Sunday, September 26, 2010

What's Working

Thanks, @paulawhite, for the suggestion: "we should all go write a "What's working" blog after this is over and tweet them out with the hashtag#educationnation."

So, here's what's working at my school:
  • Families choose to come to our school. Yes, they're chosen by lottery that parents have to enter, which weeds out the parents who don't pay any attention to their kids education. It would be better if every school in our district were a school of choice. What would happen if everyone chose their school? Would that give a psychological bump?
  • Every family is involved. 100% of parents attend conferences, because the teachers relentlessly track those who don't show. It's not easy. Some parents, even though they signed up for this school, can't or won't take 15 minutes twice a year to meet with their kid's teacher.
  • We have autonomy of curriculum and staffing. We don't have to teach a script, or even use the district-approved textbooks, as long as we teach the standards. Teachers and principals are no longer placed at our school, and teachers have a strong voice in the interview process for new colleagues.
  • We have an open-door policy. Anyone is welcome to visit any time without scheduling it beforehand (of course, visitors have to sign in and everything for safety, but people walk into the classroom without warning). This includes parents, community members, other teachers at our school, visitors from other schools, college students working on teaching credentials, and anyone else.
  • We work hard. We handle the details through email, which frees up staff meeting time for real collaboration. We haven't jumped on the formal PLC bandwagon, but we work in teams by grade level, subject area, or ad-hoc interest groups. We analyze data, but don't obsess over it.
  • We work hard, but we try not to burn anyone out. When someone is starting to get too stressed out, the rest of us step in to alleviate the pressure
  • We work hard, and we get to focus on teaching. Social events and some of the field trips are handled by the PTSA. If the parents don't step up and organize social events, they don't happen, and that's okay.
  • The principal is a leader, not a glory hound. We defer to him when necessary, but we take responsibility, step up, and don't wait to be told what to do.

There's more, but I'd like to watch the interview thats on MSNBC's Education Nation right now, so I'll probably do a part II later.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Teacher Voice

I've started videotaping some of my classes. It's less scary than it sounds!

Everyone I know who has gotten their National Board Certification has touted the benefits of watching yourself teach, so I set up 2 cameras on opposite end of my classroom.

The first thing I notice is that my saddlebags are a bit larger than I thought. That shirt and those shorts need to separate and never see each other again. And my room is bland. Granted, the camera is facing the area that's most difficult to decorate, but poor kids who have to face that way!

After I get over my body issues and classroom aesthetics, I start to notice the kids. Most of them truly are hanging on my every word, but when I'm teaching, the only ones I notice are the ones who goof around. On the whole, the kids deserve more credit, and their teacher needs to chill out a bit.

The surprise at the kids' real behavior wanes quickly when my voice breaks through the rustle of papers. Okay, and I realize that my computer volume is almost zero. I seem to have two distinct voices: a "whole class" voice and a "real" voice. The whole class voice is obnoxious, piercing, makes me want to claw my eyes out. It's all fake and careful and kindergartenish. If a teacher talked to me that way when I was 10, I would have laughed in her face. Oh, wait, I did...only time I ever got in trouble in class.

Redemption comes when I start talking to the small groups and switch back to a normal voice.

Why do I have these two voices? I've noticed that some kids don't seem to hear me when I'm giving instructions. Whether it's the result of laziness or being an English learner, the blank stares I receive when I give instructions in a normal voice make me wonder if I'm declaiming in mermish.

How do I temper this ridiculous "whole class" voice while still making instructions clear to my English learners?