Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Walking the Walk

I’m very happy to be back in the classroom once again this semester. After I stopped teaching high school English to become a school psychologist, I was only out of the classroom for three years before I had the opportunity to teach a graduate level class in developmental disabilities to mid-career teacher certification students. I did that for two summers before demand for the course dwindled and my services were no longer required. Now, six years on, I am teaching an undergraduate course this semester (for the same university) on teaching literacy in content area classrooms.

This is good for me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I have always missed teaching since leaving the classroom ten years ago. I may not have missed some elements of the job, but I have always missed the act and art of developing engaging lessons and teaching students, regardless of age. I also think it’s good for me, as somebody who evaluates teachers as part of my job, to keep my hand in the craft as best as I can. In no way am I equating teaching undergraduates to teaching high school (or middle or elementary school); each context has unique opportunities and challenges, and certainly I deal with far less oversight, bureaucracy, and red tape in my adjunct teaching position than does a full-time K-12 teacher. This position, however, does afford me the opportunity to put into practice the suggestions I give my staff, as well as try for myself the great things I see them doing with their students.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a bit rusty and anxious about going back after such a long layoff. Planning a course from scratch is tough, especially since I haven’t ever taught a full semester of three-hour classes before (those grad classes were accelerated summer sessions; just 7 or 8 weeks). From the “that’s just my luck” files, I also came down with the flu early in the semester, which necessitated canceling the second class and risking losing whatever momentum we gained in the first class. I’m happy to say, however, that despite the anxiety and the uncertainty and the hours of planning I’ve put into the course (and will continue to, as I refine my vision for what it needs to be), it energizes me to no end to work with a group of enthusiastic future educators who have been kind enough to humor my dumb jokes late on Monday nights.

It would be much easier for me to turn this course into a series of three-hour lectures, but while I am a man of many flaws, hypocrisy generally isn’t one of them. I’m seizing this opportunity to walk the walk and live up to the high standards I hold for my staff every day, hopefully achieving the dual purpose of teaching my students the information they need to learn while also modeling effective teaching practices they can take with them into their own classrooms.

Habits of Mind: Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Learn from experiences!  Having humility and pride when admitting we don’t know; resisting complacency.

…I guess it’s a loose interpretation of the word “series” since I haven’t written a Habits of Mind post in over three years, but better late than never, right?

Of all the Habits of Mind, I think this one is probably the most important, as well as the most difficult, for educators to exercise.  I say this because it requires us to remain humble, teachable, and open to new learning despite enormous pressure from multiple sources to appear as “experts”, either in a given content area or in the field of education in general.

That’s certainly not to say we do not achieve respectable levels of expertise throughout our careers.  As I begin my 18th year, I certainly know more than I did in my first, tenth, or even my seventeenth, and I hope to continue that trend well into the foreseeable future.

The rub comes when we start to believe our own hype.  It takes a special degree of self-awareness to balance the knowledge of what one knows with the understanding that there is much yet to learn.  I did not start to achieve that balance until at least several years into my career, having spent the first few keeping up appearances in order to maintain the trust of my students, their families, and my colleagues – at least, that’s what I thought I had to do.

Call it maturity, experience, or something else, but I’m much more comfortable saying “I don’t know” at this stage in the game than I was as a 23-year-old rookie.  I chalk some of that up to the fact that when I don’t know something, my background is deep enough that I usually know where I can go or who I can consult to find the information I need.  The rest of it, I suppose, is that I’m finally over the need to feel I need to prove my knowledge or value in a given moment because I prove my knowledge and value every day in my job.

I’ve had a few “do-overs” in my career so far, starting as a teacher, then moving to a school psychologist, and most recently to an instructional supervisor.  The first year in each position was the roughest, but I took those opportunities to ask a lot of questions, do a lot of listening, and keep my eyes wide open, observing everything I could.  Starting those positions in a place of humility, rather than aggressively trying to prove how much I knew or throw my authority around, was not necessarily easy, but it was worthwhile, as doing so helped me to continue my learning and move forward as more confident and, ultimately, more beneficial to my students and colleagues than if I had just tried to bulldoze my way forward from the word go.

Reference

Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).   It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Lighting Fires is Easy…

…but keeping them burning?  That’s a whole ‘nother matter.

My friend & colleague Jessica Cincotta blogged last week about the professional reading groups in which she and I have participated this year.  Read her post for the details, but the “quick n’ dirty” is that Jessica and I actually participated in two groups over the course of the school year – a year-long, monthly group with our other friend & colleague Yvette Panasowich, and a six-week book study over the course of April and May that was just the two of us.  Below are some of my thoughts on why this worked (read: was sustainable throughout the whole year in spite of the many potential “time sucks” and other obligations conspiring against us) when so many other well-meaning initiatives fizzle out.

We initiated these groups.  This idea was borne out of an activity during another (unrelated) PD session we were in together, and while I wish there was a more eloquent way of saying it, once the idea was out there, we kind of just took the ball and ran with it.  We chose reading material that interested us; nobody told us that we were to participate in professional reading groups this year, and nobody assigned us particular readings.  It was all self-generated, which leads nicely into the next point.

We owned the schedule and held each other accountable.  It would have been very easy to give lip service to the idea in the original PD meeting, then have it float away with all the other good ideas anyone’s ever had but never got around to implementing the minute we walked out the door.  Before we left, however, we figured out a schedule (the group we did with Yvette met the last Wednesday of the month at 2:30pm; the book study I did with Jessica met weekly on Fridays, also at 2:30pm) and put it on our all-important Outlook calendars.  We didn’t have time, we made time.

As the weeks and months progressed, we would email each other periodically to confirm that we were all still on for the upcoming get-togethers.  While life did intrude from time to time that either required delays or re-schedules, I don’t think we’ve missed or skipped any of our monthly reading group meetings this year (maybe one out of ten, if that?) and only one of the book study meetings (that was due to a true emergency, and we caught up the following week).  It probably didn’t hurt that we genuinely enjoy each other’s company as well, but even so, the discussions easily could have devolved into socializing sessions if not for one thing:

We found value in the task.  As Jessica details in her post, we found value in discussing the articles and book chapters, not only for our own professional learning and reflecting on our own practice, but also in our role as teacher evaluators.  Like Jessica, I also found myself referencing things we read in my discussions with my teacher and administrator colleagues more and more frequently.  The best professional learning experiences have direct implications and impact on one’s practice, and I feel that the experiences I had with Yvette and Jessica this year definitely impacted my practice for the better.

Next up is a summer reading group of four administrators, in which we’ll be reading a different book, and then the plan for 2017-2018 is to continue with the monthly reading groups (primarily articles from ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine) while doing one book study in the fall and one in the spring.

I read a ton, and most of the books I read are about education. While I enjoy the act of solitary reading, it’s also nice to be able to bounce my thoughts about what I’ve read off someone else.  In the case of the makeup of our reading group, I think we struck a nice balance between similarities (all administrators in the same district so we have a similar contextual basis for discussion; all have secondary ed experience and/or focus in our current positions) and differences (1 building administrator, 2 instructional supervisors; 2 women, 1 man; a high school assistant principal, a 7-12 math/science supervisor, and a K-12 technology/arts supervisor; teaching backgrounds too varied to list).  Having a variety of viewpoints made the discussions valuable and thought-provoking beyond the written content.

This has been one of the more valuable professional learning experiences of my career (mirroring, in many ways, what first attracted me to the burgeoning education community on Twitter ten years ago), and it’s a practice I hope to continue – to one extent or another – throughout my career.

ICYMI: Teaching Social Media at LHS

After our presentation at Techspo ’17, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators was kind enough to ask my colleague Dr. Andrew Zuckerman and I to contribute a piece to their monthly newsletter for school superintendents on the Intro to Social Media course that has run at Lawrence (NJ) High School since 2015.  The article below is cross-posted from NJASA’s April/May 2017 edition of their On Target newsletter; check the original here.


Students today have unprecedented access to social media but may not have structured opportunities in which to think critically about how and why they use it, and why doing so is important. It was with this thought in mind that the Business Department at Lawrence High School, Mercer County, designed and implemented a course entitled Introduction to Social Media.

Lawrence Township Public Schools is a technologically progressive district that has embraced the use of social media for professional learning, culture building, and public relations. When a flurry of simultaneous retirements brought some unanticipated changes in terms of the district’s ability to staff existing courses, we turned problem into opportunity by shifting a staffing position to another department and hiring an additional Business teacher. Introduction to Social Media came about as a result of needing additional curricular offerings to replace the ones that could no longer be taught, given the role of social media in our society and how the district embraces the use of it to communicate with the local and global community, it was an addition that made sense.

The course is run as an elective out of our Business Department and open to all students in grades 10-12. The scope and sequence (with approximate timelines, on a 60-minute block/drop schedule) is:

  • Digital Identity/Footprint – 2 weeks
  • Historical Perspectives – 6 weeks
  • Legal Considerations – 2 weeks
  • Ethical Considerations – 4 weeks
  • Peer Presentations – 3 weeks
  • Media Analysis – 3 weeks
  • Language/The Online Voice – 7 weeks
  • Business Applications & Engagement – 9 weeks

After learning about the safety, legal and ethical aspects of social media, students work with their peers to develop a presentation to educate their peers about digital responsibility. During the current school year, social media students conducted presentations on digital responsibility to other high school students. During the upcoming school year, the presentations will also be conducted at the middle school.

While Lawrence Township runs this course out of the Business Department with an emphasis on marketing in the latter half of the year, with some revision of focus, this course lends itself just as well to being run as an English, Social Studies, or Technology elective, at the middle or high school level.  So much of what the course can and does deal with has students grappling with big-picture questions of digital identity, ethics, societal movements, and the disparities between the evolution of technology and the evolution of the law that it would be right at home in any of those departments.  Additionally, social media plays a role in so many current events that teachers will never want for fresh discussion topics or opportunities to expand the curriculum.

The next steps for the course is to connect the social media classes with departments and/or clubs within the district that are looking to develop a social media presence. The students will be required to meet with the group to determine what they are looking to accomplish and identify the appropriate social media platform to support them in accomplishing their goals. In future years, we will look to connect the students with community businesses and organizations to help them develop an online presence to promote their businesses.

Interested in learning more about this curriculum or modeling a similar class in your district? Visit http://bit.ly/LTPS-SM to see our complete curriculum documents or contact:

Andrew Zuckerman, Ed.D., Director of Instructional Services at azuckerman@ltps.org

Damian Bariexca, Ed.D., Instructional Supervisor at dbariexca@ltps.org

#SAVMP 2016-2017

Moving ever onward out of my comfort zone in the name of professional growth, I signed up to participate in SAVMP for the 2016-2017 school year. SAVMP is the School Administrator Virtual Mentoring Program, and I volunteered to serve as a mentor to aspiring and novice administrators.

I know I’m only just beginning my third year, but in my experience, being in a position such as mentor or student teacher supervisor has helped me to clarify and codify my own thinking on any number of topics, situations, or challenges.  I’ve spent the last two years learning by the side of some excellent mentors in my own district, and while I’ve also tried to pay it forward to my admin colleagues who joined the district after me, I’d like to think I also have something to offer a fledgling administrator elsewhere in the Twittersphere.

Back in the heady days of 2007-2009, edu-Twitter seemed to me to be more about connecting with and learning from one another (it’s felt more like a self-promotion engine/mutual admiration society to me for the last few years, but that’s another post for another day).  The teachers we interviewed for The End of Isolation called out the networking and professional collaboration aspect of Twitter specifically as a primary benefit of the service.  Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s something else, but when I heard about the call for mentors, I thought this would be some small positive step I could take to help someone out as I’ve been helped as I transitioned to this new professional role.

An additional benefit (for me) is that apparently there will be blogging prompts.  I look forward to those, as I’ve been lacking for structure and focus for blogging of late.  I anticipate this will be a mutually beneficial project for both my mentee and me.

If you’re interested in seeing what this is all about, check out the hashtag #SAVMP on Twitter.