By: Liz Fox
As a 29-year veteran, I feel relatively confident in my teaching abilities. That being said, I am nowhere near perfect and strive to improve my practice whenever I can. I read academic journals, participate in webinars, and attend conferences. I also learn something every time I meet with my PLC group (although Mother Nature seems to have something against us meeting).
But I want more. I know my colleagues are doing innovative work in their classrooms. I know this old dog can learn new tricks. I want in. Literally.
Shelly Vroegh, 5th grade teacher in Norwalk and the 2017 Iowa Teacher of Year recently said this about how to become a better teacher: “…go around and observe the other teachers in your school building. See what they are doing and how you can adapt that to your classroom. We want our kids to be life-long learners, and teachers need to be life-long learners as well. If something’s not working, don’t be afraid to change it.”
So, lucky for me (and all those in our district), we have systems in place to allow us learn from each other, notably more formal learning labs and quite informal drop-ins through the Pineapple Chart (see my blog post from early November—or ask Allysen or me about it).
I’d like to share a bit about the learning labs in which I’ve participated.
I hosted a learning lab in the fall, and my students didn’t seem to mind the extra adults in the room at all. I introduced a new technique for framing their arguments from the book They Say I Say. I was glad this reference book included a chapter about the sciences so that Mr. Hayes could have a direct take-away from the lab. In addition, one of the guest coaches from West Delaware later shared a link (wvde.state.wv.us/abe/file-cabinet/Core_Sessions/TSIS_Templates.pdf) to a helpful document outlining the various templates my students can use while forming arguments. I may host another lab this spring, and anyone interested is certainly welcome to come!
I next attended Shannon Horton’s lab at the middle school on Question Formulation Technique. When she told her 5th graders they wouldn’t be doing research but instead diving into a “curiosity project,” they were visibly excited and leaned in to hear more. Then Shannon lead the students through the first step of a process of generating questions about a topic. I will be employing these ideas as I tackle research with my juniors this spring.
Most recently I observed Allysen guide her students through a lesson on exploring rational functions graphically. The math was completely out of my comfort zone, yet right away I noticed a compelling element to her introduction of the lesson. Allysen made very clear—both verbally and visually—what the goal of the lesson was. I used to open every class with “Here’s our plan for the time that we are together,” but I now say “Here are the goals we are aiming for today.” I always know what I want the students to accomplish each day (and sometimes even have the standards for the unit posted), but hearing Allysen articulate this so directly changed the way I address my own students. I also appreciated how she handled students’ questions by asking them questions instead of giving them hints or the answer. Although the math was way over my head, the lessons I learned that morning are definitely applicable to any classroom.
Yes, we are busy. And it weighs heavy that we’re now teaching until June (thanks again, Mother Nature). However, I can attest with all sincerity that the time I have devoted to being involved in learning labs has paid dividends most definitely worth that time.
Don’t have the time to be involved in a learning lab? Check out the Pineapple Chart in the lounge. You’re invited to add your name to the chart if you have something to share with others.
You’ll probably see me show up. I really do want in.
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