Dear Teacher Thinking About Taking a Chance on Critical Skills…

Dear Teacher,
I’m a faculty member at The Riverside School in Lyndonville and a Critical Skills Master Teacher.  I’ve been working with the Center for School Renewal at Antioch New England to facilitate Critical Skills Institutes, a week-long summer professional development experience for teachers of all subjects and grade levels.  I know you’re thinking about taking a chance on an institute this summer and I wanted to give you a little more information about what you’d be getting into.
In essence, the Critical Skills Classroom about reworking your lessons to intentionally teach skills and dispositions (like quality, critical thinking, self direction, organization, community, etc) in a way that is problem-based, experiential,  standards-based, and collaborative.  Facilitators are really expected to walk our talk, so the week is designed to be experienced by participants in the same way we want our students to experience it.  This isn’t sit- and- get professional learning, you will feel engaged and challenged and part of a community as the week goes on.
This summer, I’ll be facilitating with Bill Vinton, who is a science teacher at St Johnsbury Academy during the Riverside Institute in August and  there are two great teachers- Allison and Danika- running the Keene Institute in July.
Here is a little more info:
1) The website for critical skills includes all kinds of additional specific information
2. A couple of videos (you can find more of these on our YouTube channel, if you’re interested)
3) The registration pages for the Vermont and Keene  Institutes
It really is a fun and inspiring week.  No one has ever told us they were sorry they came, so I hope you’ll decide to join us!

This post has no title because no mere title can capture the awesomeness of this post. Seriously.

One of the unexpected joys of working at Antioch is our monthly Education Department meeting. I know most people don’t put meetings under the heading of “joys,” but most people don’t work where I work.  The people I work with spend an incredible amount of time in the field, supervising student teachers, researching, and meeting with colleagues, so we don’t spend much time together. Our monthly meetings are half family reunion, half professional development and academic sharing (and okay, realistically, probably 20% the same administrivia everyone has to manage).  After 13 years here, I’m still learning new stuff about our programs, our students, and my colleagues.

Today, though, I learned something really, really awesome.  About a year ago, we launched a new concentration in our Integrated Learning program (our initial certification program for pre-service elementary teachers).  It had become really clear to us that beginning teachers everywhere weren’t well prepared to work with students with special needs- or to work well with Special Education teachers in Co-teaching situations, so we reframed our IL program so that all students would be better prepared and those who wished to do so could leave us with dual certification in Elementary and Special Education. We knew this was a good idea, but we’re not naive enough to believe that all good ideas work out as well as we imagine.

In this case, we nailed it.  At a time when new teachers are struggling to find jobs, of our dual certification students who wanted to go into the classroom, have positions lined up for the 2015-2016 school year. In fact, even though they finished in December (not usually a great time to pick up a teaching job) many of them were able to start working right away.

Let me say that again.

All of our dual certification graduates who wanted jobs, have jobs.

The teacher of the future needs to be prepared for all the kids coming to us. They need to be facile with all kinds of pedagogies and nimble enough to work in a whole bunch of different structures. I’m pretty jazzed to find out that not only are we creating these kinds of teachers, but that administrators are snapping them up.

Congratulations 2015 Integrated Learning grads.
Welcome to the profession!

Caring for ourselves is our professional

Caring for ourselves is our professional responsibility. @AntiochNewEng #innovation #MindfulSelfCompassion

Getting to 21st Century Skills Using The

Getting to 21st Century Skills Using The Critical Skills Model

From our friends at Black Public Media:

From our friends at Black Public Media:

:Nothing matters more to the long-term success of our country than the quality of our public school system.

We are pleased to release the 180 Days Game, an interactive experience that was designed in conjunction with the “180 Days: Hartsville” documentary, to help more people accurately understand the state of public education today and the challenges and opportunities that come with trying to support the holistic development of children.

Choose a user, accept the challenge, and see how you do. The future of the country is in your hands.

8 Things We Could Learn from Agent Peggy Carter

I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Comics universe, so I was eagerly awaiting the premiere of Agent Carter after the first of the year.  Finally, this under-developed character was going to become more than Captain America’s unrequited love interest! We were going to really get to know the enigmatic Agent Peggy Carter!  What I *didn’t* expect was eight lessons in pedagogy, community and school change.

1. Don’t let the jerks get to you.  In every field, in every job, there are badly behaved, ignorant, fearful, condescending…well, you get the picture.  They’re there.  They’ve always been there.  Don’t let them beat you, don’t let them decide your fate, don’t spend too much time railing against their idiocy (because you can’t change them), just go around them.  The best revenge is being right, you know?

2. Ask for help- or at least accept it when it’s offered.  Jarvis.  Oh, Jarvis.  Not just a butler, a willing ally able to anticipate where help is needed before our dear Peggy is able to ask.  Learning that there’s no single person who can hold the whole world- that we all need help and that there’s no prize for doing it alone?  That’s a lesson I’d love every single teacher, principal, and student to learn.

Know how to use the tech you have- even when it’s not ideal.  Got a watch that can help you bust into a safe (or at least count your steps and measure your heart rate)? A Smartboard that ALWAYS works? Great! Learn how to use it- really use it- before you need it.  Same with your smartphone, the 2 iPads the library has available or the ancient flip video camera you have in the bottom drawer of your desk.  You can’t use them if you don’t know how they work- and you can use them more creatively and effectively if you do.

3. When push comes to shove, a stapler is as a good weapon. Sometimes low-tech works. Don’t be ashamed to pull out the overhead projector, use paper and pencils and scissors and glue if they’re the right (or most expeditious) tools for the job. Just because you have the fancy gadgets doesn’t mean their use is always the most effective.

4. Problem solving is a seriously badass skill.  We don’t give problem-solving (especially when it’s done on the fly) nearly the props we should.  As any teacher who’s ever modified a lesson plan on a moment’s notice (read: every single teacher ever) knows, thinking creatively and quickly to use what you have is a serious superpower.  Give yourself credit when you do it. Serious credit.  MAD credit.

5. Feelings, man…Grief, frustration, loss, anger- they’re all real.  Now, whether you’re mourning the loss of Captain America, lost at the bottom of the sea in an effort to save the US from destruction, your favorite project because the school has allocated that time for RTI, or changes in the profession that feel too big to bear; we’re all dealing with feelings all the time and they can get in the way.  Know how to put them aside and focus on the things you can change.  Action is good medicine.

6. Make friends who aren’t secret agents.  You’ll need them.  Make connections outside of school.  Have conversations that have nothing to do with education, school, or students.  I’m not suggesting you move into a women-only hotel on the upper east side, but maybe join a book club or take yoga or find someone to play D&D with.

7. Have one really great hat.  Okay, maybe not everyone can pull off a little red hat, but have something that you can put on when it’s cold and dark and you’re tired and you feel like there’s just no way you can pull yourself out of bed because it’s February and it’s cold and it’s Wednesday.  When you look fabulous, you can do great things.

Phineas and Ferb Teach “Transfer”

Today I’m welcoming the return of Reuben Duncan, Assistant Superintendent in our own SAU 29 here in Keene. Thanks for sharing, Reuben!

“There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation, ‘til school comes along just to end it, so the annual problem for our generation, is finding a good way to spend it—Like maybe building a rocket, or fighting a mummy or climbing up the Eifel Tower, discovering something that doesn’t exist, or giving a monkey a shower—surfing tidal waves, creating nanobots, or locating Frankenstein’s brain…”

This past summer, over 50 educators in SAU 29 spent three days learning about Understanding by Design and the concept of “transfer.” The best definition of transfer I have come across is not found in any book or peer reviewed article; rather, a children’s cartoon, full of witty humor, an evil villan, and a secret agent platypus named “Perry” provides the perfect description of what “transfer” actually is.

Phineas and Ferb have mastered collaboration, problem solving, and higher Phineas-and-Ferb-2order thinking strategies that enable them to invent, create, innovate, and discover new approaches to achieving their goals.

Over the last decade in education, schools have moved away from the mindset of transfer. And why wouldn’t they have? After all, the state assessments were com- prised of acquisition and low level meaning making questions. Couple that with punitive actions taken toward schools “not making the grade,” scared school boards, and handcuffed administrations, it is no wonder why schools spent significant amounts of time doing test prep and adopting standards-based programs that, if followed verbatim, would promise a school or district improved test scores.

Inevitably, schools that were successful in raising test scores typically raised them for a specific group of students while not having a great deal of success with others (economically disadvantaged and special education). Then special efforts were made to carry or lift students on the edge of passing over the proficiency threshold. And while schools increased a percentage or two in one subject area, they often went down in the other area. Then the school would focus on the areas in which it decreased and this seesaw activity began— all to avoid becoming a school or district in need of improvement. And even though they were cute little names, no one seemed to want to be labeled a SINI or a DINI.

With an intentional shift to accomplish what the Common Core Stadards call for, our system as a whole can move past the injustice of the past and lift all of our students to greater heights. We will know when we are on the right path, when our students are able to TRANSFER their learning to multiple situations, many of which they have not yet experienced.

And, yes, we still do have state assessments. However, these assessments will honor those students who can think differently and apply their learning to situations with which they may not be completely familiar. These assessments will honor those schools and districts that ensure its students think in manner that promotes TRANSFER. Those students who have been provided a firm foundation from which to build further understanding and application will succeed.