Sunday, January 11, 2015

Secondary Sunday with Mel and Gerdy

Hi y'all!

Sweet Mel and Gerdy from Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy are hosting a link up geared toward supporting secondary teachers in their quests to find awesome resources for their classrooms.

This Sunday, they are focusing the link up on FREE resources. I am going to add my favorite FREE resource into the mix. Here are exit tickets for an entire Percent unit. They are great because they quickly assess a skill, but also ask a follow-up for students to rate their confidence level. I find these types of exit tickets to be particularly helpful when using them to guide instruction because it helps you know how much more time to spend on a skill.

Percent Unit Exit Tickets- FREE
And be sure to check out Mel and Gerdy's Link Up each Sunday to get ideas and resources to help you in your secondary classroom! Have a great week!


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Teacher Evaluation Systems: How to Excel and Retain Your Sanity

Note: This post is part II of Teacher Evaluations. Part I, a Teacher’s Perspective, can be found here. The current movement in teacher evaluation systems that is sweeping through districts across the nation needs an overhaul. But until there is a better system, teachers need to figure out a way to be successful in the current one. Here are some tips.
1. Get educated. Read the accompanying text. You cannot perform well on an observation when you don’t know the underlying principles being sought. And frankly, as I mentioned in Part I of this post, I think the authors of these books are smart educators with fantastic ideals. There is a lot to be learned from the books, even for seasoned teachers. 

2. Get informed. Schedule a meeting with your administrator/observer to discuss their exact expectations.

With the Danielson model and surely others, administrators have to pass an intense battery of tests to become an observer, so you would think they are all on the same page, but they aren’t. Be specific. Bring the list of evaluation requirements and ask them what they expect. At a meeting last year, I heard an administrator from a different building say, “I know teachers can’t be perfect every day in every period, but for their formal observation, I expect to see every component in Domain B and C at the Distinguished level,” and she did expect that. Other principals I’ve spoken with have more of a focus on growth and improving in the area of the teacher’s Professional Growth Plan (PGP).
Speaking of the PGPs, ask them to help you select your area of focus. They may have suggestions from last year’s observations and getting their input would create a sense of buy-in from them, which could turn into extra support for you. If they help you develop it, they will care more about seeing your success.
Coming to your observer to ask about these things will demonstrate care about having a successful school year. They like that. And, it will make their expectations more transparent to you, which for teachers, is like hitting the lottery.

3. Get Organized. The proof of worth...um, I mean artifact collection can become overwhelming, so make a plan early and document and collect everything. My saving grace was developing a system that worked for me. Identify your organizational strengths and find a system based on that. Some teachers I have worked with wanted accordion files that had a tab for each domain. This worked for them because they could just drop things into a folder without taking a lot of time. Some teachers use electronic portfolios, scanning and taking pictures of everything. I am a binder girl! I like binders because I can see the artifacts at a glance and quickly turn to and find what I need. If you are also a binder girl (or are a binder boy), or need a system, check out what I created to help me. I created a few versions and uploaded them to my TpT store and they are among my best sellers. 
Navy Professional Theme
Red Professional Theme
Fun Purple Theme

The “binders” linked above include title pages for domains and components, but also have templates for Table of Contents because I like to see exactly what I have collected for each domain. By listing the artifacts as I collect them into that section’s table of contents, I can easily see which domains need my attention. They also include multiple templates as example artifacts and give suggestions for which components they would support. 
Examples of Artifact Templates

Here are a few quotes from buyers:
·  “It is exactly what I planned on making myself, but without any time to do so.”
·  “What a wonderful way to help organize my evaluation and show documentation!!”
·  “Great resource for organization and becoming more informed on the examples!”
·  “I absolutely love this product. It made my portfolio stand out!! It looked so professional.”
·  “I couldn't wrap my mind around how to organize my evidence binder and I really appreciate the work you put into this file!”
·  “My principal loved how organized I was! Great product!”


So, if you are overwhelmed by the job of collecting artifacts, don’t know where to start, or want to improve the professional aspect of what you are doing, check it out for ideas. But overall, whatever system you choose to use, start early and remain diligent. There are too many demands to throw one together at the last minute.

4. Get real. For your observations, choose lessons about which you feel confident. Don’t try some crazy lesson plan that won’t support your teaching style. Don’t throw something at the kids that they will balk at. Be genuine and teach them so that there is evidential learning. Just like you do every day. The observer will see straight through the dog and pony show. You may even get questions from students like, “Why are you being so nice?” or “You actually want us to talk to each other?” or “Why are you talking like that?” You want to teach spectacularly each day so that the students and the observer will not be surprised when the engagement and learning levels are so high throughout the lesson. It is natural for you and the students.

5. Get sincere. I fully believe having an honest and sincere rapport with your students will conquer all. (Well, almost all.) Administrators want to see you connect with your students and their needs. Students are more successful when you are so in tune with them, that the learning is so relevant, that you are able to genuinely meet their needs and adjust the learning goals midstream. Just walk this line finely and refer to “Get Informed” because some observers really have to see each domain in action for you to pass. If you take a cue from a student and capitalize on a teachable moment, but miss out on some key part of your lesson, unfortunately, the system may get you. It may be worth it to you and if so, right on! But, if you are serious about getting on with this evaluation, toe that line. Students come first. Unless in that particular moment, you think it would mean losing your job. (Gosh, even writing it hypothetically sounds so wrong.) You can’t help students if you don’t have a job.


Parting words to all the teachers out there. You’ve got this! There is a reason you are a teacher. Make a difference in lives and don’t get bogged down by the evaluation system. Don’t get upset if someone tries to comfort you by saying “It’s okay to live in proficient and vacation in distinguished.” Instead, ignore it. A system does not dictate where you live or where you vacation. Your heart and your students’ hearts know where you live.




Saturday, January 3, 2015

Teacher Evaluation Systems: A Teacher's Perspective

Note: This is part one of a two-part blog series. Part two is linked at the bottom of this post.



You know the conversations. Chances are, you have been a part of one recently. Maybe the consoler or the one who feels like breaking down at any given moment.
They are the conversations that are happening after school and in passing, in workrooms and in closed-door classrooms. Some are short need-a-moment-to-vent rants, some are lengthy and may involve tears and/or anger, but they almost always involve frustration. They are the conversations that are taking place among teachers. Teachers who are expected to work miracles (not in the cliché sense, but in the literal sense). Teachers who are expected to do the impossible that have to lean on one another to save their sanity. There is a lot of venting about the pressures of all that teachers are facing, but there is more than that in these conversations. They are unfalteringly supportive. “What can I do to help?” “Let’s come up with a plan of action.” “Here is something I have tried that occasionally works with [insert the name of any student who is particularly challenging behaviorally, academically, or emotionally.]” While the fact that teachers will help each other through whatever difficulty they are faced with at the moment is amazing, things aren’t getting better.

Teachers have never been under as much scrutiny as they are now and teachers (novice and experienced) are leaving the field at a staggering rate (according to a report by the Alliance for Excellence, about 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year) and it has little to nothing to do with the students. Teachers are faced with impossible jobs- doing whatever it takes to make every child successful. So. The system has to improve. Politicians feel the pressure to improve, so the Department of Education pressures superintendents, so they pressure principals, who in turn pressure teachers. The pressure is coming from so far up and is so widespread, it is too much to bear. Teachers cannot do what is being demanded of them. But, it is the spirit of a teacher to try. They will try, but it is this pressure to be more than perfect that is making so many teachers leave. 
Teachers accept the challenges thrown their way with a willing spirit. No one wants to see a child be successful more than a teacher. Teachers are working endless hours to try to meet the unique and wide-ranging needs of students, but as soon as a child does not score “worthy” on an assessment, the teachers are interrogated, um, I mean…questioned by the principal/assistant principal/instructional facilitator/coach/all of the above. “What have you done to ensure success for this child? Can you provide documentation?” “What else can be done to help this child?” “Have you tried [insert latest-flavor-of-the-month-trend in teaching]?” So, even though teachers are worn frail, they gladly accept the guidance and agree to try something else.
Teachers expect to work really hard to help students. And, if this was all the job was, I think teachers would be very successful. But, teachers are also expected to attend daily and weekly meetings, sponsor a club or an organization, be a member of a professional organization, contribute to professional learning teams (non-school time professional book studies), chair committees, meet with/call/email parents, attend athletic/choir/band/drama/art functions, etc. Once again, I think teachers could even handle all those things that come along with being a teacher. But, I think the straw that has broken the backs of so many teachers is that now they are required to prove what they do. Teachers must provide extensive documentation of excellence for every part of their job. (Some say there are 22.) Teachers must be observed informally and formally frequently, observations which are usually accompanied by pre- and post- observation conferences. This added facet of documenting a teacher’s job nearly doubles the amount of time he/she already takes to do it. But what happens when they are already spending more than half their day working? Precisely. These recently adopted teacher evaluation systems have made a teacher’s job nearly impossible.

 Artifact collection has sucked the joy out of classrooms. Teaching is a joyful thing because the triumphs of seeing a child light up far outweigh the negatives of teaching. But when it is required of teachers to prove that they are doing their jobs well, it is causing teachers to not do their jobs well. Teachers are sacrificing time that should be spent preparing lessons and going to basketball games and calling parents to now find a way to document that they read and used a recent article to write their lesson plan and to write a little blurb about how much more effective the learning was because of the article.

Teacher evaluation systems vary across the country and even within states, but the common theme heard from teachers from multiple states with multiple systems is that the new evaluation systems are hurting education. Some are tied to student test scores and some require artifactual (not a word, but should be) proof. Some of the ideas and principles on which these systems are founded are great, but the ways they are being manipulated into teacher evaluation systems are not. Charlotte Danielson, Madeline Hunter, Robert Marzano, CEL-5D, etc. are not unlike No Child Left Behind…fantastic in theory, but misery in real life.


Glitter Meets Glue Charlotte Danielson Meme
Meme by Glitter Meets Glue Designs
So, my message to the powers-that-be is this: Please hire educators that you trust to do their job and LET THEM DO IT. Observe, critique, support, but allow them to teach without piling their plates so full that they cannot.


My message to the teachers out there is this: Persevere. The pendulum will swing soon and hopefully land in the middle for a while. Hopefully before all the good teachers leave. And, stay tuned. Part II of this series will give useful strategies to help through your evaluation process. Until then, my sincere good wishes to you!

Part II of this post can be found here.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015


2015: The year my side business takes off. I am determined to put more energy and effort into Managing and Motivating Math Minds. I am passionate about what I can share and I am blessed with the opportunity to make it happen.
Over the Christmas break, I sat down and came up with some monthly goals that I thought were challenging, yet attainable. But only if I work really hard and have some visual to keep me accountable. I love a good checklist, so I came up with these monthly checklist cards.

I printed them onto card stock and bound them with a key ring. They are sitting on my desk next to my computer and will hopefully help me stay on track as I progress with my store and blog.

You may notice that there are only two blog posts per month on my goal checklist. That is not a lot, but for me, I think that is good. I do not want to post just to post. I want to write sincere and hopefully helpful posts.

I love my TpT store and all that has come with it. Here are a few reasons why I do it:

  1. It is a wonderful creative outlet for me. I love making the content, but I love the design element, too!
  2. It has made me a better teacher. More thought goes into my lesson plans and activities. Not all of my lessons are turned into products (or ideas for products), but I consider things in a lesson that I didn't consider before.
  3. It has given me a meaningful hobby as opposed to time-wasting hobbies, like watching TV or playing on my phone. I can work on the computer and actually feel productive.
  4. It gives me extra spending money. I would like to share without being insensitive or impolite, but there is not a delicate way to say that some months I have almost made four digits in earnings, but I average over $300 a month, after commission. That's a nice chunk of shopping money. :) And that is with only a handful of products.
  5. I get to collaborate with educators from across the world in the seller's forum and Instagram. It is so helpful and those people have become friends.
If you are looking for a goal to help you in any of the ways I listed above, consider opening a store. If you have questions, you can ask here in the comments or email me at kacie_travis@yahoo.com. Or, if you are ready to get started, click the link to open a seller's account. It is free until you decide to upgrade your account to premium.


Remember, your first product must be free to give potential buyers a taste of what your paid products are like, so make it good! After that, sell away!

Good luck in whatever goals you have for 2015. May it be your best year yet!