The Friends I’ve Never Met: Advice from Dr. Beth Ray

Dr. Beth Ray, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, The University of Texas at Arlington

When I was a new teacher, I was pretty much alone.  All the school bus sweaters in the world were not helping me fit in with my team…and it was difficult to really observe them teaching.  I listened at doorways, leaning over while my kiddos got drinks so that I could hear how another teacher hooked her kids into her lesson.  I watched teachers line up their classes (some with success, others without) and I shameless copied their behaviors that seemed to work.  I attended planning meetings and wrote lots of notes which were totally unreadable later.  I chose teachers to look up to – requirements: had cool bulletin boards, good hair, and sharp classroom management- and then I stole their ideas as fast as I could.

But I was learning too slowly.  My kids knew I was unsure and they got away with too much…and sometimes too little.  I mostly got my lessons taught.  I tried hard.  I got better at both problem solving and being able to tell when kids weren’t following…and then I met Rafe Esquith.

Okay, I say met.  Actually, I found his book – or his book found me.  My principal kept a basket of books by her desk.  Once, during a parent meeting where I was being raked over the coals for “not caring” because I “didn’t give enough homework” and my weekly newsletters were “too cutesy” I saw Rafe’s book just sitting there.  After the meeting, I asked for the book.  “Of course!” She said, “But you have to tell the staff about it when you are finished.”

Life. Changing.

The book was called, There are No Shortcuts, and all of a sudden, I had a friend.  That book remained on my desk for the remainder of the year.  It made sense. All of a sudden I knew why I felt the way I did about management – I wanted it to be intrinsic!  My “cutesy” newsletters were chosen and edited by the kids – Rafe would have approved!  I believed in whole class novels and my team thought they were a waste of time but guess what?  Rafe’s students read Huck Finn!

He was the first of my friends that I’ve never met.

Debbie Miller and Ron Clark are also close pals of mine.  They whisper to me in those moments of being stuck or facing a situation that begins with, “but these kids can’t do that…”  Dr. Fenwick English backs me up when people talk about standardized testing but then argue results shouldn’t follow the bell curve.  Don’t get me started.

And Marzano.  The man can synthesize a billion data points and give you a classroom strategy to improve learning.  His rubber actually meets the road.

Can I just say to you, new teacher, it’s time to go hunting for your new friends.  Those researchers and teachers and staff developers who are standing alongside you.  They can speak louder than the negative ones if you will let them into your heart.  Trust me, you have friends that you have never met. Go find them.

Video: Questions Educators can ask of a Future Employer at Job Interviews

This short video  gives tips on asking questions of a potential employer!

I’m Dr. Peggy Semingson, former schoolteacher and reading specialist and current professor of Literacy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington. This video is to provide support for educators going through  job interviews.

In a job interview,  they typically ask, “What questions do you have for us?” You don’t want to be caught off guard or provide a superficial response at any time during the interview. You will want to ask at least a few of these questions, depending on your own priorities and the specific context of the school you are interviewing with.

  • How structured is your curriculum? What choices do teachers have in selecting materials and in lesson design that aligns with standards?
  • What are the resources available for lesson planning?
  • Does lesson planning take place in a team or is it the individual responsibility of the teacher? How does team planning work?
  • I appreciate technology integration tools in my lessons to engage students and prepare them for the future. What tools and resources are available for tech integration andd do you use a one-to-one personalized approach to learning?
  • What are some of the goals the school is working on as targeted areas for growth and overall student achievement?
  • What supports are in place for coaching or mentoring new teachers in your school or district? What professional development opportunities are available for teachers? 
  • I believe in teaching with data-driven instruction to boost student achievement. What are some of the baseline and benchmark assessments I will be giving at the beginning, middle and end of the year? What types of formative and ongoing assessments will I likely be implementing in the school? How is this information communicated to students to support their learning and achievement? 
  • What schoolwide supports are in place for students who face challenges in learning? What are your student demographics and what percent of your students are English language learners? What schoolwide supports are in place for students who are English language learners? What is the approach this school and district to teaching bilingual/ELL’s?
  • What schoolwide behavior plans and supports are in place? Is there a particular program or philosophy in place at the school, regards to student behavior?

With these questions, you will come across as a savvy and prepared educator who knows that resources and school-level support are needed to do the job well. They will also help you learn more about a potential future employer! Good luck in your job interviews!

Take Time for Reflection: Advice from Clairessa Cruz

Graduate from The University of Texas at Arlington, 2015

So many times on my drive to and from school I catch myself self-reflecting on a lesson or thinking how I
can get students interested in the lesson with a joke or song to make instruction relevant to my young students. This, my friends is reflection and growth. For example, if you were to walk into my classroom spring semester you would see a totally different class from the one at the beginning of the year. This is because my style of teaching and interest of my students have changed with each new school day.

Today in my classroom, you will hear and see six-and-seven-year olds chanting our classroom motto, rapping out phonic songs, or working independently on a skill.   But this change in my classroom did not happen overnight.  This change took place on a daily basis of self-reflection. And by that I mean self-reflection of myself, my teaching style, and getting to know my student’s interest and their learning styles.

Some call me an over-achiever, while others say I’m a perfectionist, but whatever label you categorize me in, it does not change that I hold myself to high expectations and desire to be the BEST teacher EVER!  Therefore, self-reflection is a must when it comes to my lesson plans, teaching style, and student’s learning style.  I’m constantly reflecting on what I can do to update lessons, add student’s interest into current TEKS, and even at times humbling myself by others asking for guidance and advice.

As I drove home on a recent evening, I flashed back to being in Dr. Myers’ and Dr. Melton’s class, recalling the formal observations Dr. Hulings conducted on me during my junior and senior year!  I remember as a junior and senior feeling frustrated after each lesson plan and/or observation and being required to  fill out a post-observation form, which needless to say was “REFLECT, DEAR CHILD, REFLECT!” Of course the arrogant and inner self perfectionist thought they were just trying to withhold more points from my grade, but now that I am on the other end as an assessor and no longer a first-year teacher, my thoughts and views have drastically changed.  And after years of persistent practice, I now practice self-reflection on myself and my students on a daily basis.

So I challenge you to self-reflect on who you are as a teacher and who your students are in today’s classroom.  Maybe you can identify with my pain as I did as a student-teacher, or maybe you’re a veteran teacher and thinking “Blah-Blah-Blah I know, self-reflect…”  But either way take time to sincerely reflect on you and your learners. I plead with you, please don’t short change yourself or your leaders of tomorrow by not humbling yourself by self-reflecting on your lessons and teaching style.   I challenge you to consider the following: Do you need to start having more interesting higher order thinking questions? Do you need to add bullets to every single supply needed to assure the lesson starts on time? Do you need to have a better hook to intrigue your students to your lesson? Do you need to use your student’s personal interests in the classroom and modify it to your lessons?

Don’t be so proud to not ask for guidance from your colleagues or student’s. From firsthand experience, sometimes getting colleagues or peers feedback may sting for a while, but the benefits can last for a lifetime!  As I mentioned earlier I’m a 110% Perfectionist, but if I did not humble myself and ask my students questions of their interest or learning styles, or seek guidance from my colleagues I honestly don’t believe I could sit here and write about this from my heart and soul!

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory says all learners can learn and that we all have one learning style more dominate than another.  Although, I myself feel I am equal in more than one, I also know that this knowledge has allowed me to self-reflect in who I am as a teacher and who my students are as learners.

Finally, before I conclude, please don’t think this piece of advice does not apply to you based on the grades that you have taught or the numbers of years that you’ve been teaching because reflection is at the core of quality instruction. In fact, the most eye-opening reflections have come from the mouths of innocent students with the passion to learn and colleagues who offered the best ideas and advice.  I’m glad I was listening. And that’s what I’ll be thinking of on the ride down Cooper Street this afternoon.

The Most Difficult Post I Have to Write- a Teacher’s Confession by Aubrey Steinbrink

Aubrey Steinbrink: Instructional Coach

Follow me at  mrssteinbrink6.com    and Twitter  @Aubrey steinbri1

I have always been a futuristic, strategic thinker.  I blame this on my coaches and my mother, and I know this is a good thing (a strength). Unfortunately, it has also been something I have struggled with as a parent and a teacher.  It is difficult for me to stay in the moment with my kids.  My sons are only five and three, but everything I do with them has a purpose for their future; discipline, education, structure, etc… As a teacher, being a systematic, strategic planner was what came natural to me.  But, being so calculated has created some of my most difficult setbacks, challenges, and FAILURES in my career.

After three years of trying to affect my students’ futures, impact the classroom by making calculated decisions for the test and trying to move students through the curriculum- I finally had the hit on the head I needed to wake me up- the HIT that made me slow down!   I was going to lose my job if I wasn’t willing to change. I also realized that those last three years, I missed the opportunity to know some great kids.

It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I had to admit to myself that thinking about the future was hurting my relationship with my students and, in turn, hurting my results.  So, instead of hiding under a rock (like I desperately wanted to) this failure became the chance for me to reexamine myself, my teaching philosophy, and my mindset about teaching.

I had to STOP worrying about their future.

I had to STOP worrying about the scores.

I had to STOP believing that I could impact students’ lives without ‘knowing’ them.

I had to STOP thinking it was Me vs. them.

I had to START listening.

I had to START talking with them.

I had to START looking at my students as the drivers and me as a facilitator.

I had to START being in the moment.

I had to START looking at my classroom as my family, my team.

I had to START becoming mindful in my teaching.

It was during that year of reinvention that I discovered the value in student autonomy, student-involved data conferences and student collaboration and feedback. It wasn’t about what I did today to affect their lives tomorrow. It was about being in the moment with them; checking in with them.  When I stopped looking at the future, I was able to build relationships with my students that made a much bigger impact than any one thing I had done before.

My first step was to talk with my students even after the initial ‘good morning’ at the door.  I wanted to hear about their personal connections to characters, to conflicts, and solutions in our stories.

My second step was to create a student-centered classroom.  This meant the students’ knowledge and understanding determined the how long I taught on a certain objective.  They began to choose their independent practice based on their personal goals and areas of weakness.  Guided reading become the center of my classroom instruction.  I had students begging for the attention they were given during my small group guided reading sessions.  Fourth, fifth and sixth graders were asking to meet with me instead of working with partners or independently.

Final Step, 

every decision that I made was based on what that day brought.  I had to become mindful of my students’ feelings, attitudes, and personalities.  I had to KNOW whether or not, on that particular day, if the students would be able to handle what I had planned or if they were wanting MORE.  I had to become mindful. I had to become a mind reader; someone who was able to read the room. It wasn’t about ME anymore- it became about them.

-and with this-

My students became my ‘kids’.  I wanted them to succeed in each of their goals because of who they were, NOT for the results on the test or for me. I gained more than increased test results.  I was able to treat every day as a significant part of their life.

Teaching became a significant part of my life as well.

Upcoming Twitter Chat: #txeduchat. Join us! Sunday, 3/26, 8-9 pm, CT

Join the Twitter chat on #txeduchat this Sunday, 3/26!. Dr. Semingson (@PeggySemingson) moderates these each week. A different guest speaker or speakers host each week!

#txeduchat is this Sunday, 3/26, 8-9 pm, Dr. Harrison McCoy (@DrHarrisonMcCoy)

#txeduchat Sunday, 3/26 at 8 p.m., Central.

Topic: Design Thinking.

Resources:

https://dschool-old.stanford.edu/groups/k12/

https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources-collections/a-virtual-crash-course-in-design-thinking

Music, Learning, and Teacher Development by Dr. David Sparks

Dr. David Sparks, Assistant Professor of Science Education and Faculty in the UTeach program at The University of Texas at Arlington, shares advice.

I have always been a student and lover of music. It started in the 6th grade when I picked up a trumpet and squawked out a few notes. Then through six years of band, 2 years of stage band (with a flugelhorn), numerous years of choir, singing solos, and filling in as a music minister in my church. But the last few years I have experienced a renaissance of sorts in my musical life.

It began in the summer of 2015 when I purchased a turntable. This act opened up a new world to me. A world of classical music, jazz, blues, movie soundtracks, and classic rock artists that I have never heard of before. When my shelf space filled up with vinyl, I started buying cheap CD’s and discovering even more music from groups in the 1990s and early 2000s. It has evolved into a full-fledged addiction with my collection currently surpassing 800 vinyl records and 200 CDs, as well as a few thousand downloaded songs. I re-discovered a love and respect for music on a scale that I never thought possible.

One phenomenon that has accompanied this obsession is learning to appreciate songs I have never heard and develop a taste for new artists. Vinyl records almost require that you listen to the entire collection of songs on a particular recording, which can include the good, the bad, and the ugly. But the real experience is listening to a new song or album and withholding judgment until you have listened to it once or even twice. As with some movies, I do not always like an album on the first listen. But with patience, I can hear the nuances of instruments, internalize the lyrics, and feel the passion of the artists as they created their work. The hard part is listening with an open mind and letting the music speak to you. In this process, I have greatly expanded the variety of genres that I am willing to play and I have a new love and appreciation for most styles of music.

But this is not about music. This is about listening to advice. This about listening to those who have fought the fight before you; those who have worked in the trenches and taught thousands of students. This is about listening to the voice inside you that says “This is not working” as you make adjustments to a lesson you are teaching. This is about not listening to the negative voices around you; the voices that say your profession is underpaid and overworked and the kids are disrespectful and never want to learn. As you grow as a professional educator, opening your mind includes taking on greater and greater responsibilities and not listening to that voice that says “This is impossible.”

Open your mind to being an artist. Just as musical artists create works of great significance that touch emotions, bring back memories of childhood, speak of the power and excitement of love, and also expose the hurt and pain of loss. Create lessons that inspire. Create lessons that make kids laugh and cry and have memories that they will never forget. Create a symphony and speak through the instruments of your students to create something that will move them for years, decades, and a lifetime.

When someone asks me “How many more records do you need?,” my answer is always “One more.”

When someone asks you how many students you think you can change and inspire, your answer should also be: “One more.”

Create. Inspire. Sing your song.

“Mindfulness? In MY Classroom?” by Dr. Harrison McCoy

Dr. Harrison McCoy is in his 18th year of teaching. He is certified ELA 5-8, ESL, Tech Apps K-12, and Business Ed 9-12.

Until a short time ago, I had never heard the term “mindfulness” and even today, I had to Google it to see exactly how the word might be defined. I was reading a post by a David Guerin on Twitter in which he referred to a recent NPR article, “Teachers are Stressed, And That Should Stress Us All”, in which Patricia Jennings, author of Mindfulness for Teachers, made the observation “These teachers were better able to cope with classroom challenges and manage their feelings, which made it easier for them to manage their students’ big feelings. And that, says Jennings, helps students learn.”

That got my attention. Although I know a lot of teachers who are feeling the effects of stress in their lives, student trauma and stress is kind of a hot button for me right now. I have been reading a a lot lately about how the stress and trauma that many students experience off-campus is contributing the behavioral challenges they present and the lack of academic success they experience on campus.

In short, kids are hurting and when they bring that hurt to school, teachers hurt. It’s quite a cycle. I’m not too far from theorizing that if one had the ability to alleviate some of the hurt experienced by students (or at least the symptoms of the hurt), then a lot of the hurt and stress experienced by teachers would be lessened as well.

But the thrust of Jennings book — and the NPR article — is that teachers can only control what they can control and if we would practice “mindfulness” we would be better at controlling our space.

“What is mindfulness? Definitions vary, but Jennings likes to think of it this way: attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance.”

I think that means that we look at our momentary circumstances and observe, “Hmmm. Well, I guess stuff happens.”

I might be pushing the boundaries, but it seems like that is what some people are describing as having a strong EQ — emotional intelligence.

So, if mindfulness makes us better educators, could it also help our students be more successful learners. Could we all benefit from taking time to realize that we are created as human “BEings” and not human “DOings”?

What if I found time as our school day begins for my classroom to become an unofficial “Mindfulness Zone” where for 15 minutes students had the option to come and meditate? I have no formal training in meditation, but I know how to sit quietly and think. That brief time — before school actually begins — could be a buffer for students — a kind if demilitarized zone in the war between what they bring to school and what they are asked do at school.

What are your thoughts on Dr. McCoy’s perspective on mindfulness and education? -Peggy Semingson

Yes, They CAN! Our 2nd Grade Adventures in Writing With Microsoft 365 By: Alison Capasso, M.Ed.

UTA Alumni (Master’s of Education, Literacy Studies, 2015) and elementary teacher Ali Capsso shares ideas on creating excitement with language arts.

Technology use in the classroom is a large focus in many districts.  Various obstacles can stand in the way including availability and condition of hardware and inadequate teacher training.  For K-2 teachers, ensuring developmentally appropriate use is a valid addition to the list of concerns.  In a classroom so busy with the work of learning the fundamentals of reading and writing, any experimentation of technology tools can feel like a waste of our precious time.

I would argue, however, that those of us with the resources to introduce our students to a communication medium that has become such an integral part of our lives in the last few years is completely worthwhile.  It is also our responsibility to prepare students to use frequently changing technology tools to record ideas and communicate with others.  This is especially true in Title 1 schools where technology exposure may be limited in the home.

This year I made the commitment to lay the foundation for widespread use of Microsoft Office applications, making full use of the 365 licenses issued by the district to our students.  Through the regular use of these tools for writing and communication, many students now have increased access to their own work, including the ability to access their data at home from the cloud.  On our campus, many students also access computers at the library across from their apartment building, allowing even those with limited access to feel increased ownership of their work from year to year and giving them the ability to practice the use of these tools away from school.  I decided that 2nd grade is a wonderful year to introduce this suite of products.  Students have already had ample practice logging into a computer and various programs.  They have learned many of the basic principles of writers workshop and are therefore ready to expand their skillset.

Preparation for this weekly session was crucial.  We had to negotiate the use of the grade level laptop cart.  My computer login cards had to be updated with the new logins and all cart computers needed an easy access link to our first application, Power Point.  During our first session we did the work of understanding the keyboard.  What are the various non-letter keys for?  How do I utilize the shift key to access special characters and capitalize letters?  How does the enter key work during writing?  These students were familiar with mainly the up and down arrows on the keyboard, so this somewhat time consuming process was well worth it.

The first task students were given was to create a Power Point presentation using their latest research writing piece about a chosen animal.  Choosing a piece of writing that had already been created gave students more time to explore the aesthetic modifications they could make to the presentation itself.  Before the work time, my mini lesson covered creating new slides, adding text boxes and pictures, and changing slide styles.

Interestingly, student proficiency with the software seemed to mirror their writing proficiency.  My advanced writers got started right away, clicking away and making slides quickly.  On the other hand, many struggling writers struggled to get beyond changing pictures and the size of the text.  One of the aforementioned students spent an unusual amount of time changing fonts until I suggested the drop down menu so that he could see them all at the same time.  Conferencing and focus of purpose are essential for digital workshop, but there should also be a healthy allowance for exploration, especially for our younger students.

The first few sessions with Power Point were slow going, but as the kids learned the tricks of the program, they began to share them with each other and suddenly they were second nature!  Within four sessions, my highest needs writers had successfully authored one Power Point presentation while my advanced writers had completed several on various topics of their choosing.

After the month was over, we focused on other projects.  We are currently beginning the use of Outlook in order to start a digital penpal project for literary discussion with another classroom.  We have played with Yammer during reading workshop as a response tool.  We will be using Word extensively during our poetry unit in order to add visual elements to our work.

Staying with Office as a set of tools has been very helpful as many of the features are the same across programs.  My ultimate goal for the end of the year is for students to be comfortable enough in their understanding of each program to decide which of the programs will be most helpful to use in a new project.

In closing, I encourage educators to invest the time needed to introduce some form of digital writing and communication to young students.  The need cannot be ignored.  We must adjust our practices to meet the needs of our students in this increasingly digital age of communication.

What are your thoughts on Ali Capasso’s implementation of Microsoft Office with writing instruction? Have you tried something similar? Let us know in the comments! Dr. Peggy Semingson

Ms. Ali Capasso is a graduate of the M.Ed. program in Literacy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington. 

“My Principal Hates Me!” Advice from Dr. Beth Ray

Dr. Beth Ray currently serves as an assistant clinical faculty member at The University of Texas at Arlington in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Her research interests include coaching as professional development and the role of feedback in mentoring.

Dr. Beth Ray from the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington shares advice for new teachers. 

I have mentored new teachers for the last 15 years, and there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.  At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, the conversations can be pretty superficial and focused on small issues like transitions or vocabulary wall placement.  As the relationship deepens, however, new teachers begin to open up about their deeper concerns and struggles with the huge responsibility of leading learners.

New teachers often struggle to please their teammates and to work collaboratively after leaving college, and interpersonal skills and levels of introversion play a huge role in those relational struggles.  But one key relationship that starts at the moment of hire plays a tremendous role in the future success of every new teacher – their relationship with the principal.  Often feelings of euphoria and excitement following your hire – “the principal chose me!” fade by the grind of January.  The holidays are over and the thought of three months until the next break combined with testing pressure and TTESS observations makes for a difficult Spring.  Believe it or not, principals’ brains become strangely divided at this point- they must put all their energy and effort into reading student data and collaborating with teachers toward student testing success for each child and at the same time they must begin planning, budgeting, and staffing for the next school year.

This mix of strain and pressure and effort often leads to fewer hallway conversations and meaningful connections.  Experienced teachers have lived this before-they unconsciously adjust their expectations for time and support from the principal.  Often, experienced teachers would start asking my secretary the minor questions in January, and they also would preface conversations with words like, “Can I walk with you? I know you are headed somewhere but I need a second…”  or “I know you are so busy so I wrote this email – will you just read and sign it?”  New teachers don’t have this experience. You have never felt the odd cocktail of energy, pressure, and stress that Spring brings.  So, after feeling ignored or after having an email go unanswered longer than you are used to- or after trying to talk to the principal and feeling like you aren’t important, new teachers  call their mentors and say, “my principal hates me.”

No, new teacher, your principal likes you.  Loves you even.  They are so thankful you are there and that you aren’t calling a sub because things are hard and you want to go to Magnolia. Your principal was proud when they walked by and you were teaching your heart out.  When you were on duty and the teacher next you was on her cell phone – you leaned down and talked to a student that was alone.  Your principal talked to a parent today that was so thankful you took over yearbook and wanted to come thank you but just hasn’t had a minute to do it yet.  Your principal saw your email and in the midst of all the other things decided to just answer in person since she hasn’t talked to you enough lately, but then got pulled for an emergency.  Your principal likes you.  You are appreciated, new teacher.  You are loved.  It’s just Spring.

“The Importance of Giving Feedback” by Dr. Marc Schwartz

Dr. Marc Schwartz, Professor of Mind, Brain and Education at The University of Texas at Arlington

When I think about the most important part of the learning process, the word that comes readily to mind is feedback. Imagine trying to accomplish a task without feedback. In fact, from the perspective of a biologist, who taught HS biology for many years, feedback is the most important variable in determining the success of any living organism.

In school and life, most of us are familiar with the kind of feedback that sounds like, “good job, great, you’re punctuation is terrible, you’re driving too fast, etc.” Educators call this kind of feedback, extrinsic. This kind of feedback is also the basis behind every successful game show where the better you do, the more prizes you get.

However a much more meaningful form of feedback for learning is what educators call intrinsic. This kind of feedback emerges from your assessment of your progress (not the person in the backseat of the car or the teacher) in meeting a target. So if your car starts to drift off the road and begins running on the warning groves, you don’t need someone to tell you to turn back to the center of the lane. In fact some drivers consider this kind of feedback distracting if not a nuisance. Behind the wheel, with a complete picture of the world outside, you are already well positioned to take corrective action, as well as determine the degree of correction that is necessary.

Now what if lessons looked more like driving instead of a game show? So here’s my recommendation for educators: Downplay extrinsic feedback as it tends to undermine the student’s responsibility in judging their progress toward educational goals, and look for opportunities to redesign activities so that students and their peers can assume more responsibility in assessing their progress in reaching an educational goal.

Next time I’ll differentiate between educational goals, as described in teaching manuals and standards, and student goals. They may sound similar to you and those who write curricula, but I guarantee there is an important difference that needs to be addressed if education is to be meaningful to students.

Marc Schwartz
Professor and Director
SW Center for Mind, Brain and Education
The University of Texas at Arlington

Please share your thoughts on Dr. Schwartz’s post in the comments section below!