Becoming Unnecessary

Number Five
A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.

Thomas Carruthers

Become unnecessary?  Why would I do that?

Because as teachers and as parents, it’s our responsibility to our students/children.

My two cents??

Teach kids the definition of integrity: what you do when no one is looking,” … and get out of the way.

Ever wonder why some teachers seem to just have it all together?  You walk into their room and things are humming along.  These folks might be your colleagues or they might be your own kids’/grandkids’ teachers.  What makes things different in these classrooms?

If you’re a teacher with a classroom, a student in a classroom, or have visited a classroom, how would you describe it?  Chaotic? Organized? Learning-centric? Student-centric? Teacher-centric? Lacking any learning at all?

My goal is simple:  Make myself unnecessary to my students.

Let students own their learning, own their behavior, own our daily routines, and let them know they’re in control. If you’ve dealt with a toddler, tween, or teen, you KNOW what I’m talking about.

Let students/children do what they choose, within established parameters. Teach them to run the classroom, so when a Substitute Teacher (hardest job on a campus!) fills in, students can carry on their daily routines.  Whether they actually do can be a 50/50 crapshoot, but set the standard and watch for the outcome.  When they miss the mark, it’s time to pay the piper.  When they shine, it’s time to celebrate!

It’s not perfect, but Subs often report after my absence, “Great day! These are good kids. Please call on me anytime.” THAT is what I want to hear. Students are in control – of themselves and our classroom.  Bravo!

So what works?   (usually)

 What I’ve learned in  20 years….

As I write this and think about kiddos in general, I think these five could be applied to home life, too, right?  Kids need structure and organization. Heck, we all do … to be successful.  Well, the seating chart might be a bit overboard for home ….

1.  Establish policies and procedures.   Spend time thinking about how you want things to look and sound in your classroom. Make a list. Be clear about policies vs. procedures.  Then, describe in detail, all of the policies (what we do) and the procedures (how we do) for your class, in writing, in your syllabus/Wk 1 packet.  Leave nothing to chance.

  • Want students to sign in to the orange notebook by the front door and put their tardy pass in the blue basket if they arrive late to class? Then say it. In writing. In person. In practice.  (This continues to be a struggle for some of my students… really?!?)
  • One of the most common things I hear from fellow teachers is, “Students should know what to do.”  And I think, Really?  Do you just know all the policies and procedures when you start a new job?  Or, does someone give you an employee handbook and maybe some tips/guidelines?  Give your students a handbook. Leave nothing to chance.
  • Teach students to follow written and verbal directions. I get The.Most.Pushback from students on this one. I tell them, “Bosses expect you to follow directions. Clients expect you to follow directions. Test-makers expect you to follow directions. College admissions officers expect you to follow directions.”  When asked why they didn’t follow the directions that are on the board – in writing – and repeated verbally – students say (when pressed beyond I don’t know), “.. because I’m lazy.”  It’s true. Students admit ‘lazy’ all the time in my classroom.  I admit being lazy sometimes, too. Kids are shocked to hear this.  Lazy is easy. Tip to kids:  It’s a two-way street. We’re in it together. Now, let’s get past lazy and get things done.

2.   Color-code everything. Yes, even in high school! Think about it:  Isn’t it more efficient to say to a student who asks (and some always do!), “What did I miss yesterday?” to go check the pink notebook on the shelf than to say, “Go check the notebook on the shelf” and there are three other notebooks. What’s the student say next? “Which notebook?” (even though they’ve asked you ten times already this year).  Now you’ve got lots of extra discussion. Avoid it.  Color-code everything (including notebooks and baskets) and teach students from Day 1 the routines (When you are absent, you will check the pink notebook when you return to class).

3.  Create a seating chart.  For sure, there are several ways to go about this.  I’ve tried most. Try and try again, right??  Here’s my take on a few:

  • Option A:  Let students sit where they want for the first day or two of school. This allows you to (covertly) identify potential issues (buddies sitting together, slackers/sleepers), etc…. ~ Once you’ve identified the potential issues, build YOUR seating preferences and have it ready to go when students walk in. Be ready for whining. Too bad, so sad. Nonnegotiable. Thank you (with a smile).
  • Option B:  Have a seating chart the first day students walk in.  Meet students at the door. Greet them. Give them a ticket or sticky note with a # on it that corresponds to a number on your roster (b/c yes, students will swap tickets). Direct them to find their designated seat. This helps with attendance and establishes your classroom management from Minute #1 (always a good thing).
  • Option C:  Let students pick their seats and you fill in a chart. I do not recommend this for most K-12 classes. *Note: I had the opportunity to see this option play out early this school year, as a first-year teacher (and friend) decided to “trust her students and let them pick their own seats.”  By Week three, she was crafting a carefully considered seating chart. 😉

In case you’re wondering, Option A stands for Awesome in my book.   🙂

4.   Label everything.  Everything:  cabinets, drawers, crates, doors, teacher area, student areas, pen/pencil cups, computers, tables in specific locations, folders, notebooks …. eveeeerythiiiing.

classroomlabels1

5.   Rock the wall space!  Make it count.  Display things that help students be successful, you be successful, and help classroom guests understand what they’re observing.

uploaded to pc aug 10 2013 1284

In Florida, teachers are currently evaluated under the Marzano model, with unending requirements, also known as 41 elements.  While I agree with the philosophy behind the model, I am annoyed at ~ and exhausted by ~ the relentless directives about how to do things, all to get crappy ineffective teachers on board (or out the door).  I’m annoyed because compliance doesn’t work. Ineffective teachers do a dog-and-pony show when someone walks in, then go back to doing crappy as soon as the door shuts, while the rest of us are exhausted, working 10+ hours a day just to keep up with all those ridiculous mandates.  *Administrators, pleeeeaaase, get these people out of our schools!

Kids talk.

Some teachers people have NO business being in the classroom (because they’re not teachers… they’re paycheck collectors).

Soapbox
Source: http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/report/1213/april9/soapbox.asp

Climbing down from the soapbox ……

Back to those walls….

  • Word Walls (yes, in high school ~ most important in content-area classrooms!)
  • lists of frequently used resources, such as Internet sites,
  • instructions for how to do something (sign in before using the computer)
  • college/career/military information prominently displayed

 

How about quotes that teach, inspire, and encourage?  A few of those strategically placed, go a looong way.  One of my first Community Building assignments (weeks 1 & 2) asks students to look carefully around the classroom, choose a quote that speaks to them, and write about it.

From inspiration to procedures and expectations, wall space is great real estate. Make it count!
From inspiration to procedures and expectations, wall space is great real estate. Make it count!

What kids choose, says a lot about them. What kids say, says even more.

Sooo… How unnecessary are you? 

To your students?  To your employees?  To your family??

What can you teach others to do for themselves?  How much are you willing to turn over?

If you home-school, do your children own it, or do you?

What would happen if you let go …. a little?

If your kids/grandkids are in school, what’s their teacher’s classroom looking/sounding like?

I encourage you to visit.

Ed2B: Educators’ Skills Translate

Are you a business owner or hiring manager?  If so, have you ever wondered what an applicant who’s a transitioning or former educator might bring to your organization?

I’ve worked for several years with adults who transition from business to teaching – for a variety of reasons, usually, to ‘make a difference.’

But what about teachers who make the move from education to the business world?  I call it Ed2B.  As I consider my next professional transition and update my LinkedIn profile, I find myself exploring this topic and wondering what the business community might look for if I sought a position outside Education?

What relevant skills make educators marketable in business?

After twenty years in Education, I’d say it depends, because I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in many classrooms.

Effective educators possess a myriad of skills that readily translate to business, making them excellent candidates for the position a business owner/hiring manager needs to fill (or create).

Things to look for/ask about:

Managing:  High school teachers manage 6 – 7 groups (work teams) and 150 – 300 personalities a day, adjusting hourly to group norms and behaviors. For some educators, effective classroom management drives successful team management; this skill is one they’d like to develop further in business.  For others, classroom management may be a strength, but managing others may not be a skill the educator wishes to develop further. I fall into this category. For still others, classroom management is a weakness and is sometimes the reason a teacher leaves the classroom.  Imagine having 25 – 50 children/teenagers in a room and chaos is the norm?  Not so good. Unfortunately, happens frequently.

Training:  Educators are responsible for identifying needs, designing and implementing appropriate learning experiences, monitoring outcomes, and adjusting next learning based on those outcomes.  If done well, learning experiences are timely, engaging, and meaningful to participants.  Admittedly, not all educators have mastered these three principles, but when they have, their trainees (i.e. students) are demonstrating understanding and moving forward. Isn’t this the goal for your employees participating in staff development?

Data:  Educators are increasingly required to collect and analyze formative and summative data, which may be qualitative or quantitative.  Interpreting data, identifying trends, and forecasting are skills you could expect from a transitioning educator. Note:  an educator’s degree of data use/level of understanding will vary widely.

Time Management:  Effective educators are also effective time managers. They set and meet deadlines.

Writing:  From lesson plans to home/school and peer communication and anecdotal reports, effective educators compose and communicate professionally and succinctly.

Public Speaking: Some educators, though definitely not all(!), possess lively, engaging presentation skills (think: marketing).  Surprisingly, this is not a general strength in classrooms, especially at the high school and college levels. Remember that monotone teacher/instructor you had back in the day?  Luckily, we are not all that way.  Need a candidate who can engage an audience?  Ask him/her to provide a 60-second video clip or speak for 30 seconds on a topic.

Technology:    Many educators utilize technology to enhance instruction. This may include social media, designing/planning  programs, learning platforms, video sharing sites, or Web 2.0 professional communities.  However… many do not. In my professional experience, technology use appears much more common in younger/newer teachers’ instruction or in Career & Technical classes and programs, but you can’t be sure. This old dog utilizes all the things mentioned in this post.  🙂  Ask a candidate what he or she uses and what his/her level of understanding is (a question my husband, a hiring manager, routinely asks). If invited back for a second round of interviews, perhaps ask a candidate to demonstrate his/her technology proficiency.

Collaboration:  I kept this skill ’til the end on purpose.  Though educators are increasingly expected to be collaborative, many are not.  The old adage, “Let me go in my classroom and close the door” still holds true for many.  Your degree of need for an employee to be collaborative may help you determine a candidate’s fit. Educators, particularly at the high school and college levels, are not – typically – overtly collaborative, unless they’ve worked in positions in which they were part of teams.  There are always exceptions to the rule, of course.  Also, elementary teachers seem inherently more collaborative, as they work in teams daily.

Interests:  Thought not always apparent in an educator’s classroom/instruction, his or her interests may drive the next professional transition, particularly if the educator has been teaching a long while and ready to explore a different side of life.  For example, though I’m a Literacy Educator, Reading Specialist, and Staff Developer by trade, my interests lie in travel, writing/blogging/reviewing, design, photography, vintage and antique items, and social media/community-brand development.  How do those interests fit into a career transition?  Given the right circumstances, I could see a number of possibilities!

Conversely, what if you are the transitioning/former educator? Which of these skills would you showcase?  Are there skills I’ve left out that you’d include?  Empathy comes to mind, though once again, I’ve seen it missing in colleagues.  They didn’t stay in education for long….

Business owners/hiring managers, what other skills would you look for?

Here We Go: Awesome Sites for Educators

A new school year begins… preplanning starts officially today, though ‘planning’ has been going on all most of summer.  For me, being organized sets the tone for daily classroom life.  This year, I’m feeling ready!

How about you?
How much time do you focus on planning or other ‘classroom stuff’ during summer vacation?

I’m thrilled to be starting the school year AT school/ON campus this year… nothing else like it in this business.

Have a great school year, teaching friends.  And if you’re looking for a new resource, here are a few of my go-to favorites ~ definitely worth a click!

Lots of ‘Ed 411’ across the Web…..

Happy School Year!

Robin

Education Nation: Can Anyone Hear Us? Does it Matter?

In a country whose education system has continued to erode for more years than most would like to acknowledge, we’re once again having dialogue about the issues:  poor student performance, lack of money, ‘bad’ teachers, poor parenting, crumbling buildings, outdated instructional methods …. the list goes on and on.

But is the Education Nation discussion leading anywhere?

Who’s listening?

Who’s willing to change how we ‘do’ school?

Who’s willing to admit that change is necessary, painful, and ultimately the one thing that can save us from self-imposed illiteracy?

As a 16+ year educator, I feel a bit frustrated listening to the conversations, seeing the highlights on the evening news, reading the updates on Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve said since I began teaching, “We need to do things differently.  What we’re doing isn’t working for students ~ all students, many students.”  Yet while some fellow educators would nod their heads in agreement, they’d just go back to what they were doing, others would scowl at me and say something like, “Things are fine. This is the way we’ve always done it,” and still others would say, “We can’t do anything about it.  It’s those kids and their parents!”

But now that people with $money$ say, “It’s time to make a difference, it’s time to do something different,” a few more people are listening.

Is giving $100 million dollars to one school district in a country plagued with a sour economy and ailing school systems the answer?  What message does that send to other districts?

Is a program like Race to the Top fueling competition and creative thinking or providing an incentive for districts to acquiesce to rules and regulations they would not otherwise follow? Is that ultimately helpful or harmful? How do we know?

I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions. I’m simply asking. I’m simply wondering.

What happened to the voice of the teacher?  The one in the classroom with the students?  The one who says, “Hey! We need to do things differently!”

Can one person make a difference?

Can one voice be heard?

I’d really like to make a difference.

I’d really like to be heard.

I’d like to put my years of classroom experience and success as a teacher to good use as a freelance educator, an educator not bogged down by unions or contracts, by what other people think is right for me to be doing, by a schedule that says I must be in a certain place between certain hours because someone needs to see me working, or by the penalties that come from working with others who require supervision to motivate them to get things done.

No, instead I want the latitude to share my enthusiasm and experience, talk about (and model) best practices, visit classrooms across our nation, and support fellow teachers in an effort to create active, engaging, purposeful learning environments for all students and all teachers.

I want to ask questions.

I want to listen to new ideas.

I want to pass those ideas on to others.

I want to be a catalyst for change.


Learning should be  meaningful, purposeful, engaging, data-driven, and fun. We can’t improve what we can’t measure and when we laugh, we remember.   Anything short of these criteria is unacceptable.

But why does it seem so difficult to do this?  What ARE the problems?

We know there are many.  We must address each. We must be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations. We must be willing to make difficult decisions.

Like firing an entire staff and starting over.

Like documenting and addressing poorly performing teachers.

Like asking the tough questions.

And being willing to listen and act upon the answers.

Now.

I believe it’s an important step that Mr. Brian Williams, Bill and Melinda Gates,  and the entire team have  taken, but I also believe that more voices from the classroom, the place we educators love to be, need to be heard. I believe more voices from the classroom need to speak up.

Today.

Can anyone hear us?

Are YOU, fellow educators, willing to speak up, be heard, and make a difference?