Thoughts From a Teacher’s Life – March

March 25, 2023

As I am writing this at the end of my Spring Break week off, having gone from hot weather, to freezing weather, and back to hot weather again, I am reflecting on how fast time goes by. When I was little, I would wish for a day or an event to get here faster. I did that once in front of my grandmother and she told me not to wish time away, the older I got the faster it would move. I have absolutely found that to be true as I have gotten older, and I think that has to do with how much we fit into our daily life, or how big our world gets around us as we grow.

In this season of transition, it is no different in the classroom. As the weather changes, so do the students and how they work and act.

Since it’s a Spring Break month most years, it starts off with students eagerly anticipating the holiday and talking about plans, whether to travel or sleep. By the end of the month and after the break, it finds us gearing up for that one last push through the last quarter and into summer.

Students have settled into their social groups and the classroom culture has leveled off, so most days flow with a great routine at this point. They are really getting the hang of being a <insert grade level here>’er and can manage most routine tasks pretty well.

In middle school, my specialty, the sixth graders are shaking out of that elementary mentality and can handle a lot more independence and make better decisions, but are becoming more hormonal and losing their minds. The seventh graders are starting to become a bit more human again, getting past the enraged hormonal creature that has consumed them for the last year and turning into pretty awesome people. The eighth graders are a bit more confident in who they are now, but have a middle school version of senioritis and can’t stop talking about how they can wear what they want or do what they want next year in high school. For those that applied for choice or specialty programs for next year, they are also getting their letters of acceptance, or rejection, and preparing for that transition as well.

At this point in the month, St. Patrick’s Day has passed so the pinching has stopped and the bruises are starting to heal as the green “temporary” hair dye is starting to finally wash out.

There are a few that are becoming nostalgic, already seeing all the changes coming into their life as the school year wraps up, testing, dances, award ceremonies, graduations, preparation for next year–and they are asking more questions.

As they figure out who they are, friendships end, begin, or even strengthen, as do relationships of who is “dating” who. But they do everything in groups, so how it’s even dating is beyond me, other than the nickname for their contact card in their phone.

As you prepare your classroom for the last quarter, I would suggest getting ahead on your lesson plans for the rest of the school year and have them at least drafted out and the master copy in a folder for copy day. This helps so much as you navigate through testing and awards and activities that consume so much time. Don’t forget to have a few games or refresher activities at the ready for those extended hold times to keep them engaged.

This is also a great time of year to start taking inventory of what you have or haven’t used in your classroom supplies, lesson materials, and decorations. You can also start decluttering some of these items and have ready for new teachers that will be coming in.

If you are thinking of a career change or a subject/grade/school change, this is also the time to take inventory of your wants and needs and what is out there. Jobs will start opening up soon and you may be getting your letters of intent to stay or go soon.

Formal evaluations are also in full swing, so if you haven’t done yours yet, be sure to get it wrapped up quickly! If you have already done it, ay for you! Now sit back and enjoy the ride until summer!

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Bouncing back from a bad evaluation

May 13, 2022

We all have a bad day every once in a while. When that happens on the day of an evaluation or observation, though, it can have serious consequences. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world, or the end of your career.

Here are some tips to help you recover.

REACT…IN PRIVATE Most of us know if our performance didn’t go well, especially if we are being observed. First instinct is usually an emotional one. This is not the time to respond, though. Sit down and have a good cry, get in a good workout or whatever you need to do to let off steam. Talk to a mentor or close friend to vent or seek advice. Then sleep on it. Once you’ve had a chance to get the emotions under control. Take the next step.

REFLECT AND WRITE Unless something went catastrophically wrong, wait for feedback from your supervisor, sometimes they can see where you were going if you have all the steps in place, even without the desired outcome, and it may not be as bad as you think. Whether you’ve gotten feedback or you are getting ahead of it, use your rubric for your evaluation and go through each step making notes on what you did and what you missed. Remember, it is what they can see and prove, not what you intended, so keep it based on facts. With this information, you can see where you stand and what needs done to hit your mark. Be sure to prepare questions you have and think and write down very clearly what you would like to do next.

SCHEDULE A MEETING Set up a time to speak to them and tell them what it’s about. It’s best to give them at least 24 hours or more, or let them choose the time. This is not a subject to bring up in the hallway or at duty, and they need time to review and gather notes, as well since they have several people they are responsible for. At the meeting, listen and take notes. Be patient and let them speak. Write down questions and corrections and bring them up after. Chances are, they will answer many questions and give feedback on how to improve.

ASK FOR A REDO Before you leave the meeting, ask what you can do now to improve the outcome. You may get a chance to redo it, you may only get a chance to revise the written portion, or you may not have an option and will just need to do better on the next observation.

ASK HOW THIS WILL IMPACT Be sure to ask how this will impact your job security, promotion, or overall rating so you are prepared, especially if you aren’t able to redo any aspects of it. One bad evaluation isn’t the end of the world, and, if it is truly an area of struggle, it can only benefit you. If you are pursuing an out of classroom position soon, be sure to discuss the timeline and how this will impact you since many want Effective and Highly Effective ratings for at least 3 consecutive years prior to be considered in the pool.

THE OUTLIER The best thing you can do is make sure that this negative situation is a one time event. If you have been completing all your duties and responsibilities and don’t have any other demerits against you, this will be an outlier and a supervisor will not only see that, they will do what they can to keep you in your job.

If you feel there were other factors or this is unfair, pursue it above the chain of command. But do so with facts and documentation, not with accusations and emotion.

Like or comment below and share with others to support the blog. I post weekly on a variety of topics about travel, family, and education. Until next time, follow along or interact with me on Twitter @AddictedtoTeac1 or both of us on Facebook & Twitter: BarnesOnMove or on Tiktok: @sonya.BOMSquadleader. Support us and get more in depth and personal interactions at Patreon: Barnes On The Move

Maximizing Your Evaluation

January 1, 2022

Happy New Year! I thought I’d start this year out with reaching some goals!

Evaluations are a part of every educator’s school year and can be quite daunting because of so many uncontrollable variables. With many educators’ jobs being dependent on a good evaluation to be offered a position the next year or for promotions, they become even more important–and stressful. So the best plan is to focus on what we can control.

EVALUATION RUBRICS Rubrics are the guide for both supervisor and educator and give the parameters for what constitutes highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective. However, they can vary from district or school, and even from year to year. They can also be very subjective. If your administration doesn’t already do so, schedule a meeting to go through each area to find out how they envision it and don’t be afraid to ask for demonstrations and modeling, not just a generic example. The more specific an example (or non-example) can be, the more likely you are to be clear on what you are expected to do.

PRE-AND POST-OBSERVATION CHATS For every observation, there will be some sort of conversation. For Informal observations, these may be in a faculty meeting or even an email. It should tell you which are they will focus on. For formal observations, this will be a one-on-one chat and will talk specifically of what you will be teaching and how it will look, what class they will come in for, and where they should sit, how long they stay, etc. Every supervisor is different, so be sure to ask questions and take notes to help you in your planning and preparation.

OBSERVATIONS While I don’t personally recommend performing for the evaluation and think it is best to teach as you normally would (trust me, they can tell the difference), you will want to plan ahead to ensure you cover all the criteria for the observation to ensure the best rating as possible. Especially for experienced teachers that may only have one informal and one formal a year for their scores. When choosing your lesson and class, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, choose content that students have a high level of success and interaction with. Also, be sure to choose a class where the focus is on teaching, not classroom management. Yes, they want to see you handle unexpected situations, but too much and they won’t see you teach. I also find it helpful to let the class know you will have a guest in the room, but they are there to watch you, not them. Some students get stressed by administrators in the room and this can ease their mind.

ABOVE AND BEYOND In my district, one of our areas is for things we do beyond just the typical teaching. This can be things we do to help other teachers, creating additional resources for the department or special needs students, serving on committees and teams, and volunteering for duties. Be sure you aren’t doing everything, but know that these make a difference.

KEEP YOUR OWN RECORDS This is super important. Be sure you are keeping records of all you do. Anecdotal records with dates, what inspired the action, what you did, and the results or outcome are fine. Also, I highly recommend recording your informal and formal observations. There are so many things that are being looked for and many take notes while observing. However, while jotting something down or when distracted by a radio call or another student, they may miss something. Having a video recording can help provide evidence if you notice something on your observation you disagree with or are unclear on. This also allows you to see yourself teaching and find your own areas for improvement. Check out March 2021’s blog post on STAR Tracking for more on documenting your school year.

ALWAYS GET FEEDBACK FOR GROWTH Whether you were marked off for a deficiency or were praised for all things being amazing, feedback is your friend! If there is room for improvement for effective or lower ratings, this is your chance to find out what they are looking for. Take notes and ask questions. If you were highly effective, still ask for ways to grow and improve your craft, or ask for insights for your techniques and the upcoming class you’ll have next year. This valuable insight can save you mistakes in that break-in time with next year’s class.

If you disagree with your evaluation, don’t be afraid to speak up, and don’t sign in agreement. Once signed, you are locked into it. Most have a place to make notes as well. This is a time when your video recording can be a very useful tool, but don’t challenge just to challenge and be sure you can back it up if you challenge it. You don’t want to ruin your credibility and look unprofessional by challenging everything based on emotion and not fact-based evidence.

Tracking Like a STAR – How to Maximize Your Evaluation

March 12, 2021

Evaluations are a dreaded part of being a teacher.  We teach all day for 180 days a year but have only a handful of observations to catch us in action.  Some teachers just teach like a regular day, some prepare and ensure they hit every mark, some fall somewhere in the middle and make the effort to hit those marks, but don’t do too much out of the ordinary.  It’s the best we can do for Domains 1-3.  But what about Domain 4?

Domain 4 is about our teaching practices and what we do that goes beyond basic planning, teaching, grading, and communicating.  It’s the one where we can get recognized for the things, we see that need done beyond the minimum and we do them.  I know very veteran teachers that don’t do this. But are you doing everything you can to get recognized for them?  Have you ever been close to the next level but couldn’t think of or prove something to get that bump?  I have and it sucks.  I was .001 away from a Highly Effective rating one year, a year I didn’t track so my “what I did” email was brief.  And their email is usually very casual, so we don’t even think of it being something of such value to us. But it is!

When I was working on my master’s degree, we were required to do projects and track them and their outcome.  It was daunting work, but in doing them, I realized I kept better records and had that data at the end of the year to share with my supervisor and increased the outcome of my evaluation because I had evidence of being a highly effective teacher.  At that point I decided it was worth continuing every year.

I knew it couldn’t be too complex or I’d never do it.  But I needed something beyond my post it notes collection of tracking. I created a simple tracking sheet and included updating it into my weekly routine.  I stuck with the STAR acronym since it made sense. It stands for Situation/Task—what I noticed or identified; Actions—what I took to improve the situation; Results—the outcome of my actions. It is clear and concise and captures all aspects of the process, plus it’s easy to share with my evaluating supervisor.  Here’s an example of an entry I did about starting this process and sharing with others:

So, with end of year evaluations coming up, take the time now to gather your notes and think about what you have done and fill one in for this year.  Here’s the link to a blank STAR tracking form I created to share.  Be sure to create a new copy and save the blank one to reuse each year and don’t forget to calendar appointment yourself to update it as well as shortcut it for easy to find access!

I know some of you may be reluctant to put in the effort because some evaluating supervisors don’t like to give out Highly Effective ratings.  Many don’t because they don’t want to have to answer for a high number of them.  I don’t get that argument.  I would want to show off my amazing teachers, be an example for the education system, and show our stakeholders that we are doing amazing things.  And with the documentation provided in this method, it can back up administrators in giving those evaluations out and perhaps change the Education System mindset from expecting a bell curve to recognizing greatness and rewarding it. In the business world, when a location has high performing employees, they become a model for what should be done—let’s do that with education.

So, keep being amazing.  Keep making things better for teachers, students, parents, schools, communities. Then be sure you are writing it down to share and get credit for all you do. You are worth it!

Note: If this is something you are interested in sharing with your team or school, contact me to schedule a Zoom meeting or I can record my training and share with you.

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