Monday, August 5, 2013

Making Connections and Building Relationships

School year 2013-2014 is off to a great start!  This is going to be a challenging year due to a new teacher evaluation system, a new way of determining school proficiency, and new expectations for school administrators. It was important to get the school year off to a positive start!

A  number of our teachers were busy this summer, attending conferences, trainings, and participating in professional development opportunities.  Our Blended Learning team was fortunate to be able to attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in San Antonio; others attended AVID training; one of our teachers attended the Exxon Phil Mickelson Teacher Academy for Math and Science and another attended a training at the Library of Congress on how to use primary resources in our teaching and learning.   Additionally, teachers attended the Kamehameha Technology Conference and others participated in training for Achieve 3000 or Thinking Maps. I mention this, not just to share the professionalism of our teachers in trying to improve their instructional practices, but to show how we needed to connect all of these trainings to ensuring that teaching and learning at Hale Kula is meaningful and engaging.

With the implementation state-wide of the Educator Effectiveness System, teachers will be evaluated, based on five components.  Our goal is for all of our teachers to be successful because we know that an effective teacher in the classroom has the most significant impact on student performance and student achievement. Therefore, we needed to make connections and to realize that by working together with our colleagues, we have a better opportunity to ensure that all of our students and teachers are successful.

Planning our first day agenda takes a lot of thought.  I wanted to make sure we had time to make connections between the Educator Effectiveness System and other initiatives from the State, District, Complex, or our school while building relationships at the same time.  With a relatively large faculty (about 75 teachers) and a lack of designated school-wide professional development days for the past few years, new hires often did not have opportunities to meet or work with other grade level teachers.  For this reason, it was important to use our administrative time wisely.

Earlier this summer at the Kamehameha Tech Conference, we had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Nirvan Mullick who produced a video called "Caine's Arcade."  I watched the video several times and shared it on my personal Facebook page. I knew that I wanted to share it with our teachers, too.  "Caine's Arcade" was the perfect video to discuss problem-solving and the attributes of a problem-solver, and while we all agree that Caine is bright and creative, demonstrates perseverance and definitely is a critical thinker and problem-solver, as educators, we don't give our students these kinds of opportunities in the classroom.  I considered having material available so teachers could work in teams to create something out of cardboard, but a cardboard challenge would take too long.  What kind of activity would be shorter, a little less open-ended, but still engage our staff to work in teams while problem-solving?

Our librarian/media resource teacher shared The Marshmallow Challenge with me, and I knew it would be just right for our purpose!  Teachers worked in teams of 4 (I put the groups together ahead-of-time), and part-way through, we removed at least one teacher from each group and had them switch with another teacher.  We had puzzled looks, and teachers shared that they thought they had done something wrong when we asked them to switch groups.  Some didn't want to change because they were comfortable with their group, and they were actually a little upset.

After reflecting on the experience, we had teachers complete a google form to collect comments.  Our librarian-media resource teacher used a Smilebox slideshow to document feedback as well as a Wordle to capture feelings of the participants during The Marshmallow Challenge.  (Note - the larger words were mentioned more often.)  One of the reflective questions we asked was, "How did it feel when you were asked to move to a new group, and how did you fit in to your new group?"  We wanted teachers to make the connection between how they felt as a "newcomer" in the group and how our students feel when they transition into our school.  (Each year, we have several hundred who transition after school begins.) I loved this teacher's comment:  "When I got switched to a different group, I thought about kids who come into our school as new students. It made me reflect on my experiences as a teacher welcoming new students."

After this uplifting, fun activity, our teachers were more engaged and participatory during our mandatory training.  Continuing to build on the new relationships they were forming, teachers worked in groups, jigsawed the required assignments, and shared what they had read to ensure that everyone got the same information.  They then posted comments, questions, or feedback on sticky notes on a canvas.

This reminds me of something our AVID trainer said to us during our training this summer:  Why do we leave the "fun" activities till the end of the day or the end of the week IF we have time.  Perhaps if we mix it up and occasionally give students engaging assignments at the beginning of the day, we would have fewer tardy students since they wouldn't want to miss out on an enjoyable activity!  

Today was our first day with the students, and it went well!  Here's hoping the remaining days are just as good!


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