has been an incredibly valuable enterprise. Focusing on the education competencies developed by Microsoft has framed our discussion of pedagogy and allowed ample time for cookie-cake eating (shout-out to Kate).
- Personal Learning Network: In addition to the people I talk to at work and in my personal life, I have begun to engage in educational conversations with people all over the region and the world. I follow multiple educators on Twitter (I recommend @mbteach, @ddmeyer, and @DianeRavitch for starters). I read blogs daily (Philly Teacher, City School Stories, and dy/dan - some overlap with twitter). I have also attended my first ever EdCampPhilly and hope to attend more in the future.
- Think Outside the Classroom: As much as I want to focus on my students all the time, there are so many things that make that harder outside my classroom door. I have been reading blogs and articles on The Notebook daily as well as checking on Philly.com for updates about School Reform Commission meetings, court cases, Union controversies, and more. If you are not keeping yourself in the loop, the loop is soon going to overtake you.
I am sure there are more but I don't want to bore you. If you are a teacher, GREAT job this year. Take your summer and make the most of it - whether that means reading books on pedagogy and revising your curricula or just sitting by a beach/lakefront and enjoying a cold drink. For everyone else, keep up the good work!
I will be posting intermittently throughout the summer months but am traveling between July 3 - August 10. Stay tuned.
I heard it all the time from teachers in schools across the country: "as long as my students are learning, I don't care what else is going on outside my classroom."
It's hard to disagree with a statement like that. It truly focuses on the needs of students. For teachers who truly believe it and actualize based on that belief, I can really find no fault.
But (there always is one, isn't there?).
Imagine what our school system could look like if teachers increased their scope to include what is happening on the other side of their doors. Think about the power that teachers could wield for a noble cause: shaping the future of our country. As a Philadelphia resident, I think about that often: how can I play my part in the school system to raise Philadelphia's status up to where it should be?
To be clear, I am not advocating teachers should spend less time on their students. For those people who do not have the extra time to spend on orchestrating curriculum or attending voluntary professional developments, PLEASE just make sure your classroom epitomizes an environment of learning.
For the others who do feel they have the time to commit, I beg you to consider how the young souls we are educating now will be the driving force behind Philadelphia's economy in 20-30 years. Many of these kids feel disenfranchised because of policies implement across the School District or even at the school level. We need to work hard together with all possible partners to figure out what will make the current generation coming through our classroom doors know that they have the power to influence and they should use it for good.
Without this, I fear Philadelphia will languish. Young parents will move to suburban neighborhoods and wealthy families will send their children to private schools. I truly believe that if we make changes and ripples now, we will see the positive effects in the future.
Please: Think outside of your classroom.
Standards. Objectives. Outcomes. These are just a few of the words consistently used in official teacher evaluations by administrators. Oftentimes an administrator simply checks items off a list when observing teachers instead of focusing on the entire experience of his or her teaching. This has led to a consistent effort by lawmakers to begin to incorporate more data-driven items on that checklist, including student test scores
. To many educators, including Diane Ravitch, there is enough evidence
to prove this approach will lead to more test-prep and less actual understanding in our students.
So, I would like to point out a model being used in schools across Montgomery County, MD that is having some success. A recent NY Times article
explains how they use both teachers and principals in a process they call Peer Assistance Review (PAR). From the brief description it seems like true collaboration between educators and administrators to seek and assist struggling teachers before removing them from the teaching profession. Since half of all teachers leave before their 5th year, this seems like a great idea to maintain and support the next generation of adults at the front of the classroom.Essentially,
inexperienced educators are mentored by their veteran peers over the course of many months. If their teaching does not improve then they are placed in front of a peer review panel which has the power to demand changes, including the teacher losing his or her job. The amazing part about this panel is that half are teachers and half are principals and yet their comments are quite consistent.
I am truly confused why models like this don't exist on a massive scale across the country already. Professional journals have a peer review process before allowing any research to appear in them; why shouldn't professionals who work with kids get the same treatment with evaluations of their
Over the past few weeks I have been toying with creating a terminology for what could describe my ideal setting in education. At the moment I am focused on a few buzz-words: collaborative
, and transparent
. I believe in a system that fosters these ideals and think it would create such an amazing environment that people of all differing interests would flock to education instead of fleeing from it right after their student loans are paid off at 5 years.
For those of you unaware of the intricacies of the School District of Philadelphia's hiring procedure, and process called Site Selection opened today. Due to my impending force-transfer from my current school, I started applying to work at various other schools across the District. Since only two schools in Philadelphia have a 1:1 laptop model (mine and Science Leadership Academy) and neither have a space for me, I have been putting a lot of thought into what could be a great opportunity: Chrome Notebooks in my classroom.
Google announced a plan
recently to offer Chromebooks for use by schools across the country starting June 15. These computers differ significantly from normal laptop computers as they have no hard drive and very little operating system other than the web browser, Chrome. Essentially, Google is gambling on the fact that most users don't need software since they can access most applications online. Apps for the Chrome interface can substitute applications even as heavy as Microsoft Office.
They are also uniquely priced. $20/month per laptop to lease it and get all the hardware/software support necessary 24/7.
So, here is my plan: assuming a class size of 30 students for 10 months, the calculations would be $20*30*10 = $6000 for 10 months of computing. I think a grant or two from various foundations would be able to cover it and I would have amazing technology access in my classroom.
I highly recommend this option to others as well if you are looking for a cheap way of getting access to the world of the Internet and its applications in class. I think this is going to work out very nicely.
Tomorrow is D-Day for teachers in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). While we are all very excited and happy that all-day kindergarten has been restored, some 1,498 teachers are going to be receiving pink slips
Of course the potential of losing my job is horrible and I am dreading going into work on Monday morning, but what is hurting me more is the thought the the exact people we need to ensure a bright educational future for our students are being cut. Now, I am the first person to explain that veteran teachers are the most valuable asset educators have - they are experienced, knowledgeable of the systems in place, and can be great guides/mentors. That being said, without the new blood coming in, when those veterans retire, who is going to replace them?
Every school district should maintain a wide variety of educators - new, veteran, and in the middle - in order to maintain the institutional knowledge of our schools. Since most schools seem not to have a policy manual to help new teachers - or such a manual would be silly because policies change so often - we need the veteran to explain the changes and the consistencies to our new folk. We also need the new teachers to energize the veterans and show them the new tools that can be used and how to use them. Without this dialogic process, our students are the ones who suffer.
I believe that "children come first," just like Dr. Ackerman does. But if we want to prove that, we need to seriously re-think what is about to happen tomorrow.