#YourEduStory: I ♡ Teachers

What's the best think I do in my district? That's easy. I get the honor of working with teachers who constantly inspire me.  Since they rarely brag about their accomplishments, I am going to summarize their awesomeness just from our interactions last week!

I have the pleasure of working with talented and dedicated teachers who are:
  • Starting afterschool robotics programs where the student excitement is infectious
  • Exploring flipped instruction in math to provide opportunites for real-life application during classtime
  • Starting off the quarter, piloting a completely standards-based gradebook for the first time
  • Rethinking Language Arts curriculum from a social justice perspective to promote student voice within thier community
  • Advocating for students to be known as their unique individual selves rather than a disability label
  • Providing Project-Based Learning Opportunities to Students to increase access and engagement
  • Collaborating with their Grade-level to improve student outcomes
  • Creating cross-district teacher-led professional learning in math
  • Integrating technology-based formative assessment practices into secondary classrooms
  • Providing amazing ideas for Common Core professional learning for families, paraeducators, and our substitute teachers
This is just a glimpse of the awesome things teachers are doing for students on a daily basis. I am constantly inspired by conversations with our teachers and their deep commitment towards student well-being and learning, while engaging in continuous learning themselves, and doing all this with a sense of humor and maintaining perpspective on what's really important.

That's the best thing I do in my district position as an instructional coach. I am privileged to work with a great group of teachers who are doing amazing things for kids everyday. I hope to convince more and more of them begin sharing their EduStories!

Lessons Learned from Favorite Teacher

The Week 3 Topic for the Share #YourEduStory Blog Challenge is "How are you, or is your approach, different than your favorite teacher?" When I think of my favorite teacher I immediately think of the educator that had the greatest influence on me which is my high school band director, Mr. Barrera. I was a band geek throughout high school in an ultra-competitive marching band program. During high school, I was able to travel throughout California, New York, Florida, Arizona, and Utah because of band. Participation in band opened up the world for me in the same way I wish for my students, not through actual travel but through learning about different cultures and perspectives.

From 1987-1991, we only lost 4 times. That's quite a record for a program that competed practically every weekend during the Fall competition season. Our four losses occurred at the first competition each season where we placed 2nd. Otherwise we won. This doesn't happen by accident. This is design. This is leadership. This is having an ambitious goal, planning the necessary steps to accomplish it, engaging others in believing and supporting the goal, and then implementing it with the help of diverse stakeholders.

I follow the same steps in the classroom. Most of my career has been spent teaching students with disabilities. All too often teachers, administrators, and society-at-large is quick to tell me and my students what they can and cannot do because of an label. I don't buy it. As a person with a disability myself, I know what low expectations feel like. It was something I experienced frequently in school but never in band. In band, it didn't matter if you were a member of the state honor band, if you just picked up an instrument, or if you were hard-of-hearing and missed your entrance because you couldn't hear the bass trombone cue a beat before. You were expected to figure it out. Mr. Barrerra expected excellence and got it. He had a goal, a plan, a team, and refined and executed upon it year after year.

Excellence was built on risk-taking and a commitment to continuous improvement. I found this gem on YouTube that is my sophomore year field show. Even watching this more than twenty-five years later in less than HD quality, I see the gaps and breaks in formation. I see where things can be improved. Every Monday after competition we would watch the tapes and I remember hoping that those gaps or breaks weren't caused by me because there very well might be yelling and the throbbing forehead vein may appear. Even with convincing wins year after year there was little time for celebration but rather time for reflection and improvement. It makes me wonder if it really wasn't about the wins but rather the art. We were doing things at the high school level that were considered new and innovative at the time. Rather than delivering the expected field show he had a vision for what was possible and figured out how to make it happen.

It goes back to expectations. As a Special Day Class teacher, I was expected to teach towards IEP goal mastery. That's what is expected. What is unexpected is to also teach grade level standards and achieve results very few expected from students with disabilities in a self-contained environment. Just like band, it wasn't about the "wins" on standardized testing but rather providing opportunities beyond expectations. The opportunity I provide within my classroom is access. I strive to provide access to content and learning in a way that students as individuals can best understand. One must be willing to take risks and do the unexpected.

I believe I differ in my approach though. I never want my students to feel the need to just figure it out on their own. I want to guide and support them through the process. I never want my students motivated by fear, a desire to please, or solely by wins on the way to perfection. Why? Because even though my high school band experience had a profound effect on me, I am not a musician. Mr. Barrera's methods did not help me develop an intrinsic motivation to rehearse, practice, and memorize my music. Nor, did I develop a deep appreciation for music. I essentially retired from playing upon high school graduation. I think the greatest success of teachers is measured not by what students do and accomplish within our classroom but rather what they do when they leave our classrooms. Have my methods of creating ambitious goals, planning strategically, and taking risks by doing the unexpected created intrinsic motivation and desire for learning and continuous improvement for my students when they leave my room? I hope so.

Magical School Culture

Sketchnotes from SCOE Leadership Class
 CPSEL #3 Management & Learning Environments
I'm working on my preliminary administrative credential this year through our county office. Every other Saturday, I attend a day-long class and of course take notes visually.

Lately our classes and readings have focused on creating and maintaining a school culture to maximize learning. Hogwarts was brought up as an example of school culture. Imagine if our schools were more like Hogwarts! A place where students learn by doing, are able to take risks and make mistakes throughout the process all in the name of learning. And when the dark forces take over, making the school unsafe and Dumbledore makes the decision to close Hogwarts, students take charge of their learning and find real-world application of their skills. The learning environment fostered at Hogwarts under Dumbledore's leadership helped create independent learners and thinkers who were able apply their learning in creative and innovative ways to save the world from the dark forces. Isn't that the goal we want for all our students? To be creative thinkers prepared to make the world a better place? What if all our schools had leaders adept at creating such magical learning environments?

We Cannot Be Satisfied

The topic of this week's #YourEduStory Blog Challenge is "Inspired by MLK: How will you make the world a better place?"  I believe educators step in front of a classroom everyday with this desire. It's our daily craft of teaching, building authentic relationships with students that creates the small changes that can have ripple effects by creating even larger changes in the world.

Martin Luther King Jr's, "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 still resonates today. Our schools can create freedoms for our students or limit them. "Now is the time." The stakes are too high for our kids to wait. To create the changes we wish to see in the larger system, "We cannot walk alone." As educators, we need to use our voices to increase awareness and influence decisions. There is tremendous experience and expertise in classrooms everywhere. We need to leverage that and lean on one another which is why I love the idea of this shared blog challenge. When we think we have something down or something is going right, "We cannot be satisfied." We must continue to challenge ourselves and each other to grow as we build an educational system deserving of all our kids.

As King said, "Even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream..." that our public schools will equitably serve EVERY child no matter their zip code, race, or disability status. This is how I will continue to make the world a better place even with the difficulties and challenges that lay ahead. I do not have to walk alone in this journey. The process of reflection, akin to the Reflection Pool that King's words traveled across more than 50 years ago, will help me make better choices in the name of never being satisfied. Because "Now is the time."

One Word

I have never been one for New Year's resolutions but #oneword is appealing in its simplicity.  The first word that came to mind was discover. Discover is active. It has a sense of adventure that can take many forms. It conveys a sense of pursuing the unknown. These are all things that I can identify with life-long learning and I can visualize spending 2015 discovering many new things.

But, before settling on discover as my 2015 #oneword, I was curious of its etymology. Discover comes from the Latin word cooperire with dis- expressing the opposite. Discooperire in its original use means to uncover, disclose, lay bare, expose. Uncover paints a picture of something already being there and my role is to go and find it.  Look behind the curtain so to speak. I want to spend 2015 asking, "Why?" and challenge myself to look for the deeper meaning to achieve greater understanding. Also within this Latin definition, I am drawn to the vulnerability conveyed in the words disclose and expose. It is not enough to go through this process of discovery without sharing. Learning is a constant exchange and refinement and negotiation of ideas. Without exposing or laying bare one's ideas, triumphs, and failures to discover is incomplete. Though it wasn't exactly planned out this way, I feel fortunate that I began this blog at the end of 2014 because it will provide a venue to disclose my discoveries in 2015.  As I discover, I aspire to uncover new things while also exposing myself to new ideas and learning.