Sunday, November 22, 2009

The 2010 Kansas Teacher of the Year is...

All previous Kansas Teachers of the Year in attendance pose for a picture with Karen Tritt, 2010 KTOY (sitting front and center)

Karen Tritt!!!! Karen is a Spanish teacher at Shawnee Mission West High School and will represent teachers across our state for the next year. The journey she, and the 2010 KTOY Team, begins today is life-changing in so many ways. As my team met with the "new" team, I was overcome with emotion. The opportunities, experiences, and friendships that I have had the past year is hard to put into words. Trying to communicate what the year will be like for them was difficult.

What I am feeling can best be summed up by the lyrics to the song "For Good" (from the musical Wicked):

(Elphaba) I'm limited
Just look at me - I'm limited

And just look at you
You can do all I couldn't do,
So now it's up to you

For both of us - now it's up to you...

(Glinda) I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most to grow

If we let them
And we help them in return

Well, I don't know if I believe that's true

But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun

Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood

Who can say if I've been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

I have been changed for good

aba) It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you

You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart

And now whatever way our stories end

I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Like a s
hip blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird

In a distant wood

Who can say if I've been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

Because I knew you

I have been changed for good.

TA-DAAAA....The 2009 KTOY Team saying Goodbye!
We have all been "changed for the better."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Change Happens the Moment You Ask the Right Question

It is my assistant superintendent, Dayna Richardson's favorite quote. She repeats it to me often and when I least expect it, I can hear her voice in my head repeating it to me. Usually this is talking about policy, coaching teacher leaders, or how we can affect change in our school system. As with everything, what is true in teaching adults is also true for teaching students. When I went through the process of getting National Board Certified four years ago, I discovered how important proper questioning is. It is something most teachers know but "knowing" and "doing" are two different things. This become clear to me last week teaching geometry.

It was one of those busy days during seminar. I had students in making up tests and was trying to help about 12 students in 4 different courses (geometry, calculus, college algebra, and algebra 2). I was running crazily from one student to another - feeling like I was helping no one. One of those students was a geometry student who was currently not passing my geometry class - I will call her Gina for privacy. Gina was sort of in the mode I was in...let's hurry and get this done. It is times like this that I fall back into poor teaching. I was asking poorly worded questions - just trying to make sure she "got the right answer." While working on triangle congruencey proofs, I asked Gina, "Now, Gina, do you see any SIDES they share?" duh...what do you think she was going to answer? You got it. She said "yes." So I immediately ask, "Do you remember what property says a segment is congruent to itself?" When she hesitated, instead of waiting or encouraging her to look it up, I gave her the answer. (insert moan here). I walked to the next student, helping with problems and then returned to Gina. When I checked on her, she had written the following step in the proof:

Angle ABC is congruent to Angle AEC by the Reflective Property.

WOW...Alarms were sounding everywhere. If you are a math teacher you just heard them. Gina had some definite gaps in learning here. First of all, she didn't know the difference between sides and angles. Secondly, there is no Reflective Property - it is the Reflexive Property. Thirdly, even if she misspelled the property, the angles weren't even the same angle. I finally stopped rushing. I sat down and began asking questions.

What is the difference between a side and an angle?
Can you explain the difference between the Reflexive Property and the Reflective Property that you put down?
What do you think the Reflexive Property says? (it says a segment or angle is congruent to itself)
What do you think the Reflective Property says? (yes, there isn't a Reflective Property- just wondering what her thinking was here)

It is the last question that was the "right question." Gina explained that any two objects that reflect onto each other are congruent by the "Reflective Property." After more listening, I realized she thought that because when I explained the Reflexive Property, I used something like this, "Reflexive sort of sounds like reflective and that is a good way to remember it since what you see in the mirror is a reflection of the same image." I learned today that I will not be explaining that way again. I learned to slow down and ask questions that engage the learner...not just expedite the learning process.

Change really does happen the moment you ask the right question....and sometimes that change is you!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Gray Area in Education

The past week I have been struggling with a couple philosophical issues in education. As I travel and speak to future educators, they bring to mind how I viewed education and what it would be like to be a teacher. In my first years of teaching, I relied heavily on set policy and procedures and rules. The rules gave me a sense of confidence - something to fall back on when I didn't know what to do or how to handle a situation. As I have gotten a "few years" into my career, I have come to realize that I am not as big a fan of rules and policy as I used to be. I have found there is a lot - and I mean a TON- of gray area for me in education. I view each student as a separate person, with their own issues, talents, and disabilities. What is fair for one student may not be quite so fair for another when taken into account the economic status, ability level, or age. Does fair mean equal? What happens when policy conflicts with what I think is good for a student? Where is the balance between upholding policy and doing what is right for a student? It is a daily struggle for me as I try to find that fulcrum. I am going to give you some scenarios I have dealt with just the past week. I won't tell you what I did....or what the outcome is...well, not yet anyway. If you are a teacher, future teacher, administrator, or parent, what would you do? What is fair? Do the consequences fit the infraction? These may test your philosophy a little. I would love to hear from you all and what you think. For those that know me and the school I teach at, not all these come from my school.
Where is your fulcrum?
Scenario One
The middle school has a policy of keeping 15 7th graders and 15 8th graders on the basketball team. There are 2 coaches to handle the 30 kids and limited gym space so cuts will have to be made. What if only sixteen 7th graders go out? Should the school cut only one student? At what point do we do more harm than good? What if there were seventeen 7th graders out? Can we keep two extras? Would it matter to you that only eight 8th graders went out? Since not as many 8th graders went out should more 7th graders be kept? When do you draw the line? OR does a line need to be drawn at all? Many middle schools do not cut. What is your middle school philosophy? How do you balance supervision, quality practice time with letting students get exercise and feel part of a team?

Scenario Two
A student cheated on a chapter test. Policy says I give the student a zero. His grade was a C but if I give him a zero, he will fail the 9 weeks and become ineligible to play football at a time when playoffs are starting. Should he be allowed to take a different test? What if he was given an F on the retake but not a zero? The 50% would still allow him to pass with a D. Should he just get the retake grade without a deduction? What is "fair" for this student?

Scenario Three
A student plagiarized a paragraph from a project that made up the majority of the first quarter grade in English. Policy says the student will get a zero on the entire project. If he gets a zero, he has mathematically eliminated himself from passing the semester of senior English. He will not graduate. So what do you do? It was made clear that any plagiarizing would result in a zero. Is copying a paragraph deserving of not graduating? Where do you draw the line?

Every day all over the United States, teachers and administrators make decisions like the ones above that affect students. Sometimes lessons are learned, sometimes students are emotionally harmed and sometimes it is the key moment in time to make an impact on a student life. Life and teaching is not black and white...there is a lot of gray. The older I get, that "gray" seems to be creeping in everywhere!!

Wichita State University

Five of us spelling out W-S-U!

The Team made our last official visit as the 2009 Kansas Teacher of the Year Team on Monday at Wichita State University. We did 3 different presentations for different groups. The first group was for the class "Introduction to Teaching" with Dr. Aagaard. This is a large class that explores what the profession is like for anyone who is considering majoring in education. After the class, we got a great tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright building from Dr. Alan Aagaard. I always learn something when I travel and this time I learned about Frank Lloyd Wright and his architecture (see below). Pretty Amazing!
The courtyard at Corbin Hall
After treating us to lunch, we presented to about 60 high school students from the Wichita area. I looked at this group and wondered which one of these students could be teaching my grandchildren in 15 years. That is a strange sensation!! I also have that sensation when I think about which students of mine will be taking care of me in a nursing home or in a hospital as I get older. I think I (and my grandchildren) are in very good hands.
Marilyn Fox, Manhattan, speaking to high school students.
We ended the day with 110 student teachers. Yes, you read that right...110 student teachers. Most of the group were elementary majors and we all encouraged them to add a middle school license such as math, ELL or science. They were engaged and energetic even after student teaching all day. I am not sure I would have the energy that they demonstrated after teaching all day to attend another hour of professional development.

The visit was definitely bitter sweet for me. It is always exciting to interact with future educators (and previous students!) but was sad that this will be our last time together presenting to colleges. Visiting the campuses all over the state has definitely been one of the best parts of our time serving as the 2009 Kansas Teacher of the Year Team.
Beth Hake, previous student and student teacher at WSU. She is so grown up!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kansas State University - Hause Creativity (updated with Video)

The 3 KSU Grads showing our school spirit!!!
The KTOY Team visited the Kansas State University College of Education Thursday. Being a KSU graduate, it was so great "going home" again. A lot has changed since I have been there...a new parking garage, an updated library, a new football stadium...the list goes on and on. (I think I just showed by age there). However, the one thing that remains the same is the commitment of the College of Education to the students. Under the leadership of fantastic people like Dean Michael Holen and Associate Dean Janice Wissman, our future educators are getting quality preparation for their careers. Just one example of that is the Hause Creativity Lecture which is part of their Education Symposium.
The students giving us "crinkles" a little scarf advice!
The Team put quite a few hours of preparation and thought on how and what to say. "Lecturing" was not really an option, so we tried as best as we could to involve 500 students....yes that is right....500! Since the theme was "Creativity - Making Connections" we had a big job in front of us. We started with a definition of Creativity: "Randomness with a purpose." And then we were off and running! Marilyn microwaved soap, Walt threw old hamburgers at them and talked about Progressive Era, Mary brought up a student to speak to us in a foreign language for us to practice listening and what it must be like for ELL students, Julie was her creative self with her tool boxes, Mary Martha kept us in stitches using humor, Cindy Venard showed us how to use Quantum Learning and movement in class, I gave some activities to build class culture and relationships (it was fun watching students untangle themselves -they were great!), and Jennifer dazzled them with her rhythmic respites.

Jennifer rocks "the Hause!"

I am not sure who had more fun - the students or us! I even walked away with some "scarf tying" tips....I love TEACHING - I am always learning something from students! We were so jazzed from talking with the students, we stayed and visited with each other for another hour...and played around for quite some time!

Here we are playing around after the Symposium.

The Symposium is named after the late Dr. Richard Hause who was a professor at KSU. I had the privilege of meeting his family...and after meeting all of them - I truly hope we did his memory justice in our presentation. If he was anything like his amazing family, I would not want to disappoint him. It truly was an honor to meet so many people dedicated to providing the best possible preparation to a generation of future teachers. When I looked out on all of them, I know my future (I hope a distant future) grandchildren are in good hands. Speaking of being in good hands - pictured below are two previous students of mine who I hope someday will teach my grandchildren....Shelby Sasse and Ashley Regier.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pearson Foundation

The STOY's take Manhattan - and our "namesake!"

Linda Smerge, Illinois, Derek Olson, Minnesota, and myself outside of Jersey Boys.

I arrived in New York City today - courtesy of the Pearson Foundation. They are sponsoring a digital workshop for all the STOY's this week. Since I have never been to New York City, I am definitely showing my "tourist" side. I was actually walking through Times Square taking pictures as I am walking. For anyone that has visited NYC, you probably are nodding right now knowing what I am talking about! We arrived at the Flatotel which is on 52nd and Broadway...WALKED to the Theatre District to Jersey Boys and then went to Carmine's for a supper sponsored by Pearson.

This week the STOY's have been collecting money to send home with the American Samoa TOY, Murali Gopalan. His island was hit by a tsunami the day after he arrived at the conference. We raised $1,250!! Pearson Foundation heard of our efforts at supper tonight and agreed to match what we had raised. We presented Murali $2,500 to take home with him to help with the the recovery.

Adam from Pearson Foundation presenting the money to Murali at supper tonight.

I am so lucky to be an educator. Not only are they the most giving, caring, and loving people you can possibly be associated with but we are surrounded by professionals like those at ETS and Pearson who support our efforts. Thank you, Pearson Foundation, for caring.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Educational Testing Service - Princeton, NJ

All the above pictures were taken at the Grounds for Sculpture

I have been in Princeton, NJ for the past two days at the Next Steps Conference at the Chauncey Conference Center. This is for all State Teachers of the Year and the last time we will all "officially" be together. ETS has been an unbelievable host to us and facilitating what Teacher Leadership, Teaching Leadership, and Learning Leadership looks like for each of us. It was a proud moment for me as ETS used some of the Teacher Leader Standards from Kansas in their presentation. After listening to different speakers, I have had to answer tough questions in my "home room" with Mary Beth Blegen (NTOY 1996)on what my Next Steps are as KTOY. What is a teacher leader? How can I help my principal? What are my dreams? What are my goals? Where do I go from here? These are NOT easy questions for me or for most of my STOY friends. I DO have goals and dreams and visions of what education should/can/could look like in the state of Kansas but not sure what role I will play in all of it - if any. I would love to see the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network grow and be used as a resource for policy makers. I think it would be great if a teacher served on our State Board of Education as a resource. I dream of the day when EVERYONE put children first.

This has been a time of reflection and goal setting for me. I am not sure yet what all those goals hold as I am still just worried about making sure a student who hasn't been doing well in my class gets caught up...and then there is the student that can't get back into their home to get books and belongings. I have yet to get the whole story about it and am worried about them. It is hard to think long-range when I have so many other things to think about!

I have been learning though from some great people at ETS...Jeremy Burrus, Associate Research Scientist, Kurt Landgraf, President and CEO of ETS, Katherine Bassett, Director of Educator Relations, and Eleanor Horne, VP of ETS Social Investment Fund. We have also heard from 5 previous National Teachers of the Year, who have been guiding us all through this journey. We even had a surprise visit from the editor of Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul, Amy Newmark and CEO of Chicken Soup, William J. Rouhana -also her husband! (pictured at left) Every 2009 STOY is contributing to the next edition of the book due out in February. She even brought the book cover to share with us.

This evening we took a tour of Grounds for Sculpture and ate at Rats Restaurant. The place is amazing! J. Seward Johnson has his studio there (which we got to tour). I wish I could explain all the art I saw but there was SO MUCH that I can't do it justice. The restaurant on the Grounds, Rats, was conceived from J. Seward Johnson's vision. He wanted visitors to feel like they have stepped into a village of French impressionist Claude Monet's town of Giverny. It is simply beautiful. We didn't just was a 5 course meal - complete with different wines to complement the course being served. AMAZING!

And - for those wondering if I had any cheesecake....the answer is YES! Just since being here I have had 4 slices of cheesecake! (pictured left is 2 of them - pumpkin cheesecake and apple cheesecake)

I am going to end with my favorite quote from today:
"We don't see things as they are, we see things the way WE are."