Category Archives: Professional Development

Coaching Teachers

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Coaching Teachers

I have noticed in my 18 years of teaching that we teachers value being heard, validated, and supported, especially in difficult times.  I am often sought as a mentor for many staff with a range of struggles from the classroom to personal life.  The intense demands of teaching coupled with the inevitability of life cause perpetual challenges that ebb and flow for teachers, so helping them to develop resilience is essential in the process of supporting them.  The experience of being this mentor for many years, with wisdom garnered from my own life and work challenges, gives me a wealth of perspective that I call on to support my colleagues when they need it.  It is the same “ear”, relationship, and caring that I give to my students as the needs arise. Effectively supporting people requires an investment of relationship, trust, communication, responsiveness, follow-up, and validation:

  1. Establish Trusting Relationships: I observe people. I listen to people. I take the time to get to know people. Why?  Because I value relationship as a foundation for trust.  Within my classroom, relationship is founded by mining inside the hearts and minds of students through writing, creating, and building community.  With adults, it is getting to know them in meetings, social contexts, community builders, and just being present in their class and observing what interests them by what surrounds them (photos, books, posters, momentos, …).  Having a relationship with staff is essential for being trusted both in good times and when they are in crisis needing the support I can offer.  With this trust, they come to me, and they appreciate my mentorship.
  2. Communication and Availability: I’m the mom to many at the school. I keep an open door policy as much as possible and am available to people when they seek my support or guidance. I am present with people and prioritize their well-being. When it is evident that someone needs support, I use my intuitive nature to read body language, tone, and word choice to give me the insight to ask the right questions in order to support them.   I genuinely know that my presence, candor, trust, and caring has made a difference for many, and I take that responsibility seriously.  My strong emotional intelligence and open-minded, non-judgmental attitude really help me be a compassionate listener and a positive influence in helping someone navigate those tough times.
  3. Responsiveness and Awareness: In communication, it is important to be responsive and attentive. Constant interruptions are a part of being an AP, but handling them with grace and awareness is essential so staff feel valued and heard. Small graces by putting aside the computer, offering eye contact, and my full attention create a safe space for effective communication to occur, so they know that I care to hear what they have to say, and to find out what they need. I ask: “How can I best help you” or “Who could best help you?”  I break down the upset or crisis into manageable chunks allowing for exploration of the root cause – this strategy alone is highly effective to give clarity and insight.  As leaders it is our responsibility to allow teachers to feel supported and that they can count on us.
  4. Follow-up: The key to genuinely supporting teachers is the element of follow-up both in person and virtually. In the follow-up we can train resilience through encouraging positivity, coaching a growth mindset, connecting with their heart, helping them make habits of self-care, and getting them to laugh – yes, laugh! I firmly believe that love, learning, and laughter is the formula to help struggling teachers survive and thrive.  In the follow-up, I coach them towards resilience through accountability.  As we build up their resilience, they increase their capacity and open-mindedness for growth, improvement, and empowerment.
  5. Validation and Kindness: The key to helping teachers maintain a resilient state is to offer validation and acts of kindness. This cannot be underestimated as an important strategy to maintain all teachers: a kind word, a handwritten note or email, taking a supervision, or covering a class for a break can go a long way towards coaching self-worth, endurance, and gratitude in staff. Think of our 3:1 ratio rule – teachers, like students, need 3 positive encounters for every 1 negative.  We, as leaders, have the power to be the 3 in a teacher’s world, and these acts foster motivation, respect, and success.

Resources:

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This I Believe: Blogging Transforms the English Classroom

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About a half-dozen years ago, as an English teacher – a lover of reading and writing, my heart was breaking as my students seemed to be floating further away from my love of books and the craft of writing; I was getting older and feeling irrelevant in the world of my students – an annoying necessity of a class. Yet, I also am a theatre teacher and noticed that with a stage and lights, my students would work hard to perform when starring on the stage and being acknowledged with accolades of applause – an inspiring option for a class.

Blogging revealed itself to me as the quiet stage and lights for the high school English classroom. Students had been building online, virtual lives at home with daily hours dedicated to their online identities – a world where they were reading and writing. I needed to learn how I could create that world for the students in the English classroom. By immersing my PGP (Professional Growth Plan) in 21st Century digital literacies, and by practicing what I preach by blogging myself beside my students, my classrooms have transformed into rehearsal spaces of reading and writing, preparing for our performances on our blogging stage. Blogging inspires kids to offer their best efforts as writers, but it also inspires students to be peer tutors offering great leadership and character, as we expect from our FFCA students:

Vision of an FFCA Graduate With intentional thought given to the design of the learning experience at FFCA, graduates will leave us with core knowledge competencies, skills and abilities that are both essential and timeless. As creators of knowledge, students will have achieved the ability to think critically, care deeply and act ethically so that they can contribute to creating a world that cares and nurtures the diversity of cultures, celebrates personal contributions, and inspires others to reach their true potential. Proficient in their technological communications, FFCA leaders will be able to work independently or interdependently in a globalized society where partnerships and relationships strengthen the capacity to solve problems in collaborative ways. Possessing the attributes of life-long learners, graduates will be reflective and self-aware as they continue to evolve as successful individuals guided by moral purpose.

Our kids constantly humble, impress, and surprise me with their incredible writing and thinking. I love reading the students’ blog writing, as you can experience by reading some of our Grade 12 This I Believe blogs that are linked in this Storify:

https://storify.com/PamelaHunnisett/this-i-believe-blogs

However, what I love even more is the comments the students write to each other after the blogs, offering applause and critical feedback for improvement. Students are connecting with each other, they are building caring communities, they are reading as fans and critics of each other. The comments they craft for each other are thoughtful, relevant, and constructive; furthermore, the most surprising benefit is that “blogging with commenting” has developed a trusting, compassionate, and respectful community – virtually – that transfers into the classroom itself.

Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, and validate each other. Blogging is our stage that features the embodiment of our vision for our FFCA Graduates.  Our classroom – both during our 90 minutes and in our virtual world – is an inspiring, highly relevant, necessity of a class.

Here are examples of student feedback:

Dear Jaiveen,

Wow! This piece stood out to me because I too wrote about TIME and once I read the title I knew I had to read it to see a different perspective on this topic. I really enjoyed the first line due to the nature of its contest because as a child time does not mean anything but as you grow old it means the world. By the first line it immediately made me read the whole blog.

Something I saw that you could improve is giving the audience more of what time has impacted your life. I felt like you gave a glimpse of the big picture by just giving a bit more detail and more personal connections to time would have made it way better and made it a bit more extended piece.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this post due to the topic and your personal opinion because got to see another perspective to the same topic. Hope to read more posts from you.

Sincerely,
Karamvir

Dear Rachel,

I think the overall message you’re sending out in this blog is immensely important for everyone in today’s society. You’ve done an amazing job at explaining the difference between loving oneself and not becoming arrogant. I think the fact that you encouraged more independence of people is great as too many people these days are depending on others to get somewhere in life.

The only thing I would liked to have seen more of in your blog are personal connections to your own life as I feel that would have made me even more engaged.

All in all, I think this was an excellent piece that everyone should get a chance to read as this could definitely help a lot of people in becoming more independent and less self conscious. Just add a bit of personal experiences in your writing and I think you’re set.

Sincerely, Shaan

Dear Daman,

I really connected with what you wrote in the fifth and sixth paragraphs about how you analyze the behaviours of those around you and then choose how to act accordingly. It makes me wonder about how I affect those around me who, whether it be through timidness or their lack of a loud enough voice, manage to escape my attention. It makes me wonder if I’m giving the right impression. Am I the one you, or others, characterize as a jerk? Am I one to be avoided and my behaviour a model of how not to act? Or am I seen as a genuinely good person?

Either way, this piece has made me realize that I need to put forth a conscious effort to analyze my actions and behaviour. I never know who might be watching an silently taking mental notes of my character; I want to make sure that I leave a good impression on everyone.

For improvements, I think those fifth and sixth paragraphs, even though they were so well written, do go on a bit of a tangent. From my perspective, I didn’t really see how someone’s behaviour affects people’s choices so much. Someone’s behaviour does give the choice of wanting to model, or avoid a behaviour like that. However, when you said, “It’s difficult to not be affected by all the people trying to change who you are, what you believe in, and the choices you make.” I felt as though you had a deeper connection to the point you were trying to convey through the fifth and sixth paragraphs. Making this connection to the reader would really tie your post together and make your post appear much more meaningful and organized.

Good luck with your writings in the future. I look forward to reading more posts like this.

Sincerely,
Chad

Dear Noor,

Noor that was amazing! Reading this I felt a connection to you as I myself also find more happiness in simple things. I also feel that the little things, the things we wouldn’t really think about meaning the simple things are much more rewarding. I really liked the way your blog just flowed. The transitions and the way you organized your paragraphs really helped me stay engaged and helped my understanding. At no time did I feel confused. Your explanations and evidence was of perfect amount.

To improve, I also agree with Yashii and Sukhjot. Although you maintained perfect flow, sometimes your sentences were really long. An example would be your last paragraph. I understand that the ideas presented in that sentence are vey connected however splitting it up into two sentences would help to get your message across more efficiently.

I would like to end off by saying that I can see this believe in you. You seem to be very humble and appreciative and after reading your blog I respect you even more.

Sincerely, Aman

Dear Jas,
I believe you have a lot of good ideas and that you have the ability to make this great piece about the potential of humanity. I liked how you discussed both the good and the evil of human potential. Keep on giving it your all and don’t get discouraged. I enjoyed your writing and images.
My criticism is about the sentence structures you used for your piece. Most of your sentences were simple sentences which can feel choppy and disjointed to the reader. I would advise keeping the hand-out that Ms. Hunnisett gave on sentence structures beside you as you write to help make your piece flow. Challenge yourself to write with most of the sentence types in every piece of writing; once you are comfortable use them to create an effect on the reader. I have to do it as well. As an added comment unify your ideas; do not contradict yourself. In the first line you say “I believe in the potential of humanity, and that the key to unlocking that potential is the unknown.” And at the end you say “I believe that if we are to unlock own true potential we must strive to put aside our differences.” These ideas do not agree with each other. I believe that you can make this a great piece.
What would you recommend each person do to help the human potential?
Sincerely,
Matt

Growing and Learning

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Blog-A-Month Challenge – APRIL’s TOPIC: Professional Development

As April comes to a close, I’m left pondering the topic of Professional Development.  The prompts for the month suggest:

  • For PD to be effective it must have the following 3 characteristics…
  • The conference/book/activity that delivered the most meaningful PD experience I have had was…
  • My most powerful source of ongoing PD is…
  • Blogging is essential to my own PD because…

To begin, I feel that to be an educator one must really be an impassioned learner for education is not only about expertise, it is about being confident enough to make yourself vulnerable to a constancy of change and uncertainty; we are explorers, sometimes with a map, sometimes without, but we are always learning something new on each voyage, and constantly depending on our wits to respond and react to the unforeseen.  

Professional Development should be the keystone to provide us with the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the vacillating waters – of pedagogies, teaching assignments, leadership, technology, time, and especially the students –  with greater success for each expedition we take.  A student once said, “each day I get up trying to be better than I was the day before” (Arsh), and this was one of those moments when you could hear a choir of angels sing, this was the “aha” for all of us blessed to be in the class that day, and so this is what I too strive for both personally and professionally!  

Professional development is something I depend on to fuel my growth, and I admit I’m a bit of a PD junkie; I don’t just depend on my administrative leaders to arrange what professional development I need to do to be better and grow; although, yes, as part of a community that is necessary too.  But that is like saying “okay – I will eat healthy and exercise on these specifically designated days a year, and that will be enough fuel to motivate my improvement.”  We all know that is ridiculous, so why would a professional teacher think their entire professional growth should be motivated by only the school’s designated PD.  We grow and learn by our own intrinsic desire to improve, and our own established inquiry and PLNs (Professional Learning Networks).  So in the quest of Professional Development, we need to work with our school community’s PD goals and plans, our department’s PD goals and plans, but we must also seek out the PD we know we need “to be better than [we were] the day before.”  

I think that our organization at FFCA has worked hard to offer Professional Development time  to help foster and tweek teachers’ growth and excellence to meet our Guiding Principles .  We’ve seen PD in  classroom management (CHAMPS, ACHIEVE, STOIC), in our FFCA Direct Instruction Framework, Character Education, Inclusive Education, English Language Learning, Educational Technology, etc…. I believe that teachers – me included – are one of the hardest bunch of learners in any PD session, but it can offer an opportunity to the workshop organizers to really model excellent “designed instruction” in the planning and teaching to engage these tired teachers; the greatest model of a talented teacher engaging an audience of tired teachers was when our school arranged PD with Marcia Tate’s on brain-based learning.  Phenomenal!

One of the other great opportunities I have had for learning and development was through our AISI work (Alberta Initiative of School Improvement – a now dissolved Alberta Ed funding opportunity) with Critical Thinking.  The training and learning that I received in developing a critical thinking classroom through Garfield Gini-Newman, the Critical Thinking Consortium, and The Critical Thinking Community was transformative in educating me in how to train myself and students to be more critically mindful!  The work we did with Gini-Newman lay a foundation to help meld the ideals of Direct Instruction with Critical Thinking into a Synergistic Reality (as can be seen here in the article written by John Picard and Garfield Gini-Newman).

I’ve also been so inspired by  the PD I experienced from being on our Learning Commons committee – this is an endeavour that marries so many of our school’s initiatives while providing the foresight and navigation for 21st century learning and the future redesign of eduction in Alberta. Yet,  at the present time – like Columbus’ misunderstood quixotic ambitions – schools lack the funding from Alberta Education to support this transformative work.  Someday I dream of evolving into a Learning Commons Leader  for our school where I can help create a place to work with all students, all educators, and all curriculums in both physical and virtual settings of  learning.

Finally, in our community of Calgary, I also find valuable PD from our local Calgary Regional Consortium whose mandate is to create PD opportunities for our local teachers.   Through all of the various opportunities I’ve experienced at my campus, my school, and my community, I believe leaders need to mindfully craft and design PD  to maximize teacher engagement, learning, and take-aways, and I am ever so grateful that our organization prioritizes PD towards helping us improve and grow.

This is also where I have come to appreciate our school’s expectation that we create and reflect on Professional Growth Plans (PGP) yearly.  When working with teachers and administrators I think it is relevant to know the best PD that the teacher or administrator has ever experienced and why?  How did the PD invigorate or change his or her paradigms, for we need administrators and teachers who are learners and know how to direct their own PD and accountability.   It is through PD that our paradigms of education are rooted and honed towards excellence!  We need great PD, we need great PLNs (Professional Learning Networks), and we need visionaries who know how to help us excel and even change, especially in a world where 21st Century Learning and Innovation in education is essential.

I also believe that the reading habits of all teachers matter – whether the educator teaches English, science, math, physical education, or is an administrator.  In his book What is Stephen Harper is Reading? Yann Martel has said that the reading habits of politicians matter because “in what they choose to read will be found in what they think and what they will do”:

As long as someone has no power over me, I don’t care what they read, or if they read at all. It’s not for me to judge how people should live their lives … Once someone has power over me, … it’s in my interest to know the nature and quality of his imagination, because his dreams may become my nightmares. (Martel, p 10)

So, in regards to Professional Development, teachers and administrators should be accountable to answer:

1)   What are they reading right now?

2)   What professional development book would they recommend to the organization or their curricular team, perhaps as a staff book read?

3)   What is their favourite book of all time – from any genre?

The answers to these questions, I believe, are the true secrets to the character and mind of the educator.  There is much to be understood and inferred by these answers, and much credibility to our work with students.  It can also build a synergy, community, and culture  amongst staff who have common reading interests and pursuits.  Would I want a doctor who did not read and stay current in his or her practice?  The same needs to be said and expected of educators.

Back in 1997-98 when I was in the Teacher Education program at Nipissing University I had a great professor named Terry McEachern who taught us about the need for Professional Development through professional networking and professional journals.  This was in the day when the internet wasn’t readily available at our fingertips, so I came to be enlightened through the reading of journals.  Today these are a couple of journals that I continue to read for my monthly PD “aha”: 

To find any journals that might interest you, see a full listing at Genamics Journal Seek.  But there is also great PD through readings of:

  • The Atlantic
  • The English Companion Ning – this online network of professional English teachers was established by Jim Burke.  On it I found countless lessons, constant inspiration, and answers to my many ponderings from wonderful educators who share their resources and experience!  On this site I found one of the greatest of all people in my Professional Learning Network – the humble and talented Carol Mayne – an educator in Canmore, Alberta who has guided me through the many landmines of teaching Diploma courses in Alberta.
  • The New Yorker
  • Newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and The Calgary Herald.
  • Blogs from great educators – like in this Blog-A-Month Challenge
  • Twitter – all the links and “aha’s” of the twitter stream offer heaps of reading and PD – once you learn to navigate the busyness of these waters.

In recent years I have turned to professional literature to read and re-read and re-read – here are a few, among many, must read favourites (feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below), and here is a LINK to my GOODREADS page of PD reading I’ve been doing this year:

 

Of course, the true soul mate of all my Professional Development has come through the Annual Conference for the National Council of Teachers of English.  I first attended in Chicago 2011 (which inspired this blog), was able to take my entire team of ELA teachers to Las Vegas 2012, and finally was offered the opportunity to be a speaker in Boston 2013 – and fingers crossed will be accepted to speak in Washington 2014 about Blogging and Storytelling.    The learning and paradigm shifting that happens through these conferences has been nothing short of mind-blowing!  It truly meets my PD criteria of being highly engaging, transformative learning, and have immediately applicable take-aways that improve my teaching the next day when I re-enter my classroom.  I hope that I continue to afford this opportunity that re-invigorates my spirit each fall!  It has made me a much happier and better teacher today, and I’m grateful!


Clearly, Professional Development is something I feel a passionate zeal for pursuing in my life.  It keeps me motivated, inspired and hopeful to be the best educator that I can be for my students; it helps keep me skilled to captain my ship, for my students in these constantly changing waters.  This “leave of absence” from my school for a semester, so that I could sail away abroad to sunny Argentina has been a total respite, but has also provided me the elusive TIME that I have yearned for in life. Time to find my ZEN life (as I wrote about in my other blog), but also time to invest in my professional development through reflections, reading, and writing – this blogging is a power
ful reflective tool that really helps me make sense of my values, learning, and perspectives.    Many chastise me for working on “vaca”, but I argue that I’m not on “vaca”, I’m on “living”, and because I love my work too, and must return to it in the fall, I am loving the opportunity to further my learning and my growth without any pressure, so that I will return in peace with calmer waters because I am reinvigorated!

 

The Magic of Feedback

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Image credit: http://wordzeal.com

I believe in magic.  I believe in the power of positive thinking, positive words, and positive feedback.   As a high school English teacher, this has served me well to build long-term relationships with my kids.  Maintaining positive interactions with my kids has been a truism of my days, in this way the cycle of validation and feedback for who they are – as I see them to be – must be present in my communications with them, always.

Teenagers are often filled with apathy, low self-esteem, regret, guilt, etc… – a cluster of negativity!  So, how can we expect them to be positive unless we bring the light to them, unless we hold up the mirror so they can see the possibilities?  You and I both know that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that “something special” in each kid, but it is our responsibility to seek it.  Fortunately, as English teachers we mine the motherlode inside the hearts and minds of our students through their writing and their creating – when we give them the opportunity.  It is there where we can pan for their gold and show it to them.

I want my kids to share the VALUE of feedback with me, with each other, in our classroom, in our community.  This value cannot be an abstract ideal, rather it is embodied and modelled through me and nourished through them.   I can proudly say that I see that the environment in my class between me and my students, and my students with each other, is filled with feedback that is motivating and validating!    See here how my students write feedback to each other on their blogs, and this is just a random example because the blogs are filled with such feedback:

Dear Hatif,
This is such an amazing post! After reading this piece, I am inspired and it has truly made me reflect upon my own life. The topic of this blog was great choice for you because just as Simran previously stated, you are a very positive and happy guy. The way you connected your personal life with your definition idea of happiness was very well executed throughout the piece. I really admire how you know how to use running and exercising as a way of escaping, which allows you to only achieve positive outcomes. Your voice as a writer is very powerful and inspiring. However, I would suggest just editing to fix up those small GUMP errors. Overall, excellent work!
Kiran  ( this was on Hatif’s Post “Your Choice”)

In this aspect of feedback, I can say that I have found great success through the coaching of commenting (see Etiquettes of Blog Comments).  Only, I didn’t realize until these past few weeks of reflection that I was ever very successful with feedback.  In fact, my Professional Growth and Development Plan for this year had FEEDBACK as a goal, one which I condemned that I had, once again, failed miserably!  But I was only considering “feedback” in terms of marking piles,  one-to-one conferencing, and data driven results, which I must still work at improving.

If I look at the criteria of feedback that I had set out for myself, I did fail in many regards.

The piles were some important piles for far too long to offer any kind of timely feedback for kids.  Sigh!  Ironically, blogs are never a problem, I actually LOVE marking them because they are the panned gold, the students’ voices are authentic and they are usually interesting to read; I feel motivated to get them up on the blog (all blogs are “approved” by me before they appear on the blog), so that the students can offer the feedback to each other through the comments.  As I “approve” them, I evaluate them and post feedback immediately to the students via Edmodo.  So, in this regard, I’m quick with feedback.  But it isn’t authentic enough.  It is far more authentic when the students give their feedback.  However, I do need to offer more narrative feedback to them, somehow, in comment writing or conferencing.

Yes, conferencing, another failed attempt.  After attending Penny Kittle’s sessions I’m always so “sold” on the concept of one-to-one conferencing and the value of it!  Then I get into the busy-ness, to-do, and management of classes – and then never make the time to have that one-on-one with kids.  I do manage some great conferences with the kids who come in at lunch, and I encourage them to come in for such “office hours”, but despite the thrill of spending lunch with me, it is never enough to lure the students who need it most away from their social lives.  So, I do need to find a way to embed the value and management of conferencing with future classes. writer conference

Finally, the last failure was in such things as progress reports and data – the kind of numbers I despise, but students crave.  I’m still not so sure where I sit on this other than my dislike of having kids identify themselves via a percentage value, and my disdain for numbers in general.  I believe in students, not the % they earn.  Perhaps I fail at generating these reports regularly for them as a blessing in disguise.  So, I need to get better at this, I guess.  Truly, this is a very grey area for me.  But I do feel duty-bound to provide the data, but in 16 years of teaching, this is still my Achilles heel.

One Kind WordSo, it is evident that I have some areas for future growth, but it is also important that I have reflected and realized that feedback comes in various forms, and in some measures of relationship and connecting with students,  I have really succeeded.  Now don’t get me wrong, although I’m positive-focused, I’m also honest and have a knack for those hard, yet honest conversations with kids.  Once I met a woman from the southern US who used the phrase, “Don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining!”   So, I work to be honest with kids, but kind, showing where hope exists for them!  Kids have a huge meter for BS, so if you’re just blowing smoke at them, they won’t buy into it.  It must be authentic and it must connect with them.

The first time feedback authentically connected with me was from a brilliant theatre adjudicator named Mira Friedlander. images (1) She explained to our adolescent audience that it was her job to give us feedback on our performances and her opinion was based on her perspective and expertise.  That she would give us all balanced positive feedback with feedback for improvement if we were to perform our show again.  “Improvement” – huh!  To my adolescent brain, I had only considered feedback to be praise or condemnation.  I always worked so hard to ONLY get praise, living in fear of condemnation.  Suddenly, Friedlander had turned my world upside down.  So when she offered each group, publicly, both praise and improvement – I came to crave the learning from feedback.  With drama classes, I have always trained students in the Mira-way, to great success and growth.  It is this same framework that I need to develop more coherently and mindfully in my English classroom.

Ultimately, the feedback I will continue to do, naturally, is choosing and modelling happiness and positive interactive feedback to build confidence and identity in my kids; validation and recognition is a wellspring for motivation and a sense of security.  But, of course, I will continue to strive to improve my efforts for feedback to improve their skills as readers, writers, and learners.  This time for reflection and reading has helped me to make cognitive sense of feedback, and incites me to improve my time and class management when I return to teaching in the fall so that I can implement these important goals for my kids.  I believe in lighting the fire in kids to learn, and I believe in the magic of my words having the power to transform both hearts and minds.

This post is inspired by:

1. Blog A Month Challenge: January’s topic: Think about how you will either give or receive feedback this semester and reflect on the practice of feedback. 

2. Allison Petterson’s Blog Post: The Power of Positive Feedback 

3. ASCD Types of Feedback 

4. “You’ve Been Doing a Fantastic Job. Just One Thing …”  – New York Times – Alina Tugend

5. “For Best Results Take the Sting Out of Criticism” – New York Times – Alina Tugend

The Value of Penny Kittle PD

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Charged with the task of trying to articulate what has Penny Kittle done to transform my teaching feels like a daunting task – but a worthy task.

Well, to begin, Penny Kittle has written two amazing books (among others), which are touchstones in my professional development:

Book Love

As for her PD Workshops: I’ve seen her in about 10 NCTE 20-30 minute Sessions in the last three years, and I participated in CRC’s Workshop last year for an entire day.  With every encounter I have a new strategy, a new “aha”!  Her generosity knows no bounds, and she empowers teachers with what they need and how to do it for student engagement and success.   She helps teachers with inclusion strategies so that all kids can find success and inspiration too.   Plus, she provides all her materials through handouts and on her site.

Her books are excellent, but like getting materials from any good teacher, you need to find a way to make it your own.  Usually with most good PD or good materials, the piles of good ideas remain in piles – awaiting the elusive concept of “time” to come along to allow a teacher to comb through the pile.  Yet, Penny’s full day PD is different, it forces you into the “doing”, allowing you time, inspiration, conversation, and practicality so the PD develops you quickly and effectively.  In “the doing” her materials and strategies become accessible to our classes and our collegiality, immediately.

Sending ELA teachers from our campuses of middle to high school, allows for wonderful collegiality to develop as the teachers can equally be inspired, can equally develop common language and paradigm shifts, and they can equally experience collective transformation of pedagogy and practice.  It is a common place to build collegial practice and professional conversations that can unify our goals and strategies.   In fact, I’d encourage administrators to join in this paradigm shifting PD too!

Here is a list of things I (and some of my ELA colleagues) do differently thanks to the Kittle-aha (I’m sure I have only captured the tip of the iceberg here):

READING:

  • Daily SSR – for students and for me to model
  • Strategies to help kids find the “right book” to hook them into reading
  • Methods to manage student accountability in reading (i.e. book talks, read-write-revise in Writing Journals, Reading Ladders)
  • Inspiration to build the classroom library
  • Book talks and book trailers
  • Reading strategies that work to improve students’ reading skills
  • Conferences about reading – how to do this well
  • Class discussions about Reading Identity of students
  • Close reading analysis strategies – how to dig deeper
  • Poetry – teaching it for kids to connect (especially been inspired by Slam Poets I would have never heard of if not through her – Sarah Kay, Phil Kay, etc..)
  • Non-fiction writing and writers as source materials – and how to analyze the rhetorical strategies in the text.
  • Novels and authors that have been popular with her students (this is a huge asset when trying to match students with the right books)
  • How to have a Reader/Writer notebook for novel studies (authentic academic note-taking that moves students beyond worksheets)
  • Learning to read info-data as a text (this is significant for new things we’re seeing on Diploma reading exams, but given no resources for to prepare students as all our “Released Material” is at least 4 years old.
  • How to “Read like a Writer” with annotations

WRITING:

  • Writing Journal – which she calls a Writer’s Notebook.  She does extensive work showing the effect this has on the teacher-as-model-writer and the effect on students.     Notebook
  • Quick Write ideas/inspirations
  • Writing with students – “Write Beside Them”
  • How reading great writers inspires great writing through emulation and inspiration
  • Revision and editing strategies – mini-lessons, notebook, revisions/editing, polished writing revisions/editing
  • Narrative writing strategies
  • Argumentation writing strategies
  • Expository writing strategies
  • Targets in writing – how to, scaffolding, and assessment
  • Scaffolding to increase skills and learning habits of writers – process and skills
  • The Creative Writing course for my Grade 12’s originates out of inspiration from her Writer’s Workshop.
  • Rubrics and assessment strategies

STRUCTURE:

FURTHER PD INSPIRATION:

Penny Kittle is a rock star in English teaching circles.  But her humility and integrity compels her cite her sources and her own inspirations through her books, her website, her PD workshops, and her twitter updates.  She leads teachers to other rock star English teaching inspirations, forcing us into a transformative world of English teaching that continues to morph and improve.  Here are a few other great teachers she has led me to:

Thoughts about the Kittle-effect by other ELA teachers:

My Response to a Central Office query regarding the value of Kittle:

Penny Kittle is, without a doubt, one of the most powerfully inspiring educators I have ever seen.  She has been the source of my shift in crafting a much stronger ELA program over the past couple of years since I was first inspired by her in Chicago at NCTE.

I believe she is “THE” missing link for our Scope and Sequencing from K-12, as her work is both as an ELA High School teacher AND the Literacy Coach from K-12 in her district of New Hampshire.

It is my belief that ELA teams – inter-mixed from K-12 – attend.   What I mean by intermixed is that at a session HS doesn’t sit with HS, MS with MS, and E with E; rather, we build conversations and PD across campuses and grade levels.  I would support and persuade that the entire HS team to attend.

IF we can support CRC’s efforts to bring in this amazing educator, we would benefit greatly!

http://pennykittle.net/

Original email proposal supporting a Scope and Sequence of educators to attend PD:

CRC has arranged for Penny Kittle to come to Calgary.  She has been my #1 mentor these past few years regarding my professional growth and development.

Penny provides practical advice and strategies for teachers to foster student reading and writing.   As ELA teachers we have so much to manage, with very few resources for HOW to do what we need to be doing.  Penny’s advice is sound and effective, as I’ve witnessed in the success of ELA classes through my improved design of instruction and the students’ improved engagement.

The beautiful thing about Penny is that she too is in the class.  So, her advice and strategies evolve and are tried and tested with everyday classes, everyday challenging kids.

As an organization, I believe that our Scope and Sequencing from middle school to high school is an essential ingredient for our school’s success, yet we have so few opportunities to foster this.  If ELA teachers are sent to this PD – en mass – from 7-12, intermixed in groups from different campuses and grade levels, we would all share in some powerful strategies to develop our students’ reading and writing skills; with Penny, the focus is not on the “what” should we teach, it is on the “how” we teach.  So, the more our teachers develop “Kittle” proficiencies, the more our organization benefits, the more our kids benefit.

Hopefully, we can find the funding to support this PD opportunity for our ELA teams.  I suggest that teachers sign-up soon as she renowned beyond my world and I have a feeling this PD could fill up quickly!

http://www.crcpd.ab.ca/uploads/programs/2762.pdf?92166