3 Tips for First-Year Teachers


visual from Ellen Moir’s 1998 article “Phases of a First-Year Teacher”

The first time I saw Ellen Moir’s Phases of First-Years’ Attitudes Toward Teaching was over a decade ago when I was training to become a teacher mentor. I scanned the teacher’s journey as it careened down a steep ravine and up again, all the while reflecting on my tumultuous first year. You may be thinking, “That’s not going to happen to me”. While maybe not all new teachers go through all of these phases in exactly this way, over my years of educating and training new teachers, I have seen that most do. When the time comes, as it most likely will, with these phases in mind, perhaps you (1) won’t be so surprised and (2) can remind yourself, when the going gets tough, that you are not alone.

Thus, as you prepare for this new school year in a flurry of anticipation, here are a few recommendations for channeling your enthusiasm.

Keep a journal that tracks your progress. What excites you about teaching? Why did you become a teacher, and what are your hopes and fears for this school year? A journal can be an excellent way not only to reflect on your practice but also to capture that essence of excitement so that you can later look back when you might need some inspiration or support. These days, blogging can be a great journaling platform, whether you do it for yourself or to share with others. I still find the old-fashioned pen-to-paper approach quite useful as well.

Start a new teacher group. Early in my career, I realized the importance of a support network. Though it is also essential to have support from veteran teachers, other new teachers are also a valuable resource for sharing ideas and experiences.

Backward map! As a new teacher, I realized that I had slid into the survival mode of day-to-day planning. While my teacher-preparation program had prepared me for curriculum planning via a bigger picture “end-in-view” for teaching and learning, I remained overwhelmed by a mountain of other, seemingly more pressing considerations: getting to know my students and colleagues, finalizing a schedule for what classes I’d actually be teaching — in that first year, I had four completely different classes of varying grade levels to prep, using a cart navigate the three floors of the school because I taught five classes in five different classrooms, figuring out the school and district guidelines for (1) attendance, (2) grading, (3) class discipline and (4) mandatory participation in professional development, attending English department and schoolwide faculty meetings, and so on.

With all of these pressing responsibilities and (for some of us) little guidance from other colleagues, it’s not surprising when that bigger picture teaching and learning end-in-view may seem too daunting and time-consuming to take on. Truly transformative teaching, however, is more than just planning and implementing a good lesson, so here are three steps for backward mapping your instruction around larger learning goals:

1. Identify desired results: What knowledge and skills do I want my students to have?

2. Determine acceptable evidence: How will I know that the know/understand? How will they demonstrate evidence of their learning?

3. Plan learning experiences: How will I plan my instruction accordingly?

What suggestions might you have for a first-year teacher? Or, if you’re a first-year teacher, what additional questions and/or guidance would you find most valuable if/when/as you journey downward from Anticipation to Survival?


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Anatomy of Lesson Planning

Lesson plans provide us teachers with a concrete road map for where we are going and the route we plan to take to reach our learning destination. Just as preparing ourselves beforehand helps our road trips go more smoothly, taking the time to plan through our daily, weekly, and monthly instruction aids us in thinking through and enacting lessons that impact our students’ knowledge, skills, and transfer growth.

I spend a substantial chunk of my time lesson planning– for my own classes, with teaching colleagues, with novice teachers I mentor, and this year, with an entire school faculty with whom I’m collaborating for unit and lesson design. So, here’s a few structural suggestions as you think through your own lesson planning, along with some resources.

Begin with the end in view.

What is your overarching goal for the lesson? What do you want/hope/expect students will know and do by the lesson’s end? I suggest making your overarching goal specific enough so that it is measurable, visible, and attainable. Here’s an example:

General: Students will improve their reading interpretation skills.

Specific: Students will be able to interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text and analyze how specific word choices shape mood, meaning/message, and tone.

Determine how you’ll assess the goal.

This involves shifting the focus momentarily away from content (don’t worry, though, we’ll get there!) to consider what a tangible learning outcome for your goal looks like. Using the above example, how might you as a teacher actually assess students’ ability to interpret words and phrases from a text? How might they demonstrate their understanding of how specific word choices shape mood, meaning/message, and tone? Would they give an oral presentation, or participate in a student-driven discussion where they can articulate their ability to analyze and interpret a text and how word choices shape them? Would they write a poem or short narrative where they make purposeful decisions about word choice, and then share their thinking as to why they selected those words?

Create your detailed road map for how to get to your learning goal destination.

In our roadmap, we can shift our focus to our content and lesson sequence – how we plan to open and move through the lesson from beginning to end. Here’s a few potential strategies for organizing lesson sequences:

I Do, We Do, You Do (which is Madeline Hunter’s Instructional Theory Into Practice) This entails a gradual release from teacher to student, where the teacher models (I do), then the class engages in guided practice (we do), followed by students practicing independently (you do). While this strategy provides a comprehensive structure for lesson planning, it emphasizes a more teacher-driven approach to a lesson. For some I Do, We Do, You Do, guidance check out California Educator Tiffany Baides’ comprehensive lesson template and at-a-glance guide! Here’s also a link to Teachnology’s the “Madeline Hunter” lesson plan template. And, for a more constructivist, student-centered approach to lesson planning, where students are front and center grappling with concepts, I suggest reviewing ASCD author Katie J. Waddell’s “flipped” model: You Do, We Do, I Do: A Strategy for Productive Struggle

For a more constructivist, student-centered approach to lesson planning, where students are front and center grappling with concepts to figure it out on their own then I suggest reviewing ASCD author Katie J. Waddell’s “flipped” model: You Do, We Do, I Do: A Strategy for Productive Struggle

5E Lesson Plan — Another student inquiry-driven lesson planning possibility is the 5E lesson plan (informed by the work of Atkin and Karplus and developed in 1987 by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study). Note: the below explanations for each stage are from Lesley University’s Empowering Students: The 5E Model Explained, and all direct quotes below are denoted in italicized text.

  1. Engage: In the first phase of the learning cycle, the teacher works to gain an understanding of the students’ prior knowledge and identify any knowledge gaps. It is also important to foster an interest in the upcoming concepts so students will be ready to learn. Teachers might task students with asking opening questions or writing down what they already know about the topic. This is also when the concept is introduced to students for the first time.
  2. Explore: During the exploration phase, students actively explore the new concept through concrete learning experiences. They might be asked to go through the scientific method and communicate with their peers to make observations. This phase allows students to learn in a hands-on way.
  3. Explain: This is a teacher-led phase that helps students synthesize new knowledge and ask questions if they need further clarification. For the Explain phase to be effective, teachers should ask students to share what they learned during the Explore phase before introducing technical information in a more direct manner, according to “The 5E Instructional Model: A Learning Cycle Approach for Inquiry-Based Science Teaching.” This is also when teachers utilize video, computer software, or other aides to boost understanding.
  4. Elaborate: The elaboration phase of the 5E Model focuses on giving students space to apply what they’ve learned. This helps them to develop a deeper understanding. Teachers may ask students to create presentations or conduct additional investigations to reinforce new skills. This phase allows students to cement their knowledge before evaluation.
  5. Evaluate: The 5E Model allows for both formal and informal assessment. During this phase, teachers can observe their students and see whether they have a complete grasp of the core concepts. It is also helpful to note whether students approach problems in a different way based on what they learned. Other helpful elements of the Evaluate phase include self-assessment, peer-assessment, writing assignments, and exams.

Here’s a 5E lesson plan template example, courtesy of Duke University’s Computer Science department.

Selection, Detection, Connection (SDC) The Selection, Detection, Connection (SDC) Model is grounded in self-directed learning and knowledge as an integrative process, where disciplines are connected, not divided into individual subject silos. (developed in 1990 by Leslie Owen Wilson). The SDC Model emphasizes student choice for what students want and need to know (selection), critical thinking for adequately evaluating/judging information sources, along with an understanding of how human bias impacts how information is processed (detection), and that new knowledge and insights are gained through an integrated information process (connection). According to Owen Wilson, the teacher’s role becomes primarily that of facilitator, guide, mentor, friend, counselor, resource person, and learner. Owen Wilson points out too that this model might be more geared to self-motivated learners, though I’ve used an adapted version of her model in my own English classes fairly successfully with students of varying motivation and skill levels.

I didn’t see a lesson planning template for SDC on her website, so I’m currently working on creating one for teachers based on Wilson Owen’s “processes” . Please also note that using SDC as your lesson planning guide entails circling back to this post’s first two steps (begin with the end in view, determine how you’ll assess your goal) to consider the student autonomy that this model requires. What might your students determine as their overarching goal for the lesson? What might they want/hope/expect to know and do by the lesson’s end?

If you’d like additional lesson planning resources, or if you have some resources to share, please contact me! I’m working on compiling resources into one open-source/free sharing space (for now, it’s my Google Drive) as a one-stop resource for our teaching and learning community.

PE & Recess Resources

Here’s a Padlet of K-8 PE & Recess that I put together for a first-year teacher friend. Anyone should be able to add to the board, so if you’re reading this and thinking, “Wait! I have an excellent lesson, article, or resource to share!”, then please add whatever you have. I know first-year teachers will send a virtual thank you your way!

Made with Padlet

The beginner’s guide to back to school

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s back to school week!

As a seasoned teacher, I didn’t expect to have so many questions a year ago as my daughter entered kindergarten. After all, this was her first rite of passage into American schooling. In my 22 years working in education, I’ve done 10 full school year cycles as a high school English teacher and experienced another 10 school year cycles as a mentor, coach, and teacher education professor.

However, actually navigating the elementary school landscape as a parent often became a somewhat bewildering and humbling experience. I remain so grateful to those other, well-versed parents from our neighborhood school community whose sage advice helped us successfully survive the transition to kindergarten. And so this year I fielded questions like a pro (okay, maybe not exactly, but at least as a “second-year school parent” in my volunteer role as a mentor to an incoming kinder family).

Below are some of those questions that you might also be asking if you’re a first-year kindergarten teacher or “first-year school parent”. Please message me too with other questions and/or ideas that you think also might be valuable to share with our teaching and learning community.

  • Do kids normally bring a lunch or buy a lunch? 
  • The handbook didn’t mention an earthquake kit- should I go ahead and buy one?
  • How often (and how) do we receive updates about our child’s progress?
  • What is the procedure if I bring my child to school late and/or pick her up before the school day has officially ended?
  • How do I sign up for the after-school/after-care program?
  • What school supplies does my child need?
  • Does my child get a report card in kindergarten?
  • How much play time will my child have during the day?
  • What are the arts and enrichment offerings at the school, and how often do kids participate in them?
  • May my child borrow books from the school library?
  • What type of bag/backpack would you recommend? Okay, I WILL answer this question because it’s relevant for most families regardless of where their kids are attending kindergarten. I initially bought a tiny backpack, thinking that my daughter could carry most needed school supplies back and forth. However, it was too small to fit a folder for homework assignments and weekly announcements the school sends home. Most kid backpacks seem to be a lot larger – almost adult-sized, but we found a medium-sized backpack made by Crocodile Creek, perfect for a kindergartener’s body frame (not too small, not too large). And, if you live in San Francisco, you can buy them in the Castro at Cliff’s Variety.

If you’re interested in the answers to these questions, please message me directly. I didn’t post them here because they were specific to our neighborhood elementary school, but I’d gladly write a post that includes more generalized responses to these questions!

Non-Profit Progress Update

Yes! We’re gaining momentum, and I’m eager to share our progress! A few updates:

1) We have assembled our initial board of directors. I’m still looking for one more board member with fundraising experience, so if you or someone you know may be able to help out with that, please private message/email me. My hope is to have us up and running as an official non-profit later this fall, and so hopefully all of you fabulous donors can officially write off your contributions!

2) Now that the initial board is official, I’m working through the next phase of paperwork (Articles of Incorporation).

3) We are carefully reviewing our video options again. I spent time earlier this summer doing some research and much of this week looking into how to get the biggest bang for (y)our bucks. Thankfully, I’m married to an audio expert, so I have gleaned some very valuable audio advice too. And, we have our first official video intern applicant! More updates on the video intern process soon – and if you know someone in SF who can volunteer 3-5 hours per week for video shooting or editing, please pass along our volunteer video intern posting. Ideally, we’re seeking 2-4 interns so that we can have someone on-site Monday-Friday.

FYI: Any interns we bring on will need to be background-checked and fingerprinted as part of standard school policy, and we’ll cover that cost for anyone we bring on board.

3 Ways to Develop Better Teacher Learning

EFEI

I’ve taken a blog hiatus the past month or two to wrap up the school year as well as work on the specifics of starting a non-profit!

And so, I’m looking for your help to improve our schools and empower teachers.

 The new non-profit will be focused on these three key steps to make education more effective for everyone – and in particular, for novice teachers just starting out on their careers.

o   Create and distribute high-quality curricula, for FREE – teachers frequently experience a lack of access to high-quality curricula.  Often, they have to find it on their own and pay for it using their own money or actively seek out colleagues or mentors – this is hard for them because the first year or two of teaching is overwhelming and exhausting.

o   Create explicit guidance for implementation –  clear tools and instructions on how to effectively design and teach lessons and units, determine authentic student learning outcomes, align assessments meaningfully to learning goals, and move through/survive the day-to-day realities of teaching to integrate new curricula into new teachers’ classrooms.

o   Develop teacher skills – professional development for teachers on creating and implementing a quality curriculum.  Many teachers do not have the opportunity to learn these skills in their teacher-preparation programs.

1) $300 to pay for the cost of starting the non-profit 
2) $200 for legal advisement  for the paperwork and various filing requirements
3) $800 for 2 video equipment to film both high school ELA and science classes in action (our goal is to film EVERY DAY of the school year if we can)
4) $200 to get our website up and running – we are going to create it ourselves using WordPress, most likely, but we’ll need to buy a domain name and pay for web hosting initially.

I would also be interested in people willing to donate expertise for web design, branding, logos, or general infrastructure.

This will help my colleague KC and I with the setup for the non-profit organization and the seed of our curricula and tools.  Our plan is to use those to lay the groundwork for a more extensive outreach that can enable the organization to grow to a scale that can impact the quality of teaching in California and beyond.

Can you help us make this dream a reality? Then head on over to our GoFundMe page. Even a small donation of $1.00 will support us in getting closer to our initial funding goal.

What’s your story?

EFEI

What brought you to the teaching profession? In my 20+ years in education, I have heard various responses to this question. Many of them include a number of influencing factors on deciding to become an educator. Whatever the reasons are, I invariably/consistently hear one commonality again and again as teachers share their individual stories: Some teacher along the way substantially impacted them in some way, and this somehow influenced their decision to enter this profession.

For me, it was a combination of experiences, though my high school English teacher unknowingly set the frame of what became the foundation of my own journey.

When I was in high school 25 years ago, most of my teachers lectured with the expectation that I’d listen, take notes, and learn. Much of the assessments consisted of traditional pen and paper tests where I regurgitated the passive information I had absorbed. My English teacher, however, framed his classes differently. They mostly consisted of an interactive, Socratic-seminar structure. It was my favorite class, in part because I already loved reading and writing, but also because every day became an interactive and engaging adventure through literature. My years as his student opened my mind to a new way of thinking – to question, read actively, make connections across texts, and add to class dialogue (though admittedly, I was – and still am- a relatively quiet student).

So, please think back to a moment that may have forever changed your learning perspective. What’s your story, and how has it impacted your journey to teaching?

The Adolescent Brain

In the past 20 years of my professional life as a teacher and teacher leader, I’ve spent a lot of time with teens. As such, I’ve always been intrigued by their cognitive development. Until recently, the general assumption was that the adolescent brain was that of a “young adult”, and thus similar to adult brains. Recent research indicates, however, that this is not the case at all. Rather, it exhibits a different learning level ability combined with some possible vulnerabilities in a still-developing brain.

Thus, we should approach the adolescent brain with certain considerations for teaching and learning (Jensen, 2015) in mind:

  1. Learning is based on meaning and emotional response;
  2. Children and teens can imprint on their experiences; and
  3. The brain is social and thus development requires interaction.

Neurology expert and Harvard Medical School professor Frances Jensen provides more insight into this fascinating topic below.