Earlier this month a panel of eleven experienced principals gathered at UVEI to answer questions aspiring teachers had about some potentially scary topics.

No, we're not talking about the challenges of classroom management, curriculum or state mandated tests. The frightening topic was finding a job: the application package, interview and hiring process.

Although a lot of advice was specific to education, quite a few helpful nuggets provided good advice for almost anyone seeking a job.

Be Yourself

Jeff Valence, principal at Lyme Elementary School, had one of the most memorable pieces of advice, which might sound trite if the implication were not so important: be yourself. Finding the right workplace is akin to finding a spouse, said Valence. You want the relationship to be lasting. If you present yourself as someone you're not during the interview and you secure the job, it may not be a happy partnership.

Create a Digital Portfolio

Most principals on the panel said that they’d prefer a digital portfolio. Those of us old enough to remember teaching before the digital age will recall that portfolios were often presented during the interview in binder form. Last week’s panel of administrators largely endorsed a digital version. Several noted that the portfolio is a chance to illustrate a candidate’s tech savvy. Try creating a Google site to display work. Keri Gelenian, Rivendell’s principal, said,  “If you do bring a physical portfolio, make sure you have a copy to leave with the committee.”

Stellar Reference Letters

Reference letters should not be generic. A generic-sounding letter is code, suggesting that the applicant is not a great candidate, even though the letter will not necessarily state this explicitly.

Grammar Matters

Does your cover letter or resume contain grammatical errors or silly typos? Prepare to be relegated to the bottom of the pile. Or even worse, to the recycleing bin. In short: enlist a trusted editor or risk rejection without consideration of substance.

Even though it’s only the end of January, jobs are popping up on School Spring. The Newton School in South Strafford is advertising a music teacher position, Hanover High School needs a photography teacher starting in April, and Woodstock Elementary is looking for math teachers.

Have you updated your resume lately?

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/332-plan-with-the-end-in-mind and http://uvei.edu/blog/324-why-we-forget-and-why-it-matters-to-teachers

You can follow Kristen on Twitter @UVEIconnect

 

New Years is typically a time when people reflect on their lifestyle choices of the past year, and turn towards thoughts of reform. “I need to lose weight!” “I want to donate more money to charity this year,” or “It’s time to read those books I’ve told people I’ve read but really haven’t.” I’m just kidding about that last one. Really. I totally read The Fountainhead.

For me, New Year’s marks the time I begin to review the literature on Understanding by Design (UbD), also known as backwards planning-- a way for teachers to think about unit design. We just wrapped up UbD week last Friday.  

This year, however, I began to think about the possible connections between resolutions and backwards planning.

UbD can be confusing and a little heavy on jargon (Essential Questions, Enduring Understandings), but the heart of backwards planning is really common sense: Plan with the end in mind. What can students do or know if they really understand? How will you, the teacher, really know that students “get it?”

I think these questions might easily apply to New Year’s resolutions, and the tenants of UbD might help to achieve those nebulous resolutions.

Let’s walk through an example. And let’s take one of the most popular (and most commonly broken) NYE resolutions: Lose weight and get fit.

Understanding by Design dictates that we first envision the end result. In our example, to weigh less and be in better shape/health. Next, we might decide on the Essential Question and Enduring Understandings of the resolution. Essential questions are provocative, open-ended, and can be applied across lots of different topics.  

For this example, here’s a proposed Essential Question: How do we feel good in the skin we’re in?

This question in an Essential Question because it could be answered in different ways. People might feel good in the skin they’re in by spending more time with family. Or by mastering that craft they’ve only dabbled in for years. Or by learning to love their body just the way it is.

But for some, the answer is to lose weight and get fit.

UbD also asks that we think about the necessary skills and knowledge one would need to be able to demonstrate true understanding.

This might be crucial to actually keeping that resolution. Do I need to learn more about meal planning and nutrition? Do I need to have a trainer help with with an exercise routine? Do I need to learn how to cook vegetables? Simply resolving to eat less or exercise more isn’t specific enough and may leave critical knowledge and skills off the table.

Understanding by Design is a framework for increasing student achievement, but it might also increase resolution achievement. Here’s a basic template. Try plugging in a resolution. Let me know how it goes!

Commentary by Kristen Downey

Kristen is UVEI's Asssociate Director for Teacher Education.  You can follow her on Twitter @UVEIconnect.

 

 

 

There have always been buzzwords in education-- perhaps now more than ever. For example, current phrases like personalized learning plans, proficiency-based learning and flexible pathways are hot faculty meeting topics in Vermont. But are they just buzz? Or do these concepts have staying-power?  

If we view these topics through the lens of differentiated instruction -- something that educators and researchers agree improves student outcomes -- then it’s more than likely these buzzwords could be with us for awhile.

Personalized learning plans, proficiency-based learning and flexible pathways all stem from the notion that students are unique and learn in ways that are particular to them. Differentiating learning means educators build on the unique experiences and understandings of each student, and continuously tailor learning opportunities for every student.  

When educators focus on differentiated instruction, they can feel passionate, excited and overwhelmed. An example is Laurel, a middle grades reading teacher at Kurn Hattin Homes, a non-profit located in Westminster, Vermont, which serves as a charitable home and school for children affected by tragedy, social or economic hardship or family disruption.  She shares, “I believe in differentiated instruction and its benefits to my students. I know I can do it. It takes planning and implementation time. Students have to get used to it. But, it’s worth it in the long run.”

Common questions educators may ask include, “How can I adapt materials I use for the whole class to use with smaller groups without overwhelming myself with planning?” and “How do I effectively implement differentiation in the classroom?”

Teaching to learner differences involves new ways of thinking about five essential elements:

  • Pre-assessment: Responding to learner differences requires teachers to be informed as much as possible by detailed knowledge about students' specific strengths, needs, and areas for growth across multiple dimensions including students’ academic literacies, students’ motivations and orientations to learning, differences in how students learn, and personal characteristics.

  • Assessment: Providing students with multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills providing both teachers and students with more accurate understanding of students' knowledge and skills.

  • Content: Making content accessible by modifying and clarifying content in response to a student's readiness level, interests, or learning profile (see types of pre-assessment).

  • Instruction (including both engagement & monitoring learning during instruction): Providing students with multiple ways to access content improves learning and monitoring students’ progress to provide information to the teacher about how they might adjust instruction and to provide high quality feedback to the student.

  • Environments: A classroom structured to respond to student differences should support, and is supported by, an evolving community of learners that is supportive, strengths based, and growth oriented.

Sometimes educators have the impression that differentiating instruction means simply allowing students to show what they know through different pathways. But as the information above illustrates, differentiating is more than just giving kids the opportunity to demonstrate understanding in different ways.

If differentiated instruction is an approach broadly supported in the research literature, why is it still not widely and effectively used? There is evidence to suggest that most teachers feel ill prepared to teach students with diverse learning needs.

To put it simply: Differentiation for the whole class and individuals is hard.

We welcome your stories, strategie, and challenges. Post a comment on our Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/uveiconnect

Commentary by Becky Wipfler

Becky Wipfler is UVEI’s Elementary Education Coordinator.  Other commentaries by Becky, can be found at http://uvei.edu/blog/322-school-district-partnerships-reinvigorate-teaching-practices,  http://uvei.edu/blog/318-project-based-learning-why-it-matters and http://uvei.edu/blog/287-my-evolution-as-a-literacy-coach

You can follow her on Twitter @UVEIwipfler