Friday, May 30, 2014

#eduawesome #eduwin

Teaching is a lot of things. 
It's hard fun. 
It's a meaningful life's work. 
It's frustrating and uplifting, discouraging and encouraging all at the same time. It is quality that can't be quantified (but that everyone feels a great need to quantify). 
What matters most can not be tested with #2 pencils and fill-in-the-bubbles. 
That's why educators use #hashtags like #eduawesome and #eduwin to share those positive moments that are worth sharing. 

My 4th and 5th grade language arts classes have really enjoyed read-alouds this year. The last book I read to my 4th graders was Chris Grabenstein's new book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.
We enjoyed this book a LOT (many of my students said it was their favorite or one of their favorite books ever).  With all of the puzzles and games, it was an especially fun book to read together as a class.

A few days after we finished the book, one of my students, Allie, came to me to tell me that she was checking out Chris Grabenstein's website and,
"LOOK what I found! Chris Grabenstein Skypes with classes for free!"
She asked if she could email his assistant to set up a Skype for our class.

Let me repeat that.
And that is what she did. She wrote a beautiful email. I love how her voice, personality and enthusiasm shine through her words.

As a language arts teacher, I also happen to notice how much Allie's writing has improved over the year. But what delights me most is her choice to include information like, "Our class loves to read books and write." 
If you are wondering what is meant by students "owning their own learning," this is it. 

PS- I don't quite know how to thank amazing authors such as Chris Grabenstein who care about helping to create the next generation of readers and give generously of their time. We have already scheduled our Skype visit for early in the fall, and my students can not wait!

Monday, May 19, 2014

MEROS Academy: Innovation From the Ground Up

Today is a professional development day at MJGDS. Our assignment was to visit another school and reflect afterwards on our faculty NING. I tried reaching out to several local schools, but was told that today wasn't a good day. So I reached out, via Twitter, to MEROS Academy.

I didn't know much about this new, innovative private school, but I follow, as best as I can, whatever new things are happening that challenge the business-as-usual model that has, for too long, passed as education.

What I found out was that MEROS is not yet an up-and-running school. MEROS Founder, James Smith, and I met at a coffee shop in Riverside where he shared his passion and vision for innovative design, relevant learning, a "structure that is wide and open enough to give kids growing room," and real-world models and mentors. As we spoke, I was reminded of Ron Berger and his craftsmanship culture outlined in An Ethic of Excellence, which remains one of my go-to thought models for teaching.

MEROS vision is built upon these 8 Elements:
I find myself becoming more and more drawn to the idea of building innovation from the ground up, as opposed to working to transform more "traditional" (for lack of a better word) models. There is a lot happening right now, and a few schools that have captured my interest are Avenues School in NYC, Academy of Global Citizenship in Chicago, and, closer to home, Seaside Community Charter School, a new Waldorf-based charter school in Jax Beach.

Education is becoming much more market-driven, and I believe that is a good and necessary thing. Education is the transmission of values, and I'm pretty sure that we all have different values. Is it easier and more truthful to take a non-compromising attitude right from the start? Starting a school is anything but easy. I have so much respect and admiration for those, like James Smith, whose mission it is to go forward and try.

So what do I bring back to MJGDS? I feel a little more energized (and it's not just the super-strong coffee), a little more courageous. It is important to get out of my routine once in a while, to look around, to open my eyes to the choices and alternatives that exist, even in Jacksonville. I feel that for all my experience, I still have so much to learn. But I love learning, and it is that love of learning that I feel should be what is shared in a learning community.

I urge anyone local to learn more about and to support MEROS Academy's crowdfunding campaign to get their summer program up and running. The more choices there are for students to be educated in different ways, the more we all will benefit.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Teacher-Led Evaluations: Do They Help Build Reflective School Culture?

I wrote last year, at this time, about our school's move to teacher-led evaluations. This year there was a committee who designed the parameters and made it "official." No more administrator watching a carefully prepared lesson, twice a year, for a high-stakes write-up. If we are to truly become a culture that values self-reflection and the habits of mind that are part of a reflective culture (goal setting, prioritizing, lifelong learning), it is time for teachers to take ownership of our strengths as well as those areas we believe are a work in progress.

Using our school's Target for Teaching and Learning as my guide, I created a slideshow of artifacts documenting my journey of growth throughout this year.

Teacher-Led Evaluation, Spring 2014 from Andrea Hernandez

I summed up my reflections on the process on one of my final slides:

Certain artifacts fit obviously into certain domains on the target, but others were less clear. It became glaringly obvious how much learning environment overlaps with task which overlaps with role of teacher, etc.

You can't really tweak one part of your instructional process without it affecting the big picture.

I also tend to be a "half-empty" reflective practitioner (when it comes to my own practice), and I am always focused on what I need to improve. It was impossible to complete this reflective task, reviewing my entire year, without being able to recognize how much was accomplished.

What now? 
My own "next steps" are rather broad strokes, like "document more and be more organized." I need to create more specific goals and figure out the appropriate structure in which to achieve those teaching goals.

But what about the next steps for the reflective process of the teacher-led evaluation?
How can this process be elevated to help all teachers become more reflective, connected and collaborative
Is one teacher sharing his or her process only with an administrator truly transparent or growth-minded? 
I am curious to know what my colleagues gleaned from going through this process. Was it more an act of self-promotion or a true and honest look at practice through the lens of the target? What about sharing? What about connecting our own goals with those of others. Who, for instance, on our faculty might help me achieve my goals? 

Is this part of a growth process?
How can teacher-led evaluation lead to better teaching?