Tuesday, September 29, 2015

5 Steps to Personalizing Professional Development without Technology

Teaching can be a lonely place.  As educators we need to do a better job of connecting with others especially fellow educators in our buildings and districts. 
Many educators and educational experts talk about educators connecting through social media.  I would agree with that.  Educators should connect through different tools and applications such as Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and others.  But to grow as educators in our buildings and district, I believe peer-to-peer communication and interaction is most beneficial for overall growth of local educators and students in our communities.

Relationships, along with efficient and effective learning environments, are vital pieces in the foundation of outstanding schools.  As educators, we need to use the growth possibilities that exist in our own schools and districts.  The growth possibilities are created by the relationships with other educators in the buildings and district.  As educators, we eat with each other, work with each other, but do we really reflect and utilize each other’s practices and methods?  Do we take the time to go into other teachers’ classrooms and learn from them?  Do we gain knowledge from other educators’ instructional methods and provide them feedback on their methods? 

We need to make teaching a public act and open ourselves to learn from each other.  This is easier said than done due a number of reasons.  The most prominent is usually the lack of time educators have to instruct, plan, research, and develop professionally each year.  So how can we help educators grow from their peers?  Let’s look at five areas to focus on to find this growth:

Talk with other teachers
See what teachers in your building are doing.  Listen to what other teachers are doing.  Find out what you want to do in your classroom and who already does it well in your building.  Hosting a building or district EdCamp is an excellent way to do that.  There will be a variety of sessions on different methods and tools that will expand your instructional practices.

Make it a point to take the time
As mentioned above, we are all looking for more time.  Take time out of your day, whether it is during your lunch or conference period, to visit other classrooms.  Do it for no other reason than helping students.  Work with your department team to create a schedule where each of you may be able to visit other educators and learn something new from them.  Learn from observation and don’t leave any excuses on the table.  If you want to get better, make it happen!

Go cross curricular
Stretch yourself and visit classrooms outside of your department.  Observe what the educator and students accomplish and visualize how you will use the same thing or something similar in your classes.  Build partnerships with other teachers for the greater good of the building.  Again, EdCamps are a great way to start leanring from others in your building.

Share your experiences
Let other educators know what you experienced.  Share it in a building email, staff meeting, department meetings, or even in the hallways.  Sharing our experiences helps the overall growth of the building and again allows others to visualize.

Change the culture
As more and educators take the time to learn from other educators in the class setting, the professional development mindset of the building will change.   Make it a part of the vision of the building and model for others.  As more teachers begin to visit other classes, trust begins to play a larger role around the building and fosters growth for all.

Teaching can be a lonely place if you don’t allow your teaching and others teaching to become an observation of work.  Work with other educators to share practices and methods to help our students grow by utilizing all of the educators in the building, not just the ones they have each period.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Effective Strategies for Teacher Evaluations

As we begin a new school year, many schools will focus on student growth and improving student learning.  While these are great ways for our schools and students to get better, it is also important to not lose sight of teacher and administrator growth during the school year.  Districts will focus on educator professional development during the year as a way to grow staff.  At times, we seem to forget that teacher evaluations are a great way for teachers and administrators to grow and become better at what they do.  Let's take a look at some effective strategies for teacher evaluations that will help both teachers and administrators grow during the school year:

1. Clear Communication
Clear communication between administrators and teachers is imperative.  Open dialogue including meetings before the observation, conversations with staff in the hallways or at lunch, or using applications such as Voxer to communicate with staff members will allow all parties to excel.  Its important to focus the conversations on teacher growth, administrator expectations, and the building's educational philosophy.  What the administrator expects to see in the classroom each day (whether it is an observation or not) should go hand-in-hand with the building educational philosophy as a whole.  This will develop a cohesiveness amongst the staff because they will know what it expected of them in each observation and evaluation.  
2. Attention to Detail 
Too many times administrators go into observations intending on writing everything down that is said and done in the classroom.  This practice allows administrators to refer to it when they are completing the paperwork for the evaluation.  As administrators, we need to turn our attention away from scribing and more towards focusing on the environment and relationships in the classroom.  Those two areas of education are the most important part of strong instruction.  If there is not a positive environment and quality relationships in a classroom setting, the instructional methods used are insignificant.  Focus on student engagement and generalize what you see and what stands out to you.  Yes, at times this will include collecting what is said as your evidence.  But don't get too wrapped up in recording evidence when you could be missing the most powerful part of the classroom experience: the learning environment and relationships that allow our students to grow as learners.

3. Timely and Positive Feedback
Observations and evaluations are a waste of time if there is no feedback involved for both the teacher and administrator.  It is important for administrators to share feedback with teachers as quickly as possible.  Think of it this way, the quicker an administrator can get feedback to a teacher, the quicker the building has a chance to grow.  This is really something that is overlooked by many administrators.  Teachers work and communicate with each other every hour of every day.  They discuss many things throughout the day and often into the night.  As administrators, we should encourage these discussions. Not only does it keep each teacher informed, but it also allows them to grow and learn more especially when it comes to observations and evaluations.  The sooner an administrator can share information with  a recently observed teacher, the quicker the feedback can be shared amongst the staff.  This will allow more teachers to try different instructional methods that the evaluator thought was positive and not use as much methods or resources if they were viewed as something to build upon for future observations.  

It is also important as an administrator to make suggestions for improving areas of need.  Do different things like suggest mentors or recommend class visits to other teachers in the building or district.  This allows educators to experience different educational settings that may help them learn more methods and resources to use to improve their instructional background.  

4. Learn Something Yourself
As an administrator, don't let the evaluation process take away your opportunities to grow as an educator.  Use the evaluation process to learn more about your staff and yourself.  Get educated on different content areas that are offered in your schools.  Become familiar with the different teaching styles that are utilized in your building.  Collect methods and resources to share with the rest of the staff and other buildings in the school district.  Go into evaluations with the thought process of, "I'm going to improve myself and assist the teacher in getting better too."  Its different than what many of us are used to in education, but it will help our students and that is really all that matters.

Administrators need to use the evaluation process as a way to improve your craft and solidify your place as an instructional leader in the building.  If teachers can see that the evaluation is a tool for them to get better and not remove them from their position, our entire educational system will improve.  Focus on the four areas above to allow yourself as an administrator to dig deeper into evaluations and use them for their original purpose: to help people get better so the overall product will improve.