Category: Guest Posts

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Dear Teachers of New Mexico’s Kids,

It’s been nearly seven years since we first started this journey together in New Mexico. And it’s been a joy and the utmost privilege to serve under Governor Susana Martinez and serve our great state. During this time, we’ve accomplished and fundamentally changed public education in New Mexico.  Together, we now have systems for providing great information for families, communities and educators—and there are unprecedented supports for students and educators to close gaps and provide access and opportunity for all.  Most importantly, we’ve established a new trajectory for success for every child regardless of zip code or circumstance.

While there are always lessons learned looking back, and while recognizing the work for our kids is never done looking forward, I am truly grateful to each one of you who has championed your kids and communities, managed and embraced change for kids in a relatively short amount of time, and continue to fight for all that is possible for your students. Please know that I will continue to support this work and cheer you on and whole-heartedly wish the best for you and the students and families you serve.  Thank you for your commitment, your partnership, and your willingness to put our kids first.

As leaders you know that you are only as good as your team. I am humbled by the team at the PED. It has been a privilege to serve alongside them in doing this work. They have given their hearts and lives with passion and purpose. I am proud of them and proud of what they will continue to do. Specifically, I am excited about passing the baton to Christopher Ruszkowski, my successor. He is as committed to kids and their success as anyone I have ever known. He will not only keep fighting the good fight, he will build on the strong foundation New Mexico has and make it even stronger. If you do not already know CR and the amazing team here at the PED, please know just how deeply they are committed to serving our state and our kids.

It has been an honor. Thank you for the opportunity to serve alongside of you. I wish you the very best going forward and know without a shadow of a doubt that you will continue to do great things!

With gratitude,
Hanna

This letter was originally shared with New Mexico teachers via email from Secretary Skandera on June 20, 2017.

GUEST POST: Teachers as Leaders, Yes We Can!

GUEST POST: Teachers as Leaders, Yes We Can!

When I first heard the modern iteration of the term ‘Teacher Leadership’ at the National Board’s annual Teaching and Learning Conference, my first cynical thought was, “Here They go again… trying to get us to do more work for less money.”   Three years later, I’ve come to believe strongly that teacher leadership is the key to creating a modern, effective American educational system.

Like many experienced teachers, I was a teacher leader before that became a catch phrase.  Almost 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a cadre of ‘Literacy Leaders’ in my district.  There were 12 of us.  Our mission was to disseminate the research on how to teach reading.  It was exciting to be a part of this cohort and it was exciting to bring the teachers at my school together for the first time to discuss our practice and how to make it better.  The week-long summer training I led changed the culture at our school from one of isolation to one of collaboration.

Teachers volunteer at their schools because they want to help their peers be the best they can be for the good of their students.  Often these leaders move on into administrative positions because that is the only opportunity they see to extend their reach.  Many feel the need to expand their impact by formalizing their authority. Unfortunately, too many of these teacher leaders are unhappy in their roles as administrators.  They miss the life of the classroom.  They don’t feel their new roles give them the access they hoped for.  And they are right.  Teachers are more often influenced to improve their practice by other teachers whom they trust and respect.

This is where the true power of teacher leadership lies. Great teachers who improve collaborative practices within schools impact instruction far more than the conventional professional development.  The support that is most needed to improve their teaching is much more involved and intimate than the typical teacher training session.  Strong teachers, who receive training in coaching and adult learning theory, as well as, leading collaborative teams, can help build a culture of ongoing collaborative learning and professional practice in schools.  In this way highly effective teachers can lead courageous change leading to remarkable improvement in student learning.

Since ‘teacher leadership’ has become a movement, there are now a variety of models of teacher leadership around the country.  One is the hybrid role, where teachers teach part of the day and mentor or coach the other part.  In Albuquerque Public Schools, some teacher leaders are full time school-based Instructional Coaches.  Recently, organizations such as Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence have recruited exceptional educators and supported them in influencing policy and school reform in their states.  Teach Plus Fellows recently and successfully advocated for changes to our evaluation system.  The Secretary of Education’s Teacher Advisory is another such advocacy group that the PED started last year.  Both programs will be seeking applicants for new cohorts this summer. Other teachers seek advanced training or National Board Certification and work to help others achieve the same.  Perhaps the most powerful example of teacher leadership has been in the ‘Teacher Led Schools’ movement that has so far been stunningly successful.

New Mexico started its own innovative teacher leadership initiative with the Teacher Leader Network. This network began with 50 high performing teachers who went through a rigorous selection process.  They are brought together in person for 5 full day leadership trainings.  They take part in monthly webinars so they are kept abreast of current information from the the Public Education Department so that they can share it directly with their peers.  The state Public Education Department plans to expand this program so that every school in New Mexico has a designated teacher leader as part of the network.  As a tool for communication, this could yield powerful dividends, especially if the people who lead the Public Education Department make it a venue for not only dispersing information but also as a way to find out what teachers really need and want from our education leaders.  As a way to improve instruction among the rank and file, this network could have profound impact if the teacher leaders are able build trust, and establish collaborative processes in their schools.

If you are a teacher who wants to see some changes in our system, get involved!  Stay on the lookout for opportunities to apply for fellowships and leadership positions.  These opportunities are becoming increasingly more common.  Become National Board Certified, our state is one of the few in which you can receive a healthy stipend for this important achievement.  National Board Certification can open other doors as a leader in our profession.  If you are already National Board Certified consider attending our spring Leadership and advocacy training that will take place in Albuquerque in early June.

My own journey as a teacher leader taught me that teachers in New Mexico still need way more support than they generally receive. They feel powerless to change some of the circumstances within which they work, which leads to increased stress and a too high attrition rate.  In the fall, I will be working towards a Master’s Degree in Educational Policy so I can increase the capacity of teacher leaders in New Mexico. Investing in teacher leaders who create more support for teachers is money well spent.  As teacher leaders we can and must raise our voices to influence public policy in support of our teachers and our schools.

Guest Post: What You Can Expect From the 2nd Annual New Mexico Teacher Summit

Guest Post: What You Can Expect From the 2nd Annual New Mexico Teacher Summit

Looking back on the 1st Annual Teacher Summit and anticipating this second summit surfaces feelings of excitement and exhaustion.  I have taught in public education for twenty years, and this last year has shifted my perspective on education immensely, in large part due to last year’s teacher summit.  I really had no expectations last July, I did know I had a chance to spend some time at a nice hotel in ABQ during my summer break, and it was almost an accident that I applied to attend.  Typically, in the summer I do not check my school email regularly, so by chance I happened to see the invitation from Alicia Duran to this event and gave it a try.

I distinctly remember heading down to lunch the first morning and seeing a man at an information booth for a group called Teach Plus.  We exchanged eye contact and I continued to walk on by as it was time for lunch and the opening presentation.  During the opening session the conference layout and break-out sessions were introduced, and I learned that Teach Plus was a program for teachers who were interested in becoming involved in education policy decisions.  I then had to ask myself “Do teachers even do that kind of stuff?”  Yes, as a member of the first Teach Plus cohort in New Mexico, I now know teachers can and need to be involved in policy decisions that are made because they affect our classrooms. After the opening session, I returned to that booth and started asking more questions about Teach Plus.  I learned at that time that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was going to replace NCLB and teachers had the opportunity under this new federal law to participate in making decisions that would affect the future of New Mexico education policy.

Learning about education policy has led to policy related conversations with staff from the Public Education Department, members of the New Mexico legislature and the teachers unions. There have been training sessions provided by experts on ESSA, and great opportunities to network and work with teachers that have similar interests in education policy.  It  has also allowed more contact with Alicia Duran who in December extended an invitation for me to meet the U. S. Secretary of Education, John King, for a round table discussion regarding education policy.

This Summit also led me to apply for the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network, which has 50 teachers from around the state that network and communicate directly with the PED. The vision for this network is to eventually have a teacher leader in every school in every district in the state of New Mexico.  This will provide a contact person to communicate information directly to teachers, which is always a struggle in this state.

What opportunities will be presented to teachers this year?

That is what you get to find out this summer at the 2nd Annual New Mexico Teacher Summit. We hope to see you there!

This guest post was written by Joel Hutchinson, a teacher at Centennial High School in Las Cruces and member of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.

GUEST POST: My Experience on the 2017 New Mexico Dream Team

GUEST POST: My Experience on the 2017 New Mexico Dream Team

On most days I leave my school to make an hour drive home and reflect on my day in my classroom.  I ask myself if I could have done something better and I usually beat myself up the entire drive home.  Sometimes, I feel I’m not teaching like I should even though I’m doing the best job I can and pouring my heart into my students.  Although I am labeled as an exemplary teacher, I doubt my ability and at times, think I should walk away from teaching.

This school year (2016-2017) I was chosen to be a part of the 2017 New Mexico Dream Team.  I can honestly say that it changed my thinking and rejuvenated my love for teaching. The experience reminded me why I’m a teacher.  Serving on the Dream Team allowed me to discover valuable tools to improve literacy and design rigorous lessons to improve the learning levels of my students in the classroom. Most importantly, being on the Dream Team introduced me to a group of elite teachers that have the same thoughts and feelings I was having.  Coming together with other teachers and sharing ideas and formulating strategies to improve literacy for our students has been an amazing experience. The doubts that I had in my ability as a teacher were removed and I feel that I am making a difference in the classroom.   I feel better equipped to teach close reading and design lessons with rigor to help students gain a deeper understanding of the text. I became a more confident teacher through the Dream Team training and the feedback from my colleagues.

At the beginning of this school year I had decided this would be my last year of teaching.  I no longer feel that way.  Talking to other teachers I realized that we all have self-doubt about out teaching ability and that we only have these doubts because we care so much about being great teachers.  I have since changed my mind about leaving the teaching profession and rediscovered why I’m a teaching… Not because I have to, but because I want to!

This guest post was written by Deanna Walker, a teacher in Maxwell Municipal Schools and a member of the 2017 New Mexico Literacy Dream Team.

GUEST POST: Kids (and Teachers) Just Wanna Have Fun

GUEST POST: Kids (and Teachers) Just Wanna Have Fun

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”

                                           Mary Poppins

Do you ever wish you could be more like that fun and effective nanny, Mary Poppins? She knew that the secret to helping her young charges succeed was injecting a little fun into their chores and lives.

When we think about the increasing demands on us as teachers, we may ask “where is the fun?” After all, we are tasked with the seemingly impossible. We must cover all the standards, increase depth of knowledge through questioning, incorporate formative assessment into each lesson, prepare all students to pass standardized tests, provide and track interventions in the classroom, differentiate instruction for all learners, meet weekly with colleagues to analyze data, communicate with parents though online platforms……Whew! The list is endless. New expectations for accountability, rigor, and communication make teaching an even more challenging profession. Rookie and veteran teachers alike can feel overwhelmed.

Of all the questions we ask of our teaching, the most important one is, “how can we incorporate joy into the classroom – for ourselves and for our students?” Why is this an essential question? Because if we aren’t having fun, our students certainly aren’t having fun. As adult learners, we know that being relaxed opens us up to new ideas and improved learning. Anyone who has observed a group of children at play knows that this is even more important for our young learners.

When I left the business world to become a teacher, I tapped into my creative side for perhaps the first time in my life. I witnessed the innate creativity of my fifth-grade students and worked to develop lessons that brought that out. Over the years, I have built on this and found a few strategies to infuse fun into the “work” of school. Whenever I feel like I am not having fun, I remember my early years in the classroom and how happy and privileged I felt to work with young people. Now, in our new landscape of high-stakes testing, I find it extremely important to add some fun every day. Here are seven of my tips for having fun:

  1. Start the day with a smile.
    I like to greet each student at the door with a smile and a handshake to start the day. This can create a joyful tone for the day and help me check in with each child. Students can also check in with their buddy before class starts. High fives, turn-and-talk pep talks, and secret handshakes can bring out a smile and put everyone in a happy state.
  2. Use games to teach.
    Learning games are an easy way to lighten the mood in the classroom. Students are engaged, communicative, and they don’t always know they are “working.”
  3. Be a little dramatic.
    Someone once told me that every teacher should take a drama class, and I agree. Even if you are on the quiet side, find ways to surprise your class with unexpected entrances or actions. I have stood on a desk to teach math, cracked eggs over my head when demonstrating how to give directions, and worn a picture frame around my neck to silently remind students to “frame” their sentences.
  4. Use music to direct the day.
    I can’t teach without music – big, loud music. I attribute this to my training from Eric Jensen in the importance of changing our students’ states in order to keep them alert and able to learn. This strategy for brain-based learning comes with a built-in element: FUN! Pick a theme for the day (Disco Day is my favorite) and turn on the music while students walk around the room and touch five gold things before returning to their seats. Everyone is smiling and dancing and ready for the next activity.
  5. Play with your students.
    Tap into your inner child and join your students in their games. Get in line for 4-square, jump in to the jump rope game, pick up a basketball in the pick-up game. Show off your hula hoop skills (if you still have them). Your students will appreciate that you know how to have fun, and it will carry back into the classroom.
  6. Designate a fun, role-playing day.
    Give everyone a chance to have some fun by transforming the classroom into a historical period. For example, I used to have a Colonial Day every year in second grade where we would all come in costume and re-enact colonial school practices. Then we would participate in craft stations and deepen our understanding of the time period.
  7. Give students choice – and breaks.
    Find ways to let students choose their activities. During Writing Workshop, allow them to illustrate and embellish their stories at a publishing center. Build in short breaks in the classroom so they can extend their learning by using the materials available.

Remember that our goal is to develop thinking skills, not to cram information into our students. The more fun we are having, the more we are open to new learning. This is true for our students and for us. To channel Mary Poppins, we want to learn “in the most delightful way!”

This guest post was submitted by New Mexico Teacher Leader Ambassador, Leslie Baker. Leslie is a literacy teacher at Taos Charter School in Taos, NM. 
GUEST POST: On the Verge of “Teacher Tired” and the NMTLN

GUEST POST: On the Verge of “Teacher Tired” and the NMTLN

Dear Teacher,

I know.  It’s late in winter. The sky is mostly absent of sunshine and the cold is settling into your bones. You have too many papers to grade, at least one third of the students in your class are sick with some contagion—yet they continue to come to school, another classroom observation is pending, and statewide testing is looming in front of you like a huge black hole that you are certain will suck you in and not let you go.  I know.  I’m right there with you.  I know you are on the verge of ‘teacher-tired,’ and the middle of the year ‘teacher blues’ are settling in.  I also know that the last thing you really want to do is think about the NMPED or any of the coming expectations in education connected with ESSA or state legislation surrounding education. I. KNOW.

These were all the burdens I carried with me when I drove to Santa Fe the evening of January 11th. I was TIRED.  And even though I was humbled and excited for the upcoming New Mexico Teacher Leader Network  gathering I had been chosen to participate in, I was also feeling a bit pessimistic, and if I’m honest, skeptical about the notion of one more ‘training’ hosted by the NMPED.  You see, as a 16 year NM teacher veteran, I had little faith that day in the PED’s ability to entertain or inform me to a level that I would find helpful or beneficial enough to justify the hours of prepping I had to do to be gone from my classroom for two full days.

That Wednesday evening of January 11th as I made the3.5 hour drive from Texico to the state capital, I spent my time in quiet reflection about what I hoped to take away from this upcoming ‘leader’ journey.  Teaching isn’t easy. You know this. It requires a certain mixture of intentionality and magic with a smidge of planning and a healthy dose of love that can be exhausting. Combine all of these elements, and the idea of adding one more thing to the mix is enough to send even the most seasoned and vibrant teacher over the edge and into, as Dr. Seuss calls them, those ‘not-so-nice places’.   And even though I was humbled by the selection, I wasn’t yet fully committed to the process, but I was also really curious about what the PED’s intentions were with this committee of 50 teachers, so I promised myself to give it my best, albeit tired teacher, effort!

Fast forward to today as I write this blog entry. Wow.  Just. WOW.  I stand corrected.  I am also restored in my belief that our state is FULL of dedicated educators who value and esteem teachers.  I spent those two cold days in Santa Fe surrounded by teachers and policy educators who are filled with a warmth and genuine love of teaching that any educator would be proud to associate with and learn from together. Not only did the New Mexico Public Education Department pull off a stellar event that championed and valued teachers in our state, they also owned up to previous mistakes in communication, preparation, and planning with regard to many of the changes that have been rolled out over the past 3 years in our school districts and classrooms.  That is important. Recognizing past mistakes and failures and owning responsibility in those incidents is important to me.  Many times over the last three years I felt unappreciated and demeaned. The NMPED owned their part in fostering those feelings. They were humble and candid about mistakes that were made, and earnest in a desire to create a solid bridge between teachers and the state department of education. The atmosphere was one of genuine authenticity and a deep desire to establish a rapport with teachers to enable effective communication and respect. I wouldn’t tell you this if I didn’t honestly believe the intention in their actions was genuine and aimed toward empowering teachers with a voice at the statewide level.

In reflecting upon my experience and what I am taking away from this new journey I’ve embarked upon, I now understand that as a teacher leader it is my responsibility to work with and share information and understandings with my fellow district colleagues in order to grow and build a mutual trust and respect between New Mexico teachers and the PED.  I mean, when you think about what we do every day, the reality is, that should be one of our primary areas of focus as educators.  My role as a NMTLN ambassador is to help build a bridge between all stakeholders so that NM students have the best possible learning journey we can offer.  Do I think this will happen immediately? No, absolutely not.  All good things take time to grow, but I’m optimistic that with the proper attention and care, the seeds of communication that were planted during those two days in Santa Fe will flourish into a strong connection between those who hold the future of the state—our kids—in their hearts.

I would love to talk to anyone who has questions or concerns about what I learned and know as a NMTLN ambassador.

Good things are happening, y’all.

Dawn Bilbrey
8th Grade ELA/US History
Texico Middle School
Texico, NM

GUEST POST: REFLECTIONS ON THE 2016 TEACHER SUMMIT

GUEST POST: REFLECTIONS ON THE 2016 TEACHER SUMMIT

There is no question that the last few years in education — with their myriad of changes in standards, testing and teaching evaluations, and all the debates that went with them — have sometimes made teachers feel hard pressed to stay on top of everything being asked of them.

Through it all, we used each other as sounding boards for ideas on how to adopt Common Core, how to prepare kids for PARCC and for how to upload those NMTeach artifacts. And we also did plenty of griping about those responsible (read Secretary Hanna Skandera).

So when I found out about the recent New Mexico Teacher Summit and that it would provide the opportunity to ask some of the burning questions that have come up over the last few years, I jumped at the chance. And I was not disappointed.

No, I didn’t convince Secretary Skandera to dump the evaluation system or get rid of EOCs. But I did find out that she and her staff are open to, and actually want, feedback from teachers in order to improve those systems.

In every session I attended, from NMTeach 101 to an introduction to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, our presenters invited questions and did their best to answer them honestly. And they didn’t sugarcoat the problems or why they chose their solutions. I also got the chance to hear from tons of smart, talented teachers from across the state. It was clear they care about kids and want our schools to serve them better.

I also learned more about the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory, a group of 17 teachers from across New Mexico who are doing their best to present our perspective to Secretary Skandera and report back to those of us on the ground. There are also plans to form a larger group of teacher leaders who will hopefully translate all that state policy to those of us who are too busy planning lessons to pay attention to every change coming our way.

It would be a lie to say that I came away completely convinced of every move Secretary Skandera and her staff have made recently. I still think we can get better at helping kids and supporting teachers. But I can say that as teachers we can’t sit idly by complaining. We need to jump in there with our own ideas and solutions, from policy on down to classroom practice.

The New Mexico Teacher Summit was a valuable first step in empowering teachers to be a part of the process. I wait eagerly to find out what becomes of all the opinions and ideas that teachers shared over the summit’s two days. And I can’t wait until next year.

John Sena is an English teacher at Española Valley High School

Recap of the 2016 Teacher Summit

Recap of the 2016 Teacher Summit

Coming into this new role directly from the classroom, I knew one thing to be certain. Teachers like me must feel valued as professionals and have access to the information needed to best serve our students.

On July 19 and 20, I, along with, the teachers who make up the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory and the Public Education Department, hosted the inaugural New Mexico Teacher Summit. This two-day event equipped, empowered, and championed over 300 teachers from around the state bringing to fruition that which I knew to be certain; teachers must feel valued and have information.

Through 4 general sessions and 39 break-out sessions, the Summit left teachers feeling like their voices were heard, afforded them access to meaningful professional development, and elevated their spirits by being celebrated as professionals.

Thanks to the outpouring of support, you don’t have to take my word for it. I want to share a few words from my peers who attended this powerful event.

“I learned so much and I feel empowered to move forward this next year. Thank you so much for the NM Teachers Summit. I was awestruck by the shift in the narrative surrounding education. I am excited to be a part of what is coming.”
Michelle Baber, Middle School Teacher in Farmington, NM

“Thank you for the Summit! I feel so energized and excited by all the connections I made there and all the GREAT workshops.”
Gretchen Vanketesh, Middle School Teacher in Santa Fe, NM

“Thank you for insisting that the NM Teachers Summit take place. The conversations have started, and thanks to your work, the doors of communication are now open.”
Jenifer Hooten, High School Charter School Teacher in Santa Fe, NM

“I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to attend this first (of hopefully many) New Mexico Teacher Summits. Everyone there agreed that as a whole the teachers finally felt like we had a voice and were being heard.”
Tina Hudson, Elementary School Teacher in Bloomfield, NM

“I was super impressed that our vision of getting teachers to start the school year off on a positive, energizing way seemed to work! Secretary Skandera has really listened to us, and I, personally, feel valued.”
Kevin Balder- Secretary’s Teacher Advisory Member & High School Teacher in Albuquerque, NM

The Summit was met with resounding enthusiasm and positivity. Teachers who attended the Summit left with excitement and energy to begin the upcoming school year.

As the Teacher Liaison for the Public Education Department and a teacher straight out of the classroom, I had a vision for this event as a pivotal step in elevating the teaching profession. Going forward, I will remind teachers of how valued and important they are. I will work to improve the communication between the PED and teachers around the state. I will share opportunities for teachers to feel equipped, empowered, and championed in our profession. The inaugural New Mexico Teacher Summit was just the first step in this mission to further support teachers in our state.

But, I know that I can’t do it alone. I will need the help of teachers across the state to help and I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to meet so many of you at the Summit. I look forward to our continued collaboration as I move forward in my mission to Equip, Empower and Champion.

To all those who attended, thank you! We look forward to seeing you next year!

Alicia Duran
Secretary’s Teacher Advisory Member, High School Teacher in Albuquerque