Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Makes a Great Lesson?

During the last few months I’ve interested myself with evaluation rubrics, mostly Marzano and Danielson, in a quest to provide feedback for teacher evaluations. Both have excellent guidance and advice for teachers. While my personal preference leads me towards one specific rubric, I do think about the “basic” needs for a classroom lesson. A recent article by WeAreTeachers Blog, shared with me by a colleague, further focused my perspective. This article, The 5 Components of a Great Lesson, explored my query. I would encourage you to read this short entry.

While I agree with WeAreTeachers assessment of the necessary “basics” for a lesson, I tend to think in a more truncated way when I walk into a classroom. Student engagement must be present. Students have to work with the information, manipulate and discuss it. Increasing the level of student engagement isn’t always easy, but it is essential if you plan on having the students develop an understanding of the curriculum. Student engagement transcends instructional methodology. It’s intimately involved in the assessment of students, too. Every student may not love the content, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be engaged. A kinesthetic learner may become engaged when showing you their level of knowledge. An auditory learner may have a heightened interest if they are explaining to you what they understand. Students must have an opportunity to demonstrate their level of achievement. Engaging them provides an emotional bond which won’t be forgotten. There are many methods, strategies, and ‘tricks’ to enable a student an opportunity to engage in the curriculum during instruction, practice, and assessment.

I understand that teachers aren’t here to entertain, we are here to teach. How do we best teach a student? Get them engaged with the curriculum through feeding their interest. Entertainment and engagement are alike in that they both attract interest. But, the former serves little intent; the latter provides a heightened access to your curriculum.

So to digress, I fully endorse the entry from WeAreTeachers and encourage you to digest it. But on a more simplistic level, a great lesson is engaging.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Act With Respect Always

What else needs to be said? This week the Potsdam community had the privilege of hosting Rich Johns and his program, Act With Respect Always. He touts that his program isn’t an anti-bullying campaign. He states that it’s not a program to specifically address DASA. But, what he does say needs to be heard – by all. I was not surprised when I first listened to him speak a few months ago at the NYSMSA Annual Conference - I had known of him for many years as an extraordinarily successful coach. His concept of team-building, civility, and simple respect have led to his success in sports, the classroom, and in life. He is living his philosophy of “paying it forward” by sharing his program. The simple values of Act With Respect Always are well thought-out and concise. “REACH IT” Leadership for Life


So, Act With Respect Always. What else really needs to be said?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Do You Measure the Health of a School

(This is a re-post from the 2010-11 school year.)

We’ve had a lot of distractions lately. Budget, testing, homework, apathy, cut-scores, subgroups; the list is long and each have the ability to increase anxiety and raise the blood-pressure. So I’ve decided to focus on the question, How do you measure the health of a school? As I ponder this cardinal question, it strikes me that the answer most likely depends on the perspective of the one doing the pondering.

It would make sense that a physician may say that the health of the school depends on the number of absences, known illnesses, and concussions received while at school. A lawyer may believe that a healthy school is one which experiences no litigation. Arne Duncan would think that standardized test scores would indicate a healthy or infirmed school. Ruby Payne would look into the level of generational poverty and the cultural backgrounds of the teachers before answering this question. Governor Cuomo would undoubtedly say that all New York Schools are first in cost and 34th in results (even though his data is one-dimensional, outdated, and simply wrong), therefore we’re all unhealthy. Paul Vermette would tend to think that a healthy school is one that takes care of the social-emotional and development needs of each child. Mel Riddile, former principal and an associate of NASSP said that his barometer of a healthy school is to listen to what the staff of the school talks about. Teachers in [healthy] schools talk about students and how they are meeting their needs. [Unhealthy] schools talk about adult wants and adult needs. I found that perspective the most intriguing.

I believe that the most accurate answer to this question is from the perspective of the Essential Elements. These elements encompass all the aforementioned thoughts and ideas. So, a healthy school is one that implements the Essential Elements to a high degree. This is where AAK excels.

The distractions that claim our time and focus will not diminish in the coming days, weeks, and months. It will be imperative to remember that our objective is to remain a beacon of excellence for our students, families, and other educators looking for solutions. We are developmentally responsive to the needs of our students and this will be our continued emphasis. Programs will change, but our mission will not. Being a healthy school, as being an excellent school, is not a destination, but rather a process. We will continue with the process of excellence regardless of the distractions.

Thank you for providing a healthy, child-focused school. Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dignity for All

Perspective is a great teacher. I learn a lot about ideas, issues, and solutions when I place myself in someone else’s perspective. When facing a conflict, I obtain a better understanding when I assume the place of the other person. Perspective allows me to empathize, listen, and finally to clearly seek a solution. As an extreme example, I was recently faced with a person who was irate and a bit irrational. As my blood pressure increased, I thought about the other person’s circumstances which led to the confrontation. Most of the factors which had an influence on this specific person had nothing to do with me, but I was seeing a convergence of emotions and problems; culminating in a tirade which I was being asked to address.

I find perspective sometimes teaches the lesson which I don’t think I need to learn, too. This humbling experience usually comes to me as a revelation and I am always better because of it.

It’s in my DNA to default to a teacher’s perspective; normally this is exactly what I need to do, but not always. Occasionally, I need to assume and empathize with a Superintendent’s perspective. Other times I find myself placed in the position of a child. What about the perspective of the custodian. A family in generational poverty has a unique perspective, which is very different from a family’s perspective that is experiencing situational poverty. Placing oneself in the perspective of a college professor can be an equally powerful teacher. We can look around at our colleagues, too. What is their perspective?

I find the practice of broadening my perspective to be valuable in most situations. How else could I understand points of view different from my own?

Can there be a lesson in this for you? I believe the answer is clear. Yes. Can there be a lesson in this for your students? While harder to convey and teach to children, the concept of empathy is a lesson we should not avoid. We need to seek-out opportunities to place ourselves in another’s shoes. We also need to find opportunities for our students to do the same.

Enjoy your weekend.