Teachers As Researchers

“The classroom teacher must be like a researcher because….”

Researchers often follow the scientific method: they ask a question, do background research, construct a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyze the data, draw a conclusion, share the information and start all over again. teachers follow a similar process; we call it the teaching-learning cycle. We ask, “What do my students need to know?” (Question) We ask, “How will we teach effectively to ensure students learn?” (hypothesis) Then, “How will we know that students have learned?” (assessment/test hypothesis) And, “What do we do when students don’t learn or exceed expectations?” (analyze the data and draw conclusion. We can add to that to include the sharing of information to cycle to ensure collaboration of many minds throughout the entire process as researchers and teachers rarely work alone. A way to achieve this inclusion of collaboration in the teacher/learner process is to utilize collaborative groups such as: lesson studies, Critical Friends Groups (CFG), or book studies.

In our discussions and readings this week a common theme of support and trust amongst staff was apparent. Not only was it an apparent prerequisite to true and naked collaboration but it also seems to be a need that is lacking in many schools. In Critical Friends Groups “teachers take the lead in their own learning” (Zepeda). This is not a group where chatting and commiserating is focus; it’s quite the opposite. Support and trust are imperative because it is a continual process that is focused on student learning through a goal oriented (“specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, trackable, and ongoing”) (Zepeda) approach to student learning. You must be willing to take risks and be willing to except change.

Another way to improve practice is lesson study. My district has embraced this approach with our professional development days. The professional development consists of one full day of questioning, hypothesizing, researching and analyzing previous data surrounding the concept. The second day is used as a studio day where teachers collaborate on student learning and what lessons need to be taught next. We write the lessons together with the children in mind and then get to watch the lesson be taught. We then reconvene at the end of the lesson to discuss what went well in regards to student understanding and what needs tweaking or what needs to be revisited at a later date. We “Study curriculum and formulate goals, plan, conduct research, and reflect” (Zepeda).

All in a day’s work! šŸ™‚

Breathing Space

What makes a fire burn

is a space between the logs,

a breathing space…

-Judy Brown

In Teaching with fire: Poetry that sustains the courage to teach

(2003)

A safe environment is necessary where teachers (not only students) feel that they can take risks and breathe while doing so. From what I know about human nature is that we like boundaries; children and adults alike. As adults we often assume that we can carry focused, productive, professional conversations; however, I’m sure all of us can think of at least one person who cannot (perhaps that person is us and we aren’t aware.) Protocols can provide boundaries where risks in providing ideas, sharing thoughts, and discussing teaching methods and student work can occur without feeling like you’re under water.

“If time is going to be spent on reflection, teachers need to be taught to structure their meetings” (Dearman and ALber). The use of protocols, not only in staff or district meetings, but in book studies and grade level teams can create an environment that flourishes, adapts, and builds off of each others’ strengths. Protocols ensure that everyone is heard and time is used efficiently and effectively – focused on student work and improving teaching practices. As one of my colleagues said, “When people break away from the norms of the protocol, the focus and the purpose of the discussion begin to fade away.” All too often I have participated in protocol-ran conversations and the group slowly decides to slip away from the protocol and it only starts bantering and chatting about what a student did at lunch or something funny that happened in class. This type of conversation is essential in building friendships but not for improving teaching practice and student performance.

What is our purpose (our shared purpose) in this meeting… “The purpose…is to learn more about the student and in focusing on the student to learn about one’s own teaching” (http://www.lasw.org/vp.html). If this quote must become a mantra or a huge poster in the front of each meeting place, so be it!

Playing Hit the Target!

“Students can hit any target that they can clearly see and doesn’t move.”

Stiggens reiterates throughout his essay that student confidence is an essential component of success in learning. In order to aid in student confidence a goal cannot be a mirage that is constantly wavering. If this is the case hope begins to diminish when the student realizes that the goal will forever be untouchable and out of reach. “This requires that we ensure that all students believe that success is within reach if they keep trying” (DuFour, 73).

Many people throughout the discussion mentioned the importance of self- assessment and clearly stated and written learning objectives for both the teacher and the students to refer to as a strategy to improve student confidence. In my classroom, I provide an end-of-the-unit self assessment at the beginning of the unit in order for the students to see where they are and where they will be going. They take this assessment at the end of the unit as well so they can see how much they have improved. This is a huge confidence builder.

Someone in the discussion mentioned concepts we discussed in a previous course about teachers being leaders and not the dictators of learning; teachers are the sharers of knowledge, not the keepers of knowledge. I was thinking that a simply way of executing this personae is to do investigations and explorations and being forward with learning objectives. Another way could be the use of charts. I use charts to write learning objectives for all to see. Using a chart students are then given guiding questions they can use to guide their independent work. Then, after independent work we can come back together and discuss and chart our learning further. In the end, the chart has our goal, guidance, and the results of student learning all on one piece of paper! This takes me back to our discussions surrounding the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools and how important it is to have a clear and shared focus not only between staff but between staff and our students! Before, I wasn’t thinking this was a characteristic regarding anything but staff; boy was I wrong!

Stiggins also discussed the importance of synergy between formative and summative assessments in order to build student confidence and promote achievable competence. Assessment FOR learning promotes the growth toward the goal by informing students of where they are and how to get to the goal. Ā Assessment OF learning verifies their learning.

In the end, we must nurture confidence in our students so that they can say, “I am not there yet, but I know where ‘there’ is, and I’m on my way” (DuFour, 78). And, “I’m not there yet, but I am much closer than I was and, if I keep trying, I am going to get there” (DuFour, 79).

Community

“Of all the habits of mind modeled in schools, the habit of working to understand others, of striving to make sense of differences, of extending to others the assumption of good faith, of working towards the enlarged understanding of the group -in short, the pursuit of community- may be the most important” (Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth, 2001, p. 1000).

This week’s readings surrounding Professional Learning Communities (PLC) really hit home in regards to the staff at my school. Our staff meeting this week was suppose to be focused on professional development regarding a literacy component. Before the meeting began to take its planned course a few people had some announcements. One thing led to another and discussion broke out about frustrations and concerns teachers had about the relationships between the staff and between the staff and administration.Ā  Do to the unique situation our building has, two school under one roof, tension has more opportunity to fester. Teachers were concerned about a divide that is beginning to occur between the staff especially because the students have very different needs (e.g. one being a Title 1 school, the other not.)

Though the discussion was left unsettled I am glad that it was allowed to occur. And, though the conversation wasn’t executed in the most professional or effective manner I am glad that someoneĀ  had the courage to speak out when they felt the community of learners amongst teachers was slipping in the wrong direction. Just like our students, adults can’t learn when they are anxious or unhappy. Taking risks is a requirement of effective PLCs. If we do not have faith and trust in each other, if we do not strive to make sense of our differences (whether it be between schools, teachers, or students) if we do not put the importance of the building, as a whole, being a community of learning – we will fail.