Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The #TeachStrong Campaign

What is #TeachStrong?  The #TeachStrong campaign is a movement to change the national education policy conversation and make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the most pressing and significant education policy priority for our nation. Demand Change!

I was inspired to become a Michigan #TeachStrong Ambassador by my family, friends, colleagues, students, fellows, teachers, and mentors. I am impressed with how #TeachStrong continues to build momentum. For more information, check out teachstrong.org.

What Makes #TeachStrong Unique? #TeachStrong is comprised of 57 coalition partners—a diverse set of influential education organizations and representatives—and over 90 educators from across the country demanding that modernizing and elevating the teaching profession become the top education policy priority of our day.

Why is #TeachStrong happening now? The #TeachStrong coalition is undertaking this effort now because, in recent years, the education policy conversation has become polarized, many leaders have shied away from meaningful discussion about the teaching profession, and millennials have increasingly turned away from the teaching profession in large numbers.

What is #TeachStrong's goal? The ultimate goal of the #TeachStrong campaign is to break through the contentiousness of today’s education policy climate and make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the top education policy issue in the coming year.

What are #TeachStrong's key principles?

Principle 1: Identify and recruit more teacher candidates with great potential to succeed, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce. 

My own experience being recruited into the profession included application and interview processes at my school district. This experience allowed me to share my story, skills, and goals. My principals recruited me, and our school district continues to use an online application system to find teacher candidates.

It is evident that diversity in the teacher workforce is critical for student success in our school. I am the only 7th grade male, core subject-area teacher at our school. This is a particularly powerful lesson that I witness on a daily basis, because numerous students have mentioned that I am their first male, core subject-area teacher. Only 24 percent of public school teachers are male.

I have encountered cultural issues with my students, and I have been able to connect with students through culturally relevant pedagogy. I enable each student to relate course content to their cultural context.

Principle 2: Reimagine teacher preparation to make it more rooted in classroom practice and professional knowledge base, with universal high standards for all candidates.

My teacher preparation experience was at Oakland University. I participated in a traditional program that provided clinical training. I did feel prepared to enter the classroom on my first day because of a high quality, yearlong student teaching internship. However, there are few states that set specific requirements on the quality of that clinical training.

Principle 3: Raise the bar for licensure so it is a meaningful measure of readiness to teach.

The licensure process in our state involves earning a bachelors degree with enough credits to be highly qualified to teach certain content areas. While completing my bachelors degree, I had to complete a student teaching internship experience and the Michigan Tests for Teacher Certification (MTTC). I consider my state's licensure exam a meaningful measure of readiness to teach because it required a year long student teaching internship experience. It was rigorous. The licensure exam aligned with my program's coursework. However, the correlation between passing a licensure exam and student achievement is weak.

Principle 4: Increase compensation in order to attract and reward teachers as professionals.

My experiences with my school district's compensation structure has been positive. Years of service and education level determines teacher salary at my school. I feel that I am adequately compensated. I am compensated for some of the additional hours I work or responsibilities that I assume. 

Principle 5: Provide support for new teachers through induction or residency programs.

I participated in a New Teacher Academy. This affected my first years of teaching by providing me with resources, support, and mentoring. To improve this program, novice teachers need time to observe experienced teachers in their classrooms.

Principle 6: Ensure tenure is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.

Our state awards tenure after five years of effective teaching. I believe it is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment. Our state's tenure system has resulted in a more involved performance evaluation process. Teachers have to prove that they are having a positive effect on their students. The tenure process has been excellent for me because I prove every year that I am having a positive effect on my students.

Principle 7: Provide significantly more time, tools, and support for teachers to succeed, including through planning, collaboration, and development. 

Our school schedule consists of a daily prep hour. This supports teachers by giving them the time they need to plan and collaborate. However, for 7th grade science, we are not given any time to plan and collaborate with colleagues unless it is outside of the school day because we have different prep hours. I am usually strapped for time during the school day. I would benefit from additional time to collaborate with colleagues in a organized and structured environment. Observing other teachers would advance my practice if I had more time. My dream schedule or ideal school day would maximize my ability to deliver great instruction by emphasizing time for individual planning, collaboration with colleagues, and observing other teachers.

Principle 8: Design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs, and to foster feedback and improvement.

A standard professional development session given by our school district involves listening to a speaker. I participate in professional development about every two months. Listening to a speaker for the majority of a day is not helpful to my growth as a teacher. Consultants lead the sessions. The content is usually not connected to my classroom. 

My ideal professional development would allow me time to observe other teachers in their classrooms in order to get ideas about what works and what does not work. The best professional development session I have received was when I observed an excellent teacher giving instruction. This gave me the opportunity to give and receive feedback. It was effective and worthwhile because the content was connected to my classroom. 

Principle 9: Create career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally.

Our school district provides opportunities for teacher leaders. This has benefitted me as a professional in terms of my status and growth. As a technology leader, I am trained in strategies that I use in my classroom and share what I learn with colleagues.

So who wants to be a #TeachStrong Advocate?

As an advocate you will promote #TeachStrong in at least one way every Tuesday.

  • Posting on social media using #TeachStrong

  • Contributing to a blog or working on an op-ed

  • Promoting the #TeachStrong website in person or via social media

  • Sharing the TeachStrong principles and/or two-pager with a colleague or local leader

You can also support this cause by attending other activities and events led by Ambassadors, thereby growing the reach of the campaign.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Why I Love Teaching

I have been an educator for eight years. Teaching gives me the opportunity to help kids grow academically, emotionally, and socially. The relationships, smiles, and moments when a student finally “gets it” are extremely rewarding.

I am tired about the common misconceptions about what I do. "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." "We only work part time and have summers off".

I am a teacher because it is a highly rewarding and fulfilling profession. Teachers have one of the most important, meaningful, and purpose-driven jobs of anyone today. I appreciate the teachers I work with because they share valuable information and important skills to encourage a love of learning that will serve students the rest of their lives.

Tom Davis was a fellow educator that inspired and had an impression on me. He encouraged me to explore my curiosities, supported me with my struggles, and celebrated my successes. He cared about me, my learning, my life, and he wanted me to find happiness within myself in order for me to be capable of helping others.

I remain in the profession because I am committed to having a positive impact on the future of each student that I serve on a daily basis. I believe that there is an exciting career for every passion. No two days in teaching are ever the same. Receiving a "Favorite Teacher Award" was a gesture from a student and parent that moved me.

I wake up each morning and serve students in our nation's schools. Being a role model and teaching students the skills and knowledge they need beyond the classroom is extremely inspiring and rewarding. This makes me feel appreciated. Teaching gives me the opportunity to be a lifelong learner because I learn as much from the students as they learn from me.

It is an excellent time to be a teacher. Today's teachers need perseverance, passion, validation, and hope. Teachers helped me get to where I am today by providing me with an exceptional education.

It is essential to make lesson plans interesting in order to get all students motivated about learning. Teachers creatively facilitate the engaging interaction between students and provide feedback based on their observations. For me, the motivation to teach has always come from the students in my classroom.

I love being able to laugh with my students. I love when they feel proud of their achievements. I love doing science with middle school students.

Teachers need to have a voice in all policy decisions that have an effect on our classrooms. Teachers advocate for their community's parents and students. 



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Iroquois Middle School Wins Environmental Education Grant from Michigan Association of Environmental Professionals (MAEP)

MACOMB, MIIroquois Middle School in the Chippewa Valley Schools District has been awarded an environmental education grant from the Michigan Association of Environmental Professionals (MAEP).

The MAEP grant will fund students' participation in the Clinton River Watershed Council's (CRWC) Stream Leaders program.  The Stream Leaders program provides hands on experiential education as well as an opportunity for students to gather important data used by the CRWC and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to assess the health of the Clinton River at various points in the watershed. Students will learn about the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the Clinton River Watershed through problem-solving stations at Waldenburg Park.

We are honored to be recognized by MAEP. The students as well as the CRWC will benefit greatly from the educational experience that the MAEP grant will provide.

Michigan Association of Environmental Professionals (MAEP) is a non-profit professional organization, founded in 1978. MAEP hosts professional development meetings and publishes newsletters throughout the year to bring relevant content to its membership.  Through its annual golf outings MAEP raises funds for its mini environmental education Grants. To date, MAEP has provided funding for local schools, universities, community organizations, and other non-profits who encourage and inspire the next generation of environmental professionals.  Since its inception, MAEP is proud to have awarded over $160,000 in grants.

Four Ways to Celebrate Earth Day Everyday: Protect Our Atmosphere and Watershed

1. Ride your bike rather than driving a car. Kayak rather than use a boat. Bikes and kayaks release zero pollutants into the atmosphere. Cars and boats use fuel and motor oil.  

2. Do NOT litter. Pickup trash around your neighborhood. Recycle, reduce, and reuse in order to cut down on landfill waste.

3. Do NOT be wasteful. Open your windows to allow light and air into your home. Use less water when showering and washing your hands. Unplug your plugs. 

4. Support clean energy initiatives. When coal is burned in power plants to create usable energy, it releases sulfur. This pollutant contributes to acid rain.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Closing the "Attitude Gap": How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success

Attitude Matters! Young people are not realizing the power of education. 

What is the "Attitude Gap"? It is the gap between those students who have the will to strive for academic excellence and those who do not. 

The classroom climate and culture matter when it comes to closing the attitude gap. Teachers need to create an environment and mood where students feel that they belong. 

Teachers must believe in their students in order to build that positive relationship. It is essential to show students compassion.

Teachers need to create instructional lessons that our relevant to the lives of their students. For more information, please visit Principal Baruti Kafele's website by clicking here

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

OU Travel Abroad Memories

My experience teaching in New Zealand was both professionally and personally rewarding. I learned new teaching strategies, developed my listening skills, and adapted my lifestyle in order to live and work in a new environment. There are many similarities and differences between New Zealand and America. 

I had to listen carefully to the different accents that existed in New Zealand. Many words we use in America have different meanings or do not exist in the New Zealand vocabulary. 

For example, if I asked a student to place a "period" at the end of their sentence, they would have no idea what I was talking about. In New Zealand, they call in a "full stop." If I asked a student to pull out an "eraser", they would have no idea what I was talking about. They call it a "rubber." Now, one word that is unique to both New Zealand and America is "soccer". We are the only two countries that use this word to describe the game we love. 

When American's travel to New Zealand, they have to learn the "opposites." In New Zealand, you walk on the left side of the sidewalk, you drive on the left side of the road, and the driver's side of the car is on the right side. While I was there, I walked into many people, always questioned myself what direction a car was going, and entered the car on the driver's side when I was not even driving. I never had the opportunity to drive in New Zealand. I lived with my assistant principal and her family who immigrated to New Zealand from Scotland. She provided any transportation that I needed. I worked everyday teaching fourth and fifth grade at Sunnyvale Primary School in Auckland, the most populated city in New Zealand. 

It was a remarkable experience because they teach and operate a school differently than we do in America. As a teacher, I was responsible for teaching my students all subjects including swimming, fitness, art, sport, and music. 

New Zealand has a population of about four million people, and is composed of one-third European, one-third Pacific Islander, and one-third Maori, which are its natives. It has a beautiful landscape which has been most recently been utilized for America's film industry. There are mountains in every direction, and in a short drive you can either be at beaches on the Pacific Ocean or on the Tasmian Sea which separates New Zealand from Australia. Almost everyone I met had travel to a different country. 

They are very knowledgeable and aware of the United States. They have a lot of respect for us because they realize the decisions we make affects their economy and well-being. They watch our television shows and movies, and read our books and magazines. 

New Zealand is one of the countries suffering from the depleting ozone. It is very easy for them to develop skin cancer. Their society is environmentally conscious. Wherever there is a garbage can, there is likely to be a recycling can. Their roads are smaller, and they drive smaller and more fuel efficient cars. They make use of sunlight by using photovoltaic arrays and having more windows in their buildings. 

This experience has turned me into a more confident, well-rounded, self-reflective educator. Not only was I challenged by learning to teach using a different curriculum, but I was challenged to adapt to a new culture and environment. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend traveling to this beautiful country. 

Do you want to see the world? For information on OU's study abroad programs, click here

If you are interested in the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching, click here

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ensuring Teachers Remain in the Profession

When I graduated from Oakland University's School of Education and Human Services, I felt knowledgeable and ready to have a positive impact on future students. The required field placements and internships provided me with work experience that helped me make decisions about my future career. 

I learned that I wanted to teach middle school science, not kindergarten. The study habits I developed as an undergraduate helped me with success in graduate school. 

There were definitely challenges I faced in my early years of teaching, such as how to do project-based learning, facilitate classroom discussions, and use technology effectively. A strong teaching internship experience and great mentoring programs have helped me become a successful teacher. 

Forging ahead on my own determination when the going got tough was essential. The wisdom that I gained with setting up classroom procedures and managing class time would benefit a newer teacher. 

Educators entering the profession need to deal with the challenges and successes of teaching through developing a positive mentor-mentee relationship. These types of relationships are necessary to help retain our top teachers and support new teachers as they come into the profession. 

Better, high-quality professional development is also the answer and can be achieved with extensive, easily accessible support. There is something inherent about the teaching profession that is driving teacher's away, and the nature of internships, or lack thereof, in teacher education programs impacts retention.  

The Top 5 Lessons I Have Learned in My Position in Public Education   

1. Be persistent. Never give up on students, parents, and colleagues. Everyone is in this together, and it truly takes a village to educate a child properly.
2. Be open-minded. Listen to other people and their opinions. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make. Communication is essential. 
3. Think positive. There is a lot of negativity out in the world, especially within the field of education. You need to have a positive outlook in order to combat all of the negativity.
4. Try different roles until you find your niche. Spend time with different people and in various extracurricular activities. Use your hobbies and passions as a guide.
5. Always want to learn. Whether it is a new technology or a new teaching strategy, teachers are life-long learners. We need to be learning alongside our students and show how passionate we are in seeking knowledge.     

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

New Curriculum Emphasizes Critical Thinking Skills

The shift to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will make it easier to embed Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Literacy. With the focus off rote memorization, reading, writing and critical thinking will be fundamental skills in a science class
The United States’ ability to innovate depends on science education. Citizens are required to use critical thinking and communication skills in a global economy driven by advancements in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
The National Science Foundation reports there are currently between 2-3 million unfilled positions due to the lack of qualified candidates in the areas of STEM.
The NGSS emphasizes the eight practices (skills and knowledge) essential to scientists and engineers in their workplaces and intertwines these practices with the core ideas students are learning in science class. They include: Asking questions and defining problems; developing and using models; planning and carrying out investigations; analyzing and interpreting data; using mathematics and computational thinking ; constructing applications and designing solutions; engaging in argument from evidence; and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
When students are engaged in these practices, they learn how scientific knowledge is developed and how it is linked to engineering. This type of education can help prepare individual students for a well-paying job in the future.

In addition to the science and engineering practices, the NGSS provides seven crosscutting concepts students should master in preparation for college and careers. Including patterns; cause and effect; scale, proportion and quantity; systems and system models; energy and Matter; structure and function; and stability and change.
We are in a transition from a focus on knowledge itself to a focus on putting that knowledge to use. In our 7th grade science class, we are currently learning about energy waves.
Students were asked the questions: Is there a relationship between frequency, wavelength, and speed? If so, what is it? If not, why?
Each small group developed a model using a slinky, meter stick, and stopwatch. As a whole group, we planned an investigation for the small groups to carry out.
All students collected data. They analyzed the data and computed averages in search of a mathematical pattern or proportional relationship.
I was impressed with their organized data tables and graphs. If students found a mathematical relationship, they were asked to construct an equation or formula to compute quantities.
In their conclusion, students had to answer the investigation questions and write an argument for their claim supported by evidence from their data. Each small group had time to discuss and communicate their results to the entire class.
Many of the small groups discovered a cause and effect relationship between frequency, wavelength, and speed. In addition to learning and using core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts, this investigation requires students to learn and use skills in reading and writing.
The CCSS for Literacy will supplement NGSS in order to help students meet the challenges of reading and writing in a science class. Students who meet these literacy standards will have the skills needed to perform the critical reading necessary to pick through the astounding amount of information available today.
We model the reading strategies involved with comprehending science text by performing a think-aloud. All of these skills are paramount in the real world and this world is becoming more about being able to critically think and less about memorizing text. Information is attainable in new ways, students are learning in new ways, and we need a populace that can solve 21st century problems. The recent adoption of the CCSS and NGSS standards in Michigan is commendable; implementing them in our schools will only benefit us as a society.