Subject: Curriculum & Instruction
I believe that curriculum and instruction should be relevant, engaging, authentic, have room for student voice, and contain real world connections.
I believe this because I have seen the power of engaging and relevant curriculum and instruction. I have seen the magnitude and depth of learning that takes place when a student is making real world connections and can own the learning through personal expression of Voice.
There are many issues surrounding authentic curriculum and instruction in education. For example, equity and access, alignment to standards, authentic methods of assessment, and research-based methods of instruction.
I’d like to highlight the importance of real-world connections and audiences for optimal student learning. For example, I recently implemented new real-world methods of engaging my students in their learning and also for allowing them to demonstrate their learning. In my English classes I begin every new unit with a universal, real-world connection to what we are about to study, and allow my students to respond and reflect to the connection on their own blog pages. Their ownership of their individual blogs encourages them to write authentically, and they ask more of themselves, fleshing out ideas in an in-depth way that demonstrates deep connections and learning. They then are asked to stay curious about the connections to our content topic, and mix and remix those connections as we work through, culminating in a final project and reflection of that universal connection. I have also worked to integrate an English class with a history class taught by another teacher, and our students filter both classes through one thematic lens with real-world connections. This has led to legacy projects of their choosing, and their investment in real-world applications of what we are studying, is powerful evidence of deep learning and application.
Subject: Parent and Community Involvement
I believe that parent and community involvement in a school is essential for creating a school that is whole and to round out the educational experience that will help to fully shape and realize the whole child.
I believe this because in our society for generations, families have shared the responsibility, with schools, of raising and educating children. Those schools and families are parts of larger communities. It is important for parents and community partners to be present and a regular and natural part of the fiber weaved through schools in order to provide the balanced support of the whole child.
There are many ways parents and community members can contribute and be a part of a school culture. For example: volunteering to assist in a classroom or give a presentation to a group of students, making donations of materials or money to purchase needed materials, organizing a club, meeting or event on a school campus, or offering expertise or community connections in a certain area.
I’d like to focus on the importance of community partnerships with schools. I actually haven't had the personal experience of working with a community partner in a school, which is something I want to experience, but I have heard of and read of the major impact community partnerships can have on student learning and connection. For example, there is a school on the east coast that has partnered with a community hospice organization, and places 11th and 12th graders into hospice internships. The experience is life-altering for these young people, as they have the experience of doing something good and of profound worth, right in their own community. They learn much about empathy, care, life, and the science and experience of dying. Many of these young people stay on volunteering at their hospice sites long after their internships are over. It is powerful learning.
Subject: Discipline and School Culture/Climate
I believe that a school's culture is just as important as its staff, curriculum, instruction, and the building itself.
I believe this because a school is like a home. Students, teachers, parents, and staff spend much of their time at school, and the culture should feel welcoming, encouraging, and empowering. The culture should make people feel at home and set the tone for learning. Discipline is part of the school culture, and should be approached in such a way as to only foster learning, not impede it.
There are many things to consider when it comes to school culture. For example: the school's vision and mission, discipline policy, traditions, service cycles, leadership practices, and communication.
I’d like to talk about communication as a vital part of the school culture on any campus. The concepts of Choice Words and First, Seek to Understand, Then to be Understood, are prime examples of positive communication practices that will help to set a positive school culture. The adults on campus, including the administration, teachers, classified staff and all parents, must model positive communication for young people by speaking to each other with respect and seeking to fully listen to each other in order to understand and help problem solve. I recently interacted with one of my students who deals with extreme levels of anxiety which was impacting her ability to engage with and complete her school work. She came in, very emotional, to talk with me about her situation, and as I listened to her, I realized that the assignment and the approach to the curriculum we were using wasn't working for her, so I worked with her to create a new plan, a new approach, to her assignments in my class. It was only by listening fully that I was able to engage in the empathy needed to understand her situation and what she was going through. This led me to seek another approach, and that approach alleviated much, allowing her to be more successful. Communication is important to school culture because understanding leads to positive things. I realize that the fact that my student felt comfortable enough to come talk to me, says a lot about the positive culture we have created at our school.
Subject: Instructional Use of Technology
I believe that technology is a powerful instructional tool.
I believe this because it allows teachers to teach and students to learn and demonstrate their learning in ways never before possible. It also is a vehicle for students and teachers in making global connections in a relevant manner.
There are so many topics worth considering around instructional technology. For example: access and equity, internet safety, professional development for teachers, social media in the classroom, and methods for teaching with technology.
I’d like to talk about the potential of increased student engagement as a result of the instructional use of technology. Our students today are digital natives. They have grown up using technology in their everyday lives, and many students find it to be a comfortable, interesting and engaging way to access and share information, learn, and communicate. At my school site our teachers and students use technology every day in the educational process. Our students enjoy learning about and exploring new educational tools, which we teach them about during or courses and through advisory. Students also teach teachers about new technology they come across. Sharing technology has become part of the culture of our school, and most students report that they prefer the new methods for demonstrating their learning to some of the older, traditional methods required before such wide use of instructional technology. I constantly ask for feedback from students, and they tell me that they prefer blogging to simply answering questions. They enjoy the collective created through Twitter projects. They enjoy being able to create an interactive poster or a video to show what they have learned instead of always writing essays. Don't get me wrong, we still write plenty of essays, but other methods of assessment, both formative and summative, are also available now with the use of instructional technology, and our students are very happy that we enthusiastically encourage the use of technology. They are engaged.