Monday, March 24, 2014

Teacher Leadership Challenge | March 24, 2014

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis multipart series is intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online, through blogging, and in person.
The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.
You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published by sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.

This Week's Challenge:

What role should standardized tests play in education?

1024px-thumbnailStandardization in education is nothing new. It actually dates back to the 16th century Jesuits, who tried to ensure that students at Jesuit schools anywhere were learning the same curriculum. But U.S. schools did really not undergo serious standardization until in the 1990s. At the the time, there was a compelled effort to respond to a 1980s report that the U.S. schools were falling behind those of other countries. This process underwent three major iterations: America 2000 (George H. W. Bush administration,) Goals 2000 (Bill Clinton administration,) and in 2001 the most recent No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of George W. Bush’s administration.
Following from inspiration overseas in France and Great Britain, the U.S. NCLB Act sought to ensure that all students were receiving a high quality education in public schools by highly qualified teachers. School performance was to be measured by students’ success on standardized tests and graduation rates, but moreover the results of student testing would serve as basis for school improvement. Ultimately, standards-based education in general, seems well intentioned and seeks to provide all students a great education.
But in the time that education has become more uniform from school to school, high-stakes testing has become a major rite of passage for K-12 schools. As these standardized tests have evolved, so too has their use in admitting students to post-secondary education programs, rating schools, and evaluating teaching. With the development of the Common Core State Standards, there is a renewed effort to standardized U.S. education, and thus a push for new standardized testing. To have a common set of education standards will require a common assessment to evaluate achievement with them.
While the standards themselves have raised much debate around the country, even including recently that the implementation isn't going so well, the topic of these nationally standardized assessments, such as the Smarter Balanced and PARCC, has raised considerable issue among educators and the community. "Teaching to the test" is now an all-too-common phrase with a negative vibe just about everywhere. All the meanwhile, as more states move toward teacher evaluation models that are based heavily on standardized test scores, new meanings of the phrase "high-stakes testing" are also stirring the pot.
But what does all of this controversy, discontent, and debate mean for education? Should there be any debate at all? Don't we need tests to determine if students have learned what we expected of them? What role should standardized tests play in education? Do the tests help us to adjust our instruction for subsequent cohorts of students? Do they really show us which students are achieving? Can tests help us to rate and rank schools, teachers, and school systems? Or, are standardized tests just one of many markers of progress, growth, and achievement in education? What are alternative forms of assessment that compliment performance on standardized tests? How can results from standardized tests help inform education policy, school improvement or instructional practice? Can results from other measures be more, less, or as effective in communicating outcomes?
Many argue that instructional latitude and flexibility is lost with standardized tests. Others contend that it forces schools to merely teach to the test, while some contest its use as a metric of performance. Still more proclaim that the sheer amount of testing is overwhelming students, teachers and schools. Regardless of how it's sliced, there is a healthy serving of "discontent pizza" about standardized tests out there from the education community and the public. So, what role should standardized tests play in education? If we are to continue in an era (or error) of standardized education, with standardized testing, and high-stakes assessments at all levels, how can teachers best operate to teach to the student, and not just to the test?  

Image Credit: Mass Communication Specialist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, March 17, 2014

Teacher Leadership Challenge | March 17, 2014

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis multipart series is intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online, through blogging, and in person.
The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.
You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published by sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.

This Week's Challenge:

How can teachers contend with setbacks in education?

testing failThere is no shortage of challenges or issues facing educators these days. Whether it be the daily demands of classroom teaching, school-level matters of concern, or the major points of departure for the field of education as a whole, the "everydayathon" of teaching is rife with complexities.
Like many other professions, the nature of the education is complex. Often these complexities entail the juxtaposition of success and setback. From a lesson plan that didn't turn out as expected to a project where the students all shined, teachers sometimes feel as if it's one step forward and two steps back
Besides the day-to-day happenings inside the classroom, larger issues including achievement disparities, poverty, teacher evaluation, and teacher retention all weigh heavily on the minds of educators. All at once, teachers are decision makers who are attending to many factors inside and outside the classroom, which all impact the forward progress of student learning, education, and their careers.
While it can seem that the reality of the situation is that educators have become busier than ever, busy is actually the status quo for most professionals, and with busyness comes advancement and discouragement. While many challenges may be outside the sphere of influence for teachers, one thing remains in their sphere of controlhow they respond to setbacks.
It can be easy to go through life allowing things to get to you, and educators face this in their careers just like in any other field. If we are not careful, though, those thoughts and worries can eat away at our passion for teaching and learning, they can poison the very essence of our drive to teach. How can teachers best respond to the challenges, demands, and setbacks in education?
Is it better to ignore the setbacks and just move on with what you're doing? Can putting up walls to block out all the negative help teachers? Are there appropriate ways for teachers to be proactive in the face of educational adversity? Do 'speed bumps' in education provide a helpful feedback loop to inform teaching practice, or do the hinder the advancement of teaching and learning? Do teachers respond the same way to setbacks inside of the classroom as they do with stumbling blocks at a larger scale? What tried-and-true methods exist for teachers to deal with difficulties in education? Can teachers endure the challenges they face, or is it better to ignore them altogether?
Just like having your car break down and requiring a tow, setbacks are all around us in our lives and careers. While we can't stop all of the negative things from happening in and outside of classrooms, the key is in how we respond to the obstacles that present themselves. Though every teacher's approach might be different in how they contend with impediments in education, what strategies have you found successful in dealing with struggles in education?

Image Credit: "Testing Fail" by Gary G. Abud, Jr.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Teacher Leadership Challenge | March 10, 2014

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis multipart series is intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online, through blogging, and in person.
The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.
You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published by sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.

This Week's Challenge:

How Does Technology Help Teachers "Ignite Learning" in Their Classrooms?

It's that time of year--the month of March. This month means the NCAA March Madness Basketball Tournament, the start of spring, and education conferences galore. As Sarah Brown Wessling from the Teaching Channel puts it in her guide to getting the most of education conferences:
"When the calendar flips to March, it’s like Opening Day for education conferences."
macul logo 1In Michigan, one of the largest annual education conferences is hosted by the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL.) The MACUL Conference is the biggest edtech conference we have in the state, and it's also one of the largest in the country.
This year, the conference theme is 'Ignite Learning' and thousands of educators will be thinking about how to accomplish this during the three day affair.
While  educators have long been inspiring kids in their classrooms, the ever-changing world of educational technology continually generates more opportunity to engage students. This is exactly what the MACUL Conference is all about. Educators know that  emerging technologies provide a new opportunity for sparking curiosity and learning in students. But how exactly does learning get jump started?
In honor of the 2014 MACUL Conference in Grand Rapids this week, the #TLC2014 is posing the question to the entire education world:  How does technology help teachers "ignite learning" in the classroom?
Is it the technology that captivates students and makes them desire to learn more about the content? Or, does the learning activity become enhanced by the technology? How do you use technology to engage students and kindle the learning 'flames' in kids? Can learning be 'ignited' without technology in the same way?
Take this Snapguide lesson plan, for example. It contains a project-based learning idea that uses technology to give kids an opportunity for creating a collaborative audiobook using Soundcloud. It fits the bill of innovative, collaborative, and technology enhanced teaching and learning. But how does it ignite learning? What is it about a project like this, or the technology that it entails, that would allow it to ignite learning in kids?
What opportunities does technology provide for students that would not be available without it? Is the ability to communicate, collaborate, or create what sparks learning, or is it the chance to engage in those skills using technology?
Some argue that the nature of the world today has to include technology to 'ignite learning' for kids, because classrooms are full of digital natives who thrive in technology-rich environments. To what extent do you believe this to be the case? Are "kids these days" just wired to operate in a digital environment, or does the digital environment provide something that the analog world is missing?
Ultimately, technology has tremendous potential to support instruction,  enhance teaching and ignite learning. But how does this take place? In what ways does technology "ignite learning?"
2014maculbanner (1)

Image Credit: MACUL | Logo and 2014 Conference Banner

Monday, March 3, 2014

Teacher Leadership Challenge | March 3, 2014

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PM
This multipart series is intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online, through blogging, and in person.
The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond to the prompt in 500 words or less via a post you publish to your blog. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.
You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published by sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.

This Week's Challenge:

How can educators encourage students to take 'risks' in their learning?

skydiver

The classroom learning experience entails much more than just acquiring and retaining information. Many factors impact whether or not students are successful in learning, including students' perception of their own ability and their willingness to make strides toward learning.
Starting at the moment we are born, our experiences begin to shape our view of the world and the beliefs we hold about ourselves. From the way that others interact with us to the nature of our encounters with success, subtle patterns start to emerge and get reinforced. The trend in our experiences leads us to form a conceptual model of our ability, potential, and intelligence. Our philosophy about our own potential is called a mindset, and mindsets fall into one of two models: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
The fixed mindset is one in which the view held about one’s own ability or potential is limited, as if there were a 'glass ceiling' or threshold on it, and can never be expanded or surpassed. In a growth mindset, on the other hand, ability and potential are viewed as something dynamic, which can develop and improve through focused effort, and is not limited or pre-determined.
Individuals with a fixed mindset subscribe to the belief that intelligence is something with which you are born, but genetics limit your intelligence; however, individuals with a growth mindset believe that your genetics are a basis for intelligence that can be further developed and increased through deliberate practice.
The similarities between the two mindsets pale when juxtaposed with their differences; however, they both view ability as being part nature, yet they starkly differ in the view of the effect of nurture on one’s potential. In a fixed mindset, individuals are either athletic or not—they cannot develop or grow their athleticism beyond a limit; growth mindset views athletic potential as being incrementally improvable through effort.
In order for students to realize their own potential in school, they must succeed in learning; however, success in learning requires students to take some 'risks' in the classroom setting. They must be willing to try and process new ideas, participate in learning activities or discuss topics that might be unfamiliar. Sometimes these actions can be stifled when students do not feel comfortable in the climate of the classroom to put forth their effort, share their ideas, or even ask a question. When students attempt to advance their knowledge and are unsuccessful, they may halt in their quest for knowledge. When students perceive that a stumble might be ahead, they may not even proceed forward in learning at all.
These instances where students do not persevere in learning reinforce a fixed mindset in students, one in which they believe that they either have it (the ability to succeed in learning) or do not have it. Pushing out of the fixed mindset is necessary to grow in understanding and to achieve success in learning. The dynamics of the classroom can make all the difference to whether students pursue learning or hold back from it.
Something as simple as raising a hand to ask a question can seem like skydiving to some students, but how can educators provide an environment with parachutes available for students to take academic risks?
How can teachers create a classroom that invites students to take part in the learning activities? What can be done to encourage students to make strides in their learning, even when it does not seem to be a certainty that they will succeed right away? Can classrooms be a place where it is okay to be incorrect in students' attempts to comprehend lessons? How do teachers create a space where students feel safe to raise their hand, ask questions, or contribute ideas in a discussion? 
Creating the conditions to achieve a shift in mindset for students requires putting students in a position to experience growth and see it as a direct result of their effort. How can this be accomplished in the classroom? How can students be directed toward a growth mindset about their own learning? How can educators encourage students to take the necessary risks so that they can realize their own potential in learning?

The Role Projects Should Play in Teaching and Learning | February 10, 2014

Mike Lerchenfeldt (@mj_lerch)

Working on projects in groups encourages positive interdependence and interaction. Projects should be an anchor upon which to build learning. The many different takes and approaches to incorporating projects into the classroom are all equal because they accomplish the same goal. It is possible that project-based learning methods can support tried-and-true instructional strategies and teach curriculum equally well.

Projects can be the center of the learning where the authentic experience will guide students to learning whatever curriculum is in place without sacrificing "coverage" of content. Projects are a viable method of assessing learning. Unfortunately, some projects can simply amount to "busy work" for students or present more hurdles to learning than benefits. However, a good project can lead to meaningful learning without giving up the curriculum that needs to be taught.  



Ensuring Teachers Remain in the Profession | February 3, 2014

Mike Lerchenfeldt (@mj_lerch)

There were definitely challenges I faced in my early years of teaching such as how to do project-based learning, facilitate classroom discussions, and use technology effectively. A strong teaching internship experience and great mentoring programs has helped me become a successful teacher. Forging ahead on my own determination when the going got tough was essential. The wisdom that I gained with setting up classroom procedures and managing class time would benefit a newer teacher.

Educators entering the profession need to deal with the challenges and successes of teaching through developing a positive mentor-mentee relationship. These types of relationships are necessary to help retain our top teachers and support new teachers as they emerge into the profession. Better professional development is also the answer and can be achieved with extensive, easily accessible support. There is something inherent about the teaching profession that is driving teacher's away, and the nature of internships, or lack thereof, in teacher education programs impacts retention.