Posts Tagged ‘teacher learning’

CCO Creative commons licensed image

So, I’ve been thinking about observing classes. Last spring I joined our upper school division head in doing short, unannounced observations of classes. The observations are only 10 minutes long.

Last year I followed up with a short conversation and then an email that summarized my observations and our discussion. I made it to see 35+ classes last spring. I was very nervous at first. I have worked very hard to build positive relationships with as many teachers as possible; it’s the only way I know to get people to consider using technology in the classroom and keep using it once I am not around. Adding observing to the list of things I do changes things. I admit that I started with some folks with whom I felt comfortable. I steered clear of departments in which I teach, unless I asked if I could come to see something in particular. I built up my own comfort with this new role and moved to other teachers and departments. I loved it. (I wrote about it twice last school year.)

This school year I am continuing with general observing and have three teachers that I am evaluating. For those teachers, my goal is to see a class (still 10 minutes) once a rotation (7 teaching days), with a goal of 20 observations for the year. As a group, the evaluation team in all divisions is using many ideas from the Marshall Method for mini-observations. So, we are doing lots of short observations, having a brief follow up conversation, and sending an email with several positives and one item that might be a question or a suggestion. For the folks I am not evaluating, but simply observing, I just send a follow-up email.

That’s a lot of introduction to get to my point. It’s going great overall. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • I make time for this every week and block out time on my calendar to make time for this work.
  • It really does only take 10 minutes to see a lot and then another 10 to write a follow-up email.
  • A lot of teachers reply to my email which leads to either a face-to-face conversation or email exchange about strategies, technology, or students.
  • Some teachers still want to make time to sit down and hear more about what I saw.
  • One teacher who is being evaluated, but not by me, asked if I would still come in and observe because my feedback was very useful last year.
  • When I get to see teachers a second time, I start to notice their “signature moves,” some of which I am adapting for myself or recommending to others.
  • As I get to know teachers as teachers rather than lunch table companions, I can recommend or share techniques from one teacher to another or suggest that a teacher observe another teacher in particular.
  • The culture of the classroom, although invisible to my eyes, is obvious to the rest of me.
  • In particular, I tend to focus on student engagement and class culture.

Earlier this fall I had a real victory with a particular teacher. First, a little background. I waited quite a while before observing this teacher last year. I wasn’t too sure there was much enthusiasm for my visit; the follow-up conversation was difficult to schedule. This year I checked in with this teacher about a student I teach whom this teacher had taught the year before. We had a lovely conversation and it turned out my write up had been helpful to the teacher later in the year in other circumstances. Then, after my first observation this year I got this reply to my follow-up email:


Thanks for this. When you have a few minutes (ha) I would love to hear more of your impressions, thoughts,  and—in addition– advice. I found our conversation from your previous observation enormously helpful.


teacher-who-might-not-have-been-very-excited-to-see-me-last-year (not a real name)

Now, not to reveal too much here, but to receive this email made my day. As I have said before, I play the long game. I think I first learned this when I taught in Chicago Public Schools. I just kept showing up, not quitting, figuring out a little more, ignoring the little stuff (and some big stuff), trying again, hoping that people were giving me another chance (just like I was trying to do). Don’t get me wrong, the little and big stuff does get to me. I just try not to let that be visible in public. Because it’s a long game, sometimes it’s hard to see the progress. This email was great proof that it’s not just a long stalemate; it’s a long game, and I am putting points on the board.


This goat has read my post and is wondering if I am crazy.
CCO public domain image.

So, I’ve been thinking about my summer reading. I’m actually kind of obsessing about it. I can’t wait to get started. I already wrote about my literature plan and have started reading two of the books on my list.

I also have a professional learning reading plan.

Top on my list are a few of the Hacking Learning books, in particular, Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein and Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. I am a big fan of Star Sackstein via Twitter. And, I went to Ross and Erin’s session about PBL at EduCon in January and was really impressed with their honesty about their progress in understanding and implementing PBL.

This is the summer that I will finish several education reads, including several books that I recommend to people all the time, but may not have quite finished. I’ll admit to Mindstorms by Seymour Papert and Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager being on the list. A few others I am keeping to myself.

I’m also going to brush up on my Understanding by Design background and have already collected a bunch of online resources.

My other big topics are going to be pretty much anything that comes out of Project Zero (especially in relation to Global Education and Global Competencies) and Interdisciplinary curriculum readings.

Finally, I have a lot of reading and learning to do in relation to the class I am teaching next year which is an interdisciplinary course about ‘the fantastics’ (fantastic creatures and fantastic places). I’ve got a growing LiveBinder of resources and book list and a lot of books to read.

Oh, and I have a bunch of edtech things to investigate; I get behind during the school year and have to go through all the bookmarks and OneTab (I love this tool) collections once I have time to review. Currently, I’m thinking a lot about things like Flipgrid,, and HyperDocs. This may or may not be the summer that I make respectable progress with Arduido and/or soft circuitry beyond the basics.

I can totally do all that, right?


So, I’ve been thinking about how spending a few hours in the MakerSpace does wonders for my general sense of well-being.

The other day I went up there first thing in the morning to check on a 3D print I had started the previous afternoon. Since I am co-teaching a minor course, Digital fabrication, in the space, I try to print the designs between class meetings. On the day in question, I honestly don’t even remember if the 3D print turned out or not. I’m sure I got a few more student designs going on the other printers. My plan had been to leave by 9 am at the latest and get back to my office. However, at 10:15  I was still there. I had the lasercutter/engraver working on a couple of patterns in several different materials. Then, I noticed how interesting the cut out pieces were and the design created by the holes in the pieces of wood and plexiglass. There are easily 2 other posts about the actual work I was doing.

lasercut pieces

My focus in this post is about the time. I can totally justify the time I spend in there. I need to become more familiar with the tools in the space, and there’s really no way to do that other than by using them. So, I’m now comfortable changing the filament on both types of 3D printers; I can take apart parts here and there to clean out the nozzle on the Polar3D printers; I am getting to know some of the idiosyncracies of the printers; I unclogged the CubePro the other afternoon after quite a bit of this-ing and that-ing (so satisfying! It’s like undoing knots); I am getting better at trouble shooting, knowing when to suspect the printer, when to look at the file. This does not even begin to make me an expert. I’m also getting the hang of the lasercutter. I have realized that moving the bed up and down impacts the cut dramatically; I am a wiz at moving the laser to a good spot to cut repeated objects out of the same piece of material; I’m learning to look for any warping in the material and tape down anything I can; I’m making progress with scaling the cut or raster; I have tried cutting and rastering all sorts of materials, including orange peels and chocolate. Adobe Illustrator and I are not what I would call friends, but we are getting acquainted and taking it slowly. Again, all this knowledge that I have gained does not make me an expert in this either.

What all this does is make me a learner-a learner of totally new stuff, not just a little new. It has been so exciting and energizing. I can tell that I have reached a tipping point. I know enough to be independent, and I know enough now to feel confident trying more, which will let me learn more. Our MakerSpace leader has encouraged those of us who use the space to just do/try/fix things, but I am someone who needs to feel she has a bit of know-how before leaping in too far. I’m leaping.

As with my foray into graphic novels, I have spent time on this MakerSpace learning. A lot of time. In big chunks. I have had support and encouragement. I have talked with all sorts of colleagues about ideas for creations. My Advice station/New Year’s Maker idea continues to progress. At this point, I have more plans, and bigger plans, than I could complete in a year of solid work. (I have a tendency to plan bigger than my skills would suggest is wise. It’s one of my most endearing or frustrating qualities; you choose.) Again, my question returns to how we make time for students to do this kind of learning, beyond sports which does get big chunks of time. While I am sure the students are quicker learners than I am at this point, even they need more than a few minutes here and there. We know that learning takes time and practice that doesn’t always happen in 48 minutes segments.