As I am writing this, there is a new blanket of fresh snow on the ground. This can only mean one thing: winter is coming and with it, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I hold about the upcoming holidays are coming. I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for, make space to gather my enormous family, and look forward to the new year ahead.
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but then don’t stop there--work with your students to find the answers. Ask questions, reach out to families, call on the expertise of others, and never stop learning!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Resources for Further Study:
As the snow begins to fall, many of us could use something to help warm us up: especially something that warms us up from the inside. For me, that often comes in the form of learning something new. Tucking myself under a blanket and reading a book, gathering with friends to have a deep discussion, or taking a few hours to get lost in the learning of new skill -- all of these help me forget about the cold outside (for a little while, at least).
If you'd like to warm up a bit with some learning, consider signing up for some of these recently added PD Express courses.
As you try to warm up this winter, consider warming up with some learning.
Sign up via PD Express today!
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
As an educator I have always enjoyed the reset of the new quarter. I’d spend time highlighting things that worked in my blue plan book ( yep, I’m old school) and I’d make notes on what I’d like to change for the next quarter. One great resource to support you in this is your building instructional coach(es).
Below are five ways teachers in the Rochester Public Schools are using instructional coaches to support their own professional development and growth.
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You Pick 2
We all have those students that we haven’t connected with yet. These may be students who need an additional challenge that you want to provide or students who are not yet engaged in your class. They could also be students whose behavior may be getting in the way of their learning. Ask your coach to observe them in your class and in another setting and share the data they observed with you. They can also support you in creating a plan for how to get to know these two students better or do some research on the supports other teachers may already have in place.
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Choose a lesson you want to revamp or remodel because it hasn’t gone the way you’ve wanted it to in the past. This may be a reading that students always struggle with or a project where you’d like students to take more ownership. Meet with your coach to share what you’ve done in the past and what you are hoping to change. They can assist you in planning, resource gathering, and carrying the lesson out. For example, one middle school teacher wanted to give students more ownership in her implementation of literature circles. She worked with her coach to create a plan that included more student voice and dialogue. Her coach helped in her planning and also supported her implementation of this model in the classroom.
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Culturally & Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLRT) Strategies
As we are studying CLRT strategies your coach is a great resource for support with trying some new teaching techniques. Teachers at one of our middle schools are trying to implement discussion protocols in their classrooms to improve student voice, engagement and achievement. They are working with their coach to choose a discussion protocol, plan for implementing it, and then reflect on what worked and what they might change the next time they use the protocol in the classroom. An additional conversation is reflection on which students are being validated and affirmed with the various protocols.
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If you are being formally observed by an administrator this year your coaches can support you with a practice observation. Although coaches are not trained to score you on the CLASS tool like your administrators are, they can help you see where your strength and growth areas are. Conversation with your coach around the CLASS tool can also help strengthen your reflective conversation with your principal.
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The beginning of the quarter is a great time to lay out a rough outline of what you’d like to accomplish in the new quarter. Your coach could help you do some long-range planning and could assist you with the development of formative assessments or resource gathering within the quarter. More lesson planning templates can be found on the Curriculum and Instruction website under teacher planning.
If you are interested in any of these options, reach out to your building's instructional coach(es) or special education coach. If you are not sure who this is, feel free to email me and I can connect you with the appropriate coach.
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, POSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum, Instructional Coaching, & Staff Development
If you’re anything like us, now that the school year is well underway a question or two has begun to surface. Questions focused on areas where you'd like to grow as an educator, such as:
Whatever your question, our team wants to help you access the PD you crave, which is why we are again offering an independent study professional development opportunity for staff.
Still on the fence? Here is some of the feedback from past participants:
If you’re interested in this opportunity, sign up by December 7, 2018 via the link above. Know that you can enroll as an individual, as a partnership, as a PLC, or as department.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to connect with your site staff development chair, an instructional coach, or an implementation associate. We'd love to help you get started.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate;
and Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
Larry Ferlazzo notes in his Educational Leadership article “Micro-Writing for English Learners,” that “short burst of writing can boost English language learners’ confidence and skills.” Ferlazzo explains this to be because micro-writing:
As a bonus, the benefit extends beyond our EL students. For all learners—not just EL learners—the above bulleted list still applies. Plus, the recently published Ed Surge article “Micro-Writing is having a Macro Impact on Identity Development,” Bryan Christopher notes that micro-writing can be used as a check for understanding, a pre-write for what will later be shared aloud, or even as a vocabulary builder. Moreover, he notes that, “the value of micro-writing goes beyond academics, addressing social and emotional needs like self-perception and confidence.”
Personally, I love that micro-writing often pushes students to the highest level of Bloom’s, but without taking up large periods of valuable class time. When students write, even just for a small amount of time, they hit the “Creating” stage (level 6) of Bloom’s Taxonomy because they are generating something new with their knowledge. As a bonus, in getting to level 6 of Bloom’s, students often cross through the “Evaluating” stage (level 5) as they create an argument, make a value judgement, or evaluate a problem.
If you would like to try micro-writing in your own classroom, here are three strategies to help you get started:
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Below are 8 suggestions for supporting our American Indian students and families:
For more information on the ideas touched on above, consider the following:
Pilamaya. (Thank you.)
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
When asked why this works for him Sam says, “When I have to talk about what I was thinking it helps me to understand it better. I also like hearing what other people think about things that I might not have thought about.”
We’ve all heard the adage, “More student talk, less teacher talk,” but why is this so critical in learning? Vygotsky (1962) suggested that thinking develops into words in a number of phases moving from images to inner speech to inner speaking to speech. Following this theory, talk is really the representation of thinking. We want our classrooms to be filled with talking because this means they are filled with thinking.
So, how can we build purposeful talk into the classroom and ensure that it really is deepening thinking and not just a recap of Friday’s football game?
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Ensure that everyone answers every question.
- T: What was today’s reading mostly about?
- S: The Cold War
- T: Yes, and the events that led up to the Cold War. (The teacher then summarizes the reading and students know they are off the hook )
Imagine flipping this scenario with the following moves:
- T: In your notebook write down what today’s reading was mostly about. Jot down at least three ideas.
- S: All student write in their notebook. (The teacher notices those who are struggling and provides some key words)
- T: Now, turn and talk with someone near you about what you wrote. Pay attention to what you have in common and what was different.
In the second scenario, all students had to write, talk, and summarize. In other words, all students had to think. (For two other strategies that help avoid the teacher-pivot, check out this post on spider-web discussions and this one on fishbowl discussions.)
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Ask open ended questions.
Seven Open-ended Questions for the Classroom:
- Would you explain that to me?
- What reasons do you have for that?
- How is that different from your classmates' idea?
- What do we know about this?
- When wouldn't that happen?
- How does that fit with what we said earlier?
- Can anyone think of how that might happen?
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Increase your wait time.
Vygotsky (1978) observed that “Children grow into the intellectual life around them” and that cognitive growth is “more likely when one is required to explain, elaborate, or defend one’s position to others as well as to oneself; striving for an explanation, often makes a learner integrate and elaborate knowledge in new ways.”
Our Rochester Public Schools classrooms should be filled with thinking and that means they should be filled with student talk.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, in their book The Purposeful Classroom: How to Structure Lessons with Learning Goals in Mind talk at length about the importance of establishing a purpose for yourself as the teacher and for your students, and that instruction and learning should be focused on learning targets rather than tasks. Memorizing the Preamble, to me, seems like a task; whereas, understanding what the Preamble represents and means to us as Americans seems more like a learning target.
In just under two years my son will have the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. and I hope that when he does he is able to take the values and ideas presented in the Preamble (and the entire Constitution for that matter) and make them come to life as he experiences our nation’s capital. And, when that time comes and he’s touring a national monument or walking down the national mall, should there be a sudden need for the exact wording of the Preamble, I hope he is able to successfully search the internet for this:
If you would like specific ideas for how to increase student understanding, replacing memorization-focused activities with those that increase students' learning-by-understanding, please reach out to your instructional coach or one of us here at Secondary C&I.
So, Casey reread it. He vacillated on what to do. He called his spouse. He called a friend. He vented to co-workers. Eventually, he went back to the source: he re-connected with the teacher, but this time over the phone.
Hearing Casey’s voice, the teacher sensed his anxiety and assured him that the email had been misunderstood. The teacher had meant to convey, I’m going to explore some ways I can best support your daughter; but Casey had interpreted it as, your daughter needs some immediate behavioral interventions.
This misunderstanding, and all the anxiety that came along with it, could have been avoided by skipping the email and picking up the phone instead.
As teachers, our lives are hectic. We have to manage our time, and often an email appears to be the quickest route for parent/guardian communication. We hop on Skyward, grab the parent/guardian’s email address, open Outlook and we’re off—just a few clicks, some tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, and we’re all set. Communication home is done. But, in truth, it’s rarely that simple.
In my last classroom, the phone was on the other side of the room from my computer. Calling home meant (1) clicking into Skyward, (2) writing down the number [and crossing my fingers that it wasn’t a long-distance number since my classroom phone blocked such calls], (3) walking across the room to dial, (4) crossing my fingers that the parent/guardian picked up, while also (5) crossing my fingers that if s/he did there were only questions asked that I could answer without having to reference something on my computer which was still across the room... But, despite this complicated process, it was worth it.
Calling home has power:
- It is a two-way process, helping us build a collaborative relationship.
- It allows us to interpret the reactions of those on the other side of the line and adjust accordingly. It enables us to be empathetic.
- It is sociocentric, just as are many of our students and parents.
- We can say more in less time (well-crafted emails take longer to write than some might think; plus, they often lead to a series of replies being sent back and forth which can add to the time factor.)
While, calling home can may be daunting to some, here are three ways to make it more manageable.
This is where the strategy “8 Greats” comes into play.
- Print out your class lists (or simply add a ‘phone call’ column on one you’ve already printed out).
- Each week, pay attention to the good things that you see in your classroom. Jot these down somewhere safe, including the names of who were involved.
- Once a week, refer to your list of good things and choose 8: call these students’ parents/guardians and share the positive story with them.
- Track who you called. This will help you ensure that each student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) get a positive phone call at least once each semester. As the semester goes on, do your best to look for the positive occurrences that connect with the students’ whose parents/guardians you’ve not yet called.
- The 2018 ASCD Road Tested article: “Good reasons to Call Home” by Clint Heitz.
- Chapter 5, “Make that Phone Call,” from the book Kids Deserve it! by Todd Neslony and Adam Welcome.
- Chapter 6, “Positive Communication with Parents,” from the book Dealing with Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore.
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Make a Sandwich
Whether you are of a similar generation or are simply not sure what to say once you get someone on the other end of the line, the “Make a Sandwich” strategy might be for you.
- For a difficult conversation, consider this opener: Hello [Mr. Diaz], this is [Heather Lyke]--your daughter’s [4th period English teacher]. I’m hopeful this is a good time to talk. I wanted to connect with you on how we can best support your daughter’s learning.
- For an uplifting conversation, consider this opener: Hello [Mr. Diaz], this is [Heather Lyke]--your daughter’s [4th period English teacher]. I’m hopeful this is a good time to talk. I wanted to connect with you so we could celebrate together something that happened [in your daughter’s class yesterday].
When sharing details, the words we choose, along with the order we put them in, really matter (for more on this topic, check out the past blog post Digging into Diction).
- Avoid phrases that may cause the adult on the receiving end to bristle. Nix phrases like: "I’m concerned about your daughter’s behavior," or "other students are having difficulty concentrating with your daughter always walking around."
- Instead, keep the focus on the student and her learning. Try phrases like: "Your daughter is struggling to stay in her seat during whole group instruction," or "due to your child’s struggle to stay in one spot, I wonder how much of the lesson she is processing."
- Share what strategies you’ve already tried. This illustrates that you wish to work collaboratively, and assures the parent/guardian that you're not simply calling to pass the buck.
Listen. Be open-minded. Understand that there might be pieces of information you’re unaware of.
- While it’s a great idea to have thought out what you’re going to say, it’s important to not have such a tightly prepared script that you forget to collaborate with the parent/guardian. Be ready to adjust based on any new information you receive.
- If you feel better having a tight script, add in moments for listening. Try adding to your script a question like, "Do you have any thoughts on this?" followed by time to hear and process what they share in response.
- For a difficult conversation, consider this closer: Thank you [Mr. Diaz] for your time. I’m certain that together we can best support your daughter’s learning.
- For an uplifting conversation, consider this closer: Thank you [Mr. Diaz] for your time. I’m looking forward to seeing your daughter in class again tomorrow.
If you’d like to read more on this idea, consider exploring chapter 6 “Positive Communication with Parents” from the book Dealing with Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore; as well as chapter 13, “Delivering Bad News.”
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This is where the strategy “Quick Calls” works well.
- Early in the year, teach students how you would like them to respond when you ask them to make a “Quick Call.” For instance, one teacher may ask students to use the classroom phone, while another might say cell phone use is fine; one teacher may have a prewritten script at the front of the room for students to use, while another may have students practice with a peer using different scenarios before making a real call home.
- Consider informing parents ahead of time to expect such phone calls, say at parent-night or via a whole-class Skyward message. (If this step is skipped, you might find confused parents emailing you or calling you in reply to the seemingly random phone call they received earlier in the day.)
- Establish a way to easily communicate to students that it’s time to make a call and what you believe the focus of the conversation should be, such as a simple phrase you say or sign you hold up.
- Stand near the student while s/he makes the call. Student messages will vary: from “Hey, mom, I was tardy for the third time this week,” to “Hey, dad, I just want you to know that I now understand why finding a common denominator is important and how I might now use this understanding outside of my math class!”
- Have a way to verify the information and the purpose of the phone call.
Whatever structure you use to make phone calls home, keep parents/guardians like Casey in mind. We want to work collaboratively with our students and their important adults, and that often begins by picking up the phone.
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Analysis & Inquiry
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Regard For S's Perspective