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Staying Fresh: Keeping your Heart in the Profession While Maintaining Effective Practice (2/28/15)

A 2/11/15 Education Week article titled 5 Questions Educators Must Ask Themselves Daily, speaks to the heart of the challenge that many experienced teachers in classrooms across the United States face during their careers. How do you keep the passion going; especially when faced with the enhanced rigor of modern day teaching requirements that many feel work counter to the core purpose of the profession? This is tough to be sure. The article’s author, Starr Sackstein, frames it within 5 questions, with a focus on affect. I will expand on Sackstein’s theses while adding the element of best practice. My analysis follows:

•Am I excited about going to school today? Sackstein examines this question with the savvy of a teacher who knows that every day is not a good day. That said, her focus rests more on the preponderance of days in a school year. Were they mostly good or bad? This argument really speaks to an educator’s commitment to the profession. Indeed, there may be times, tough times, when the bad days outnumber the good. In these times, savvy educators have to determine if they are still making a positive impact in the lives of students despite present circumstances. In these times educators must also determine root causes of present circumstance, their ability to influence these, and what are the possible long term outcomes. Tough times will not last; tough educators will. The excitement will wax and wane but commitment to the profession keeps the best educators in the profession over the long haul.

•Do I still believe that I can learn new stuff about my content? Sackstein approaches this question from the perspective of student perspectives and spontaneity to provide new context for and approaches to the content. In addition, this question also speaks to the need for purposeful professional development for staff, including veteran teachers. By providing teachers with structured training on instructional methodology in general and as it applies specifically to their content areas, we refresh them with new ideas for delivery and equip them with pedagogical tools needed to provide effective instruction.

•Are my students at the front of everything I do? Again Sackstein focuses on affect here, which is important but does not account for the whole matter. In this area, Sackstein refers to student voice/feedback, efficacy, and decision making about their learning. These are certainly important factors, and they become more powerful when blended with a purposeful, data driven approach to student learning. Choices about learning activities should be based on a menu of options that appeal to the learning needs of students with different strengths. In addition, students must also be focused on their achievement data. This helps guide discussions about goal setting. This provides purposeful work for students as they move forward in their students. In this way students remain at the front of the work that is done each day.

•How do I implement student voice and choice in my decision making for learning? In this area, Sackstein advocates staying out of the way and being a great facilitator of student learning, while keeping the students’ ideas at the forefront of the teaching process. The ideas that Sackstein lists include writing on blogs, using social media, collaboration and reflecting on projects. To add current vocabulary to Sackstein’s recommendations, what is really being called for is differentiated instruction. This is certainly in line with what we know to be best practice. The key is to be sure that efforts in this area are focused based on students’ learning needs and readiness. Instruction can then be addressed through differentiation of content, process, or product.

•What risks can I take today that model the growth mindset? In this area Sackstein advocates teaching students to take risks for growth by modeling the process. This is an effective methodology and encourages students to press the envelope in their learning and to maintain an experimental mindset. All qualities that are needed for success in their continued education and in the workplace as innovators in their chosen fields of work.

To close, more than ever before, PK – 12 educators in the United States have a challenging job. However, this challenge does not have to run counter to the passions that fuel our professional engines. The key to keeping your heart in the profession is to compliment the affective elements that are needed with the best instructional practices that we know result in student learning. With this potent combination in place, educators are positioned to move their students to new heights.

Shawn McCollough
President & CEO