"It's hard for the students to trust adults when they don't stick around"
-Classroom Teacher, May 2018
By the time many of you read this week's blog post, you'll probably be just starting your summer break. I must admit that I am looking forward to those mornings where I can sleep until I get ready to get out of bed and those days where I can do what I want on my own time...ahhhhhh, the freedom of summer vacation! In my anticipation for a summer break as well as the last day of school when the staff departs for the summer, I can't help but think about those staff members who are not returning in the Fall of the year. In fact this happens in many school districts across the country. In recent years I have watched classroom teachers resign from their positions because the job has taken a toll on their physical and mental health. While teachers leave their jobs for obvious reasons (i.e. relocation, returning back to school full-time, being a stay at home parent, etc.) others leave because of the culture and climate that produces a toxic work environment...this unfortunately has a major impact on student achievement. Inconsistency in staffing from one year to the next creates a lack of trust for students; the unfamiliar faces each year makes it difficult for students to build a positive relationship with teachers. Inconsistency in staffing also creates many challenges for the new teacher in the building (i.e. learning the culture, and unspoken rules in the school, new curriculum, students, etc.) Even though the reasons listed may vary from school to school, the lack of teacher input and teacher voice are two factors that contribute to teacher turnover in just about any school.
In a 2015 article titled The Revolving Door of Teachers, professor Richard Ingersoll found that teachers feel they have no say in decisions that ultimately affect their teaching. In fact, this lack of classroom autonomy is now the biggest source of frustration for math teachers nationally. Ingersoll also found that one of the main factors that contributes to teacher turnover is the issue of voice, having say, and being able to to have input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher's job. This is something that is a hallmark of professions. It's something that teachers usually have very little of, but it does vary across schools and it's very highly correlated with the decision whether to stay or leave.
One way that school districts have made attempts to decrease high teacher turnover each year is by implementing a new teacher induction program. This program starts before the beginning of the year and gives those who are new to the district an opportunity to attend a week long Professional Development that provides them with insight about the district. During New Teacher Induction, teachers learn about school safety policy/procedures, meet district officials, meet members of the Teacher's Union, and of course they are provided with in-depth curriculum training as it relates to the grade they will be teaching for the upcoming school year. Schools across the country have also found other ways to support new teachers; one in particular is the coaching-mentoring program. New teachers ( and veterans teachers as well) are provided with embedded PD from Instructional Coaches. We support teachers by modeling lessons, co-teaching, planning, gathering resources, etc. These opportunities give teachers the comfort of knowing that they are not alone and that there are resources available to support them should they find themselves struggling throughout the year.
Through collaboration and team building, schools can begin to remove those barriers that aide in teacher turnover. When positive alternatives are in place, turnover declines, staff consistency remains stable, the school climate progresses forward, and of course student achievement soars! Here's to a wonderful summer break...now go out there and be GREAT!
What are some innovative ways that your school or district has worked to decrease teacher turnover?
This week I want to focus on end of the year reflections. When I was a classroom teacher, I remember dreading the end of the school year. One reason was because I hated the idea of saying goodbye to my students (well most of them)! I also dreaded the unknown future...more specifically who would be in my class for the upcoming year (for some reason I tended to get some of the more "engaging" students. Most were due to parent requests while others were because my dear colleagues believed the child would do well in my class...for that I always thought "Well aren't I special?")...
But seriously though I do remember taking time out before the close of school to reflect on my school year. I'd often think about how much my students were able to learn throughout the year, how much better they had become as fluent readers and writers. I thought about how much they grew socially, how they were continuing to develop into wonderful mathematicians. I also remember having them gather in a large circle on the carpet in the front of our room to share out some of their highlights from class that year. I even encouraged them to write their reflections down on paper or talk with their family. In all, I just wanted my students to take time to reflect on how far they had come since the first day of school. I wanted them to also reflect on those peaks & valleys they encountered during the year, to think about how they were able to overcome their fears by stepping up and tackling a difficult book, math problem, science or social studies project; and in doing so, I wanted them to see how their courageous efforts made them an even better student/person.
In my own professional life, I find it important to reflect on my role as an Instructional Coach. Frequently after taking teachers through a coaching cycle, I think about areas where I was successful as a coach as well as reflect on areas where I need to develop action steps so I can continue to improve in my role. For you as a teacher, perhaps you are like me and the school year is not over just yet; I encourage you to bring your class together to reflect on the school year. If your summer vacation has already began, think about areas where you can improve as a teacher. Maybe there's a great professional development opportunity happening near you this summer and you want to take advantage of it by being there to learn from experts in the field. Perhaps there's a great book that you'd like to read over the summer on Restorative Justice in schools. Whatever it is that you are interested in doing or learning more about, I encourage you to do just that all while reflecting on how it has allowed you to become an even better version of yourself. As the saying goes "You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been"...now go out there and be GREAT!
Children are like a sponge, they soak up everything they hear and see us do. I remember when I was a little girl and I use to play school at home. I would pretend to act like my first grade teacher scribbling on my board with chalk, passing out paper in perfect rows on the floor...I literally transformed my bedroom into my first grade class! That memory along with so many other positive examples by adults impacted my life in a way that I am most appreciative. But what happens when children see behaviors that are least positive/productive?
Over the years I have seen adults yell, curse, and even become physically aggressive towards those in leadership or authoritarian roles (some reality t.v. shows and social media have also played a part in these types of behaviors). Over the past two decades I have witnessed the "bad behavior" of the adult in the presence of children. This leaves such a damaging effect on the child and it also distorts their perception of the adult receiving the attack...meaning, the child begins to think that it's acceptable behavior and in turn begins to act the same way because no one has shown them/taught them differently.
As we encounter young people, let us be reminded of the influence that we have over them. Let us learn to be mindful of our actions towards one another and more importantly, let us be mindful of the way we interact with them. Scripture teaches us a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1 NKJV). It is our responsibility to show our young people a different way of doing things because sometimes we may be the only positive example that they have. So let's choose our words and actions wisely...now go out there and be GREAT!
As the school year draws close to an end, students (and teachers) are bursting with excitement simply knowing that summer vacation is on the way! When reflecting on student learning this year one of the things that stands out for me as an Instructional Coach is how much students have grown in terms of their understanding of number concepts in math. For instance, after observing a first grade class earlier this afternoon, I marveled at how one student was able to explain how she could decompose the addition problem for 25 + 20. The teacher gave all the students white boards and dry erase markers to use to solve the problem. Within seconds the student came over to me and showed me her board. When I asked her to show me her thinking for solving that problem, she explained that there are 2 tens and 5 ones in the number 25, so she added those 2 tens with the 2 tens in the number 20; which gave her 40. Then she told me that she added the 5 ones...then she proudly announced "so that's how I got 45 for my answer (20+20+5=45)"!
When I reflect back to the beginning of the school year, this same student wasn't able to explain her thinking in this much detail. As I shared in my post last week, intentional planning is the core of effective instruction. Creating opportunities to give students a chance to explore their knowledge of numbers in and out of the classroom grows their sense of numbers. This in turn, leads to amazing number talks. As many of you prepare for the close of the 2017-2018 school year, think of some ways that you can give your students a chance to discuss/analyze numbers as well as engage in activities dedicated solely to building number talks. And remember to hang in there these next few weeks, you can do this...now go out there and be GREAT!
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