Monday, October 20, 2014

Day 15: Name three strengths you have as an educator.

Let's be honest. Teachers are rarely the kind to talk about how great they are. I've been writing, thinking, mulling over, and revising this post for almost two weeks now. It is not because I am having trouble narrowing down a long list of pats-on-the-back down to three. I have found different ways of identifying strengths while at the same time explaining why those qualities are also weaknesses. Needless to say, this prompt has made me very uncomfortable.

And then last week, tragedy struck both at school and in my family. 

I won't go into the detail about the horrific crime that was committed against a family who resides in the school district I work in. (You can read about it here.)  What I will say is that it demonstrated what kind of true strength educators show when dealing with a crisis such as this. Teachers at the elementary school that the young brothers attended surrounded their students with love and support. Going so far as to ride the school bus home and to school to make them feel safe. Social workers and counselors from around the district went to the school to ensure that staff and students had the ability to navigate these waters that no community thinks they will have to enter. The strength of my colleagues, while not surprising, was inspiring. I know that it is our strength as educators that will see us through this very sad chapter in our lives. It is our strength that will allow us to care for our students, to listen to them, and find a way to continue on learning and working together.

During this horrific week at school, my family was dealing with a terrible loss. My husband's uncle had recently gotten engaged to his girlfriend, whom the family loved very much. Tragically, she was taken too soon in a bicycle accident. My husband and I traveled to Massachusetts to be with family and mourn the loss of Pam.  The funeral was heartbreaking as person after person got up to speak to the wonderful woman they had loved. I learned that Pam was also a teacher working with students learning English. As I sat there and listened to the stories that spoke to Pam's character and strength, I couldn't help but think that the qualities her family loved her for were ones that demonstrates the strengths of an educator. And as each of her loved ones spoke they echoed the qualities that Pam will always be remembered for: her sense of humor, her kindness, and her ability to let the people she cared for know that she loved them.

 I thought, what three better strengths for an educator to possess? 

Humor, kindness and love should come before any curriculum. Any test. They are the things that bond us not just as teachers and students but as human beings. It was what was seeing my own colleagues through the grief of the past week. It speaks to the humanity of our profession and what our true duty and calling is all about.  I can only hope that my students view these three qualities as strengths in me.  I try hard every day to incorporate them into the work that we do together.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Day 14: What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

This is always my biggest weakness as a teacher. When it comes to reading and writing, the time that is required to give that one-on-one feedback to 7th graders that they need is daunting. Due to lack of time and large classes, you have to get creative in finding ways to work it in. I think feedback for learning means not just communicating to a student what they did well or what they are struggling with but to then allow time for students to take that feedback and put it into practice. I believe feedback should be part of the learning process and not something that is given at the end. Students crave feedback as they are figuring things out and need guidance along the way. They appreciate the chance to utilize that feedback before they earn a grade and are surprised by what they needed to work more on.

Instead of listing all the various ways I've given feedback in the past, I'll focus instead on the ways this year  I plan to give it to my 111 students. This year will be a challenge but knowing what I know about what has worked in the past, I know that I must make the time for it. Lord knows the time won't magically be added to my teaching day. In order to make the time, I have tried to pare down some of the work my kids will create to not only give me time to respond but to give them time to rework and revise.

The first tool I am using more is my electronic grade book. We are now able to write notes next to assignments to clarify a grade. I think this feedback will not inform my students but hopefully will empower parents to see what literacy skills they might be able to work on at home. This could be through conversation about movie or encouraging their writing at home.

I plan on continuing to use Google Docs with my students, which allows for written comments to be added to a piece of writing. In addition to this, I am going to try the app Kaizena. Much like a Google Doc comment, Kaizena allows you to leave feedback on a draft but in the form of voice recorded comments. I hope that this won't be too time consuming, but I think it will benefit my students to hear me explain something versus reading my explanation.  We'll see!

At the end of the day, it is in having a conversation with a student that I think ultimately benefits a student in making progress. While I feel I struggle with giving feedback, I know that I am doing the best I can. This might never be something I truly master, but it is the part of my craft that I constantly reflect and work on each year.