Category: Guest Posts

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!

Classroom Management – Building Relationships with Teens as a Tool for Better Classroom Management

Classroom Management – Building Relationships with Teens as a Tool for Better Classroom Management

Classroom Management-

Building Relationships with Teens as a Tool for Better Classroom Management


I was walking towards a classroom to sub for another teacher who had to leave unexpectedly, and I could hear screaming. I knew that this could be interesting, since I knew this teacher’s style…and sometimes struggle… to manage the classroom. When I reached the glass door, there was a young man with his face pressed firmly on the glass as he was pounding it with his fist. We stood there looking at one another for a moment until I said, “Can I help you?”

He opened the door and returned to his seat immediately.

It always surprises me that teachers are thrown into this profession with so little instruction on classroom management. It is not something that is taught, and so many new teachers — and some not so new — struggle to make sense of student behavior and how to relate with them and still manage to get the curriculum covered in time for testing. I have seen some really terrific teachers suffer at the hands of an unruly mob, usually at the end of the day, when everyone is exhausted and it is a struggle to get teens focused on the task at hand. I call it “the slog” — that end of the day class.  You know the one.  It was the slog that took a really excellent third year teacher and sent her back to graduate school for a new profession. She said it was that last class that did it for her; she was so stressed and felt like a failure for not being a better teacher.

It would be interesting to see how many teachers are lost to the profession due to improper training in classroom management.  How can you teach if you cannot get the students focused and engaged? If a teacher cannot manage the crowd, then no dissemination of information occurs — or it is greatly hindered — and children learn less. I have seen it myself in some of my most challenging classes over the years. Statistically, those classes performed lower than my others, simply because I was spending more time managing their behavior and less time teaching them the academic skills they needed.

So what is the secret to excellent classroom management? If you ask ten teachers, you may get ten different answers. It is personal and greatly dependent on the teacher’s style and personality. But what I do know is this:  If kids know you care, they will do their best for you. Showing how you care is also individual, but I believe there are some common strategies that every teacher could implement regardless of personal style.

  1. The Greeting. Greet them each day, at the door, as they arrive. I shake their hands at the door, although if you are worried about germs, simply greeting them as they walk in is good enough. The purpose of this is two-fold: (1) students learn how to interact in a professional way with handshake/eye contact/greeting; and (2) I get to assess how their day is going.  Are they ill, upset, or happy?
  2. Good Things– Doing “Good Things” at the beginning of every class is a way to teach teens how to reframe and learn to look for the good in life. Often, teenagers have a hard time looking at all the goodness that is going on around them. “Good Things” starts the class off in a positive way, and I get to learn about their lives outside of my classroom. It is a way for us to interact in a non-academic sense, and it lets them know I am interested in what is going on in their world. I usually allocate the first five minutes of class for this activity, and start with, “Tell me something good.”
  3. Authenticity- Be your authentic self. Teachers are humans too, so if you are having a bad day, say so. Or if you said something that you later regretted, apologize. OWN YOUR STUFF. Let them know how you feel. The kids will appreciate it, and you will be modeling appropriate adult behavior.
  4. Push, Pull and Drag- You know that time of year — usually right after winter break — when all of a sudden your students quit doing ANYthing? Don’t give up on them even when they give up on themselves. Explain to them that you believe in them and know they can do it. It may not change their behavior in the end, but they will remember what you said.
  5. Social Contract– Every year, the first week of school, every class creates a “social contract.” This contract is comprised of student designed rules based on how we all want to be treated. It also addresses how we handle conflict and violations of the agreed contract. I have used this strategy for more than a decade, and it works because the students have buy-in.
  6. Compassion– This seems intuitive, but it is worth saying: have compassion for others and yourself. Remember what it was like being a teenager, a thousand years ago? If you do, then tap into that self and find some compassion for your students…then show it now and again. They will appreciate it.
  7. Be fair and consistent – This one’s a biggie for me. I strive to be fair because I have felt the sting of what felt like “unfair,” and it wasn’t pleasant. Try not to have favorite students. . .or not so favorite students. Teenagers will loudly proclaim one another as the teacher’s pet. We are human, and there is always that one kid, but try to practice fairness and consistency.

I am sure there are a million other ways to build healthy relationships with teenagers. This is what works for me. If you asked around you’d probably hear that I am a tough teacher, and that would be true. I have high standards and high expectations, but I also have a relationship with my students.  I contend that it is a major factor in how well they perform academically.

One of my students wrote a note to me during teacher appreciation week this year. It read, “You are one of the best teachers I’ve ever had…You don’t take crap from anyone and you genuinely care about all us (sic) kids…” I think this embodies my classroom management style. It makes me smile that they know what I’m doing, even if they don’t like it sometimes.

I have students return to my classroom every year from college to tell me how they are doing. It is gratifying to know we have such an impact on these young people and that they love us enough to come back and say hello. I honestly think that building relationships with young people is the key to great classroom management and to great teaching. You have to win them.

Engaging Families Through APTT

Engaging Families Through APTT

Have you ever been faced with the challenge of increasing parent engagement in student learning? Have you ever thought “If I could only make parents understand how important their support in learning is”?  Well, then APTT is something well-worth learning about.

APTT is an acronym for the Academic Parent Teacher Team program developed by WestEd. The purpose of APTT is to increase student learning support at home.  Don’t let the “parent” in Academic Parent Teacher Team fool you, the goal of APTT is to build support for the student from the whole family.

The New Mexico Public Education Department sponsored the pilot program in six schools in the state in the second semester of the 2016-17 school year. The APTT model consists of 4 meetings throughout the year: team meeting 1 in early fall, an individual meeting in late fall, team meeting 2 in winter, and team meeting 3 in spring.  Each team meeting follows an agenda of team building, teaching foundational grade level skills, sharing data, model and practice activities, and goal setting.  The individual meeting is a chance to discuss student progress, much like a traditional conference.  The PowerPoint presentations for all of the team meetings are provided for you by WestEd.

My elementary school was selected as one of the six schools to pilot the program.  There were five people on the school leadership team: the principal, counselor, a kindergarten teacher, a fifth-grade teacher, and a Title 1 district coach.  We attended a two-day kick-off meeting, along with the other 5 schools in the pilot program, in Albuquerque.  There we were able to prepare and plan for the implementation of the program.

Since we were starting the meetings later in the year, we held an initial team meeting and a final team meeting, skipping the individual meeting and the second team meeting. At my school, participation in the initial roll-out of the program was voluntary.  Three kindergarten classes, a first-grade class, a second-grade class, and the departmentalized 5th grade participated in the program.  Each teacher decided on a learning goal that could be assessed and tracked from the first meeting to the last meeting.  Teachers also had to decide on supporting activities for the learning goal.  Teachers had the option to choose one or two goals and a total of two activities. At the meetings, parents participated in an ice-breaker or team building activity, they were provided with class data along with a confidential student number for individual student data, given materials for the activities modeled and practiced in the meeting, they made a commitment to working with their student at home, and they set goals for their students.

I had 58% of parents attend the first meeting and 63% of parents attend the second meeting. I had some parents not attend the second meeting that attend the first, and some parents who were unable to attend the first meeting who attended the second meeting. My decided learning goal was high frequency words. Those students whose parents attended both meetings showed increases of no less than double the number of words from the first meeting to the second meeting. Students from every ability group were represented. Some students had over three times the number of words growth.

Feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive. They enjoyed talking to the other parents, valued the information they received, especially the ability to see how their student compared to the rest of the class, and they appreciated having the materials to take home, ready to use. Many reported that their students looked forward to playing the games and activities at home and kept the parents committed to practicing the skills.

Feedback from teachers who participated in the initial roll-out has also been positive. Teachers felt that they were able to communicate with families on a much deeper level than traditional conferences. They also liked the fact that they were giving the parents the tools they needed to support their students at home. My school plans on continuing APTT for the 17-18 school year, with the expectation of school-wide participation. We will be able to implement the program in its entirety, all three team meetings and the individual meeting.

When I started writing this post, I had to decide what I was going to include. There is so much to write about: the process, the outstanding support, the meetings, student achievement, parent feedback, and it’s all so positive! This post only begins to break the surface. In my teaching career, there have only been two systems, programs, methods, what have you, that I have supported this strongly. I am excited to see what next year holds for APTT and my school. If you are looking for a way to engage families, create a partnership with parents/families, and increase student learning, APTT should be at the top of your list. Academic Parent Teacher Teams give the parents the data, the knowledge, and the tools to successfully bridge the distance between school and home, and support student learning.

Please see the APTT_Brochure for additional information.  You can also reach out to our Family Outreach Coordinator  Gloria Ruiz at Gloria.Ruiz@state.nm.us with any further inquiries.

From Homelessness to the Classroom

From Homelessness to the Classroom

An attentive, compassionate, and understanding teacher can be a powerful advocate for homeless students. For a homeless student, school is a safe space, but beyond that, a caring teacher provides security, stability, and hope.  It may seem impossible to provide a homeless child with all they need; however a teacher’s support and guidance can positively impact the child’s future.

Identifying a homeless student may not always be simple. Homelessness can mean living on the streets, in a vehicle, abandoned building, in a shelter, a family member’s house, a friend’s house, motel, or hotel. A family that is homeless lacks permanent living conditions.  They could become displaced at any time due to different circumstances.  A homeless student may exhibit noteworthy characteristics such as absenteeism, tardiness, lack of hygiene, or lethargy.  Alternately, students that are homeless may show no signs at all.  Homelessness interventions are usually confidential, and unless the teacher or school is informed, the homeless child may not be easily identified.

Teachers can become a beacon of support for homeless students. Differentiation in the classroom means to integrate a variety of teaching strategies, learning styles, and groupings. For children that are homeless, differentiation and flexibility are vital to their success.  Homeless students may lack the space to complete homework assignments. Teachers that notice a child with difficulty returning assignments may choose to allow the student to complete tasks in class, section the work into smaller quantities, or provide alternative assignments.  Handwritten assignments need to be allowed unless the time is provided in class to research and type.  Referring students to centers that provide computer use and internet access are not always an option if the student’s family lacks transportation or the time to get to the centers.

A homeless family may not always inform the school about their situation; therefore by having a well structured classroom, students can feel a sense of stability and reassurance. This begins by creating a welcoming classroom atmosphere.  Create classroom norms that show respect and dignity for all. Allow students to be an essential part of classroom procedures.  Provide choice in assignments that allow students’ products to represent their academic understanding.  Integrate opportunities in instruction for students to present their aptitudes.  Spelling contests, literacy festivals, and art shows are great opportunities for students to become involved and feel accomplished.  Best teaching practices not only improve academic understanding, but may be an integral and life changing part of a homeless student’s future.

Homelessness is a topic I speak of from personal experience.  Throughout the initial years of elementary school, I found refuge in a family friend’s house, a family member’s house, a motel, and a family shelter. This was a blessing compared to staying at a stranger’s house or a park, which we had done as well.

Last year, I had the opportunity to share my story. My story was shared in response to the popular question, “What inspired you to become a teacher?” My journey through homelessness came about as it does for many families.  Due to lack of employment for my mother, we were forced to move from the city of El Paso, Texas. When I was five years old, we made our first move to Pueblo, Colorado, with the help of an acquaintance. Arriving to this new place provided little reassurance. It became dangerous, and soon we found ourselves in a public park with nowhere to go. My mother was afraid to ask for help, fearing we would be taken from her due to her immigration status. We spent the night at the park.

God-sent strangers provided us a place to stay, and after a few weeks, I was registered to attend school. Meeting my very first teacher had a profound impact on me. I still remember the respect she demonstrated toward my mother and me.  She was attentive and allowed me to speak Spanish in a class of predominately English speaking students. She also took the time to work with me individually.  This is when I decided I wanted to become a teacher.  I would have a job and place to live.  I thought teachers lived at school.

Unfortunately, employment for my mother continued to be a problem. My teacher was the one to give me the news that my mother had gone to the school to report we were moving. At the end of the school day, she personally walked me home. Our family was soon off to Dallas, Texas where one of my aunts lived and could help out. A couple of months went by and my mother was laid off from work, and once again, we were on our way back to El Paso, Texas.

Needless to say, the return was no comfort. We stayed at a family friend’s house, but the situation at that home was no place for children. Due to these circumstances we ended up living at the Salvation Army for three months. My childhood dream of becoming a teacher was solidified; I could not allow these short lived years to represent the rest of my life.

Throughout my elementary school years, we continued moving and finally arrived in the town of Anthony, New Mexico. This became a safe haven thanks to the innovative 6th grade teacher that I was lucky enough to have. This teacher was ahead of her time. She provided guided instruction, learning opportunities, considered students’ learning styles, and differentiated to meet student needs. Seeing her, and being in her class emphasized in me once again the need to become a teacher. She took notice, and would often ask me what I wanted to be in the future. I loved going into her class and having support, stability, and understanding. At the end of the school year she wrote her students a note.  I continue to hold on to mine as a reminder of what a difference one teacher can make.