Tag: Guest Post

GUEST POST: How the NM Teacher Summit Changed My Summer Plans

GUEST POST: How the NM Teacher Summit Changed My Summer Plans

I can’t seem to come down from the past few days. This is a strange feeling for me because June is usually a month characterized by lounging on the couch, starting (and hopefully finishing) house projects that have gone undone since Christmas break, and consciously releasing the stressful moments and memories of my teaching year.  No matter how wonderful the school year has been for me, I invariably need this complete break from it and from almost everything educational. At least that is how I have managed to get through the last ten years.

Granted, when I was a new teacher I had that eager, overachiever thirst for new knowledge. Over the past 26 years that “newness” has worn off and I have learned to pace myself, never teach summer school, and stay in my robe until noon. I am one of those teachers who needs the full 10 weeks of summer vacation to rejuvenate. Come Labor Day, I am back in full force and signing up for everything extra-curricular and then some. I push myself non-stop, just not in June. Let’s face it: I’ve been doing this a long time, and I only have so much energy to go around.

So imagine how surprised I was to return from the Second Annual NM Teacher Summit last night with an energy usually reserved for September. I literally couldn’t subdue the enthusiasm and joy I felt as I drove back from Albuquerque to Taos. The landscape looked crisper and the sunset brighter. What just happened to me?

I now realize how I have isolated myself professionally over the last decade. I admit, I have a good thing going. I love my school, my director, my colleagues, and my students. I have a fabulous view of Taos Mountain from my window, and my commute is 1-1/2 miles. Life is good….and easy. Online professional development and collaboration with brilliant coworkers is all I need. Or so I thought.

It’s easy to self-isolate in a large landmass state such as New Mexico. When I taught in New England states and even in coastal Virginia, there was always a district or city nearby where teachers shared information, conferenced, and supported each other. I didn’t remember until this week in Albuquerque how much I had missed that. To be in a convention center ballroom with 1,000 of my peers was exhilarating. To hear our New Mexico Public Education Department thank us for our work and inspire us to push ourselves to greater heights was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I attended break-out sessions where I learned how PED is working to improve education in New Mexico, met old and new teacher friends, and celebrated accomplishments in New Mexico schools. I gained a better appreciation for the vision and efforts of former Secretary Skandera to effect change for New Mexico students, and for the energy of the new Acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski to continue to work to equip and empower teachers in order to make that happen. It wasn’t long before I remembered why I chose this great profession and how much I still love teaching. In my self-imposed isolation, I sometimes forget that truth.

The best part for me: seeing a friend and former colleague who I mentored when she was a new teacher. She was able to attend just part of the Summit because she attends MBA classes to  become an educational leader in her home city of Albuquerque. Oh, and one of my former third grade students performed for the teachers in an incredible display of her drama skills developed at New Mexico School for the Arts where she will be a high school senior. The rewards of being a teacher always come back to the kids!

So I’m back to my problem of figuring out how to come down from this unexpected high. While I honor my physical and emotional need to stay away from the classroom during the summer, I might sneak in some educational reading from one of the many titles shared at the Summit. My boss and I agreed to read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why next month, and I’m excited to reread Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. The Summit not only connected me to friends and specific strategies for furthering my practice, but it made me want to expand my big picture of education while I have the time to start and finish a book. This is the first June in YEARS where I actually look forward to thinking about educational topics and themes. Forgive me if I do it in my robe on the couch.

This guest post was written by Leslie Baker, a teacher at Taos Charter School in Taos, NM and member of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.

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: 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