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Engaging Teachers with a Teacher Leadership Book Study

This post is co-written with Amy Illingworth, and cross-posted to Amy’s blog!

One thing we (Amy Illingworth & Mari Venturino) have in common is our love of books! We both read a good mix of education, fiction, young adult, and nonfiction books. What better way to bring together teachers than with a Teacher Leadership Book Study? Our district did just that! Read on, for how we did it and what we learned, from the perspective of a teacher participant and an administrator facilitator.

Where the idea came from

Amy:

Our large, urban school district has a committee of teachers, site leaders, and district leaders, who come together to discuss how we can use our Title II funds to improve teaching and learning across the district. In the spring of 2017, as the committee reviewed the federal guidelines for Title II funds, we kept coming back to a big idea – leadership. We wanted to find ways to support teacher leadership.

Our district has a number of leadership support structures in place, creating a pathway from teacher to administrator roles, if one chooses to go in that direction. However, we have many dedicated teachers who want to take on leadership roles without stepping out of their classrooms. With those specific teachers in mind, our committee came up with two ideas: A Teacher Leadership Academy and Teacher Leadership Book Studies. The Academy was designed to follow a small cohort of teachers through a year-long learning opportunity. For the book studies, we agreed that we would offer a few throughout the year, and that any teacher in the district could join any single book study anytime. We used our Title II funds to pay any participating teacher to attend the two hour book study discussion meetings and to purchase the book for any interested teacher.

Mari:

A few years back, I started a book club at my school. We alternated YA novels and an education-related books each month, but it fizzed out before the end of the school year. I was craving more formalized book chatter, but couldn’t keep up the interest and commitment from my very busy colleagues.

I received a whole-district email from Amy at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year with information about a district-hosted Teacher Leadership Book Study. Although one of my goals this year is to be careful about what I commit to, this was an easy and enthusiastic “yes!” I love chatting about books with colleagues and friends, and thought it would be a great way to have conversations with teachers across the district.

Implementation

Amy:

Trying to plan a book study that would be open to 2,000+ teachers is not easy! In September I sent out an email to all teachers in our district explaining what the Teacher Leadership Book Study would be. There was a website available for more detailed information, explaining that we would read a few books throughout the year and that any teacher was welcome to participate. I advertised our first book selection, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, with an RSVP linked to a Google Form. When I hit send on that first email, I didn’t know if I would have more than one teacher sign up to join me on this new adventure.

Small group discussions with teachers across the district.

I had 50 people sign up to read the first book! I ordered a copy of the book for every teacher who signed up. Teachers had about a month to read the book, and then they attended one book study discussion meeting (which I offered on two consecutive nights to break up the large group and for flexibility with busy schedules).

When teachers walked into our Professional Development Center for the first discussion meeting, they were immediately surprised because I had all of the chairs arranged in a large circle. I asked everyone to make a name tag so that we could get to know each other and refer to new colleagues by name throughout our discussion. We sat in the circle and I facilitated a discussion about the book. I would share a quote or a prompt from the book, and then open it up for discussion by anyone. We let the conversation go wherever it was going and had fun getting to know each other in this new setting. At some point, I had participants get up and form a pair with someone from across the circle, to encourage more dialogue and to give all participants an opportunity to speak, since some seemed intimidated trying to speak in the large circle.

Small group discussions about Shift This

At the end of the first book study, I asked for recommendations for future books and used teacher feedback to select the rest of the books for the year. With each new book, we had more teachers participate, reaching 90 for our last book! As the meeting groups grew, I had to change the structure. Instead of one large circle discussion, I had teachers sit in small table groups and facilitate their own discussion, with prompts provided by me. To get everyone up and moving after a long talk period, I had the entire room stand up and form a line based on how many years of teaching experience they had. We folded the line in half so that the newest teacher in the room was talking face-to-face with the most veteran teacher in the room. We did a few minutes of this “speed dating” style partner talk, with each teacher having the opportunity to meet a few more colleagues for a 1:1 conversation.

Mari:

I participated in all four of the book studies: Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros), Shift This (Joy Kirr), Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap (Anthony Muhammad), and Lead Like a Pirate (Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf). I thoroughly enjoyed the book discussions. There were a few people from my school who also signed up, and I saw a few friends from across the district. However, I loved meeting so many new people from my district during the discussions!

Teachers participating in the “speed dating” sharing activity.

During the conversations, Amy would put up a series of discussion questions, and we would choose the direction of our conversation. My favorite part was hearing from teachers at different schools, including middle school, high school, alternative education, and adult education–the variety of voices and experiences helped me to deeply reflect on how I am best meeting my students’ needs.

One particular activity I loved was “speed dating” from Lead Like a Pirate. Amy facilitated it with a group of about 30 teachers. We first lined up by number of years taught, then folded the line in half. Amy gave us a couple minutes to answer a question together. Then we waved goodbye to our partner, one line rotated 3 spots down, and we repeated the process.

Perspective from Amy, district leader

It’s always scary to try to implement something new. This was especially true for me, as I was still relatively new to my position and new to this large district. You never know what the turn out will be or how the initiative will be received. I was especially aware of the fact that I was an administrator attempting to lead conversations with large groups of teachers. While I always consider myself a teacher first, then a coach, and finally a leader, it has still been many years since I was last in my own classroom, doing the hard work of teaching every day.

My biggest takeaway from this experience was how open and excited teachers were to have the opportunity to talk to peers from across the district about their reading and professional experiences. In the final survey I sent out to get feedback on the book studies, I read a version of this quote over and over again when I asked what teachers most appreciated, “Being able to openly discuss ideas and concerns about our classrooms and teaching methods with others who read the book.”

Perspective from Mari, teacher

My biggest takeaway from the Teacher Leadership Book Studies was being given the time and space to talk with teachers from our district. Being in a very large district with 1500+ teachers, sometimes I feel like other schools are lightyears away. The Teacher Leadership Book Study made me feel closer to my colleagues at other schools. I appreciated the opportunity to learn together, meet new friends, and continue these connections on Twitter. I realized it didn’t matter how much I liked the book, but rather the little nuggets I gained from our conversations together.

Lead Like a Pirate

We are lucky to have Amy as a leader in our district! While she may be at the administrator level, she is approachable and frequently at schools and in classrooms. Amy’s facilitation style is respectful, she is a patient listener, and her presence allows us to have honest conversations without fear of repercussions.

The books were the vehicle, Amy was our Google Maps, and we were the adventurers.

Here is just a sampling of some of the feedback from our many participants:

  • “I appreciated the theories about mindset and being a teacher that can propel change.”
  • “I really appreciate everyone’s genuineness. Every individual shared some really valuable insight, opinions, etc. and it was so helpful to hear other reactions to the ideas in the books.”
  • “I enjoyed it a lot. It helped inspire and motivate me during the year when I was starting to drag or feel overwhelmed by the job. Thank you!”

 

Classroom Strategies, Science

Get Moving with Learning Stations

I have a little bit of jealousy for my elementary school teacher friends, mainly for two things: their beautiful and updated bulletin boards, and learning centers. I’ve given up on my bulletin boards (going to put some kids in charge soon) and I’m always trying to figure out how to use the learning center model in middle school science. So, I use stations!

I first started using stations in my classroom during my first year of teaching. I learned it from one of my very old-fashioned colleagues (imagine 3-inch 3-ring binders for each topic, with sheet protectors filled with zillions of worksheets), and fell in love with changing up the routine, getting kids up and moving, and providing some variety.

The Setup

Over the past six years, I have run stations in a variety of formats: 8 stations x 5-8 minutes, 4 stations x 12-15 minutes, 30 stations x 1-2 minutes, etc. The overall theme is that it usually takes about an hour. I typically use my lab counters so all students are standing around the perimeter of the classroom, and I can see their backs as they work. Occasionally, I’ll need an extra station space, so I’ll use a table group or outside. Students work in pairs or groups of 4.

Lately, I’ve been running 4 x 12-15 minute stations. I’ll have 2 of each set up, with 2 separate rotations–groups 1-4 rotate on one half of the room, and groups 5-8 rotate on the other half. On average, I use stations every couple weeks.

I create all my stations handouts on Google Slides (File > Page Setup > Custom > 11 x 8.5), print, then put in sheet protectors. I notice my students focus more quickly with paper instructions.

For the timer, I project the Google timer: search for “15 minute timer” (or desired length) and it’ll start right away.

The Content

Stations can fill multiple purposes, such as introducing new content, practicing skills, or reviewing old content. When practicing skills or reviewing, I usually use more and shorter stations, with one task or question per station. Sometimes these are problems to solve, other times it is charts or diagrams to interpret.

When introducing content, students will do some work in their interactive notebook and some work on their iPads. For notes, I use Pear Deck on student paced mode or I create a short screencast; students are able to work at their own pace, pause, and rewind as needed. There is always an output activity to go with the input (notes). For the tech-heavy stations, I enjoy using games, simulations, or videos.

Example stations: 4 stations x 15 minutes
Station 1 – Notes (in interactive notebook)
Station 2 – Left-side page, draw & label a diagram (in interactive notebook)
Station 3 – Quizizz game (on iPad)
Station 4 – Phet simulation with 2-3 questions on Google Forms (on iPad)

The Successes

While students are working in stations, I am free to call over individual students for quick conferences. When I walk around the classroom to check in on students and groups, I can answer questions or go deeper into content.

We have taken stations entirely outdoors as a scavenger hunt! Add a school map with coordinates, and directions to get to the next station on the bottom of the instructions, and you’re all set.

And, true teacher confession, if my students are working well and don’t have many questions, I can often work on some grading.

The Challenges

It is essential to work together to create expectations when working in stations. Some of ours include: read the directions first, don’t wander away to another group, stay on task, and turn and look at Ms. V when the timer goes off.

Students who are prone to distraction sometimes struggle with staying focused. However, the tradeoff is that they are able to move around, and lessons are broken down into manageable chunks.

The Next Steps

I’d like to try having students create their own stations. Since I have 8 table groups, each group would create 1 x 5 minute station.

There are tons of ways to use stations in all grade levels. I’d love to hear how you all do it!

GSuite, Science, Technology

Slide into Science Fun

A while back I blogged about my newfound love for Google Slides. Slides has been such a versatile tool–it is very easy for my students to edit and insert photos/screenshots on their iPads, and simple for me to walk around and see we’re all on the same page (literally).

Getting our heart rate up during the Heart Rate Lab!

I’m slowly transitioning our labs to Slides. I push out everything with Google Classroom, and I love that I can pop in and see students’ progress as they are working (or not working…).

As you read more about the following three examples, I encourage you to not get hung up on the specifics of the content, but instead focus on how Slides can work in your classroom to build skills and assess mastery.

Insert pictures and selfies

Our first lab of the school year is the Paper Airplane Lab, where we review measurement and the engineering design process by building and testing paper airplanes. This lab also helped us teach and reinforce key skills with Slides, such as how to add text in a text box (already created, in this case) and inserting images.

Ms. V photobomb on design selfies!

One of my favorite parts of this lab is Step 4, where students had to insert a selfie with their chosen design. With permission, some used Snapchat on their phone to jazz up their selfies. Others earned themselves a Ms. V photobomb!

Analyze data and create graphs

Another lab we love is the Heart Rate Lab! My favorite part about these Slides is the averages graph. The bars are already created, and students just had to drag the bars up to the right size. We also used this lab to reinforce average. If we were solid on calculating average, I would use this version to teach students how to analyze data in Sheets. There are benefits to both versions, it just depends on what skills we’re working on.

Heart Rate Lab Data
Heart Rate Lab Graph

 

 

 

 

 

Screenshots of learning evidence

Our Math 7 team has been using Slides for each CPM lesson. One idea I’ve borrowed from them is inserting a screenshot or picture of work at various stages of learning. We use Phet Simulations to teach or reinforce different concepts, such as in the Atom Builder Lab. Students explore the Phet simulation, and insert screenshots of the atoms they create as learning evidence.

Extend the learning

I’d love to see examples of how you use Slides in your classroom! What are some of your favorite tips & tricks?

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Mad Libs get Googley

Growing up one of my favorite games to play was Mad Libs, I would play with my friends during recess, or with my family on car trips. I still have a giant stack of half-used Mad Libs books in my classroom waiting for some more love. I can’t remember a time I laughed harder than when playing Mad Libs.

I love using Mad Libs with my students. When playing with my class, it can be tough to keep all students engaged because only one person contributes for each part of speech. I started using Google Forms so each student can play: each student fills out the Form and receives their copy via email. Then, a few volunteers read their examples out loud. It’s a great activity as part of a lesson, as a review, or just for fun at the end of the day.

First, let’s play!

Fill out this Form then check your email to see your Mad Libs.

Next, let’s build!

  1. Create a Google Doc with your story. This works great with short fables, primary source documents, or informational texts.
  2. Replace parts of speech with the tags. For example, “Replace <<plural noun>> of speech with the tags.” For duplicates, use <<plural noun 1>> then <<plural noun 2>>.
  3. Create a Google Form with short answer questions for each tag. Remember to also ask for email address.
  4. Create your Sheet, and install the Formule add-on.
  5. Watch this video for how to set up Formule.

If your student don’t have email set up, but do have Google Drive, then use Autocrat instead. You will still need a question for email/Google account. It will use the Form and a Doc, then share the merged Doc with the student. Watch this video where I show how to use Autocrat.

Also, Formule does limit to 100 emails per day. If you have 100+ students, either spread the fun over a couple days, or use Autocrat.

Last, let’s teach!

Send out the Form to your students and get ready to laugh!

We’d love to see your examples. Create one and share it below in the comments.