Friday, March 29, 2013

Your Spring Break Assignment

This past Monday I had the opportunity to watch a pilot episode of 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School on PBS.  While the episode focused on one particular high school in Washington, DC, I found relevance in the issues and trials these professionals, students, and families experience.  I highly recommend you watch an episode. 
During one segment of the show they presented an instructional coach working with a first year teacher.  I was impressed with the insightfulness of this coach.  Through observation and conferencing, she worked with this young professional and keyed in on many aspects that, with focused improvement, will lead to academic success.
During an epilog with this instructional coach, she made a statement which forced me to immediately grab my computer and begin typing this message.  She said, “You may think this is your classroom, but it’s the students.  You may think that it’s your lesson, but it’s the students’ lesson.”  I remember sharing a similar sentiment with you about the classroom being the students last year in the video, You've Got To Be That Light, by Jeff Goldstein.  However, the concept that the lesson plan is the students is something that I feel we all need time to think about.  A simple cognitive exercise for you this vacation:  Who are your lesson plans for?   

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Have you ever experienced a moment when something is said that brings everything into focus?  An occurrence that makes you stop and think before you dare say anything more.  This happened to me this past weekend while I was attending the NYS Middle School Association Board of Directors meeting. 

Our board was discussing ways of supporting our middle-level teachers as we continue to uncover the Common Core Learning Standards.  We discussed the idea of having middle school teachers write about their best practices within the CCLS and present at our October conference; providing others with some replicable practices.  A few of us presented the idea that our teachers are experiencing a wave of anxiety and overload from the Regents Reform Agenda.  We went so far to suggest that it would be difficult to find teachers to write and/or present because teachers are so busy.  That’s when it happened.  Stephen Parker Zielinski, the NYS Middle School Association President said in a very calm voice, “Teachers are highly trained professionals; they are not lay-people.  I reject the idea that they are anything less.”  Mr. Zielinski’s unadorned suggestion was that teachers are professionals and as such, contribute to their own profession. 

There are times when we all feel underappreciated or believe the precept that others don’t treat us as an authority.  Mr. Zielinski’s comment brought to the forefront in my mind of what that truly means.  He flatly rejected the idea that a teacher would not contribute to the profession because that would simply be, well, unprofessional.  Being a contributor to the educational profession equates to being a professional.  Therefore, our own actions dictate how we are viewed.  There’s a reason why Mr. Zielinski, a principal from South Seneca Middle-High School, is the president of a state-wide organization.  He does more than talk the talk – he walks the walk.

My reflection on his words brought me to think about people who I view as a professional.  Consequently, they are also the people who I respect and admire.  Their actions, in word and deed, benefit others as well as the whole of their profession or calling. 

This brings us to my focus that there are specific actions which lead us to being professionals.  A professional must continue learning and improving.  This goes beyond the staff development days; it means that you are engaged in a professional learning community.  This is a rather easy thing for us to do.  To simplify, identify what is new or less-known to you regarding your craft and then develop your learning community.  Here are a few thoughts for research:  How do I increase the rigor in my questioning.  What are some Close Reading strategies?  How can an inclusive mainstreamed classroom work?, etc.  To find the answers to many of your inquiries you must find the experts.  With social media, the experts are within a few minutes search.  Professionals communicate with each other and discuss relevant topics. 

Another act of professionalism is to reflect on a successful practice that you employ and write about it.  Others could benefit from your experience.  I began writing this blog as a way of self-reflection – I didn’t even share it with anyone until I had completed about 20 entries.  The dialogue which a blog or article elicits is a way of engaging people in their learning.  You could be the expert in their learning community.  We could take this idea one step farther to suggest that you could present your successful practice to others.  There are many opportunities:  team meetings, faculty meetings, department meetings, conferences.

In a similar view, I have long encouraged your involvement in community events.  Whether in the school community or within the greater North Country community, professionals are involved.  We work for an improvement to the status quo.  People admire those who devote their most precious resource – time. 

I was fortunate as a young professional, a beginning teacher in my twenties.  My mentors continuously challenged me to be involved, be informed, and be a learner.  They formed many of my burgeoning ideas of professionalism, through mentoring.  Later, as an experienced teacher at the high school, my mentors pushed me to be an agent of change, a solution-minded problem solver.  During my tenure as the building leader at AAK, I hope that I’ve encouraged you to hold your head high and be proud of being a professional teacher, to work in service of the children, and to constantly challenge good in an effort to be great.  My goal is that all of you will complete the cycle of mentoring and influence tomorrow’s classrooms.