Sunday, April 24, 2011

What is a good principal?

Last week, Edutopia posted an article by Maurice Elias titled "The Seven Characteristics of a Good Leader."  It's a good article with links to other writers and their ideas of what makes a good leader, a good principal.  The seven characteristics given by Elias are attributed to Sargent Shriver.
  1. A sense of purpose
  2. Justice
  3. Temperance
  4. Respect
  5. Empowerment
  6. Courage
  7. Deep Commitment
There were two other good reads there - "How to Give Your School Leader a Grade" and "Ten Big Ideas of School Leadership" - Join and get email "heads-up" on many relevant topics. Worth reading!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Ideas

One of the best ideas for my classroom this school year is using a class wiki. As soon as I heard I was probably going back to the classroom, I created a pbwiki for my class. It is free and allows for so many different applications.  I use pbworks (formerly pbwiki).  It is easy to add a page for different topics and activities and easy to embed movies, and student projects.  It has also become my virtual plan book.  I post K-5 plans with state goals each week.  Parents and staff can see what the children are doing each week (and in advance).  My class site is named with my last name and the word "class," helping to make it unique in addressing and in remembering the page address.  There are links to projects, links for students to have easy access, and links to use with movies and web searches.

As the grade levels approach activities, and web searches, I can simply add a great link to a project page and it makes it easier for all of the students to locate. I believe it has improved the students' tech vocabulary, too, as they work and share their final products.  I have learned as much as the students this year and am enjoying this total collaboration with student learners.  The 3rd-5th graders enjoyed learning about web 2.0 tools and shared some tools that they use or that they see their parents using (wikis, blogs, flickr, delicious, twitter, skype, and google apps).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Challenge: Why do you teach?

For me, this is a choice. Something I do and give back to my community.  Every year is different, new students, new challenges, new problems to solve, new students to engage, and the yearly cycle begins again.  This had been an extremely difficult year.  Many sweeping changes - having programs I started that evolved over 13 years, winning state and national awards - dropped.  OK, move on.  Then some segments of the political arena decided to blame teachers for the economic problems of our country. What?

This year of change brought me back to the continuing cycle of why do I teach and why connecting to students is so important.  I've been told by administrators that I'm a "natural" teacher.  It's my own quiet way to speak out to the world of children.  For 28 years I jumped out of bed, continued with home duties (in the past included raising two sons), and raced off to school - where I felt at home, too.  Welcoming children into my class, hosting a friendly environment of surprise, challenge, and imagination, helping students make progress in their learning, all of this was so much fun I couldn't believe I was getting paid for it, but like so many teachers, spending such a large amount of my paycheck - more than a tithe - seemed like the "right thing to do."  That is part of why this is so important - having a positive outlook, sharing the good parts of learning, schooling, community, and country with students was always such a pleasure.  Encouraging, pushing to work harder, making choices, so many ways to engage a student and bring them into success.  (And, yes, God; but when those questions come up, I ask my students to talk to their parents or their Sunday school teacher or someone at their church.)  I believe in the constitution and the separation of church and state - this is definitely the parent's job.

This year I teach about 650 students in the computer lab.  In elementary school, the "specialists" are teachers who give planning time to regular classroom teachers. So all students have the same, equal time, attention spans or content are not at issue.  Technology is fun to teach, and it is always different.  But, like any good teaching, you have to bring yourself to it - teaching doesn't happen just because you are in the room.  Students have so many reasons, and many good ones, to tune out a teacher.  What happened at home, on the bus, was there a fight with a sibling, was there time for breakfast, did mom or dad loose a job, is someone ill, is the family intact?  These problems and more enter classrooms every day.  Teachers deal with these problems, too, at home,  then off to work like many other parents, trusting their most precious to a classroom teacher and specialist.  For me, teaching in a classroom was easy - 24-28 students (teaching grades 1, 2, or 3).  With one set of students all day long, you knew them and they knew you.  With 150 different students every day, it is tough knowing their names, much less the meanings of their faces, eyes, and personalities.  The subject is easy, knowing the students is not.  I think the most important ingredient in the teacher is the personal contact, the engagement of a person in another person's success.  Knowledge of the curriculum is second.  The good teacher is a cheerleader for each and every student and likes every single one of them.

I've had after school (volunteer) Math Club for my students, sponsored Odyssey of the Mind, Computer Club, and Quest Atlantis (great software) Club.  Now towards the end of my career, I find that teachers are not respected, not appreciated, and blamed for the economy - that is, according to news media and political pundits.  I just don't believe it.  Like the email that goes around and around, I'm a teacher!  I make children work hard, teach them ways to solve problems, think for themselves, get along with others, share, demonstrate examples of good character, and have high expectations for all of my students.  So, for the finger pointers, media talking heads, and anyone else - I help children experience learning in positive ways (the good things in life) and deal with the tough parts of life at the same time.  I love each child that comes in the door and help them to explore their talents while learning good character and I love my job.  These days, I have the children of students I taught in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade, and even some from teaching the K-5 computer lab - it is interesting to see the faces appear; I ask, "Is you ___ (insert mom or dad) named ___ (insert name from former student).  This brings evidence to the nature nurture debate - behaviors, looks, characteristics, amazingly the same, and different, too!

So, this year, number 29 for me, is different, too.  I'm a grandma now; started teaching in my 30's instead of my 20's; 3 degrees and a certificate later, I still love teaching, students, and the cycles of learning.  Amazing technology to share with students, good, positive tasks to build and master; many students to greet and help grow; choosing ways to engage students in curriculum activities that include sharing with others (we can all help others learn).

To answer my question - Why are you a teacher? - Because it is part of who I am; I'm curious, love to learn new things, love to see things from a different angle, love the excitement of learning something new and sharing it with someone, and love to make that positive connection to a child.

Why are you a teacher?

 -- Please respond with your reasons for teaching and tweet the website or reply to this post.