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Virginia Journal of Education


Your Classroom

 

The power of many


Last school year, teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Shenandoah County joined forces, formed a NETS*T (National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers) study group, and found that we could accomplish more together than we could individually. While the group was formed to help motivate those who had begun the certification in earlier years, it has evolved into a yearly staff development activity.

I had begun the NETS*T process in 2002 and was struggling to finish it, so I sent out an e-mail to see if anyone else at SHES would be willing to join me in seeking the certification. Seven responses came back. We had a brainstorming meeting, during which one teacher remembered a local grant program for $2000 worth of technology equipment. With that in mind, we decided we would ask for staff development time during the school day.

We thought it was a long shot, but our principal saw the value of new equipment, as well as professional development for the teachers. When we got the grant, the school received $12,000 in smartboards, laptops, LCD projectors, scanners, printers and speakers, which more than offset the cost of hiring a few substitute teachers. So we were given one afternoon a month to work together on the certification.

We started slowly so we could bring everyone up to speed with scanning, saving and uploading. Our main goal was to finish by the end of the year and to help each other with the difficult assignments.

Working with a group was the best solution: The motivation and professional camaraderie was great. With a small group you really do have a lot more intensive time spent on curriculum ideas and brainstorming ways to use the newest technology. Teachers in our group have walked away with complete professional technology development plans and have set goals for their own individual learning.

"If it weren't for this group I probably wouldn't be working on my NETS*T certification," says Elizabeth Ludwig, a fifth grade teacher. "It's not just having the professional time that helps, but being in a room with others who are at different stages and can help you with suggestions on what worked for them for a certain requirement."

We monitored our group's progress through the Shenandoah Valley Technology Consortium website, affiliated with JMU. It was through the SVTC, which is comprised of 20 local public schools, that we were able to reap the rewards of the largest of Virginia's Enhancing Education through Technology EdTech Sub grant awards. This allowed for those seeking NETS*T certification to earn $2000 apiece for technology equipment. Although the equipment becomes the property of the school division, the teacher who was awarded the technology is allowed to keep it when moving classrooms or when moving to another school in the division. However, should the teacher change school systems, the technology is left in the care of the school.

After each of our monthly meetings, we put together a recap of our time together and e-mailed it to our principal. Not only did it keep him abreast of our achievements, it also let him know that the money invested in giving us an afternoon together was worthwhile.

The group worked out so well that this year, Sandy Hook had two NETS*T study groups, with about 12 teachers set to become certified. At this rate, next school year SHES will have half of the NETS*T certified teachers in the county, allowing our students to have teachers who are skilled in the vital technological skills needed in our classrooms. The teachers will have the resources to share hands-on technology activities that will help students integrate technology into their learning-and all because we were able to band together and achieve more than we could have on our own. Such an approach can work well for a wide variety of endeavors.

Getting the SVTC grant helped make our group possible. If there is no similar grant program in your area, you may want to apply for a VEA grant or a grant through your school system.

"I was excited about the possibility of having our staff become nationally certified," says SHES Principal Jeremy Raley. "I know how technology can enhance and supplement instruction. I did not expect the number of participants to be as great as it has. There is no doubt that the study group has been a tremendous success."

--by Heather Ashley, president of the Shenandoah County Education Association and a technology resource teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School


Dealing With Bullies

Here is some advice for dealing with bullies, from Janet Ruth Heller, author of the children's book How the Moon Regained Her Shape:

Make sure that communication lines are open. Listen carefully to children when they complain about being taunted, threatened, pushed or hit by other kids. Don't dismiss their grief with "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me." Name-calling does hurt, and can wound a child's self-esteem for many years. Bullying is dangerous to kids' mental, emotional and physical health.

Teach your students not to bully others by pointing out that everyone's body is different and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. We can also disagree with one another without resorting to name-calling or fights. Discuss questions like these with your class: Is anyone's body perfect? Do we have a right to make remarks that may hurt other people's feelings? How can we have friendly arguments?

Talk with children about different options for countering verbal or physical attacks without being mean or violent. They can ask the bully to leave them alone and tell him or her that they are not interested in such comments, threats, etc. They can tell a nearby adult, such as a neighbor, a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a school psychologist or a principal. They can ask their friends for advice.

Point out to students that when someone insults them with cruel words, these words do not make the insult true. Bullies often power-trip by trying to make others feel bad about themselves. Children can thwart bullies by retaining their self-confidence and happiness with themselves. Remind kids that they have friends and family members who like them and care about them and see them as good and nice people.

Teach students that no matter how big, strong, or popular someone is, he or she does not have the right to hurt our bodies or our feelings. All kids need and deserve respect.

Help children understand that other kids may need them to stand up against a bully. Kids need to find a way to prevent bullies from hurting anyone. It is not tattling to tell an adult that a bully is planning to attack someone. If one adult will not listen, children need to keep telling adults until someone assists them.

Consider holding class workshops on bullying with trained social workers or psychologists. Suggest that your school establish a no-tolerance policy for bullying to keep kids safe. Many schools also have a "Bully Box" to allow students to report harassment without signing their names.

Dispel myths about bullies. Bullies can be any size, any sex, any age, and any skin color. We need to help children understand that bullying is not cool and that they have a right to counter bullies in any constructive way.


Five Tips for Helping
New Teachers Succeed

It is far better to retain a savable teacher than to train new ones year after year. With national attention focused on the number of teachers that will be needed over the next decade, schools need to take personal ownership of supporting and developing their new educators. Knowing that teacher quality is the greatest predictor of student success means that support for new teachers should be a critical component in all school improvement plans. Here are five tips to support new teacher success:

1. Never let them feel isolated. New teachers want to know that they are not alone as they struggle to learn to manage and organize a classroom. The question "Are you having the same problems?" is answered by creating scheduled time for beginning teachers to get together and share concerns and issues with seasoned veterans who can provide guidance and suggestions. Take time to share refreshments, have discussions, trade your stories of success and build excitement and energy at every opportunity.

2. Be visible - everyday. Many new teachers say that visibility and personal interaction with the principal is the number one factor that would make the difference in their decision to stay or leave a particular school. Visiting classrooms regularly, promoting success, and allowing time for discussion and questions are powerful motivators for beginning teachers. When the principal makes a concerted effort to create conditions that support and nurture new staff, teacher retention is more likely.

3. Provide the skills and knowledge neeeded for their success. Time and experience have shown us what new teachers need. We should be responsible for providing the skills and knowledge to help new teachers design effective classroom environments and develop learning opportunities for their students. For a new teacher, the "Everything is a First" philosophy is a day-to-day reality. All new teachers want help with classroom management, building relationships, strategic planning with lesson design, observations and evaluations and testing. Consider a yearlong, site-based professional development program, with monthly seminars. This provides new teachers with step-by-step strategies and activities that build both confidence and competence.

4. Allow time for growth and reflection. Continuous reflection and assessment on acquisition of skills and knowledge is an integral component of all new teacher success. Knowing what does and doesn't work allows new teacher to identify areas of growth and strength while determining specific areas that need improvement. Focused questions, related to monthly seminar topics, provide a forum to share thoughts and feelings and can be accomplished one-on-one or in a small group discussion. Having an ongoing support system in place and monitored by the principal ensures that new teachers get the guidance and direction needed to make a difference in the classroom.

5. Celebrate! Learning to teach is a long process and celebrating small, incremental steps is one way to recognize growth and achievement. Take time to have a "chat and chew" breakfast, write positive notes, provide special treats or just say "Thank You" for coming to school. The rewards in teaching are often intrinsic and we must recognize the little things that happen every day that make school a good place to be.

--by Lynn Howard, author of Ready for Anything: Supporting New Teachers for Success and a Professional Development Associate for the Center for Performance Assessment. The book can be ordered at www.MakingStandardsWork.com.

 


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