Tag: Classroom Practice

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight-John McElhinney

New Mexico Teacher Spotlight-John McElhinney

The most meaningful part of teaching is setting high expectations for my students while encouraging and inspiring them to set goals for themselves as they grow from being a unique participant  in a community of learners into an active contributor in our society.

John McElhinney was born and raised in New Jersey. After graduating from high school in 1987, he joined the United State Marine Corps. He spent the majority of his service in Irving, California,(Marine Aviation Logistic Squadron). 

After the Marines, John moved back to the East Coast and matriculated at the University of Delaware. At Delaware, John majored in history, and also took anthropology and archeology courses. It was during one of these courses, that he became interested in the culture and people of New Mexico. He spent two weeks in New Mexico camping and hiking in the summer of 94. But it would be another thirteen years before he returned to visit his sister in Albuquerque, and six more until it became his permanent home.

After graduating from Delaware in 1995, John worked for two corporations, but did not feel fulfilled from his work. In the summer of 1997, John started his master’s degree in education at Monmouth University, and quickly realized this was his passion. It was at this time John combined another passion of his with teaching. Traveling! John completed his student teaching in Nacka, Sweden, and thus began years teaching abroad in such places as Italy, Korea, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

 Since returning to the United States in 2013, he spent one year teaching in Albuquerque, and is currently completing his third year teaching in Raton, New Mexico, as a third grade teacher.

 Utilizing his many experiences abroad and lessons learned from his parents, John also brings compassion, energy, enthusiasm, and the desire to be  a lifelong learner to the classroom.

 

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 NM Teacher Summit: Call For Presenters

2018 NM Teacher Summit: Call For Presenters

2018 NM TEACHER SUMMIT

CALL for PRESENTERS PHASE 1

The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) is seeking creative and innovative presenters for the Third Annual NM Teacher Summit which will take place at the Albuquerque Convention Center from June 18-19, with a projected attendance of 1350 participants. The 2018 Teacher Summit theme is Teaching with Purpose.

Phase 1 of the call for presenters will remain open until Friday, March 23, 2018. Applicants that are chosen for Phase 2 are required to submit presentation materials by Friday, April 20, 2018. The process is described below.

CLICK HERE TO APPLY TO PRESENT AT THE THIRD ANNUAL NM TEACHER SUMMIT!

Process:

February 10—March 23:

Phase 1 submission window

March 23—March 31:   

Phase 1 submission review

April 5:   

Notification of acceptance to Phase 2; request for presentation materials

April 5—April 20:

Phase 2 presentation materials submission window

April 20—April 30:

Phase 2 submission review

May 4:  

Notification of presentation slot(s)

May 25:  

Final presentation PPT and hand-outs (if applicable) due to NMPED

Presentation topics:

Applicants are invited to choose a topic within their skill set and area of expertise. The topic should be relevant and applicable to New Mexico teachers’ classroom practice. The NMPED will support presenters with data and expertise, as needed. Below are a few suggested topics* that presenters may choose from:

·         Your content area or area of expertise ·         Native/Tribal Students
·         Classroom Practice ·         Special Education
·         Education Policy ·         Family Engagement
·         Teacher Leadership ·         Planning & Preparation
·         Assessments/Data to Drive Instruction ·         Formative & Short-Cycle Assessment
·         English Learners ·         Creating an Environment for Learning
·         *Any other topic or area of expertise

Session formats:

Teaching for Learning Sessions 90-Minutes—PreK-12 classroom methods, strategies, and techniques. This format allows enough time to teach a unit, include a make-n-take or other hands-on activities, use grouping techniques, etc.
Moderated Panels 60-minutes—a moderated panel of experts focused on current public education topics, initiatives, or policy. This format allows for the presenter to interview or lead a Q & A of panel of experts. The NMPED will support the presenter with the selection of panel members, if needed.
Information Sharing 60-minutes—a presentation or mini-lesson with Q & A time. This format allows for a presenter to model teaching practices during a presentation or mini-lesson.
The Learning Lounge 10-15 minutes—informal teaching and sharing by community partners, district & school leaders, or teachers at tables and in lounge areas before conference begins on Day 1 & Day 2.

Instructions for completing & submitting your application:

  1. Review the Blooms-Taxonomy-Teacher-Planning-Kit resource and use it as a guide when framing your submission.
  2. Review the 2018 Teacher Summit Proposal Rubric.
  3. Complete the Google Form Call for Presenters Application. (Google form submits automatically.)

Please note: Presenters and facilitators accepted through the voluntary call for presenters Phase 1 & 2 will be provided hotel accommodations for night of Monday June 18th. Accepted presenters/facilitators will also receive complimentary registration and are welcome to have lunch/dinner when provided during the Summit.

 

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

The Release of School Grades

School Grades were recently released to the public.

Our school accountability system has earned a lot of praise for being clear and understandable for families—and this year our reports are even more family friendly following our yearlong ESSA tour. Check out the great coverage all over the state in the ABQ Journal, the Associated Press, KOAT, KOB, KRQE, the Deming Headlight, the Carlsbad Current Argus, the Farmington Daily News, and the Alamogordo Daily News.  The story on Gil Sanchez Elementary might be my favorite yet as we seek to identify and scale best practices across the state.

Background on School Grading

School Grading is part of state and federal statute that mandates accountability for all public schools.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally enacted in 1965, requires schools to show annual improvement in mathematics and reading. In 2011, New Mexico lawmakers enacted additional requirements that schools demonstrate progress through a grading system similar to that applied to students, A-B-C-D-F.

School Grades provide a consistent measure (now over six years) for all public schools across the state so that we can see which schools are doing well and which schools are struggling and need support.

Working for Success

Schools that embrace change, get results. School improvement is a CHOICE. Our districts and schools that continue to embrace change and new opportunities for kids are continuing to see success.

Our 15 largest districts are serving more than 60% of students in the state. The following large districts are examples of those that have embraced change over the years and are now showing strong improvements – not only increasing the number of “A” schools within their districts – but also by drastically reducing the amount of “F” schools within their districts:

  • Farmington has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 6% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   In 2012, Farmington had no “A” schools, today 37% of its schools are “A” schools

  • Gadsden has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 9% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 4%

  • Alamogordo has eliminated “F” schools.

o   In 2012, 13% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 14%

Our Students Deserve Better

Our most struggling students deserve better. Many of NM’s schools are not doing a good job serving their lowest performing students that are well below grade level in math and reading.

Here’s what we can do, together, about the growing divide of schools on the rise and those that are not making progress or are sliding backwards:

  1. When schools are struggling, they can choose to improve.  Over the past five years, New Mexico has invested significant resources and developed proven programs and that are getting results for kids.  Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE) and Teacher Pursuing Excellence (TPE) are two examples of those—school turnaround programs available for struggling schools that are ready to change and grow.
  2. Under NM’s top-rated State ESSA Plan, districts are required to take action when a school persistently earns “F’s” 4, 5 or 6 years in a row.  Several of New Mexico’s schools will be under the umbrella of the “More Rigorous Interventions” category—which requires district’s to choose a different path forward.
  3. When our kids are trapped in persistently failing schools, they have options under state law.  Students enrolled in schools that have earned two “F” grades in the last four years have the right to attend a different school.
  4. When charter schools are persistently “D” and “F”, the NM PED has a moral and educational responsibility to recommend to the Public Education Commission (PEC) that their charter be considered for revocation.

What You Can Do

The release of school grades can be an exciting time for some, but we also recognize it can be a sobering time for others.

If your school received a lower grade, put yourself in the shoes of a student who received a similar grade. What would you say to them? How would you encourage them? What immediate actions would you ask them to take? Give yourself (and any colleagues that need it) the same advice.

Once you’ve processed, here are easy and quick ways to start leaning in as a teacher, to lead toward improvement:

  1. Next time you see your principal, let them know you are ready and willing to help. Ask them what you can do to help improve!
  2. Dive into the full School Grade Report, not just the first page. Identify ONE thing to celebrate and ONE area for improvement.
  3. BE A GREAT TEACHER. Dive into your student level data, identify what your kiddos need and deliver. Your students can have a positive impact on the whole school’s grade.
  4. Last, but not least. Remember, we at the NM PED are here to help! We can provide a pick me up, encouragement or expert help! Just ask!

Hear It From Teachers

Check out what teachers around NM have to say about their school’s grade.

My school went from a D to a C….. we know we are moving up to a B next year!  We are positive! We are working harder than ever….. although our amazing principal did say in today’s meeting…. “It’s not about our grade, it’s about making sure we are preparing these students!”  So, in reality, our prayer and hope to move to a B, is just our journey and knowing we are doing everything we can to get these kiddos moving in the right direction!  Work hard…. 3 year old program- to our 6th grade programs. Just work hard!  Hurley Elementary School, Cobre Consolidated Schools

Deming Intermediate went from an F to being less than 2 points away from a C.  So proud of my school!!! Deming Intermediate School, Deming Public Schools

We went up, in both our elementary and middle school, from a D to a B!!!!!  Pretty dang proud of our students and staff! Eagle Nest Elementary and Middle School, Cimarron Public Schools

My school went from a D to a C. We as a school are prepared to work even harder to move up to a B or even an A. Colinas del Norte Elementary School, Rio Rancho Public Schools

Our little school went back up to an A as well. The staff is excited and so are the kids! Reserve High School, Reserve Public Schools

Our school moved up from a D to a C, missing a B by 5 points. We are determined to get that B or A next year. We are the largest school in SFPS with the highest ELL and Special Learning population in the district! We are so proud of our students and teachers! Capital High School, Santa Fe Public Schools

CTE: Save The Dates 2017-2018

CTE: Save The Dates 2017-2018

Career & Technical Educators:

Save the dates for the following student and teacher learning opportunities and stay informed this year through the CTSO websites!

2017-18 NM CTSO Conference Dates
October 23, 2017 CORE Leadership Conference Marriott Pyramid
February 1-3, 2018 Educators Rising State Conference Albuquerque
February 8-10, 2018 HOSA State Leadership Conference UNM Hospital
February 15-17, 2018 DECA Career Development Conference Hotel Albuquerque
February 22-24, 2018 BPA State Leadership Conference Marriott Pyramid
March 15-17, 2018 FCCLA State Leadership Conference Marriott Pyramid
March 23-24, 2018 TSA State Leadership Conference Los Lunas HS
March 28, 2018 FFA State Career Development Events NMSU
April 12-14, 2018 SkillsUSA State Leadership & Skills Conference Crowne Plaza
Top 10 Highlights of the NM Teacher Summit

Top 10 Highlights of the NM Teacher Summit

In case you missed it, June 26th and 27th marked our Second Annual NM Teacher Summit. The event was huge success with 1,000 teachers from all over the state coming together to celebrate one another and continue to grow in their craft and career.

Check out the 10 Ten things about the 2nd Annual Teacher Summit:

  1. 1,000 attendees

    This year, the summit grew to 3x the size of last year. It was a true joy to see 1,000 teachers gathered full of positivity and excitement! Two years ago, the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory said they wanted a summer conference, we would never have dreamed that just two years later we’d be standing on stage looking at a crowd of 1,000 teachers!

  2. Improved Communication

    In my role, I often hear from teachers that they feel “out of the loop”. I had many conversations over two days in which teachers said they finally feel like they know what is going on and feel included in the path ahead!

  3. Acting Secretary Ruszkowski’s first keynote address

    It was great to see Acting Secretary Ruszkowski deliver his first ever keynote address as Acting Secretary during the Summit’s opening session and to learn more about his personal story and passion for education. Later, he spent time in small group sessions with teachers answering tough questions with finesse and commitment. Teachers really enjoyed meeting one on one.

  4. New Teacher Leader Opportunities

    We shared so many opportunities for teachers to be change agents for education in New Mexico at the Summit. Teach Plus shared their application for the 2nd cohort of the New Mexico Teach Plus Fellowship. The New Mexico Literacy Dream Team shared the 36 close reading lesson plans and announced the launch of the 2nd New Mexico Dream Team which will focus on Social Studies. Stay tuned for the application. We also announced the expansion of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network and the 2nd Cohort of the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory. The 2nd Cohort of the STA will be selected by the end of the month and the application with for the expansion of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network will be out this Fall.

  5. Empowered Teachers 

    Through the course of the conference we were able to see teachers realize that they have so much power to impact change for their students and schools. I really enjoyed watching teachers lean into their power as teachers and begin to empower others.

  6. Secretary Skandera’s Final Interview with Romy Drucker from The 74 Million

    Although her last day on the job was June 20th, Secretary Skandera was present at the New Mexico Teacher Summit and did a final interview with the CEO of the online education site, The 74 Million, Romy Drucker. Secretary Skandera reflected on her time in New Mexico, shared her lessons learned, and thanked the teachers for attending and creating so many opportunities for teachers to be equipped, empowered and championed.

  7. National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee 

    It was such an honor to have the National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, join us for the Summit. Sydney delivered the keynote address at our celebration dinner on night 1 of the summit. During her keynote, Sydney talked about the power of teacher voice and encouraged all teachers to get involved.

  8. More than 36 awesome break out sessions

    PED Staff and external partners came together to host more than 36 breakout sessions on everything form iStation and PARCC, to Teacher Evaluation and School Grades, small group sessions with Acting Secretary Ruszkowski and focus groups on new literacy programs. We also had sessions on Teacher Leader opportunities, Curriculum and Lesson Planning and so much more. All sessions were kicked off by a teacher leader, which was a great way to highlight their effort and commitment.

  9. #NMTeacherSummit

    We had a blast following teacher’s favorite moments and take-aways on Twitter. Participants were encouraged to interact using #NMTeacherSummit allowing others to follow along.

  10. Teachers Leading

    Our teacher leaders were in force at the Summit. They introduced every break out session, introduced every keynote speakers, led teacher shout outs from the stage and assisted their colleagues. Some of our teacher leaders even led break out sessions. This was truly our vision come to life. Teachers equipping, empowering and championing their peers. It was the highlight of my career to watch it unfold.

The NM Teacher Summit equipped, empowered, and championed our teachers, but don’t take my word for it. Check out what teachers had to say about the event:

Santa Fe Teacher

I had an amazing time these past two days! I truly believe that we are on a positive path in New Mexico! 

Las Cruces Teacher

The Summit made me realize I need to get out of my comfort zone after 28 years of teaching. I can’t wait to get the STA application in my hand, and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll apply for the School Liaison. There is so much work to be done, and I want to be part of it!!! 

Albuquerque Teacher

This girl is on FIRE! Based on two of the breakout sessions, I have revamped my first two weeks of lessons. Inquiry based life science with argumentation discussions based on Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning. I am so excited! Also, I’m hoping to take these ideas back to my site and share with my colleagues. Between the STEM Symposium and The Summit, I am fired up! Thank you NMPED and our teacher leaders! 

Artesia Teacher

It was so enjoyable to spend two days in such a positive atmosphere. 

Texico Teacher

I have of being a part of something so incredibly dynamic and motivating! From the beginning to the end, I felt that I was involved in something transformative and inspired. The general sessions were all inclusive and uniting, and the break outs supported so many varied personal interests. The two days were uplifting and affirming as an educator. I feel valued and respected, heard and recognized, and most of all, championed. 

We hope to see you at next year’s Teacher Summit! Date to come soon!

To find resources and presentations from the teacher summit click here.

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: 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.