Diving into the Professional Conversation

I'm pleased to introduce former student, now teacher and co-author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, Stacey Bruton of Tampa, FL as my guest-blogger this week! 

How many times have you been told as educators to stay in the professional conversation? Your education courses might have mentioned it.  Or maybe you’ve never been told, to but you’ve seen it on your yearly evaluation!  Like most things “education”, we’re told what to do (thank you), but not so much how to do it or why.  

Staying in the professional conversation has really helped me maintain my enthusiasm and sense of connection with my colleagues.  In fact, it’s probably why I’m still in this teaching game! 

Getting started isn’t hard, but depending on how deep you want to go, consider:

Joining your content area’s professional organization.  This is a good one for beginners, who want to be in the pool, but want to stay in the shallow end! It's more "spectator". Usually, there is a small, annual membership fee. But, it is totally worth it. Professional organizations typically provide blogs, newsletters, conferences and magazines. The great thing about this option is that it’s content area-specific, so you won’t have to filter through other areas.

I went to a Florida Council Teachers of English conference, having no idea what to expect other than a keynote speech from Kylene Beers, author of When Kids Can’t Read. A few workshops later, after learning how to incorporate reader-writer journals from Linda Reif (Seeking Diversity), how to teach creative writing using Taco Bell sauce packets, and how to use picture books to teach literature circles, I was excited about teaching in the upcoming year.  That excitement is one of the most powerful benefits of the conversation. (Plus, the experience gave me stuff to put in my naked, first-year teacher classroom!)  

Finding an online teacher community. If you want to give your opinion, but you're not quite ready to go off the high dive, there are communities on Facebook, Twitter and all around the web. One I’ve found very helpful is ProTeacher Community. There are discussion boards divided up by grade level, new teacher forums, substitute teacher help, bulletin board ideas and a general HELP! section no matter the dilemma. I went to the middle school boards for help with classroom management, tips on whole group novels, and how to successfully implement independent reading in my classroom. This particular website is free and a great resource.

Another great place to look is Scholastic.com. They have ideas, resources and articles for all content areas and grade levels. I found really cool ice-breakers and discussion starters here. They also have a lot of great classroom tools, such as timers, their Book Wizard which helps students select books within their lexiles and interests and Daily Starters, for daily bellwork or warm ups. They also have an awesome Back to School section! The time is near!

One more thing that I really like on the Scholastic site is that they have an area where current teachers post featured articles. The last one I read was on simple ways to incorporate technology into the classroom and why it’s so important. These are great because the teachers are still in the classroom, so they share how their lesson or idea went and reflect on any changes they might make.

Get involved at your school or on a district level.  Here's where you can really dive into the deep end! The professional conversation is going to be different at every school, so sometimes, you have to be the one to find it or even start it. For example, at my school this past year, we had a book study. The books were paid for with Title One money and we got paid for meeting once a week to discuss the readings and how it applied to our school and our student population.  If you don’t have something like this at your school, get it started! Talk to your principal, request funds from your parent organization or School Advisory Committee. Sometimes the money is there, but you just have to find it. Sometimes, districts will offer a book study which is a great way to meet teachers from other schools and find out what challenges they are facing and what is working for them. That’s where the conversation provides you with practical, tried-and-tested advice.

If a book study is not your cup of tea, you can stay in the professional conversation asking around to see where you can help at the district level. There, your finger can be on the pulse of the conversation.  What does your district need? Teachers to help write the new exams?  Curriculum review?  Textbook adoption? This step not only helps you stay in the conversation, but it can help with inservice points for certification renewals and on annual evaluations. In my district, we have an entire domain dedicated to knowing the research, implementing it into the classroom, and how we stay in the professional conversation.

Staying in the professional conversation doesn’t mean that you literally have to discuss education.  It means knowing what’s going on in education, and how what’s going on will impact you and your students.   Staying in and part of our professional conversation can be as big or as little as you’re comfortable with. Whether it’s reading an article or two a week or joining a book study, go where you want to grow. 

What do you think? In what ways have you stayed in the conversation? Blogging is another great way to participate! So, comment away, my fellow educators! Stick your toe in...the water's fine. = )



Guest Post: Media Literacy in Secondary Ed. Classrooms

Please meet my former student--a teacher!--and one of the co-authors of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, AnnMarie Dearman.

Secondary school. . . Technically speaking, it just means that it comes after primary school. But really? Secondary? The connotation of the word is that well, they’re done with us already.  So it’s not that much of a surprise that there is such debate about what is and should be taught in the secondary classroom. The bigger issue, though, is what is NOT being taught in the secondary classroom… media literacy skills.

A concept I’ve recently stumbled upon is the more profound definition of “literacy.” Yes, it encompasses reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and all skills that need to be steadily built upon to improve. However, in Education, what sometimes we forget is that literacy in the real world is changing – so many aspects of our lives are based in technology, and our approach to literacy skills must incorporate this arena. The use of media literacy is an excellent strategy for teachers to use in bringing our content areas up into the 21st century.

Teaching students how to evaluate and analyze their literacy, which is a combination (a cacophonous barrage of data, really) of music, video, art, and severely condensed consumer information and news bites that they process in nanoseconds--if not simultaneously--is our responsibility. They process this information quickly, but do they process it wisely? How can we better help them navigate their literary world in every content area? 

I know that it’s impossible to please everyone, but I encourage you to consider incorporating media literacy into your classroom in some facet, whether through applicable YouTube videos, tweets, movie trailers, commercials, Facebook posts, and texts. Any classroom, any level, any subject. Not only do I think you can get them more engaged and stimulate some in-depth cognitive thinking skills, instigating synthesis of the content, I think you’ll find that you enjoy your days a little more, too. 

And I think students will learn to make a little more sense of their world.


Get Rid of Romeo and Whatsinhername

By the time students graduate from high school all they can tell you about Shakespeare is that they had to read Romeo and Juliet and either the "Scottish Tragedy" or Othello, generally accompanied with a rolling of eyes. Why are we so quick to load already arguably-depressed teens down with tragic Shakespeare? The recommended texts per CCSS are Macbeth and Hamlet, if you’re wondering.
If we are truly concerned with suicide ideation, bullying, and domestic abuse, then shouldn’t we move away from these darker sides of humanity in our literature choices?

The beauty of Shakespeare, we English-teacher types argue, lies in his understanding of human nature and motivation, use of poetry and dramatic structure. mmkay. Then, I humbly suggest that we use some of his comedies to share these same elements with students.

Joe Dixon (Bottom) and Andrea Harris (Titania) in A Midsummer Night's Dream by the RSC. 
Photograph: Tristram Kenton. January 16, 2009

Consider A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which pulls on teen heartstrings just as much, if not more, than R and J. Imagine their reactions to Helena and her machinations, Hermia’s rebellion against an arranged marriage, the outrageously funny Pyramus and Thisby, and the perfect tying up of every plot point—all worlds, the natural, the supernatural, and the created are one.

It’s beautiful, fun, and provides students with an answer to why Shakespeare is timeless.  It answers, “Why do we have to read this?” with a chuckle and perhaps a stronger lean towards understanding his creative choices as a playwright. 

That’s what we want them to understand about him… isn’t it?

Further, what does our audience of students need to read, today? What might effectively transport them to another time, place, and situation, where they might just want to stay for a while?

Some years ago, when Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne plowed through Florida, we decided to cancel our theatre department’s production of Gibson’s The Miracle Worker. After six weeks of no school, we could have pulled it together with a bit less flair, but we took a moment to think about our audience.

Our intended audience was trying to get back on its feet after losing homes, loved ones, and jobs. We all had firsthand knowledge of MREs and generators, and what it was like to go without water and electricity for weeks. People fought each other over bags of ice. Bare signposts and fallen trees, blue FEMA tarps on roofs, and devastated businesses—these were the sights that greeted us on the way into school in the aftermath. That and our gym roof that had been peeled away from the building like a sheet of aluminum foil.

While Miracle Worker is a profound and wonderful play, it just wasn’t what our audience needed.  So, instead, we wrote a play: a comedy that pulled in laughter to help overcome the dark moments. A comedy that spoke to their spirits at that moment.

Comedy, and an analysis of this art form, may be what our audience of students needs. Enough what with the death and the dying and the killing and the feuding families. They’ve got that covered, I think.

Do we dare go against the tide and take a creative risk with students, or do we rest on our tried-and-true already-printed out lesson plans, literary guides, and tests for Romeo and Juliet?