Saturday, February 27, 2010

Change from The Ground Up

Education, in some areas is changing and, if it’s not, it needs to be. I firmly believe that in order for this to happen successfully, we teachers need to be the driving force. No longer can we sit back and have change happen from the top down. Instead change needs to happen from the ground up, at the grass roots, from us.

This type of leadership and motivation will come the more empowered we feel. And to be empowered, we need to work together and get the professional development that is necessary for us to teach in this new era of education.

I turn again to Daniel Pink a guru in the field of business management and motivation. In this video he talks extensively about motivation.

If you have 20 minutes, than this is worth your while. If you have a shorter time, fast forward 12 minutes in and listen to the end. Even though Pink talks about the business world his ideas transfer seamlessly to education in two ways: 1) We are professionals! 2) We educate the professionals of the future! These are two things we can never lose sight of.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Biggest Need - Time

My biggest need as a professional is time, and in particular, time to collaborate with other teachers.

There is just no time to do what I really want to do at the level of quality that I would like to do it. I am fortunate enough to have an hour long prep time each day. (I know many schools don’t even allow for that.) However, much of that time is taken by meetings: IEP mtgs, pre and post observational mtgs, RtI mtgs, etc. Much of my work such as correcting and lesson planning is taken home in order for it to get done.

But it’s not even the housekeeping stuff that I’m talking about in terms of time. It’s also the time to collaborate with my coworkers: other fourth grade teachers including the arts and specialist teachers. Many times, during a 5-10 minute chance meeting, we will get a great idea, but then it is hard to follow through because our schedules don’t allow it. We are contained in our own classes with little time to reach out to the other talented adults with whom we work.

This needs to start changing and I’m sure in some districts or schools across the country it is. (I would love to hear from you!)

For now, I’d like to go back to my notes from that PD day with Mike Wasta. He said that in some areas of the world such as in Finland, Sweden, the UK and Australia, up to 50% of a teacher’s working day is spent away from direct instruction. That is unheard of in the US. The general public would go crazy thinking, “WHAT are those teachers doing the rest of the time?” and, “Where are the students?”

Well, the students, I’m assuming are still working and studying, just with another teacher. Collaboration! And as for the teacher who is not with students, well he or she is working on their craft of being an educator. In the dream school in my head, I can picture teachers collaborating and working on integrative lessons for students, reviewing student work and data, getting updated professional development and even teambuilding within themselves.

In terms of teacher’s work, here is a comparison again from my notes with Wasta:

“Old” Ways

“New” Ways

Teacher Isolation

Teacher Collaboration



Intuitive Decision Making

Data Based Decision Making

Time as Constant

Achievement as Constant

Rigid Top-Down Management

Flat Management

The world is changing and it is calling for a new educational system. One that is based on teachers collaborating and becoming respected leaders in their own field. We have a need for this kind of system, but in order for that to happen, we need the time to make it possible.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 27, 2010) – Ending thoughts on Education in a New Era

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Needs of Today's Teachers

In today’s educational system, teachers find themselves in need, especially if they want to integrate, collaborate and educate the WHOLE child!

Here is a list of some needs I hear about daily in schools and online.

  • Less stress from high stakes testing
  • Quality professional development in everything from new methodologies to brain research
  • Freedom to teach creatively
  • Autonomy over our teaching
  • Leadership roles in our schools
  • Leadership roles in our profession
  • TIME
  • Money
  • Support from administration
  • Support from our students’ families

We teachers know the value of arts education and integration, but are hindered as mandated curriculum, budget cuts, data driven teaching, meeting AYP and high stakes testing puts a damper on our creativity as educators.

Every profession has their own set of needs. Teachers are no different except that their needs directly affect the children they teach. If teachers’ needs are not addressed and soon, then education will be in danger of being sub-par.

(This topic alone could be its own series…maybe it will.)

I know you have a comment to add. Please do!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

New Website Almost Ready

I am so excited about the new website I am building through WordPress. YAY! It's almost ready to launch and the only thing that will hold it back a few days/weeks will be connecting it to our actual domain name of If you want a sneaky peak, here is where the new website is right now:
I would love to hear what you think so far and if you have any suggestions for improvements.
After the initial getting used to WP, I have been enjoying, nay, becoming addicted to adding plugins and widgets to improve on the user-friendly-ness of the site.

Some great new features:

  • The BEST part is that it's all on one site: information and resources as well as the blog/magazine and ability to create community.
  • Anyone can comment on posts without having to sign in. I hope this will encourage people to write a comment and/or add to a discussion without feeling like they have to think of and use a new username/password.
  • You can click on a TAG to gain access to a topic of interest.
  • You can search the whole site by entering a key word or phrase.
  • I can set up users and authors to add content to the site. SO - if you are interested in becoming a guest blogger, I can set you up to do that and you can post anything you would like!

I hope this new website is more conducive to your needs and our need to have a PLC online.
Please let me know if we can do anything to help you in the future with the wonderful teaching you do every day!


Friday, February 19, 2010

How the Arts are Connected to 21c. Skills

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in a New Era”.

The arts are not just about expressing your emotions, they are much more than that. I, in no way want to devalue the arts as a means to express oneself. In fact, I don’t know how I could have made it through much of my adolescence without a piano or a tape player to help work through my emotions. (Am I dating myself? Yikes!) But, in honesty, I think I developed many critical skills along the way through an education that was steeped in the arts. In my case, mostly music.

An education in the arts can really develop most of those skills referred to in previous blogs, those critical skills that students need to succeed. Maybe innovation and creativity is obvious, but what about some of the others?

For example, take initiative, motivation, reflection and self-criticism? Here are skills that are sought after, but how do you practice them? When anyone puts together an aesthetic piece, be it a poster, a sculpture, a movement or sound, there is time for this.

I think about my fourth graders who will be putting together a biographical poster to accompany themselves as they become an historical figure in a grade level wax museum. It is my hope that as they work toward a final product, they take the time to reflect, self-criticize and revise the content. So is the same with the one-minute speech they will make. Students will need motivate themselves ad they write it, practice it and present it many times for the audience of “museum-goers”. Presenting this information through a visual piece and drama not only teaches content, but allows students to practice some of these other skills.

In a study by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, the value of the arts for art sake was brought to light for many people. Too often the arts are credited to raise test scores or make you smarter, but the truth is that the arts do so much more. These “habits of mind” that Winner and Hetland discovered through their research are very much related to the skills discussed by Pink, Wagner and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Because art is a process, students not only learn content, but practice skills including collaboration, self-direction, critical thinking and accountability. Think of a musician playing alongside another. The accountability of that person to know their part is very high. If they don’t practice, they are letting themselves and their teammates down. Think of the collaboration dancers achieve as they move together in various degrees of tension and fluidity. By working and practicing together, they create something beautiful.

These skills take practice and the arts provide a way to do so.

For the full article by Winner and Hetland, Art for Our Sake, click here:

Next Blog (due out on Tuesday, February 22, 2010) – What Today’s Teachers Need

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

High Stakes Testing

This is my vacation week – February vacation – and I am enjoying it greatly. The thing is, I know that when I get back to work on Monday, everything is going to hit. In fact a couple other teachers and I call it boot camp – MCAS boot camp. We will be in high gear to prepare for our high stakes test. Fourth grade is a big year and boy, do we feel the pressure.

I am sad to say that I succumb to the pressure. What option do I have? I need to teach to the test and even though the real boot camp begins next week, the preparation really began the first weeks of school. Students learn about how to read and understand both question and petition prompts, develop a plan and produce a response. These responses have a bit of a formula to them and I teach it to my students.

Now, this is where I do have many mixed feelings. To some degree, I can’t help but think these are good writing skills to get under your belt, (at least while students are learning the basics of writing) but I have issues with this as well. When we stress the importance of producing a quality piece of writing in a DAY (such as in our “Long Composition” section of our test) are we deemphasizing the importance of each part of the writing process real writers go through? I think so!

I can’t help but wonder if we could find a new way to assess students’ writing capabilities and still find a way to standardize it across the state or even nation. (That is a whole other blog series.)

But it’s not just the writing piece of the assessment, it’s the others as well: grammar, comprehension and math strands. I know these are important skills, basic skills that students need to learn and master, but sometimes I feel as if I’m cramming for the test as I put my class in high gear boot camp. I can’t help but wonder, how much will stick? Am I doing my students a disservice?

Dr. Richard Hersh, a leader in education who addresses assessment, is often quoted, “Life is not a multiple-choice test.” This rings true and is something I need to keep in mind especially at this time of year. Even if my name is attached to my students’ scores, I need to remember that my methods of teaching need to continue to be reflective of my beliefs that students need more than good grades. They need skills that will allow them to be successful in all aspects of life.

This can be done in creative ways that are supported by arts education and integration. In fact that is the topic of the next blog in this series.

So while they do their MCAS prep books and practice filling in circles, I need to make sure that my students never lose sight of what it really means to explore new topics, challenge themselves, try new things and find the joy in learning.

And I can’t lose sight of what it means to find the joy in teaching.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 20, 2010) – How the Arts are Connected to Today’s Education Needs

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Skills Our Students Need

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in a New Era”.

In the last blog, I threw out ideas about how our society is changing and how that is affecting the workforce of the future and the current trends of education. But now, let’s look at other effects this will have on our children or, more accurately, what skills they will need to succeed now and in the future.

It’s not all about memorization of facts and figures anymore, it’s about how to process all the information we have at our fingertips.

It’s not how well you can do a menial task, but what innovation you can come up with when given a challenge.

And for us teachers, it’s about stepping back and letting students do something and fail, but then giving our students time to really reflect on their mistakes and learn from their experience.

Talk of these skills is not only a hot topic in education, but it is in the business world too, and rightfully so! People all across the professional spectrum are concerned with the skills students are acquiring and, too often not acquiring. Tony Wagner calls them “Survival Skills”, Daniel Pink’s concept is in developing six high-concept, high-touch senses. You may have heard about the Partnership for 21st Century Skills which developed their own set of necessary skills and there are many organizations who work to promote the development of media literacies – something so important in this media rich world we live in.

Regardless of the person, organization or terminology, they all have many skills in common: innovation, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, initiative and flexibility. Click here to see a comparison of three sets of skills.

These are all arts-based skills!

When children and young adults look at and interpret a painting, they are thinking critically, when they work with a new type of media, they are problem solving, when they play in an ensemble, they are collaborating, when they play a game in PE, they are practicing good team work skills. But it’s not only in arts classes that students learn and develop these skills – it shouldn’t be!

All teachers do crave to teach these skills in their classrooms but can feel bogged down by curriculum demands and testing, let alone we do not have sufficient training in HOW to teach these skills effectively. Personally, I am only beginning to create my own repertoire of arts-infused teaching. Yes, I do activities that foster these skills, but I can do more and I hope to do more as I grow as a teacher.

But first, I guess I need to explore a bit more of the roadblocks before I can free myself of their grasp on my teaching.

Next Blog (due out on Tuesday, February 16, 2010) – High Stakes Testing and Other Creative Roadblocks.

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you! What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Workforce Preparedness

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in New Era”.


At a workshop I conducted just last week, we got into a small discussion about 21st century skills and workforce preparedness. One person echoed a statement I’ve heard many times before:

We are preparing students for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.

We do, in fact live in a global society that is ever changing. Yet how we find ourselves teaching is all too often just as Pam Harland says, “Teachers now simply type their lecture notes into PowerPoint instead of writing in chalk.” And by we, I do mean me.

It is hard to take a good look in the mirror and see what it is that I am doing as a teacher and realize what I should be doing as well. Yes, from time to time I will share a BrainPop with my students as I join the class next door or encourage my students to practice their math facts for a period of time in the computer clubhouse, but the reality is that in my classroom, there is one piece of technology – my computer that I hoard to myself throughout the day for my own needs.

Grant it – I teach fourth grade, so I wonder, “Do my students really need to be utilizing technology in order to learn the 3 Rs that are so basic and important to their success?” I answer myself in many ways:

  • No, they just need to learn those skills and the traditional way is best! At least in elementary school.
  • Yes, there have to be resources out there that can assist in their learning and practicing of these skills.
  • Yes, and it is my responsibility to teach students media literacy too!
  • Yes, and I can also allow for them to use the technology they already do to respond to and discuss their learning.

Usually the yeses outnumber the nos. But then I think of the inevitable – our reality: there are constraints and pressures and test scores and AYP. But, what it boils down to is, regardless of what grade you teach, students are using, will continue to use and will be expected to use technology throughout their lives.

This is what leads to workforce preparedness. Is seems middle school and high school grades feel more pressure in this realm, since they are closer to the students who are actually out in the workforce. But we need to remember, I need to remember, that a students’ education is not just for a period of time, but throughout their lives and I play a large role in that. Even workforce preparedness, even in fourth grade! We all link to each other and all play a part in the gradual process of coaching students to become skilled workers for the future.

Technology is not the only skill we should be discussing, either. There are other skills too. We will explore some of those in the next blog. For now, ponder the idea of the future for which we are preparing our children.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 13, 2010) – Skills Our Children Need

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Education Yesterday and Today

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in a New Era”.

The theme of 21st century skills is high on the priority list of things to discuss and understand. In my experiences with professional development and continuing education, the idea of change and closing the global achievement gap is a hot topic. Education is changing, but very slowly and we need to help that change along or we are going to be sorry we didn’t prepare our students better for the skills they need now and for those we are unaware of in the future.

The arts can be a huge piece of the solution to get students from compliance to creativity, from rigidity to innovation. Over the course of the next few weeks, I hope we can discuss this topic more and more online. Join the conversation by adding your own comments and insights!

To begin, I’d like to offer you some of my notes from a professional development day my district sponsored for our entire staff. Mike Wasta of outlined for us the differences between education yesterday and today:

Yesterday / Today
Industrialized / Economy Knowledge Society
Compliance / Creativity
Efficiency / Efficiency
Strict Boundaries / Porous Boundaries
Success is possible with limited skills / Success is required with high skill levels
Opportunities are local/regional / Opportunities are global
Stable / Continuously changing

“In the beginning” schools were modeled after factories. Those privileged students were expected to memorize facts and figures in order to show their smarts and do well for themselves in life. Now, our job as educators is quite different. We are expected not only to teach ALL students regardless, we need to take responsibility for them if they don’t learn. But the biggest challenge is that the traditional school model doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Our students need to be taught another layer of skills.

Wasta is not the only person from whom these ideas are heard. Daniel Pink, a best-selling author and speaker on business transformation and Tony Wagner, an education consultant have authored books about the state of our country at this time and the part education plays in preparing our students for the workforce. And of course there is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization that advocates for the readiness of children in the 21st century. We will be looking at their work in future blogs.

Amidst it all, there is truth (and hope) in how arts education and integration can not only help, but teach some of these skills we are finding necessary for our young people. People like Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland have done research on this, showing the intrinsic skills that studying the arts can instill.

I hate to admit it, but I often find myself teaching in that industrialized way. Through these blogs, I hope to come to an understanding of why and discover ways to change. It is my hope that your comments, ideas and insights will add to this journey.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 9, 2010) – Workforce Preparedness

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.