Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Month: December 2016

Top 10 Teaching Moments of 2016

@AmandaSteeley, Special Education Teacher

Over the past semester, we have experienced so much learning. While on the one hand, I want this school year to slow down because I can not imagine a better group of students, parents, or colleagues, I am also already excited for next fall. The framework for collaboratively teaching with Joe has been created: We know what we want to do better when we revisit this past semester’s lessons in the future, and we also recognize the exponential potential for differentiation when a general education teacher and special education teacher truly collaborate. It is beyond your average ‘win-win’.

So as a joyful celebration of 2016, these are my top 10 collaborative teaching moments of 2016:

1. “I like reading now.” Joe and I shared a special moment with a student who had done particularly well on a reading assessment. We wanted him to know how proud we were of the efforts he was making, because it truly reflected in his understanding. He had made unbelievable growth in reading and were so proud of him. He told us with tears in his eyes that he didn’t like to read before this year. He has had wonderful teachers, so I know they all contributed to him getting to this point, but I will forever be inspired by that moment

2. Mural! This past year we met with an incredible artist, Shaylen Brougton, and asked her what it would take to have a mural painted on our classroom wall. She contacted Altria and found a way for the mural to be donated at zero cost to the school. We cannot wait for March when she will breathe new life into our classroom!

3. Into the Woods Thanks to a grant from the Goochland Education Foundation, we were able to take our students on two trips to Powhatan State Park this past fall. Students with diverse needs all paddled down the James River in canoes. We experienced geocaching and reading in the wild. I will always treasure the organic beauty of these experiences and hope our students will, as well.

4. Debates Everyone knows that politics were fierce in 2016. The election was possibly one of the most controversial,to date, with strong opinions on both sides. Our students raised questions, stood to speak to one another, and debated on both sides of the political spectrum to gain a better understanding of different opinions. The dignity with which they treated one another  was beyond that which we saw in the media.

5. If you can’t, we can! On a whim, we decided to enter the Michael & Sons Jingle Contest. The students created a video and the winner was chosen based on the greatest number of votes. Although our students represented the county with the smallest population, their dedication to getting people to vote allowed us to finish in the number one spot, earning $5000 for Goochland Elementary School.

6. MUSIC I grew up in a home where my dad was a musician; I made it to high school on time because I wanted to be there for show choir practice; In college, I sang in the shows at Kings Dominion for work. And yet, I did not truly understand the value of music in education until spending a semester teaching with Joe Beasley. Kids need movement, visuals, passion… all the things that I need to get me motivated! This deserves a post in and of itself, but in the mean time, click here to go to Joe’s TeachersPayTeachers site and download/use all of his songs in your classroom.

7. Morning Handshakes Every classroom should do this. A handshake, paired with eye contact and “Good morning, Mrs. Steeley” really sets the tone for the day. It’s a great way to show mutual respect between student and teacher, and it is an invaluable life skill. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to this practice. (As a special education teacher, I know that this might ‘look’ different for different students, and that’s ok, too; it’s starting the day with a greeting that I think is of great value.)

8. Football at Recess Yes, I now know what the ‘no fly zone’ is and how to catch a football. Boy have I missed these games over winter break!

9. Language Arts Block Joe and I have worked on our language arts block like sculptors chiseling rock. It was only with the support of outside resources, including our reading specialists Mrs. Case and Mrs. Dickerson, and consistently revisiting the ‘drawing board’ that we came up with a language arts block that we believe to be best for our students. I’m sure it will all change again, but in the mean time, it’s exciting to have found our rhythm in this subject area.

10. Building Relationships with Families Joe and I are teachers because we love building relationships. We both recognize the correlation between relationships and student growth, and we are both enhanced as educators by these relationships. We have been committed to communication with families this year and we look forward to doing more in 2017.

What were your best teaching moments of 2016? We would love for you to share them here!

This is Urgent!

Joe Beasley, General Education Teacher

I hate wasting time. It is one of my biggest pet peeves. When I was in school, I can remember feeling bored countless times. Most of the time when I felt like this I was in a classroom with no sense of urgency. Now as a teacher, I realize how difficult it is to turn every single lesson into an engaging one, and there will always be a lesson that may turn out to be a little dry. However, I have come to realize that half the battle of confronting a an otherwise boring lesson is how you deal with it.

In our classroom, we teach our students how to create a sense of urgency. Amanda and I want our students to know that we have a lot to do, every day, and we can not slack. Whether we are reading science notes or walking through how to edit a sentence, we want our students to be engaged and ready to move on to the next lesson — fast! One way to create a sense of urgency is to bring a sense of energy to all lessons. Teachers have to move and they have to show excitement. Your students feed off you and you feed off them. Make note taking into a treasure hunt certain key words; have students act out a reading from a textbook; give students the choice in how they would like to complete the assignment. But whatever you do, do not let it be sluggish. There must be a sense of urgency.

Students need to see the spark of learning alive in their teachers. Often teachers feel like they have to put on a show in order engage their students. Yes! We should all the time, every single moment of the day. Kids thrive on excitement and energy. If you create a fast-pace classroom with little time for sitting or downtime, your students will be more likely to stay with you every step of the day. This means teachers have to be movin’ and groovin’! At times, I feel like a coach reminding my students that we have 5 minutes left and we have to get going to the next lesson. Let’s push forward and focus! We can do it!

Here are some helpful ways to bring a sense of urgency to your classroom:

1. Keep downtime to a minimal or only when it is absolutely necessary. 

During the majority of the day, most students are sitting. Sadly, the only time students are usually moving is when they are traveling to the next class. When students come to your classroom, try to get them up and moving as much as possible.

2. Give students choice.

Have a boring assignment? Let students choose how they would like to complete it. Give students fun choices that will get them engaged.

3. Be fast but understanding.

Creating a sense of urgency doesn’t automatically make you a Drill Sergeant, and it shouldn’t. You should constantly assess the situation and make sure your students are with you. Be mindful of your students and always keep checking in with them. “Am I going too fast?” “Are you with me?”

4. No teacher desk.

The desk acts like a wall and defines a space for only the teacher. A safe place for the teacher to escape from his or her students. But in reality, you can’t teach students while you sit. I don’t remember any of my best teaching moments happening while I was sitting at my desk. Bring the energy to your students and be present with them.

Creating a sense of urgency in the classroom must first be modeled by the teacher. Once students see the sense of urgency in their teacher, they often pick it up and run with it. When students ask to go to the bathroom, they don’t sluggishly walk down the halls, stop to look in other classrooms and try to see how long it will take them to walk back to class. Our students go to the bathroom and hurry back because they know they don’t want to miss the next lesson.


Pre-MAP Jitters: Are We Setting Students Up For Success?

@AmandaSteeley, Special Education Teacher

I have the privilege of teaching in a collaborative classroom where Mr. Beasley (the general education teacher) and I seek to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. Mr. Beasley and I often look to each other and ask, Are we setting these kids up for success? This is my first year spending all day in a general education classroom; as such, it is my first year that the question of student success is sprinkled with SOL dust. While we know it’s “just a test”, we want them to pass! We want our students to be proud of themselves, and we want them to feel successful, by whatever measure presented.

But I know we should consider other forms of data. Not all data is a plus or minus sign: right or wrong. Data can also take the form of anecdotal notes, like the ones we’re receiving from parents that say their kids are reading more this year than they’ve ever seen them read before. That’s right, at home, they are picking up books and reading like they never have before. Talk about the greatest gift a teacher can receive. Some might say that a test will prove whether or not this is true, and I could see their side of the argument: Is the child comprehending? Is the reading level increasing? But at the end of the day, what does a “successful” adult reader look like…?

Do confidence and manners count toward measuring success? As a parent, my gut instinct is that they count even more than test scores. If we’re looking at success as living the life of your choosing, you first need confidence to pursue your dreams, and you need manners to prove – in an interview and while networking – that you are the best person for the job. I do have anecdotal data to prove that a few students in our class who were not independently contributing to classroom debates are doing so today. It’s a little harder to measure the increase in the number of times we hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, simply because I have not recorded it with a pencil, but with daily reminders that we should all be asking, How can I help you?  we must be on the right track…right?

Last night, we watched our 5th graders in the winter performance. Maybe I’m biased, but the majority of the speaking roles seemed to have been distributed amongst members of our class. I could be wrong about this – it may have just been the proud mother in me that saw my students shine above the rest on stage – but either way, in my eyes, it was success.

Group work, independent thought, problem solving, self-respect, respect for others, initiative… All of these are at the crux of what we value and expect in our classroom. But I guess at the end of the day, while we take pride in the developing character of our students, our fear is whether or not we are delivering the content-rich curriculum that will create the academic skillset for success…

Please don’t get me wrong in this post. All of our lessons are developed to align with the pacing and curricular framework that state and local educators have worked diligently to establish. But as we prepare for our first measurement of growth (winter MAP testing), as responsible practitioners we must reflectively ask ourselves, Are we setting our students up for success? I sure hope so, but I also know that just as they are growing, so too are we.  And if those scores don’t show us what we want to see, we will make it better. We will learn what we need to. And I hope and pray that we will set them up for success.