1. Curriculum and INstruction
Belief: I believe that students deserve access to high quality teachers, rigorous curriculum, but also one that relates to them and their interests. I am a big fan of the more current push for personalized learning or even adaptive learning.
Story: I believe this because of my own experience with school and feeling extremely dissatisfied by the antiquated, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all type of education. I was considered a “good student” in school, and it came relatively easy for me, but I wasn’t challenged by school and eventually became disinterested and a little resentful. I also saw friends of mine struggling with this system, which catered to the average individual but not the ones needing more support or more challenges. Yet most of us passed on, grade after grade.
Components: There are many components to curriculum and instruction, standards being the main driving force. Other components of curriculum and instruction include also resources available, assessment, languages, special ed needs and differentiation for all students.
Title Highlights: I would like to focus on differentiating instruction.
Explain: Differentiating instruction can be time consuming, and involves a lot of planning and support at times. I know that it can be successful because of my experience teaching 6th and 7th grade math at Monarch to students that were all over the place as far as levels and abilities. Using all my resources, I reached out to volunteers, the special ed teacher and my own TA, and was able to have 4-5 small groups going during most math days. Assessments showed the students growing by leaps and bounds with these small groups, and math stopped being such a painful experience.
Differentiating can also be made easier with the use of technology. Currently I teach all levels of English and Social Science for grades 9-12, and while English standards are easier to adapt, history was near impossible. Using a program my district has access to, Compass Learning Odyssey, I am able to assign my students to accredited history courses that are self paced and rigorous and tailored to their academic needs. I can adjust or add assignments as needed, to differentiate even further. There are endless other options, like using an LMS, or a class website, and on and on.
3. Discipline and School Climate/Culture
Belief: I believe that discipline comes from within an individual. School must foster that sense of discipline and provide student with expectations rather than rigid rules. There must be a system of consequences, but a school’s expectations or rules should be simple and easily memorized by students. This creates a culture of responsibility to self and the community, where students feel respected rather than rigidly supervised.
Story: I have experienced schools that struggled with discipline and those that had few issues, and generally that went hand in hand with school culture. When students felt suffocated by rules, and were surrounded by punitive culture with rigid rules to provide a sense of structure, it often backfired with rebellious students. It created a culture of “them against us” and just caused more disciplinary problems. When importance is put on school culture, and students are empowered with responsibilities, disciplinary issues do not seem to arise as much.
Components: Mission statement and vision, support from all stakeholders, ensuring all students understand expectations, a system in place when they fall off track, routines to create culture, consistent staff that is all on board, opportunities for feedback from all stakeholders to assess school climate.
Title Highlights: Expectations must be simple, and clearly accessible to students, with consequences that are supportive rather than punitive.
Explain: I have experienced both schools that reacted to student misconduct with punishment, and those that reacted with support. For example, if a student was late constantly one school would issue detentions, whereas another would reach out to family about causes of lateness, possibly provide a bus pass if needed. The latter was more effective in the long run, and the positive reactions spilled over into the classroom with increased student respect for staff members. I have also seen success in schools that have simple expectations, but they infuse them into every facet of education. Examples are Dr. Pumpian’s “Do No Harm”, or my own district’s rule of 3: “Be responsible. Be respectful. Be Safe.” These are easy for students and staff to remember as guidelines, and can easily be applied to most situations to create more positive interactions and school culture.
2. Parent and Community Involvement
Belief: I believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and schools should be actively inviting parent involvement and also support. I also believe the community is an integral part of student learning and student identity.
Story: I believe this because in my professional experience I have seen the difference the parents and community can make. When I worked at Monarch, the community outreach there was phenomenal, but at the same time it made me sad for underprivileged public schools that were more traditional that didn’t receive the same attention. Partnerships gave the students so many experiences that they never would have had otherwise. Common Core focuses on college and career readiness, and working with outside organizations provided a lot of those skills required to work with a variety of people on a variety of projects. Parent involvement increased engagement and buy-in at school, knowing their parents and teachers were part of the same team. It also makes running larger operations possible for smaller schools, or at least easier on staff for larger schools.
Components: The components of parent and community involvement include things like councils, committees, and a high level of organization to use this valuable resource most efficiently. It also requires outreach and networking efforts to pull in community involvement and provide opportunities for families to get involved.
Title Highlights: Much of our success could be attributed to the teacher and leadership that actively sought out community partners and outreach organizations, but we also had a full time volunteer coordinator, who really made it all work in an organized fashion.
Explain: Our teachers were constantly reaching out to community businesses, local clubs and organizations, to bring in guest experts or take students on interesting field trips. Organizations like La Jolla Playhouse and the San Diego Museum of Art have grants written to provide educational services and outreach programs, and are only a phone call or email away, but they have to be found and contacted. When we hired a volunteer coordinator, things really took off in an amazing way. This coordinated effort made sure every class had access to this involvement. Students embraced these visitors and it was an important part of school culture to be welcoming and show the community how much learning was taking place at their school. The volunteer coordinator also created a parent involvement plan, starting simple with putting out a call for volunteers at breakfast service. A few parents signed up, then they brought other parents, and soon they were suggesting duties that they could do to support the school. I believe parents want to be involved, but may not see how to help or feel they have much to contribute. By empowering parents and valuing their role, the students have an opportunity to see that there are many people that want them to be successful.
Belief: I believe that in today’s education system, all students must have access to modern technology that they would encounter in a career setting and teachers that are capable of supporting 21st century skills.
Story: While substituting in various schools before being offered a contract, I got to see first hand the inequities of technology across San Diego county. I spent many days subbing for a friend at Innovation Middle School, a charter that had gone 1-1 with netbooks and also had many technology features in the classroom. The teachers were well trained and the students actually used their devices mostly for school. While I can’t comment on assessments or how those students performed compared to others, as a sub the students were definitely more engaged during the lessons, and at 11 years old they could use technology very efficiently. I also saw an elementary school in City Heights that had one 1 computer lab with about 30 outdated computers that required 2-3 adults to supervise and try to troubleshoot. Students would become frustrated as computers malfunctioned or froze, and it was often more supplemental to the curriculum than an embedded necessity.
Components: The components include technology infrastructure, data storage, data security, access and licenses for products, purchasing devices, training staff in best practices, technology use and internet access agreements and disciplinary processes, etc.
Title Highlights: I would like to focus on technology use agreements.
Explain: As student have more and more access to the internet, one thing that is extremely important to consider is what the expectations are and what consequences will be for showing poor digital citizenship. Just as schools have guidelines and consequences for displaying citizenship in a brick and mortar class, they should also consider how students interact online and how they use the technology required by schools. This provides a solid foundation for being respectful adults operating online, and may prevent poor judgement by teens on an “internet that never forgets”. The expectations should be created with the input from many stakeholders such as students, their families, and teachers, as well as technology teams and leadership.