Sunday, July 20, 2014

Teacher Excellence: Always Take the High Road

Wouldn't it be great if we all took the high road? It's not easy, but to pursue teaching excellence it is essential. The following are five suggestions that help me in my own pursuit.

1. No blaming: Just don't do it. No matter what the feedback is, take it for what it's worth from your viewpoint, make changes where deemed necessary, and just keep moving.

2. Don't Hold Grudges: People can hurt us, maybe it's on purpose, maybe it's subconscious, who knows why? However, just because we are hurt that does not give us permission to lash out, be vindictive, or hold a grudge. It doesn't do any good to hold in a bunch of toxic energy. Let the person know of the hurt or just let it go, forgive, and wish them well.

3. Take criticism like a man or woman: Listen, listen, and listen. Pause. Think. Then reply with a thoughtful response. Let the other person know that you've heard them. Validate their concerns. Take the necessary steps for improvement. Thank them for their willingness to express and care.

4. Keep Bringing Your Best: Be proactive. Just keep smiling and do the hard work. Be the best version of yourself, and let the rest go.

5. Enjoy the Ride: Focus on family first, focus on health, and giving back to others. Get outside of yourself. Set life goals and work to achieve them. Have fun.

Above all, remember that good can come out of every situation, even the challenging ones. Taking the high road isn't easy, but it's the best way to persevere and be a teacher of excellence.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

TKES: Proficient vs. Exemplary

Quickly, I would like to highlight a few differences today between proficient and exemplary ratings. If you are like me, then you like the idea of getting an A+. I want to be excellent. However, I will tell you that I've discovered that striving for an exemplary rating under TKES may be counterintuitive to becoming a true teacher of excellence.

Under TKES, an exemplary rating should only be afforded if you demonstrated teacher leadership in that performance standard. If you recall, there are a total of 5 domains with 2 performance standards under each domain.

Teacher leadership in its most basic definition is to demonstrate leadership outside of the classroom. To strive to be an example to others. This may be to share your discoveries through technologies such as a professionally focused blog or twitter account. It may also be leading teachers in some way or starting a new initiative within the school that may help teacher development. It might also include getting published in academic journal or news magazines. Basically, it is reaching out of the classroom to help improve the work of other teachers.

Now, remember the goal is proficient. You are still a great teacher if you receive proficient ratings in each domain, and it might even be in your best interest, and the best interest of your students if you concentrate on making greatness happen in just your classroom. There are seasons for all things, and leadership that is outwardly focused may ebb and flow with different times in your life as a teacher.

In addition, if you do desire to reach for exemplary, I would focus on one, two, but not more than three areas for the upcoming school year.

Recently, I've been studying the work of Steven Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I have gained great strength from the study, and the awareness that although most of us like to think that we are superhuman, it is a fact that we can not handle more than two or three goals at a time with any real amount of excellence. Basically, the more we take on, the weaker our performance overall.

So, focus on your teaching, and your students first. Be the master of yourself first. Once you feel that you have accomplished that, and you feel called to reach outside the classroom to lead in some way, I would suggest choosing no more than two or three domains. Also, go ahead now, before the year starts and brainstorm or outline how you believe you could lead in a particular area. Remember, the point of teacher leadership is to serve. What service would you like to provide to your fellow teachers to enhance their practice. How much time are you willing to devote to it? How will teacher leadership in that area affect your classroom performance and student learning gains? Why do you want to lead in that area? Who specifically will gain from your above and beyond contribution? These are all important questions to ask and reflect on before reaching out and trying to lead.

My hope is that all teachers choose at least one area in which they can be teacher leaders. It would be a wonderful service for us all. Just remember that it's important to master the teaching first. No one is more important than you and those students in your classroom. They need you most of all.

Personally, I'll be focusing my teacher leadership within the Professionalism and Communication domain of TKES, but I want to really master two domains this year, which are Planning and Assessment for Student Learning.

What will your focus this year?

The following is a video that I found helpful in reflecting on my own practice. Remember that great teaching is about striving for excellence not perfection. Focus on two-three important goals this year, anything more just won't create excellence. I hope that is a relief to you, because it is to me.