Monday, June 21, 2010

Developing as a Professional Educator

One can easily find the overarching themes of this entire teaching program incorporated within this domain. I feel like the whole year could provide evidence for the growth found within the elements of this domain.

The first artifact I have chosen as documentation to illustrate the element of "working with communities to improve professional practice" is the map I have created illustrating my future classroom and the connections between my students, their parents and our partners within our community. Since it takes a village to make a person, I see teaching (and a teacher) as a component within that village. I think responsible educators in the future will be able to provide appropriate connections to groups within our community that are motivated by the growth and development of our students. Business and non-profits, especially those who are setting high ethical and ecological standards within our global community, can play a significant role in our schools. It is my intention to identify recourses in our community and appropriately apply them, taking into consideration the values of my student population.

Many teachers reach out to partners as a way of funding or subsidizing their classrooms and schools. Businesses, non-profits and other programs designed to aid and support students can be leveraged to promote mutually beneficial relationships for themselves and our students. By developing partnerships, teachers in the future will be able to gain access to materials, professional development, and resources otherwise unavailable to them. Students have even more to gain when these links to their community provide a sense of purpose to themselves and to their education. Similar to the benefits of service-based learning, the connections to our business supporters can provide students with a clear vision of the student’s role in the community. With a mature sense of purpose developed by these associations within their community, students can develop their personal motivation to contribute to their own academic success, as well as, the altruistic intention to benefit people and groups within their local and global neighborhood.

The map submitted as my first artifact shows the links that are now possible as a result of technologies unavailable ten years ago. The ability to link parents with students has never been greater. Students can share daily work and on-going projects with parents and other supporters and collaborate with groups and individuals globally via the Internet. Depending on the security settings, defined by teachers or administrators, students now have the ability to work with safely with others, in a collaborative effort, as a way of promoting, engaging, and linking their work with others. This type of collaborative work environment is an appropriate (and important) skill that students of this generation will benefit from in the future. The presentation tools (Smart Boards, inexpensive microphones, document cameras) and free software provide teachers with the ability to dynamically meet the students every increasing expectation about the delivery of information. Inexpensive software programs and Internet connectivity provides students with a potential link to their local, national and global community like never before. Tools like Google Earth and Stratalogica (interactive mapping software) can be integrated across curriculum topics, giving educators increased flexibility from which they can enhance opportunities for student engagement.

It is my goal to leverage existing resources in our communities by creating connections between students, their parents and the partners within our community. Finding mutually beneficial relationships will ensure the sustainability of the program I wish to develop. Because this vision is in the developing stages of its manifestation, I would consider myself to be in the emerging stage of this element within this domain.

My second artifact is also related to technology, which seems to be one of the central themes of my development as an educator this year. The use of interactive white boards (Smart Boards) was an integral theme of my ten-day takeover during the last half of this year. The use of Smart Boards is related to the last element in this domain "Consulting with other teachers, support technology enhanced learning."

During the first month of my placement I attended a training, which featured a guest speaker from a local Jr. High. The speaker is the principal of the school that shares the same physical space as the school of my placement. As an aside to her story about inefficiencies within the district, the principal casually mentioned a stash of Smart
Boards that were not being used at her facility. Knowing the cost of these boards and potential opportunity, I interrupted her to clarify the statement. She confirmed that several boards were not being used and had been in storage for months.

The next day I arrived at school early, handed her my card, and asked if she could show me the boards. After finding the serial numbers on the boards, I went home that night to research potential training opportunities, as a way of learning the Smart Board technology and software. As I defined my goal to become proficient with the Smart Boards, I approached the principal of my school and told her that I would like to offer training to anyone who was interested on her staff. As a result of the on-going dialog (and perhaps my willingness to offer free training) the principal was receptive to my request to utilize one of the boards in my room during my take over, which I took advantage of. Understanding the benefits of the Smart Board (especially to the ELL students) and appreciating the resources in my community, later that month I was able to leverage one of my national partnerships and personally acquire a Smart Board.

Another example to support my claim that I am in the applying category of this element happened when I visited an educator who uses a Smart Board while teaching. This desire to regularly consult with other professionals who are using technology within their teaching is a goal of my goal, as well as a defining characteristic of the element of this domain. As a result of this visit I was able to refine my understanding of the Smart Board’s potential use. Her integration with a remote device, used to control the Smart Board, increased the flexibility for dynamic presentation opportunities, as well as student participation, since they can interact with the board without leaving their seats.

My third and final artifact is the social justice paper that I wrote as one of our final assignments in the summer quarter. I have provided highlights to some of the quotes that help support my claim that I am acting in the beginning stage of the domain element related to social and ethical action. Although my cooperating teacher makes a claim that "Social justice are two words that embody Sean,” I believe this is a gross exaggeration. I do have a clear vision about how social and ethical justice are related to education, but since I have little evidence that I "conduct myself as a professional consistent with the knowledge that teaching is an ethical act," I feel that it is inappropriate to describe myself as beyond the beginning stage of this element. My goal is to regularly consult with my peers to expand my scope and understanding of social justice and ethical behavior related to teaching. My growth within this element over time has been deepened by my direct experience with English language learners, during the second half of this year. By setting high expectations for all students, especially those with significant language challenges, I believe that I am well on my way to conducting myself as a professional who is highly aware that teaching is an ethical act.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Process of Change

I have a meditation instructor who was once asked by his mother "What do you do when you practice meditation?" He answered, "We look at the nature of mind." She responded, after a thoughtful pause, "Is that safe?"

Her insight is to the point - when humans go outside their comfort zone they have the ability to grow, but they also risk loosing what they already have. The irony is that the degree we grow is often limited by how closely we attach ourselves to our current state of understanding. If we know everything, and cannot open ourselves up to the possibility of knowing something else, then we are unable to grow out of that perspective. When we have enough strength to know that what we do know may be incorrect or could be modified, only then can grow occur.

As we develop as educators, we must be open to change. However, in doing so, we open ourselves up to a degree of risk; risk of being wrong, risk of loosening our student’s interests and possible achievements, and the risk of looking foolish. These are significant risks and often we find educators unable to change as a result of these (and other) fears. I am so pleased to see that Antioch designs their curriculum to include the domain of developing as a professional educator. On-going assessment and intention to grow over time is that habit of all great teachers. All of us know that any success we have had was based, in part, in our willingness to let go of one mindset and accept another set of assumptions, conditions and conclusions. And we also know that it takes some strength of character to achieve any significant change.

Reading books is one such risk I am willing to take. Some of the most important changes that have occurred in my life have been the result of a book I have read. I rejoice (and fear) that I have stumbled onto another book that will produce a great deal of change this week when I started reading Lemov's book, Teach Like a Champion. This book is a collection of practical actions that many great teachers do in their classroom. They are simple behaviors that can lead to profound changes in our student’s success.

As I prepare for my two-week takeover, I found myself thinking about one of the actions that Lemov describes, which he claims many effective teachers do. He says that creating a classroom that provides access to all students and facilitates the circulation ability for the teacher producing a room where the teacher has more control of, and access to, the students they are teaching. This seems like logical action, however, I am amazed by the amount of fear I have over rearranging the room I will be teaching in. Can I actually take an idea I read in a book and change my entire room? What if I am wrong? Would Antioch approve this? Would the students rebel and refused to do any work? Would they scream in protest?

Would it be safe? Illogical thoughts dance in my mind and threaten to take over!

In the end, it is not the answer here that is important. What is paramount is the discussion (with myself and others) and the process that we, as educators, engage in when we are attempting to facilitate the best outcomes for our students. I have the strength to know that I don't have all that answers AND I have the strength to know that I have some of them. As I reflect over my growth as a professional educator [lets assume I will get paid at some point!] I see the progression of knowing nothing about education to knowing slightly more that nothing. (This is not to undermine the amount of work, effort and achievement that I have enjoyed in the past; I simply wish to appropriately acknowledge the amount truly gained.)

My goal is to be an insanely great teacher. Ten years from now I hope that I will have taken a powerful step in that direction. I know that if that does happen - and I can recall my apprehension with rearranging the room during my student takeover - I will laugh at how little I knew then and how far I have come. I also hope to simultaneously understand how insignificant the actual behavior or choice was, and powerfully important the process of examination and willingness to changes IS, as I developed as an educator. Until then, I know that any growth I do have will be the results of engaging in risky behavior like looking at the nature of mind, reading books and being open to the coaching of my peers and students.