What makes for high quality teacher learning?

Professional development?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about teacher learning (aka professional development).

Why?

A few reasons:

  • I’m taking a class at UW Oshkosh this summer about professional development and doing research for this class
  • I was selected as one of ten Success at the Core Fellows and this organization is all about professional development (for teachers, teacher leaders, coaches, administrators, etc.)
  • I’ve experienced some good PD in my career and a lot of bad PD

So, the real question I’m wresting with right now is “what makes for high quality teacher learning?”

This question really has two  parts: what IS high quality teacher learning (what does it look, sound, feel like, etc.) and how can schools facilitate effective learning for teachers (what are the criteria, key aspects, logistics, etc.)?

A few core ideas that I keep circling back to about effective teacher learning are that it must be inquiry-based, differentiated, ongoing, supported, and job-embedded.

So, readers – if there are any of you left – what makes for high quality teacher learning?

Image used under CC license from http://cynicsgirl.blogspot.com

Vacation?

What can you do today to make yourself a better teacher?

I have a confession to make.

I’m a learning junkie.

There – I said it!

Yesterday was the first day of my Winter Break. I’ve been mildly sick all of the last week of school and refusing to stay home because I didn’t want to call in sick right before break. I have a 4 week old newborn at home. I really need a break this year!

So what did I do yesterday?

  • Wrote a proposal for a Washington STEM Entrepenurial Award (partly done with one hand while holding a sleeping infant)
  • Wrote a proposal to lead a Professional Learning Community study of formative assessment, feedback and summative assessment with my colleagues in January
  • Read 2 chapters of Making Learning Whole (mostly while riding my exercise bike)
  • Caught up on reading a few of my favorite blogs by my fellow educators

Of course, I also had plenty of time to read to the kids, hold the baby, take a nap, and watch A Christmas Story with the whole family.  Don’t worry – my family is not getting neglected!

I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t learn enough. I can’t improve my practice as an educator fast enough. The longer I teach, the more urgency I teach with.

The desire to become the best teacher I can be drives my voracious appetite for learning. I have a really hard time understanding teachers who don’t engage in any self-directed professional learning. It’s actually become a real pet peeve of mine to hear teachers say things like, “I don’t have time to READ!” Then they launch into a long-winded conversation about whatever crappy T.V. show they watched the night before.

How do you have time to NOT read?

How can you NOT care to improve as an educator?

I’m going to enjoy the heck out of my vacation. I’m also going to come back from this break a better educator than I was before it.

What can you do today to make yourself a better teacher?

Why I’m UNgrading my students

I couldn’t call it DE-grading, now could I…

I never felt right about grades before...

I never felt right about grades before...

It couldn’t really be this easy, could it?

  • Increased motivation to learn for the sake of learning
  • More time on task
  • A rise in creativity and critical thinking
  • Improved work completion
  • A much more positive classroom culture
  • No angry calls from parents

I’ve seen all of these things in my classes in the first month of school.

What did I do?  More importantly, what DIDN’T I do?  You’re thinking, “here comes the sales pitch…”

I haven’t given my students a single grade.

I’m calling in UNgrading.  I want to thank Joe Bower and Alfie Kohn for the inspiration and courage to dive in and do it!

First, some context, so you can see how your system and mine are similar and different:

  • I teach high school science at a public school (not a charter)
  • 90+% of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch
  • 90+% of my students are ethnic minorities
  • We have a traditional school structure (standard course offerings, 6 period days, 55 minutes per class, etc.)
  • I am required to report athletic eligibility grades every Friday
  • I am required to give students progress reports every 2 weeks
  • I must report grades at the end of each quarter
  • My electronic gradebook is viewable by any parent at any time

Pretty standard stuff, really.

For years, I’ve wanted to do away with grades but never was sure how.  Somewhere in my mind, I was still caught up in the fallacy of needing grades to motivate students.  I also felt a strong need to have a defensible position for my grades.  I wandered through the woods of various point systems my first 3 years.  I gave standards-based grading (SBG) the old college try the last 2 years.  Retakes and no late penalties; all that stuff was part of my system.  No matter what I did, it never felt right.

I always said, “I love teaching but I hate grading!”

Now I know why: I was evaluating student work and passing judgement on it.  No matter how clear and detailed my rubrics were, it was still my subjective evaluation of their work.  In fact, the more clear and detailed my rubrics, the more boring their work became – both for them to do and for me to assess.

Next post: How I’m doing UNgrading!

Image used under cc license from the flickr stream of amboo who?


Endorphins – the natural Ritalin

I saw John Medina (author of the fascinating book Brain Rules) speak at a state teacher’s conference a few year ago.  He said something then that has remained with me to this day.  There are 4 questions that motivate us to pay attention:

  1. Can it eat me?
  2. Can I eat it?
  3. Can I mate with it?
  4. Have I seen it before?

We need to activate these’ basic motivators in order to harness people’s full attention.  We have to do this every 10 minutes or we’ve lost them.  If we aren’t getting their pulse racing a little bit, we’re not getting their full engagement.

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear, though.  Fear inhibits learning.  If your students fear you – if they fear the consequences of being wrong, of making a mistake, you and your ego are getting in the way of their learning.

“There is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle” – John Medina, Brain Rules

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wallowing in endorphins...

wallowing in endorphins...

About 15 – 20 minutes into period of vigorous exercise, one experiences an intoxicating sensation of bliss and clarity.  Wikipedia explains this phenomenon as well or better than I can:

Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters.[1] They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise,[2] excitementpainconsumption of spicy food and orgasm,[3][4] and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.

Sign me up!

Brain Rules also says:

Exercise improves cognition for two reasons:

Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.

Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress

While I’m sitting at a computer screen writing this, I’m wishing I was outside right now.  Running.  Wallowing in endorphins and oxygen.

I’m considering keeping a bowl of chips and some salsa handy in my classroom.  Every 10 minutes – “ok, salsa break!”.  Billy, you’re bored? Have a habanero!”

The least I could do is to take my students out for a vigorous hike to explore nature.  When I’ve done this, I can almost see the endorphins dancing in their eyes.  They don’t understand this but they do understand that they like the way they feel and they enjoy the learning that follows.

Wanna get the kids off ritalin?  Maybe we just need a few treadmill desks in the classroom.  Or maybe, just maybe, we need to build adventure and exercise into the school day.

Photo used under cc license courtesy of aarmono’s flickr stream