As I help my students reflect on their year of learning, I remind them that everyone still has things on which they need to work – even teachers. As I reflect on my year of learning and teaching, it is critical to identify the areas of weakness and how I will work to better myself in those areas in the future. The Professional Growth Plan (PGP, see Image 1) has helped me reflect on my teaching in a meaningful way and exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice (HOPE principle E1). While this is required for my program, I felt it truly helped me lay out measurable plans for my future in teaching, as well as a baseline from which I can grow in my own classroom next year.
In going through the Washington State rubrics, I found a few areas in which I would like to grow in my next few years of teaching. While they had not been my focus as I was gaining footing in the classroom, it will be important that I implement these into my teaching in order to be a more effective teacher for all of my students’ needs. As opposed to other reflections I have done, the PGP requires the teacher to plan action steps that will begin progress toward the new goals set. For example, in order to better teach academic vocabulary (Criteria 2.7), my goal is to identify key vocabulary while planning the lesson, creating a word bank, and assessing students on key academic vocabulary. My action step that will set me in motion to reach this goal will be to specifically identify they key vocabulary in my plan book. In addition to writing the learning target in my plan book and on the board, I will leave space for vocabulary in both of those spaces as well. While the plans for the rest of this school year have been written and it would be difficult to begin a new activity with students so late in the year, I can begin the next school year with these goals in mind in order to make vocabulary a central focus in my classroom.
No teacher is an island. I have heard this phrase many times, but had little idea what it truly meant until I found out how much teachers rely on others for ideas and support. In order to exemplify collaboration within the school (HOPE principle E2), I must be open to collaboration and be adamant in my intentions to work with others. My mentor teacher has not only been a mentor to me, but she has also helped her grade-level partner in her transition into the second grade. Previously a third-grade teacher, she relied heavily on my mentor’s ideas to help her through her first year at the new grade level. Essentially, she provided a model for me to know how critical it is to ask for help during your first year – whether it be first year at a new school, a new grade level, or even first year teaching. As I prepare to go into my own classroom, I will use the relationships I have developed at my current internship site to ask as many questions about first grade as possible. I will be going into the Kindergarten classroom to see the level at which my next-year’s students will be. I will be going to the first grade teacher to get advice on the first few weeks of school – that critical expectations-setting time that can make or break your whole school year.
In reading education blogs, I came across a great post about teacher collaboration on Edutopia by Ben Johnson. The author notes that he had a very difficult time when he was first starting out since he tried to work in isolation. It was only when a coworker approached him for collaboration that he felt comfortable sharing ideas and being open to the ideas of others. Some of his advice for teachers is to build relationships from the very first day, observe other teachers whenever you can, ask questions, and be prepared for collaboration meetings. In having deliberate collaboration, and not just hoping that the answers to our problems will just spring out of nowhere, we can improve our productivity in these meetings, both formal and informal, and be able to improve the ways in which we teach.
Johnson, B. (2011). Making the most out of teacher collaboration. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-collaboration-strategies-ben-johnson
While I often receive feedback from my mentor teacher and university coordinator, I believe the untapped source of feedback for teachers in the classroom is the students. They watch us teach every day and are the ones most impacted by our lessons. How often do we get their responses? In order to gain a better understanding of how my students feel about my teaching, I gave them a Student Perception Survey. According to Hanover Research, these surveys “can provide valuable feedback to teachers that may ultimately help to improve their effectiveness” (2013, p. 14). Using these types of surveys can help me to exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice (HOPE principle E1). The results of the survey I gave opened my eyes to some areas on which I can focus.
While many of the survey responses were very positive, one or two students had a very negative outlook across the areas I surveyed. While this survey was anonymous, this data tells me that perhaps there are one or two students that feel more neglected in my teaching than others. My first step would be to ensure that I am giving adequate attention to the needs of each student. After averaging the data (See Image 2), I decided to focus attention on the area which scored lowest: “My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.” While this area did not score drastically lower than the others on average, it would still be a good starting point for fostering growth.
For a long time, I tried to stray away from the idea of dominance, as it seems like an idea akin to threatening and intimidation, but there is a certain level of control a teacher must have within their classroom. Marzano stated the idea in a more approachable way, even for someone who wants to have positive relationships with their students. He says that assertive behavior based on body language, appropriate tone of voice, and persistence can help a teacher maintain control of the classroom (2003). As I begin my first year of teaching, I will try to focus on those three things in order to be a presence that students will respect as an authority.
Hanover Research (2013). Student perception surveys and teacher assessments.
Marzano, R. J. (2003). Classroom management that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
It is understood that teachers are responsible for the education of the students in their care. Many are unaware that our responsibility to our students goes beyond academics. We are also caretakers, responsible for the wellbeing of the child within our classroom as well as becoming aware of their wellbeing outside of the classroom. In order to exemplify an understanding of professional responsibilities and policies (HOPE standard E3), we must be aware of our role as providers of a safe environment. The Archdiocese of Seattle requires all people who come into contact with youth and vulnerable adults through church-sanctioned volunteer or paid work to complete a Safe Environment training. While the circumstances that led to these trainings is unfortunate, it is beneficial that the Church make its members aware of the signs of abuse and how to respond to suspected abuse. I believe this program prepared me for being more alert to signs of abuse that a student might show as well as behaviors of adults that may be red flags.
Recognizing abuse is a situation we hope we will never have to face, but it is one of the sad realities of being a teacher. It is also an opportunity to step in at a time when a child needs you most. Teachers have a unique role in that they see students almost as much as parents do, but also see a different side of them, perhaps one they would not show their parents or family. In order to work in a public school, I was asked to complete a background check and became familiar with abuse reporting policies for teachers. The Catholic school took it one step further in helping us better understand warning behaviors from both children and the adults who may take advantage of them; they also require annual refresher trainings in order to continue working around children. Even if I do not end up in a Catholic school in my employment, I intend to continue with these trainings, as they have helped me understand my responsibility to my students and have better prepared me for that responsibility.
In my Elementary Math Methods course, we read three books that each contributed a major component of how I now approach teaching mathematics.
Classroom Discussions in Math by Chapin, O’Connor, and Anderson addresses using “Talk Moves” to help guide discussion in math. While my previous math lessons involved having students explain their thinking, I never held others accountable for listening and reflecting on what other students were saying. Overall, this lead to an unintended culture of disrespect when I should have been setting expectations that facilitated active discussion in which students build on each others’ ideas. This textbook provided useful ideas, such as giving students time to discuss ideas in small groups before transitioning into whole-group discussion, which ensures students have something to say. When students have something to say, they are more likely to engage in the conversation. In applying this to my teaching, I’m seeing students who are typically reserved in conversation willing to offer ideas, even if it is their neighbor’s idea, to the whole group conversation. I will continue to use ideas from this text to guide discussion in mathematics.
Teaching Learners who Struggle in Mathematics by Sherman, Richardson, and Yard gives useful diagnostic tools for students who struggle in learning mathematical concepts. While I have yet to become comfortable enough to use these tools in fully analyzing my own students’ work, I have been looking at their work in a new light, taking into consideration where their strengths are before looking for weaknesses in their understanding. The book places a high emphasis on finding both the strengths and areas of concern for students – something that it is important for all teachers to do whenever addressing the individual needs of a student. In seeing my students’ strengths, I am better able to use those strengths in addressing the areas of concern and planning a course of action. The students have also been very excited to hear me compliment something they are doing well in math, as these students typically do not hear much positive feedback on their math, so they are then more likely to buy in to a conversation about how to improve even more.
Teaching Mathematics to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners by Johnson was the book I enjoyed most this quarter. As someone who has many Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) family members and friends, this text was close to my heart. This book also provided many “Points to Ponder” that help educators deeply reflect on their interactions with CLD students. At the heart of the book was that we need to better understand our CLD students and their backgrounds before we can understand the steps we can take to help them. I do not currently have a student who you would typically consider CLD, but I will surely one day, and having this book as a reference will be useful in my interactions with them.
Chapin, S. H., O’Connor, S., and Anderson, N. C. (2013). Classroom discussions in Math. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.
Johnson, A. (2010). Teaching mathematics to culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Sherman, H. J., Richardson, L. I., and Yard, G. J. (2013). Teaching learners who struggle with mathematics: Responding with systematic intervention and remediation – 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
In my Elementary Math Methods course, I have already felt an incredible shift in how I think of teaching Math. In my student teaching, Math was the first course I began teaching. Unlike the Reading course I took last quarter, I came into this course having contextual knowledge about how what I learned could be applied to the classroom.
For my first mini-lesson, I chose to try a new approach to a topic I had already taught in my classroom – prime numbers. When I taught it to my students, it went terribly. Exit tickets proved that few students were able to retain all of the information I threw at them. I used a direct instruction approach and, while I tried to use some Talk Moves as described by Chapin, O’Connor, and Anderson (2013), I ended up doing nearly all of the talking. My mentor teacher and I would have to reteach the topic, since in 4th grade it is critical for students to know what prime and composite numbers are and be able to work with these definitions.
In teaching the mini-lesson to my peers, I decided to do an “example/non-example” style lesson. In order to do this, I would have to help the students link information, as looking at and defining groups of numbers can be quite intimidating for many students. Bringing in arrays helped students visualize these numbers and see that there were multiple ways to arrange composite numbers in arrays, but only one for prime numbers. The planning for my mini-lesson ended up taking less time than planning for the original classroom lesson because I knew what pitfalls existed and what resources could benefit my students – so I made sure to adjust for those in the mini-lesson presented to my peers.
I also found this project to be a good place to experiment with something I’d seen before and wanted to try in Math. My mentor teacher, inspired by an online video, used gestures to accompany simple definitions so students could better remember them during Reading. I came up with gestures to accompany definitions for prime number and composite number and my classmates responded very positively to them. It was the encouragement I needed to try this method in my own Math classroom.
I believe what I’ve learned aligns well with HOPE standard E1: Exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice. As I learn more about what I teach, I am able to better apply what I learn in my courses to what I do in the classroom. In trying new practices and methods, I am allowing myself to grow professionally and better serve my students.
Chapin, S. H., O’Connor, S., and Anderson, N. C. (2013). Classroom discussions in Math. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.
E3: Exemplify an understanding of professional responsibilities and policies. Teaching is a profession that includes many responsibilities, since we are often a major influence on the lives of many children. While some of these responsibilities are easy to handle, such as watching over the wellbeing of our students when they are in our classroom, there are other responsibilities that may be emotionally painful to fulfill. The one I think I might struggle with most is my role as a mandated reporter for suspicion of child abuse or neglect. For our Professional Issues course (EDU 6134), we read Washington State’s Guide for Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect, shown in Figure 1.
Even when simply reading the text, I was overcome with emotion and fear of having to report abuse in the students with whom I will build relationships. I never want to see abuse in my family, my circle of friends, or my classroom, but unfortunately it is something that could happen, and I have to be prepared for it. Not only will I report suspected abuse because it is the law, I will do it because I care about the people around me and don’t want to see them harmed. If any intervention from the state takes place in the household of one of my students, I will try to continue to maintain the classroom as a safe place to come and be a “normal” child, even while their life may shift around them. It is my hope that I will be surrounded by friends and family that will offer emotional support if I ever have to report suspected abuse. Being able to come home and behave as if nothing had happened is unlikely, but support might help me deal with the emotions that accompany evils such as realizing the presence abuse.
Washington State Department of Social & Health Services: Children’s Administration. (2010). Protecting the abused & neglected child: a guide for recognizing & reporting child abuse & neglect. (DSHS 22-163).
In the beginning, I envision learning a great deal of information in a short amount of time. Coming from a background unlike many others in my cohort, I feel slightly behind. Many of my classmates have spent time in a classroom recently, whether tutoring or assistant teaching. The last time I was in an elementary school classroom, I was attending the elementary school. The learning curve will be steep, but I am excited to progress my skills and learn something new. I will spend five weeks learning the basics, then spend a whole school year in a classroom with an experienced teacher while continuing courses. I learn best by observing others, so this will likely be the time of the most professional growth for me. Even after the program, my passion for learning new things – something my dad instilled in me – will keep me moving forward and trying to better myself in an ever-evolving field.
Although I do have this slight handicap of not working in schools, I have taught in a way some teachers find difficult. I have spent the last five years working in informal science education, so I know a lot about presenting difficult concepts to children with varying understanding of the idea. I also have a background in science, which is not all too common in elementary school teachers. Even though I am passionate about a wide range of topics, science became a highlight for me in high school. I hope having a scientist as a teacher for at least one year of elementary school will give the kids I teach a better respect for and understanding of the importance of math and science.