Saturday, May 16, 2020

Let your remote teaching and learning experience lead your professional learning and development

What we are learning now via remote teaching and learning provides a positive path to professional learning and development.

I built this reflection upon a post I wrote about what we know to be true about successful teaching and learning whether it's in school as we know it or via remote learning and teaching. 

Take some time to consider these questions as you plan for your professional learning efforts ahead.

Relationships Matter
Make time to evaluate your professional relationships with these questions:
  • Do students like and respect me? Why and why not?
  • Do families like and respect me? Why or why not?
  • Do colleagues like and respect me? Why or why not?
  • Do administrators and community members like and respect me? Why or why not?
  • What can I do to boost optimal relationships with all those that I teach and learn with? 

Mission Matters
What mission leads your work now? How can you better that mission statement? What is at the center of the work you do?

I want to work on this myself, but at present my mission statement includes the following priorities:
  • Optimal, positive, and proactive service to students, families, and colleagues
  • Teaching the standards outlined in effective, enriching, engaging, empowering, and meaningful ways.
  • Teaching in ways that promote positive lifelong learning skills, knowledge, concept, and mindsets.
  • Acknowledging and developing every child's sense of worth, strength, and value. Helping children to know themselves well and know how to best develop who they are and what they hope to be as they grow older.
  • Teaching with a sense of humor, levity, enjoyment, and community.
  • Knowing the content that I teach with depth and breadth. 
  • Continually reflecting on my own teaching and learning, and using that reflection to reach out for more and better ways to teach well.

Role Definition Matters
  • What is your current teaching role? 
  • How is that role defined? 
  • What are the priorities related to that role? 
  • What are the supports in place to help you meet the expectations for your role? 
  • How do you advocate for the needs you have related to your role? Do you reach out to system leadership with ideas and questions? Do you work with your local union to better support the needs you have in your role for effective teaching and learning? 
  • How can your role be better defined and supported?
Years ago, I looked deeply at this question, and then with colleagues we proposed a new model for teaching and learning at our grade level. The model has been effective in so many ways. I continue to re-look at my role definition and priorities, and I continue to reach out to colleagues, administrators, and community members to gain the supports I need to better meet my role expectations. I hold to the mantra that ambition must feed mission, and with that, keep mission at the forefront of my work in this regard. 

Service Delivery Expectations: Health and Welfare of Families and Children
  • What services support the work you do?
  • What services do you need to support that work better?
  • How do you advocate for better service delivery to students?
When students obtain the services they need, they thrive. When students do not receive the services they deserve, they suffer. We cannot effectively teach students who are suffering as they are not available for learning. So, how do we make sure that students receive the services they need.

First, we have to focus on school schedules. Whether it is virtual school or school as we know it, schedules have to be created with care to make sure that children receive their service delivery. That means, schedules should be built up from those with greatest needs to those with the fewest needs. Optimal service delivery means that children receive their needed services related to special education, counseling, health, and nutrition.

Next, we have to advocate for apt service delivery for all families and children. When families suffer, children suffer. That's why it is imperative to advocate for all families to have adequate shelter, safe neighborhoods, access to healthy food, positive recreation, and optimal physical and mental health care. Unhealthy, unsupported students are not available for the learning. We live in a country that can do a better job by families and children, and as educators, if we want to do our jobs well, we have to advocate for equity and the welfare for all students and their families.

Best Practices and Resources are Important
  • What teaching/learning practices do you employ that are successful? How do you measure that success?
  • What more do you need to learn and do to improve the way you teach?
  • How do you and your colleagues share ideas and help each other to improve your teaching?
  • What professional learning opportunities are effective and what opportunities are a waste of time?
  • How can you advocate for the best possible professional learning support?
  • Do you have the resources you need to do an effective job? If not, what more do you need to improve what you can do?
I am afraid that too many school systems will simply hire consultants to fill in the gap here, and in doing that, they'll waste a lot of money and time. Too often, systems turn to consultants for professional learning because it is cheap and easy. Further, if you hire a consultant and they do a poor job, then you can blame the consultant which takes ownership off of your shoulder. That said, in some cases, consultants play a valuable, beneficial role. 

Really good professional learning begins with educators, students, and families' questions, needs, and interests. Really good professional learning begins with a measured analysis of what is working and what is not working on multiple levels. 

For example, my primary question at this time is how can I effectively teach math better whether it is virtually or in the school building. I know that I need to learn the following to do a better job:
  • Continue to develop students' growth mindsets, brain knowledge, and interest related to math learning. Reading Boaler's book, Limitless Mind, and applying that knowledge to math teaching and learning will, in part, lead me in this direction.
  • Continue to look deeply at how I teach each unit and refine those units by thinking deeply about the logical roll-out of the concepts, model making, materials I use (projects, practice, problems) and assessments. I have a lot in place in this regard, but the key is to finesse these units so that the learning is meaningful, engaging, and successful. 
  • Continue to think deeply about the children most challenged with math learning expectations and work with special educators, guidance, families and others to look for ways to best teach these students for success.
  • Continue to hone my online teaching repertoire so that the lessons are meaningful, understandable, and memorable. 
  • Think deeply about the needed repetitions of instruction and types of groups in-class and virtually that promote the best possible math teaching and learning. 
My secondary focus is growing the science teaching/learning program in meaningful ways. I suspect that we'll take what we have and finesse the program in place for a blended online and offline roll-out in the fall. The first steps here are to review what we've done with a fresh mind this summer and work with colleagues to set the course for the year ahead. 

The final goal is to think about what students will be like in the fall after this learn-at-home period. Already, I know that we will have to spend the first few weeks building team and getting to know the students well. This will take time and creativity whether we are at school or in the virtual sphere. Knowing that a strong team sets the stage for optimal education we will give team building the time it deserves at the beginning of next year following an updated, modern interpretation of Ruth Charney's great book, Teaching Children to Care which includes taking the first six weeks to build a strong teaching/learning community. We will have to reconsider the role of families with regard to this team building too since families are playing a great role when it comes to remote learning and teaching. 

Process Matters Too
I want to be very mindful of the processes used as we transition to the end of the year and into next year. I will speak up if I feel that processes have been promoted without depth or breadth. I will advocate for teachers to be at the center of process development because any decisions made without teacher input will not be as valuable or positive for the teaching/learning going forward. I will also advocate that we hear from families, community members, and students too--good process is built from the perspectives and experiences of all teaching/learning team members including students, families, educators, staff members, administrators, and community members. It will be best to prioritize around these processes by choosing to tackle the most important decisions first beginning with safety, then relationships, and quality education after that.

This time-at-home is an important time to consider your teaching career and professional learning needs. Good reflection now will benefit you and your students for years to come. Make time for this.