Support through Professional Community

8. Professional Practice – The teacher participates collaboratively in the educational community to improve instruction, advance the knowledge and practice of teaching as a profession, and ultimately impact student learning.

8.1 Participating in a Professional Community – Relationships with colleagues are characterized by mutual support and cooperation.

The eighth standard of the Internship Performance Criteria emphasizes the importance of participating in a professional educational community to advance student learning. It is important for teachers, especially new ones, to have a support network of other teachers, administrative staff, librarians, parents, and online communities to learn from and develop professionally. Regularly attending workshops and reading about the latest research-based instructional strategies is important to grow as a teacher.

Throughout my internship, I have attended grade-level team meetings to discuss curriculum, potential unit and lesson plans, and ways to assess student learning. One way I have been supported by my mentor and colleagues is by exploring a new curriculum for English Language Arts by the Collaborative Classroom that was approved for implementation at my school next year (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 - CCC Learning Hub Curriculum

Figure 1 – CCC Learning Hub Curriculum

As a third-grade team, we collaborated one day when there was an early dismissal and I experienced exploring the unit for fiction writing. We all agreed to use a specific rubric to evaluate the students’ fiction writing (see Figure 2). Together we modified it to fit our classroom needs.

Figure 2 - Fiction Writing Rubric

Figure 2 – Fiction Writing Rubric

Another way my colleagues and I supported each other was by sharing resources for the next unit about poetry. I borrowed an instructional guide for poetry from another 3rd grade teacher and used many of the lessons from it to teach types of figurative language to my students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education (2010), “half of teachers leave the profession within the first five years” (p 39). This is partly due to the lack of a support network of other educators and high amounts of stress as brand new teachers navigate the first few years of teaching. One way new teachers can be more successful is to build a support network around them. The U.S. Department of Education (2010) discusses the practice of “connected teaching” in which “teachers engage in personal learning networks (PLNs) that support their own learning and their ability to serve their students well” (p 40).

I am fortunate to have been placed in a school that has dedicated teachers that support each other to make sure we are doing what is best for our students. I am always willing to help my mentor and colleagues and want to support them too as I grow into this new profession. I have learned that it truly takes a village to teach children and without my colleagues’ support, I would not have been as successful teaching our poetry unit. In the future, I plan on continuing to talk to colleagues about different instructional strategies and ways they have taught poetry. I also plan to join an online community where teachers share lesson plan ideas and other resources that can help me engage students and support their learning in the best way possible.

Reference:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. Washington, D.C.

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Professional Learning Networks

One of the biggest challenges facing today’s teachers is finding a support network of other dedicated educators who share research and ideas about teaching strategies, practices, and pedagogy. Having a strong, collaborative community is important for teachers to grow professionally. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2010), “half of teachers leave the profession within the first five years” (p 39). This is in part due to lack of support networks and the fact that many new teachers do not have technology skills or knowledge at their disposal.

As I considered these challenges, I wanted to determine how I could participate in an online learning community to grow my teaching practice and learn new teaching strategies. ISTE Standard 5 states that teachers should continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.

The U.S. Department of Education (2010) discusses the practice of “connected teaching” in which “teachers engage in personal learning networks (PLNs) that support their own learning and their ability to serve their students well” (p 40). Teachers potentially have many resources to build their professional practice including parents, other teachers, PLNs, online courses, and other professional experts in the field. Online learning communities can help combat the traditional isolation that new teachers suffer from and instead enable them to collaborate with peers and improve student learning through resource and research sharing.

Connected Teaching (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

The research article “’Together we are better’”: Professional learning networks for teachers” summarizes a study where over 700 Pre-K-12 teachers answered questions related to their professional/personal learning networks (PLNs) and how they felt the PLN activities affected their teaching and student learning. The article asserts that PLNs are the preferred option for collaboration and resource sharing for these survey participants because of the informal nature and the availability of diverse experience and teaching strategies. Almost all participants reported modifying their teaching practices because of their interactions with PLNs. PLNs consist of a variety of systems, including personal teacher colleagues and various online resources such as Twitter, Edmodo, Google+, LinkedIn, and Edutopia. PLNs can support affective, social, cognitive, and identity aspects of teacher growth (Trust, Krutka, & Carpenter, 2016). Respondents also described PLNs as having a positive impact on student learning (Trust et al., 2016).

One of my colleagues shared an article that discusses three popular PLNs created for educators: Edmodo, Classroom 2.0, and The Educator’s PLN. These PLNs can provide instant access to information, support, advice, feedback, and collaboration opportunities (Trust, 2012). Classroom 2.0 is a pay-for-service that allows individuals to create their own web site that contains a networking space including chat rooms, discussion boards, profile pages for members, interest groups and many other tools. Classroom 2.0 also has a wiki, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Diigo account for sharing bookmarked web sites. Educator’s PLN is similar to Classroom 2.0, but it is more member-focused. Edmodo is a large social networking site similar to Facebook. Members have profile pages and can participate in online conferences, join subject communities, share resources, ask questions, and solicit ideas.

Classroom 2.0 (Trust, 2012).

Trust et al. (2016) assert that PLNs offer teachers emotional support, flexibility for adapting their learning experiences, and opportunities for engagement, participation, and even a community that extend beyond the walls of schools. This vast array of online professional learning networks can be a great solution for growing my professional practice and learning how to be a better teacher.

References:

Trust, T. (2012). “Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning.” Journal of Digital Learning in Teaching Education, 28, 4, 133-138.

Trust, T., Krutka, D. G., Carpenter, J. P. (2016). “Together we are better”: Professional learning networks for teachers.” Computers & Education, 102, 15-34. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2016.06.007.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. Washington, D.C.

Modeling Safe, Legal, and Ethical Use of Digital Information

ISTE standard 4 states that teachers should understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices. There are several parts to this standard, but I will focus on one: teachers should advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources.

As a teacher, it is important for me to understand rules around giving proper credit to sources, make sure I use Internet resources responsibly, and make sure I am being a good model for my students. One particular blog post I have found particularly useful is “The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons.” The two basic rules are “1) You can’t use everything you find on the web and 2) There are resources you can use” (Burt & Waters, 2017). For example, images are one of the most problematic for people unaware of copyright laws. Photos for Class is a helpful website that automatically provides Creative Commons images with image attribution quickly and easily.

While I focused on one aspect of the standard, a colleague of mine focused on developing and modeling cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital age communication and collaboration tool. McVeagh (2015) discusses creative ways to teach global awareness including Skype in the Classroom and Google Field Trip. For example, Mystery Skype “allows classes to play a guessing game with each other to try and figure out where each of the schools [on the Skype call] are located” (McVeagh, 2015). These tools seem useful for promoting global awareness and could serve as examples for how to safely interact with other people via the Internet.

According to Hollandsworth, Dowdy, and Donovan (2011), it takes an entire village to teach digital citizenship. Parents, teachers, librarians, administrators, and students themselves must learn how to proactively deal with the issue of digital citizenship. Many approaches currently in place in most schools are more reactive than proactive. For example, there are Internet filters and outright banning of cell phone and other devices. However, this doesn’t restrict student use of technology outside of school and we are doing our students a disservice by not educating them on how to safety, ethically, and legally use Internet content and electronic devices. Just like we teach students how to enter traditional society with basic concepts of legal, ethical, and moral conduct, we should teach them these concepts and the skills to use in the digital society as well.

Hollandsworth, Dowdy, and Donovan (2011) assert that research shows that middle school and beyond is too late to begin teaching digital citizenship because most students have already adopted their own rules for technology use (see figure 1). Furthermore, many states do not have state standards that encompass digital citizenship, therefore it is not stressed in various academic curricula. Educators need to take it upon themselves to force the issue and be proactive about teaching students as young as early elementary age what it means to be a digital citizen.

Figure 1 (Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends, 55, 4, 37-47.)

Figure 1 (Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends, 55, 4, 37-47.)

There are some curricula available online that address various topics related to digital citizenship. For example, Common Sense Media publishes a curriculum for grades K-12. It includes topics like self-image and identity, relationships and communication, cyber bullying and digital drama, and creative credit and copyright (see figure 2). One drawback I have to consider is the amount of time I will have as a busy elementary teacher to implement this type of additional curriculum. Perhaps I could use some ideas and embed them into the lessons I am teaching. For example, during a lesson about researching for writing a report, I could also teach students how to correctly cite and give credit for sources. I hope to keep these important topics in mind as I continue in my development as a teacher.

In the 21st century, all educators should work towards making sure students become good digital citizens. It really does “take a village.”

References:

Burt, R. & Waters, S. (2017). The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Faire Use, and Creative Commons [web blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.theedublogger.com/2017/01/20/copyright-fair-use-and-creative-commons/

Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends, 55, 4, 37-47.

McVeagh, R. (2015). 3 Creative Ways to Teach Global Awareness [web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/blog/3-creative-ways-to-teach-global-awareness

Using New Technologies to Communicate with Parents

It is important for teachers in any grade level to be aware of new and evolving technologies and processes. Living in the digital age of the 21st century, we have an obligation to make sure our students are knowledgeable about the Internet, computers, and electronic devices, and how to use them productively. Technological skills are important to have in a significant percentage of job settings including medicine, engineering, architecture, research analysts, software developers, and many other professions.

ISTE Standard 3 discusses how teachers should exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society. Being able to transfer current knowledge to new technologies, to collaborate and communicate with the community using digital tools, and to model effective use of such tools to support research and learning are critical skills for all teachers to have.

As a future elementary teacher, I am especially interested in learning about the various ways to use technology to communicate with parents and students outside the classroom. Keeping open lines of communication with parents has been shown to have a positive effect on student learning and achievement. O’Brien’s Edutopia article (2011) discusses a survey done by the National School Public Relations Association that indicates parents clearly prefer Internet communications, including emails, an online parent portal, e-newsletters, websites, and a telephone/voice mail system. Face-to-face meetings with parents are especially important but digital tools can supplement this information. Knowing whether parents have easy access to email, computers, or other electronic devices is important.

According to Pescatore’s Edutopia article (2014), the first step to determining which digital tools to use is figuring out the classroom needs, resources available, and goals to be addressed. Understanding what parents want to know is essential to providing a tool that they will use and appreciate. A colleague of mine shared an interesting article about the characteristics of parent-teacher email communication. According to Thompson (2008), the most common email topic was student grades, followed by scheduling meeting dates and times, and health issues including obtaining homework while the student is gone. Thompson (2008) also concluded that parents and teachers emailed less frequently than one might expect, with teachers typically spending 30 minutes to an hour per week communicating with parents via email. Email can be convenient for communicating at any time when people are available, however if an immediate answer is required, email can potentially be slow if the teacher or parent is extremely busy.

Teacher-parent email topics by frequency (Thompson, 2008)

Teacher-parent Email Topics by Frequency (Thompson, 2008)

Remind could be a potential solution to this problem. Remind is a texting service that teachers and parents can use to communicate quickly. Remind does not require the sharing of phone numbers, so this information can remain private if necessary. Teachers can quickly send messages to parents reminding their students to finish an assignment or to return paperwork for a field trip.

Figuring out the purpose of the communication is another consideration. I began to wonder what other digital tools are there available to use besides email? Do I want to simply provide information to parents via a classroom website? Do I want students and parents to be able to contribute to the communication? According to Pescatore (2014), a few options for one-way communication tools include Pinterest, eNewsletters, and photo sharing sites. Two-way communication tools include blogs, Google drive, social media such as Facebook or Twitter, and even live-streaming applications such as Skype.

Kumar and Vigil (2011) assert that the Net generation, people born after 1984 who have grown up with digital technologies, should have the knowledge and skills to make the connection between technology, subject matter, and pedagogy, and be able to implement educational technology activities in the classroom. However, research indicates that undergraduates show limited or no transfer of technology familiarity to academic environments (Kumar & Vigil, 2011). Kumar & Vigil’s study surveyed 51 undergraduates in the college of education at a large private university and found that 98% used online videos, 68.6% used photo sharing, 52.9% used online forums, 47.1% used blogs, 40% used wikis and podcasts, and 32% used Google Docs in informal settings. However, respondents did not typically transfer this knowledge and use to educational settings. The graph below shows the large gap between using blogs, wikis, and podcasts informally and in educational settings.

Informal and Educational Use of Technologies (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

Informal and Educational Use of Technologies (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

I have maintained two personal blogs for informal use and this professional blog over the past decade, but I never thought about using a blog in an elementary classroom setting. The idea of creating a blog for my classroom and having my students involved in writing posts that parents can then read sounds interesting. I came across a blog written by a teacher and author that discusses ways to use technology in the classroom, including blogging. Ms. Ripp has written several posts about why students should blog in the classroom, how to do it, challenges you might face, and internet safety issues. She uses KidBlog, which seems like a safe, yet sophisticated way for students to blog about what they are learning and parents to observe.

I am very familiar with most digital tools mentioned above, however I haven’t thought much about using them in an educational setting. There is a lot of potential for richer activities for students to patriciate in that involve new technologies. On the continuum of integrating technology in education below, I believe I fit in the adaption and appropriation phases.

Continuum of Integrating New Technologies in Education (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

Continuum of Integrating New Technologies in Education (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

One issue will be determining which ideas are the best to focus on and implement properly and how much time I have to spend on these technologies. Another issue is making sure students don’t feel left out if they do not have internet access or access to digital devices at home. It is important to make sure we expose all students to the vast array of technologies available in the 21st century, so that they can be future researchers, engineers, and teachers for the next generation.

References:

Kumar, S. & Vigil, K. (2011). The net generation as preservice teachers: Transferring familiarity with new technologies to educational environments. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 27, 4, 144-153.

O’Brien, A. (2011). What parents want in school communication [web article]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien

Pescatore, G. (2014). Parent communication toolbox [web article]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-communication-toolbox-gwen-pescatore

Thompson, B. (2008). Characteristics of parent-teacher e-mail communication. Communication Education, 57, 2, 201-233. doi: 10.1080/03634520701852050

EDU 6989 Professional Issue Report: Teacher Burnout

Teacher burnout is a real problem for schools in the United States. Teachers, especially new ones, are susceptible to feelings of stress, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Teacher stress has many negative consequences including adverse effects to teacher health, negative thoughts and attitudes towards the education system, poor job satisfaction, and increased rates of leaving the profession. According to Prilleltensky, Neff, and Bessell (2016), anywhere from 30% to 50% of new teachers leave within the first 5 years of entering the career and 20% to 33% of new teachers leave within 3 years. These large rates of attrition have a huge financial cost to districts, states, and the teachers themselves. In addition to financial costs, teachers who are experiencing high amounts of stress or burnout do not teach as efficiently and can even influence how students feel about the educational experience. Poor teacher motivation can negatively influence students, causing further disinterest and lower engagement (Shen, McCaughtry, Martin, Garn, Kulik, Fahlman, 2015). It is important to understand teacher stress and how it leads to burnout, recognize the negative effects on students, and discover potential ways to alleviate the causes and symptoms.

Numerous studies have been done on teacher burnout. “Schaufeli and Enzmann (1998) noted that teachers represent the largest homogeneous occupational group investigated in burnout research, comprising 22% of all samples” (McCarthy, Lambert, O’Donnell, and Melendres, 2009, p. 283). Some teachers may be more prone to burnout than others, depending on their personalities. McCarthy et al. (2009) hypothesized that teachers are more susceptible to burnout symptoms if they believe the demands of their job are outweighed by the amount of resources they have to cope with those demands. To test this theory, McCartney et al. (2009) performed a study of 451 teachers in 13 elementary schools within a large urban region in the southeastern United States. They measured the teachers’ burnout using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) test. The MBI, developed in the 1980s by Christina Maslach and others, measures three aspects of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. Emotional exhaustion is defined as a depletion of one’s emotional resources while depersonalization means distancing oneself from others. According to McCarthy et al. (2009), depersonalization for elementary teachers could mean the development of negative, callous, and cynical attitudes towards students and the school environment. Personal accomplishment is a reduced sense of efficacy and devaluing of one’s work with others (McCarthy et al., 2009).

Through a complex analysis of two years’ worth of data, McCarthy et al. (2009) concluded that “teachers’ experience of stress appeared to have little to do with the differences between the various elementary school contexts” (p. 296). Furthermore, what made the most significant difference was the individual differences between teachers, suggesting that the biggest predictor of burnout was individual perceptions of the balance between resources and demands (McCarthy et al., 2009). It is interesting that another finding from this study was that the longer a teacher worked at a particular school, the more at risk they were for having burnout symptoms (McCarthy et al., 2009). The authors speculated that perhaps tenured teachers are given more non-classroom responsibilities, more difficult students, or other administrative functions not typically given to teachers in their first year of service. Another finding suggested that in order to combat depersonalization, teachers need to be given more support from school administrators, such as through morale-boosting events outside of school and even a mentor program. It is apparent in this study that no matter how long a teacher has been in the profession, they are still at risk for stress and burnout.

A recent article by Prilleltensky et al. (2016) explained that risks and protective factors take place at the personal, interpersonal, and organizational levels. On a personal level, feelings, of isolation, inadequacy, and anxiety can be offset by things such as a support network, a mentor teacher, increased self-efficacy, mindful medication, and a growth mindset. Interpersonal risk factors include relationships with students, parents, and colleagues. To combat these potential problems, teachers need to have better classroom management skills, elicit student voice, communicate regularly with parents, and share ideas with fellow colleagues. At the organizational level, risk factors include role clarification and policies and practices that are outside a teacher’s power to influence. Protective factors at the organizational level include workload clarification, understanding the principal’s expectations, and enhancing teacher voice and choice.

Prilleltensky et al. (2016), also note that novice teachers are especially prone to anxiety, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy at the personal and interpersonal levels. New teachers often do not know anyone in the school and have a difficult time making friends or sharing ideas about teaching. Sometimes their friendliness can be met with frustration or negative feelings from other teachers who may be burned out themselves. Prilleltensky et al. (2016) reference a growing body of research supporting the idea that teacher mentoring and induction programs can increase novice teachers’ efficacy, job satisfaction, and retention. In fact, “first-year teachers who had a mentor in their field were 30% less likely to leave the profession at the end of their first year teaching” (Prilleltensky et al., p. 107). Stressful conflicts with parents and students themselves adds to the emotional burden thrown on teachers.

At the organizational level, new teachers are often placed in tough classrooms without proper professional support. Unfortunately, many teacher preparation programs do not equip teachers for daily classroom demands. Furthermore, teaching is inherently emotionally intense and the school system is not organized in a way to support new teachers (Prilleltensky et al., 2016).

While numerous studies have been centered on teachers’ own characteristics, “few have explored the connection between teachers’ burnout and students’ motivation via their own perceptions of teachers’ behavior and emotional well-being” (Shen et al., 2015, p. 520). The theory is that as teachers become increasingly burned out, their classroom preparation and involvement in classroom activities decreases while student criticism increases. Thus, students’ sense of efficacy in school can decline, reducing their intrinsic motivation, and eventually diminishing learning and engagement. Shen et al. (2015) conducted a study of over 1,300 high school students and their 33 physical education teachers in 20 high schools from two school districts in a Midwest metropolitan area to investigate the relationship between teachers’ burnout and students’ independent motivation. Teacher experience in this study ranged from 8 years to 30 years.

Results showed that physical education teachers’ “burnout was negatively associated with students’ autonomous motivation” (Shen et al., 2015, p. 527). There could be a few possible reasons for this connection, including: 1) emotional exhaustion may discourage teachers from realizing the relevance of physical education and therefore they did not provide students with convincing instruction, and 2) teachers might be uninterested in setting goals for students or allowing them to choose activities they find interesting (Shen et al., 2015, p. 529). Further study is needed across a wider variety of school populations and subjects to determine the link between teacher burnout and student motivation.

These studies point to the fact that teachers could benefit from instruction on fundamental skills such as stress and time management, relaxation training, and coping skills. One such skill called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) might be helpful. According to Gold, Smith, Hopper, Herne, Tansey, and Hulland (2009), “MBSR is based on training attention through straight-forward, secular, meditation techniques” (p. 185). When dealing with stressful thoughts or events, teachers using MBSR attempt to reduce emotional reactivity and become more attuned to logical thinking. Gold et al. (2009) performed a study of nine elementary teachers and two teaching assistants at six schools to determine the effectiveness of MBSR training at reducing teacher stress. Participants completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales test before and after the MBSR training. The training occurred over 8 weeks with sessions once a week after the school day for 2.5 hours. There was also a 5-hour session on a Saturday between weeks 5 and 6.

Results showed that most teachers were emotionally distressed, scoring above the clinical threshold for depression, with eight scoring in the clinically significant range in two of the three subscales (depression, anxiety, or stress) (Gold et al., 2016). After the MBSR training, only four scored within the clinically significant range on any subscale, with only two being mildly stressed (Gold et al., 2016). Several participants had positive things to say about the training such as “I wish I’d known about it 30 years ago” and “It has been helpful for me to notice unhelpful thinking patterns and nipping them in the bud” (Gold et al., 2016). It is difficult to make a generalization about these results given the extremely small number of participants, no control group, and no follow up of the long-term effects of the training. However, at least in the short term, MBSR training may prove useful for some teachers to reduce their personal anxiety, stress, and depression by increasing their coping abilities.

It is essential that educators around the country realize the seriousness of teacher burnout. Personal, interpersonal, and organizational factors can have a huge impact on how a teacher handles stress and loneliness. New teachers especially are prone to these negative feelings and may not have the training or support they need from their school or teacher preparation programs. Coping strategies such as the MBSR approach, other cognitive behavioral approaches, and having a good support network can help alleviate the symptoms of burnout. Teacher working conditions and classroom environments must be improved. For the sake of all educators and students, there needs to be more of a balance between the demands and resources of classrooms, more support for teachers with challenging students or situations, and perhaps even mentors assigned to new teachers. Recognizing teacher burnout is the first step in the long road to improvement.

References

Gold, E., Smith, A., Hopper, I., Herne, D., Tansey, G., Hulland, C. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (mbsr) for primary school teachers. Journal of Child & Familiy Studies, 19, 184-189. doi: 10.1007/s10826-009-9344-0

McCarthy, C. J., Lambert, R. G., O’Donnell, M., Melendres, L. T. (2009). The relation of elementary teachers’ experience, stress, and coping resources to burnout symptoms. The Elementary School Journal, 109, 3, 282-300. doi: 0013-5984/2009/10903-0004

Prilleltensky, I., Neff, M., Bessell, A. (2016). Teacher stress: what it is, why it’s important, how it can be alleviated. Theory Into Practice, 55, 104-111. doi: 10.1080/00405841.2016.1148986

Shen, B., McCaughtry, N., Martin, J., Garn, A., Kulik, N., and Fahlman, M. (2015). The relationship between teacher burnout and student motivation. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 519-532. doi: 10.1111/bjep.12089

EDU 6989 Observation Reflection

As part of my field experience class at Seattle Pacific University, I observed several teachers at B. F. Day Elementary School over the past two months to gain a better understanding of the curriculum, culture, and the daily life of teachers there.

Demographics

B. F. Day is located in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. It is the oldest continually operating school in the city. The “building is a designated historic landmark having undergone state-of-the-art renovation in 1991” (About B. F. Day Elementary, 2016). It is a relatively small elementary school with approximately 330 students and 21 teachers. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI, 2016), for the 2014-2015 school year, about 58% of students are Caucasian, 12% are Asian American, 10% are Hispanic, 8% are African American, and 12% are two or more races, making the student population moderately diverse. Approximately one-third of students quality for free or reduced-price meals, 16% are transitional bilingual, and 13% qualify for special education (OSPI, 2016).

Curriculum and Teaching Styles

B. F. Day uses the “mini middle school” system where the 4th and 5th graders have several teachers throughout the course of the day. This program is meant to help prepare them for the transition to middle school. I mostly observed the 4th and 5th grade literacy, science, and math teachers, but I also observed the physical education teacher and the art teacher. After my observations of the “mini middle school,” I am not convinced it has a positive effect on students. Instruction time is lost with as many as three transitions a day, not including transitions for recess and lunch. The students also have four or five different teachers who all have different personalities and ways of managing their classrooms. Expectations are different almost every hour depending on which teacher the students are with at that time. Additional observations in future years would help determine the effectiveness of the “mini middle school” program.

The curriculum included math, science, and literacy/social studies as the core subjects, with art and physical education on alternating days. In the math classroom, not once did I see learning targets shown anywhere, essential questions being asked, or instruction occurring. This may be an unfair assessment, given the fact that my observing was very sporadic and I generally spent the majority of the time with the science and literacy teachers. However, I frequently observed the math teacher handing out worksheets rather than actually teaching. Most of the students expressed boredom with math and were frustrated that they were forced to do so many repetitive worksheets they felt would be irrelevant in their futures.

In stark contrast, the literacy teacher had learning targets for the week posted on the board, as well as references to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Reading. I graded a few worksheets and papers for her during one of my observations using the rubrics provided by the CCSS. She also used rubrics for the end of unit projects students completed and scored them on a scale of 0-4. It appeared that she used this information to improve her instruction for the rest of the unit and for future years. She also often had students turn and talk to their neighbor about answers to questions and other topics. This teaching technique seemed to work well at gaining student interest. Students were also interested in the social justice unit in their literacy class. Many liked the fact that they could choose a book from a list of books provided related to a social justice topic.

The science teacher often used PowerPoint presentations to give direct instruction, which usually included a learning target. No standards were referenced. Students seemed interested in science, especially when doing experiments such as the erosion and deposition of soil. It is unclear to me how he evaluated student progress and achievement. In general, if an experiment did not go well or the students appeared to be confused, he would simply revisit the experiment the next day to correct any errors or misconceptions. He often used sentence starters as a way to get the students to start writing a summary about a topic such as erosion and deposition. I assume he graded these summaries and took that information into account when working with particular students, but again it was hard for me to make a fair judgment based on the short amount of time I spent observing.

Child Abuse Prevention

Child abuse prevention and reporting is a critical aspect of being a teacher, counselor, principal, or other professional school employee. As part of Seattle Public Schools, B. F. Day follows Board Policy 3421 adopted in April 2012 by the district with regard to reporting child abuse:

All professional school personnel who have reasonable cause to believe that a child has experienced abuse, neglect, or exploitation shall report such incident to law enforcement or the Children’s Protective Services Staff at the first opportunity and in no case longer than forty-eight (48) hours after the finding of possible abuse or neglect.

I am sure these guidelines are reiterated at the beginning of every school year with training occurring every three years after initial employment.

Culture

Rules and expectations are posted in the hallways and in classrooms and are reinforced by faculty and staff daily. B. F. Day is in the first year of implementing the social and emotional literacy program called RULER, which stands for Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotions. They also utilize a school wide curriculum called Second Step to teach social skills. I saw posters about these programs in the hallway and in classrooms, but never observed them being referenced by teachers. I often observed students misbehaving in the hallways, in classrooms, and on the playground. Students are expected to transition between classrooms quietly and in line order, however many times students were talking and continually out of line and had to be corrected.

I generally observed good behavior in classrooms, however the math teacher struggled to maintain order in her room. On my first day of observing, I walked into a chaotic classroom where the teacher was doing very little to control her students. The math teacher asked me to help two girls with their math worksheets in the hall outside the room. The girls continued talking and were off-task the majority of the time I tried to help them. Once one of them tore up the math worksheet right in front of me and refused to do it. There seemed to be no consequences for their actions. Needless to say, the math teacher had no idea how to gain student interest in math and failed to keep students in line. She is taking a position at a different elementary school next year.

The other classrooms I observed were much better behaved. The literacy teacher indicated that she set behavior expectations at the beginning of the school year and students seemed to respect her more than the math teacher. As part of her behavior plan, she set up a classroom meeting one afternoon a week for her 5th grade classes. Every student had to compliment at least one person for something and all students were given the chance to discuss important topics such as playground issues, school or community events, and their personal lives as they felt like sharing. Students took this classroom meeting seriously and really enjoyed discussing topics.

The science teacher also set up classroom meetings for the 4th grade classes, which they appeared to enjoy. For general classroom management he used a computer/cell phone app called ClassDojo. This app allows the teacher to quickly award or take away points for each student based on their behavior. Students can gain points by being on-task, participating, and helping others. Points can be taken away for off-task behavior, talking out in class, or other distracting behaviors. At the end of the week if all students had at least 15 points, the teacher would allow them to play on the playground for the last 15 minutes of class. I think this was a great motivational technique for maintaining student engagement and behavior.

As for the faculty frustration, it was clear that the literacy teacher did not appreciate the lack of control the math teacher had over her students. During lunch I would often sit in the teachers’ rooms while they worked on their lessons for that afternoon or answered emails. Sometimes the other 4th and 5th grade teachers, with the exception of the math teacher, would join us and talk about how their day was going. Often I heard lamenting about how they wished the day or week was over and that it was summer break. Other times they felt energized about how well a lesson went that morning or how a certain student was successful at something. They seemed ever hopeful that things would get better, which was encouraging.

In summary, the school culture seemed to be one of rowdy and sometimes disengaged students, as well as frustration among the 4th and 5th grade faculty, mostly in relation to the math teacher and particular students egregiously misbehaving. It is unclear whether the students I observed were as disengaged in prior years or whether their rowdiness was a result of a poor math teacher.

As for my overall experience, I enjoyed getting to know the teachers at B. F. Day Elementary School. They welcomed me, a complete stranger, in their classrooms and allowed me to assist with experiments, grade student work, supervise the playground, inventory science kits, and perform many other tasks. B. F. Day has a handful of dedicated teachers and I am hopeful that next year’s math teacher will be an immediate improvement for the 4th and 5th graders. I hope to have a chance to revisit the school in the future. Having this chance to observe a local school gave me a better understanding of how classroom management can impact the learning environment. Building positive relationships with students and other faculty, clearly communicating expectations and enforcing them, as well as creating a compelling curriculum can make teaching incredibly rewarding.

References

About – B. F. Day Elementary. (n. d.). Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://dayes.seattleschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=2199&pageId=35328

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/summary.aspx?groupLevel=District&schoolId=1120&reportLevel=School&year=2014-15&yrs=2014-15

Seattle Public Schools Board Policy No. 3421. April 4, 2012. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://www.dayes.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/Migration/Departments/HR/3421.pdf

EDU 6120 Foundations: American Education Past and Present

I completed the online course EDU 6120 Foundations: American Education Past and Present during the fall of 2015. Attached is my final paper for the class as the signature artifact. Enjoy reading!

LesleyHeerwagen.EDU 6120 Final Paper