Sunday, March 8, 2015

Recent Thoughts on Reflection, Changes, Collaboration, and Coaching

This is the first time I've written a post and let it sit in my draft folder for a week before posting it.  Every time I read through it again, it still describes how I feel... so I guess it's time to hit "publish"!  It's quite long, so I've divided it into four sections even though it all originally flowed together in one "brain dump" post.

Reflections on leaving the classroom

The more removed I am from the classroom, the more frustrated I become with the lack of ability to continually modify, change, and improve my practice as a classroom teacher.  If I wasn't happy with something in the past, I could do something about it the next day, the next week, the next unit, or make notes for the next year.  As it stands now, my work as a classroom teacher is frozen in time, with only wishes of what I could go back and change.  I can't recreate the culture, environment, expectations, and structure that I developed in my class, especially over the last 3 years since flipping, in another teacher's classroom.  I can share strategies and ideas, and we can build lessons together, but it's just not the same.

I want to see how the lessons and ideas we (me & my fellows) are building together fit into the bigger picture of the flipped learning environment I designed over the last 3 years.  How would my classroom change?  How would the WSQ structure be impacted (or would it)? What parts of my curriculum (SSS packets and videos) would I need to recreate and redesign to suit a more Common Core-ish way of learning?

I'm leaving all of my curriculum and videos up ( and, but I think they can easily be used in a way that focuses too much on direct instruction and drill/kill and less on the conceptual understanding, problem solving, application, exploration / discovery / inquiry, etc.  That stuff isn't in the packets - and without those activities, students are missing great opportunities to struggle, make sense of problems, make connections, etc.  Over the last 2 years, I began to build more of those activities into my curriculum... but there's just still so much that is lacking and I'm learning more every day new ideas I would want to integrate.  I would have liked to build in some performance tasks - but was always fighting two things: the amount of content to prepare them for AP Calc and the low level of skills that was brought in forcing me to review most of Algebra 2 before moving on. (I'm actually appalled sitting in the Alg 2 and Pre-Cal classes at my new school and noticing just how watered-down our curriculum really was).

Knowing that I was on a journey of continually refining and changing my practice to improve student learning reminds me that it's okay things weren't perfect in the past.   It's just hard not being able to actually go and make the changes that I want to make.

Changes I wish I could make in the past... but can't

Part of my frustration with wanting to go back and change things is now working in a 1-to-1 laptop school.  There is so much more I would do and change with constant access to the devices.  Just a few ideas of things I've worked on with my fellows this year that I would definitely use in my classroom (with more access to technology, of course).
  • Google Drawings / Docs / Forms (drag and drop is awesome on Drawings!) 
  • Padlet - sharing ideas about concepts, summaries on learning, and work created on Desmos
  • Thinglink - adding descriptions, links, and videos to images of different functions, graphs, etc in order to share understanding
  • Socrative / Kahoot (can do on phones, but I didn't learn about Socrative until now)
  • Student Blogging / Creation (could do more with laptops in class rather than waiting until they got home)
  • DESMOS (that should be listed first! So much more modeling, exploration, discovery, creation)
  • Geogebra (utilizing these in exploration much more)
  • TodaysMeet as a way to constantly answer questions and have conversation during class
  • Peardeck for use during WSQ chats or in-class "mini-lectures" or inquiry activities to engage and focus students
  • Diigo for peer review of blog posts as well as for annotating articles / websites on math connections or real life applications.
  • In Class "Blended Learning" stations for students to work through complex topics asynchronously but with my "in person" help present.
Other "non-tech required" changes I would make based on some of my learning and observations
  • Using Educanon or similar tool (Zaption, EdPuzzle) to add interactivity to the videos instead of "secret questions" at the end of the video.
  • More card sorts and card chains as part of WSQ chats instead of relying on Peer Instruction as often (variety is nice... so is giving students the chance to get out of their seats and interact)
  • Find or design a performance task for each unit
  • Use more 3-Act math tasks, visual patterns, would you rather?, estimation 180, etc activities - especially in my Algebra 1 class, but also find opportunities to use them in pre-calculus.
  • Find DOK Level 2-3-4 problems for each unit.  Focus on those type of problems for WSQ chats and practice problems - the videos can cover the DOK Level 1-2.
The value of Collaboration and opening the doors of the classroom

One thought I must keep in mind, however... Would I be coming to all these new realizations if I never left the classroom?  Has broadening my worldview and constantly collaborating / sharing ideas with other teachers led to these new discoveries?  It may not be the only answer, but I definitely think it's a major player in this game.  Collaboration is key in teacher growth, and although I'm the "coach" and the teachers are my "fellows", it's definitely a two-way street.  I have gleaned so much from my time with each of my fellows so far this year (and we still have several months left!)

In addition, simply being in other teachers' classrooms every week, whether it be observing, co-teaching, or modeling, really opens up your eyes to different strategies and approaches that would work well in your classroom.  Sometimes this even means seeing something taught in the way that you taught it and realizing it may not be the most effective way.  Or, seeing how different teachers react in different situations and realizing there are better ways to handle things than you did.  I have the privilege to have the time to constantly be "a part" of other teacher's classrooms, and they have welcomed me in as a collaborative partner, being open and willing to suggestions or crazy ideas of ways we could enhance the learning environment.  One of my favorite things is when one of my fellows brings up a question or idea and we can just brainstorm solutions or strategies for implementing it effectively. 

Why I love Coaching

While this post started off fairly negative, I want to be sure it's clear how much I absolutely love my job.  I love working with teachers, collaborating, sharing ideas, helping them brainstorm lesson ideas, supporting them with the technology needed to enhance the lesson, and deeply & thoughtfully reflecting before and after the lessons with them.   Coaching is such a powerful model of professional development.  I really wish I would have been coached, especially over the last 3 years.  Having somebody to run ideas by, co-plan lessons with, get constructive feedback from - that is gold.  Even though I feel like I've grown 500% simply by growing my PLN through blogging and Twitter, I think with coaching it would have more than doubled that growth.

So, while I'm frustrated that I can't go make changes in my personal classroom, I have been given the opportunity to learn and grow as an educator through being a coach.  What's most important is student learning, and although my growth is not impacting "my" 200 students that I would have had this year, I know it is impacting my fellows' 1500+ students because of the growth and learning the collaboration and coaching has on my fellows' process of teaching and learning.

My role has changed.  I can't look back with regrets - I can only continue to move forward and have an impact on the students I am privileged to encounter through my fellows.  And, I am reminded again that no matter how long you've been teaching, or how "well put together" you think your curriculum is, the moment you decide you don't need to make any changes is the moment you should no longer be in education.  If I was completely satisfied with the way I left my own classroom (in terms of teaching and learning), that's a red flag that something is definitely wrong.  I'm so grateful for the chance to continue to grow, learn, and change!

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