As educators many of us have had to comply with curriculum pacing guide schedules. This can dampen the creativity of any teacher and result in boring lessons, frustration and resentment. A seasoned teacher might have to decrease the use or completely give up wonderful unit studies and creative high quality teaching methods to keep pace. Comparatively a first year teacher can be trained to blindly follow a curriculum guide in order to handle the steep learning curve that comes with the job. No matter your role in education I think we can all agree that pacing guides support consistency, efficient systems, vertical alignment and core curriculum which are vital to student academic growth. However if these are in place then something must be included that activates a students desire to learn while decreasing cookie-cutter style teaching. Successful teachers have that something. I have that something. I would like to share that something with you. If you already have it then please share it with others!
The ability I have to spark students interest to learn developed over time. I began working with children who have unique learning styles over thirty years ago. For twenty of those years I spent time with children and young adults who had many different types of disabilities. Discovering personalized strategies to help these individuals master academic and life skills was part of the job. Growth in these areas was due to creative thinking combined with specific systems to reach goals. I also helped care for my adopted brothers who were born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. This gave me a unique understanding of how the same disability can effect each individual differently. Some of my most powerful experiences related to engaging students happened while raising my own five children. One who has ADD & dyslexia showed me his uniquely brilliant way of looking at things in his world. We discovered that when we utilized personal interests it created successful experiences which in turn motivated him to work hard. These experiences are the foundation of my personal teaching philosophy and style.
I am now a public school elementary teacher. Four of my five years of service have been in an inclusion model classroom. I was one of those first year teachers tasked with strictly following a pacing guide. I quickly began to loose my enthusiasm for teaching and seriously considered leaving the profession after a difficult second year. My independent nature and support from my family would not allow me to give up though. I began to “sneak in” fun creative lessons. I needed to consider how to reach my students by providing an inclusive environment. This meant that I had to magically create more time in the day, develop lessons that were varied, interesting and differentiated. I needed to work within the boundaries of our schools pacing guide system. It was daunting at first but I figured it out. Would you like to bend from constraining mandates or strongly suggested methods of teaching? The following things help me to deliver high quality education to my students while growing professionally and remaining respectful of my administrators goals. They are simply good reminders of great teaching values.
Relationships: The number one priority, as we know, is getting to know the students. Relationships matter! Create the classroom culture that mirrors a “functional family” where respect, caring, friendship and positive support are the hallmarks of the students daily experiences. It is never too late in the year to make that happen.
Core Standards: When you work within the boundaries of a pacing guide system an important tip is to tie your fun and creative lessons to the core standards being covered that day, week, or unit. Using a teacher made lesson instead of a worksheet is never wrong if it covers the same academic standards.
Professional Learning/Telling Your Story: Social media platforms have become a common professional tool. Connecting this way will help you figure out how to accomplish your goals within a pacing guide system. You need to get started if you have not explored this option yet. I enjoy using twitter to tell my teaching story and to follow other amazing educators for inspiration and encouragement. My handle is @CorbellHiAk. The Voxer App for smart phones and PC’s has also tremendously impacted my professional growth over the last 5 years. Check it out! Education Topic Voxer Groups to Join
Student Growth: Data sometime feels like a dirty word when overused for tracking academic results but the fact of the matter is that along with all other education stakeholders, students want to know how they are doing. Showing them their growth is the key. Make sure that when you design your lessons, clear goals, rubrics, and timelines are included to support your right to use professional autonomy. Have your documents at the ready to show and inspire your colleagues, coaches and admin team. Hattie-Things that effect student achievement.
Group Work: For all students collaboration enhances learning. It may take a little extra time to teach group work learning expectations, but it is another way to find flexibility within a pacing guide system. I thoroughly enjoy working with a small group or one-on-one. It is another opportunity to get a sense of individual needs. I have found that my students consistently love to show what they know during these intimate learning windows.
Fun Factor: Last but not least we need to smile, laugh, be loud, move alot, chat, dance and be merry during SOME of the teaching day. You know the appropriate times to do this for whichever grades you teach. Sing your students praises, post their best work, verbally brag about them to their peers and anyone else who will listen. Students will work hard in this environment. Less time is spent managing behaviors decreasing negative factors.
To Close: One of my go to lessons that I highly recommend trying. Popsicle Stick Plays
Example: Grade 4
Use commas and quotation marks to mark direct speech and quotations from a text.
Worksheets are BORING! Instead have the students write a story with a setting, plot, characters and dialogue. The key to this academic activity is to add some “fun”. Have your kids draw the setting and create popsicle characters. This takes more time but boy is it worth it! My students used our privacy three fold testing boards to attach the backdrops and then perform a play of their stories. The light bulb of understanding lit when many characters were not actually talking during their first performance. After peer review and discussion the final draft included accurate dialogue. Collaboration at its best!
Most students wanted to be the next to perform. Shyness disappears when your behind a screen and your classmates are learning along with you. Infusing humor, art, performance, speaking and listening into a writing lesson provides the richness needed to reach all learners in the classroom. It works! The best part is that the kids do not want to stop learning and improving when time is given to enriching lessons. Teaching this way is the right way!
If your a teacher tweet a lesson that turned the understanding on for your students and bent your pacing guide in a positive way! @CorbellHiAk
I care deeply for each of my students and am privy to many details about most of them. I work within a high poverty demographic area. However I had never systematically analyzed all of what I knew about them. Test scores yes, heartache no. It was time to look beyond poverty alone.
Chronic stress is prevalent and synonymous with poverty. However, we need to consider all children regardless of their SES (socioeconomic status). I believe that some children who deal with chronic stress sometimes fall through the cracks. The ones who fall are children who might not appear on the surface to meet certain criteria that will red flag them for more support. How do we ensure that these students get identified?
I believe it is our responsibility as educators to always consider the unseen elements in a student's life. Chronic stress crosses all demographics and can be identified in our students with careful attention. When teachers understand how chronic stress impacts learning then targeted conscious choices can be made to help each student excel both academically and emotionally.
Educators strive every year to build positive classroom cultures, meet and greet their students, care for emotional needs and hold high academic standards. Knowing student stories and shaking their hand every day is only the beginning. It is extremely important to meet the needs of the whole child. “Maslow before Blooms”. Only then will a child be receptive to learning. Ray Wilson - Site
I was able to hear Eric Jensen speak recently on the topic of How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement As I nodded my head yes to every sentence he uttered I had a light bulb moment. Since chronic stress is not always obvious, understanding and identifying students levels of chronic stress should be of the highest priority for all educators. This type of stress can literally creates holes in the brain! Educators need to understand how a child might act due to stress since these behaviors frequently mimic attention deficit or the manifestation of attention seeking behavior. Taking the focus off poverty and shifting it to stress was important to me in that moment.
Teachers spend close to 800 hours per year working on the front lines with students. Educators have the opportunity to know their students well. How chronic stress impacts learning must be shared and considered by the school team with the expectation that teachers can and will make significant positive impacts on the lives of their students. It is our responsibility as educators to understand the whole child. 10 Things You Should Know About Stress
The hard ask for us is, “How much do we care...really care?”. In your world of human connections be cognizant of chronic stress indicators in children. Please take some time to read the current information on this important topic. Pass it on and use it! The children will thank you.
Resources on Learning and the Brain - Edutopia
Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind - Eric Jensen
Inclusion/General Ed Teacher
Karen currently is a fourth grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary in the KKP Complex Area on the Big Island-Hawai`i. All of her teaching experience has been within high-poverty-low SES demographics. She is a Hawaii Hope Street Fellow and also one of Hawaii’s 2016/2017 PBS Digital Innovators. She is a Teach Strong Advocate. Karen runs a CS/Minecraft EDU Club. She has presented at the 2015 & 2016 HITechEd Conferences and ECET2HI 2017. She also created and moderates her school’s twitter account and is GLC heading her grade level. She has 5 children and enjoys 6 grandchildren with her husband of 26 years. She received her BA in Elementary Education from the University of Alaska.
What is my kuliana? How did accepting my professional responsibilities with deliberate intent and diligence affect the journey I was on? I wondered about this as the vibration of my seat reminded me that we were about to take off. The plane lifted off the runway pressing me back into the seat. “A smooth take off”, I thought.” Good.” My body relaxed as my mind continued musing about the path I was on. I am a fourth grade teacher who is also the grade level chair this year. So far I enjoy the extra work of supporting my colleagues & following up on the many details woven into the day of an educator. Having a view into the management & inner workings of the leadership team is the most interesting part of this position. I appreciate the opportunity to understand how the monthly meetings are run and find myself closely observing the way each different personality on a team can affect change. This is where I need to reflect on my own participation. The systems in place at my school have distinct purposes. Consistent tracking of instructional schedules, pacing of lessons, behavior/academic intervention along with trust & relationship building of the staff are priorities.
An attempt is being made to wipe the slate clean in order to fix problematic patterns of the past. There has been much improvement but it has been at the expense (at times) of squelching teacher talent & passion. Having consistency provides a control aspect, as in a scientific study, which is needed for collecting data & weeding out the outliers. The problem with rigidly sticking to schedules & decreasing teacher autonomy is that we are dealing with creative human beings who work within an ever changing dynamic of meeting children's needs. Academic needs of students change from day-to-day, month- to-month, year-to-year. When a teacher is asked to be on the same day or week of a curriculum the system becomes rigid and imperfect. When a teacher has to explain why they changed a learning target their professional integrity may be negatively affected. Too often this type of questioning puts many teachers on the defensive which can become a slippery slope leading to negative outcomes. However once the problem areas are identified a strong school team can help to build capacity for trust & positive change! These are the issues my mind considers repeatedly. As the wheels touch down I realize that our landing has been just as smooth as the take off!
I am excited to be in Honolulu today for a Teacher Leadership meeting. This grassroots group of amazing educators are working towards positive change. Teachers are asking to be included & heard. Not tomorrow but today! The narrative is being adjusted. We do not want to quietly buck the broken systems by deviating from imperfect pacing guides. Teachers need to be given opportunities to strategically support & promote their valuable ideas!
The following is quoted from HTLN (Hawai'i Teacher Leader Network) members,” Teachers have enormous potential to help lead efforts that benefit all schools & students. When teachers are given leadership opportunities they are powerful catalysts to change teacher outlooks.” There is work to be done! Be your own best advocate. Raise your voice. Be that teacher who finds the motivation to infuse our culture with hope & power! What is your professional kuleana?
“It’s graduation day and it’s official, the courses that magically make me a teacher are completed!” The audience along, with the distinguished guest’s voice who stood at the podium, faded as the last seven years passed before my eyes. It was not magic that got me to this pivotal point. I watched the movie in my mind of hard work and dedication as the ceremonial speeches continued.
Scene 1: I am driving home in a blizzard to make dinner for my children feeling the sheer relief of getting yet another “A”. I am not worried about getting home safely just that I passed another test.
Scene 2: I can see buckets of tears lined up each with a label.
Scene 3: My heart squeezes a little as I watch this, the most frequent scene, my husband patiently listening and then putting his arms around me in support.
Scene 4: Me, proudly modeling education by enthusiastically sharing interesting things with my children that I learned in class.
Was it really seven years ago when my youngest of five children turned eight and I walked into Bio 101? Remembering how difficult it was to study while raising teenagers made me softly smile. Then my smile faded. It had been surprisingly difficult to “be present” for my family. Countless birthdays, holidays, and celebrations were blurred by the next deadline. Was it worth all the sacrifice? The speaker's voice came back to my awareness like the volume being turned up on a radio. Catching sight of my family and friends in the audience who were cheering me on caused me to take a deep breath. In that moment I acknowledged that life was a series of choices and that I was now a teacher who had persevered. Out of the sacrifice came a proud sense of accomplishment but was it the right choice?
Over the years of coursework I often wondered if teaching was my best career option. As an adult and mother I was aware of the many challenges within our public education system. I knew many teachers and was privy to their raw honest opinions about what educators face such as low pay, lack of autonomy, top-down management, inadequate job security and more. I chose to continue on.
Fast forward to the present. This is my fifth year of teaching. What a ride it has been! The learning curve of a new teacher is steep no matter your age or life experience. The stamina I acquired during my years of balancing college and homemaking served me well. Many individuals leave the teaching profession within the first five years. I almost did. Strategic self-reflection and daily effort helped me to persevere. I gained many valuable skills which have enhanced my philosophy and approach to teaching. My tool box of tricks is fuller now. A few things helped me grow and stay the course.
I had spent 30 years in Alaska before moving to Hawaii to begin my teaching career. Over those years I learned from indigenous Alaskan Native beliefs that there is much to learn by simply observing. During my first years of teaching I chose to keep my opinions quiet and to display a positive attitude with a “can do” approach. Teaching children often was a joy. Being a teacher often was a drain.
Surrounding myself with positive people and goals became my top priority. I reached out and made connections. Since my own work environment initially was not giving me the collaboration I craved, I began to understand that finding my own PLN would be important. I began using Voxer and Twitter to connect with high quality educators. It worked wonders! Through the use of professional social media I discovered many opportunities for personal growth. Of all the coping skills I discovered, the most important one was not learned from another educator. It came from reaching out myself and becoming a “connected educator”! Some of my Global PLN on Voxer & Twitter This support has helped me to address the following questions. If you work in education I would like you to consider them too.
Do you feel isolated professionally?
Do you lack balance?
Do you wish for more autonomy?
Do you lack support from your lead learners?
A career in education has many personal and professional challenges. However I believe we can affect change by stepping out of our comfort zone. Making connections face-to-face and virtually is powerful. The questions I posed are for you to answer. Take action! Make connections! When we are asked to take a survey, give an opinion, speak to a policy maker or our colleague we must be willing to share our insights. Why should we raise our voices? I believe that teachers have expert knowledge in the areas of improving the education system and providing positive support to our fellow team members. Do you know your answer to this question?
During my years teaching in Hawaii I have been privileged to learn more cultural lessons. The indigenous Hawaiian people have a proverb that helped me to visualize being both a committed and connected educator. E kaupe aku no I ka hoe ako mai! “Put forward the paddle and draw it back”, which means to go on with the task that is started and finish it. Paddlers rely on their crew, canoe and the ocean to move them forward with perseverance and focus. Teachers must rely on their team (PLN) and a positive solutions oriented mindset to move the profession forward. In order to give our children the best education possible we must connect and help each other navigate what is ahead. Did I make the right choice all those years ago? As I remember back to the auditorium on graduation day I can stand firm on the choices I made to pursue a career in education.
I am an innovator according to the above basic definition. I am a person who tries new things because they may improve a situation or solve a problem. However I think there is a whole lot more to it.
I would like to expand on what I think an innovator is. I believe it is more about being the best you can be at whatever you spend your time doing. Innovators tap into a need to excel and to be challenged. I love to learn and have been curious about everything for as long as I can remember. These are common threads found among teachers. Curiosity and the love of learning woven together creates the fabric of innovation. I believe another trait an innovator possesses is an innate ability to remain balanced in the face of struggle. It is the knowledge that some things must be explored before you can fully appreciate the end result. I also think that innovators are great planners. If you do not have a good framework there is nothing to hang off of. Sometimes we need to swing in the breeze a little knowing that we are anchored to the plan. Being open to change and trying new things is a hallmark of courage that most innovators do not even acknowledge. It usually takes someone else to point this out. Not necessarily because the innovator is modest but simply because they are completely absorbed in what they are doing. They don't notice because they find their endeavors invigorating and fun! Ok...that also includes frustrating, time consuming, stressful, scary and risky but mostly FUN! Change is not always welcomed by others so an innovator also has an extra amount of confidence in the ideas they are promoting. They believe it is worth the effort. They also have the patience to wait out the reluctant naysayers. The final and most important aspect of being an innovator is being a strong collaborator. Two heads are better than one. Yes! I love trying out new things (especially with my students) because the joy of discovery and success is much sweeter when shared!
I am a digital innovator who is thoroughly enjoying the journey and is looking forward to the amazing opportunities ahead for us all!
How do you define yourself in the area of innovation?
As a busy teacher,wife, mother and nana, I often have a list a mile long of all the things I would like to accomplish in a day. I have learned to pick a few things and then prioritize them in my mind. Which will cause the most amount of stress if I do NOT complete them? Will the uncompleted tasks linger and hang over my head? Will they fade away and not be addressed until much later or ever??? I realized a long time ago to consider these questions. The answers have helped me to find the sometimes elusive state of being called...balance. Not all the time but I am getting better at this.
I just spent a fabulous winter break showing my visiting family our Hawaii home. There are two more days until school starts back up. Work pressure is starting to build. There are so many things I imagined getting done over break. I find myself working hard to keep these last few days together productive. Today is an example of my favorite type of balance. We all went to a beautiful spot in Hilo for the afternoon. I spent time before and after completing some of my "few things". I created this class website and finalized an i-Movie about how we do group work in our class. Some lesson planning for our ELA block was completed and I created a letter for students families announcing the Computer Science Club I will be running. I cleaned out my work e-mail, did dishes, played with my grandsons, enjoyed good food with everyone and even tried to see Star Wars (which was sold out).
Now at midnight I am jotting down a few thoughts while thankfully acknowledging the fact that my alarm will NOT be set for the morning. As I reflect on what was accomplished today I am amazed. I managed to get a lot done! Tomorrow is another day and I have chosen my next "few things". I will complete more lesson prep for my wonderful students, increase my knowledge with amazing educators across the country through a Voxer Book Study (Uncommon Learning by Eric Sheninger. He even joins the conversation!) Most important will be to enjoy some more time with my parents, brother, daughter, sons and grandsons who are here from Alaska. Finding balance can be tricky but is very satisfying.
How do you prioritize your "few things"?
Here's to a New Year filled with balance!