Part 2 of my recent blog series about this year's Colorado Legislative Session is now live on EdPost! I hope you will check it out! Sometimes You Have To Crack A Few Eggs To Get Better Learning
I will be writing a regular blog for Education Post and the first edition is now posted!! Check it out at: That Was A Close One Colorado
This past fall, I worked closely with JeffCo curriculum director, Sue McCue and the department of education to create a series of training modules for teachers and administrators to use as they worked to understand and implement the new standards. With help from other local educators, we created and published four connected modules which illustrate how the design of the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS) in reading, writing, and communicating and the PARCC English/language arts assessments work together to support rigorous and relevant instructional practice. All four modules can be used by teachers K-12 as well as by specialists, coaches and administrators. Much more information is available on the website. Our goal was to create high quality training modules that could be used flexibly during building wide, team and/or individual learning experiences.
Please use these and share them freely among those in your schools and other networks!
Check out the recent press release about our Colorado Ed Voice Fellowship. I am a current fellow and absolutely adore the connections I have made with other passionate ed leaders in our state. The learning is profound and the opportunities for involvement in improving our state's public school system are inspiring! Contact me with questions or just apply directly. Information is below:
Fellowships available for educators who want to make voices heard
DENVER (May 6, 2015) – The Colorado chapter of America Achieves has begun accepting applications from teachers and principals who want one of the 50 positions in the Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship where they will help shape educational policy and public attitudes.
This 10-month, non-profit program is the second of its kind offered in three states by America Achieves, and it runs from September 2015 to June 2016.
The 50 selected educators will work to elevate their voices in public conversations about teaching and learning. The Fellowship is designed to help educators assume leadership roles in their communities and influence education policies at the local, state, and national levels.
Jessica Moore, one of the most recent Colorado chapter Fellows, reflected upon her/his experience: “This Fellowship motivated me to explore ways that I could convey to the public my thoughts about policy, standards and practices in education, and it was particularly useful to have the America Achieves resources for support. The collaboration makes these efforts particularly effective.”
The Fellowship gives participants a greater opportunity to participate in the important educational conversations that are taking place in the public arena on topics such as the instructional shifts to college and career-ready standards. A primary goal of the Fellowship is to help elevate public perception of the teaching profession.
Participants in the program will become involved in outreach to the media (e.g. letters to the editor), local and state government leaders (e.g. delivering testimony in committee hearings), and community organizations (e.g. presentations at civic clubs).
Participants in the 10-month program receive a stipend, and they are expected to devote an average of up to two hours per week to their activities, most of which focus on various ways (including social media) to broadcast their in-school expertise to the public.
“This is a rare opportunity for dedicated educators who want to improve the learning environment while, at the same time, elevating themselves professionally,” said Rachel Zenzinger, State Manager for Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship. “The networking and professional development alone make this a valuable experience.”
The three state Fellowships, now in their second year, are made possible by a grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Any teacher or principal interested in applying for the Fellowship should go to http://www.coedvoice.org/ and fill-out the online form before July 3. Successful applicants will be notified Aug. 1.
About America Achieves
Based in New York City, and founded in 2012, America Achieves is a non-profit organization that helps communities and states leverage policy, practice, and leadership to build high-quality educational systems and prepare young people for success in careers, college, and citizenship. America Achieves sponsors the three-state Educator Voice Fellowship, which offers opportunities to teachers and principals in Colorado, Michigan and New York to get involved in high-profile public discussions about educational issues. “Our Schools, Our Voices.”
Last Friday, my students an I found ourselves outside, me on the roof and them down below, in a torrential downpour! I stood above with sopping wet hair, my glasses too foggy and rain splashed to see, launching their eggstronaut vessels as they squealed in excitement down below. Each vessel crashed, plopped, bounced and spattered as kids eagerly snatched up their project for review. I climbed back down the slippery black ladder, re-latched the roof hatch and we practically dashed down the hall full of hugs, high fives and smiles abound. Back in our room, we disassembled our projects, taking notes, making observations and planning improvements in design. While an age old science project itself, we navigated through the design thinking process in an effort to identify solutions to practical problems that got my students thinking creatively to construct, test, and refine engineering projects.
After my kids left for the day, my principal commented on how “crazy” I am given my insistence on this adventure. Ha-ha I thought to myself, inside knowing that my kids got dirty with their learning today- real hands-on stuff that they will surely remember down the road. As I sat and reflected on the project, I got to thinking about how important it is that teachers take the lead in re-defining what learning looks like, sounds, and feels like. I know, as a new-bee to STEM instruction (a facet of learning that my district has yet to embrace) that I have significant learning to do myself in order to ensure that these kinds of projects are targeted and comprehensive in their outcomes with students. I gave thought to ways that I could better integrate cross-content learning into this work next year: math calculations, measurement, forces as well as deeper reading and writing that would increase student’s knowledge and vocabulary on a range of related topics. But I also reflected on the lesson that I shared with my students and peers which was that learning is kind of messy. Its not always something that happens on a warm sunny day...sometimes you just have to experiment in the rain. Before leaving for the night, I proudly tweeted “Forget low level worksheets!”
Now that the state legislature has adjourned, I am finding myself taking a step back to consider the new measures and direction we are headed in Colorado school policy. Throughout our most recent session, Colorado legislators considered and discussed a plethora of new legislation that could dramatically impact our public schools throughout the state. As a local educator, I found myself at times nail bitingly nervous about the potential decisions in the pipeline and at other times relieved or even encouraged by the direction of our state’s ed policy. Mostly, my concerns were that our improvement efforts were moving ahead an inch and then falling back ten feet. There was once discussion in the state about repealing the standards and pulling out of the assessment consortiums entirely and even the mere prospect of this caused me much concern. Really, my fear throughout this last legislative session was that politics would cloud our judgement about the core issues affecting teachers and students across the state, and really, the bottom line is that each and every Colorado citizen is directly affected by our public school system and it is our responsibility to ensure that our schools effectively prepare our students for productive and fruitful lives after they leave the twelfth grade. The question, and of course controversy, has been how to turn this from theory to practice.
As a 5th grade classroom teacher and active advocate in state and national efforts to implement high quality standards and assessments, this legislative session gave me some moments of pause. In the three and a half years that I have been a part of the reforming of our public school system, I have realized that:
So, I think that I can wrap up this mixed post about messy learning, the future and the work of our legislature by leaving you with this: We ask our students to take risks, and to make the world a better place. We don’t encourage them to quickly give up. Lets make sure that we as adults, parents, teachers, and friends model that same commitment to improving the quality of our schools through careful consideration and compromise that keeps the interests of our students first. We need to stay the course with the standards and assessments that qualified educators worked together to create for our kids and embrace that learning and growing sometimes require a little mud on our hands.
One thing that I hear from teachers on a somewhat regular basis is that we serve in a thankless job. Rarely do you open the newspaper or turn on the television and hear praise for the work that teachers do on a daily basis. Instead, the stories are inevitably about how teachers are failing students. Schools aren't doing enough for our kids...we are behind...test scores are down...students are disengaged and most evidently, our kids are not prepared for the future ahead. I can't say that every one of these statements is misguided....in fact some are true: our educational system needs work, our students deserve better, and our teachers should be elevated to a level that is representative of their true value. The reality is that teachers are not just valuable...teachers are INVALUABLE in every way and should be treated as such!
I don't know a single educator who entered the profession for the big bucks and the promise of the glamorous limelight. Because....everyone knows that teaching pays nothing and isn't a respected position. We go into the profession knowing very well that we will be zipping pants, tying shoes, wiping noses, holding hands, having tough conversations....AND...Laughing, loving, learning, supporting, inspiring, coaching and serving as steady and consistent mentors for kids who come to us most often with troubling stories and who are missing out on just their basic needs. Teachers know when they sign up for the job that it will mean long hours, sleepless nights and a whole lot of stress. We don't enter the job for the summer breaks (because....none of us every REALLY get to have the summer off) or "school hour" schedules. We become teachers because we want to make a difference in the lives of kids and in the future of our society. Its a simple mission that is never actually simple.
I got a call yesterday though, and it stopped me in my tracks! I got a phone call from Washington D.C. It was a personal call from Secretary Arne Duncan's office thanking me for the work that I do every day with kids. It was a thoughtful, heartfelt message that I replayed five different times because I just could not believe what I was hearing! I never became a teacher so that I would get praise....but wow....this single phone call thanking me for my hard work sure made me feel good and I can't wait to share something so exciting with my kiddos tomorrow at school!