Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Page 2 of 5

What’s Your Classroom Mission Statement?

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

Classrooms As Businesses

One of the most important considerations when developing a co-teaching relationship is a shared purpose, or goal. What is your mission? And if it sounds like I’m talking about a business, then great.

Maybe we should think of classrooms as non-profit business organizations that rejoice in the attainment of goals for the betterment of the public.

Conduct a S.W.O.T. Analysis

Businesses complete S.W.O.T. analyses of their companies to enhance their rate of success. During this process, they analyze the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to the success of the organization.

Why not use this same model in our classrooms? With co-teaching, this is realistic: you are not an island reflecting on your practice; you have someone else there to reflect with and to determine whether or not your actions are supporting your mission and vision.

If you have administrative support, like Joe and I have in both our principal and central office staff, then your chance of success is that much greater.

20% Brain, 80% Heart

When Joe and I first started working together, a three-by-four-foot laminated poster hung on the wall that he created with his wife, Lea, when he began teaching: 20% Brain, 80% Heart. As a teacher, and a mother, I think this is a great a message to kids. Growth mindset needs to be taught to all levels of learners.

The Problem with “Smart Kids”

When I was in elementary school, I remember being pulled back or sent to a different room to work with the other “smart kids” on math problems. By the time I was in the 7th and 8th grade, my math grades drastically dropped and honestly never recovered. I knew why – in my eyes, I wasn’t “smart” anymore, or my teachers had identified me incorrectly.

To an extent, this was true! When I was in elementary school, my skill set was strong relative to my same-age peers. As a result, I thought math just came easily to me. When it wasn’t easy anymore, I figured I wasn’t “smart” anymore. Had I learned early on that education was 20% Brain, 80% Heart, perhaps I would have been more tenacious when faced with challenges.

Attainable Goals Promote Intrinsic Motivation

Teaching 20% Brain, 80% Heart applies to our below-level learners, as well. This year, Joe and I taught several readers performing multiple grade levels below their peers. With the help of our reading specialist, we assessed their skill level at the beginning of the year and introduced these students to individualized weekly fluency passages.

The ‘go-getters’ in in our fluency group quickly became evident. By creating an attainable goal with a route to success – If I practice my fluency passage daily, then my reading level with increase – some students aggressively attacked reading, and their fluency improved. (Mind you, we didn’t just say that fluency passages were going to improve reading ability, we also developed a classroom culture that included a love of reading, but more on that later.)

But the shared mission of 20% Brain, 80% Heart reverberated beyond fluency passages: The same students who attacked their fluency passages were also asking questions in science and seeking to internalize patterns in math. They wanted it.

Our Classroom Mission Statement

For me and Joe, 20% Brain, 80% Heart, is a relatable and attainable mission. We are teachers because we love learning, sharing, and creating, and we want the same for all individuals, regardless of innate ability level. We want students to recognize their own Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and to develop their own roadmap to success, and we want to support them in this process.

Yes, as teachers, we want (and need) to give students the tools to understand learning objectives, but in a world where Siri is accessible to a large part of the population, we want to create problem solvers. For some, this may mean recognizing the importance of engaging in repeated trials to acquire a skill; for others, this may mean asking and seeking answers to one’s own challenging questions.

How do you promote growth mindset in your classroom? Do you have a classroom mission statement? We love growing our practice by learning from our peers and we can’t wait to hear what other teachers are up to!

Dear Class: Why I’m Sad After You ROCKED Your Statewide Reading Test

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher @AmandaSteeley

Dear Class,

Yesterday, all of you who completed your statewide reading test did an incredible job.  And yet, I went home feeling agitated, and while I have slept well this entire school year, I am up at 2 AM unable to go back to sleep. I think that I am sad and I am trying to figure out why. This afternoon, when I told my husband the news of your testing success, he was surprised that I didn’t share it with more excitement in my voice. “Aren’t you happy?” he wanted to know. “It sounds like they did great!” I assured him of my joy, but my actions didn’t match my words.

Right now, I am reading a book that one of you recommended to me. It’s The Cay, by Theodore Taylor. It’s the story of a young boy who is shipwrecked during war when trying to leave his home in the Caribbean Islands. Due to a blow to the head, he finds himself blind and trying to survive on an island with an old man and a cat. These three characters come from three different worlds, but their happenstance meeting changes their lives and perception of the world. I am on chapter fifteen – a hurricane is coming to the island and the young boy fears losing either of his new best friends…

Class, I think I know why I am sad. I am sad because that test, the one you did so well on, marks a closure to our time reading together. Do you know how much I have grown because of you all this year? I have read more books in the past 9 months than I have ever read in such a short period of time in my life. Before we all began reading together, I loved to read, but I had a problem – the books I chose were emotionally draining. They were novels where the main character had to overcome intense hardship. I’m all for character development, but the books I was reading were bringing me down! You all taught me that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy juvenile fiction. Now I retreat to my books for a well-loved treat.

When I think back on this year, the simplest memory stands out; it is something we did every day: Some of you are sitting at the tables, others on the floor, a few on the couch, two huddled in the easy chair; Mr. Beasley is sitting at a table with a group of you, and I am sitting on the carpet in the front of the room. In my memory, we are all reading. It is silent, and the energy in the room is filled with excitement. We all feel like we are getting away with something! When we are supposed to be at school, learning, we are secretly taking time to read for 40 minutes! The energy in the room dances, and 20 minutes in we all stop to share what is going on in our books, then retreat back to our stories until time is up and a unanimous groan of disappointment washes over the room.

You know what else I loved? I loved how you all would come in in the morning asking us if you could tell us what was going on in your books. Without this little trick, I would have never read The Land of Stories, The Lost Track of Time, The War That Saved My Life or so many other goodies! You all have been like my personal book recommendation force!

But you know what is so crazy? Even though we were sneaky and read whatever we wanted to all year, every one of you still did amazing on the statewide reading test. Am I glad you rocked it? Sure, I’m glad! But taking tests is not how I got to know you, how I saw you grow, how I grew myself, or what I will remember from this year. Instead, I will remember being a member of a very elite reading community and what a gift that time in my life was.

In writing this letter, I feel a little better, because even though you all will go off to change the world and I won’t see your smiling faces every day, I will always think of you when I open a new book, wondering if you’ve read it too and what you would think of it. Thank you for growing my mind and soul.

Love, Mrs. Steeley

If you want to learn more about developing a culture of reading in your classroom, we highly recommend Reading in the Wild, by Donalyn Miller.

 

How to Stop Cringing at Group Work, and Why Your Students Deserve It

Group work has always been a passion of mine. When I first became a teacher, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to learn and work together as much as possible; five years later, I still see the value of having heterogeneous groups of students learning to work with one another.

In our collaborative classroom, students have the opportunity to work with all types of ability levels and backgrounds, but our goal is to highlight and the value of working with diverse strengths.

Group Work Frameworks

We know that students can gain knowledge by working through projects and problems with their peers; however, students have to be taught how to effectively work together. There are some excellent frameworks out there, including Scrum and the Kagan Cooperative Learning, that help scaffold learning in groups.

Modeling Group Work

I believe the teacher has to lay the foundation for group work and model what it looks like to work with others. As a co-teacher, I am fortunate to have ample opportunities for modeling, but that does not mean that modeling how to work with others is an unachievable goal for those without co-teachers. You just have to be proactive by reaching out to others and being open to the work that goes into collaboration.

In the past, I have been guilty of assigning group work without modeling how I want my students to collaborate. Now I realize that I have to model how to share the workload; this includes demonstrating how to work through conflict as well as helping students realize the potential of picking teams based on strengths. Never forget the power of your presence as a teacher. The teacher is the most influential person in the classroom. The students will mimic whatever the teacher does, and teachers have to show students how to work effectively together. It may not be a statewide goal, but it is a life skill.

“Never believe that you are better than anybody else, but remember that you are just as good.”    -John Wooden

This quote by John Wooden is a great way to start engaging your students about what it means to be on a team. When we work with others, we really should be serving others instead of competing against one another. I try to teach my students that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but what is most important is how we use our strengths to help others.

How to Pick Groups for Group Work

One way to help your students understand the importance of recognizing strengths is by teaching them students to pick their own groups. When you do so, encourage them to choose teammates based upon skills the group needs to succeed, instead of picking based upon friendship. Go through the group project expectations as a class and then discuss what types of skills would be needed in order to create the best project. Here’s an example of some of the questions we encourage our students to ask when picking groups:

  • Do I need a teammate who is skilled at drawing?
  • Do I need a teammate who knows how to code?
  • If I’m not particularly organized, could I find a teammate who would help me keep everything together
  • How can I surround myself with the best people for the job? 

Help your students realize that what makes us different can also make us stronger.

SMILE BIGGER

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher (also, mom) @AmandaSteeley

This morning was no different than any other hurried school day morning: My husband, two daughters, and I raced around the house tripping over each other to get ready and get out the door. Our four-year-old was particularly demanding, I couldn’t find my keys, and our six-year-old wanted so badly to wear her favorite dress that desperately needed to be ironed.

By 6:50 AM we had all made it to the driveway and my husband pulled out in his car with our youngest daughter. I blew them a kiss, smiled, and waved as they drove away.

And then I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in my car window. Oh my! I did not look happy. Even though I felt like I was smiling and waving at them as they drove off, my reflection spoke otherwise.

I tell my students that if they smile when working on a challenging problem, it will be easier. I learned this when I was in high school, going to week-long summer dance camps where I had to learn multiple routines in a short period of time. Smile, our coaches advised. You’ll learn more. 

There are so  many reasons to smile bigger.  Whether you want to appear more approachable, show someone you care, or simply allow yourself the grace of learning more, I urge you to smile bigger today…. (even if it feels a little awkward at first.)

 

 

 

The Power of a Good Handshake!

Never underestimate the power of a handshake. Often it’s the first thing we do when we are introduced to new people. It delivers first impressions. A good handshake can start conversations and promote trust between two people.  Researchers from the University of Illinois Beckman Institute found that a good handshake promotes confidence and trustworthiness. The study found that a good, firm handshake actually leads to positive feelings.

Do you teach confidence and trust in your classroom?

In our classroom, our 5th graders greet us with a handshake every morning. It’s a great way to start the day and gives us the opportunity to teach our students how to respectfully greet someone. During the first week of implementation, our students found it a little awkward and students were apprehensive. Over time, students understood the importance of greeting their teachers each morning. In fact, they enjoyed it and often looked forward to the handshake. Our morning greeting became a ritual. Students felt comfortable starting conversations and they opened up to us. The handshake laid the framework for trust and confidence between us and our students. Now when guests walk into our classroom, our students are not afraid to greet them. Our guests feel more welcome and open to talking to our students. The handshake breaks the first barrier of communication and allows the conversation to flourish.

Recently, I saw a video of a teacher that hand a personalized handshake for every student he taught. I thought this was a brilliant idea. This teacher found a way to build relationships with his students through a handshake. I am confident that this teacher has a strong bond of trust with his students.

Build trust and confidence with your students. Start the morning with a good handshake.

Research Article:

https://beckman.illinois.edu/news/2012/10/dolcoshandshake

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