Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Professional Development (or lack thereof)

Last week I wrote: “I think I get more out of 5 minutes on Twitter than an hour in a staff meeting.” It is sad but true, and the responses that I received from others in my PLN indicated that I am not alone. It is an unfortunate truth for many connected educators: as we are becoming more connected, more informed, and more effective, many institutions remain rigidly resistant to change, and a result old and inefficient practices are repeated over and over again.

The inspiration for this tweet came in the form of our monthly staff meeting, an hour+ long affair involving:

1. Discussion of issues which did not concern most of the staffers present2. Review of items and information which can easily be found in materials online and on Dropbox3. Check-ins, in which few spoke their mind and most unanimously declared that they were “fine” and things were going “well”

Needless to say, the meeting was pretty much a waste of time for most of the people who attended, and I left that day asking myself why, in a world of such easy access to new information, new practices, and new ways of sharing, do some people, groups, and institutions continue to merely “go through the motions,” even when doing so is so clearly ineffective?

I guess the easy answer is that change is hard, change is uncomfortable, and for those reasons it is largely avoided. However I have to look at my own life and experience and ask myself when doing the same old thing ever got me positive results (answer: it didn’t). There is a saying that the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Which leaves me wondering why a boring staff meeting would produce anything other than still-bored staffers.

Since I am a firm believer in the idea that if you focus on the problem, the problem enlarges, but if you focus on the solution, the solution enlarges, I am collecting ideas from my brain, my PLN, and the wealth of information out there in the universe, as to how we can make professional development effective, useful, and practical at the local level. That is to say, not only a collection of ideas which sound great out in the Twitterverse, but those which can be applied here and now, despite an institutional setting which limits the ease of change and applicability of new ideas. (Feel free to chime in in the comment section and let me know what I am missing, I’m sure there is a lot!)

1. Ask for input (Ask staffers and teachers what they want and need in terms of professional development, and take steps to offer it! Then continue to ask and follow-up to determine effectiveness).

2. Keep participants engaged (In the same way we focus on student engagement, administration should be concerned with offering professional development which keeps teachers and staff engaged. If the content is useful, they are more likely to be engaged).

3. Change things up a little (This could be anything from the location, format, or agenda of a staff meeting to including different forms of media and sharing).

4. OK, Change things up a lot (Out with the old, in with the new. Reevaluate what needs to be shared and why, and include new content and material instead of irrelevant and repetitive information).

5. Make use of resources (There is so much out there, we are truly doing ourselves and our staff a disservice conducting meetings with printouts that follow a traditional and repetitive format. Bring technology into the discussion to arm teachers and staff with tools which will truly advance them in their field).

This is just the beginning of what I’m sure is a massive list of things which should be done to maximize professional development opportunities. The tip of the iceberg, if you will. What are some ways in which you believe professional development should be advanced and applied in your schools?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Applying Constructive Criticism Constructively, Part 2

The main criticism that I received on my teaching evaluation (last seen here) came from an observation that my presence in the classroom was too informal, or not commanding enough. The corporate evaluator and my director both suggested that I take a stronger approach to classroom management, creating a more structured environment in my classroom before giving students full communicative freedom. The evaluations suggested that doing this would increase my authority and set students up for greater learning opportunities.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this feedback. On one hand, I understand that as a new teacher it will take time and practice in order to establish a commanding presence in the classroom. I don’t overestimate my skills or abilities in this area, I have a lot to learn. On the other hand, I have been told by many students that my approachable and open attitude make them feel comfortable in my classroom, and that is one of the things I value most in my skill set as a teacher. I don’t believe that a strictly authoritative presence is a requirement for commanding respect and producing results.

I think that there is a need for balance, that a good teacher should have both of these characteristics: an ability to create structure, manage a class, and command respect, but an also an ability to encourage students to feel comfortable and at ease, open up, and enjoy being in the classroom. Since my evaluation seemed to indicate that I lack balance in this area, possessing perhaps too much of one characteristic and not enough of the other, I am setting a goal to identify and apply more structured approaches to lessons and classroom management.

What are some of the ways in which you create a structured lesson, maintain authority, or manage a classroom? Please share!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Love is a Better Teacher!

On Friday me and my blog celebrated our two-month anniversary. This has been a huge learning process for me on so many different levels. A few of the reasons I am grateful for this process:

1. Trying something new and putting myself out there in ways I never have before.

2. Taking responsibility for the work I do as a teacher by putting it down on paper (sort of) and sharing it with others.

3. Engaging myself in a community of teachers and educators from whom I learn new things and gain inspiration every day.

4. Having enough humility to ask for help, make changes, and improve.

5. Raising my consciousness of what I do and why.

And lastly, using this blog as a platform for continued growth. This is only the beginning, and I am so excited for what the future holds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Twitter, I Love You

Last semester, I had a great teacher for a research methods class. On top of being a total whiz when it came to academic research, he is also an avid user of social media, and regularly brought technology into the classroom in the form of videos, blogs, twitter, and other resources.

At the time I was completely overwhelmed with worry over completing the research for my field project (oh wait, I still am!) but I was able to hear one message loud and clear: the importance of using these outlets to connect, to get involved, to grow and develop in our field, whatever that may be.

So I joined Twitter and I started a blog, and the rest is history. In the past couple of months I have connected with more teachers, students, and educators around the world than I knew existed, and as a result I have been exposed to the ideas, experience, and inspiration these people are sharing 24/7. Not only that, I have begun to write about my own ideas, experience, and inspiration, and have been able to share and receive feedback in return.

Seriously, how cool is that? I have only just dipped my toes in the pool but am already so fired up about this new approach to connecting and learning and teaching and growing that I don't see myself letting up anytime soon. So, in gratitude, I present a list of the reasons I love Twitter.

1. Ask and you shall receive
From the quick and direct to the deep and philosophical, it seems no question goes unanwered on Twitter.

2. No pressure!
It can be intimidating to see and read some of the incredible material people are coming up with and sharing, at times I feel like an inexperienced child lurking in the corner watching the experienced veterans do their thing center stage. And there's nothing wrong with that! There is no pressure to post, because even just hanging out on Twitter following different people, chats, and threads is incredibly educational and useful. However, it is equally important to...

3. Build that Confidence
As a new teacher I may feel that I have limited experience and knowledge to offer. However, by continuing to write, share, and put myself out there I have developed some of those skills and gained a little bit of confidence in sharing what I know as well as what I am still learning.

4. The Kindness of Strangers
All I have ever received on Twitter is support, encouragement, and extremely helpful feedback. When taking a chance, doing something that doesn't come naturally, and putting oneself out there, that kindness is invaluable, and I am so grateful for it.

5. There is just so much good stuff
Every day I find and RT articles, videos, and other resources which teach me something new not only every day, but many many times every day. I read them, I share them, and I try them out in the classroom. Twitter is like a bottomless pit of great information (and I mean that in the best possible way).

6. Free Mentorship
I follow those who are out there actively doing what I want to do. I read what they write, I follow what they post, and I learn from them. Simple as that.

7. The Laughs
Because come on, who doesn't like a little break from a long day of work to read strangers' #momquotes.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. To any new teachers, or any new anything, I cannot recommend this platform enough. And to those who have paved the way for me, I cannot thank you enough.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Applying Constructive Criticism Constructively

Remember those classroom observations I was stressing over a month ago? Turns out that, as with most things in life, the fear was worse than the event itself. In fact, after observations finished, things went back to business as usual and I completely forgot the fear and anxiety that seemed so huge at the time.

That is, until now. All of our teachers were called in for one-on-one meetings regarding observations and evaluations (from students, the center director, and a corporate observer). Most were overwhelmingly positive. One was not...guess which one I can't get off my mind?

Which leads me to my question: Why is it that we only listen to the toughest critics? How can we keep from taking feedback personally, rather taking a productive approach and applying constructive criticism constructively?

A reader reminded me that at the end of the day, its not about me, its about the students. Now the challenge is to let go of my bruised ego and get to work. I need to look at this feedback as a gift, just another opportunity for practice and improvement.

For an upcoming post I'm going to come up with some ideas as to how best to address the feedback I received, ask for suggestions and hopefully come away from this experience a better (and definitely more humble) teacher!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Academic Anxiety: Writing a Masters Thesis

Two weeks into my final semester of graduate school, I am filled with anxiety as the due date for my masters thesis looms. In our research seminar we write and bring our material to the group for feedback, and this week the primary task was locking down a title. Who knew that a sentence fragment could cause so much stress?!? I find myself staring at a computer screen, the cursor blinking at the top of a blank page, overcome with dread and a sense of pressure that increases day by day.

What will I write? How much will this piece affect my career after graduation? What if I decide to go in a different direction, and my thesis no longer fits my needs? What if what I create is completely useless? What if it is genious and I can't live up to it in the real world? Worse, what if I fail?

I feel so much pressure surrounding the MATESOL thesis, having worked so hard for so long to get to this point, and full of fear as to what the future holds.

I know that I am my own toughest critic, and that most (if not all) of this pressure is self-imposed, but I can't help caring desperately about the quality and success of my work.

Am I alone? Does anyone else experience this crippling anxiety when it comes to academic research and dissertation? How do you get through it? Please share!