I have so much hope for our profession, our students, and our society.
In a pretty pessimistic world, want to know why I’m so optimistic?
Because I believe in our future teachers. After an entire school year of working with preservice educators, I have seen so much energy, excitement, and engagement from every single one of my students. Every challenge that comes their way–whether in the form of an assignment, a tough reading, or grappling with a seemingly unsolvable education issue–only reaffirms their desire to help their students. They just care…so much.
A fantastic conference I attended last week was a wonderful reminder of all of that hope I have for teachers and teaching and learners and learning. We’re here because of love–love for who and what and how we teach. Yesterday, I shared my learning from the morning sessions of that conference, and today I’d like to share the ideas, quotes, and joy I heard in my afternoon sessions.
Session Three: On Teaching Writing & Knowing Our Students
This amazing session was led by three preservice teachers who interned in high school ELA classrooms in our community. Each of them spoke about their struggles and successes with so much passion that I was left feeling proud to be a teacher by the end of their talks.
Idea: Audio Recording Peer Feedback–I absolutely loved Katie N.’s idea of having students record their feedback to peers. After a semester of struggling to get her students to view themselves and one another of being capable and worthy of giving authentic, valuable feedback, she hit upon the idea of having students read one another’s papers ahead of time, prepare some comments, and then record a few minutes of thoughts, responses, suggestions, and connections. I can’t wait to have my students try this idea!
Quote: “When I conferenced with my students, so many of them really surprised me!!” Danielle focused on looking for patterns in her students’ extracurricular involvement and how it might connect to their engagement, motivation, and success in schools. She had lots of preconceived notions about how her athletes, club members, or student body leaders might act in the classroom, and many of them were wrong. She loved the experience of being surprised by her students when she took the time to confer with each of them multiple times.
Just Joy: Katie P. was interested in taking a whole class novel study far beyond the book. While reading A Separate Peace with her students, she encouraged her students to read the novel through a critical literacy lens, identify social issues they could connect to their own school community, and then take action to improve the state of those issues. As a result of her teaching, the students in her class created a club focused on improving mental health by participating in mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing.
As she spoke about this new awareness of mental health issues in a school that had been plagued by student suicides, Katie teared up–as did many of us in the room listening to her speak. I was so impressed and inspired by the power this young teacher realized she had to change a school community.
Session Four: On Evaluating Ourselves
In this session, led by a mix of teachers and school leaders, speakers presented on ways in which they looked at their own teaching, their whole classroom, or their entire school community; identified a problem; and then attempted to fix their issue. Many of their inquiries resulted in some amazingly ambitious goals–one principal wanted to find a way to improve her students’ poor attendance, which was often caused by factors stemming from a community plagued by poverty; a group of teachers formed a committee to implement more responsive, sensitive discipline into their elementary school; and an academic coach shared ways she’d aggressively procured free technology into her school for teachers and students to use to improve learning.
I loved all these school leaders’ ideas, but I found one presenter’s approach to strengthening pedagogy incredibly effective and easy to implement. Josh Karr, a high school math teacher, simply emailed his colleagues and invited them to form an informal PLC to evaluate themselves.
Idea: Record Your Teaching–Josh invited his whole faculty, via email, to video record one of their lessons, watch it alone, and then bring a small clip to share with a partner in their mini-PLC after school. Thirteen teachers agreed to participate, and showed up, quite nervously, with their recordings. They paired up, regardless of content area or grade level, and worked together to analyze their videos, give and get feedback, and talk through some questions they had. I loved this super easy, low-stakes idea to self- and peer-evaluate our teaching in such a welcoming way.
Quote: “We laughed at how many teachers didn’t even have students in their videos.” Josh told a funny story about how several of the teachers’ video cameras had only been pointed at the teachers themselves, and how they didn’t realize this narrow-minded view until they started talking with colleagues. It was a real revelation for many of these teachers to realize that, wow, their worldview wasn’t very student-centered. I was so uplifted by hearing Josh speak about how this simple activity prompted these teachers to stop looking at themselves for evidence of good teaching, and to begin looking at their students instead.
Just Joy: Josh talked about what an inspiring thing it was to be part of this tiny community of teachers within his school, which included teachers from all content areas, and even the band director. He gave me such hope when he shared how the teachers’ video recordings had evolved over the weeks to include more students, more difficult class periods, and more and more vulnerable learning.
I loved hearing how teachers of all levels of experience and expertise were willing to open themselves up to their colleagues for the sake of improving their students’ learning opportunities. It’s a hard thing, in this profession, to invite criticism of our teaching when our work can sometimes be thankless. I can’t wait to try this idea with my students and colleagues alike.
Check out Part I of this post from yesterday, and then please leave us a comment: what strategies, ideas, or frames of mind might you try out in your classroom? Will you share some fantastic lessons you’ve gleaned from good conferences in the comments?
Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.