Blog Post Category:

6/8/2016

Teachers, Rejuvenate (Yourself and Your Practice) This Summer!

By: Virginia Ressa

Summer vacations are underway across the state. As teachers, we all look forward to summer as a time to relax and rejuvenate after the hard work of a long school year. Summer is our well-earned time to take care of ourselves. Each summer, I planned to read the books piling up on my nightstand, complete unfinished projects and set aside time to spend with my family — all things I didn’t have the energy for during the school year. Rest and rejuvenation are important for keeping ourselves physically and emotionally healthy.

This summer, in addition to taking a break to rejuvenate yourself, consider carving off time to rejuvenate your practice. During the school year, it is difficult to take time to reflect on our work and consider how we might strengthen our practice. This is the time when we can step back and reflect on what worked well and what we want to improve, without the pressure of the day-to-day responsibilities of the classroom. Here are some suggestions and resources to help you think about your practice this summer:

  • Read a book. While I know you want to read some books just for fun, I also encourage you to read something that will help rejuvenate your practice. There are so many books to choose from that it can be overwhelming. Check out this list of recommendations from EdWeek to help narrow down your choices.
  • Learn more about best practices. Visit the What Works Clearinghouse, which highlights the most effective research-based instructional practices. These guides and quick reviews are easy to read and can spur new thinking without taking too much of your time.
  • Prepare for your diverse classroom. As you reflect on the past school year, start looking ahead and consider new ways you can meet the different needs of all types of learners in your class. I’ve been learning more about Universal Design for Learning and how it can help us plan ahead for all students rather than retrofitting lessons to meet student needs. I encourage you to take a few minutes to review the guidelines from CAST and the many resources available from the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence
  • See what other teachers are doing. On the Teaching Channel, you will find classroom videos on topics we all struggle with, such as assessment, engagement, differentiation, feedback and more. You also can see Ohio teachers and students implementing Formative Instructional Practices in the FIP Video Library
  • Share ideas on Pinterest. I know a lot of us love clicking through Pinterest for decorating and craft ideas, but the site is also full of boards sharing great ideas for meeting student needs, organizing data and responding to evidence of student learning. Create your own board to collect the ideas you want to try with your students.
  • Sign up to receive updates from the Ohio Department of Education. You can sign up to receive regular updates on the topics that interest you most. This is an easy way to stay informed as new laws are implemented and opportunities become available for teachers and community members to provide input and feedback.

See how Mrs. Susie’s 4th graders are using formative instructional practices at Beechwood Elementary School

I know how hard teachers work throughout the year and how important it is to take time to rest and focus on yourself for a while. Take time to read a book just for fun! Stay up late and watch your favorite shows! Then, take some time to engage in professional learning while your head is clear and you aren’t rushed. It will help you to rejuvenate your practice for the new school year and revitalize your enthusiasm for your work.

Enjoy!

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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7/20/2016

Owning our Own Learning: Personalized Professional Development for Educators

By: Virginia Ressa

A few weeks ago, Stephanie Donofe wrote on ExtraCredit about the need to personalize learning for our students. She reminded us that we ought to find ways to personalize learning for our students, using blended learning resources and frameworks like Universal Design for Learning, to meet the needs of our diverse student populations. The next logical step is to expand this way of thinking about education to include personalizing professional learning for teachers.

Unfortunately, our professional development (or “PD” as we often refer to it) planning often relies on efficiency rather than identified needs. But what if we thought about PD differently? What if we thought about it in the way Stephanie suggested we think about student learning? Could we identify our strengths and weaknesses to set learning goals? Could we make use of technology to differentiate our learning? In the 21st century, these shouldn’t sound like revolutionary ideas, but it’s just not how we “do PD.”

To make these changes, we need to start thinking about our own performance and identify our own strengths and weaknesses. I know that’s scary. We pour our hearts and souls into our work. We have college degrees and work hard to be the best we can be. But could we be just a little better? Of course we can, it’s just hard to admit. Research shows that teachers who improve their instructional practice reflect on their practice daily and solicit feedback from students and colleagues.

In order to “do PD” differently, we need to support each other in reflecting on our practice, creating learning goals and providing effective feedback — all things we would do for our students to ensure their learning.

Ohio teachers have access to many online resources and professional organizations, some of which I’ve included below. We also will soon have access to a statewide learning system from the department that will provide learning aligned to our standards and evaluation systems (keep an eye out for more on that soon). Many schools have teacher-based teams where colleagues support each other in their learning. We also have world-class institutions across the state — universities, museums, historical sites — that provide learning opportunities just for you.

My challenge to you is to utilize some of these options to improve your instructional practice this year. Take some time to identify your strengths and weaknesses, set your learning goals and seek out learning opportunities that meet your needs.

Next month, I will share some great resources available for professional learning. In the meantime, here are just a couple to whet your appetite:

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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9/8/2016

Owning Our Learning: What are you learning? How are you learning?

By: Virginia Ressa

This summer in my ExtraCredit posts, I wrote about professional learning, specifically personalized professional learning for educators. In Ohio, many teachers have Individual Professional Development Plans (IPDP) to plan their learning and earn licensure renewal. One of the goals of the IPDP is to allow teachers to identify their own goals and plan their own learning; this is a great opportunity to create goals that match your needs and interests! What are your goals in your IPDP? How are you working to meet those goals? Are you taking full advantage of available learning opportunities?

Last month, I challenged you to engage in professional learning, utilizing local and web-based resources to improve your practice. Since we know that modeling is one of our most effective teaching practices, I would like to share some of my professional learning with you.

My goal: To understand and apply Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to the professional development I plan and provide and to support districts and schools in implementing UDL systemically.

How will I know when I’ve met this goal? When I have successfully planned and led a professional learning experience modeling UDL principles.

How am I going to close the gap between what I currently know and my goal? My plan includes reading about UDL from two different resources in order to see more than one perspective. I’ve already read UDL Now by Katie Novak – I need to find a second source. I will review the resources available on the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) and CAST websites (both sites have videos, research papers, case studies, etc.) and read the research literature supporting UDL (realistically, I’ll read some of the research).

We often forget that our colleagues are great resources, so I’ll check with my work colleagues for recommendations and use outlets like Twitter, Pinterest and blogs to learn from colleagues beyond my local circle. I also plan to take time to reflect on my learning and practice (I wrote about the importance of reflection last month), so I can identify my questions about UDL as I’m learning. Then, working with colleagues at the Ohio Department of Education and OCALI, we will plan and lead professional learning for our staff.

That may all sound like a lot of work, but I worked on this plan all summer and am really enjoying my inquiry. It feels great to identify an area of study that I know will benefit my work and then take on the task of setting my own goals and finding my own path.

Here are some of the resources I have found for learning more about UDL:

I would love to hear what you are learning about and how you are learning. What resources are you taking advantage of? How will you know when you have reached your goal? Please share your thoughts via the comments below or through Twitter using @VirginiaRessa or @OHEducation and #mylearningOH or #ohedchat.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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12/1/2016

Reflecting on Our Practice: Teaching Behavioral Expectations

By: Virginia Ressa

The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) places strong emphasis on evidence-based practices. The intention is that educators should use practices that have been proven to be effective through significant research studies. For example, in October I wrote about effective feedback which has been shown through multiple studies to improve student achievement. We know this practice to be highly effective in making learning goals or expectations clear to students. Being clear about learning expectations helps students focus and provides them with goals to work towards.

As we begin our transition to ESSA, I suggest we think about putting together two highly effective, evidence-based practices. Through Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) professional development, teachers find the value of using clear learning targets to teach academic knowledge and skills. Ohio schools use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a proactive approach to improving school climate and culture that is evidence-based. PBIS helps schools establish positive expectations and classroom rules for student behavior. When we put FIP together with PBIS we have FIPPBIS… I’m just kidding we do not need an acronym or fancy name to implement effective practices. When we put them together we have evidence-based practices we can apply to the teaching and learning of behavior.

Here is a great video on teaching students how to speak respectfully to their classmates from the Teaching Channel!

Putting two practices we know are effective together – clear learning targets and behavioral expectations – would lead to the use of clear learning targets for teaching behavioral knowledge and skills. We could go beyond just posting “rules” to creating and sharing learning targets that would lead students to be able to meet the expectations of the rules. For example, we often post rules that are broad or even vague: “Complete classwork on time.” We expect students to meet this rule because we agreed on it as a class. And then, what happens when they don’t meet the rule? Students are often punished for not meeting classroom rules – a phone call home, maybe missing recess or detention.

But, what if we changed how we think of classroom rules? What if we thought of them like we do academic standards? When we have an academic standard we want students to meet, we make that standard clear to them and provide steps they can take towards mastery of the standard. If our expectation is for students to understand the causes of the Civil War, we would break that down into smaller steps, provide learning opportunities, assess student understanding and reteach if necessary. We can do the same thing with classroom rules.

Going beyond the posting of rules to breaking them into smaller behavioral learning targets can help us teach students how to meet the rule. We take the time to teach students academic content they don’t know, so why not take the time to teach students how to behave in a school setting? For instance, in order to complete their classwork on time, students need to know exactly what we mean – we need to make the expectation clear and possibly break it down into smaller steps. How do you make sure you complete your classwork on time? First, students need to know what “on time” means. Is it when class ends? What time does class end? Next, students need to practice budgeting their time and break large tasks into smaller steps. Students may also need to practice starting their work on time. Understanding and practicing these components will increase students’ ability to meet the behavioral expectation.

When I reflect on my time teaching middle school, I remember struggling with students not following rules. I thought my rules were clear and I even engaged students in writing the rules. After learning about PBIS, I realized that my rules were negative and included “don’t do” or “no” to this or that. Clear learning targets could have broken down vague and ambiguous rules into smaller, clearer expectations.

Take a minute to think about the rules in your classroom. Are your students meeting the rules? Are they stated positively? What if you thought of the rules as standards and taught students how to meet them? Could you increase students’ ability to meet the expectations in your classroom and school?

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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6/14/2017

There’s More than One Way to Scramble an Egg

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-466406260.jpgI like to think of myself as a “lifelong learner,” but my husband keeps finding ways to challenge this notion. Do I really want to learn about classic '70s rock music? I’m fairly sure I could have lived without learning how to tile a foyer — though it did turn out pretty well. A while ago, he was watching cooking shows, finding recipes for “us” to try out. I was game for trying new recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but my repertoire is definitely limited.

In the course of our mini adventure through cooking shows and new recipes, my husband told me about a video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating how to make the perfect scrambled egg. Wait. I know how to scramble eggs. I’ve been scrambling eggs since I was a teenager. It’s simple, and there really is just one way to make scrambled eggs…right?

As adults, there are some things we’ve been doing for such a long time or so often that we have come to believe there is just one way to do that task, and we already know how. Teachers often think about their classrooms and instructional practices this way. We know what works, so we keep using the same methods over and over. Once we have found a practice that works well, we recreate it with each group of students with the underlying notion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is your method for teaching addition using buttons as manipulatives the only way to do it? Is it the most effective? What if you talked to other elementary teachers and asked what their best practices are? Maybe there’s another method that might also work well?

I eventually acquiesced and agreed to watch the video on scrambling eggs. I found out that there are, indeed, other ways to scramble eggs. There was Chef Ramsay using a pot instead of a nonstick frying pan. He had a spatula but not the flat kind I use to make eggs; he used the rubber kind that I mix things with. The most surprising part of his technique was the addition of crème fraiche. I was incredulous — I had never heard of anyone making eggs this way. I immediately got out the eggs, butter, a small pot, the spatula that Ramsay said to use and a container of sour cream (turned out I was all out of crème fraiche). I don’t know if I had set out to prove Ramsay wrong or if I was really intrigued about a new way of scrambling eggs. Of course, the eggs were really good. Light and fluffy, with a bit of a rich flavor added by the sour cream. Not only was Ramsay right, so was my husband. I had to swallow my pride and admit that there is more than one way to scramble an egg. Now, almost every Sunday, I make really good scrambled eggs for our brunch. I’ve experimented with some variations, like sour cream, and have found some small changes that work for me. I’m just confident enough to think I can improve on what Ramsay does.

When we think about our personal and professional lives, there are probably dozens of these types of everyday things we do that we would never consider doing differently. We have routines that we build into our classroom expectations because we think they work well. How do you help students get ready to leave the classroom? Do they wait at their desks for the bell? Do you have them line up along the tape on the floor? Here is a video from a teacher who uses music to focus her students on lining up for lunch. This is probably much more effective than the rush of middle schoolers I had waiting to push the door open and run to the lunchroom. Beyond classroom management, we also become comfortable with how we teach content. How do you teach the basic concepts of your subject area? Do you use a set of graphic organizers every year? Could you integrate technology to make the use of graphic organizers more effective? My point is simply that there are always other techniques to consider. Find out what your colleagues are doing. Check out the Teaching Channel for videos of all types of classroom practices. Take time to think about the teaching and learning happening in your classroom and how you might experiment with new ways of doing things that have become accepted practice.

If we are going to profess the benefits of being lifelong learners to our students, we need to be willing to be lifelong learners as well. I rewatched Ramsay’s video this morning and saw that it has more than 22 million views. Maybe we have more lifelong learners in our midst than I thought. In case you are feeling the need to learn how to do something differently, here’s an article from The New York Times with a series of videos about how to wash your hair. Yes, there is more than one way to wash your hair.  

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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10/5/2017

ENCORE: There’s More than One Way to Scramble an Egg

By: Virginia Ressa

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on June, 14 2017, but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite.

ThinkstockPhotos-466406260.jpgI like to think of myself as a “lifelong learner,” but my husband keeps finding ways to challenge this notion. Do I really want to learn about classic '70s rock music? I’m fairly sure I could have lived without learning how to tile a foyer — though it did turn out pretty well. A while ago, he was watching cooking shows, finding recipes for “us” to try out. I was game for trying new recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but my repertoire is definitely limited.

In the course of our mini adventure through cooking shows and new recipes, my husband told me about a video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating how to make the perfect scrambled egg. Wait. I know how to scramble eggs. I’ve been scrambling eggs since I was a teenager. It’s simple, and there really is just one way to make scrambled eggs…right?

As adults, there are some things we’ve been doing for such a long time or so often that we have come to believe there is just one way to do that task, and we already know how. Teachers often think about their classrooms and instructional practices this way. We know what works, so we keep using the same methods over and over. Once we have found a practice that works well, we recreate it with each group of students with the underlying notion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is your method for teaching addition using buttons as manipulatives the only way to do it? Is it the most effective? What if you talked to other elementary teachers and asked what their best practices are? Maybe there’s another method that might also work well?

I eventually acquiesced and agreed to watch the video on scrambling eggs. I found out that there are, indeed, other ways to scramble eggs. There was Chef Ramsay using a pot instead of a nonstick frying pan. He had a spatula but not the flat kind I use to make eggs; he used the rubber kind that I mix things with. The most surprising part of his technique was the addition of crème fraiche. I was incredulous — I had never heard of anyone making eggs this way. I immediately got out the eggs, butter, a small pot, the spatula that Ramsay said to use and a container of sour cream (turned out I was all out of crème fraiche). I don’t know if I had set out to prove Ramsay wrong or if I was really intrigued about a new way of scrambling eggs. Of course, the eggs were really good. Light and fluffy, with a bit of a rich flavor added by the sour cream. Not only was Ramsay right, so was my husband. I had to swallow my pride and admit that there is more than one way to scramble an egg. Now, almost every Sunday, I make really good scrambled eggs for our brunch. I’ve experimented with some variations, like sour cream, and have found some small changes that work for me. I’m just confident enough to think I can improve on what Ramsay does.

When we think about our personal and professional lives, there are probably dozens of these types of everyday things we do that we would never consider doing differently. We have routines that we build into our classroom expectations because we think they work well. How do you help students get ready to leave the classroom? Do they wait at their desks for the bell? Do you have them line up along the tape on the floor? Here is a video from a teacher who uses music to focus her students on lining up for lunch. This is probably much more effective than the rush of middle schoolers I had waiting to push the door open and run to the lunchroom. Beyond classroom management, we also become comfortable with how we teach content. How do you teach the basic concepts of your subject area? Do you use a set of graphic organizers every year? Could you integrate technology to make the use of graphic organizers more effective? My point is simply that there are always other techniques to consider. Find out what your colleagues are doing. Check out the Teaching Channel for videos of all types of classroom practices. Take time to think about the teaching and learning happening in your classroom and how you might experiment with new ways of doing things that have become accepted practice.

If we are going to profess the benefits of being lifelong learners to our students, we need to be willing to be lifelong learners as well. I rewatched Ramsay’s video this morning and saw that it has more than 22 million views. Maybe we have more lifelong learners in our midst than I thought. In case you are feeling the need to learn how to do something differently, here’s an article from The New York Times with a series of videos about how to wash your hair. Yes, there is more than one way to wash your hair.  

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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10/12/2017

Forgetting About Friendship: Making the Best of Your Teacher Teams

By: Virginia Ressa

GettyImages-504875442.jpgImprovement efforts, like the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP), have advocated for a move away from teachers working autonomously toward participating in teacher-based teams. The goal of teaming is to provide a forum for teachers to share ideas, collaborate, learn from each other and, ultimately, better meet the needs of students and improve student achievement. However, just like putting four middle school students in a group does not necessarily result in collaborative learning, assigning teachers to a team does not always result in effective collaboration.

I worked on a team of five dedicated middle school teachers. We met once a week during a common planning period. What did we do with all that time? It’s hard to say. Some days we focused on one student, inviting a parent or guardian to join us. We talked a bit about students’ work. For instance, who was and wasn’t doing homework, who was falling behind, who needed a phone call home or to see the guidance counselor. We planned field trips, dances and other special events. We shared stories and laughed about the crazy things students do in middle school.

More important is what we didn’t do. We didn’t bring our lesson plans to the table for feedback. We didn’t plan collaborative, interdisciplinary lessons. We didn’t share assessment data to determine student needs. We didn’t talk about instruction or about trying to improve our instructional practices.

Since my tenure in middle school, I have learned a lot about the value of working in teams to analyze practice and collaborate on finding solutions. As teachers, we know that using evidence of student learning can help us plan instruction that meets the needs of students. However, we often shy away from, even avoid, discussing assessment data and instruction with our colleagues. I know this isn’t true of every team of teachers, but it is a barrier for many.

Why is it so hard for us to share our data and solicit feedback from colleagues? During my research on teacher-based teams, I read quite a few reports that suggested some very thoughtful factors contributing to this barrier. I think you’ll quickly recognize some of these:

  1. Lack of trust: “What if a team member tells my principal about a mistake I made?”
  2. Fear of criticism: “What if the team thinks my lesson plan is really bad?”
  3. Fear of failing: “My students might not score as well on the assessment as students in other teachers’ classes.”
  4. Desire to work autonomously: “I’d rather just work by myself — I have my own style.” 

These are all valid concerns and could undoubtedly get in the way of collaboration. Experts suggest many solutions. School leaders could conduct trust-building activities and provide more training, or teams could utilize discussion protocols to keep conversations positive. There are a plethora of team-building solutions. Go ahead and do a Google search for “building collaborative teams.” I got more than 3 million results. In other words, we are not at a loss for solutions. Though it is hard to find a solution before you’ve clearly defined the root causes of the “problem.” Why do we distrust each other? Why do we fear criticism and critique? Does it really matter whose students perform better?

Through my research, I found that one of the reasons we struggle with collaboration actually is very simple: We want to retain their relationships and friendships and fear that having critical discussions about instructional practices will be too contentious and possibly endanger those relationships. We don’t all teach the same, and when we discuss instruction, especially lessons plans we have personally created, critical dialog is likely to offend someone. I might offend the department chairperson who makes key decisions about scheduling and distributes resources. I might offend my friend who teaches next door to me. Then there is the first-year teacher who I want to encourage and not discourage. Part of working in schools is creating and maintaining relationships, but we often avoid critical discussions of pedagogy, assessment and student achievement to preserve those relationships.

The glitch is, when teams avoid conflict, they miss out on the benefits of cognitive conflict and the learning it produces. Researchers have found that in their efforts to maintain harmony and “get along,” teams avoid any real discussion of differing opinions or divergent thinking (De Lima, 2001). Unfortunately, without dissent and divergent thinking, we suppress creativity and innovation.

Let’s go back to Google. This time try Google Scholar and search for “forgetting about friendship” (use the quotation marks). As you will see, researchers have been looking at the role of friendship in professional learning communities and teacher-based teams. It turns out, I think a little ironically, that our efforts to maintain harmony and create friendships are actually getting in the way of collaboration and learning. In order for practice to change and reforms to take hold, we need to go beyond comfortable conversations and get used to difficult conversations that challenge practice. Conflict and debate are inherent to social interaction and promote change; teacher teams are no different (De Lima, 2001). 

Video.PNG
The Teaching Channel provides video resources for teachers including this one showing an effective teacher team in action.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.


References

De Lima, J. A. (2001). Forgetting about friendship: Using conflict in teacher communities as a catalyst for school change. Journal of Educational Change, 2(2), 97-122. 

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM