Teachers Need Time… ignored critical need for collaboration and reflection

From Linda Darling-Hammond “As recently as 2009, a MetLife study indicated that 68% of educators had more than an hour per week to engage in structured collaboration with colleagues to improve student learning.  By 2012, only 48% had an hour or more per week for this essential work. In what professional field can practice improve if most practitioners don’t have even an hour a week to work together collaboratively?”

By Linda Darling-Hammond

Concern for 21st century learning has driven the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by more than 40 states.  These new standards recognize that the premium in today’s world is not merely on students’ acquiring information, but on their being able to analyze, synthesize, and apply what they’ve learned to address new problems, design solutions, collaborate effectively, and communicate persuasively.

Achieving these goals will require a transformation in teaching, learning, and assessment so that all students develop the deeper learning competencies that are necessary for post-secondary success.

Whether that transformation occurs has everything to do with how policymakers and practitioners approach this new reform.  Ironically, old style factory-model thinking could undercut richer student learning if we follow traditional patterns of education reform implementation.   Like a contractor who is paid a bonus to finish a project on a tight timeline, school systems that cut corners by trying to “automate” teaching decisions through pacing guides, scripted curriculum, or frequent, narrow testing are likely to produce rickety, undeveloped student learning skills.

Efforts to manage instruction through top-down prescriptions rather than the development of deep expertise will not enable the kinds of teaching that are required to help students learn to read, listen, and think critically; conduct research and use evidence; communicate productively orally, in writing, and with technology; and continually improve their own work.   Teachers will need to be able to model and demonstrate these skills, identify what their students already know and link it to what they need to learn, build on students’ diverse experiences and language backgrounds, and structure rich learning opportunities that combine explicit instruction with inquiry, feedback, reflection, and revision.

How will teachers transform their practice to meet these expectations?  In fields like trauma care and the building trades that have seen sharp gains in quality over the past generation, the emergence of new standards for professional practice coincided with a focus on improving collaborative decision-making and inquiry to solve problems in real time. If we want to see similar gains in education, we must structure for success by understanding that effective collaboration in schools doesn’t occur by happenstance—it requires purposeful action.

New research from the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) shows that educators in every subject area and role are eager to work together to deepen literacy learning:  Across fields, 77% of educators, principals, and librarians agreed that developing student literacy is one of the most important responsibilities they have. It also showed that educators are committed to common-sense changes to improve teaching and learning practices: they most value time to co-plan with colleagues to create new lessons or instructional strategies and to analyze how their students are developing and what they can do together to advance progress.

On the face of it, these results don’t seem surprising—in every field, professionals benefit from connecting with dedicated colleagues to improve practice. What is surprising, even alarming, is how rarely collaborative activities that are essential to improving outcomes are supported in our schools. Here is what NCLE survey respondents reported about support for working together in their schools:

·         Only 32% have a chance to frequently co-create or reflect with colleagues about how a lesson has worked.

·         Only 21% are given time to frequently examine student work with colleagues.

·         Only 14% frequently receive feedback from colleagues.

·         And only 10% frequently have the opportunity to observe the teaching practice of a colleague.

Even worse, evidence suggests that time afforded to educators to collaborate and problem-solve is eroding quickly. As recently as 2009, a MetLife study indicated that 68% of educators had more than an hour per week to engage in structured collaboration with colleagues to improve student learning.  By 2012, only 48% had an hour or more per week for this essential work. In what professional field can practice improve if most practitioners don’t have even an hour a week to work together collaboratively?

But the NCLE survey data also gives us a foundation to build upon. It found that in schools where educators report that professional collaboration is routinely practiced, trust among all educators is high, and new learning about effective practices is shared much more rapidly.

It makes sense that where principals, school system leaders, and instructional coaches model collaborative decision-making and tackling problems as shared questions to be studied and solved, real change in student learning results.

So we can read the NCLE survey results as both a cautionary tale and a reason for optimism.  They suggest that far from resisting change or shirking responsibility, educators are eager to work together to evaluate the quality of teaching at their site and design changes that continuously improve student learning. But, not many schools are yet structured to provide the time and learning opportunities necessary to build this sustainable path to change.

The reform impulse that gave rise to construction of new learning standards and assessments will only work if we invest in the capacity of educators to work together effectively. Where educators are challenged and supported to get off the hamster wheel of “covering” ever more material and work together on important questions driven by what they actually observe, student learning thrives. It’s time to clear away non-essential demands and build capacity in our schools for smarter teaching and learning—educators are ready for it, students deserve it, and our future prosperity and security require it.

KQED Article on Educator-driven Start Ups Address Education Needs and Technology Innovations

 The Rise of Educator-Entrepreneurs: Bringing Classroom Experience to Ed-Tech  By Katrina Schwartz


Most teachers are happy doing their job — helping kids understand and make sense of the world around them. But there’s a growing number of educators who are wading into entrepreneurship, frustrated at the lack of tools they need, and wanting to extend their sphere of influence. As technology becomes more widely used and accepted in the classroom, teachers are taking their ideas about how to improve learning environments, sharing them online, and creating web-based tools to benefit teachers and students.

At the same time, the fact that the multi-billion dollar ed-tech space is exploding has not gone unnoticed by investors. Programs like Imagine K12 run crash courses in ed-tech entrepreneurship, connecting fledgling companies to Silicon Valley venture capital firms (and staking out a six percent equity).

But, as most educators know, while tech entrepreneurs can sometimes hit gold, not every newly minted site or software is useful to teachers. That’s what sets educator entrepreneurs apart — they have relevant classroom experience that can’t be gained any other way than by doing the hard work of teaching.


Jack West has taught for 16 years and has been at Sequoia High School in Redwood City for most of that time. He’s a physics teacher and is naturally inclined to innovate, even if his students aren’t as enthusiastic about his non-traditional teaching style. West returned to traditional teaching for eight years until he figured out how to use his innovative techniques not only to spice things up, but to actually help his students do better. That’s what led to the launch this year ofBraincandy, a tool to help students understand the underlying concepts behind their misperceptions.

West and his co-founders wrote trick-questions on physics concepts that many kids get wrong. The answer choices are all the common misperceptions. The goal is for students to be completely sure that they’re choosing the right answer, the obvious answer, only to find out that most got it wrong. “These aren’t test questions. They are instructional questions,” explained West. “So what we’re trying to do is create a discrepancy event, a shocking event to open the door for a teachable  moment.” West is going for an even distribution of wrong answers that shock students and allows him to create discussion and activity around understanding the misconceived concept.

West found that his students performed better on the Force Concepts Inventory, a test for honors physics students and first year college students on basic physics concepts when he used this technique. So far, nine other Bay Area teachers are trying Braincandy techniques on physical science, chemistry and biology students, and West is receiving help from Silicon Valley techies and business entrepreneurs to build out his site. The time is ripe for teachers to use their natural inclination to innovate to help the kids that they are failing, he said.

“If I do more of the same and just do it better — I’ve seen that trajectory, and I feel like I’ve gone as far as I can with that and I need to try something else,” West said. “Based on my experience and the luck of the draw, technology is my channel.”

Adam Bellow, another ed-tech entrepreneur, recently developed a Pinterest-like tool for teachers called eduClipper. Bellow is based in New York and has spent much of his career helping teachers use technology in the classroom more effectively.

“The biggest issue that we have as teachers is finding and sharing good stuff,” Bellow said. “You have teachers that are open to doing these things, that want to, but who don’t necessarily know where to go or don’t feel they have a time to find them.” He wants eduClipper to fill that void and for students and teachers to interact on the site, sharing the buckets of useful links, videos and infographics with one another. Students could even use the site as way to develop a digital portfolio, he said.

Bellow built the tool to serve a need he found distinctly lacking. “The reason I’m building this tool is that I’ve seen so many companies build websites that they think are cool, or that they think address a need, without consulting teachers. Teachers are usually the last people to be consulted on many of these education technology companies,” Bellow said.

The site has already drawn 25,000 users and he actually isn’t accepting more until he rolls out the next version of the site. Beyond just helping teachers, Bellow is most excited about features directed at students and meant to encourage them to create. He wants eduClipper “to have students inspire other students to make real things,” the way that the Maker Faire events have done. With a body of work to carry with them, students would be able to show achievement through more than just testing.


Digital Harbor Foundation

James Sanders, who worked as a teacher for many years, is another educator wading into entrepreneurship. For his day job, Sanders works as the Innovation Manger for KIPP, Bay Area Schools. But he’s also partnered withEsther Wojcicki, a journalism teacher at Palo Alto High, and Duncan Winter, to createClassBadges, scheduled to launch Monday. It’s a digital platform for teachers and students to collect badges for mastery of certain topics. The badges represent learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. For example, a student could get a badge for going to a museum and completing an exercise related to the visit. Sanders sees ClassBadges as a way for students to look back at a digital record of what they learned – plus it’s fun and uses elements of gamification that students are already accustomed to.

Sanders agreed with both Bellows and West that education is at a crossroads. “Everyone agrees this is finally a time where people are opening up to the idea of change in the classroom and the power of technology,” said Sanders. “People recognize that this is a powerful tool for learning.”

Educators are taking advantage of the moment, and the flurry of investor interest in ed-tech, to leverage some of their innovations into products. Here are some other educator-initiated companies and non-profits:

  • ClassDojo: This free online tool, co-founded by teacher Sam Chaudhary, helps teachers manage behavior in the classroom by awarding points to students for positive behavior. Students get immediate feedback on their behavior, tied to a points system, which helps reinforce good behavior over time. 
  • Digital Harbor Foundation: This non-profit, cofounded by educator Shelly Blake-Plock, wasstarted by educators in Baltimore to connect teachers, students and technologists to one another through the web. They want to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in students before they even graduate. For example, they have a reverse mentoring club where students teach older members of the community about technology. Or a STEM club, where students interested in science, technology, engineering and math are given real world challenges posed by industry leaders. 
  • Socrative: This web tool was built by a team of educators, engineers and entrepreneurs with the goal of increasing engagement and decreasing grading time. Through smart phones, laptops or tablets students enter digital classrooms where the teacher can control the flow of activities and games – getting an instant understanding of whether the students are grasping certain concepts. The tool can then analyze individual and class progress 
  • NoRedInk: Jeff Scheur started this company after three years teaching in Chicago schools. As an English teacher he spent hours grading papers only to have students ignore the feedback they received. NoRedInk uses material that is engaging to students, like their own conversations or their favorite TV shows to try to engage them in the question. As students answer questions the material adapts to how they are doing, drilling down on the underlying concepts as they progress through the activities. Teachers can track student progress and give assignments and quizzes tailored to each student’s interests. The hope is that NoRedInk makes grammar fun, so students will practice more than what is assigned to them.


Connected Educator Month: Tips From 33 Educators

 From the New York Times– Great Ideas from Brilliant Teachers!

Erin Olson, an English teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, uses Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion.Stacy BrownErin Olson, an English teacher in Iowa who is featured in our post, uses Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion. Go to related 2011 article »

The U.S. Department of Education has declared August Connected Educator Month, and since we’d be nothing without the teachers we’ve connected with over the years, we’re enthusiastically on board.

To celebrate, we asked every educator who has written a guest post for us, been featured in a Reader Idea, or collaborated on one of our features to answer two simple questions:

  1. What is one important thing you’ve learned from someone in yourPersonal Learning Network (P.L.N.), however you define that network?
  2. What one person, group or organization would you recommend every educator add to his or her P.L.N.?

Reading their responses, below, is a crash course in how to be a “connected educator.” By our count, together they’ve recommended more than 100 people, organizations, sites and other resources you can learn from right now, as well as shared insights on how to learn from them.

So read what they have to say, follow the links to their work both within and outside The Learning Network, and, when you’re done, tell us how you’d answer those two questions yourself. Like the connected educators we are, we’ll then share some of our favorite responses on Twitter, via@NYTimesLearning.

Update | Aug. 2: We accidentally left two people off our list, below. Pam Moran and Ira Socol have now been added (making this, technically, “Tips From 35 Educators We Admire”).


Aliza Aufrichtig | Flocabulary

The Year in Rap Contest

1. Having participated in Twitter educator chats like #engchat and #sschat, I’m constantly impressed (and amused) by participants’ creative lesson ideas that leverage Internet culture to make curricular objectives more engaging and fun. Two such ideas that stand out: An activity that teaches code-switching by translating “LOLcats” English into Standard English, and a lesson that usesspam e-mails to teach persuasive writing.

2. Professor Hung-Hsi Wu has written extensively on how the Common Core can transform the way that students learn mathematical thinking. (According to him, it isn’t just a new name for the same old way to memorize some formulas.) When “Common Core” is said so frequently that it can sometimes feel like little more than a buzz word, Wu’s thoughtful and thorough articles on math instruction reform in the United States are inspiring — even for non-mathy folks.

Heather Barikmo | LaGuardia Community College

Reader Idea | ‘One in Eight Million’ for English Language Learners

1. Tumblr, as a whole, has been invaluable to me as an educator. The platform really lends itself to visual communication, and I believe language educators in the digital age can really benefit from bringing infographics and similar multimodal texts into their teaching.

2. I get so many ideas from ReadWriteThink.

Maggie Epstein | Primary Source

Guest Post | Teaching About Japan, One Year After the Disaster

1. Fourth-grade teacher Kathleen Morris said in her presentation at I.S.T.E. 2012, “Students are never too young to get started with blogging and global collaboration.” A great reminder that children of all ages should be given opportunities to learn about the world.

2. The Library of Congress — an amazing resource for finding high-quality primary sources to infuse classroom learning with the “real stuff” of history.

Grant Faulkner | Office of Letters and Light

Why I Write: A Celebration of the National Day on Writing

1. In discussing the current trend of gamification in education and its pros and cons, Paul Oh made the astute point that the best teachers have always made learning into a game, a pursuit and rewarded levels of mastery, so technology is merely mirroring and riffing on an age-old best practice.

2. I’ve recently become quite taken by Annie Murphy Paul, a science writer who writes about “the science of smart” for publications such as Time, Psychology Today and Mind Shift, and is coming out with a book called “Brilliant” in 2014. She provides insightful takes on the latest neuroscience or education trends and research and communicates them in a way that I can easily peruse on FacebookTwitter and her blog.

Larry Ferlazzo | Luther Burbank High School

Ideas for English Language Learners series

1. I learned about an incredible lesson of having students create “What if?” projects that examine what would have happened in history if one event had been changed. Thanks to Carla Federman and Diana Laufenberg for their great ideas and willingness to share examples.

2. John Norton at Middleweb shares great resources for all grade levels and is one of the nicest and most helpful people in the education part of the social media world.

Kristin Gecan | Poetry Foundation

Poetry Pairings

1. I find myself bobbing somewhere in the vast sea of media and pop culture every day, not sure which way it is to shore or where to drop anchor, but there’s at least one person writing about pop culture, reminding us about the culture part — and reminding us that it’s our culture. I make a point to read everything Roxane Gay writes, including, most recently, her thoughts on“Three Coming Out Stories,” Daniel Tosh’s rape joke, and one of my favorites, her ideas on what it means to be strong, by way of “The Hunger Games.”

2. Open Culture is a great site to add to your RSS or Twitter feed — the site mines the Internet for uniquely delicious pieces of our cultural past and present, offering up everything from a video of Monet at work in Giverny, toStephen Fry reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 on a new iPad app, to a flash mob celebrating Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

James Paul Gee | Arizona State University

Answers to Questions About Video Games and Learning

1. One of the most important things I learned was the power of video games as learning engines after I lost all my hair learning to learn to play them as an “old man.” I learned both of things from my then 6-year-old son, Sam (now 17). He and other young people are crucial to my learning network and are often my teachers; culture changes so quickly today that it is impossible for us old people to be experts all by ourselves.

2. Our society is a highly unequal, evidence-denying mess. It is pointless to reform schools without also reforming society, so I think everyone’s learning network should include both good people on learning and good people on society. Lately, I have learned a lot from Christopher Hayes and his important book, “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.”

Sarah Gross | High Technology High School

Guest Blog | ‘Taking a Dip in the Nonfiction Pool’

1. I have learned that professional development doesn’t have to take place between four walls. I can talk to first-year composition teachers about what they expect my high schoolers to know when they arrive at college, or to other high school teachers about the books that get their students excited about reading. My Twitter P.L.N. lets me connect with experts like Carol Jago andDonalyn Miller, and I can also share ideas with fabulous teachers like Paul Hankins and Jen Ansbach.

2. #engchat is a weekly Twitter chat that brings together a network of English teachers. Hosted by a different person each week, topics have included reading workshop in secondary classrooms, digital writing workshop, creating cross-curricular projects, the Common Core Standards and performance pedagogy. Hosts have included Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller, Paul Hankins, Carol Jago and many authors. Each week I learn something new, and I always expand my P.L.N.

Vlad Gutkovich | Flocabulary

The Year in Rap Contest

1. All the technology, software, tools and other “innovations” out there don’t go very far unless they’re implemented with dedication by hard-working, passionate teachers in supportive environments.

2. Audrey Watters and her blog represent an excellent, well-written and often amusing source for the latest ed tech news, from a die-hard skeptic of hype, fads and easy fixes.

Rey Junco | Lock Haven University

Q. and A. | How Facebook Use Correlates With Student Outcomes

1. My network has been a fantastic support in my career development. Those in my network have supported my work and helped answer my questions. One of my favorite things has been finding others researching similar topics and then collaborating with them on a mutual research question. One specific example was when my P.L.N. spread the word that I was looking for graphic designers to help me create infographics based on my research. Ed Cabellonsaw this and connected me with a graphic designer who created an infographic about my paper examining the links between Facebook use and student engagement.

2. The Youth and Media lab at the Berkman Center for Internet & Societyshares information about how youth use digital media.

Jessica Lahey | Crossroads Academy

Test Yourself Critical Thinking Questions

1. The Latinteach Listserv has been invaluable to me in these early years of my education as a Latin teacher. I’ve been teaching English for a long while now, and have plenty of friends and colleagues to rely on for advice, but as Latin teachers are not exactly thick on the ground, I’ve had to go virtual in order to find advice.

2. Good ol’ PBS Teachers has rescued, inspired and educated me more times than I can count.

Diana Laufenberg | Science Leadership Academy

Teaching With Infographics | A Student Project Model

1. I leaned heavily on the sage advice of master teacher, Luann Lee, when I was applying for National Board Certification, even though I was in Pennsylvania and she was in Oregon. Without her encouragement, advice and guidance, I do not think I would have successfully achieved that goal.

2. #sschat has been an integral part of my professional learning, and I would highly recommend locating a Twitter chat that relates to your professional learning. Sharing and reflecting with a wide range of professionals is a fantastic. One of my faves in the world of social studies is Meredith Stewart.

Elana Leoni | Edutopia

Join the Conversation About Summer Reading

1. Where would I even be without my P.L.N.? I asked myself that question recently when I realized how it has dramatically changed me. I now have experts around the world that I can turn to in times of need and friends that can support and inspire me daily.

2. Honestly, you can’t recommend just one person to follow on Twitter — there’s just too many great people and organizations to follow! Here’s a list of educational-focused organizations that share great resources, and follow this list of Edutopia bloggers if you want daily inspiration and fantastic education-focused resources.

Shelly McAninch | Saint Jo High School

Reader Idea | ‘Current Events Friday’ Brings the World to a Texas Town

1. My P.L.N. helped me to realize that I did not need to reinvent the wheel, but learn how to use technology, including social media, to help me improve my wheel and what works best for my student’s needs.

2. Pinterest. As silly as it sounds, Pinterest is full of great ideas from educators around the globe. Teachers are known for “begging, borrowing and stealing,” and Pinterest is a great place to start, especially for new teachers or those stuck in a rut who need fresh ideas.

Stephanie L. Meyer | Wisconsin Public Schools

Reflections on the Third Annual Found Poem Contest

1. One thing I’ve learned from the authors of novels that I’ve taught, including Laila Lalami (“Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits”), Sarah McCoy (“The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico”) and Brando Skyhorse (“The Madonnas of Echo Park”) is that they really do want to hear high school students’ reactions to and questions about their books. They will usually write the students back whether by snail mail or e-mail.

2. All educators should be familiar with Toondoo.com, a Web site that allows students to create comic strips. I usually assign students different scenes from a particular book, print the scenes out and have the kids try to put them in chronological order, among other things.

Mark Moran | FindingDulcinea

Historic Headlines

1. In a conference session, Eric Sheninger made a simple, yet insightful, declaration: When we put the interests of our students first, then the answers to our most vexing questions about education become clear. Politicians, school administrators, teachers and parents should hold this truth to be self-evident.

2. It’s been humbling and exhilarating to learn that a well-developed P.L.N. is far more astute than any of us, and my P.L.N. helps shape everything I say, write and create. One of the most valuable members of my network isShannon Miller, who has a peerless ability to connect members of her vast network for their mutual benefit.

Pam Moran | Albemarle County Public Schools

Teaching 9/11 | Why? How?

1. After following @colonelb on Twitter two years ago, I invited Dave Britten, Michigan superintendent, to Skype into my Virginia district’s Leadership Gathering to share why and how his staff had implemented a Bring Your Own Device for learning model. He helped our principals consider why and how to implement B.Y.O.D., and last winter I observed the results of our connected community work: a teenager kicked back on a sofa in a high school library “e-reading” on her own personal device.

2. Mike Thornton, elementary teacher, facilitates children in his class to teach educators around the world, communicating as a connected community through Twitter, Skype, and Webinar sessions. He teaches using all the principles of a choice-based classroom: a space where children help set up class; rearrange learning spaces as needed; and construct and share their own learning resources as they learn together and individually.

Paul Oh | National Writing Project

The National Day on Writing

1. My Twitter P.L.N. has given me insight into the local: why BART is running late, for instance; the national: what digital composing looks like in schools around the country; and the global: following Andy Carvin’s tweets and retweets from the Middle East. And those are just a small slice.

2. If I had to pick just one follow, I would say Bud Hunt is the person. Bud has been at the epicenter of my own infatuation with social media and is someone who is as likely to tweet about operating systems as about poetry or his daughter’s first day of kindergarten.

Jonathan Olsen | High Technology High School

Guest Blog: ‘Taking a Dip in the Nonfiction Pool’

1. This 2008 article by Nicholas Carr from The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” motivated me to restructure my classroom around longer reading assignments, sustained topical discussions and in-class writing assignments. Carr’s recent book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” is also required reading for anyone interested in technology and its impact on education.

2. The Khan Academy, and flipped classrooms in general, are both something that should be included in every course of study.

Erin Olson | Sioux Central High School

Three Teachers’ Answers to Questions on Classroom Microblogging

1. Stacy Brown, friend and fellow teacher, convinced me to enter Twitter. I was skeptical. Shaelynn Farnsworth through social media, guided me through student blogging. Angela Maiers challenged my understanding of digital footprint and reinforced the importance of students understanding and owning their digital footprint. I share, “Just as you are what you eat, you are what you tweet!” Twitter denies the confines of time, place and space. I am challenged, supported, questioned and answered.

2. There are too many people to name just one. I have found the chats to be helpful in my Twitter journey whether I am lurking or contributing. Twitter is meaningful and powerful professional development filled with passionate educators sharing and continuing their learning. A few of my favorite hashtags: #sschat #edchat #engchat #iaedfuture #choose2matter #ntchat

Nihal Parthasarathi | Course Horse

Reader Idea: Developing Critical Thinking and Writing Skills for Test Prep

1. Had a great conversation with one of our mentors, Harold Levy, former chancellor of N.Y.C. Schools, where he made the point that every country with a stellar educational system started with two things: a long-term (20 year) perspective with regards to education transformation, and a focus on empowering educators with tools, resources, support and respect.

2. I’ve been tremendously impressed by the ongoing transformation of theNew York Public Library, particularly by their recent push to innovate and discover the future of the library; also a huge fan of the incredible number of free classes they offer!

Nicholas Provenzano | Grosse Pointe South High School

Three Teachers’ Answers to Questions on Classroom Microblogging

1. I learned that expert opinions are not only found in books. My P.L.N. is filled with experts in the field that teach me something valuable daily.

2. Kelly Tenkely and Shelly Terrell are two of the hardest-working people in education, and they are also among the most supportive. They helped me when I was just starting my P.L.N., and I know they have done the same for many more. A P.L.N. is not complete without these two amazing educators.

Alex Rappaport | Flocabulary

The Year in Rap Contest

1. At a recent event, I heard 2009 California Teacher of the Year (and educational rap enthusiast) Alex Kajitani talk about how educators need to feel more comfortable talking about race and other difficult subjects in the classroom. While we adults might live in a P.C. world, students grapple with these issues every day, and it’s important to guide and facilitate meaningful discussions – not run and hide – when tricky topics arise.

2. Just have to list two! The Edible Schoolyard from Alice Waters and 826 National from Dave Eggers and friends.

Meenoo Rami | Science Leadership Academy

Teachers Teaching Teachers, on Twitter: Q. and A. on ‘Edchats’

1. One specific idea that I plan on trying out in September is engaging students in seat-selection activities that set a positive collaborative tone for the class. Thank you to Sandy Merz for sharing this great tip.

2. Carol Jago on Twitter. She shares great recommendations for books, teaching tips and wider perspective on literacy instruction.

Carolyn Ross | Hightstown High School

Reader Idea: Personal Inquiry Projects With The Learning Network

1. My first year as a high school English teacher, I had a colleague who encouraged me to consider daily dilemmas and stressors through a simple lens: “Is this the hill you want to die on?” I owe my propensity to pick my battles (with students, colleagues, administrators and my inner demons) to this mantra.

2. The newest addition to my Google Reader is the NCLE SmartBrief. Twice a week, NCLE compiles an education brief: news stories, resources, blog posts I would otherwise have missed and fresh teaching ideas (like using e-mail spam to teach persuasive writing). For further resources from the NCLE, visitliteracyinlearningexchange.org

Leslie Ryan | Leslie Street Language School

Reader Idea: English Language Learners Discuss Love and Happiness

1. As a T.E.F.L. teacher in Europe, I appreciate Scott Thornbury’s blog called An A-Z of ELT. Scott is a professor at the New School and held in high regard. His forum is followed by thousands, and they enrich the forum with their input.

2. I rely on too many people and pages to mention here, but I will give a shout-out to Macmillan Education apps, a company whose books are consistent with my style of guided discovery methods.

Ira Socol | Educology Partners

Teaching 9/11 | Why? How?

1. When I began to use Twitter to connect with educators, the combination of reducing ideas down to a telegraphic 140 characters and the worldwide reach made for too much conflict — more heat than light. A few early followers, who agreed or disagreed — @endaguinan@paulawhite@csratliff@lasic — helped me learn to engage effectively, reminding me that the rules of human engagement don’t really change just because the technology does.

2. Melissa Techman, whom I met in my work with school librarians, was an educator ready for radical change but in need of a shove off the edge of the “its always been this way” cliff. Since then her elementary school library has been transformed – without high costs — into a “Learning Commons” at the conceptual center of the school — a self-directed, interactive, “maker space” breaking all of the boundaries, and she has been transformed into the one who pushes others.

Georgia Scurletis | Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com

Word of the Day

1. I learned from Heidi Hayes Jacobs’s book, “Active Literacy Across the Curriculum,” the idea that English teachers should take cues from foreign language teachers when it comes to teaching vocabulary in a more “active way.” A quote from the book: “Think of how absurd it would be if Mr. Mendez said: ‘Watch me. Listen to me speak Spanish, but don’t say anything out loud.’”

2. One resource I couldn’t live without is OneLook.com. OneLook helps word nerds like myself look up a word in a bunch of dictionaries at the same time. And I can always manage to learn something new about words when I visitSusan Ebbers’s Vocabulogic blog.

Jinnie Spiegler | TeachableMoment.org

Guest Post | 10 Ways to Talk to Students About Sensitive Issues in the News

1. I learned how social media can bring about social change. The revolution in Egyptdelay of the SOPA/PIPA anti-piracy legislationSusan Komen Foundation reversing their stance on Planned Parenthood, national attention of the Trayvon Martin case, and spreading of the opposition to high-stakes testing all used this powerful tool to connect us to one another in order to literally change the world.

2. Everyone should add Peter DeWitt to their P.L.N. Peter is a regular blogger at Education Week’s Finding Common Ground, a smart and thoughtful school leader who participates in and promotes social media, and an advocate for social and emotional learning in the schools.

Shelly Terrell | Teacher Reboot Camp

Teachers Teaching Teachers, on Twitter: Q. and A. on ‘Edchats’

1. Ruth Cohenson once tweeted during an #edchat, “The power we have through networking is humbling, frightening and exciting. Use it well.” I keep that in mind as I share resources, ideas and links. I want to make sure my P.L.N. is enriched by my resources. I also hope they will be inspired to question, explore and implement some ideas along their continuous journey as life-long learners.

2. Just following the #edchat Twitter stream will highlight great educators to follow and is filled daily with so many great resources. There is also a wiki page of all the transcripts full of thousands of resources, tips and ideas.

Samantha Western | Livingston High School

Reader Idea | From 19th-Century Factories to 21st-Century Sweatshops

1. This year, one of the teacher assignments at the school where I teach was to join or create a “P.L.N.” At first I was unsure about the idea — just what was a personal learning network? The more I learned about the idea, the more freeing the concept became. A personal learning network can be anything and because of technological advancements include anyone!

2. A resource that every teacher should have in his or her personal learning network is BetterLesson. This wonderful resource was started by teachers from Atlanta and Boston and has grown to include lessons from teachers all over the country. Teachers can also share lesson plans for feedback and gain multiple perspectives on their subject matter. It is a vital part of my P.L.N.!

Kate Weber | Exira Elementary School

Three Teachers’ Answers to Questions on Classroom Microblogging

1. I’ve learned that social media is more powerful and educational than anyone can imagine. Using it as a way to connect with other teachers is invaluable! My P.L.N. has given me multiple ways for students to use social media to expand their thinking and comprehension in a dynamic way, i.e. blogging,backchannelingvirtual bookshelves, etc.

2. Twitter hashtag #4thchat has given me some fabulous ideas to use in the classroom; I would encourage anyone to follow the Twitter hashtag aligned with their grade level/content area, i.e. #3rdchat#5thchat#mschat and#daily5. Also, Pinterest is a favorite of mine to find creative new ideas for the classroom and teaching. Educators from all over the world are pinning and sharing some amazing things!

Grace White | Eisenhower Middle School

Open Note to Student Commenters and Your Teachers: Thank You!

1. Our insightful staff developer, Gravity Goldberg, has changed my teaching life for the better. She thinks alongside teachers, guiding our P.L.N. to create learning spaces where students are comfortable making choices about their work, making mistakes and learning by doing.

2. Hmmmm… Twitter? I was hesitant — maybe even resistant to the idea, until my now favorite tweep, Chris Iasiello, energized our district by his example, sharing its potential for colleagues to learn from one another (@richkuder,@fuller0727@stephenraimo@patjlee@loriebz). And, for the first time this fall, new teachers will have a Twitter handle as part of their mentorship.

Esther Wojcicki | Palo Alto High School

Student Journalism | Three Benefits of Newspaper Programs

1. One specific thing I have learned: no matter how much professional development teachers get, there will be no change unless it is followed up by coaching. Teachers need support.

2. One person or organization you’d recommend: Google Education is the most helpful site of all on the web.

Ben Zimmer | Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com

Word of the Day

1. Working on the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, I’m glad to sit across from an old hand at the education game, our curriculum developer Georgia Scurletis. For instance, when I was ruminating on the origins of the adjective meta, Georgia helpfully pointed out that educators have been “going meta”(that is, “metacognitive”) for quite a long time. I’d also like to thank my son Blake, who has just turned 6, for encouraging me to think more seriously about questions of language acquisition, like how we learn language in chunks.

2. For my writing about the history of words and phrases, I would be completely lost without the online Oxford English Dictionary. The cost for an individual subscription might be prohibitive, but if you’re affiliated with a university — or even if you have a membership in a public library — you may very well have free access without even realizing it. Its recent incorporation of a historical thesaurus makes it even more valuable: how else would I learn that early 17th-century terms for a contemptible person include wormling and shag-rag?

Inspired? Now answer the same two questions yourself, and post your responses below. We’ll share our favorites from @NYTimesLearning on Twitter.



The War on Teachers

Students in the U.S. are not performing well in comparison to students in other countries– particularly countries which do not experience the immigration and poverty issues in our schools.

U.S. economic struggles add to the sense of emergency we have about our kids not thriving in school. Are they getting the training or inspiration that they need to save this country?

Or are we boring them with the old fashioned factory school model and then discouraging them with heavy student loans, a lack of jobs, and irrelevance of their preparation to whatever unknowns the future holds.

So, we think, it must be the teachers. And of course some teachers are better than others. And most teachers are dedicated and skilled. But they are dedicated and skilled in a broken system.

So we set up charter schools that can circumvent bureaucratic and pedagogical rules. And students enter various charters. And are these charters doing what we said they were for? To yield new ideas that can be applied in the larger traditional schools? Not so much. A competition exists in many cases.

Can we better prepare teachers? Yes. Can we better evaluate teachers? Yes. But should we use tests designed decades ago, that test students on a part of what they are learning, and then judge the teachers based on student tests that are do not even do well at measuring students– what they are designed to do, much less measuring teachers.

If we care about the future, it is time to work with teachers to build new education models. We need to listen to the students so we don’t lose them as we experiment with the model.

If the teacher can make each student feel heard and seen, the rest can follow. It is hard for teachers to do that while watching their backs as one obstacle after another is put in their way. And all of us can see and hear students so see themselve be heard. So that they know they are part of a real changing society.

Let’s face it, it is not the teachers.

We have to step up and pay attention to young people, to schools, to teachers, and we need to help, not set up more tests.

NEA Convention Issues 13 Item Rebuke to Duncan DOE policies

The NEA acting on behalf of 3.2 million teachers of the NEA accepted several key practices, long resisted: including student test score gains in teacher evaluation and considering teacher evaluations in pay increments. If managed very carefully, the changes enabled by these agreements could transform education positively. The NEA cautions, as it should, that student assessments should be improved and that data from assessments must be used in concert with other factors that more directly and personally guide an accurate evaluation.

In spite of the magnitude of those issues, NEA’s focus remained on other DOE initiatives which they see as threatening education.  The text of the rebuke follows:

The NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA President to communicate aggressively, forcefully, and immediately to President Barack Obama and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that NEA is appalled with Secretary Duncan’s practice of:

  1. Weighing in on local hiring decisions of school and school district personnel.
  2. Supporting local decisions to fire all school staff indiscriminately, such as his comments regarding the planned firings in Central Falls, RI.
  3. Supporting inappropriate use of high-stakes standardized test scores for both student achievement and teacher evaluation, all while acknowledging that the currently available tests are not good.
  4. Failing to recognize the shortcomings of offering to support struggling schools or states, but only in exchange for unsustainable state ‘reform’ policy.
  5. Focusing too heavily on competitive grants that by design leave most students behind—particularly those in poor neighborhoods, rural areas, and struggling schools—instead of foundational formula funding designed to help all the students who need the most support.
  6. Not adequately addressing the unrealistic Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements that brand thriving or improving schools as failures.
  7. Forcing local school districts to choose from a pre-determined menu of school improvement models that are unproven and have been shown to be ineffective and bear little resemblance to the actual needs of the school that is struggling.
  8. Focusing so heavily on charter schools that viable and proven innovative school models (such as magnet schools) have been overlooked, and simultaneously failing to highlight with the same enthusiasm the innovation in our non-charter public schools.
  9. Failing to recognize both the danger inherent in overreliance on a single measurement and the need for multiple indicators when addressing and analyzing student achievement and educators’ evaluations.
  10. Failing to recognize the need for systemic change that helps ALL students and relies on shared responsibility by all stakeholders, rather than competitive grant programs that spur bad, inappropriate, and short-sighted state policy.
  11. Failing to recognize the complexities of school districts that do not have the resources to compete for funding, particularly in rural America, and failing to provide targeted and effective support for those schools and school districts.
  12. Failing to respect and honor the professionalism of educators across this country, including but not limited to holding public education roundtables and meetings without inviting state and local representatives of the teachers, education support professionals, and faculty and staff; promoting programs that lower the standards for entry into the profession; focusing so singularly on teachers in the schools that the other critical staff members and higher education faculty and staff have been overlooked in the plans for improving student learning throughout their educational careers.
  13. Perpetuating the myth that there are proven, top-down prescribed ‘silver bullet’ solutions and models that actually will address the real problems that face public education today, rather than recognizing that what schools need is a visionary Secretary of Education that sets broad goals and tasks states, local schools districts, schools, educators, and communities with meeting those goals.

Further, the NEA Representative Assembly directs the NEA Executive Committee to develop and implement an aggressive action plan in collaboration with state and local leaders that will address the issues above.
Starting November 2011, the NEA President will provide regular updates to the delegates on the progress of this plan throughout the year.

Teachers Love to Teach



… if we do not burden them with unreasonable expectations, bureaucratic barriers, and disrespectful working conditions.  To attract more great teachers, to keep more great teachers, to enable more good teachers to become great, we need to employ strategies to improve their teaching experience and practice.
  1. Leverage technology to provide respectful, fair, useful teacher evaluations to drive instructional excellence.
  2. Enable/require teachers to share exemplar lessons and to collaborate with master teachers. (Lesson Study)
  3. Revamp colleges of education, including early in-class experience and advanced instructional techniques.
  4. Link districts and colleges of education for mutual support, reflection, and effectiveness.
  5. Educate teachers in student and teacher assessment principles and scoring
  6. Provide time for teachers to collaborate across subjects.
  7. Leverage high quality media and technology for learning.
  8. Develop locally relevant, cross-curricular, project-based, inquiry-based, media-enriched instruction.
  9. Respect teacher unions’ important role in protecting and supporting teachers.
  10. Rethink teacher tenure and layoff policies to support teacher continuity and quality instruction.