Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How Transparent Are You? Creating Student Advocates

As people, we do not like being told "no" or ordered to do something without understanding the "why" behind it. In fact, one sure fire to kill any initiative, program, or procedure is to mandate it. When we are told we are required to do something, no matter what it is, we push back, drag our feet, become apathetic, complain, or throw up as many obstacles as possible to prevent success of the mandated practice.

As teachers, we know this about ourselves, yet so often we do this to our students. We assign a project, centers, or activities. We explain/demonstrate/model all of the instructions and then send students on their way. Our students exhibit different levels of engagement and motivation. Often behavior problems arise. We've designed amazing things for our students' learning. Why aren't students actively engaged and thrilled to be learning? Because we left out the most important element, we didn't share the "why." They need to understand why we make the choices that we make our classrooms. They need to understand the complexity that is involved in all of the choices that we make for them. Learners must understand that although a particular activity may not be their favorite, there is a legitimate reason why they are dedicating time in that endeavor.

Last year, I had an intern for the second semester. Having her join our learning community helped me to see our practices with new eyes. After a week in our classroom, my intern was having a conversation with one of her professors. As they talked during our prep time, I was working on providing students with feedback on some of their writing. My ears perked up when she told her professor that she was in amazement at the terminology that the students had when talking about their learning. She explained that my learners use terms like schema, cognition, mastery, standard, learning style, in addition to explaining how the brain learns. The professor commented that she had never thought of sharing the "why" behind all of the choices made in the classroom with the students, but she could see how powerful it was for them.

This result only happens when we become transparent for our students; sometimes it can even be scary. Being transparent makes you re-think every choice you make because you are going to have to justify it with your students. They come to expect it...which they should. If we can't justify or defend the choices we are making with our students, we probably shouldn't be doing it in the first place. Our learners need to see us critically analyze challenges, draw from our knowledge, reach out to others to deepen our understanding, and apply what we know/what we've learned to solve problems. Our example is more powerful than just our words.

The fact is that our students will not be with us forever. We will not always be there to advocate for them. Learners need this knowledge because they need to become their own advocates for their learning. They need the tools to successfully communicate with educators and other adults how they learn best. They need to be equipped with the terminology and research to argue for the types of learning experiences that they need to get the most out of their education. Are we only equipping for success in our classrooms, or for a lifetime of learning? Like the old proverb, if we give a child a fish, he will eat for a day, but if we teach him how to fish. he will eat for a lifetime. It's time to hand our students that fishing line send them out well-equipped for a lifetime.

photo credit: Avatarmin via photopin cc

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

All Rubrics Are Not Created Equal

Over the last several years, I have been contemplating the role of assessment in our classroom. In Let Them Assess, I shared where our journey began. I shared one of our first student-created rubrics. It's simple, but (at the time) effective. However, one thing that bothered me with the rubric was how subjective they would be. Yes, I would have my students score one another, justifying any score they would give their peers. However, my students became so adept at justifying (and debating) their choices, they could argue two sides of any one claim. That's when I realized that we needed to take the time to re-evaluate our rubrics. Were they truly and deeply measuring what my students were mastering? Or, were they so vague that they were open to the scorer's personal opinion? Were students being scored accurately in a way that showed mastery of standards? Or, were entities that are not standards being thrown into a grade?

With these questions mulling around,  I knew I needed to rethink how we made rubrics. I knew that I still wanted the students to have a voice in designing, creating, publishing and assessing their own writing. I began collecting rubrics from many other teachers in different grade levels, content areas, and geographic locations. I noticed that some teachers, like us, were including elements on the rubric that had nothing to do with mastery of standards. Previously, we always included a category that included the digital aspect of the project. By that, I mean things like balancing music and voice in an audio recording or including visuals to support the writing.  As I engaged with these other educators, I realized that these elements (plus things like neatness or putting a heading on your paper) fell under a different category. Although those elements played a role in the effectiveness of a published project, they did not prove mastery of a standard (see Your learners are masters of...?).  Therefore, my students and I began creating a list of project expectations that accompany the rubric. These are elements that every student expects not only of themself, but also all of their peers in their projects. These expectations specify what the norms are for each project. From this point forward, we no longer included non-standard items in rubrics.

Another realization that I had when analyzing rubrics was that so many rubrics (even graduate level) included non-specified terms such as partially, good, few, some, generally, effectively, or clearly. What determines if something is effective or ineffective? What determines whether a student reaches partial mastery? These vague terms are what opens rubrics up to subjective scoring. Each person has a different idea of what those terms mean. Rubrics should not be scored against an ideal that one scorer may have. These items must include measurable determiners. There should be no question in one's mind as to whether a learner has proven a mastery at  a level of 3 or 4 because the rubric eliminates that personal judgment.

When my students and I started creating rubrics that were clear, specific, and measurable, my  students struggled. They kept wanting to revert to past practices. "It's easier the way we were doing it before," they said. So I asked them why a rubric needed to be measurable.  After a lot of probing questions (and almost an entire class period), one student quietly shared that having everything measurable seemed more fair because "you didn't have to worry whether or not you had done enough; you knew."

Then another challenge presented itself. The standards were so broad, it was extremely challenging to create measurable determiners and all of the variations that there could be at each level of mastery. We realized that we needed to break down the standards into clear measurable parts. Below is a rubric where we have broken down one standard.


This standards had three different elements. Therefore, we broke it down into three measurable pieces. The students decides what determines what constitutes a 4, 3, 2, or 1. This may vary from project to project depending on the project complexity and length. We now do this with each standard that the students are working on to reach mastery. Does it take time? Yes. Is it worthwhile? Immensely! These rubrics take the guess work out of scoring projects. The students created the rubric. They broke down the standards. They decided what each level on the rubric means. They set expectations for each project. There are no surprises anymore. They students know what is expected, they know what mastery looks like, and they know how to communicate that to others.

My work on assessment is an ever changing one. What we are doing today may very well change next month or next year as my students and I explore different ways of communicating learning to others. However, one thing that I stand firm on is the importance of giving students ownership over every aspect of the learning process. This is their learning journey, not ours. It is our obligation to guide and turn the responsibility of learning over to our students. We will only be with them for a short time; they need the tools to communicate and guide their own growth beyond the few months that they are in our classrooms. We not preparing them for a test or the next grade level. We are preparing them for a lifetime of learning, growing, and sharing with others.



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Your learners are masters of...?

About six years ago, I embarked on a journey. A path towards empowering my students in their own learning journey. This ongoing trek has been filled with pitfalls and obstacles along the way. Through this arduous, yet rewarding adventure, I fell upon the idea of standards-based grading. I built my foundation upon the work of Rick Wormeli and Ken O'Connor. However, what I discovered was that although I changed my philosophy on grading, there was not a set road map that guided me step-by-step in applying it within my classroom with my specific students. I thought I would take a few minutes to share some of what I have learned along the way and how my students and I are making this work for us in our ever evolving quest to improve their ability to grow.

One eureka moment for me was when I realized that grades should reflect what a student not only understands but is also able to do with their knowledge. It should reflect a mastery of the standards and not simply be a game of collecting points for tasks that are unrelated to learning (extra credit for attending the school basketball game or points for having parents attend open house). Yes, those items are worthwhile, but they skew the accuracy of the grades that our students are earning. Grades are to communicate the level of mastery that each learner has reached on each standard; they are not compensation for effort put forth or where a child put his name on a project.

I had to ask myself, "Where does one begin to make this shift in practice?" I determined that I needed to begin where the learning starts, with a target. Those targets are the standards, whether you are in a system that has adopted the Common Core or a State Course of Study. That means that all assessments must measure those standards and only those standards. If students are writing a paper, that means that their grade communicates their level of mastery of those standards and not whether or not they used a particular formatting tool, font, or degree of neatness. Each standard has equal weight when it comes to grading.

When discussing standards, I discovered it was important to solely focus on that list generated by the state. When I hear teachers frustrated with standards, more often than not, it's not actually coming from that list of what students need to be able to do. Instead the frustration is coming either from being required to follow a program or curriculum that a district has purchased, or it is coming from a an unrealistic pacing guide or common assessments. Standards are not curriculum. They are simply a destination for where every child needs to be. The means of getting there comes from the teacher.

It took me several years to begin to see how this would work logistically within our classroom. When it came to assessments, how could I record them to reflect mastery of multiple standards for one assessment? I shifted listing grades as assignments (such as Test on A Wrinkle in Time) to listing the grades for each standard (such as determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details...). Previously, I may have included multiple standards on an assessment, but it was all recorded in one score, failing to communicate to the learner the specific areas where she/he may need to continue to work on mastery. In standards based grading, on an assessment, I may include the standards on (1) theme, as well as (2) citing textual evidence, (3) explaining how an author develops a point of view, and (4) demonstrating command of the conventions of Standard English grammar and usage when writing all on one assessment. (These all come from the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards for 6th Grade ELA). However, instead of one grade, that one assessment generates four separate grades based on a student's level of mastery in each of the standards assessed.

Those of you familiar with our classroom know that my students engage in project-based learning throughout the school year. For us, moving to standards-based grading drastically changed the content of our student-created rubrics. Previously, the large categories included items like digital publishing, editing for errors, and content; students received one grade for an entire project. Now, the areas of the rubric where learners are evaluated become the different standards that one project assesses. Then my students work together to create the measurable identifier for what determines a 4 on a standard and what determines a 3, 2, or 1. As mentioned previously, they receive multiple grades on one project because they are being assessed on multiple standards on that one project.

Yes, it may seem like a matter of semantics, but this shift to focusing on standards has given my students the ability to focus on the specific areas where they need to grow and the areas where they have surpassed grade level standards. By focusing on mastering standards, students are challenged wherever they are in their learning journey. Not only do I know, but every student knows where they are on the learning continuum and where they need to be. It's a win-win situation that makes learners more than just collectors of points, but masters of their own learning.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Testing vs. Assessment: What Picture Do You Take of Your Learners?

This week I had the opportunity to join a roundtable discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. The topic of this discussion: testing. Over the last several years, like most of you, I have had plenty of time to think about, research, and ponder the topic of high-stakes testing and the far-reaching ramifications it has upon the education of our students. However, it seems that although research, both "clinical" and real-world, proves that there are no redeeming qualities of standardized testing, yet we are still having this discussion in 2014.

The sticking point seems to be that there needs to be an accountability measure for every public school nationwide. As I reflected on where the disconnect is, I have concluded there needs to be a distinction between testing and assessment. Let's use the analogy of a photographer taking photographs. Standardized testing is like taking a snapshot of students using an old Polaroid camera and film from the 1960s. This invention gave everyone the ability to step behind a camera; no special training or photographer's eye to develop needed. When you take that Polaroid snapshot, the images were typically fuzzy and unclear. If there was any movement, the images blurred. Some individuals may even disappear into the shadows and background. And sometimes, the photo didn't develop at all. Those old Polaroid photos give us a hint of what the past might have looked like, but it is far from being an accurate account a majority of the time.

That is the same with testing. These tests are simply a snapshot of a child's learning on one day. They fail to take into consideration things such as environmental factors, learning style, exceptionality, or English language proficiency. Students are only given the opportunity to share their learning in one specific way. Another aspect that is not taken into consideration, is the fault of the test makers. No form of assessment is completely accurate (See Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry by Todd Farley). Most know that to get accurate results, one must first gather data from the same group of students with at least three different measurement tools. With testing, all we are getting is this blurry Polaroid taken by one who doesn't have that trained eye to capture our students accurately. Instead of getting an accurate glimpse of the past, we are only seeing some parts of a few of our students.

On the other hand, let's look at assessment, the highest megapixel camera. With this camera, you
have the ability to add a myriad of lenses based on whether you are shooting high definition close ups or grand, panoramic views. You can adjust shutter speeds depending on the activity or the lighting where you are shooting. Often, there is the option to shoot video. The photographer has the tools and the trained eye to capture the tiniest detail, the ability to get a crystal clear picture of every subject, whether it's a child's soccer game, a beautiful sunset at the beach, or a minuscule butterfly. There is no doubt about the subject.

As a teacher, we are charged with helping each student reach his/her maximum potential. We hone our craft and collect tools and strategies for every eventuality. Every learner is different. We know that what one student needs today may change tomorrow. What worked for one learner may not work for another. We need to have that bag of lenses to identify where that student is on the learning continuum. With these photos, we can empower our students in identifying where they are in a standard and where he/she needs to be. Then together, teacher and student, find the means to reach each of those goals. These photos are taken often. Reflection ensues. Paths are re-evaluated and adjusted as necessary. This data is useful to the students. It's immediate. It's relevant. It matters not just to the teachers, but also to the students. As with our wonderful photo and camera, many shots need to be taken along the way until we get the perfect photo for the subject that is being considered.

If we truly want to have accountability, how about reassessing the method that we are using. Test scores do not provide students (or teachers) with timely photos of their learning or provide them with the specific details that they need to continue to grow. Test scores do not give teachers the tools that they need to meet the needs of their learners. Test scores are not about promoting learning, but forcing students into boxes. Assessment is where true power lies in promoting learning. As teachers, we have the ability to empower our students with their learning. By using a combination of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment, our students can take control over their growth in a meaningful and purposeful way. It's time we each take time to re-evaluate our practice to determine if we are doing what is best for our students. Are we promoting learning? Or, are we striving to get more test questions correct? The onus lies on us as the educators to make choices that is for the best of our learners. Will you put all of your effort into an inconsequential number that sticks with them for about three seconds? Or, will you provide them with learning that will stick with them for a lifetime? Are we using the old tools that give us a fuzzy and unclear picture or are we invested in the best possible practices to get the clearest, sharpest, most amazing picture of our beautiful subjects?

photo credit: nostalgifabriken via photopin cc photo credit: Billy Wilson Photography via photopin cc

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"I Have Nothing to Say"

Have you ever thought, "I have nothing to say in the world of education?" I often hear educators make claims that they have nothing to share with their colleagues, locally or globally. They point to their perceived weaknesses, shrug their shoulders and move on. They turn down opportunities to fulfill leadership responsibilities, let opportunities to share their experience formally or informally pass by, or they remain quiet in online discussions lurking and learning rather than joining and participating.

In the interest of transparency, I must admit that I have had moments where I felt like I had nothing left to share with others. In my mind, I made very similar excuses. I've sat in front of a blank screen wondering what I could impart that would have any impact or relevance to others. I've had requests to do all day workshops and I was at a loss as to what I could present that would enrich the lives of the students of the educators that would spend a day with me. What if I have nothing to say?

We all have moments of self-doubt. I have come to the conclusion that is absolutely okay. What is not okay is giving in to those doubts, remaining silent, denying other educators of your unique perspective and experience. So I thought I would address some of the most common excuses we may give ourselves that prevents us from sharing and connecting with others.

1- "Others know more than me." While that may be true, they are not YOU. As we all recognize that our students are unique, so are each of us. Although there may be a world-renowned author/speaker/educator out there who has a massive following, that has no bearing on what you have to share. You have different perspectives and experiences. He/she is not in your classroom every day with your students. Chances are they haven't read many of the same articles, Twitter chats, research, or books that you have. And even if they have, you are looking at it with a different lens; one that frames into within the context of what you do each and every day.

This is the same as saying, "I don't know enough." Would any of us accept this excuse from one of our students? I hope not. My students become adept at adding "yet" to the end of statements like this. It sets the lack of proficiency as a goal to strive to learn more, reach higher, and grow personally. One thing that I learned quickly was that not every teacher is teaching at the same level. Like our students, teachers are each at different places on their learning continuum.  I've been in sessions at conferences where one group of teachers walked out completely overwhelmed and confused, while others claimed that they were bored because there wasn't anything new shared. This was in the same presentation. No matter where you are in your journey, whether you are talking about differentiation, questioning techniques, reading strategies, writing practices, assessment, or digital literacy, there are individuals who need to benefit from your expertise. They may have been overwhelmed or underwhelmed with someone else because they weren't being fed what they needed. Continue to learn so that you can fulfill that need in others.

2- "I could never be as good as ______." Here's something to think about: Education is NOT a competition. We are all striving to provide our students with the best education possible. It's okay if you are presenting at a conference and the room across from yours is packed while you only have a handful of people. That does not mean that what you are sharing isn't worthwhile. Our responsibility is to share our experiences with others in a hope that  they can not only benefit in their own practice, but also their students can reap the reward.

Personally, I've had educators compare me to others who are more of a "rock star." Without a doubt I came up lacking. How did I handle it? After much reflecting, I realized that I am full-time teacher who shares my experiences with others. What I'm sharing is what really works with students...it's not some theory by someone who has only read/heard about it from another party. I know it's relevant and meaningful because my students are the evidence. When I speak, I share their stories. For me, that speak volumes that a disconnected researcher can never touch. Our intention should never be to become a "rock star." Our intention should be to give back to the educational community that has given us so much over the years. As educators it is our obligation to share what we know...whatever that may be.

3- "No one will listen." Would we permit our students to enter something with a defeatists attitude? Then why do we allow it to get in our way of sharing with others? If we blog, tweet, post, or pin things that are value to us, I guarantee that there is someone out there looking for what you are sharing. If one person benefits, isn't it worthwhile? Sometimes it about having the right frame of mind when we share. If we are looking for the number of reads, likes, or retweets, we might be disappointed. However, is that why we write or share? I know that I write to reflect on my own experiences: what goes well, what doesn't, and how to improve. That transparency is what connects others to you. I share because I know that others have done so before me and I want to pay it forward.

We need to remember that someone out there is counting on each of us. They are searching for answers, support, and encouragement that only you may be able to provide. Speak up. Share your voice. Inspire others. It can make all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our Heart to Heart Talk...It's About Time

As mentioned in 6 Lessons Confirmed (& Learned) from My Students, my students wrote letters to the rising 6th graders. The letters, though full of sound advice, humor, and their unique voices, included recommendations that seemed dissonant to the classroom learning environment that we had created. My learners recommended things like "complete your homework on time, don't talk during class, and study for tests to get good grades." 

The day after I wrote that post, we sat in a large circle (in each of my classes) and I explained to them my desire to be the best teacher possible for all of my students. I continued by asking them to give me honest feedback to the questions that I still had. I talked a lot about perceptions and how many times we can think we are doing one thing when in reality we are doing something different. Students chimed in with their understanding of those types of experiences. 

I knew that they all understood the power of honest feedback because we had been engaged in that type of learning environment for the entire year. I also knew that I needed to be open to listening and accepting whatever they shared with me. To be honest, I was a bit nervous because my students' insights are the ones that I value most. We have spent a year learning together. They know sound educational practice. They regularly cut through "fluff" to get to the heart of a matter. They know how to analyze and question. Now, I'm asking them to turn all of that to answer a few of my questions about our learning environment and my teaching practice.

As we talked they were brutally honest, but kind. I learned that much of what they had written as advice was not about our specific class, but about the overall grade level. They shared what they loved about our class: having freedom and a voice in their learning, small group instruction to support/challenge each student where he/she needed, assessments they always felt prepared for and never surprised by content, the ability to share their thoughts and ideas with others. 

Then they shared what they didn't love: "Mrs. Ramsay, since we spiral within our standards and gradually get harder as we work towards mastery, why do we have to move so quickly? They are just going to come around again, aren't they?" That is not only truth, but it's supported by educational research and brain research. (Yes, I believe in sharing the strategy, rationale, and research as to the "why" of what we do in the class each day.) Personally, I had felt like we were moving slower this year than in previous years. Of course, this had been their only year with me. They had nothing with which to compare the pace of our lessons. Looking through their eyes reminded me that we did need let them have time to marinate on ideas, delve deeper into topics, and spend time just reading and writing for the enjoyment of it.

Another student voiced his desire to spend more time in small group. As I was trying to figure out what he meant as a majority of the students' time is spent in small group, he clarified that he wanted to have more small group time with me. He went on to explain how the time we spent working together face-to-face on his reading and writing was what helped him become a stronger student.  Honestly, this one cut right to my heart. This student was in the one class that I only had for 50 minutes (on a good day) instead of the almost two hours I had with my other groups of students. I always felt rushed to "get in" as much as I could within that time period while still individualizing the instruction for all 30 of them (my largest class). One practice that I had was for me to move to each group to work with them wherever they were instead of conducting small group lessons at our table; I would do this two to three times a week while doing small group/one-on-one conferring the other days. It seemed faster...Faster? Did I really think that? Since when is "faster" a sound educational practice? Never!

It's funny that I went into this conversation with one set of questions and left with something so much more valuable. I learned that my students have the ability to provide deep, meaningful feedback. They were honest without being unkind. They justified their answers with evidence, support, and their experiences. Most importantly, I saw how amazing they would be as advocates for themselves and their peers. These kids totally blew me away with how they conducted themselves throughout this conversation. They are awesome....and I'm going to miss them.

And me...what did I learn? I learned that we all need a reminder from time to time about sound educational practice. I had taught them about how the brain works in regards to learning. I had modeled and explained why we used certain practices and strategies. Yet, somewhere along the year, I had felt that end of the year push to cover everything and I lost sight of the most important thing of all...the time my students needed to learn. Time that we all needed. Time that I'm dedicated to providing each student in the years to come.

photo credit: Î’ethan via photopin cc

Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Professionalism Becoming a Thing of the Past?

I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to connect with other educators from around the world. These connections are what have shaped me as an educator. I love professional events where I get to have a face-to-face reunion with those who have become friends and meet new individuals to begin new learning ventures. It's inspiring and energizing to be able to turn a digital connection into a deeper one that has a long-lasting impact on us as professionals and colleagues in education.

However, I have been alarmed over what seems to be a rising trend. I have spent weeks, months even, contemplating what I have observed and experienced. What I am about to share is not hearsay, but first hand experience. My point in sharing these scenarios and reflections is to cause all of us (myself included) to think. Isn't that what we want for our students? To become reflective thinkers? To weigh our choices against the impending consequences? Shouldn't we do the same for ourselves? 

As David H. Maister said in his book True Professionalism,
Professional is not a label you give yourself – it’s a description you hope others will apply to you. 

Where are you?  

For most educators today, attending professional development events is a luxury. Professional development funds are being cut...or in many cases are nonexistent. Yet, many of those who do attend are simply not in attendance. They are out sightseeing or sleeping off last night's adventure. When you are at a conference and the second day's general session has a fourth of the number of participants in attendance, there is a problem...especially when the social media feed for the conference is packed with their late night exploits. I  know of two school systems who no longer permit their teachers to attend conferences held near the beach or in Las Vegas. To me this speaks to the fact that this is becoming a real problem: using educational funds for a personal vacation. It's irresponsible. That's right...dad just took away the keys from their wayward child. Would that have had to transpire if the individuals were conducting themselves professionally? Absolutely not.

Because of the actions of a few, many more are losing out on the potential to grow professionally. I've often heard teachers returning to schools extolling how wonderful the conference was while being totally unable to share anything that they have learned with anyone else. That cheats all of us of potential learning. I realize that all learning is not done formally. There needs to be time to separate from a learning event and reflect. There need to be times where we re-connect or build new collaborations, for ourselves and for our students. But the focus is always on the learning, growing, and connecting that we can do to sharpen our teaching practice. We need to be present to make that happen. Show up. Be there. Participate. Learn. Be present every day. That's why you're there. 

Who's listening?

I was recently at a major national conference and sitting on the fourth row (Sweet seat, huh?). On the row behind me were four individuals who worked for the professional organization whose event this was. As some prestigious awards were being announced, the individuals behind me were giving an extremely unkind commentary on the attire that each of the recipients were wearing (the recipients were all dressed professionally, by the way). At an organization where we are there to grow as professionals, these individuals were completely negating all the hard work and dedication that the recipients put forth every day with their learners.  [This was not an isolated incident].
Is this what we've come down to? We teach our students to look for the inward qualities of others. Honor their thoughts, ideas, hard work, differences, and struggles. Shouldn't we do the same? Being a middle school teacher, we work on this all year long. My eleven and twelve year old students would never behave this way in a classroom...hopefully nowhere else either. So why are so many negative, insulting, and unkind to one another? We are professionals. We will not all agree on a specific strategy, method, or tool. That is absolutely okay. Our words shape other people's perception of us as individuals and educators. Aren't we already fighting against enough as educators without adding the stigma that we're petty, backbiting, gossips? As my mother always said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

What's being watched?

In addition to having people, educators and non-educators, listening to us, they are also watching our actions. At a recent conference, during the four days that I was there, I took two cab rides. In both of those short rides, cab drivers shared their experiences with educators who were also attending the same conference. One's tale was of two teachers who identified themselves as conference participants in the midst of a barrage of foul language and over intoxication. The other's tale was of a group of educators who got in an argument with the driver over what amounted to a dollar difference in their fare. The police were called. 

Yes, I know that we are adults. But, all of the people in that area knew there was a large teacher conference in town. They immediately drew conclusions about all of us based on their little interaction with other educators. I know this may seem cliche', but we are representing ourselves, our schools, our districts, and our profession. When we take our students out on field trips, we expect them to be positive ambassadors for our schools. We want them to understand this so much that we have a glorious speech prepared and many times the principal repeats this as well before departure. It's important to communicate expectations. Shouldn't we expect the same of ourselves? You never know who will be at the next table or in the seat across from you on a plane. You may be the one who changes their opinion of educators based on the integrity with which you conduct yourself in informal settings. 

Who's looking?

I'll admit that this one is a pet peeve of mine. I've mentioned it in two other posts, but I think it bears repeating. Although we should never judge a book by its cover, as humans that happens. I'm also learning that a first impression matters. This first time I thought about the message that I was sending by what I chose to wear was the first time I read The First Days of School by Harry Wong. Let's face it, we are in a (very important) service industry. To be successful educator, we need to have credibility with our students. We need to sell them on learning. They need to know that what we are doing (educating and inspiring them) is valuable and serious business. I am not proposing that we need to wear a suit every day, but our students need to know that we are educated professionals who are there to guide them in their learning journey. They need to trust that. Appearance conveys that to them...and their parents, board members, and community leaders. Trust me, you never know when a camera crew/reporter is going to drop by the school unannounced to do a few shots for a story.

Likewise, your appearance at professional events does the same. Before we open our mouths to meet someone new or share an idea, others will make an assumption on the quality of what we have to offer based on the choices that we make in our appearance. Remember this is a professional conference. You are there to learn and connect. Your appearance should not get in the way of that goal. Your students and colleagues are counting on you to get the most out of these opportunities. Yes, you need comfortable walking shoes and attire that fits the climate. However, who is going to take you seriously when you are dressed like you are working in your yard, heading to a backyard barbecue,  or making a late night run to the grocery store? This goes back to the idea of taking pride in yourself and our profession. We have the most important career of all...one from which all other careers are possible. We need to dress in a way that reflects that.

Will professionalism become a thing of the past? We have the most honorable profession. It is one that has the potential to greatly change the world in which we live. It needs to be led by confident, bold, well-educated professionals who will clear a path for the best learning opportunities for our students. Their future depends upon the choices we make make today. Let's make them count.

photo credit: A Guy Taking Pictures via photopin cc