Now that the school year has come to a close I am thinking a lot about transitions. I am transitioning this summer from a classroom teacher to a full time mentor teacher in my district. For the first time since I began a career in education I will be without my own classroom full of students. It is a big transition.
I also have many people around me that are transitioning as well. I can name at least fifteen other colleagues or professionals in my life that are also making moves, some from district to district, some from classroom to district office, and some from one age group to another. There is just a lot of change. What I hear most from everyone is not fear or concern but excitement. It seems we are in a mood and pretty ready to shake things up a bit.
My district is also making many transitions in their instructional practices and plans and I suspect many others around us are as well. As we transition from using HSPE (High School Proficiency Exam) and EOC (End Of Course Exam) to measuring student performance using the SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment) and focusing on the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) we are transitioning how we meet the needs of our students in our classrooms. We are also transitioning from a PGP (Professional Growth Plan) model of teacher performance evaluation to the TPEP (Teacher Principal Evaluation Project). I begin to wonder how all of this transition can be handled in one go. I am also beginning to see that being able to adapt and be ready for change is a skill of utmost importance for anyone in the educational field.
What is interesting to me as well is that there are so many voices advising us on how we meet the new demands and measurement standards for both ourselves and our students. I have been introduced to three major instructional practices over the last six months as means to meet my students needs. One is an approach called Explicit Instruction and is outlined in a book of that title by Anita L. Archer and Charles A. Hughes. The approach is a model very much like I do, we do, you do. It’s a very direct and structured model of planning and delivering instruction. The next is a method called the Question Formulation Technique and is found in the book Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. This model is much more of a constructive approach where the students really drive the lesson and there is much more flow and leniency in the outcome. Thirdly we have been doing a summer book study with Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s book Text-Dependent Questions. This approach seems to be somewhere in the middle of the other two approaches. It focuses on close reading. The reading is very guided by teacher driven questions however it encourages meaning making and extending the questions into encouraging students to think about what the text inspires them to do. When is look at all three of these books I sort of want to scream and pull my hair out. What is it that they want me to do? I feel that the message is mixed if I just look at these resources at face value.
However, when I stop to really think about it, and take a look at all the pieces I see it’s a matter of transitions. I think that this new kind of teaching will be even more nuanced than before. We will need to learn to shift our thinking daily to meet the new demands for everyone. In my new role as a mentor my mentees may need a detailed and more explicit approach to start off with. Hopefully they will become more comfortable and able to bring in more student centered constructive lessons. When a teacher is truly proficient in their craft they will be able to make these decision about lesson structure with confidence and it will add to the art of their craft. The students are definitely held accountable by the standards to perform in both individual and more directed ways as well as in groups and more fluid thinking ways.
For example anchor standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently. This standard calls on them to do something very blatant and independent.
However students are also expected to meet anchor standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. This standard is clearly the opposite type of thinking and processing.
If our students are being asked to transition in their thinking then we should be able to transition in our teaching. The more comfortable we get with transitions in our practices the more we will be able to capitalize upon our skills to build student learning and understanding. We can see that this expected of us when looking at our own evaluations. In my district we use Danielson so I am most able to reference those criteria. When looking at my evaluations expectation of my instruction which is Domain 3 in the framework I can see that I am expected to all these types of instruction and that is what will help my students the most. The components of this domain are, communicating with students, using questioning and discussion techniques, engaging students in learning, using assessment in learning, and of course demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness. Throughout the framework in this component there is language that supports all three of the methods we are working with. The last component deals mostly with being flexible with in the classroom and student behavior and understanding but I see that it also calls upon our flexibility with planning and constructional strategies. We need to be become stronger in our ability to transition in types of instruction for different purposes and to really meet the needs of our students.
Looking at all of these resources and assessments for both the students and ourselves we will all need to transition. We will need to transition in our mindset, our outlook, and our practice. This will need to happen yearly, monthly, weekly, daily and even minute to minute. Our confidence in ourselves to shake it up and keep ourselves out of the temptation to establish too solid a routine will benefit our own craft and our students learning of both content and skills.
I am really hoping that as I get more comfortable in my own professional transitions and those around me I can help more teachers to do the same.