Bernard Pierorazio

Leader, Educator, Activist

Tag: teacher

Back to School Teacher Tips

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With summer coming to a close, the joys and jitters of back-to-school are continuing to build up within the hearts of all teachers. Whether you are a veteran in the classroom or a novice to the educational field, the first day back into the arena of the classroom will always be an exciting time. Because of this, it is absolutely imperative that you refine and perfect all of the classroom logistics so that your students are ready to learn right out of the gate.

Now, the overall success of a teacher depends on the arrangement and organization of their classroom. To establish particular procedures that allot for a more conducive learning environment, you will need to put in the necessary grunt work before the first day of class. This will require to you have a stronger internal understanding of your overall classroom management and classroom design from the get-go.

Classroom Management

Classroom management is the overall heart and soul of a classroom. In order for teachers to be effective in their trades and students to be passionate about their learning, it is imperative that an educator irons out the necessary logistics in dealing with particular classroom disruptions. Believe it or not, the overall success really comes down to the first six-weeks of your class. Because of this, you want to ensure that any questions or concerns about the operations of your class are learned and understood so that your lessons can run smoothly throughout the day. For this to happen, make sure you understand the following factors:

Vision and Goals

As much as we can preach 80% or higher, having strong, challenging, and tangible goals for your classroom will play a crucial part in the overall investment piece for your students. In many ways, your students will be relatively new to your style, even after the six-weeks. To ensure academic success, it will be your job to develop a class vision and student goals for your students to strive to each and every day. By establishing that process, especially on the first day, you are allowing your students to choose where they want to go in school and what they want to achieve when they leave your classroom. By having a greater understanding of what they want to achieve, you will be able to concentrate and strategize on particular areas of improvement, especially when it comes down to your lesson plans. To do this effectively, make sure you review the student data from the year before. Understand the level of students that are walking into your class and establish specific benchmarks that they can hit on a quarterly basis.

Classroom Procedures

The secret to warding off unfavorable behavioral problems is simply done by establishing positive classroom procedures for the daily tasks and activities. When it comes to the more operational side of your class, you want to make sure your students truly understand the day-to-day routines of your classroom. Refining the overall logistics will provide a level of consistency so that you can deliver your lessons in a more smooth and beneficial manner. As for classroom procedures, think of all of the little things you want your students to do the minute the walk into your classroom. By thinking in that holistic manner, you will be able to devise a strategic plan that can benefit the behavior and respect of the class. The things to consider are the following: entering the room, leaving the room, handing in homework, taking out / putting away classroom supplies, cleanliness of desk, when to use the bathroom/drinking fountain, classroom jobs and task, how to act in groups, procedures for fire drills, signaling for attention, and copying notes. 

Classroom Rules

One thing to keep in mind is that your classroom procedures will always be different from your classroom rules. Your rules will tell how students are expected to behave on a daily basis. A quick rule of thumbs, make sure you establish only three to six umbrella rules. Anything more or less can lead to various misunderstandings or complications with your students. In addition, make sure these rules are accompanied by negative consequences. Allowing students to understand the consequence system of your rules will play greatly in how much they will abide by them. Now for this to truly be effective, it will be your job for the next six-weeks to remain consistent with your rules and consequences. Oftentimes, students will try and test you on your rules. Any sense of leniency can be incredibly disruptive to your flow as a teacher. Be consistent.

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Classroom Design

The classroom environment will play a very important role in complementing your classroom procedures and expectations for your students. To ensure academic success, make sure that every part of your classroom serves a role. With different factors to consider such as student desk, tables, shelves, computers, learning centers, etc., your job will be to figure out not just where they go, but also their overall purpose for your students. To do this effectively, start by arranging the desk strategically. Many teachers make the mistakes of creating convoluted groups for their students to work in. What they should be thinking of is how to best optimize the space given that can ensure easy flow of traffic and congestion. Once you have unraveled that puzzle, begin determining the placement for additional tables, shelves, computers, and learning centers within your room. This is especially important for homework bins and group sessions. Once you do that, the rest is left to the overall aesthetics of your classroom theme.

While there is no real statistical evidence that an aesthetically beautified classroom will lead to student success, a strong and vibrant classroom theme does create an atmosphere for inspiration and motivation. In the grand scheme of things, your theme will develop that rich and inviting learning culture that will be vital for your students, especially during the dog days of October/November and March/April. As you design your theme, think of particular posters, objects, and quotes that embody your vision and your personality. In addition, make sure your theme and design complement the idea of ‘student success’ with student trackers and class makers.  

Leadership in the Classroom

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With many educators hitting the halfway point of their summer break, it is imperative that first-year teachers and veteran educators reflect and internalize the importance of strong leadership within the classroom. When we talk about leadership, especially within the education sector, it is vital that teachers understand the need to cultivate and manage the social-emotional support and academic development on a day-to-day basis. Let’s put it in this perspective; strong and effective classes can only be achieved if there is a high level of respect and responsibility between the teacher and the student. For this to happen, various teaching methods and skills will be needed in order to demonstrate an overall ethic of care. Once that mentality is established, a teacher will be able to motivate and inspire their students for that necessary academic success within their educational careers.

So what defines leadership within the classroom? What embodies educational leadership?

In many ways, the definition is simple. What defines and embodies leadership within a school is the ability to create action. For any group to be successful, even outside of the education world, both inspirational leadership and group management will be necessary in order to create the necessary action for movement. In the classroom, a teacher will hold a plethora of responsibilities. Of these responsibilities, they need to understand the underlying goal of developing their students to learn, grow, and act as their own leaders within their community. To establish that presence, an educator needs to refine and perfect his or her own skills within the classroom. For first year teachers, this task may be difficult because of the lack of experience. But to understand core specific skills such as communication and management, you will be able to cultivate your classrooms into entities of change.

To start, every teacher needs to establish a strong foundation for communication. In the grand scheme of things, communication is the first step building your classrooms. From your rules to your homework worksheets, you want to make sure you students have a crystal clear understanding of what you want them to accomplish. Because of this, you want to make sure any and all ideas, especially your lesson plans, are explicit and unambiguous. Having that level of communication and language will allow your students to understand the various messages, verbal and nonverbal interactions, and ideas that you are trying to communicate with them during the operations within the class.

To help you with this, make sure you students understand his or her personal goals. The idea of providing your students a sense of purpose and responsibility will give them value to their work. In addition, it will also give value to your overall lessons. Having these goals such as hitting 80% on the test or 90% or higher on an exit ticket for a particular lesson will help inspire action for your students as well as motivational growth within your classrooms.

Now, one of the most important factors of being a teacher is building and maintaining trust with your students. Like it or not, this relationship will be one of the most pinnacle factors in how your students will work in your class. To do this, continue to establish that level of communication. Show them that you are their support system. Provide them that help when they needed. But most importantly, listen to them when they want to be heard. We have heard this so many times. A teacher is not simply a teacher. They are a mentor, a coach, a parent, and a role model to their students. Once you have established that relationship, there is nothing that can stop you from pushing and driving your students to their best.

Last but not least, understand that you are the teacher within the classroom. As much as you want to let your kids be kids, you need to understand that it will be your job to manage conflict. In reality, conflict is simply inevitable. The one thing that you can do is to learn how to manage these controversies in a positive and constructive manner. Be sure to approach each controversial situation in a holistic manner. Listen to each point of view and recognize the different ideas and viewpoints that come your way. Once that is all said and done, it will be your job to find a solution that works for the betterment of the class. One of the biggest challenges every teacher will have will always be classroom management. By controlling the situation, especially in this manner, you will be able to provide your students with the authoritative support they need to move on and grow as future scholars.

End of the Year Reflection

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As we enter the last few weeks of the academic calendar, I would advise teachers and educational professionals alike to spend the time and reflect on their experience within the classroom.

Over the course of the year, teachers face a myriad of daily choices: classroom management, classroom expectations, students goals, and, of course, student achievement. Many of these choices involve matters that are so ingrained within the day-to-day of the classroom that we tend to overlook the implications and transformative change we make on a daily basis. But as much as we can focus on the operations within the day-to-day, it is imperative for your development as an educator to think, address and reflect on the choices you have made during this academic calendar year. Self-reflection will not only highlight the strengths and achievements you have accomplished with your students, but it also address the flaws and weaknesses you can work to improve within your trade. This type of intense reflection will also allow you to identify and revise best practices and avoid inferior lessons for your next group of students.

To do this effectively, begin by dispositioning yourself away from the expectations set by your superiors. This suspension of judgment will allow you to holistically view your work in a more meaningful way. To get you started in a more positive direction, begin by thinking about your strengths and overall accomplishments you have achieved during this year. Think about those impactful lessons that will resonate with your students for the next up and coming year. Ask yourself what you were most proud of and what areas you grew within the field. For example, if you were able to devise a lesson that incorporated research, writing, and public speaking, make a note of that collaborative achievement. Not many teachers can get this type of engagement from their students, let alone all three in one lesson.

Once you have fully analyzed the positive achievement, take time to examine your own personal and professional weaknesses you may have experienced during the year. For some teachers, this could be specific lessons such as an unachieved Common Core standard or a particular lesson involving a higher-level text. For others, this could just simply be a specific trade skill like research or lesson planning. Whatever is the case, make sure you examine them deeply. Internalize those mistakes and ask yourself what you could have done to improve and build up for those skills or lessons for the betterment of your students. Having that type of awareness will allow you to hone in on specific skills and approaches for next year. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to ignore these weaknesses. Remember, no one is perfect. In fact, the only time this can be a problem is if you think there is no room for improvement. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new. Use this reflective thinking to think about what you can do to further better yourself for not just your career, but also for your students.

To fully analyze these weaknesses in a more beneficial and positive way, try evaluating your students based on their academic gain. Begin with those overarching goals you have set for yourself and your students. Ask yourself if your scholars were able to hit their targeted academic goals. If they were, great! If not, dive deeper and question what you could have done that year to possibly see success. To aid you with the process, make sure you utilize the student data in a more active and powerful way. Expert teachers adapt their reflective thinking to the situation and recognize each level of the data that could have changed this. If you see that your students were collectively weak on one Common Core standard, ask yourself questions about those specific lessons such as: What troubles did you see with those lessons? Why did your students struggle with that particular standard? What could you have done to break down the information in a more accessible way? These questions will not only identify your flaws, but also shape your lessons for next year.

Now the last thing you should look into is the situational portion of teaching. Whether you like it or not, teachers and educators are more than just individuals equipped with a textbook. They are the parents, coaches, mentors, and game-changers that can positively impact the aspiration and goals of a student. While there will always be difficult and arduous moments within a teacher’s day, it is important to think of areas where you can build a stronger relationship and classroom culture for your students.

The only way to get the best out of your students is if they can invest in your vision and goals for their future. Continue to think about ways where you can enhance your management and classroom culture in a more driven and invested environment. Remember, our students do not care what you know. They just want to know you are there for them. Take this time to refine those moments so that you can give your students the excellent education that they deserve.

TedTalks Education: Rita Pierson, Every Kid Needs a Champion

In this particular TedTalk, we are joined with Rita Pierson, an educator who has been in the classroom for over forty years. The passion, drive, and desire she personifies for the field is an absolutely inspiring. With her comical anecdotes and playful demeanor, Rita does highlight some important influencers that impact the classroom on a daily basis. One of her biggest topics in this eight minute video is her push for teacher-student relationship. She discusses how she once heard a colleague say that, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.'” In the classroom, an educator cannot be successful at their job if they are not willing to invest in their students. This investment, while difficult at times, is the true game changer in transforming and molding a child’s future.

 

What Makes a Great Teacher?

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Though I am no longer in the classroom, I constantly reminisce about the times when I was a soldier in the fight for education equity. Within my four walls of my class, I saw hope, pain, failure, love, passion, and most importantly success. With all of the undergoing changes that we are seeing within the education sector, such as the move to deviate away from Common Core and assimilate of Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ agenda, I have to ask myself one important question: What makes a great teacher?

At the end of it, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and Race to the Top were not merely meant to shape the minds of our students and bridge the gap for education equity. Rather, it was meant for teachers to become true thought-leaders and academic professionals within their field. Though there has been a wide range of backlash by teachers themselves for the change within the new teaching standards, a majority of it does make sense. As educators, we need to understand that teaching is dynamic by nature. It is a constant entity that depends on the consistency of change. For example, your best lesson for your first period will always be altered and manipulated by the end of the day to cater to both the class periods and the individual student. It is that simple dynamic change that continues to challenge us then and now because, at the end of the day, our goal is to make our students become movers and game changers within their communities. It is our job to give them the foundation to read well, analyze word problems, and speak knowledgably so that they can be the voice and forces of change within their communities. For this to happen, we as teachers need to be leaders.

When it comes to leadership, leadership and teaching often becomes synonymous with one another. Though the concepts for both apply in different ways, for a teacher to be great, they need to have leadership in order to excel within the classroom. Below, you will see how leadership plays a role within a classroom:

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Management

As a leader, your job begins with management. No matter how great your lessons are or how prepared you can be at the beginning of the year, if you do not have management, you do not have a classroom. With leadership, you are the individual that creates an ecosystem of learning through rules and logistics so that your classroom and run smoothly and efficiently. Any type of weak management can hinder your efforts in becoming a strong teacher.

Belief & Purpose

Beyond management, a leader provides a sense of purpose and value within the field. These principles eventually become the overall class culture that will drive that movement of success within every student.

Respect, Justice, and Temperance

As a leader, you must strive to maintain the proper balance of emotion and respect for your colleagues and students. This mutual respect will ensure your students to treat each other with the admiration and kindness that they deserve. I have seen this specific instance countless times where students will mirror the respect and behavior of their teacher to their own individual peers. Remember, your classroom is a safe zone for your students. As a leader it is your job to create that community and culture.

Confidence

No matter what industry or field you are in, confidence will always play a large role in leadership. In the classroom, you need to exude confidence on all different fronts. Show your students the direction to emerge as game changers and movers within the class. Yes, at times we can often question ourselves, especially after a difficult evaluation from our administration. Do not let that deter you from being the leader of your class. Accept their notes and push on through!

Commitment

When it comes to teaching, a leader is not just a person who looks to polish their resume. Rather they look to make a change. For this to happen, a great teacher needs to be deeply committed in the work that they are doing both in and out of the classroom. Understanding and internalizing the mission for you and your students will play a key role in how impactful you can be with your students.

 

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