Commentary - UVEI - Upper Valley Educators Institute

  • Seek First to Understand

    I was fortunate to visit the opening days of school for two 2017 UVEI Principal Intern Program graduates last week. These schools are quite different: one a middle/high school and one a small rural elementary school. Demographics aside, I was struck by the feeling of hope coming from the administrators, teachers and students. I stood near to Laurie Greenberg, now the assistant principal at Mt. Abraham, as she and her colleagues greeted incoming seventh graders for their first day of orientation. The energy from all parties was palpable. The start of the new school year is the start of a new chapter where you can, as an educator and as a student, take what you learned last year and build on it. In a sense, you have the opportunity to become a better you just from the opportunity that a clearly delineated beginning and end of a school year offers.

    In spending time with Laurie, I reflected on her ability to connect with her colleagues and students and her practices to cultivate these relationships. Her goals for the year are to focus on building trust by deliberately creating opportunities to know and understand those she will be working with. Here are a few of the ways Laurie plans to make meaningful connections this school year:

  • Read more

  • Synchronicity

    As I prepare to embark on my new journey from being a math teacher at Williamstown Middle High School in Vermont to become the principal of Barre City Elementary School in Vermont, there are times when I ask myself, “What am I getting myself into?” Those thoughts are usually pushed out of the way when I think about the knowledge and skills I have developed during my yearlong internship (learning on the job) and in seminars at UVEI.  

    Reflecting on my UVEI Principal Intern Program experience, the outstanding value has been the synchronicity between the seminars and the real-life experience of leading at Williamstown.  While I admit that it’s been a full year, the interweaving of the seminars with the internship has made all the hard work worthwhile.

  • Read more

  • The Adventure of a Teacher Intern

    If you are thinking about becoming a teacher there must be something special inside of you that desires to share, inspire, give and empower.  You must be wondering how you can make a difference in a community, in the life of a youth or see discover more about yourself.  If this holds true, then becoming a teacher, an educator, an advisor and a role model, is the path for you.

    Whether you are naive about the challenges of teaching or are nervous and overwhelmed, the Upper Valley Educators Institute will be there to guide and support your journey.  Along the way you will be tested by rigorous academic performance, challenged by teaching in the classroom and overwhelmed when learning with your cohort.  By the end, however, you will emerge with a teaching identity of your own that is harnessed by a preparedness to go out into the world and not only be the teacher you envisioned yourself to be, but have the necessary toolkit to do so.    

  • Read more

  • The Art of Taking Risks

    As the Fine Arts Teacher and Drama Director at Fall Mountain Regional High School, Dakota Benedetto has, during her 16-year career in the classroom, sought to create opportunities for her students -- opportunities to explore, to create, to think for themselves and to learn from failure. Dakota believes that real learning requires getting out of our comfort zones, and that schools should strive to create an environment of intellectual risk-taking.  

    This year, while Dakota completes the Principal Intern Program at UVEI, she is working with a group of educators and local community members to open the LEAF Charter School in the fall of 2017 in Alstead, NH. They envision a small charter high school with an interdisciplinary curriculum, emphasizing flexibility and hands-on experiences. “The opportunity to shape this new learning community has been wonderful - a chance to help ‘change the educational paradigm,’ as Ken Robinson puts it. How cool is that?” Dakota exclaims. 

    If you ever have the good fortune to meet Dakota, you will discover that her interests outside school range from acting to dancing to carpentry. She is proficient in French, is CPR certified, studied architecture at RISD and loves social dancing. Dakota’s inspiration for living a full and varied life comes from words by Albert Einstein:  Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. “I believe that it is the challenge, the putting your hopes and heart on the line, that makes the difference in having successes. After all, how can I ask my students to take chances if I don’t do the same?” Dakota asks.

    Dakota, who is a resident of Marlow, NH, is a graduate of Plymouth State College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Education.  She went on to receive a Master in Education from Harvard University. 

  • Read more

  • The Ladder of Inference

    How many times in daily life do we make assumptions about others and the world around us? Hundreds of times a day? Thousands? And how many times are those assumptions wrong? How often do we jump to conclusions? A lot more than we might like to admit, I fear.

    There’s a helpful model for thinking about this process of making assumptions and taking action.  It’s called the ladder of inference, first proposed by Harvard professor, Chris Arjaris. Imagine a tiny ladder in your brain, with every interaction entering on the bottom rung. Data from that interaction zips up the ladder faster than the blink of an eye and exits at the top rung, when we draw conclusions. The process looks like this:

    1.  Observable data: Enters our subconscious based on what we see or hear
    2. Selected data: The filtered data we choose to focus on
    3.  Assumptions: We think we know others’ motivations
    4.  Conclusions: We think things must be a certain way
    5.  Beliefs: We adopt reinforced or new ways of seeing others or the world
    6.  Actions: We do something based on our newfound (or reinforced) conclusions

    Let’s walk through a plausible student-teacher interaction as an example. The teacher, Mr. Right, begins class and writes on the board; several students take out their notebooks, some talk to neighbors, a few finish scraps of their lunches, and one student, Melissa Misunderstood, taps away on her phone with her thumbs. When he turns around and surveys the room, Mr. Right’s eyes settle on Melissa. Mr. Right looks at her and thinks to himself, She looks like she’s not paying attention. I think Melissa is texting.  She is more interested in her social life than her school work. Mr. Right knows that this is true because lately he’s observed her on her phone more than once during his lectures, and has also noticed that Melissa seems to be involved in drama in the hallway during passing periods. Today’s incident confirms his belief that Melissa is not a good student and needs to be taught a lesson. He thinks, She never pays attention in class, and I’ve had enough! Mr. Right calls her name in front of the class, and asks her what could be so captivating on her phone. “We’d all like to know, Ms. Misunderstood.” Sheepishly, Melissa puts her phone in her bag.  

    So what is so problematic about this interaction? The trouble with our own ladders is that we often select what data to focus on based on our beliefs. Mr. Right already believed that Melissa was not a good student. He selected the data that supported this belief. The other trouble with our ladders is that we take action without considering that our conclusions may be based on filtered data. Mr. Right didn’t notice that she was looking at the board, where the homework was written, while she was typing. Or that other students were also talking or eating.

    What can we do to short circuit our own ladders? First we need to question our assumptions and conclusions. If Mr. Right had stopped to consider what else could be going on with Melissa, he might not have chosen to call her out in front of the class. Second, we need to seek understanding with open-ended questions. Mr. Right could have noted what Melissa was doing, and made a mental notes to ask her about her use of the phone after class. Melissa may have been able to explain that she’s using her phone to keep track of her assignments, especially because she knows when she leaves class she gets distracted by her friends.

    We can more clearly see others and the world around us when we strive to stay low on the ladder of inference. The goal isn’t to stay on the bottom rung, however. The goal is to make prudent, informed decisions and take action based on a more nuanced understanding of what the data could mean.

    Teachers, managers, parents, kids, anyone can use this information about the ladder of inference.  We all could and should pay attention to our own ladders, as well as seek to understand how others might be zipping up their own.

    Commentary by Kristen Downey

    Kristen Downey is UVEI’s Associate Director for Teacher Education.  Her other blogs can be found at:
    http://uvei.edu/blog/324-why-we-forget-and-why-it-matters-to-teachers
    http://uvei.edu/blog/333-get-that-job
    http://uvei.edu/blog/345-inspired-teaching-5-reasons-we-belong-in-the-classroom
    http://uvei.edu/blog/346-quit-your-job-start-a-teaching-career-without-fear
    http://uvei.edu/blog/348-worryi-about-praxis-here-s-help
    http://uvei.edu/blog/350-teaching-keeps-this-career-changer-in-the-momenthttp://uvei.edu/blog/351-three-things-i-wish-i-d-known
    http://uvei.edu/blog/353-observe-me
    http://uvei.edu/blog/356-cool-things-in-school-updated
    http://uvei.edu/blog/357-keys-to-classroom-management

    You can follow Kristen on Twitter @UVEIconnect

  • Read more

  • The Learning by Doing Advantage

    Over the past decade, I have had the privilege of working with the Upper Valley Educators Institute’s (UVEI) administration, faculty, and students and, as a result, I have learned first-hand the impact of their philosophy: learning by doing. UVEI is a place where the art of teaching and leadership is learned through practice, and its programs heavily engage candidates with colleagues and mentors in real-life situations over extended periods of time.

  • Read more

  • The Sine Qua Non: Thinking Like an Assessor

    Throughout my ten years as a teacher educator, I have continually wondered about the work we do: What are the conditions, structured opportunities, and practice preservice teachers need now in order to become effective educators in the future?

    In a way, seeking an answer to this question is like pushing a boulder up a hill, because the greatest impact on a new teacher’s practice, and a factor largely out of our control, is their teaching context--their students, colleagues, the school’s values and routines, mentoring. On the other hand, we also know that creating the conditions for teacher candidates to develop some basic repertoires of practice--such as participation strategies--and an inspired vision of their work is crucial to set the stage for their future practice.

    With this in mind, my colleagues from University of New Hampshire and Southern New Hampshire University and I were particularly interested in how new teachers learn what’s been recognized “as a sine qua non for today's competent educator” (Popham, 2009, p. 4) and is one of the most challenging elements of teaching for new teachers to understand and practice successfully: assessment literacy. Assessment literacy is broadly defined as the knowledge and skills teachers need to effectively develop assessments, and interpret and use their results, for a variety of educational purposes, and to communicate those results to a variety of educational shareholders (Brookhart, 2011). In our study, we focused on a particular aspect of assessment literacy, the formative assessment process, which includes:

    • Creating opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding of standards and objectives

    • Analyzing evidence of student thinking and learning in order to

      • Uncover the patterns of understanding across a group of students

      • Provide helpful and specific feedback  to individual and groups of students that are aligned with standards and objectives and

      • Design next steps for instruction that are informed by this analysis  

    Specifically, we were interested in the relationship between beginning teachers’ assessment literacy while they were in their teacher preparation program and during their first year of teaching. To study this relationship, we analyzed six recently graduated teachers’ performance on the New Hampshire Teacher Candidate Assessment of Performance (NH TCAP), a robust performance assessment completed during their student teaching; and interviews with and observations of these same teachers during their first year of teaching. Collecting these qualitative data on individual teachers’ experiences and learning that span the preservice and induction years is essential for understanding what really impacts beginning teacher learning.   

    Here’s what we found: Across our cases, the teachers’ assessment literacy on their TCAP was strongly related to their assessment literacy during their first year of teaching. For example, teachers whose feedback to students in their TCAP assessments focused on correct and incorrect responses tended to continue using this kind of feedback during their first year, and teachers who aligned their assessments on the TCAP with key outcomes tended to do the same one year later. However, when there was growth in teachers’ assessment literacy, we attributed it to the collaboration and collective practices the teachers were engaged in their schools (e.g., collectively analyzing student work).

    Another key finding related to the importance of alignment. When there was alignment among teachers’ assessments, outcomes, and instruction, teachers saw students’ performance as evidence of true understanding, and consequently gave students relevant feedback to further their progress. When there was misalignment, teachers’ understanding of student performance tended to be surface-level, and their feedback was vague and did not guide students’ progress toward learning objectives.

    What did we learn from this study about beginning teacher learning of assessment? First, thinking--and teaching--like an assessor is hard, but important. I’m grateful that at UVEI we emphasize backward design and teaching for understanding throughout our program. Second (and this is not new learning, but important to reestablish), learning to teach is a complex journey, shaped by individual proclivities and motivations and contextual practices and values. It has always been fascinating to witness and take part in the journey with those inspiring individuals who choose teaching.

    I want to leave you with a quote from Deborah Ball that captures the importance helping beginning teachers develop both a mindset and the skills to think about student thinking, to think like an assessor:

    “What you do when you’re teaching is you think about other people’s thinking...You don’t think about your own thinking; you think what other people think. That’s really hard.”

    Commentary by Christopher Ward, PhD

    Chris Wardis the Graduate Studies Coordinator and member of the Program Faculty.  Along with colleagues at the University of Washington and Vanderbilt University, he received the Best Article of the Year award for the article, Situated Motivation, published in the journal, Educational Psychologist.

    For more, see http://tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00461520.2015.1075399

    For more commentary by Chris, see http://uvei.edu/blog/320-being-metacognitive-about-metacognition

     

  • Read more

  • The UVEI Coach: Your Personal Guide

    An internship at UVEI is a lot like the long distance thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Both have an exciting, though somewhat apprehensive outset into the unknown, followed by an arduous journey of several months, leading to a clear and lofty goal at the end.  But the novice hiker on the UVEI trek has a priceless asset in the services of a highly experienced, trail-wise personal guide:  the UVEI Faculty Coach.

  • Read more

  • Three Things I Wish I'd Known

    I’m a graduate of UVEI’s teaching program, and was a middle school English teacher. I now work with aspiring teachers, and I’m often asked, “What do you wish you had known before taking your first teaching job?” Since I don’t have a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor, I can’t change what my 25-year-old self knew before accepting my first position. But I can share what I’ve learned with new and aspiring teachers.

    Here are my top three pieces of advice that I share with new teachers – and wish I could have told myself.

    1. Seek feedback - Most schools will assign you a mentor teacher. But these people are often seen by new teachers as the go-to for information like how to use the copier, and what forms to fill out when registering for professional development. Invite that person to watch you teach. Ask for feedback. Schedule a time to sit down with him/her and plan lessons or look at student work together. If your mentor teacher isn’t receptive or available, find someone in the building who is. Some schools even have instructional coaches. Reach out to those individuals early and often.

    2. Beware the faculty room - My first principal asked me if I knew why he liked that the faculty room was windowless, stuffy, and uninviting. Because you’re cheap? I wondered. He wasn’t, so I knew that wasn’t the answer. “So the teachers don’t sit in here too long and complain or gossip.” Genius. But the truth is that some teachers will congregate wherever they can to complain-- about administrators, colleagues, parents, and, most horrifying, students. Don’t engage in this behavior. And know that some teachers will rope you into these conversations wherever they can-- the parking lot, hallway, your own classroom.  

    3. Immerse yourself in the culture of your students - You should, of course, bring your own passions and interests to the classroom. But to earn trust and understanding with your students, the foundation of effective teaching, you need to make their interests your interests. Noticing quite a few #88 shirts in your third period English lit class? Then it’s time to learn some basics about NASCAR racing. Is your second grade class obsessed with cats? Learn about several unusual breeds and bring this information into lessons when possible. It wasn’t until my fifth year of teaching that I finally immersed myself in YA literature. That year, with my principal's blessing, we took a school bus to the nearest movie theater (35 miles away) to see the premier of Twilight. Yes, I even read the Twilight series. Full disclosure: I was kind of enthralled! Students brought up this trip years later as one of their fondest memories of 8th grade.

    There’s simply no way to be fully prepared for every challenge that teaching will bring, but a little advice can’t hurt. Any tips veteran teachers want to share? Visit our Facebook and Twitter pages and post your best nuggets of wisdom for new teachers!

    Commentary by Kristen Downey

    Kristen Downey is UVEI’s Associate Director for Teacher Education.  Her other blogs can be found at:

    http://uvei.edu/blog/324-why-we-forget-and-why-it-matters-to-teachers
    http://uvei.edu/blog/333-get-that-job
    http://uvei.edu/blog/345-inspired-teaching-5-reasons-we-belong-in-the-classroom
    http://uvei.edu/blog/346-quit-your-job-start-a-teaching-career-without-fear
    http://uvei.edu/blog/348-worryi-about-praxis-here-s-help
    http://uvei.edu/blog/350-teaching-keeps-this-career-changer-in-the-moment

    You can follow Kristen on Twitter @UVEIconnect

     

  • Read more

  • Trending: Competency-Based Education

    I attended UVTI (before we became UVEI) from 2006 to 2007 as a teacher intern, taught math in Seattle for five years, then returned to the Upper Valley and began working at UVEI in 2014. Quite a bit has changed here in ten years, but one constant has been our commitment to competency-based education.  In my capacity as Registrar, I prepare transcripts -- the documents that describe to employers, licensing bureaus, etc. what our graduates have achieved.  Because our graduates are assessed as to whether they are competent as a beginning teacher, one of my challenges is to find a way to write those descriptions so that they can be understood by a wider audience, including those only familiar with a traditional grading system. I must admit that there are days when I catch myself thinking “if only we gave grades…”

  • Read more

  • Jim Nourse

    Why I Hired UVEI Graduates

    During my ten years as principal in area schools, the UVEI graduates I hired were all exceptional, and they enjoyed a significant competitive advantage in the application process over other teachers with less than five years of experience.  UVEI graduates stand out because:

  • Read more

  • Why We Forget and Why It Matters to Teachers

    It’s early in the morning and not many people have managed to get a second cup of much-needed coffee. But that’s not why people’s brains are a little fuzzy. This is the third of the four-part series, Perspectives on Teaching, Learning, and the Brain and Dr. Christian Jernstedt, Professor Emeritus of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, has just asked these aspiring teachers to recall a meaningful portion of the content of his last session. Everyone is clearly struggling. Dr. Jernstedt is looking at one young man in the back row and waiting patiently for an answer.

    “Can I use a lifeline?” Ethan, an aspiring English teacher, asks playfully, and many in the room chuckle.

    Dr. Jernstedt specializes in human learning. And he knows exactly why everyone is struggling and furiously flipping through notebooks, searching for their notes from the last class.

    “It’s disappointing,” he said later, that people can’t remember a very crucial point from the last session. But Dr. Jernstedt knows a teachable moment when one presents itself. He tells the room that the disappointment he feels is a reality that teachers need to grapple with. Teachers can deliver what they think is a good lesson, but students will not necessarily learn or remember.

    The reason we forget, he tells us, is not that the idea or answer has gone from our minds. Interference is why we forget. New information interferes with previously stored information. Our brains are very smart, and crammed with an enormous amount of information. Forgetting happens when we can’t retrieve a memory. And trying to retrieve memories is not analogous to searching in a file cabinet for the information. “It's more like an archeological dig,” says Jernstedt.

    Have you ever tried to remember something, been frustrated at the inability to recall, and then the memory comes to you at another time, such as when you’re in the shower? That’s the amazing power of the brain -- to continue to work in the background to retrieve a memory, even when you think you’re not working on the problem.

    So what does this all mean for teachers? Well, the answer is complicated. Learning often depends on the ability of a student's brain to retrieve information. Research, Dr. Jernstedt says, tells us that when subjects take a nap immediately after learning new information, they can recall more than those who remain awake. Since most of our students won’t be napping after our lessons, we’ll have to try a different approach.

    There are many things teachers can do to minimize interference. Teachers can use structure, elaboration and imagery to maximize meaningfulness. Teachers can chunk information into the small, meaningful bits. And teachers can help students rehearse and remember.

    But at the moment, the fuzzy brains in the room are still working on the problem at hand: What was the important information Dr. Jernstedt said at the last session that we should have remembered?

    Perhaps we all need to sleep in it. Or get that second cup of coffee.

    Commentary by Kristen Downey

    Kristen Downey is UVEI’s Associate Director for Teacher Education and a member of the program faculty. Kristen’s commentary on participation strategies can be found here. You can follow her on Twitter @UVEIDowney

     

  • Read more

  • Worrying About Praxis? Here's Help

    Becoming a teacher isn’t as simple as passing a test (and we’re glad it’s not!), but there is one test you simply have to pass: the Praxis Core. People ask us a lot of questions about this infamous standardized test: What is it? Why do I have to take it? What do I do if I don’t pass? Although nothing but studying can help you pass the test, there are a few basics that are good to understand.

    What is the Praxis Core?

    The Praxis Core (formerly known as simply “ Praxis I”) is a basic skills test all aspiring teachers in New Hampshire and most other states in the U.S., including the territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa (fun fact!), must pass in order to earn certification. There are three components: Reading, writing and math. You must pass all three in order to be fully admitted to UVEI’s teacher certification program.

  • Read more

Page 3 of 3