Classroom Meetings: Exploring New Horizons – January 17, 2017

sunrise-1634197_1280This school year was the first time I’ve tried having classroom meetings. I have heard of it with elementary students, but not with secondary students. I don’t know why it took me 17 years to try something that seems so intuitive.

As a teacher, I spent so much time planning engaging lessons and examples for students to better understand concepts introduced in class. I tried to find out what music and movies were relevant, what games and t.v. shows were popular, and who the best celebrities were to reference. I thought about what I would have liked to do as a student when I was younger, which was more than two decades ago…and memory fades as one gets older!

So when I read about classroom meetings and thought about using them to check in with my tenth grade English students, I thought it would be worth a shot. Now, I don’t know if I could ever let them go.

We started holding them weekly, but students didn’t have much to say. Then we talked about it as a class and we came to a consensus that they liked having the meetings but they were too frequent. We agreed to have them every other week, which has worked exceedingly well.

I provide updates, reminders, and information at the beginning, then open the floor to students to discuss curriculum first and then address any classroom problems. For example, we decided last Friday that we would use movie clips to introduce plot elements in narrative writing. Students suggested that they themselves research the best clips, then I will preview them and select the most relevant.

In the curriculum portion, I hear student questions about what we are studying and other students clarify concepts that may be confusing. Students give me good feedback about what they are learning and how I can help them to learn better.

As for classroom problems, I shared that I was spending my own money on food for the classroom that students were taking when it was not an emergency. I told them that I wanted to help them if they had no lunch or needed food for a medical issue (diabetes, for example), but that I couldn’t help students in need if they were just taking my stuff because it was free. No one raided my food today. They have also mentioned when too much talking becomes a problem or when the seating chart should be changed.

Instead of doing everything myself and trying to guess what students are interested in and how they will learn best, classroom meetings have helped improve my teaching significantly. Students are more engaged in class and empowered and I feel more effective. I hope you will consider holding classroom meetings with your students. Please feel free to contact me or leave a comment if you have any questions.

Here is the agenda from our last class meeting: January 2017 Class Meeting

 

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Ten Toes Challenge – January 11, 2016

Today I created a handout for students with a template for the Ten Toes or Ten Toes Down Challenge. You can find it here: Ten Toes Template – also, there is a bit of background information for teachers as well. (If you’re anything like me, Google and the Urban Dictionary are essential for navigating conversations with teenagers.)

This activity is recommended for high school level classes due to the mature themes in some of the sample videos. It could be used for helping students get the rhythm and rhyme scheme of poetry, helping them reflect on their past as they prepare for a new year, support technology in the classroom, or just give them a way to have fun while they are writing. Please comment back and let me know if you used this template, or post it on Twitter and shout me out @coachcollins951. Thanks!

New Year, New You! January 10, 2016

We went back to work yesterday and it was initially difficiult because my children at home were upset they couldn’t be with me all day. I was not looking forward to the commute, the weather, the re-training of students to act respectfully in a classroom…but what motivates me and gets me thinking positively is the great ideas I read about online.

They say, “new year, new you” – I know a new year’s resolution to stay on a diet will fail (likely before lunch), but I have to keep working at being optimistic because it improves my life and the lives of those around me. Staying current on educational issues keeps me focused and provides this inspiration. Here are some examples:

Josh Lewis, our district tech leader, shared some videos about incorporating technology in the classroom – how to improve tech experiences for ELLs and how to achieve a balance between free acess and a complete ban on devices in the classroom.

Jay Trujillo, our director of secondary education, shared an article on equity and improving teaching to better reach disadvantaged students. Incidentally, the article also mentioned the efficacy of frequent testing to improve memory. We are doing many things right in this district!

Krystal Freeman, also in our tech department, shared a video on Twitter about how Millenials got to be how they are – through no fault of their own – and what we need to teach them to help them achieve more fulfilling, joyful lives (patience).

I am so blessed to be able to research and read about what’s going on in education and have the opportunity to apply what I learn to my teaching. We have a great model here and I am so honored to be a part of it!

“Wrapping” Up the Year; December 15, 2016

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Everyone is so excited that our Christmas break is nearly here! Everyone is making out their cards, baking goodies, and wrapping presents to exchange at work. There is an aura of fun and camaraderie here and I wish it could be like this all year long.

Why do we wait until Christmas to appreciate each other?

Let us remember that there are broken people whom we work with – students, parents, teachers, administrators, classified employees, and every other group – and the holiday time is distressing and painful. You may not be aware that someone is hurting at this time, so a kind deed or uplifting word can make a world of difference.

Best wishes to you and yours for a Merry Christmas and happy new year!

Professional Development – December 5, 2016

Lately most of my work has been dedicated to the planning and preparation of professional development offerings and attending trainings. I wish I had been trained on the effective planning and presentation of professional development because it’s pretty much like thinking you know what people want to learn, then getting there and realizing that you guessed wrong. If I have made many copies then only a few people attend, and if I don’t make very many, then the whole world and their mothers show up.

I have been assisting in the planning of a PD to present this week and I think I know what the main presenter wants, but then I worry – what if I misunderstood? What if I plan activtities that we don’t have enough time for? What if I don’t have enough information or the attendees have questions that I can’t answer? I have a nagging feeling of inadequacy, no matter how much I prepare. I can’t quote experts’ names and research findings off the top of my head. I can’t create charts out of thin air on educational practices and processes.

I guess it would be better to look at it with a growth mindset and focus on what I can do and consider how I can improve my skills in order to feel confident about presenting PDs. I have improved tremendously since last year after practicing in more comfortable situations at my school site, assisting the technology department, and helping with trainings of new teachers and employees. I know that I can also ensure a better chance of success by overplanning and preparing, doing more research than I might feel I need, and going in with a positive attitude and open mind. I have been teaching for 17 years now, so I should probably have some skills that would help me in any of the situations I’m worrying about.

It’s not so much that I’m afraid to speak in public – I do have some anxiety about that, but mostly it’s the feeling of not knowing as much as the other coaches since I have so much respect for them and see that they are so knowledgeable about their specialty areas.

 

Thankful – November 20, 2016

cornucopia-1789664_960_720I just have to say that I am thankful for the opportunities I have to grow and expand my expertise as an instructional coach. Last week, I was able to accompany another coach to promote the coaching program at a local elementary school. It took me over a year to become comfortable with public speaking, but I was finally able to speak to a room full of knowledgeable professionals and discuss the coaching program with confidence. The room was quite small, yes, but it would still have been intimidating to me a year ago. It may seem unreasonable that a teacher accustomed to speaking to classes of teenagers would be fearful of adults, but somehow that was the case.

Perhaps it was because I believe so deeply in the coaching program that I could speak at length about it with passion and persuasion because I wish I could visit all of the teachers in our district! I would love to see what they are doing, borrow some of their strategies and materials, and use the tips and tricks I learn from them each time I go into one of their classrooms. I really believe that we have some of the best teachers in the country, and that we work for the greatest district around.

The principal of the elementary school was welcoming and kind, and he spoke warmly of the coaching program, mentioning that even doctors use coaching services to improve their skills. The biggest obstacle for the coaching program seems to be that teachers – especially more experienced teachers – may not feel comfortable reaching out. Maybe they do not fully understand the role of the coach. I think that if people understood how valuable a resource we can be, we would seriously have to knock them back with brooms because they would be clamoring to secure us for themselves.

Most people don’t like having visitors watch them teach. Especially at secondary. Maybe we are used to doing everything ourselves, being fiercely independent and isolated in our rooms. Maybe we feel that a visitor is observing us, judging us, mentally evaluating us, even if it is clear that is not the purpose of an instructional coach. Maybe we don’t trust people and feel like anyone who senses our weaknesses will go announce them on social media and we will become the laughingstock of cyberspace.

I would probably feel the same, but being on the other side, I know that coaches do not harm. Our position is based on a mutual trust and none of the coaches I know would denigrate anyone’s teaching or use something from the class against a teacher. We love to meet with teachers and listen to their stories. If we can help in any way, we are certainly more than willing to assist, but the main goal of a coach is to guide teachers on a path of self-enlightenment, where they figure out solutions on their own.

We have a “toolbox” of techniques and practices, but these general tools can only help so much. Teachers know their students, the climate and culture of their schools, the spirit of the neighborhood and the soul of their clientele. They know what is best and useful for their particular subject and situation. We are honored to teach demo lessons or lead professional development sessions, or to do whatever else teachers need, but mostly we just want to be there as a support, a sounding board, and a friend. Our district established this program to help teachers be their very best and serve students at the highest levels of quality possible. I am thankful to be part of such a progressive idea, and hope that our program will continue to grow and expand.

Best wishes to my readers for a Happy Thanksgiving. May your blessings be abundant.

 

Hump Day – November 2, 2016

Yes, the middle of the week! Prime day for work and productivity. I am working on Step Up to Writing training and planning is difficult, as I haven’t done a half-day training before. I don’t have much to report, but wanted to check in to let you know I am still here!

Quick highlights from the past week:

The Project-Based Learning activity did not go as planned – students spent 6 weeks on it and didn’t generally have much to show for it. Not many even read the requirements, checked out my example, or looked at the rubric to see what they would be graded on. I will have to reflect further on this and figure out how to better structure PBL to get a good response. I would like to observe teachers using this model as well to see how they engage their students and organize lessons.

Also, the Save Caesar “breakout” or “escape room” scenario did not go well because students cheated and just looked for their clues without reading the hints. I will probably just put all of the clues in sealed envelopes next time, but it was so much work I am thinking it might not even be worth it to do it again.

Well, that’s it for now. I will be back again soon. 🙂

 

Has It Been Eleven Days?! October 24, 2016

Hello, fans of Education! I am back after 11 days without checking in. I was mostly working on my three sessions of Tech Fest – researching, experimenting, recording, and formatting the information. Here they are:

Session 1: Illustration and Imagination

Session 2: Drawing Conclusions

 

Session 3: Animation for Anyone

Additionally, I provided booklets to all attendees and they included slightly different information and were not formatted exactly the same as the presentations, which took even longer. So that’s what I was mostly working on, in addition to teaching, meeting with coachees, and setting up PDs.

Here are some notes from my 10/19 meeting with coachees last week: 20161019_161559

Even though I enjoyed presenting and loved the whole Tech Fest, I must now shift gears and move full steam ahead to the next project, Step Up to Writing. I will be running a workshop with teachers who missed the summer session and I have never run a Step Up to Writing training. In fact, I think I attended one back in 2009 or so. I do remember it being transformative! I will be researching strategies and organization in the coming weeks.

As for teaching my own classes, I am trying to manage all the teaching details. I have not been entering infractions into our discipline system but we were told at our department meeting that we should be doing this. I am concerned about finding time to enter all of them since the beginning of the year.

Another issue is that I did not have my students submit their reading journals on our LMS so I am going to have to grade them all on Google instead. I should stick with one way of distributing and collecting work.

Finally, I am backlogged on everything (as you may have noticed since the beginning of this post.) I need to manage my time to be able to enter all of my coaching contacts, respond to email in an efficient manner, and keep organized notes.

But I am keeping my eyes on the prize and remembering that I am making a difference in the world, and I help support others who have the same goal. We are educators shaping the future, and it’s worth all of this to accomplish that worthy goal.

 

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