Category: Guest Posts

#FamilyFriday – Parents Must Hold Schools Accountable

#FamilyFriday – Parents Must Hold Schools Accountable

#FamilyFriday is a weekly series of voices from the field of families and advocates from across the State of New Mexico. Each Friday, a new voice will be posted. If you would like to submit a blog post for consideration of publication, please submit it to Family.Liaison@state.nm.us. Enjoy and share!

Parents must hold schools accountable

By Bonnie Murphy, School Family Partnership Academy Member

After talking to hundreds of families over the last few months about their children and their school experiences, I have realized that there are just too many schools out there not doing their students and families right, and nobody else is talking about it. New Mexico has laws that tell schools, administrators and teachers how to deliver high quality education for the best interests of the students. We also have Administrative Codes that tell school administrators how to run schools. This gives them a lot of responsibility but a lot of freedom. This definitely isn’t working.

How would I know? My entire working career, since I was 19 years old, has been spent in some form of education, but I have recently left teaching and administration because this project is more important right now. Honestly- knowledge, experience, and training helps, but the key is what I have learned about education through the eyes of parents who tell me story after story of how they think schools have failed their children.

Most parents just want to make it better, not to add drama, embarrassment or backlash for their already struggling children. They are trapped in the boundaries of their district school, so they devise a plan to enroll their child in a different school, tell their child to suck it up or fight back, or try talking to the school about their concerns. Unfortunately, these don’t always solve the problem because parents simply don’t know what they don’t know. However, not all situations end up unresolved for all children and families and not all schools and teachers are failing all children. The key is how educated parents are about school laws and policies and how knowledgeable and honest teachers and school administrators are.

New Mexico just lost a major lawsuit accusing [the state of] inappropriately educating many children. The public blames the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED), funding, teacher quality, teacher preparation programs, and the list goes on. These issues are important, but they miss what is actually going on at ground level. The judge in this lawsuit ordered the NMPED to come up with a plan by April, of next year! NMPED has taken definite steps in the right direction and made progress, but it takes time, and there is an election for governor around the corner. I know of so many families who need help with their issues with schools right now. They can’t wait.

The biggest and most positive impact on the education of all youth of New Mexico could be educating and mobilizing the sheer masses of families to keep schools accountable for doing what they are supposed to be doing. There is nobody more concerned about their children’s futures than parents. They just need to know how.

Now, what good would it do for families all over the state to suddenly file a rash of lawsuits and send our schools and Public Education Department into constant fighting and money-draining court battles? Not much, when you really think about it. Parents simply want their children’s schools providing what their children need by following the laws, rules and policies already in place to make their education better, to access needed supports and increase their child’s opportunities. PED should begin more detailed data collection, disclose to the public all schools’ adherence to the laws and policies, and enforce accountability.

My suggestion is for parents to rise up in masses with your tools of knowledge in hand to hold your child’s school accountable. Make sure your child’s school and teachers know that you know what they are supposed to be doing. Parents are going to help change New Mexico’s education history.

 

The Year That Was: Our Students, Our Progress, Our Voices

The Year That Was: Our Students, Our Progress, Our Voices

The 2017-18 school year was one of many milestones, celebrations, and achievements for public education in New Mexico.  It has been a year of unprecedented progress—from the Schoolhouse to the Roundhouse and everywhere in between.  Just last month, the largest Teacher Summit in our state’s history occurred with hundreds of educators coming together to equip, empower, and champion our profession and the new era of teacher leader voice in the Land of Enchantment.  That event featured the culmination of three years of work leading to the unveiling of the state’s first ever Teacher Preparation Scorecards and a giant push to ensure that more of our aspiring teachers are day one ready.  In May, we saw a first-of-its-kind $1 million grant to all of our districts and charters for teacher recruitment, record amounts of funding and students served in both Pre-K and K-3+, and final school turnaround plans established for some of the state’s most struggling schools backed by $2 million in additional support for each individual school.

This spring, the NM-True Straight-A Express Tour, an idea that came from a regional school board meeting in Tucumcari about a year earlier, made its final stop in Des Moines.  As that statewide tour of 60 districts and 122 schools came to a close, the launch of the first ever NM-True Excellence in Teaching Tour kicked off with early stops in Farmington and Bloomfield, where I witnessed high craft in Mr. Starr’s AP Physics class fueling the feeling of urgency that more and more students need to have access to that level of high quality, rigorous course content, and instruction.

Turns out we are on that path already.  In January, Governor Martinez announced record high numbers of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses and exams.  And more ground was broken in April when five New Mexico teacher-leaders from Las Cruces, Shiprock, Reserve, Albuquerque, and Texico delivered the keynote address at the annual Spring Budget Conference.  At that conference, there was even more good news to report as just one month earlier the Governor had signed HB-2 (“The Budget Bill”) which contained $115 million more for public education, bringing the total to $450 million more state dollars for public education during this administration.  That amount included funding for compensation increases across-the-board, and to support the bipartisan Senate Bill 119, increasing minimum teacher salaries at every licensure level.

There were other major milestones in 2017-18: Federal approval of New Mexico’s top-rated plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the adoption of best-in-class national standards (now effective as of July 1!) in both the arts and in science, less time on testing, and ten more instructional days added to the academic calendar, the expansion of the nation’s largest and highest-performing school turnaround networks (Principals Pursuing Excellence and Teachers Pursuing Excellence), the trailblazing work being done by the Social Studies Dream Team, and the state’s inaugural Family Cabinet.  The ‘year that was’ saw more students taking the free PSAT exam and setting up their free individualized Khan Academy accounts and the Public Education Commission continuing to strengthen the state’s charter sector through difficult decisions around school closures, school openings, and the first-ever charter school replication.  None of this progress has been easy—it’s all hard-fought.

And high honors were bestowed upon some of our state’s best teachers: The Milken Award to Melanie Alfaro of Deming in December and – in one of my proudest moments on the job- the selection of Ivonne Orozco of Public Academy for the Performing Arts (PAPA) as the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year in October.  Without their leadership, and your leadership, we would not be where we are today.

Even with all of those highlights, perhaps nothing is more important than our recent announcement about our students’ academic progress over the past four years.  All credit goes to New Mexico’s teachers and support staff, parents and families, Superintendents and Charter Leaders, and many, many more for ushering in an era of exciting progress for kids in New Mexico.

Last week we announced that New Mexico’s students are demonstrating unprecedented academic progress in reading and math.  We have focused on improving our instructional practices and measuring progress, and more kids are truly on path to college and career.

Nearly a decade ago, the previous administration adopted higher college and career ready standards. Our districts, schools, educators, families, and students have risen to the challenge.  New Mexico now owns the unique distinction of having stayed the course, being independently-minded, and building upon our strong foundation and conviction about what every student can achieve.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • New Mexico’s student achievement gains over the past several years are substantial—since 2015, the entire state is up 4.7 percentage points in reading and 4.2 percentage points in math.  Every grade level is up in reading, and almost every grade level is up in math.
  • This means something real for students and families.  Since 2015, 24,000 more students, 11,000 more in math and 13,000 more in reading, are at grade level or above. 9,000 of those students grew to that level just in the last academic year, which was New Mexico’s fourth year of administration of the PARCC assessment.
  • We are proving that our students from all backgrounds can grow and achieve at higher levels.  Native American students are showing the most academic progress statewide—up 8.2% in reading—with Hispanic students, students from low income backgrounds, and English Learners all showing major gains.  Overall, the achievement gap is narrowing, a testament to our collective commitment to equity and access for all students.
  • Many districts that have embraced change and seized new opportunities are showing the most dramatic student achievement gains. It’s no coincidence that districts such as Farmington, Gallup, Hobbs, and Gadsden are leading the way. They have embraced a data-driven culture, talent recruitment and development, and meaningful accountability and support.  Farmington, Gallup, and Hobbs were also early adopters of Principals Pursuing Excellence—one of the largest and most successful school turnaround networks in the country.  These are districts that put more money directly into the classroom and do not shy away from innovation or difficult conversations that need to be had.
  • Farmington is now the top-performing school district in reading amongst the state’s ten largest districts—up nearly 15 percentage points in reading since 2015.  Gadsden has shown the most growth in mathematics, up nearly nine percentage points since 2015.
  • Eighteen of the state’s 20 largest districts are up in reading. Over the last eight years, New Mexico made heavy investments and put a major focus on early literacy as the foundation for all student success.  Many students started their academic careers under more rigorous standards, participated in early literacy programs, and have grown over time.  There is promise for the future if New Mexico remains on this trajectory—if so there will continue to be new generations of rising readers.
  • Districts like Los Lunas, Central Consolidated, Lovington, Artesia, Texico, Clovis, and Roswell represent a second wave of districts following this same trend. They have embraced higher standards, individualized instruction through PSAT/Khan Academy, are investing more money directly into the classroom, and understand the power of regular formative and interim assessments at the local level.
  • And there is so much to learn from high-performing and fast-growing schools like Gil Sanchez Elementary in Belen, like Union Elementary in West Las Vegas, like Explore Academy and North Valley Academy in Albuquerque, like Mesquite Elementary in Gadsden. These are schools that have demonstrated double-digit gains through innovation and excellence in instruction.  There are dozens of other examples of schools that are “beating the odds”, myth-busting around what is possible for every child, and creating beacons of excellence from which we can draw inspiration and best practices.  Our student achievement results are on the rise because of schools like these…

It is clear; the student achievement data shows that New Mexico’s students are on the rise.  These examples across the state serve as a reminder of that.  We should be proud of the progress districts and charters across the state have shown—and celebrate them.

It’s also becoming more and more evident to all that we, as a community of educators, must keep momentum and a laser-focus on improving instructional practice:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1196483/student-gains-a-strong-reason-to-keep-parcc.html

It is an honor to work alongside all of you each day on behalf of our kids and an exciting moment to be working in public education in New Mexico.  Please stay tuned for more information on how we will continue to celebrate success and champion progress, while we also constantly look for ways in which we can better serve our students.  It’s BOTH/AND, almost never EITHER/OR if we want to ensure that New Mexico is the fastest growing state in the country by 2020 and beyond.

Meanwhile, we prepare for our students to arrive in just a few short weeks for 2018-19.

Congratulations.  Onward.

Secretary Ruszkowski

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Every morning my Chaparral, NM, students stand and wait for their school bus on unpaved dusty road sides that border the narrow fractured streets; careful to avoid street cars, getting pinched by looming cactus, or running into unleashed aggressive dogs. The earliest school bus arrives at Desert Trail Elementary by 7:30 am.  “Will we have schedule X?” students immediately ask as they step off the bus and see that the winds begin to pick up and a gray curtain of dust is seen on the horizon.  My 5th graders walk through the main building to the side doors, once again stepping outside to walk towards their classroom portable.

As soon as students step into the portable, they drop off their backpacks on their desks. Each group of tables is aligned using the 2 inch wide worn out tears that run across the brown Berber carpet.  Students quickly set up the 3 classroom computers. Until recently, we had four before one of them became a permanent freeze frame.  “It’s too windy, we probably will not be able to use the internet today,” the students remind me as I keep clicking on the district website and receive the notice to check my network connection.

Another group of students take the plastic colored baskets to begin handing out their composition notebooks that are essential in our Balanced Literacy classroom. These notebooks help us with crucial organization because as a true, self contained Dual Language setting, students do all their work in both English and Spanish.  The mismatched donated metal shelves, refurbished wood stand, and black plastic containers hold our partial classroom materials.  We might not have new furniture or complete resources; however we have a positive learning environment and strong initiative to improve.

From day one, I inform my students that they will grow both academically and as individuals, despite the dismal setting. They’re smiles turned into squinting eyes of concern when I mentioned they would need to work to the best of their abilities and that they would be required to present in front of small and large crowds. “I have volunteered you to present at the first district board meeting taking place in a couple of weeks,” I enthusiastically mentioned to my students on the first day of their 5th grade school year. They immediately knew that I was going to set high-expectations for them, every day, all year long.

As soon as I receive students’ data, even before I meet them, I see the possibilities within. My students’ academic levels are diverse; on top of learning a second language they face many hurdles. For this reason, it is my goal to show my students that their education represents much more that just academics; it represents self worth and advocacy.  By being active participants in our education, collecting, documenting, and analyzing our own data we learn to self reflect and create goals that can support overall growth.

My students, colleagues, and I work hard to see positive outcomes, and we know that collaboration is an important part of success. As a partner teacher of the Game Plan for Success Aim High Fellowship Educators for High Standards, I received additional support to help my students aim high, coach them to listen and practice, and teach them the value of testing themselves.

“You are not a number, but we need to use these numbers to monitor our growth. We need to use data to study what we are doing and what we can do to improve as learners,” I make sure to reinforce to my students.  During our first Student/Parent/Teacher Conference, as parents and students walked into our classroom to have a conversation about academic gains and needs, the importance to set educational goals and for students to know and reflect on their own learning is reinforced. Only a small percentage of students’ parents may be able to understand and analyze their child’s data. “Usted sabe maestra, yo nunca fui buena estudiante, así que yo quiero que ella sea mejor,” the majority of the parents comment on how they were never good students and want their child to be better. Parents place this desire of their children improving in the hands of the teachers. Parents need to be students’ best educational advocates, but with limited understanding this advocacy can be diminished. My plan as part of the Aim High Teacher Fellowship is to instill the importance of setting high standard goals and prepare ourselves to accomplish them.

Teaching students to be self advocates takes time and perseverance, to help your students reach their highest potential. For me, as well as for many teachers, time is an obstacle, for this reason I create a schedule that helps smooth transitions and allows for effective student learning, collaboration, and time for self reflection. When my students are given the initiative to provide feedback on classroom management and instruction, it promotes self awareness and ownership. “My behavior during class time is getting  better, because I don’t talk loud like if I have a microphone,” Leslie explains in her data folder after acknowledging that when she speaks loudly it can affect the learning of others.  Providing students with tools to be responsible for their own data and learn how analyze it, will create self advocates.

Watching my students explain their own learning process and goals to their parents, I could see how impressed and proud their parents felt knowing their children could read their own information.   My own mother only had a second grade education in Mexico.    I relate to how parents may not understand the data being presented to them concerning their child because this was my own experience.

“Mrs. Rios did you already check on my reading test. Did I complete the next level?” asked Keera during our conference. Mom quickly looked at her with a slight tilt of her head and low tone reprimanded, “Keera…”  “It’s okay. I teach my students to ask questions and check with me on grades, assignments, assessments…after all they are the ones who do the work,” I quickly replied.  I need for my students to know that I will do the best I can to support them, but they too need to apply themselves and work to make our efforts worthwhile.

To make sure my students’ academic efforts demonstrate results, I consider all aspects of their learning. I have to keep in mind their proficiency level as English Language Learners and consider that assessments are becoming more rigorous.  My students and I use data and relevant information to redirect instruction if needed, allowing for an opportunity to modify problem-solving strategies.  As teachers, the availability of data prompts us to reflect on our instruction and should do the same for our students.  Reflection can promote and help develop higher level thinking.

Throughout the school year, proficiency levels need to be reviewed, recorded, analyzed, and reflected upon. In order for students to properly reflect on their own data, I guide them through the process of purposeful reflection. It is crucial to promote a supportive, safe, and encouraging classroom environment.  “I went up another level on my Reading test.  This time I made sure to not get distracted,” Mari proudly commented as her classmates gave her a round of applause.   This year I intentionally provide time for students to reflect and form inquiries regarding their learning style, instruction and/or learning needs, instruction and/or learning strengths, and reasons or evidence of results.

Student reflection can be challenging due to time, availability of data (limited or overload), different academic levels, different learning styles, and limited parent availability and/or understanding of educational standards. In order to accomplish the challenge of generating a reflective student environment I had to:

  • Identify data sets for students to analyze.
  • Become flexible with time or schedule time for student data self analysis. (Use district Scope and Sequence dates.)
  • Differentiate for students to understand how data can support their academic gains.
  • Promote an environment of inquiry and peer support.
  • Create reflective journal, data collection sheets, and provide guiding questions to ensure students’ self-reflections stay focused on achieving educational gains.
  • Students set goals that encourage high standards.
  • Provide opportunities and options for parents to participate in data analysis and learn how to support their child.

 AIMING HIGH TOGETHER

The Aim High Fellowship challenged me to use data intentionally and teach my students how to use it to set goals and also made it possible to partner with a professional athlete who knows how important it is to set and achieve goals. My students could not believe their mentor for their 5th grade school year would be former NFL record breaking wide receiver Rocket Ismail who played for the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.  Being a part of the Aim High Fellowship helped me as I created a game plan for success that gave us that extra push that many of my students needed.

The partnership with an NFL player was a motivating factor for my students, but the personal connection I developed with my students through the goal setting and practice was even more of a catalyst for academic momentum. “I feel better knowing you are her teacher,” were the words Maria’s mother gave me on the first day of school.  Maria came into my 5th grade Dual Language classroom reading at a beginning 3rd grade level in English and beginning 4th grade level in Spanish.  Figuring out what was the piece missing in order to make academic gains was a challenging task. I quickly learned that Maria does best when working at her own pace and is open to new strategies, and resources. .  Her motivation and sense of responsibility helps her keep track of her work and pace how far she can go.  I also make sure I am ready to go to the next level when she feels she is ready. Being in a Dual Language classroom means that there is double assessments and this can be overwhelming for a child.  Knowing how to monitor this is essential to have the best outcomes.  Maria’s willingness to work has become her signature move.  I am proud to say Maria’s online assessment states she is “Performing as an average 6th grade student who took this test in July.”  She is also demonstrating 5th grade level competency in math.  In our classroom book, Maria included a dedication to our Aim High partner athlete Rocket Ismail: “I want to dedicate this story to Rocket Ismail who inspired me to not give up on the hardest moments or to not get nervous when something happens.”

Maria’s note to Mr. Ismail: “Mr. Rocket, remember the first time some of our classmates asked you questions? I was one of the students that asked you a question.  I asked how I could not be nervous and shy because I was shy.  Our class was planning to compete in a Literacy Festival and I was so shy that I said ‘NO’ on the permission paper, but Mrs. Rios told me to take the paper back home and think about it.  I thought about it and finally said ‘YES’.  The days passed, and finally it was time to compete.  Three of my classmates and I presented Spanish Choral Reading.  We all came out with first place medals.  I want to thank you Mrs. Rocket and Mrs. Rios for inspiring me and helping me.  I want to thank you both for that.”

“I am the light, I am the answer, I am the solution, and I am the remedy!” Students chanted in unison as Rocket Ismail delivered his motivational speech to a cafeteria full of wide-eyed elementary students during his visit to our school. This statement empowers students to reflect on their potential.  It embodies our classroom challenge to develop self reflection skills that enhance our listening, planning and implementation of strategies that can help us see that academic struggles can aid us in measuring and supporting our growth as learners. “I felt myself trembling and holding back tears. I wanted to cry because I felt so happy”, students nodded in agreement as Javier shared his experience from listening to the speech.

As I looked out during this assembly, I saw my future, past, and current students mesmerized by the strong reassuring voice that delivered a message of optimism and strength. My mind went back to my childhood years where just like many of my students I was an English Language Learner that came from a struggling, single-parent family and had overwhelming responsibilities for a child. I know firsthand that education is a way out of economic and/or home life insufficiencies. So, as we begin to experience accomplishments, we don’t remember the decrepit computers and the brown carpet, but we rejoice in the students’ success.

In a teacher’s life there are many stories of success as well as scenarios where weakness can become part of our thoughts. The feeling of weakness can come when the curriculum we need to follow is not well understood, or it does not provide the sufficient resources we need to search, create, and/or purchase. Weakness creeps in when our students’ home life is a struggle, and we feel we have not done enough when our students do not perform to the standards they are required. This feeling takes hold when students’ parents are not well-informed or involved in their child’s life. The feeling of weakness can come when our colleagues lose motivation in our profession, and we do not find the words and/or actions to improve these feelings.  Many things throughout our lives can be a challenge, but striving to improve is the driving force to create life-changing goals and outcomes.  We have to AIM HIGH!

 

Your 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, Ivonne Orozco

Your 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, Ivonne Orozco

From The 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year: The Year of Educators’ Voices Rising

As your 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, I am honored to be one of your teacher-leader voices. The diversity amongst us in New Mexico is an asset. My family immigrated here from Mexico when I was 12-years-old. I was an English language learner in middle school and later took honors courses in high school, I ran cross country and track, and I graduated in the top 10% of my class. I am a proud UNM graduate. Go Lobos! But I did not get here alone: I had teachers and family that set core foundations along my journey that contributed to my success. These included: high expectations, staying the course, building a strong voice, and valuing teachers and education.

Every day in my classroom, I keep in mind that all students can be successful no matter where they traveled from to get here in the morning, or how much money their parents have, or how much they still have to learn. I keep my expectations high. It’s unclear why there’s still a misconception out there that students facing challenges at home can’t succeed at school. That is false. Lowering standards for any of our kids is a disservice. They deserve high-quality standards, options, and teachers. My mission for my students at Public Academy for Performing Arts (PAPA) in Albuquerque is to make sure they achieve high academic standards while pursuing artistic excellence.

Staying the course is critical to long-term success in life and in our public education system. As a young teacher, I have witnessed the distress caused by constantly changing systems. Every few years things change with exams, evaluations, and leadership just as we start to adjust. I won’t be complacent when provided the opportunity to sit at the table with policymakers on this issue. I do not have all the answers, but I know that teachers in our state,

who work hard and are passionate about their students, do have collective answers. In my role representing the state’s teachers, I will be a conduit of teacher voices in those conversations.

One way I have decided to take a stance on my beliefs is by using my voice. For far too long, teachers’ voices have not been properly represented. But in recent years, the New Mexico Public Education Department has created opportunities with a Teacher-Leader Network which includes the School Liaison Program, the NM Dream Team, and the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory. I have taken part in these programs and they are creating a network for passionate teachers to advance student learning, learn more about policy, and express concerns. We are leading the nation with this work and we must sustain it.

We must also focus on recruiting the next generation of teachers. Many teachers work within 20 miles of where they attended high school, which means tomorrow’s teachers are sitting right in front of us today. We must show our students the rewards and gratification of being a teacher. Many of my students see themselves in me and I take that very seriously as I continue to be an advocate for my profession and for them. They deserve hope.

As a Dreamer, I know how important it is to know that someone is fighting in your corner. I will continue to stand up for my community and future generations in the fight for a permanent solution for DACA recipients. I want to thank Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski and the PED for giving me this role and platform and for recognizing my work in cultivating student achievement growth.

I hope I am a reflection of the beautiful diversity of our state. I hope that students and teachers can see themselves in me. I have and will continue to give you my all for the remainder of 2018, demonstrating that educator voices like mine are truly on the rise in New Mexico. I will see you throughout 2018!

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

By Elizabeth Long, English Language Arts Teacher, Gallup Middle School

Teacher quality is fundamental to improving public education.  If not one of the most important factors to school success, then what is?  There is a lot of talk about how to improve schools—and improving instruction should be at the top of the list.

And the effect of quality teachers is greatest among students with the most educational disadvantages (Goldhaber, 2016, p. 58). It is no secret that quality teachers matter and can change the course of our students’ lives. Still, for far too many teachers, those that can change lives, leave the profession after just a first few years of teaching.

I wanted to be a teacher since I was in first grade, and while that may sound cliché’, it often takes an entire lifetime to prepare a person to be an effective teacher. Even the best teacher prep programs cannot adequately prepare a teacher for everything that they will experience in the classroom. Still, teachers need to come to the classroom “Day One Ready”, and that goes beyond just knowing how to lesson plan or memorize learning theories.

Teacher preparation programs have a solemn responsibility to produce quality teachers.

After my first year of teaching, I was ready to give up on the dream I had since I was a little girl. It was devastating. I was not adequately prepared for my first year of teaching, and while I am sure many factors can be taken into account when it comes to my lack of preparedness that first year in the classroom, I was not prepared well through my college teacher prep program.

Luckily, I chose to stay in the classroom and use resources within my school to push myself to my full potential (I earned an Exemplary rating this year as a teacher in Gallup, New Mexico). Unfortunately, not every teacher has access to the resources I had or the resolve to keep pushing internally.  And that is how we lose potentially life-changing teachers.

However, if teacher preparation programs dramatically improve in New Mexico, then the quality of teaching, and thus education, across the state will improve.

The purpose of my writing this is not to demonize or condemn any specific college or university. As a teacher, I believe a large part of learning is in our own hands.  We must accept personal responsibility for our craft, and for our students’ learning.  In fact, the summer after my first (rough) year of teaching, I went back to the basics. I ordered Harry Wong’s classic books about classroom management, and I read his words as if they were scripture.

One may ask, didn’t I do the same in my teacher prep program? The answer is sort of, yes – I read many of the famous teaching texts and theories, but what was often missing was the application of those theories. Without a classroom of my own, or a classroom to visualize myself in it was hard to imagine how to put these theories into action. For example, I took a special education course about foundational theories, but I never actually learned what special education would look like in a real school or a real classroom. What I was learning in my classes were the idealistic theories for teaching, and when it was time for my student teaching experience it seemed as though what I had learned had no basis in reality.

The best classes I had were with teachers who were passionate about the teaching practice and not completely disconnected from the classroom experience itself. It is not that I did not have some great courses or professors along the way, but the problem is often cohesion and consistency, and my classes were, to be honest, hit or miss.

I was also shocked by how inadequately I was prepared for the student diversity I would experience. Many universities give a “cookie-cutter” view on teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) and culturally relevant teaching. There was no connection to New Mexico and our students. According to Gist, “If teachers have limited knowledge of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, this can severely reduce the teacher’s ability to draw upon a student’s cultural and linguistic strengths and foster resilient student identities of achievement”. New Mexico and our students have unique needs, and these must be addressed in teacher prep programs, and we need to address diversity while never lowering he bar for any student, regardless of background.

Another frustrating experience is that I often felt like I was given misleading information about licensure, advisement, and what steps I needed to take to ensure I received my licensure after graduation with the proper credentials. Any preparation program requires quality advisement, and teachers need advisors who know their state’s expectations on testing and certification.

I have mentored many teachers over the years, and I have seen many come and go. I would say that, in my experience, teacher preparation program experiences directly correlate with whether teachers stay in the profession or quit after their first year.  As we all know, there are some tough issues in education today, and teaching is not a laid-back job in any way.

Still, if teachers come into the classroom “Day One Ready”, their entire outlook on teaching may change…but what does “Day One Ready” even mean?

“Day One Ready” means that a teacher is not surprised, but prepared for what they walk into that first day in the classroom. It is not about creating perfect teachers, but rather, teachers that will be prepared for the highlights and challenges of teaching our students, with proper support along the way. “Day One Ready” teachers are confident that the experiences in their teacher preparation program will realistically align with their true classroom experience. While nothing may prepare teachers for everything they will experience, quality programs prepare them to be more ready than I was.

Let us help prepare teachers realistically in high quality teacher preparation programs, which means that these programs should be held accountable, should increase their student teaching experiences, and should align their programs much more closely with state and district expectations. Then, we can help teachers reach their full potential and truly change the lives of students across the State. We know that, more than anything, teacher quality correlates with student success. So certainly teacher preparation is the foundation of that idea.

I am thankful I decided to keep teaching. Even with the most professionally challenging experiences, it is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.  And I have my students’ academic growth and their changed life trajectories to show for it!

However, if I could have been better trained and prepared to be more successful on Day One, then it should have happened. No excuses.

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn


I had the distinct privilege to attend the recent National Title I conference in Philadelphia last month. Along with two colleagues and our school’s Director, I took three days away from my school and students to travel across the country to accept a 2018 Title I Distinguished School Award. This award was for closing the achievement gap between student groups, and was the result of the hard work of our entire staff. What an honor to be one of two schools in New Mexico to receive this award (shout out to the other honoree: Union Elementary School in Las Vegas, NM)! While the award was a surprise and something to celebrate, I quickly learned that the four days spent with educators from across the country was a meaningful opportunity for my own learning.

Let me back up to say that I hardly ever leave New Mexico for professional reasons. When I lived on the east coast, it was very easy to travel to conferences and events where I could collaborate and learn from other teachers. Given our geographic isolation, however, many of us in New Mexico rely on conversations with fellow teachers and on reading professional articles to further our own development and growth. This trip demonstrated to me that you cannot underestimate the importance of meaningful conversation and professional development with those from other communities and perspectives.

Although we had travelled a very long day to get to Philly and our first session was early the next morning, I was immediately engaged by National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee’s keynote address. Some of you may have heard Sydney speak at our New Mexico Teacher Summit last June. I enjoyed meeting her in Albuquerque, so I anticipated her address. She spoke at length about how education can be a tool for social justice, challenging us all to take risks on behalf of our students and give voice to issues affecting them (and us). She reminded us how important we are, and we agreed. I felt like I was a young teacher again, full of passion and purpose.

We ended the day with an armchair interview with former US Secretary of Education John King. I felt hopeful to know that such thoughtful and intelligent people are considering how to make education viable and equitable. This work is happening in so many ways, on so many levels. The thousands of educators in the room (teachers, principals, superintendents, and district level leaders) were clearly enthusiastic about the messages from the stage: all students deserve the opportunity to learn. And the Distinguished Schools celebration showed that, in fact, schools from all over the country are ensuring that they are.

While I attended break-out sessions on areas of interest to me (spelling instruction, brain-based instruction for phonics, student engagement, and the power of speech), my Director learned about social emotional awareness and how to use restorative practices to improve school culture. Over dinner each evening, the four of us from Taos Charter discussed how to bring back our new learning to New Mexico. We talked about how to look at grading, how to connect to students, and other over-arching ideas to improve our school. We felt energized by Salome Thomas-EL (Principal El) from Philadelphia and his keynote talk on how one person can make a difference. My teaching partner and I embraced his mantra: No excuses! So often those of us in Title I schools sink into that attitude that we cannot make a difference, that we cannot teach certain kids. This conference blasted us out of that mentality.

So why am I writing this blog post for New Mexico teachers? I feel impelled to share with you that you can, and must, fight to attend any regional or national conference you can. Consider writing a grant, requesting Title II funds from your school or district, or looking for scholarships. Talk to others, join a professional online community, take a class. Subscribe to articles or blog posts by those working on a national level to keep learning focused on students. Be inspired by the successes of other schools and teachers. Remember that it only takes one passionate teacher in the life of a child. Be that person for one child. No excuses.

Building Social Studies Materials and New Forms of Teacher Collaboration

Building Social Studies Materials and New Forms of Teacher Collaboration

The most valuable part of the Social Studies Dream Team “TeachFest” experience is the opportunity to step out of one’s own bubble and to interact with colleagues from around the state. The sheer breadth and depth of experience, both personal and professional, was both humbling and inspiring.  There were people from all over the country, whose experience ranged from business owner to Peace Corps volunteer, from law enforcement officer to U.S. AID worker—all of whom have chosen to work as teachers in New Mexico.  The ice breakers and conversation starters at the beginning helped foster a sense of community and shared purpose, which laid the foundation for productive collaborations.

I did my teaching certificate work at the University of Houston and have been teaching for 21 years—first in southwest Houston for three years, and now in Albuquerque since 2000. I teach all areas of social studies, but primarily government and AP Government.  I was the AP Lead teacher at Cibola High for the past 3-4 years.  My teaching partner and I were the first in the state to pilot the AP Capstone program.  I also teach a little beginning French when needed, and I currently co-author or co-edit 2 AP review books for McGraw Hill Publishing, Co. (5 Steps to a 5…AP World and AP European History).  As such, I set the bar high for all my students.

I think it is important for us as teachers to step outside our comfort zones, and to recognize that our profession extends beyond our classroom walls, our department and our school. At the Dream Team TeachFest, teachers from the largest high schools in Albuquerque swapped stories with teachers from tiny rural K-8 schools.  It was quite the exchange of ideas!  To gain a broader perspective regarding the challenges facing teachers across the state is to become more understanding and tolerant, much like the character education we do as social studies teachers.  And we had guest speakers with a range of perspectives as well: the Teacher Liaisons from the PED and remarks from Debra Marquez and Anthony Burns from the PED’s Instructional Materials Bureau served to reinforce the idea that we are part of education policy in a larger context, and that our influence can extend beyond our classroom.

Teaching can be a solitary profession, and for years the only way to extend our influence beyond the classroom was to leave the classroom. It is gratifying to see that there are now ways for teachers to expand their impact while still remaining teachers.  The fact that the PED Secretary-Designate Ruszkowski took the time to come to the event and listen to teachers’ concerns underscores the idea that we can and should look beyond our classrooms.  Though we may not always agree with his answers in-full, that he would take the time to have the discussion as a fellow social studies teacher is, in itself, a step in the right direction.  We need more dialogue, not less.

As new members of the Dream Team, the scope of the required lessons seemed overwhelming at first, but as the presenters and facilitators walked us through the process our ideas began to take shape. Our project facilitator was an effective sounding board for ideas and concerns, but also kept the conversations fun at the same time.  Though it took some time for us to develop a project appropriate in scope, we left with a clear picture of what tasks remained.  Despite our differences and our diversity of interests, the fact that everyone there had given up his or her time for the common purpose of creating something beneficial for New Mexican students is reassuring.

We will create materials that every social studies teacher around the state can use, but the idea of teacher-leadership in social studies and beyond, fostered by Cohort 2 of the New Mexico Dream Team, has possibilities far beyond that.

Whole Brain Teaching: Roxanne Mitchell

Whole Brain Teaching: Roxanne Mitchell


Walk into any room at Sandia Elementary or an assembly including the entire student body, say, “Class”, and then be prepared to be amazed as every student immediately responds, “Yes”. This is just one of the exceptional engagement strategies utilized with Whole Brain Teaching.  The implementation of Whole Brain Teaching in our school has increased student engagement and excitement for learning in every classroom.  In upbeat, highly interactive classrooms, teachers have 100% participation from students at all levels and behavioral types.  Whole Brain Teaching can be used for excellent classroom management, character education, and exemplary lesson design. In nineteen years of teaching, I have never seen strategies so effective that can be adapted to any teacher and grade level.  Whole Brain Teaching is the game changer we have all been searching for in education today.


So here is the real deal. I attended a conference in Las Vegas this summer on Whole Brain Teaching.  From the first moments, I knew it was different.  Twenty minutes into the conference, I was texting my principal asking if we could be a pilot Whole Brain Teaching school.  All the while, I was trying to figure out how to use what I knew worked and incorporate what I was learning. I knew how to teach.  I had a lot of success. I am not saying this to brag in anyway, but I felt confident in my ability as a teacher and I knew great teaching.  I had scored exemplary for several years on my evaluation and was a 2017 Teacher of the Year finalist.  Boy, I was in for a wake up call.  All of the teachers attending the conference knew there were changes to make.  We returned to school and started our K-3 Plus program within a few weeks.  I was the administrator for the summer program. I wanted to use Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom to some extent until I saw it in action.  I walked in classrooms the first day of K-3 Plus using Whole Brain Teaching, and I was JEALOUS. As a teacher at heart, I wanted KIDS.  I wanted to teach the way the young teachers on our staff were impacting kids!  I remember that feeling, and I have been striving to achieve it from that day forward.  I cannot express how much I love my profession.  I have high standards for my students and I demand participation in class.  The difference now is the love of learning in our school and my classroom.  I asked the kids this afternoon what was better about Whole Brain Teaching than a traditional classroom. They surprised me as they so often do.  Their responses were varied, but included things like:

  • “The Golden Gritty game makes me realize I can do things that I did not think I could do.”
  • “Mirror Words lets me be physical, teach my partner, and totally focus on my learning.”
  • “Zowies and Triple Whammies took me from spending forever writing a paragraph to do it in minutes.”
  • “I can see a difference in the character of my classmates thanks to daily use of our Character Virtues.”

I know many of these terms sound foreign to individuals without experience with Whole Brain Teaching. Some days it still feels that way to me. But if you have taken time to read these words, please know it has changed me forever as a teacher, and more importantly, it has changed my students for the better.  That is something that can never be undone.  I have poured out my heart for the Whole Brain Teaching movement.  Please take time to look at it carefully.  You never know, your students may never be the same!

Check out wholebrainteaching.com for more information or contact Sandia Elementary, New Mexico’s own Whole Brain Teaching Pilot School. (575-769-4480)

HOW TO BRING SOCRATIC SEMINAR TO YOUR CLASSROOM

HOW TO BRING SOCRATIC SEMINAR TO YOUR CLASSROOM

How to Bring Socratic Seminar to Your Classroom

People sometimes ask me what Socratic seminar is, whether it would work for any grade or subject area, and most of all: is it worth the effort?

Socratic seminar is named for the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, one of the most famous teachers of the Western world. Socrates did not teach by lecturing. He taught by questioning.  And his questioning sometimes seemed to draw wisdom out of his students that they did not know they had. Socrates still embodies what we mean when we call someone a philosopher, a name that the ancient Greeks coined from two root words: philos and sophos.  Philos meant love, as in philanthropy, the love of mankind.  Sophos meant wisdom. Philosophers are therefore lovers of wisdom, and this is exactly why you should bring the Socratic Method into your classroom.

So what does the Socratic Method look like in your classroom? Picture students sitting in a circle, or around a large table, or if that’s not possible, sitting around the edges of the room looking towards the center so that they can make eye contact with one another.  A student or a teacher asks an “opening question.”  This does not have to be the only question discussed, but begins a discussion.  You have classroom discussions all the time, but this is a formalized discussion, and one that takes the time to reach a much deeper level of understanding.

Why teach your students to participate in this kind of formal discussion? Socratic seminar:

  • Is enjoyed by students
  • Teaches the art of questioning
  • Teaches higher-level thought, which is a skill
  • Allows students to speak to each other, rather than to the teacher, in a formal setting
  • Can unite the class as a team looking for the truth or truths
  • Engages students with a topic in a new way
  • Appeals to students who struggle with academics
  • Is a kind of “writing aloud” activity, so is a great lead-in to writing on a following day
  • Can be modified for nearly all ages
  • Can be modified for all levels of shyness
  • Leaves students asking for more.

Whether it is a high school or an elementary classroom, and whether it is an English class, science, art, or history, this method of discussion and teamwork resonates with students, and will engage them at a higher level.

But how to teach this? Questioning is a skill in itself and an exercise in higher level thought.   Ideally, have the students write their own questions for their seminar, either individually or in a group. They will require instruction on what an “essential universal question” is; it is not a yes or no question, but one that opens up a deeper discussion.  For example, if the student suggests the question, “Is Naomi’s mother nice?” other students (or you, the facilitator) can deepen that question by asking, “Was Naomi’s mother a good mother?”  To make the question universal, it becomes, “What is a good mother?” and even, “What makes a good person?”

I sometimes project everyone’s questions on a screen; this allows students to reflect on just how much there is to discuss. If you use Google Classroom, students can post their questions to a public forum or list that you can then project.

Don’t be afraid to delve into the impossible. Students are just as equipped as we are to explore the deepest questions of humanity; what they lack in experience, they make up for in directness, curiosity, and simplicity.

Allow students (and yourself) to luxuriate in those questions that so often do not get asked:   Why are we here?   What is morality?  What are good and evil?  Is there a right and a wrong?  What are the problems with saying that there is not a right and a wrong?  What makes a hero?  Is love important?  Where does prejudice come from?  Is it possible to achieve peace?  My ninth graders this year repeatedly asked to discuss the meaning of life, and though there was some humor and irreverence in the discussion, there was also a real discussion taking place, surprising them, I think, though they may have thought they were surprising me.

The day before the seminar, go over the rules.

1. Students should speak to each other instead of to the teacher. Since this will take them some time to get used to, you as the facilitator can give them gentle reminders.

2. Students must react to what is said rather than ignoring it and jumping in with an unrelated statement.  Teach them how this sounds in practice: “I agree with Maya, but I think that….”  Or, “I think both Cyrus and Juan are right, and I want to add….”   Or, “I think so far we are missing the point, because…”

3.  Students do not need to raise hands as long as they take turns.

4.  While everyone should participate for an A, no one should dominate.  This is their chance to learn to have a balanced role.

5. Disagreements are normal and expected, even encouraged.  But no one should insult or disrespect another person for their opinion, and certainly not for a belief system.

6.  Remind students that if they can learn to discuss difficult issues and ideas with their peers, they can become leaders, and just possibly save the world, or at least their own community.

7.  Encourage students to act as a team.  In the middle of the circle or table are ideas, and the team is grappling with them together.

What about the shy? You as facilitator can sometimes stop the seminar to allow those who have not spoken to get a word in edgewise.  You can even call on the shyest members of the class directly, explaining that you can raise their grade if they can express an opinion on the current question, and more importantly, that their voice matters.

Too many kids in the classroom? There are various tricks you can try, such as outer circle and inner circle, where the outer circle takes notes on the inner circle’s seminar.  You can also use Popsicle sticks or paper clips if you feel you need to monitor how many times students speak.  More mature students can run their own seminars so that you can have several in one classroom.

Finally, let your students know that silence is an accepted part of Socratic seminar. There is a tendency to panic when there is silence, but people need time to process and think.   Try to avoid jumping in to give them answers.  They will likely leave the class inspired with a new “love of wisdom”

Animas is “A” Strong

Animas is “A” Strong

Animas is “A” Strong

                For the past six years, under the new school grading system, Animas High School has received an A for all but one year, receiving a B just once. The Straight “A” Express made its stop in the small town of Animas on Wednesday, November 29th to celebrate their continued success and to learn just what is working in Animas.  This rural, agricultural area features the school as the hub of the community surrounded by only one café, a small convenience store, a feed/hardware store and three necessary utility companies. Animas Public Schools draws students from several surrounding towns, traveling up to 75 miles one-way to school.  The total K-12 population at Animas Public Schools is 179 students.  The high school is a 7-12th grade setting and teachers teach all grade levels and cover generally 6 different preps each day. However, the teachers and staff at Animas feel blessed to work with such polite, hard-working and spirited students.

My name is Alysha Wagley. I am a 14-year teacher at Animas High School, member of the Secretary’s Advisory team, and Animas alumnus.  I would like to share the following as to what I believe is driving our continued “A” status:

  • High Expectations from teachers, staff and the community of students and staff
  • Busy Students: they must be involved in multiple extra-curricular in order for all programs to be successful. Even the average student is in sports, drama, mock trial, STUCO, and often FFA all at once. Most work to help support themselves and their families. Students have no choice but to learn to multi-task and have confidence in themselves and each other.
  • Highly discourage the “teach to the test” mentality. Instead, we do rigorous reading and writing preparation. English, Science and history all give timed 5-parapgrah essays periodically as regular classroom assessments and generally in the computer-lab.
  • Teacher voice and trying to keep all our arrows going in the same directions
    • DASH Team includes core teachers, and DASH goals are truly aligned to student and teacher needs for improvement
    • Aligning a portion of our PDP to student needs per data analysis
    • Analyzing Data as a staff through PLC’s
    • Communication among teachers about shared students
    • Setting Staff goals in a certain area and all working together, for example: 5-paragraph essay, academic testing vocabulary, information text and currently short-essay response.
    • Concentrating as a staff on collaboration, bell-to-bell instruction and DOK
  • Extensive SAT Plans and IEPs that are team driven
  • All students who score 2 or below on PARCC are looked at more closely for a possible SAT plan
  • Anyone who reads below grade-level is looked at more closely for a possible SAT plan and letters are sent to parents regarding below grade-level scores.
  • Use of Math and Language Lab classes as RTI for students below grade-level
  • Taking Advantage of REC Resources, especially for new teacher training
  • Teacher mentorship for all new teachers

 

    • Below 70% grade list to teachers every two weeks and regular communication with parents for those who fall below a 70%.
  • ACT a priority and encourage all students to take it from 2nd Semester Sophomores to 1st semester Seniors (generally 4 times throughout high school)
  • All sophomores take PSAT and ASVAB for career readiness

 

  • Respect and support for academics from coaches and sponsors
  • Unfortunately no AP courses, but we do have honors, duel-credit and online opportunities for students to excel, be challenged and have access to classes of choice that our small staff can’t accommodate.
  • Support from administration and school board with a one-team mentality
  • A school spirit that has the students, teachers, staff, administration and community truly caring about the reputation and success of Animas Schools.

Of course, the list can go on and on, but most importantly dedication and respect from students, teachers, staff and community make Animas an excellent school to attend, work at and support. Go Panthers!