Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Favorite Time of the School Year

"Are you crazy, this is your favorite time of the year? The end of the year is every teacher's favorite time, whats wrong with you?" I've asked myself those questions 3 years in a row now and each time I come up with the same answers, yes and I don't know.

This is my 4th year teaching and my 4th year at the same charter school. When I began here I was a new teacher and I felt scared, anxious, excited, and really nervous on the first day of school. After making it through the first year I had a fantastic summer. Drove up to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, camped with my wife and dog for 9 days in the wild. It was fantastic. The last thing I wanted was for the new school year to start; I was loving my summer. Then something fascinating happened.

At our charter school we do orientations, uhhhh, "shared learning sessions" for the first week of the school year. It was during that week, 3 years ago, that I realized something. I was really hopeful. I met with a lot of kids and their parents that week, talked with them, helped them get prepared to begin working on their online coursework, and even saw a few sparks in the eyes of some students., That's when it happened, hope began to grow inside me. I was overcome by it and was giddy for that whole week. I remember saying to myself, the kids did horrible last year, what is going to be different this year? I couldn't answer, I knew I was evolving, but had no idea if the kids would be doing better as a result. I just began to believe they would and as a result hope lit a fire in me. The same thing happened two years ago and then last year also.

Now its the eve of our first shared learning session and I can feel it building in me again. This year is different though, its more powerful. Ive learned more this summer than at any point since I left college. Im extremely excited to share what I learned with my students and see if it can make a difference in their learning. The key to our school is just to get the kids to do their work. Im hopeful that they will, really hopeful, and still a little crazy.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

My First Meme-School 2.0

School 2.0
I love this pic so Im keeping it for my meme too.

Thanks for the tag Mr. Moses, I appreciate my first meme. Without your google link I would of thought meme just meant talking about ME so others could learn what I thought about specific issues. Now I understand it has to do with imitation, adaptation, and ideas leaping from one brain to the next and not just ME.

1. Is School 2.0 about technology or pedagogy (teaching methods)?
Its about teaching methods but with a clear understanding that technology should be a primary focus of changing schools. School 1.0 is the traditional school with traditional classrooms, administration, and teaching methods. 2.0 is not. Thats the point.

2. What were 1-3 things you had to”unlearn” to become an effective teacher?
That education doesn't take place only in a 30 desk classroom. That there are a lot more resources for educators than textbooks and worksheets. Am I yet an effective teacher?

3. Did you learn these poor practices in your teacher preparation program, or somewhere else? If so, where?
Yes, and yes. Life as a student in HS and college. I didn't see my first powerpoint presentation with pictures until my senior year in college, that was 4 years ago.

4. Describe the philosophy of your teacher preparation program in 25 words or less.
To prepare the best possible teachers to lead multi-cultural, 20th century classrooms. Quickly! We need bodies!

5. What age/grade level do you teach? When did you attend school at that level?
Grades 9 - 12, 1989-1993

6. When were you in your teacher preparation program?
Cal State Northridge, 2003-2004

I have no one to tag, all the people whose blogs I read don't know me yet., except the ones that Mr. M tagged.

3 Goals

Ive put a lot of thought into what my goals are for this school year, and Ive narrowed it down to 3 things.

1. Be persistent- Drive the kids crazy with communication. Yes, utilize the face time as best as possible but more importantly, talk to them when they aren't on campus. Many kids in our model dont reply or dont read their emails, so I have to call. Call often , email often, track them down on campus, be persistent!

2. Be resourceful- This is multifaceted. First off, I need to learn a lot more. I need to engulf all the possible resources out there for teaching kids online. Secondly, I need to get my students to use the resources I give them. I want them to create, imagine, construct, be engaged. Maybe if I can get them to find a few methods that interest them then they will use those to complete more of their work. I don't really care how students turn their projects in to me, I just want them to do some work. We can only go up from there.

3. Be Positive- This is the hardest one for me, 1 week into the school year and I already feel it being beaten out of me. I don't want to complain as much. Well, sort of. I question authority, its in my nature, but I need to learn how to do it in a constructive way. From another angle, I need to be more positive towards my kids. Simply meaning, I can't give up on them. Ive given up in the past but Im learning. Setting this goal is the first step, and I think its a big step, to promoting student success even when it is REALLY hard.

Not sure if this can be a meme, but I will tag a few people to see if they have any goals for this year:

Mr. Moses
Kimberly McClain
Belinda Shllingburg

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Charter School Staff Development vs.....

I am now entering my 4th year teaching at a large charter school. The school is a distance ed, online curriculum based education model with a hybrid component(which involves one-on-one mentoring). I will talk more about that later on. Tonight I need to rant about staff development.

Staff development in traditional schools is a joke to almost everyone Ive ever talked to. In my school it's not, not normally. Our school prides themselves on shared decision making between administration and teachers. Normally teachers have a say over the type of staff development we do. For example, when we were really frustrated with a speaker who came to our school 3 times in a year to help us work together better, even though their weren't many problems with that, we voiced our complaints and she was taken off the schedule for the next year. Our admin team, Principal and AP, are very cognizant of not wasting the staff's time, I love that about my school. What made me bring up this topic is what happened today.

1. We start school next Monday. Our school is incorporating an entirely new Learning Management System, which is software that integrates all of the teachers curriculum and courses onto one platform for the students to use. Its brand new to us, we have had 1 full day to work on it since we came back to school this Monday and most of us aren't ready to start teaching kids in this new system.

2. Our school is radically shifting its focus this year. First of all, I love radical, and I love change so I'm all for everything that is happening in our school right now. We are shifting our focus to helping At-risk students become successful learners. Prior to this, most teachers, myself included, gave up fairly easily on students who didn't show much motivation and effort to complete their course work. Maybe giving up is the wrong phrase, but we didn't persistently accost them, we didn't persistently motivate them, we basically said "this student isn't right for this learning model." This year we are changing that, at least I know I am, and admin is pushing the rest of the staff to do the same. "Every student can learn in an online environment" is a belief that has overcome me after watching most of my kids fail the last 3 years. That's quite a turnaround. So, I have a high at-risk population with a high dropout and failure rate, how do I get that to turn around. It starts with me, but I need some tools. Our entire staff needs some tools, so today we spent an entire day of our coveted pre-student time to get staff training in working with At-risk students.

3. We start school in 2 days, kids will be in our classes in 2 days, and we have an entire new platform to learn in order to present students with the material for their best possible education. We also need to get some tools for mentoring students because that will be the key to getting these kids to do their work. If we build relationships with more students, more of them will do their work, and more of them will take and pass the HS proficiencies and our school will live to breathe another year. We are on probation through NCLB right now, really bad probation. We had a guest speaker come in today to give us strategies on how to build those relationships with AT-RISK students, to give us tools to help them, to keep them in school, to get them to pass their classes, to get them to learn something. At least that is how the guest speaker was billed, that's the only reason she would of been brought in to take a full day of our very important first week time, because we really need to learn how to work with these kids.

Conclusion: What did we get? We got a lady who came in and spoke for 6 hours. She did not once mention the words: online, distance education, or At-risk (or any of the alternative terms that mean the same thing). She didn't even recognize the uniqueness of our charter. Her presentation did not apply to our service delivery model. She gave strategies for working in a traditional classroom that maybe applies to 1/4 of the teachers in our k-12 program. It didn't apply to the HS, yet the HS faces the biggest risk of closing down next year. She spoke on fundamental first year teacher ed stuff like Gardner. What did we get? another day of lost opportunity to make our classes better for our kids. Not only that, a little bit of hope is gone. I really wanted some staff development that would help me to become better at my job, especially in communicating with our student population. Motivating our student population. So the key question is, if we are a charter school and can do pretty much what we want when it comes to staff development shouldn't we be avoiding the types of development that cause the staff to say, this is a joke? I was pretty mad when the day started and one of the older teachers said to me "you got to know how to play the game," aren't we in this to change the game?

Why I Started this Blog

Tonight I received a meme from a colleague and was asked my opinion about some fundamental school beliefs. Thats a great topic for me to rant about, especially because I am a teacher and teachers need to rant. However, the blog I had set up is designed to be a resource center for my students, and I didn't find it a valid spot to spout my opinions about education, my school, or my philosophies. For the first time since I started blogging, I thought, well I need a place to do that. See, I also have a family website and blog where I talk about my life, my wife, my baby boy, and other things in a well mannered, not to offend, not to philosophize, not to leave the little nest of vanilla family imaging. So I need this place now, mostly just to talk about my views on education, and what is happening in my life at school. But also to philosophize, question life, question life at my school, question life in education, and question my ideas.