I had a hard time picking which desk to share with you. I share my classroom desk with a couple other teachers, since we share a room, and I share my Tech Coach desk as well (and I actually haven’t really gotten settled there), so I decided to share my desk in the science office, which has been my home for the last 6+ years! I apologize for the blurry pictures. I’m going to blame them on my old phone, not my shaky hands. But I won’t apologize for the slightly controlled clutter you see: this is not a cleaned up version at all, but a normal look at how my desk looks on a typical day! As I was looking at all this, I actually realized I could stand to do some desk-cleaning! Many of those files are irrelevant and could be tossed! But many of these things I use quite frequently!
Here are some of my favorites:
1. Cold medicine (top little picture) – You never know when you’re going to need Airborne, Zicam, or cough drops!
2. K-Cups (2nd from the top) – Sometimes you just need an afternoon jolt of caffeine, and we are lucky enough to have a department Keurig machine.
3. Post its (3rd from the top) – Although I’m techy and trying to go paperless, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to part with these!
4. Blue spacemaker full of … wait for it … COLORED PENS! – The best motivation for tackling a big pile of papers to grade is a multitude of colorful options for grading pens. I’ve collected quite a few over the years, and just opening that blue spacemaker can take me to my happy place.
I have a hard time picking one colleague who I find most inspirational, because I look up to so many different colleagues for different things. I admire my many coworkers who find a way to balance families and young kids with their professional career. I hope to one day become like the teachers I work with who have been teaching for a long time but still seek out new ideas and want to try new things. I am in awe of my colleague who is pursuing a doctorate degree on top of all of her other responsibilities, because she wants to learn new things and reflect on her practice and on the profession of teaching. I have an ever-increasing respect for the administrators, coaches, and support staff who dedicate huge amounts of time outside the school day to create opportunities for students to be involved in activities and sports that have great impact on students’ lives. I am consistently inspired by the teachers in my PLN who make the time to share what they’re trying in their classrooms and learning on Twitter and their blogs.
But right now, I want to highlight my colleague, Brianne Kennedy-Brooks. She and I started teaching at York at the same time, although she has a couple more years of teaching experience than I do. We’re not in the same department (she teaches English), so I don’t see her very often. I remember sitting in a meeting with her at the beginning of my second year, and I was impressed by the care and concern she showed for students in our advisory program — kids who needed extra academic support and who had an even greater need for a “mama bear” to look out for them and give them loving correction. At some point, I realized that she went to church with one of my friends and that Brianne has a strong Christian faith. My Young Life kids who had her as a teacher talk about how they noticed Bible verses on her desk, and how that combined with the way she treated her students spoke powerfully to them, even when she wasn’t actually speaking about it at all. That’s the kind of teacher and person I aspire to be!
For the last year, Brianne has been fighting breast cancer, and she just had surgery last week. I admire her faith in God throughout this journey, even when life is not what was expected. She has been open about the process — letting both students and colleagues see where she gets her strength — and has continued to care for her students in the midst of all of this. Brianne, we are praying for your speedy recovery and can’t wait to see you back at York soon!
I consider myself very fortunate to have found good mentors, both professionally and personally, at key stages of my life. My school has a mentor program, and the teacher I was assigned to turned out to be a great fit, and we still enjoy working together to this day! And this year, I’ve been asked to mentor a teacher who is new to our district (although she has more teaching experience than I do…), so I’ve tried to think a little about what I’ve appreciated about my mentors. Here’s quick list of a few key characteristics that my favorite mentors have possessed:
1. The right balance between truthful and kind. The ability to give honest feedback about your abilities, or tough information about how things work in your school or organization, but to do it in a caring and respectful way.
2. Reflective. They ask questions before (and more often than) they provide answers, they analyze their own practices and preferences, and allow the mentee to have different opinions and practices.
3. Loyal. They want the mentee to succeed, and will be more loyal to them than to others who are questioning them.
I’m a couple days behind on my posts in this 30-day challenge, but I’m going to try to catch up today! Here’s a picture of my classroom, as it looked on Friday. I’m lucky to have a large room, with both a “classroom” area and a “lab” area. Our school was rebuilt about 10-12 years ago, and everything still feels pretty nice and new. As long as I’ve taught there, we’ve had 7 desktop computers in each science room – one for each lab group. And you can see in the front left, I’ve got a cart of Chromebooks right now! One thing I really don’t like is how inflexible the space is. The desks and lab tables are not great for collaboration, and the desks really only work in the traditional row arrangement you see here. I’d love to have some cozier spaces, or at least desks that can be moved to accommodate groupwork or lab tables that groups of students can actually gather around as they work together!
It is so important, in any job, to remember the things that you love about what you do. Luckily, I love the vast majority of what I get to do as a teacher and tech coach! My dad always repeated the saying (and actually just told me again on Monday!): “If you do what you love, you’ll feel like you never work a day in your life.”
While teaching does feel like work (mostly when I have to spend an entire evening grading lab reports!), I love the day-to-day aspect of being with my students. I love the spontaneous fun that is created when I get to interact with my students, and when their personalities and interests shine. I had a student a few years ago who struggled with chemistry but LOVED making movies. And when he had an opportunity to connect what he loved with the course content, he ROCKED it! And the students talked about his video for the rest of the year! Last year, I had a few students who asked to be the emcees and judges for our Mole Beauty Pageant on Mole Day (it’s a chemistry thing!) – they were hilarious, and were even cracking chemistry jokes that incorporated what we’d learned in class! Their energy bonded the class on whole new level. And there’s smaller moments — like early in the year every year, when I show the students my “Water Making Machine”, I step back and see who emerges as leaders and how other students gather the courage to share their ideas. (And I love when they come back years later, as seniors or graduates, and ask if I’ll tell them how that Water Making Machine works!) I take great joy in seeing the shy students form friendships and gain confidence, and in seeing the outgoing and boisterous students slow down and persevere alone as they conquer a challenging problem. It is incredible to think about the personal growth I get to see and nurture in my students every year!
This week, I’ve been thinking about my official (written-on-paper-and-shared-with-my-school-administration) goals for this year. I started by reflecting on my 2 goals from last year: changing course assessments and creating interventions for struggling students in my classes. I think these were both good goals, and I’m still passionate about both and have room to grow in both areas.
I also pulled out my evaluation from last year, and noticed that Domain 1F of the Danielson model directly addresses student assessment. In my classes, the assessments are pretty traditional: tests, quizzes, lab reports, occasional projects. They’re good assessments: the tests are well-aligned with learning objectives and are fair and valid measures of what students know. And I use formative assessments frequently.
But I still have room to grow here! The “Exceeds” rating describes that students have choice in their assessment, students design assessments for their own work, assessments have real-world application, students develop rubrics based on learning objectives, and students are actively involved in collecting information from formative assessments and provide input.
I think with the additional technology I have access to this year, I could easily modify and create new assessment opportunities for my students that would require them to be more active and reflective (and would allow them to be more creative and demonstrate more critical thinking). I won’t be moving away from traditional tests, at least not any time soon, but it would be great to get my students to reflect on their formative assessments and then use that to inform the steps they take as they prepare for the end-of-unit assessments. I also would love to have my students develop rubrics for the products they create in our projects.
For Day 2 of the #reflectiveteacher 30 Day Blogger Challenge, I have been asked to share about some technology I’ll be using this year. I currently have a cart of Chromebooks in my classroom, and I think they’ll get to stay there for most of first semester, which is going to be AMAZING.
However, I’ve quickly learned that it takes a LOT of training to get my students to keep the cart looking this neat and organized. (This picture was taken today, after probably the 5th time we’d talked through and practiced the process. I wish I’d taken a picture of the tangled “spider web” they created on the first day, but I think it would make my blood pressure spike every time I looked at it.)
With this additional hardware at my students’ fingertips, I’m excited to have the freedom to try out new tech tools with my students, and to transform the types of learning experiences and assessments they have! Here are a few tools I’ve used already this year and plan to continue using all year long:
1. Google Forms. I want to develop a quick 2-3 question “quiz” for my students to complete after watching screencasts, so that both they and I have some immediate and formative feedback. This will help me gauge where to start in class the next day, and give my students some additional accountability for their learning. And, to make it even more awesome, Google just released some amazing new templates and customization options, so they can look pretty too! I’d like to eventually have students make forms to collect information for peer reviews or data for labs.
2. Google Classroom. I am currently using this as a daily announcement site. I’m hoping to eventually use it as an assignment creation & submission hub, and/or for class discussions. I’m also hopeful that Google will continue to expand its functionality.
3. Socrative. I used Socrative today for the first time in a couple years, and I was impressed with the improvements in the interface. It’s much prettier, and it handles superscripts and subscripts well, which makes science and math teachers happy! I used it today for a teacher-paced nomenclature “quiz”, where students saw one question at a time. When a large percentage of students missed a question, I had them discuss with a neighbor or I explained it in greater detail. A great way to review!