By: Virginia Ressa
Happy 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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By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks
Hello, 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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By: Guest Blogger
One 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:
- 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;
- Ohio labor market information;
- Job posting trends and data from OhioMeansJobs.com;
- 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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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.
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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By: Julia Simmerer
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a group of Ohio educators that produces critical work in support of the teachers in our state and the quality education they provide to our students. If you haven’t heard of the Educator Standards Board, you’re not alone. So, I want to share some insight into the board’s members and the good work they do.
(L-R) Educator Standards Board members Jeannie Cerniglia, Jeff Cooney, Jeff Brown, and the Director of the Department’s Center for the Teaching Profession, Julia Simmerer. Photograph property of ideastream
The Educator Standards Board’s mission is “to collaboratively promote educator quality, professionalism, and public accountability on behalf of the students and citizens of Ohio.” The Educator Standards Board is a recommending body to the State Board of Education and primarily develops and maintains sets of educator standards designed to ensure our state’s high expectations of educator quality are met. Here is some of the work the Educator Standards Board has accomplished thus far:
Tasked with duties that impact nearly every level of an educator’s work, a heavy burden lies on the Educator Standards Board to address the needs of all of those involved in Ohio education. Therefore, the very structure of board membership is designed to reflect the many groups that comprise our multifaceted field of education.
The Educator Standards Board is comprised of 21 voting members. Ohio law specifies that the board’s membership include individuals currently employed as: school district teachers (with representation from several student age groups, as well as from a chartered nonpublic school district); school administrators; a member of the Parent Teacher Association; and individuals employed by institutions of higher education that offer teacher preparation programs, with representation from private and state universities, as well as community or technical colleges. The State Board of Education appoints members of the Educator Standards Board nominated by teachers’ unions, educational associations that represent teachers, administrators, parents, school board members and institutions of higher education.
As you can see, it is true stakeholders who build the foundations upon which we identify the rigor necessary to be a school educator or administrator in Ohio. I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to attend many Educator Standards Board meetings and see the impressive work that the board produces. I believe that not only does the work of the board benefit its diverse membership but, additionally, everyone who has had the chance to work with and observe the board, myself included, has grown from the experience of hearing from so many different perspectives. If you ever happen to meet current or former members of the Educator Standards Board, thank them for their work toward ensuring a high-quality education for the students of our great state.
Julia Simmerer is senior executive director of the Center for the Teaching Profession at the Ohio Department of Education, where she oversees the implementation of policies and programs that support Ohio’s teacher and leader corps. You can learn more about Julia by clicking here.
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