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Virginia Journal of Education

‘Teach and Release’

by Ashley Ring
As educators know, our profession sometimes offers unexpected opportunities, and it’s often the ones that seem a little unappealing at first that leave the most lasting impressions. My colleague at Fishburn Park Elementary School in the city of Roanoke, Kit Richards, and I recently had a unique opportunity, and it ended up reaffirming our teaching philosophies.

Through a program called Trout in the Classroom, our students were able to become stewards of a group of brook trout. Each year, Trout Unlimited loans 50-gallon tanks and equipment to a limited number of schools. The tanks are equipped to create a habitat closely resembling one in which trout thrive.  Sustaining such an environment and keeping the fish alive involves more than meets the eye. Our students had to change the water regularly, check Ph levels consistently and, in the beginning, remove any eggs that didn’t survive to prevent contamination. 

Our first trout arrived in the fall and our Trout Unlimited mentor, Dick Vipperman, was inundated with questions. His passion for the program proved to be extremely beneficial. Over the course of the project, students became active participants in raising the trout, with Kit and I facilitating tank maintenance. As students checked Ph levels and measured the trout to chart their growth, they were empowered by these perfect examples of learning by doing, this pattern of observation and study.  They cared for the trout while unknowingly absorbing some Standards of Learning. For Kit and me, this hands-on teaching was a refreshing reminder of why we became teachers in the first place. We aim to learn and grow with our students, and this program allowed us to do just that. 

Educators are fortunate to witness a small part of a child’s life, watching them learn and grow. At the end of the Trout in the Classroom program, we watched the children release an abundance of trout into a protected stream near the Peaks of Otter. It was a proud and surreal experience for everyone involved.  Kit and I share just one year with our second-graders, and it’s always bittersweet to watch them move on to third grade. For a brief moment, our students shared in that feeling as they released the trout into their natural habitat and watched them swim off toward the future.

For more information, go to

Ring is a member of the Roanoke Education Association.


Social Media's Top Ten?

You know your students are spending huge amounts of time on it, so why not use it to your advantage—and theirs? From, here are 10 ways to incorporate social media in your classroom:

1. Have students create a mock Facebook page for a literary character or historical figure.

2. Have them follow a political figure on Twitter and write about what they learn.

3. Ask students to create imaginary Twitter conversations between literary figures, such as Romeo and Juliet.

4. Create a social networking site just for your class so students can collaborate on assignments, study together, or edit each other’s work in a constructive manner.

5. Connect with other classrooms elsewhere in the world. Encourage students to practice a foreign language with students from another country.

6. Use Skype to take virtual field trips.

7. Create a blog to let the community know what your class is doing.

8. Promote community service projects through Facebook to help students get engaged in fundraising or community awareness.

9. Ask students to study the impact social media is having on our world.

10. Talk with students about using social media sites responsibly. Remind them that what they post stays in cyberspace forever.


Researchers Rate Reading, Math Programs

In a format similar to that used by the magazine Consumer Reports, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have given unbiased ratings to dozens of K-12 reading and math programs. The ratings, formulated as part of a project by the University’s Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education, are meant to help educators choose classroom approaches that evidence shows are proven to work.
The results are compiled in the Best Evidence Encyclopedia, which presents information on math programs (elementary, middle and high); reading programs (upper elementary, middle and high school, English language learners); and comprehensive school reform models (elementary, middle and high).

To read the reviews, go to


Nat’l Certification Counts

National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs), who have successfully completed the rigorous certification process created by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, are becoming recognized as being among the profession’s leaders. While NBCTs represent approximately 3 percent of the nation’s teaching force (there are more than 91,000):

• Half of the National Teachers of the Year in the first decade of this century are NBCTs;

• More than one-third of last year’s State Teachers of the Year are NBCTs.

• NBCTs make up more than one-third of the awardees for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

• Eighty percent of the 2010 inductees into the National Teachers Hall of Fame are NBCTs.

In addition, approximately half of NBCTs teach in Title I eligible, high-need schools.


VEA/NEA Takes Position On Teacher Evaluation

After a spirited debate on the floor of the NEA convention in Chicago this summer, delegates (including some 200 from Virginia) adopted a new policy statement on teacher evaluation and accountability. The statement puts the Association on the record, for the first time, as calling for a major overhaul of both teacher evaluation and accountability systems to advance student learning. Here are several excerpts from the policy statement:

• Evaluations must be meaningful, providing all teachers with clear and actionable feedback linked to tailored professional development.  Such feedback should include regular non-evaluative formative feedback – meaning feedback that serves only to inform practice and that does not contribute to formal evaluation results – as such feedback is often the most effective way to improve teacher practice.  Such non-evaluative feedback may include self-reflection, peer observation and/or teacher approved surveys of students to assess engagement and learning behaviors.

• If an evaluation will be the basis for any action relating to a teacher’s employment, ratings by more than one evaluator must be provided in support of the action.  Where a teacher believes an evaluation does not accurately reflect his or her level of practice, the teacher must have the right to contest the evaluation, and have access to the information necessary to do so.

• If, through a high quality evaluation system, a teacher’s practice fails to meet performance standards, a teacher should be provided with clear notice of the deficiencies and an improvement plan should be developed by the teacher, local association and employer.  The improvement plan should provide the teacher with a reasonable opportunity – including time, high quality professional development and support – to meet expectations.  In addition, the teacher should receive regular and frequent feedback from the district and the local association regarding his or her progress during the support program period.

To read the entire statement, go to


He Gets It!

Here’s some of what Idaho legislator Brian Cronin had to say to his colleagues as they discussed a bill that would eliminate the bargaining and other rights of teachers in that state, as well as limiting protections against arbitrary discipline and firing for proven teachers:  

This bill intends to...ensure that teachers’ voices are effectively silenced on matters of contract, classroom learning conditions, scheduling, curriculum and many other areas whre their expertise should be welcomed.  We’ve chosen to devalue and demoralize the very people who have been nothing less than heroic in recent years by collaboratively withstanding funding shortfalls, financial emergencies, staffing reductions – all the while shielding the kids in the classrooms from the damaging cuts we’ve chosen to make.  
And we act as if morale doesn’t matter. We act as if denigrating teachers and limiting the rights they’ve previously held and responsibly exercised won’t have an impact on performance. I know many teachers and I know that they do everything they can to leave all other considerations and concerns that don’t have to do with children and their learning at the classroom door every day. That said, it will be hard to transcend what is such blatant attack and not let it impact one’s work.  I’ve worked in the private sector for 15 years. I’ve never seen a management strategy that tries to coax better performance out of employees by telling them that they’re failing and taking away their voice. Managing by fear and intimidation is ultimately a failing strategy.  

We’re not going to get better teaching by punishing our teachers. We may achieve certain political aims but this doesn’t help our children.


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