I am a Learning Center Teacher and the staff developer for my junior high building. Professional accomplishments are extremely important for every educator, and over the course of twenty years as an educator I have grown through my professional accomplishments. I must continually reflect upon what I am doing to improve my role with students, staff, and the community in which I teach.
From all of my accomplishments, I have chosen three examples to demonstrate my contribution in the three categories that the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards requires for their certification process. The categories are the teacher working with students' families and community, the teacher as a leader/collaborator at the local, state, or national level, and the teacher as a learner. I chose my organizing volunteers from the community to enhance student academics for the first category, my role as a reviewer for the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in Quality Assurance Visits to schools in various districts in our state for the second category and continuing my education in the University of Illinois master's program, focusing on Curriculum, Technology, and Educational Reform (CTER) for the third category.
The nature of my strategy that I use with students' families and community from which my students' learning is impacted to invite parents and community into our school to enrich students' learning. This strategy, which I call Celebrity Readers and Speakers, utilizes volunteers in a variety of ways. The strategy is on-going throughout the year and involves the entire student body. Nevertheless, not every volunteer that comes into the school includes the entire population, because if they are reading about a certain topic then only those classes studying that topic will be included.
One important use of celebrity volunteers is inviting parents and community members into our classes to read to students. They read a short story, poem, or article. I, most generally, choose the reading selection; however, if they have something that they want to read, I am more than happy to allow them to decide what they will read. Then, the reader tells the students how reading plays an important role in what they do. Some examples of guest readers include firemen, policemen, a judge, a colonel from the Air National Guard, a traveling storyteller, our mayor, a retired teacher, and even a former teacher of mine.
The message from the celebrity reader may be a motivational one for goals in life. An example of this would be when Mrs. Coffman, who was a former teacher of mine, came to read to the students. After she finished reading a story about Abe Lincoln, who came from a very modest background, I share with the students my story about deciding to be a teacher while I sat in her third grade classroom. I tell them that I went home one evening and told my parents that I wanted to be a teacher like my third grade teacher. My parents, who are first generation born here and had only an eighth grade education, encouraged me to realize my dream. My first job after completing college, I go on to tell them, was teaching third grade next to Mrs. Coffman, who was teaching second grade. I tell them that they, too, can get an education regardless of their parents' education or background.
Another aspect of thisprogram is Celebrity Speakers. I use my parent and community volunteers as guest speakers on topics that we are studying. We have a retired dentist in our community that has studied extensively Civil War medicine, who brings in all of the artifacts that he has collected and speaks on the medical techniques used during that era while students are studying the Civil War. Another example was a former Edison student, who is now a physician, and a parent, who is an attorney, spoke to our student body during the career unit. During the elections last year, local politicians spoke to the students to convince them to vote for them. The people coming into our classrooms volunteer their services to read or speak, so there are no additional costs involved.
This approach helps students, because it affords to students adults outside the school, who role modeling that reading and learning beyond the classroom walls is important. Students often have a misconception that only teachers care about reading and learning. Parents and families are so busy that they often forget about the importance of children being motivated to read often or being read to by them. Parents of preschool children read to their students; however, after they enter school reading to them is often forgotten. Research shows regardless of age, children grow from being read to at all ages.
My analysis of the guest speaker strategy is that it is extremely beneficial for students to have adults speak to them on topics being covered in the curriculum, because it applies the content to real world situations. My students look forward to the readers, storytellers, and speakers coming. Most will tell you that they love to listen to someone read. This benefits students regardless of their reading level, because all can listen even if they can't read the printed vocabulary level being read to them. This affords them an opportunity to indeed enjoy literature that is above their readability, but not their interest level. We could say this levels the playing field for all. When questioning them about what was read to them, they have a good understanding of the selection. An example of this is the author, Lila Perl, of Four Perfect Pebbles reading a story of her mother's survival in a Nazi prison camp. All could answer detailed questions about her mother's experiences.
Other staff has expressed to me many times how important they feel this program is for their students. The administration supports this concept, because they, too, see a change in the students during such a visit. It is easily replicable, because of the low cost, which is on every educator's mind when considering a strategy. If it involves money, the funds may not be there the following year. This is a plus for the strategy, because no funds are necessary.
The first time that the guests are invited to read, they have some reservations. However, the community people reading enjoy the experience so much and feel that they are benefiting the students. Consequently, they are more than happy to give up their time away from their jobs or commitments to read. They gladly volunteer in subsequent years after having done it once. The added bonus is that they get into the school to see the education that is taking place today. Many haven't been in schools since they were students, and they are impressed with what they see taking place in the school. I have had parents thank me for the extra effort it takes to coordinate these activities.
It is difficult to say if this really improves reading scores since so much else is also affecting them. The fact is that students express how enjoyable and alive this makes literature for them. If we can hook them on the enjoyment in picking up a book, then we have definitely given the students a valuable skill for life. We are also role modeling that reading is for all by having other adults show their enthusiasm for the selection that they are reading. So if they aren't getting read to or encouraged to read at home, they are getting this experience at school through our volunteers.
Students state repeatedly after each community speaker how much they learned from them. They look forward to their speaking when it is announced that we will be having one. I know that we are very fortunate to have had the quality of guest speakers for them. I, on occasion, ask them to write down at least three new things that they learned about the topic. It is amazing, because they will write until you tell them to stop.
Staff not only support this effort, but they have begun helping me find other guests and arranging for them to read or speak to classes. They see the time that it takes and feel that it is worth their time to help me in this endeavor. I have seen other schools in our district also begin using this strategy, so I know that my peers feel that this is beneficial. Administration encourages all of us to continue to use of volunteers from our community. They even suggested that we use fundraiser money for speakers, who require a fee.
My folder of resources has grown tremendously as parents have even added to it. Parents express their support for guest speakers from the community. Many of our guest speakers are parents. An example is we have a federal correctional institution in our community. Parents, who work at the facility, have arranged panels of inmates to come to the school to talk about the importance of resisting peer pressure to do illegal things. Another example is parents have spoken to classes during simulations of organizing a business. If parents didn't see the value, they would not participate or arrange for others to take part in these activities. Community involvement also keeps a clear line of communication between the school and them. If they feel as though they are contributing, they are more likely to support our efforts for students. Consequently, they value what we can do together for students.
Teacher as a leader/collaborator at local, state, or national level is category two. The nature of my strategy that I have accomplished is to be a reviewer for the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in Quality Assurance Visits to schools in various districts in our state. I have done this for the past five years with a team that consists of ISBE personnel, administrators, other educators, and community people from around the state. A convener from ISBE and co-convener, who is an administrator, chair the team. We went through a three-day training sponsored by the state of Illinois five years ago to prepare us for our visits. They have evolved over the five-year period. However, the visit's primary goal is to give the school that we are visiting a mirror image of what objective outsiders see in their school. It is a collective perspective, because unless more than two see something it is never included in the final report.
Schools are observed for four to five days by the team. The three main areas that are looked at are the school as a learning community, teaching and learning, and student work. For the first day each person on the team is given a student to shadow all day. We sit with that student through all of his/her classes, attend lunch with the student, and talk with him/her as time permits throughout the day to try to see school through his/her eyes. The school decides which students are shadowed, but they select students with diversified learning abilities and backgrounds. My team looks at the data the school has collected to see if it supports the school's improvement goals. The other data that the team studies are the mobility rate, diversity, and free/reduced lunch population percentages.
The next three days I visit classes, interview teachers, parents, and community members (such as neighbors of the school). Group panels are held with the team to discuss the school's improvement process, how they are involved, and the assessment used to see if improvement is being made. Visits are made to extracurricular activities and displays that the school has compiled for the visit are viewed during the week. Each evening data gathered is debriefed and added to the exit report. The exit report is an on-going work in progress the entire week that the review team is there.
A report with reflective questions for each area is read on the last day by the team. The team reads the report first to the internal review team and then to the whole staff. The school may ask questions afterwards. Our written report is sent to them during the summer of that year. The reason that the written report is not given to them at the exit meeting is the state publisher polishes it into an approved form to hand to the school. They want every word accurate, so misrepresentation can't be a detriment to the process. During the meeting the school is allowed to videotape or tape-record the oral report given.
In the report data is presented of how many classes were visited. Totals of student, staff, parent, and community interviews are given. Data is included about the extracurricular activities that were attended. A written summary of what the team saw for each of the three categories is included in bulleted statements. Then, two reflective questions are asked for each category. An example of a reflective question might be, "Some teachers in your building are incorporating technology into their curriculum, how might they share their expertise with others in the building who have not?" This is to give them something that is feasible that they can truly improve upon for the students. They will receive a grant to work on the school improvement that they want to make.
My analysis of this strategy is that it not only professionally develops other teachers in the state of Illinois, but it is meaningful professional development for me. Teachers in the schoolthat is reviewed fill out a survey after the visit. Four of the five schools that I have reviewed with a Quality Assurance team said the visit was very helpful. The other school said that they thought it was somewhat helpful. The observations are objective and from a diversified group which presents more of a picture than the internal review team, who have ownership in the school. By reviewing the school for four or five days, one gets a more accurate picture than a one-day observation. This snapshot of the learning community gives the staff more information to decide what they want to include in their improvement plan. Specific areas to work on can be looked at from the reflective questions.
The grant money that is given to the school following the visit is for the specific needs that were chosen to improve. This is a real asset to the school. Usually, schools are asked to write for grant monies or given specifics to use money for that don't include improving the school. The state people give assistance to the school, which is wonderful. A special relationship between the school and convener seems to develop. This gives pride to the school to know that the ISBE really is there to help. At the same time the ISBE get a better understanding of schools around the state and what they are trying to accomplish. Each reviewer gets to see the process to take back to his or her district.
Parents and community can also feel good about their school when reading the report since it makes public all of the good things that the school is doing too. They are included in the process of gathering data, which makes them understand how important they are for the school itself. As a reviewer, I convey to them that their opinions are valued. Hopefully, after I have included them in my interviews, they will want to be a part of the improvement process, which is the next step.
Students benefit from this process in many of the same ways that parents do. They are included in the process of the visit meaningfully. I am sure that they are made aware of the aspects of the school such as the vision statement before the visit. Our shadowing them demonstrates that their input is valued at school. By stating to the reviewer strengths, they think about the academic environment in a different manner. Looking at the weaknesses, they can begin to realize that they can give their education more quality by becoming an active partner in the process. The report and improvement plan developed from the visit can be shared with the students to give them further insight into where we want to be. Students that I talk to are extremely proud of their education and want to share their ideas with others about it. They like being given the chance to talk to someone about it. On more than one occasion the student that I shadowed asked if they will meet with me again during the week's visit.
I benefit from my participation on a team. I learn both new ideas and concepts that were tried but didn't have any impact on student learning. I, also, grow from the collaboration with my peers around the state while I am sharing my successes with them. We role model for the school's staff how to conduct an internal review of the school. I, then, share with not only my staff, but also with my district the benefit of an internal review and how to conduct one. I have held in-servicetraining for others in my building and am on the district team to train others about the internal review for school improvement.
The nature of my strategy that I am pursuing for category 3 is a student in the University of Illinois, College of Education online Master's degree with a focus on Curriculum, Technology, and Educational Reform (CTER). After learning from a former CTER student about the benefits of this program, I began the master's program during the fall of 2000. I have completed one year of the two-year program. My goal to further my education is being met by this program, because I have been able to not only learn about new concepts, but also apply them to my Learning Center position immediately.
Online resources are utilized in each class. Reading published works by educators in white pages are a part of the instruction. Through postings by the instructor in Webboard, which is a University of Illinois communication tool, students collaborate with each other about topics being studied. Online chats are utilized to cover important topics. An interactive learning site, Tapped In, has been introduced to our class for a meeting place. Another online communication tool that we utilized was Blackboard, where teachers and students can post their published works. Roger Wilco enabled me to see and hear online lectures.
During my first course I learned many valuable troubleshooting techniques that have helped me in my role as first line of defense for our building's hardware problems. We, also, looked how we could incorporate new technology into our classroom. I teamed with a fellow CTER student to experiment with students publishing academic WebPages to post an application of the state standard that states, "Students will know the five themes of geography." After they studied the five themes in the classroom, they came to the Learning Center to learn the WebPages software, Learning Village. This software allows students to publish on the web with little HTML knowledge. We, next, studied good layout design for WebPages, such as not making the background so busy that it detracts from the written word. Finally, in groups of two or three they created a page around a city telling about the five themes of geography for that city.
Another course professionally developed me in the cognitive and behaviorist approaches to look how they apply to educational reform. I evaluated aspects of my classroom management as I studied the various theories of psychologists. Through collaboration with my fellow CTER students, I have explored many topics such as grant writing, in-depth study of ethics, and assessment.
I am keeping an ePortfolio of my academic accomplishments as I progress through the degree program. I am asked to reflect on information that I am learning and evaluate course that I take. At the completion of this master's degree, I will have a technology endorsement from the state of Illinois.
My analysis of this strategy is that the online master's degree has helped me grow professionally and has give me new insights, tools and techniques in technology and educational reform that I can use immediately with students and share with my fellow teachers in our district. I have found these experiences to be very applicable to my Learning Center position. I feel that my professional development has increased my students' learning, because I can field-test the innovative tools with them. Another real benefit is that I incorporate them around my teaching of the State Standards. In addition, they help me accomplish the Technology State Standards. Students that I have surveyed after completing the various projects, such as the academic WebPages, stated that they learned from the lessons. In their journal reflections students write what State Standard they learned and how they applied it. These journals evidence their mastery of the content.
I have also been able to share with my colleagues the various tools that we have used. They watch me role model the process, and I have conducted in-service training. After the training, several teachers said that they were planning to incorporate WebPages as a way to author. To other Learning Center teachers I have demonstrated Tapped In.
The CTER program has not only helped me further my education, but also given me insight into ways to bring my community into the school. Parents and community members have commented to my administrator and me the value of my WebPages project, because now even grandparents, who live great distances, can access their grandchild's WebPage. Through the study of other districts inviting the community into schools, I have come up with a new plan that my parents are very excited about. The feedback from them is very positive.
My district, too, is so impressed with my accomplishments in professional development that they have asked me to do pullout professional development for the district not just my building as I originally did. My goals for furthering my education now are being shared with many educators. The administrators in my district are now encouraging more staff to enroll in the CTER program, which I feel demonstrates that others are recognizing the program's value from my accomplishments.
Linda Norman As I reflect on my accomplishments, I looked at patterns that address the multiple intelligences, Bloom's Taxonomy, and real world experiences. My work outside of the classroom has also improved student learning, because I have incorporated it effectively into the state standards. My documented accomplishments suggest that I strive to keep current, I am a collaborator with my colleagues, and I utilize families and community strengths in my classroom.
The planning, scheduling, and overseeing of my community volunteers has opened our classroom walls to a vast wealth of resources. Technology has facilitated this, too, with the creation of WebPages. This strategy is graphic design, so the visual/spatial intelligence is addressed by this lesson. Students are using the higher level of Bloom's Taxonomy, because they are creating and problem solving how they want to convey their information. This lesson also addresses the naturalist intelligence, because we are studying the standard that deals with the study of man's adaptations. Finally, creating WebPages is a real world experience.
Celebrity Readers and Speakers is another example, because it addresses the intelligence of verbal/linguistic. They read or speak the written word for all to hear. They also include the personal-related intelligence, which covers expectations, accepted norms of thinking, acting, and cultural pressures.
The most effective work in improving student learning was my furthering my education in technology outside of the classroom. My district and the state believe that the incorporation of technology into the curriculum is powerful. As a teacher, who has not always had it, I feel my striving to learn more about its use impacts my students. I integrate innovative interactive tools that I am learning about outside of the classroom. Students benefit, because the tools afford students another way to collaborate with peers and experts, publish for the community and themselves, and enhance their academics. I see that all ability levels are engaged when using the technology. I want every student to achieve his/her potential, and the technology assists me in that goal.
Being involved at the district and state level is important to me to not only share with others my knowledge but also to learn from other professionals. Incorporating the family and community in my students' education is important, because students need to see the application of their learning to the world outside of the classroom. My description and analysis clearly depicts the community and family involvement that I incorporate, because I firmly believe that it takes a village to raise a child.
I would like to expand my classroom in another way by having students attends community meetings to present and share their projects. This would give the students a real-world audience. Students could even teach adults the technology skills that they have required. My true desire is to never be satisfied with where I am. I want to continue to challenge my students and myself.