Why is it important to observe or build community?
- Professional Practice – The teacher participates collaboratively in the educational community to improve instruction, advance the knowledge and practice of teaching as a profession, and ultimately impact student learning.
“Time spent in collaboration with colleagues is considered essential to success in most professions.”
I love working with my colleagues! I enjoy observing the way they teach their classes, how they make lesson plans and engage with their students. While it would be easy to isolate myself in my own classroom and stick to what works best for me, I would find this stifling and un-fair to my students in many ways. What I have discovered over the thirteen years I have been in education is the more information I seek out from my colleagues, through observation and discussion, the more effective teacher I become. I like to watch, listen and observe so that I can implement and make change within my own classroom. Not only do I benefit from this, but my students also get to learn information in new and exciting ways. Harry Wong, author of First Day’s of School notes that, “Effective teachers have the ability to implement someone else’s’ work, regardless of their grade level, subject matter, or even professional field. They are able to steal the work, change it to fit their own situation, and use it in their classrooms. They observe, reflect, invent and apply” (page 306). This is exactly why I love collaborating with my colleagues.
This past year I have had many opportunities to observe my colleagues. I have learned unique management techniques during transition time in class, how to effectively use technology in the class, and how to support learners by using multi-sensory teaching instruction. The three following observations were especially useful to my own teaching practice:
1st Grade Teacher:
Miss. C does an excellent job managing and teaching her 1st and 2nd grade split class. I observed her teach math. I was interested in how she would teach math because she was using two different math curriculums (1st grade Houghton Mifflin Math and 2nd Grade Houghton Mifflin math). What I noticed right away was how organized and efficient the class ran.
She divided her student into 4 groups (group names were designated by directions: North, South, East and West). Each student not only knew which group they were in but also where to go. This definitely helped during the short 1-minute transition time between each 15-minute math lesson. Miss. C designed the class so that each group would circulate through 4 – 15 minutes centers. One of the centers included a mini lesson on the math-learning target. During the mini lesson she taught, modeled and guided students in how to use the math concept. Each of the hands on center/activity then reinforced the learning target. The activity that followed the math mini lesson was practice math worksheet, followed by a hands on manipulative to support academic language and demonstration of content learned and then moved into either a computer or math game that also paired with the learning target.
Because of Miss. C’s classroom management, transitional procedures and instruction all the students stayed on task. I was very impressed with how well the class went. I also teach a 4th and 5th grade split class. Using the mini-lesson and center activities instructional approach as a way to teach both math levels definitely supports overall students learning.
4th/5th Grade Part Time Science and Social Studies Teacher:
Miss. I is my 4th/5th grade-teaching partner. We split content so that she teaches science and social studies and I teach English Language Arts, we both teach math. We really enjoy team teaching because we have such different teaching instruction; however, both of us agree and implement classroom management the same way. We are also very intentional communicating daily about individual student learning, classroom engagement and behavior. At the beginning of the year we observed each other’s classes often to learn each other’s teaching styles and to make sure we were both implementing the same management procedures.
I really enjoyed observing Miss. I’s science classes. One class that stands out to me was when she was taught a lesson about the brain. The step-by-step multi-sensory approach that she took with her students was an excellent way to enhance student learning. First she had students write down the learning target in their science journal, then she had them use think-pair-share with a partner about what they knew about the brain. Next, she taught a 15-minute mini lesson about the 3 parts of the brain. As she taught the mini-lesson she had students follow along filling in notes on a graphic organizer. At the end of the mini lesson she broke students up into groups as they brainstormed what activities you could do using specific parts of the brain. Miss. I met with each of the groups throughout the activity asking them questions that elicited academic language and student voice regarding the learning target. At the end of the lesson she passed out individual exit tickets. The 45-minute class was engaging and there was student proof (verbal and written) that they understood the learning target.
6th Grade Teacher
Miss. G had a small class to manage, 5 girls, however, I was surprised at how much “chit-chat” happened among the students between transition time and throughout the lesson. The girls seemed to respect Miss. G when she was teaching, but would often call out answers or interrupt each other. This was very frustrating to Miss. G, but based on what I observed there were no classroom conduct rules to reinforce listening procedures.
The lesson was well formatted. Miss. G started the lesson by reviewing what they had already learned about poetry. Students each shared a poem they wrote on the website http://www.storybird.com. This was exciting for me to see because I was the one who introduced this website to teachers while giving a technology training to the staff a couple weeks before. The students were so engaged with this part of the lesson and really proud of their work. From this point Miss. G transitioned into introducing Shakespearian poetry using the poem “All the World is a Stage”. She had the student’s listen/watch to the scene in the play, As You Like It. Then she explained the meaning of the play and how the actor delivered the monologue. Next, she showed a video of Morgan Freeman delivering the same monologue. From there she had the students compare the similarities and differences between the two monologue deliveries. Finally, she showed a video that students listened to and read.
I really liked how she used technology to enhance the visual, audio element of introducing monologues. The students heard the poem 4 times (they wanted to watch the live actor again). They had a chance to determine which reading they liked most: one preferred Morgan Freeman and three preferred the actor’s performance. Miss. G ended the lesson by having students pull out the poem from their ELA pre-pared packet and told them that over the next few days they would memorize the poem and then perform it for the class. All five of the students were excited about this.
Summary of Teaching Observations:
There are three instructional strategies all of these teachers used that not only maximized learning but also supported teacher effectiveness:
- They were all well prepared. Their teaching materials were ready, centers well stocked and workbooks easily assessable.
- The teachers all taught, modeled, guided and allowed for individual exploration/practice in the learning target.
- Teacher’s differentiated learning to support students. The first grade teacher arranged her lessons and activities to support two different grades; the 4th/5th grade teacher used hands on materials, and the 6th grade teacher used technology and learning packets.
Observing and noting how my colleagues teach is a great way for me to grow as an educator. I have implemented and used several of the strategies I observed and found them helpful toward students learning.
The purpose of attending extra –curricular events was to observe student-to-student interaction, student-to-adult interaction, and make comparisons between students behavior in class vs. at an event. In addition to this, learn how to make connections with students and build rapport.
In October our school hosted a harvest party for the students at our school and for the ex-patriot families living in our city. This was my first event at the school and I while I was not part of the “planning committee” I volunteered to help at the event. I was interested to see how well the staff would work together and what the outcome of the event would be. The “planning committee” consisted of three people, the events organizer (games), scheduler, and food coordinator. The committee did a good job communicating with us each week about what progress they were making regarding the schedule, games and activities four weeks leading up to the even. I felt like they worked well together and helped inform the rest of us in what our role should be.
The 1st/2nd grade teacher and I volunteered to be in charge of the “flat bread” making station. The way the schedule was set up allowed students 30 minutes at each of the 3 stations. At the end of the hour and a half they sat down to a thanksgiving feast while watching the high school drama team perform a play. On the day of the event each volunteer group were given their materials for the activity. Upon receiving all the baking items for my station we realized that we did not have a pan to cook the flat bread in. With some quick thinking and help from two high school students I managed to keep the flatbread cooking and students fully engaged during the activity! Overall the harvest party was a success because of the great communication, flexibility and teamwork lead by the harvest party committee members.
It was fun to watch the high school and elementary students participate in some of the same events. The high school students did a wonderful job helping out with the younger grades and I was happy to see positive behavior from all the students!
Fast Forward to the Future
I am a huge advocate for student reading. When I saw the list of events that needed committee leaders I was more than happy to sign up for the two week Reading Emphasis in March. Being new to the school I was not sure what I was signing up for, but was very pleased with my choice.
The committee I was on had two other teachers, the pre-Kindergarten teacher/Librarian and the 3rd grade teacher. I was thankful because both of them had participated in the previous years reading week. Our committee met two months before the Reading Emphasis weeks. We planned out an outline of reading expectations and details of how we would log and keep track of student’s daily reading. Our theme was “Fast Forward to the Future” with an emphasis in Science Fiction. Something that our committee really had to think through was how to engage and motivate K-12th grade students to read and how to apply the reading theme throughout all the subjects. We came up with a brilliant idea (in my opinion)! Each class created their own planet and each student got their own paper rocket. Based on the number of minutes a student read they would reach different levels. At each new reading level achievement they got to move their rockets around to other class planets. Furthermore, each class could include “elements” of their planet and in return they would be re-warded with a “space” template to put up around their planet.
The students all got into the reading weeks. Students were motivated to create their planets, physically move their rockets, and brag about what they were creating! We had such positive feedback from the teachers as well. There were so many details that had to come together to pull off the Reading Weeks, but with teamwork, communication and staff support the event was a success!
In conclusion, I have noticed that when I seek out advice and support from my colleagues, they are more likely to seek out support and advice from me. What we are creating is a community of teachers working toward a common goal: seeing our students succeed. In the article, Work Together Only If You Want To, author Rick Dufour states, “There is abundant research linking higher levels of student achievement to educators who work in the collaborative culture of a professional learning community” (page 3). Educational trends are constantly shifting as research and politics navigate the type of instructional support teachers give their students, therefore, creating a professional learning community with my colleagues is a “core” strategy in improving student achievement (Dufour, page 4). In addition we will continue to refine our teaching practices using the most current instructional methods, activities and teaching practices.
Dufour, Rick (2011). Work Together But Only If You Want to. kappanmagazine.org V92 N5.
Wong, H.K. and Wong, R.T. (2009). The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.
For more information on teaching collaboration please see my post: