Saturday, May 3, 2014

Learner Appreciation Week?

May 5th through May 9th is Teacher Appreciation Week, with May 6th being Teacher Appreciation Day. As a school leader, my thinking on Teacher Appreciation Week has evolved over time. Don't get me wrong the teachers with whom I work are dedicated, amazing professionals who should be recognized for their important work during this week (and every week). However, I feel as though the focus may be slightly askew.

I have found that Bear Tavern Elementary School's teachers are some of the most voracious and excited learners that I have ever met. During this school year our teachers have inundated me with conversations, comments, tweets, emails, and observations that demonstrate a dedication to learning, changing, improving, and never being satisfied. This is what makes them a truly special group of professionals.

Our Kindergarten through Second Grade teachers embarked on a journey to relearn how they teach Reading and Writing through the Workshop model. As a district, we did it correctly by providing continuous professional development and our teachers responded by taking the leap, trying new things, collaborating with one another constantly, and understanding the power of making an attempt and tweaking lessons (continuously). At the beginning of the year, the entire LA block was turned upside down and the teachers had to trust that these changes would benefit the children. Nine months later (yesterday), I stood in the cafeteria with members of the first grade team who were marveling at how far their students have come and the quality of the writing that they are producing. AND... the joy with which the students have embraced this work. Similar conversations are happening in Kindergarten and Second Grade. Why? Because our teachers have embraced the idea of learning a new curriculum and new strategies. I believe the best teachers are avid learners and it is clear that I work with many of those. I look forward to rolling this up to third grade next year!

Our entire school has embarked on developing a true understanding of "transfer of learning." Particularly in our 3rd grade through 5th grade (the testing grades), this has become a theme for the year. Last January I wrote a post after we had a faculty meeting with Grant Wiggins (read it here).  Here is an excerpt from that post:
It seems simple to say that we want our students to understand what we teach; however, our discussion of this topic was truly enlightening.  We explored the things that "a student who understands" can do and the things that "one who knows a lot, but doesn't understand" can do.  Take a step back and think about that for a moment.  It is a powerful distinction.  The examples that Grant Wiggins provided and the vibrant discussion of the staff helped to flesh out this concept.  I have to say that the level of interest, thought, and participation on the part of the faculty was inspiring; especially after teaching a full day!
This led to a discussion of the importance of transfer and what that means for children and assessment.  It is one thing to make sure things get covered and standards get checked off, but it is another to have proof that students understand what has been taught and can transfer that understanding to a variety of situations.  In particular, it is important to ensure that they can do this without the supports provided by the teacher or the scaffolding of a question that provides all of the information to answer the question.

This meeting sparked a discussion about how we design instruction to assist children in transferring their learning from the skills and concepts we teach, to application in a "real world" or at least more realistic environment. The work that our PLCs have done this year is reflective of a collaborative culture that has truly made inroads with this concept. Students are better able to understand their learning in a greater context. I mentioned that these are the testing grades earlier because often it becomes tempting to teach to the test; however, a teaching for transfer mindset is more likely to produce real learning that will ALSO be reflected on the test rather than narrow learning that is MAINLY reflected on the test.

Again, this work in the upper elementary grades is reflective of a culture of learning that consistently gives me a sense of pride to be a part of this community of learners. Additionally, the entire staff has done this while learning a very involved new teacher evaluation system throughout the year AND working to integrate our technology resources into the classroom AND working to share our story with the community via social media and other avenues AND...

I guess the point of this post is to recognize the importance of teachers as learners. The only way to continually improve and be the best at what we do is to continue to learn! I feel as though the highest compliment that I can pay the teachers with whom I work during the upcoming Teacher Appreciation Week is that I am honored to be a part of such an active community of learners.


Happy Learner Appreciation Week!
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