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12/6/2017

Formative Instructional Practices: Beyond the Basics

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-486325400.jpgWhat seems like ages ago, the Ohio Department of Education secured a Race to the Top Grant that allowed us to develop new tools and resources in collaboration with districts across the Ohio. Thus began my adventure into the world of formative instructional practices (FIP) and the challenge to lead the development of online professional learning resources with our partner, Battelle for Kids. The federal grant funds allowed us to create 57 online learning resources, including modules and guides, and a video library to support the improved use of formative instructional practices in all classrooms. The grant included a team of FIP specialists to work regionally with participating districts. We managed to reach half of Ohio’s districts and more than 40,000 educators!

Formative instructional practices are the formal and informal ways that teachers and students gather and respond to evidence of student learning. Notice that this definition includes students as an active part of gathering and responding to assessment information. FIP includes four core practices that research has shown to be among the most effective for improving student achievement. The four practices include the following:

  1. Using clear learning targets;
  2. Collecting and documenting evidence of student learning;
  3. Providing effective feedback;
  4. Preparing students to take ownership of their learning.

The FIP professional learning resources purposely focus on just these four core practices. This focus allows educators to improve their practice without the overwhelming feeling of having to change everything. During Race to the Top, the Department received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the FIP resources from administrators, teachers and even pre-service teacher education programs.

Then, the inevitable happened, the grant ended. Our team of FIP specialists went their own ways, our contract with Battelle for Kids ended and I took on other work. A couple of years later, I am very glad to report that FIP has survived beyond the Race to the Top grant and my relocation to the Department’s Office for Exceptional Children. With the help of Allie Sberna from the Department’s Office of Educator Effectiveness, I am glad to announce the next generation of FIP professional learning, FIP 2.0, back by popular demand!

We have received many inquiries about what happened to the FIP modules. You can now find all of the FIP resources on the Learning Management System for Ohio Education (LMS). Educators can access the LMS through their SAFE accounts. Once they log in, they will see a link within their list of available applications. Within the LMS are resources from across the Department, including everything from early learning to career-technical education.

Allie and I encourage Ohio educators to explore the additional learning and resources that go beyond the introductory level. Many schools began by promoting the use of the FIP Foundations modules — a series of five modules designed to introduce teachers to the basics of formative instructional practices and provide a big picture of how they can improve teacher practice and school achievement. We encourage you to go beyond the basics and enroll in one of the courses with more in-depth content.

These six additional courses go beyond the basics, focusing on specific practices and content areas:

  • Leading & Coaching FIP;
  • Clear Learning Targets (broken down by subject area);
  • Reaching Every Student;
  • Designing Sound Assessment;
  • Standards-Based Assessment;
  • FIP in Action.

The FIP courses can be used for independent study or as part of a blended learning experience that includes face-to-face meetings with colleagues. Facilitation guides are available within the courses and can be used to guide discussions about evidence-based practices, reflection on current teaching practices and goal setting for implementing new practices. FIP courses also can be integrated into Resident Educator work, growth and improvement plans and individual professional development plans (IPDP).

Wondering what happened to the FIP videos? They’ve moved to YouTube and can be accessed here. All the videos include Ohio educators and students during real classroom interactions. Along with each video, you will find information about the class and teacher, discussion questions and connections to the standards. What can you learn from their practice? How would you coach them to keep improving?

Allie and I are working to update all the FIP resources to reflect current language. For instance, Ohio’s Learning Standards are no longer the “new” learning standards. All the FIP resources will get a refresh over the next few months, but we didn’t want to wait for that to be complete to make them available to you.

How are you using formative instructional practices? Share your work via Twitter using #MyOhioClassroom and #ohFIP.

For more information about FIP: Beyond the Basics, you can contact Allie and me using the information below.

Virginia Ressa
Office for Exceptional Children
(614) 728-6920
virginia.ressa@education.ohio.gov

Allie Sberna
Office of Educator Effectiveness
(614) 369-4071
alison.sberna@education.ohio.gov

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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11/8/2017

GUEST BLOG: Investigating Living History—Jodi Singleton, Caldwell High School

By: Guest Blogger

Editor’s note: In honor of Veterans Day and the inaugural Purple Star Awards, we invited Jodi Singleton, a history teacher at Caldwell High School, a Purple Star school, to reflect on the meaning of Veterans Day. Purple Star schools demonstrate a commitment to supporting students and families connected to our nation’s military. On behalf of the Ohio Department of Education, we thank all veterans and current service members who sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms.

471112096-Vet.jpgHow can we best engage students in the history classroom? How can we encourage them with the enthusiasm and intrinsic desire to learn the truth of our past? The answer lies in those around us...the one you might see in the grocery line ahead of you, the one patiently waiting his turn at the doctor, the one who proudly salutes as the flag is presented at the local football game or the one who sits quietly at the Veterans Day assembly with tears in his eyes, pride in his heart and memories that won’t fade. The answer to the original question is simple...teach our students to talk to our veterans. These men and women who have made sacrifices unknown to many of us are the true primary sources that our students need to know.

As educators, we often find ourselves studying new classroom strategies, taking part in workshops and conferences, and continuing our education. While all of this is beneficial, the lessons I have learned from those who have served have proven to completely intrigue and captivate my students. When discussing Vietnam — and when I tell students about the bounty that was offered to the North Vietnamese for my stepfather’s life — you can hear a pin drop in my classroom. As we talk about his bravery and his willingness to serve others on the field with injuries before worrying about himself, the students yearn for more. They realize the sacrifices he made and understand the camaraderie of the military and each service member’s duty to protect one another. He truly deserved his Navy Commendation Medal.

Yet the stories do not stop there. Two years ago, a family member sent recovered letters to my mother that my grandfather wrote during his service in World War II. While he has passed, and I greatly miss him, I hold those letters close, sharing excerpts with the students, yet longing to hear the words from him personally. I embrace his words, study his handwriting and imagine the emotion he felt. I have had others in my family serve as well, and I continue to listen as they find themselves ready and willing to share. These stories are priceless. Someday, when the veterans of past wars are gone, we will find ourselves yearning for deeper understanding. The raw emotion, the stories of heroism, the sacrifices of tours of duty, active service and combat will all be left behind as we rely on textbooks to teach our students.

Where does this leave us? The mission is laid out before us. Seek out veterans, thank them for their service and invite them into your schools. Teach your students to investigate the living history before them. The legacy our veterans leave with us is the reason for our freedoms. It is for those who have served and are currently serving that we continue to work with military families in our schools and to find ways to honor veterans.

It is with great honor that Caldwell High School earned a 2017 Purple Star Award. Through the communications of our guidance counselor, military families can stay connected, have smoother transitions and know that their students have the best care. Even schools such as ours that have very few families from this background can accept the challenge set before them to strive for excellence.

Servicemen, servicewomen and veterans of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Airforce, National Guard and Coast Guard...thank you for your service!

Jodi Singleton has taught for 15 years in the Caldwell Exempted Village School District in southeastern Ohio. She is certified to teach language arts and social studies for grades 4-9 and integrated social studies for grades 7-12. She earned a Master of Arts in Education from Muskingum University. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys spending time with her husband, two children and extended family. You can reach Jodi at jsingleton@caldwell.k12.oh.us.

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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). 

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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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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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9/28/2017

GUEST BLOG: Using Virtual Backpacks to Help Students Explore Their Futures — Andrea Richison, Zanesville City Schools

By: Guest Blogger

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As an Ohio school counselor, one of my favorite roles is the promotion of college and career readiness. Currently, I serve a high school population where college and career awareness is on the forefront of many of my students’ minds. However, I previously served a kindergarten through sixth grade population. There was nothing more exciting than watching third- or fourth-graders explore their strengths for the first time and talk about what kinds of schooling could be in their future—whether that be a four-year college or a career-technical program. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m passionate about planting the seeds of career planning in our students. Witnessing a student light up with excitement when she tells you about her plans to be an engineer, a cosmetologist or a physician is one of the reasons I chose my own career as a school counselor.

However, there are always those students who are harder to reach. The ones that you ask, “What are your plans?” and they just look at you and shrug their shoulders. This used to frustrate me to no end. Surely, they must have some idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives? But the reality that I have found is that some students have no idea where to start when it comes to college and career planning. That’s when, as a counselor, it’s time to step in and help them explore their interests and what may be a good fit for their skill sets. Last year, as the freshman and sophomore counselor at Zanesville High School, I got the opportunity to use the OhioMeansJobs backpack tool in ninth and 10th grade English classes.

Once my students set up their accounts with OhioMeansJobs, they quickly got started on the first step of building their backpacks, the “career cluster inventory.” Students indicated how well they enjoyed certain activities, such as fishing and drawing. At first, there were some complaints about the number of questions, but after a while, the once bustling room was hushed except for the sound of clicking from their computers. It was interesting to watch students’ faces as they read over activities and decided their levels of interests. And, as they began to finish their inventories, they started chattering about the “career clusters” that showed up on top of their lists.

A large number of students in one ninth grade English class received “Agricultural and Environmental Systems” as their top cluster. The term agriculture was new to some students. When one student asked questions, I directed him to click on the cluster. The nice thing about the inventory is that each cluster contains a hyperlink to different explanations and occupations within that category. In this case, when the student clicked on the agriculture cluster, it pulled up the field of “mining, oil, and gas.” The student was actually very familiar with oil work because many of the parents in our school are employed by the oil industry. The student was introduced to new vocabulary and able to make a real-life connection to the career cluster.

For me, the backpack is refreshing because of the interactive, real-life application that students have the opportunity to explore. What’s even more convenient is the ability to save their results to refer back to and further engage in activities. In the span of one class period, we were only really able to fully explore the career cluster tool. However, once this result is saved, a student can log in to the account and complete other activities that stem from the cluster of interest. For example, a student can later go back and see the saved top career cluster and then pick a career to build a career plan from.

The backpack is an excellent tool for a student who needs a starting point. While it’s exciting when a freshman already has a career path in mind, it’s not always a reality. Also, even those who do have plans may discover career clusters that are better in line with their interests and strengths. While the backpack may not lead to a concrete career choice, it gets the wheels turning and allows students to have hands-on experience with career assessments, which are valuable for both the counselor and the student to spark conversations for future college and career planning. I feel like I’m just getting my feet wet with the backpack tool because there are so many different aspects to explore. But, I’m excited to keep learning and hope to spark my passion for college and career planning in my students.

Andrea Richison is a high school counselor for Zanesville City Schools. Currently she works with grades 9-12 as a student success counselor.

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8/23/2017

GUEST BLOG: Remember Who You Are - Dustin Weaver, 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year

By: Guest Blogger

ThinkstockPhotos-825216570.jpgOne of my favorite pastimes — both personally and professionally — is reflecting on my experiences. In many ways, the 2016-2017 school year was like all the others throughout my teaching career — incredibly fulfilling and extremely challenging.

But last year also was quite different. Serving as Ohio’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, I experienced opportunities that I had never dreamed of. I traveled to Dallas; Washington, D.C.; Coronado, California; and Huntsville, Alabama for amazing professional development seminars. I stood in the Oval Office and met the president of the United States. I also met 55 other Teachers of the Year who are just like you and me: they love teaching and, above all, they love serving young people and making a difference in their lives. 

Throughout my time with these educators, I have learned — over and over again — the value of educators; an understanding that takes me all the way back to my student teaching internship. A little more than a decade ago, my mentor teacher asked me, “Do you value what you do?” I have no idea what prompted her inquiry. I do know that my answer was, and is, overwhelmingly yes!

I value teachers because educator quality matters. A formidable amount of research has conclusively determined that teacher effectiveness is the number one variable that influences student learning outcomes. Because of this, we must continually increase the intentionality of our instructional practices, striving to become better teachers every period of every day. In other words, we must be the growth mindset we wish to see in the world.

I value teachers because of the ways in which they can and do impact the whole child. Almost without exception, our students are hurting. Many have encountered poverty, drugs, homelessness and abuse, and even our best and brightest often lack self-confidence. Thus, teachers must be extremely intentional not only in terms of their instructional practices but also in building strong relationships with their students.

While in Huntsville, I attended a dinner event at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. A few of the town’s residents had graciously prepared some delectable desserts for the Teachers of the Year. To be honest, I was exhausted from a long day of activities, and I hoped to mingle for just a couple minutes and then return to the dorm promptly to rest. However, after hearing I was from Ohio, one woman told me that I simply had to meet her husband. So, I did.

Mr. Saunders was from Ironton, not far from my hometown of Chillicothe. Like virtually everyone else in the room of several hundred people, he had served as an engineer for NASA. His travels had taken him from southern Ohio to New Orleans to Huntsville. I enjoyed listening to the stories of his engineering career, which he retired from at the age of 55. On a whim, I asked him what he had done since his retirement.

It turns out that, after a few years, he was offered a job as an engineering instructor at a local college. I asked him if he had any teacher stories. He proceeded to tell me of the time one of his students brought his father to meet him after graduation. The student proudly held out his degree and said, “Dad, you told me I couldn’t achieve this, but Mr. Saunders? He told me I could.” Throughout his story, he could not help but cry — and he was not alone. Mr. Saunders went on to tell me that, through all his incredible life events and accomplishments, he never experienced fulfillment that surpassed that which he felt as a teacher.

This event resonated deeply with me, and I struggled to understand why. Then, during a moment of reflection, it hit me. A few days earlier, I had watched “Moana” with my daughter. One of the recurring topics in “Moana” is the search for identity and the desire to know who you are and your place in the world.

As you begin the 2017-2018 school year, whether it’s your first or your 30th year in the classroom, do not lose sight of who YOU are. YOU are a teacher. YOU matter. YOU make a difference in students’ lives. Through your efforts, YOU can change your students’ life trajectories.

Best wishes for an outstanding school year! 

Dustin Weaver was an English teacher at Chillicothe High School when he was named the 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year. In the 2017-2018 school year, he stepped out of the classroom to become the principal of Chillicothe High School. To contact him, click here.

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8/10/2017

A Great School Year Starts with Knowing Your Students

By: Virginia Ressa

ThinkstockPhotos-477634708.jpgHappy New School Year! My colleague and friend, Stephanie Donofe, ended her blog last week by wishing everyone a happy new year. I thought it was perfect — that’s exactly how I feel at the start of a new school year. It may not be Jan. 1, but you’re starting anew: redecorating, buying supplies, planning lessons, organizing resources. It is a fun time of year, as long as the weather doesn’t turn too hot.

One of the most interesting aspects of a new school year is meeting your new students. They may not be new to the school, you may know of them from your colleagues or even have data in a file, but you don’t truly know your students until you spend time with them. There are lots of “interest inventory” tools out there to ask the students about themselves. Some of these are probably a lot more useful than others. Do you really need to know Johnny’s favorite food? Maybe, but I bet there are questions you could ask that would reveal a whole lot more about your students and their lives than asking for their favorite foods. Maybe it would help to ask students about what comes “easy” to them and what things they consider “challenges.” I saw a set of writing prompts that asked “would you rather” questions like, “Would you rather be really tall or really short?” or “Would you rather live in the city or the country?” These types of writing prompts also are great conversation prompts and could elicit important details about students’ lives, their interests, fears and more.

In Ohio, we have a very diverse student population. Almost 3 percent of our students are learning English as a second language. That might not seem like a lot statewide, but it is significant if those students live in your district. Students with disabilities make up 14.5 percent of our population and are learners in classrooms across the state. The most startling of the statistics I looked at today is the percent of our students who are economically disadvantaged: 49.9 percent. That’s half of our 1.7 million students living in households struggling to meet their financial needs, which we know has many repercussions. Part of those students who are economically disadvantaged are the 1.2 percent who are homeless; that is 20,185 homeless students in Ohio. Right now, Ohio is experiencing a record number of students needing stable, out-of-home care as a result of the current opioid epidemic.

When we meet our new students, especially those new to the district, they don’t come with signs on their foreheads that tell us what their needs are. We have to work hard to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to understand what their environments are like when they leave our schools. I don’t say that to sound depressing — I promise, I’m not here to spoil your new year. I bring up these issues because it is essential for teachers to learn about their students so they can better meet students’ needs. This is not an easy task, and we often unintentionally revert to applying stereotypes and making assumptions. In such a diverse state, making assumptions about who our students are is definitely not best practice and reminds me of my mother’s admonition about the result of making assumptions (do you know that one?).

I’d like to share with you a personal story that isn’t all that pretty. When I began teaching, I was working in an urban alternative school with “at-risk” students. As a history teacher, I thought it would be fun to start the year off by making timelines of our own lives. I created a sample on the board with details of my life, then I asked my seventh-graders to draw a timeline of their lives. I wanted them to go back before they were born and include their parents and other family members on their timelines. There was one student who just would not get to work. As a new teacher, I felt that if I let him “get away” with that, it would set a precedent for the year. So, I urged him to get to work a couple of times. I tried changing my tone from friendly to stern. Still nothing on his paper. I set a consequence, threatening to send him out of the room if he wasn’t going to participate. He made the decision to leave the room himself and cursed at me on the way out. What I found out when I talked with him later was that he didn’t know much about his family or when or where his parents and grandparents were born. Because I never asked him why he wasn’t working, I didn’t understand his behavior or his learning needs. I was naïve in assuming this would be a “fun” activity for all my students. I hadn’t considered the complicated emotions it might elicit because I didn’t yet know my students.

That’s a hard story to share so publicly. I have to remind myself that it was many years ago, and I was very young. But that’s not an excuse and doesn’t make my naïveté okay. What helped to make things right was the frank and honest discussion my student had with me about his life and the apologies we exchanged as we both pledged to ask rather than assume.

As you meet your new students, remember that there are many things you don’t yet know about them. Ask lots of questions, provide opportunities for them to share their experiences and lives with you and their classmates. Share some of your own personal stories, even your strengths and weaknesses. Take the time to stop and think before you assume anything about a student. A student may be learning English for the first time, but she also may be proficient in reading and writing one or more other languages — she already has strong literacy complex thinking skills that you can foster. A student receiving free lunch may have a more stable home than the student who comes in with a full lunch box every day. The student identified as having a learning disability is likely able to achieve at the same rate as his peers if provided the right supports.

I encourage you to embrace the diversity of your classroom by getting to know your students and avoiding making assumptions about them. This is a lesson I learned the hard way — I hope this is a time when you can learn from another teacher’s mistake.

Have a very Happy New Year! 

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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8/4/2017

A Year on Pause: A Very Personal Perspective on Personalized Learning

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

HAPPY-NEW-YEAR-8.jpgHello, everyone! You last heard from me more than a year ago, as I was in a car accident last summer. It was of the lucky-to-be-alive magnitude kind of car accident, and I am so grateful to be back at work now. This year on pause gave me time for some deep reflection during my recovery process.

In particular, I was struck by the parallels between personalized learning and my recovery. At the hospital, the trauma team used a set of protocols for unconscious victims to establish and triage my injuries. Based on this thorough assessment, the team determined I had broken both legs, among other damages. The assessment was extensive, and the trauma surgeons began treating the breaks immediately, using typical treatments for typical fractures. My right leg, however, was not a standard break, so alternative methods were used for my situation. If the team had done what it usually does for a fracture, I would not be walking today.

Lying in bed healing for two months and then recovering for another eight, I had a lot of time to think. The idea of my personalized treatment had me thinking about personalized learning and what it really means. I could overlay my situation to exactly how personalized learning can help students succeed. Some students respond to the typical and usual methods of instruction and succeed. Some students do not and need other strategies to achieve success. Most students have areas of strength and areas of challenge in learning. For example, standard teaching methods may work with them in social studies but not in science. I think too many times we look for a single-point solution in education…one tool or resource that will work for everyone…and that just is not the case.

Digital tools can assist, but they are not the only solution. Multiple solutions can be used to support multiple needs. In addition, a small set of tools can be applied differently to personalize learning for students. Perhaps you utilize online resources; do all students use them the same way? If you think of your resources as currencies, how will you spend them? This could include time and space—something as simple as a different room arrangement or a different structure for in-class time can help personalize learning for students. What are resources you have that can be used differently? How can standard assessment protocols be used to personalize a learning plan?

I did not recover alone. I had a team of support, from the initial trauma team to the physical therapy team, as well as an alternative therapies team. They were so willing to look for solutions for me to walk again; they never gave up looking for solutions, even ones they had not tried in the past. In education, we have many kinds of teams. How do we best utilize our support systems to personalize learning for all? What are the first steps that you can take to help personalize learning for students?

With the start of a new school year, we have the opportunity for a new beginning, new thinking and new planning. NONE of us can predict the future—but with the right tools and planning, we can be ready when it comes. HAPPY NEW YEAR—make it awesome!

Next up in the series…using a framework with a team approach to personalize learning.

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7/27/2017

GUEST BLOG: Ohio’s In-Demand Jobs List: Preparing Your Students for Successful Careers — Emily Modell, Governor's Office for Workforce Transformation

By: Guest Blogger

ThinkstockPhotos-638787162.jpgOne seemingly insurmountable challenge that students and their families face is determining where to start when researching, and ultimately pursuing, a career. Students today have so many options, pathways through which to pursue opportunities, and qualified individuals to look to for advice. What they don’t always have, though, is an abundance of data to help guide that decision-making process.

Educators and parents — as you work diligently during the summer months to prepare your students for success in the upcoming school year, consider Ohio’s In-Demand Jobs List as your resource to keep track of the current and projected hiring needs of your students’ future employers.

Ohio’s workforce needs are evolving quickly due to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, drone technology and autonomous vehicles. Chances are, you already know and think about this on a regular basis. As some of the most influential individuals in the lives of Ohio’s youth, you have the power to help prepare the next generation for the changes they will inevitably see in their lifetime.

The effort to prepare our youth for a dynamic workforce environment must be collective — by reaching into our communities and collaborating, we can ensure that our youth have access to resources of all kinds to reach their career and life aspirations. Schools and businesses across the state are collaborating to build a workforce prepared for in-demand jobs.

One real-world example of a business with a workforce need collaborating with a school district is the Marion City Schools and OhioHealth partnership. When OhioHealth built a new healthcare facility in Marion, they realized they did not have enough nurses, lab technicians and medical assistants to support the doctors. OhioHealth collaborated with Marion City Schools to create a career pathway program that prepares high school graduates to work in these fields.

Jon Smith, a Marion Harding High School English teacher notes, "Our job as educators is to prepare our students the best that we can to move forward when they leave our building, and in many communities across America, credit accrual is just not enough and students need something more. The idea behind the career pathways initiative is going to be crucial to the development of better students and, therefore, better communities across our state and our country.”

Recognizing the need for collaboration and leading by example, the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation partnered with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and employers across the state to release a list of more than 200 of Ohio’s top occupations.

Ohio’s In-Demand Job List was created using data and input from the following sources:

  1. Results of a survey sent to more than 2,100 businesses in Ohio, asking them to forecast the top five most critical hiring and certification needs over the next one, three and five years;
  2. Ohio labor market information;
  3. Job posting trends and data from OhioMeansJobs.com;
  4. JobsOhio regional forecast.

The In-Demand Jobs List aims to provide insight for all stakeholders into the current and evolving needs of Ohio employers so that students, parents, educators, workforce professionals, legislators and employers alike can be aware of workforce needs. For teachers, it can help guide classroom instruction and provide opportunities to link lessons to workplace skills. For counselors, it can help guide career counseling discussions; for administrators, future decision-making; and for parents, curiosity and learning at home. While we cannot predict what’s next, we can take steps together to prepare the next generation for success now and in the future.

Emily Modell is the Outreach Coordinator at the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation. You can reach her at Emily.Modell@owt.ohio.gov.

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7/20/2017

Respect and Enjoyment: The Keys to a 58-Year-Long Teaching Career — Staff Report

By: Guest Blogger

Any seasoned professional can talk about how he or she has grown over the course of a career, but Ohio teacher Bob Weidner has an especially lengthy career to reflect on. Weidner recently retired after 60 years of dedicated service. He spent two years of his career in the U.S. Army and the remaining 58 teaching high school.

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Bob and Rachel Weidner with Senators Beagle and Hackett

Athletics were a major part of Weidner’s life and were one of the main reasons he wanted to teach. In high school and college, he played football and baseball and ran track. As a student athlete, he idolized his coaches. He wanted to teach so he could coach and be the same great role model to his students that his coaches were to him. So, after his time in the U.S. Army, Weidner began teaching and coaching at Newton Local School District. He then spent the next 35 years teaching and coaching football at Beavercreek City Schools. He believes coaching allowed him get to know his students better and fostered the mutual respect that he believes to be critical to successful teaching. After more than 35 years of teaching and coaching, many people might consider a well-deserved retirement. Weidner, however, spent 20 more years teaching at Troy Christian Schools.

Weidner recalls that on his first day of teaching, he was nervous and forgot what lesson he was planning to give. Thankfully, his professors had given him some advice on what to do in this situation. Following that advice, he simply told the class that he would try again the next day. In the following days, he prepared by writing the lesson on the chalkboard in advance.

Now, an undeniable classroom veteran, he can offer wisdom to new teachers. “You have to enjoy what you do, and you have to be sure you’re the boss…They have to have respect for you, and you have to respect your students,” he said. The respect his students had for him was clear on the two occasions the class valedictorians cited him as their most influential teacher.

Over the years, Weidner taught primarily biology but also covered physical education, health and anatomy classes. Even though the classrooms and subjects changed, some things never did. “Kids are kids,” Weidner said. “They haven’t changed any. I enjoyed them at every level.”

Weidner takes pride in the accomplishments of his former students who went on to work in fields related to the courses he taught. “I had several that were doctors and some that were in pharmacy. That always makes you feel good.” Weidner says although he didn’t have a favorite subject to teach, he did have a few standout classes. He noted, “I don’t know if it was the courses that were enjoyable or the kids I had in class.”

Becoming inspired to teach and coach is certainly admirable, but what exactly is it that inspires someone to dedicate so many years to teaching? For Weidner, the answer is the pure pleasure of teaching. One might even consider Weidner living proof of the adage, “time flies when you’re having fun.” “I just enjoyed teaching and enjoyed the kids, and it just felt like one contract after another and all of the sudden, it was 60 years,” he said.

After 60 years, the teacher who forgot his lesson on the first day of school is still humble. He said he did nothing special except, “Teach for a long time and coach for long time.” Now, he is receiving a lot of attention. The Dayton Daily News wrote an article about him and the Ohio Senate honored him. Here at the Ohio Department of Education, we think that 58 years of impacting students’ lives in the classroom is something special. Congratulations, Mr. Weidner!

— Staff report. Have an inspiring story you would like us to tell? Send your story ideas to Toby.Lichtle@education.ohio.gov.

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