Bernard Pierorazio

Leader, Educator, Activist

Tag: teaching

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.

Why do Teachers Quit?

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Teachers enter the education sector for a multitude of reasons: the experience to make a difference, the continuity to be a lifelong learner, the advocacy in improving a broken system, or the belief and guidance of a chosen mentor. As inspiring as it is to see these incredible individuals assume the responsibilities of shaping and developing our future leaders of tomorrow, many educators have been noted to leave the field at an incredibly alarming rate. With the statistics going as high as 40 to 50 percent of teachers leaving the field with the first five years of the profession, we have to ourselves a challenging question: Why do teachers quit?

To begin, educators are faced with a plethora of problems, some of which are the following: unrealistic expectations set upon them by the Common Core State Standards, oversized classrooms, classroom management, lack of resources, low wages, etc. But regardless of it all, they continued to persevere until they cross that finish line of the end of the year. While it is great to see them stepping into the frontlines of education in order to bridge the education inequities that exist within the nation today, the countless burden and lack of support educators face are negatively impacting their want and desire to stay within the field. In fact, many educators, especially those retiring, have utilized social media to highlight and deliberate the disruptive and toxic events occurring within the education sector.

But what are these hurdles that are preventing teachers from staying within the field? How have we allowed it to come to this extreme where the turnover rate is simply at an all time high?

To start, salary has become one of the biggest definers within our society today. It dictates the work you contribute to your job and the overall value you contribute to society directly. According to the National Education Association, the national average starting salary for teachers in 2012 to 2013 was $35,141. While this figure may seem fine to some people, for many educators this figure is just simply too low for the workload they do each and everyday. If you look at what is expected from a teacher both in and out of the classroom, you would realize that the lesson planning, grading, meetings, and extracurricular activities force them to go beyond the 9-to-4 hours of the day. That in turn also provides an emotional and mental toll that forces many teachers to ‘burn out’ during the middle and end of the year. When you take all of the hours they invest for their students into consideration, that salary is not sustainable.

Outside of the salary, one of the other bigger issues teachers face is the ever-evolving dynamics within the classroom. As much as we can picture an ideal class setting with eighteen well-behaved students and a personally written lesson plan ready to execute, this is, in many cases, not reality. In fact, depending on the district, curriculum, and subject you are assigned to teach, you may be faced with a wide variety of obstacles that are only meant for you to fail. To explore this further, we have to go beyond the generic complaints of classroom management and disruptive students, and look further into the lack of autonomy and freedom teachers have with their lesson plans. At the end of the day, teachers do not call the shots. In fact, they have very much little to say when it come to their lesson plans. This type of overbearing culture is not only disempowering, but also frankly quite toxic.

Now, one of the last reasons teachers leave the education sector is because of respect, or lack thereof. Unlike the field of finance or medicine, education is not romanticized. Instead, it is seen as a simpler path that is simply one step ahead of babysitting. As much as the general public can criticize the profession, teachers and educational experts are the true backbone of the country. For educators, they are the planners, the consultants, the strategist, the parent, the mentor, the coach, the bad guy, the motivator, and the expert in giving our children an excellent set of education. If it was not for their strong efforts, many of these doctors, lawyers, and business owners will not be where they are today. But even with this investment, teachers are still not appreciated for all of their hard work.

If we want to keep our talents within the classroom, we as a nation need to make the necessary changes within the profession. If we do not, teachers and educational professionals will continue to leave. Remember, a world without teachers is a world without a future.

Testing Anxiety and Tips to Handle It

o-STRESSED-KIDS-facebookContrary to popular belief, high achievement isn’t merely testing gains and testing results. In fact, the product of talent comes down to our internal belief about our own abilities, skills, and overall potential for succeed. While foundational skills and standard knowledge plays a significant factor for our student’s achievement, we also have to be aware of how confidence plays a role within the day-to-day operations within our classrooms.

During the wake of testing season, everyone feels some type of nervousness and anxiety about their own personal performance on an exam. Much of this can be attributed to the rising expectation and standards for the new 2016 Common Core state examination. For some schools, this isn’t a big deal. But for a majority of public and charter schools across the United States, these exams, especially their outcomes, are strong indicators for the overall success rate for the students, the teachers, and finally, the schools themselves. As much as we can press on the idea that data can have a significant impact on student achievement, we also have to be cognizant about the negative ramifications testing, especially testing anxiety, can have on our students today.

When we talk about testing anxiety, we are essentially talking about performance anxiety. Performance anxiety, by definition, this type of nervousness is the feeling someone has in a particular situation where the pressure for performing well negatively hinders his or her ability to execute. While we usually associate performance anxiety with situations like public speeches or ‘big’ athletic games, testing, especially with state mandated examinations, can also fall within this category. For many extreme situations, testing can lead children to endure negative physical and mental stressors such as lack of confidence, depression, and other various breakdowns like anxiety, crying, or worse. Because of this, it is our jobs to recognize the ever-growing problem testing can have on our student and their future.

To alleviate the pressures, we first and foremost need to understand what the pressures of testing can do for our students. Think about it. A person with a fixed negative mindset will and will always believe that his or her intelligence is static. In comparison, a person with a growing and optimistic mindset will believe that their intelligence, and performance, can develop into something greater. Understanding the distinction between these two extremes can have a tremendous implication for motivation and confidence, especially during test day.

So how can we boost the morale of our students, especially for those future leaders of tomorrow who have focused on the negative ramifications of not performing?

To prevent your students from derailing their own success, it is imperative that you continue to cultivate a positive and safe working environment within your classroom. Even if it is days before the exam, you as an educator have the power to change the overall atmosphere of how they can approach the exam. To better prepare them, be sure to plan a well-executed study review session. For many students, they automatically feel that anxiety because they feel ill prepared for the topics on the test. To ease that tension, make sure you consolidate an entire review plan that hit the main points for the state test (Note: this may require multiple days). Be sure to provide them plenty of time to review. One of the biggest mistakes you can do for your students is to try and cram every bit of material before the examination. Rather than do this and build more anxiety, try and focus on the main points. Go as far as to combine relatable Common Core standards that can be leveraged within just one lesson.

In addition to a study review, make sure you can leverage the stress of the test as a motivator for success. While stress can have damaging affects on our student’s performance, we as educational leaders can utilize that feeling as a positive motivator. For some schools they hold rallies. For others, the teachers themselves use positive speeches and optimistic discussions to build up each student’s confidence. Whatever you do, make sure you are showing your students that you are rooting for them. That support can go a long way.

Last but not least, constantly remind your students to eat well, sleep, and relax before the exam. For any test, inopportune situations such as an empty stomach or lack of sleep can directly impact a student’s performance. Reiterate to your students to get a good night’s rest and have a healthy filling breakfast.

How to Implement Differentiated Instruction Within the Classroom

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Albert Einstein said it best that, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Similar to having your own unique fingerprint, when it comes to teaching, we need to internalize the fact that every child has his or her own style of learning. The antiquated mentality of teaching a ‘one-size-fits-all’ lesson is no longer looked at as the standard for our future leaders of tomorrow. Instead, every lesson, every subject, and every classroom needs to be tailored for our students’ needs. Just ask yourself how many times you’ve had to restructure a lesson or change your style of teaching just so your students could hit their daily objectives? The answer itself solidifies that we as educators need to be adaptive and welcoming to change. Because of this, it will be incredibly beneficial for teachers to incorporate the strategy ‘differentiated instructions’ into their lesson plan.

Let’s start off by defining differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction, also known as differentiated learning, is a framework and philosophy for effective teaching that involves individualized aid and support through a more personalized one-on-one student learning environment. The method itself, often executed during the end of the class, is designed to deliver instructional information that can best reach each student’s learning abilities.

While differentiated instruction adds additional effort to a teacher’s schedule, educators have to understand the benefit this can have for the success of their students. To put it simply, students will be able to grasp the knowledge and lessons taught in their classroom through revisited lessons and specialized instructions depending on their academic status. This is crucial for those students who have a consistent history of underperforming, especially in the areas of Reading or Mathematics.

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So what does it look like? How do teachers incorporate differentiated instructions into their classes?

First and foremost, a teacher needs to conceptualize the overall layout of their day. If time management is a problem, make sure that is addressed before incorporating differentiated instruction into the daily schedule. Any type of change without fixing time management can hinder the success of a teacher’s objectives and student achievement. Once a teacher has holistically framed their day, block out thirty to forty minutes for differentiated learning. During this time, the students will be split into three groups. To effectively impact the student achievement, break up the class into three groups based off of the standardize test scores. These groups will allow an educator to see their high performing students and their low performing scholars. In these three groups, each of these students will be required to hit a planned objective that will enhance their individual learning. To enhance this process, create three different centers in your classroom:

  • Teacher Led (one-on-one individualized teaching)
  • Group Work
  • Independent Work

To best optimize these groups and instructional strategies, pinpoint areas of weakness based on student performance surrounding instructional lessons or standardized testing. Then create various mini-lessons or assessments to test student learning. While a teacher is essentially planning three different mini-lessons, try to create material and modules similar to one another so there is not miscommunication about the overall information.

Now with differentiated instruction lessons try and incorporate new and exciting lessons. These lessons could give an educator the insight of what style of teaching works for each student and inevitably shape and alter the future instructional planning of a class.

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