Posts Tagged "Teachers"

Teacher Collaboration: A Key to Success!

collaboration3Kentucky educator and “teacherpreneur” Paul Barnwell eloquently blogged this week about the fact that teachers need more time to plan and collaborate to improve education. “With so much on our plates, and few opportunities to scale solutions outside of the classroom, we teachers are longing for expanded opportunities to share what we know and can learn from one another. But we need time and support beyond the limits of traditional teacher schedules.” Mr. Barnwell went on to explain the exciting ideas that take root when teachers have time to think, plan and share.

Though not addressed in his blog, fostering a culture of collaboration in the selection of instructional materials is integral to educators’ use of the materials selected.  As the Director of Governmental Relations for the school boards association, I often engaged with legislators about whether school districts were financially efficient entities.  Despite my numerous examples of efficient district practices, skeptical legislators often asked why so many districts have closets, rooms or even Costco-like warehouses filled with unused textbooks and computers. For the answer, I turned to curriculum directors of districts large and small. I asked why their teachers weren’t using the materials their district had purchased. Their most common response was, “Our teachers don’t use the materials because they didn’t feel included in the selection process and thus don’t have confidence that the materials will address their students’ needs.”

We designed to help districts address that problem by making it easy for educators to collaborate in the selection of instructional materials. On average districts spend $14,000 in staff time in committee meetings to select instructional materials for a single subject. This figure does not include the cost of transporting teachers to/from regional textbook fairs, the hours educators spend reviewing materials on their own time or the cost of any substitute teachers who may be needed in the process.

In the following ways, Learning List makes it easy for educators to select instructional materials collaboratively:

(1)  Districts or campuses that subscribe to Learning List can authorize an unlimited number of district employees (and school board members) to access Learning List under the district/campus’ subscription;

(2)  Collaboration tools on Learning List make it easy for educators to share the reviews they like; and,

(3)  Our editorial reviews and educator ratings and reviews provide educators’ perspectives about the usability and effectiveness of the products reviewed on Learning List.

Learning List makes it easy for educators to (1) become knowledgeable about the materials their district is considering, and (2) get involved in the selection process so that they’ll be more likely to use the products selected. Subscribers report that by making collaboration easy, Learning List has reduced the number of selection committee meetings that their staff had to sit through and changed the focus of the committee’s conversation from “Is this material aligned?” to “Is this material best for our students?”

Though the examples of collaboration Mr. Barnwell blogged about are far more exciting, experience suggests that it is just as important to build a culture of district- or at least campus-wide collaboration in the selection of instructional materials. Learning List makes that type of collaboration it easy.

ISTE UPDATE: If you’re planning to attend ISTE, JOIN US for an ISTE RECEPTION on June 29th at 5:30PM at the Omni (ISTE conf. hotel). No Badge is Required – just RSVP here.

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New Perspectives

Recently, I presented to a group of school board members and a superintendent. The superintendent made the following observation that I’ve been chewing on since our meeting. In his opinion, instructional materials increasingly are geared towards teachers, rather than students, and, specifically, towards making teachers’ jobs easier. Most people think that’s a good thing; he does not.

Teacher editions typically have provided instructional guidance to teachers. Today’s products provide more guidance to help teachers individualize instruction. For example, teacher editions often explain specifically how to adapt their instruction for specific student populations, including English language learners and struggling students.  Publishers do this to meet the market’s demand, as laws and regulations increasingly require that teachers individualize instruction.

Most educators appreciate publishers’ guidance to teachers. Policymakers and “education reformers” extoll online resources as a great “leveler” among teachers, arguing that adaptive online products help weaker teachers provide instruction that is as effective as stronger teachers.  That is precisely what this superintendent objects to.  To paraphrase what I believe he was saying, adaptive products lull teachers into believing that the product provides instruction, so they can facilitate or guide, rather than teach. He argues that is not good for teachers, for teaching, and most importantly, that is not good for students.

I love meeting people who make me think about things from a new perspective.

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It’s Everyone’s Business!

In order for students to progress academically each year and have the skills to be successful in the future, all educators at the campus and district level need to unite in their efforts to ensure that every student is learning the TEKS to the depth and complexity required.

When teachers develop units and lesson plans, do they keep the TEKS in the forefront of their mind as to what they want their students to accomplish?  Is the priority in professional learning communities (PLCs) focused on discussions regarding teaching and assessing the TEKS, as well as analyzing ongoing student achievement data?

While observing in the classroom, do campus and district administrators ask themselves what is the standard being taught, how well are the students’ tasks aligned to the TEKs, and how successful are the students working on this task?

Do campus support staff discuss with the teacher what is being taught in the classroom as well as gather information on the progress of the students before they provide additional support to students in need?    Does central office curriculum staff understand the TEKS well so they can successfully facilitate curriculum writing with the end result being a closely aligned curriculum to the TEKS?

Making sure that students are being taught the TEKS correctly is everyone’s business.  The old adage, “It takes a whole village to educate a child” refers in part to everyone taking responsibility to help students acquire a deep understanding of the TEKS so they can be successful and productive citizens in their communities.




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Asking Key Questions

One of the keynote presentation speakers at the recent Texas ASCD Conference was Dr. Jackie Walsh.  Her presentation was, “Questioning for Thinking:  Helping Students make Connections”.  Dr. Walsh talked about the importance of asking quality questions and developing effective questioning strategies to activate, support, and sustain student thinking.

Dr. Walsh shared the impact that teachers have on student learning when they think of the types of questions they want to pose while developing their lesson plans instead of thinking of them spontaneously while teaching.  As a teacher of teachers, I have observed how the quality of questions asked by teachers increased when they took the time to think of effective questions before teaching the lesson.  Their questions became more open-ended and required responses that were at a much higher level of thinking.  Students were more engaged and the discussions became much more in-depth.  Teachers would comment on how difficult it was to think of effective questions at first, but then the more they practiced, the easier it got.  They began to help students ask questions of each other and that’s when teachers really started seeing student progress increase.  Students were taking responsibility for their own learning!

As with any new learning, teachers need to reflect on the questions asked after the lesson to analyze the responses given by students and how the questions could be improved.  Teachers not only need to carefully think of the questions they ask of their students, but they also need to analyze the type of questions presented in instructional materials before making any purchase. can help educators be assured that the type of questions asked in instructional materials align with the level of thinking required in the standards.

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