Monthly Archives: February 2011

BOOM! A short conversation with…Chris Wejr @mrwejr

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Chris Wejr

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 12th year of teaching. I began as a secondary school physical education/math/science teacher and then moved into elementary administration 4 years ago. As an administrator, I believe it is important to continue to teach; this year, I teach grade 3 reading.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

My philosophies have significantly changed. When I first began teaching, relationships with students were very important but I was someone who taught like I was taught and just blended in with the system. I punished and rewarded students for academics and behaviours (using grades, prizes, detentions, late marks, etc), desks were often in rows, homework was always given, assessment was mainly summative, and most of my teaching was standardized (not differentiated). Why did I teach this way? That is how I was taught, how my practicum sponsor teachers taught, and how many of my colleagues taught.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

After I started to gain confidence as a teacher, I began to reflect on how to best motivate kids. I noticed that what I was doing as a volleyball coach was working and began to bring those strategies into the classroom. More descriptive feedback, less focus on results, more collaborative activities, and less reliance on rewards and punishment. At that point I was taking baby steps; significant changes happened through educational conversations that took place during my Master’s of Education coursework. Through this program, I became much more reflective and began to question my pedagogy as well as the structures of our education system. People like Nel Noddings, Maxine Greene, Michel Foucault, Alfie Kohn, Kieren Egan, and Sir Ken Robinson filled my mind with reflective questions about the way we teach our kids. When I became a vice principal, I had the privilege of working with a principal that had a strength-based leadership style that encouraged me to focus on intrinsic motivation. She continually challenged me to see the positive attributes in people and focus on their strengths, rather than their deficits. So this has been a gradual process over the past 5 years that has lead me to have a strength-based, passion-driven philosophy of education.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

When I completed my Master’s program in 2008, those reflective educational conversations with peers and professors were lacking in my life. A friend (@kyegrace), who is a leader in social marketing, encouraged me to try Twitter and blogging to try to develop connections with other reflective educators. Two years later, I have seen my passion fueled by educators around the world who continually challenge and support me in my views on education. To be completely honest, without the support of my PLN on Twitter, I would not be the educator I am today. These connections have helped to develop both professional and personal relationships that make every day that much better! My educational mentors are now not only educators in my district but also parents, teachers, and admin from around the globe.

Chris’ Blog

My shortest post, ever: On teaching and just about everything else.

Think, challenge, and question how you do it. Get it?

"’Against the Wind’ by Bob Seger"

I’ve always identified with the song Against the Wind, the namesake of my blog. This song by Bob Seger is, indeed, one of my favorite. As noted in the side bar of this blog, I chose the title Against the Wind to symbolize the struggle I have within myself. That struggle is simply challenging the way I thought a teacher should be. Indeed, “The biggest obstacle to school change is our memories.”

I have never posted this beautiful song on my blog. I found this great cover today on youtube of Seger’s classic song. Here it is– Enjoy.

A short conversation with…Yoon Soo Lim @DoremiGirl

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Yoon Soo Lim

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching music for 10 years.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Yes! As a young new teacher, I was very sure about how to teach kids and what kids needed to be “taught”. Since then I’ve been learning to strip away those agendas. I’ve learned to see that my mission is to love the kids who have been entrusted to me and to put their interest and passion at the center. I’m learning that I need to learn as much much more than I require my students everyday.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

I don’t think it was a specific person or an event that changed me, but rather, positive influences of great teachers, their enthusiasm and belief that transforms me. I think I will continue to change as I learn. What I will continue to do is to do my part in reaching the next generation to think and learn with great joy and become stewards of their world.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Since joining Twitter (September, 2009), my view of the world has changed. I have come to know great teachers from all over the world who share their daily learning with me. They share amazing resources, blog their thoughts and engage in conversations with other teachers about learning and teaching. I have collaborated with many teachers, helping to connect our worlds for our students. My network – teachers who have also become my friends – has helped me to find joys in daily learning-sharing (I think I just created a new word). So I pay it forward by learning-sharing with new teachers on Twitter and non-tweeting teachers everywhere else!

Twitter: @DoremiGirl
Blog: http://singimagination.wordpress.com

A Short Conversation with…Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Eric Sheninger

How long have you been teaching?

I have been in education for 11 years of which I spent 5 as a teacher of science (Biology, Chemistry, Marine Biology, Ecology) and 6 as an Administrators (Director of Athletics, Vice Principal, Principal).

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

When I began teaching in 2000 I was a firm believer that an effective learning environment emphasized traditional methodologies such as direct instruction, cooperative learning, and sound classroom management techniques. As far as science instruction went I found it paramount that learning activities were hands-on, relevant, and fostered critical thinking skills. Control was a central theme in my classroom as I thought that this was imperative in order to create a learning environment that met the needs of all of my learners.

Anyone that knows me now can attest to the fact that my philosophy has evolved in connection with changes in society, learners, and best practices. As a principal who focuses on instruction I feel that teachers need to be willing to give up control at times in order to unleash the creative juices of their students. The role of a teacher it that of a facilitator of learning as opposed to just a disseminator of content. Lessons and learning environments should be student-centered, flexible, effectively integrate technology, contain an authentic context, address multiple learning styles, and assess students in a variety of ways. Early on in my career I felt that failure was not an option and that by doing so I was letting my students down. This translated in a lack of risk taking on my behalf to pursue innovative ideas. I now feel that taking risks to improve student achievement and spur innovation are essential if we are to change educational systems for the better. Failing is inherit in this process, but it is ok if we learn from it.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

I would say that this change has been a gradual process as I have grown as an educator. If I could pinpoint a specific turning point it would have to be March of 2009. It was at this time that I decided to give Twitter a try as a way to communicate with stakeholders in my District. After lurking and learning for a while I discovered this vibrant community of passionate educators committed to a student-first philosophy. I think the rest is history.

Eric’s Blog

How Twitter changed everything for me.

Pre-twitter: I felt isolated because at times no peer could relate to specific teaching issues.
With Twitter I find people with similar teaching issues. I feel isolated no more.

Pre-Twitter: I might be the only one with a specific mind-set on an issue.
With Twitter I seek out those with a similar mind-set.

Pre-Twitter: My educational relationships were built within the building I worked.
With Twitter I build relationships not only within my building but with educators worldwide.

Pre-Twitter: At times I found it difficult to find answers to specific questions.
With Twitter I can ask and have several answers almost immediately.

Pre-Twitter: My PD was done on specific days of the year.
With Twitter PD happens daily.

Pre-Twitter: My education mind-set was slow to change.
With Twitter my thinking is challenged and pushed constantly. (Thanks to Jabiz Raisdana @intrepidteacher and Justin Stortz@newfirewithin for pointing this out.)

A Short Conversation with…Jerrid Kruse @jerridkruse

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Jerrid Kruse

How long have you been teaching?

The answer depends on what you consider “teaching”. I first started working as a laboratory assistant in 2000 at my undergraduate institution. I also did some tutoring of high school students in chemistry during this time. When I graduated from undergrad in 2002, I started in a PhD program in Chemistry. During the 2 years I spent in this program I was a laboratory instructor and a recitation (kind of a mini-lecture) instructor. Then I switched to a Master of Teaching (MAT) degree and continued to serve as a lab instructor in the Chemistry Department. This was a great opportunity because I was able to try out all the things I was learning in my methods courses in real time. I didn’t have to wait until student teaching to put the ideas into practice, I usually tried new ideas the next week in lab or recitation. After graduating with my MAT, I became a middle/high school teacher in an affluent, medium sized, midwestern town. In this first position I taught 7th grade general science, 9th grade physical science and 12th grade advanced chemistry. I was then offered to return to graduate school to work on a grant and pursue my PhD in Curriculum & Instruction with an emphasis in science education. I spent a year on campus taking class and collecting data for my dissertation. Importantly, I also was teaching and assisting classes for preservice teachers. After this year, I found a teaching position at a school that was very different on paper from my first school. This second school’s students were culturally and economically diverse. My two years at this second k-12 position allowed me to really grow as an educator. Now I am in my first year as a university professor teaching preservice teachers in the school of education and even one laboratory section in the Chemistry Department. So, if you add it all up, I have been teaching others for almost 11 years.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Absolutely! People always told me I should be a teacher because I was good at explaining things to others. My first teaching (before my MAT) was mostly my attempt to come up with better and better explanations for things. During my MAT, I came to understand that really good teaching is about helping others explain things. Good teachers don’t give great explanations, they help others construct the explanations. This notion hasn’t changed much, but continues to be refined. I constantly ask myself how I might better help my students think more deeply.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

I somewhat alluded to this in my last response. Yet, my preservice program was excellent. Good teaching was consistently modeled in this program. Had I not witnessed this good teaching, I am unsure I would have become the teacher I am today. For this reason, I work to consistently model good teaching in my own methods courses.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Yes and no. Twitter has not affected my philosophy of education much, but I don’t want to dismiss the power of my twitter interactions. I think where twitter has helped me is when I want to do X, I can ask people how to do X and I get some really good ideas and resources.

Jerrid’s Blog

A Short Conversation with…Shannon Smith @shannoninottawa

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Shannon Smith

How long have you been teaching?

I began teaching in 1998. I taught high school English and Special Education in Ottawa and Toronto and then took an extended leave to be home with my two children until they entered Kindergarten. I have been back in school for 4 years — 1 1/2 of which were as a special education teacher and 2 1/2 as a vice principal in the elementary panel.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Yes. My educational philosophy has evolved over the years as I have been exposed to diverse experiences. While a deep commitment to students remains the foundation in which my educational philosophy is grounded, it is constantly being refined as I reflect on experiences, asking myself, “What did I learn today?”

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

There are many specific events and people who who have had a tremendous impact on my philosophy. Any struggle provides plentiful learning opportunities, so it would be accurate to say that students, staff and parents who challenged me the most, helped me grow and refine my philosophy. I approach situations from an appreciative inquiry perspective, always looking for the best of situations and people. I have the following quote from Michelangelo hanging above the door of my office, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”. Each time I leave my office, I am reminded that it is my work to create a school climate where everyone can be at their best.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

The tool through which I reflect and refine my philosophy is my blog, shannoninottawa.com. Through Twitter, I have connected to educators across the globe. My PLN includes a variety of stakeholders in education – teachers, parents, trustees, superintendents, principals, instructional coaches and others – who share my passion for learning, but whose experiences and philosophies are diverse. As well as engaging in conversations via twitter, members of my PLN drop by my blog to leave comments, many of which push my thinking on issues and ask me to continue growing and learning.

As well, I make time to visit the blogs where members of my PLN share their thoughts on a wide cross-section of issues around education. Reading what others have to say and joining in the conversations via the comments provides yet another opportunity for me to engage in learning on an ongoing basis.

Finally, the intermediate level students at my school publish their writing to our blog – thewritingisonthewall.edublogs.org. When my students post to the blog, I often send out a tweet using the hashtag #comments4kids to ask members of my PLN to visit the blog and encourage these young writers by leaving a comment. I believe that connecting my students to a global community of knowledge and experiences is one of my main responsibilities as a lead learner in my school community.

Shannon’s Blog

10 Things I Wish I had Never Learned about Teaching

Inspired by 10 Things You Wish You Had Never Learned, I decided to make a similar list for teaching. A little change of the title and a new list and here you go:

10 Things I Wish I Never Learned about teaching:

1. I wish I had never learned that the class must always be quiet.

2. I wish I had never learned that a student’s learning and understanding was based on his/her test scores.

3. I wish I had never learned that rewards and punishments have to be used in class to control students.

4. I wish I had never learned that a “good” teacher controls his/her students.

5. I wish I had never learned that the teacher never admits when he/she is wrong.

6. I wish I had never learned that a teacher never smiles before Christmas.

7. I wish I had never learned that a teacher lectures at the front of the class.

8. I wish I had never learned that a student should always stay in his/her seat.

9. I wish I had never learned that school was not a place for fun.

10. I wish I had never learned that, “this class is not a democracy; It is a dictatorship.”

A Short Conversation with…Richard Byrne @rmbyrne

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Richard Byrne

How long have you been teaching?

I got my first full-time teaching position in January 2004 teaching a ninth grade language arts class (a job I felt under qualified to do, but I was willing to try). In January 2005 I took a semester position as a computer lab/ writing lab instructor. In August 2005 I started the social studies teaching position I have now. Prior to working in public schools I worked for FedEx for seven years in various management roles including training coordinator.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Yes.

When I started teaching I had a very teacher-centric mindset. I was convinced that if I made what I thought were good lesson plans, the students would learn what I was trying to teach them. There was a lot of “sage on the stage” lesson plans when I started. The classroom was very quiet.

Now there are very few times when my lesson plan calls for a “sage on stage.” I now layout for students the essential questions as dictated by district administration and work with students to acquire knowledge they can use to address those questions. In some cases my “lesson plan” for the day might be as simple as discussing with students their research findings or working with them to develop mind maps or webs. If you walk by my classroom today, it’s often full of chatter from student groups working together.

The other thing I’ve learned and that no one told me when I was taking my certification courses is that some of my students come to class hungry, tired, feeling neglected (even if they don’t articulate it that way) or unsure of where they will be sleeping that night. In those cases, if I don’t help them deal with those issues first, I will have a really hard time addressing the curriculum standards with them. In other words, I’ve learned that I teach students first, not social studies first.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

The changes outlined above occurred gradually. I didn’t even realize it was happening until I was asked to reflect upon it in the fall of 2007.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Yes, Twitter has played a role in my evolution as a teacher. How much? That changes based on how much I’ve been on Twitter at the time I’m asked. Most of the people (for a while I auto-followed everyone that followed me) I follow on Twitter provide me with food for thought. I have some lists of people who are always politely pushing new conversations forward. If you check my Twitter lists you can find the people I interact with the most.

Richard’s Blog