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Checking a Box or Checking a Mindset?
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While I know this social platform often gets a bad rap, my new favorite form of professional development is Twitter. I love the ability to connect with friends, colleagues, and experts I admire while exploring articles and videos that interest or influence me. Information that I may never have encountered through my own searches and normed behavior is on display and peer-reviewed by people I trust and admire most. Yes, I even appreciate the "You May Have Missed" because I know information is being served to me based on my recent likes and clicks.

During my most recent "twitter training," I read a post by Rosa Derricott, @RosaDerricott, an elementary behavioral coach, who wrote that focusing more on rules than the impact of those rules on students is like forcing a rule at the expense of students' emotional well-being. I was immediately reminded of the strict rules I enforced as a new teacher. Papers had to be submitted at the beginning of the block as soon as the bell rang or the student would receive a penalty. I look back on my mindset as a new teacher as educational immaturity. I was not thinking about how my Rule #1 set the tone for the entire instructional time. However, I had checked off the box that there were rules and structure visible via a poster and stance in my classroom. Yet, in hindsight, what I had actually accomplished was emphasizing rules over the quality of learning. One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou states that when we know better, we do better. Well, I am definitely thankful for that reflection as it does support maintaining confidence. So as I evolved to thinking outside the box, I allowed for flexible submission times and multiple opportunities for revision. If I was talking with students right this minute, I would make sure to stress this as a gift because I have revised this latest blog post five times.

Education has always had its share of buzzwords. Each buzzword allows teachers and administrators to check a box easily. Have you heard some of these?

 Differentiation

___Tiers, small group instruction, varied instruction in content, process or product

Technology

___Technology should go beyond substitution to create significant instructional redesign

Engagement

___Instruction encourages collaboration, includes frequent feedback, and ensures relevance and rigor

Boxes checked? Most instructional practices can be executed by following specific guidelines, but what happens when it is important to address social/emotional development or culture and bias in the classroom? These complex tasks go way beyond checking a box. These tasks require changed mindsets, beliefs and behaviors. 

Coach Quotes, @CoachMotto, recently tweeted a quote by Mike Krzyzewski reminding us that culture must be a natural occurrence that is taught and made a part of our everyday routine and Education Week @educationweek posted a similar tweet explaining that conferences and books have no significance unless it is a reflection of our daily practice. I would have to say that the most impactful tweet of the week was an excerpt from a book, Teaching to Strengths--Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress by Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes. This excerpt lets me know that a program we use to meet the needs of struggling readers can also effectively address culture and bias while meeting social and emotional needs. Teaching to Strengths cites five specific strategies--three of them directly relate to READ 180 Universal.

1. Students have voice and choice in matters that pertain to them. During daily independent reading, READ 180 allows students to select books that are of high interest but respectful of their reading level. One of my favorite project managers, Paul Feucht, always says that "giving students reading material that is way beyond their reading level is not rigor--it is just plain disrespectful."

2. The physical environment of the classroom responds to students' learning preferences. The READ 180 classroom with its computer, small group, and independent reading learning centers is ideal for all students. Whenever I visit a READ 180 classroom, I love seeing the creativity of the independent reading nooks. 

3. Routines and practices have a predictable rhythm. Students learn the routines within the first week of class. READ 180  teachers generate flexible learning groups, establish clear expectations and use timers to move students from center to center. 

Even with all of these instructional elements in place to meet the needs of all students, none of this would be effective without carefully chosen teachers. We look for teachers who remember to discard all opinions and bias about race, religion and social/economic background and purposefully choose to embrace and learn from the individuality of each of their students. This requires much more than checking a box. It also requires a different way to observe classrooms and learning. As I continue my quest to develop professionally through twitter, I plan to move beyond box checking and focus wholeheartedly on addressing classroom culture and the social and emotional development of all students. I look forward to sharing my professional learning and continued leadership development with you.

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Dr. Monica Robinson has passionately served as a teacher, school administrator, and division administrator. She currently serves as the coordinator of academic support programs for K-12 students in Virginia Beach, where she also supports acceleration programs such as Advanced Placement and intervention programs such as READ 180 Universal and System 44. Monica believes educators have the moral obligation to forsake self and do what is in the best interest of the students they serve. 

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