reflective teacher

How should we teach about social justice in a post-(Michael) Brown world?

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest post by Beth Ellor

Picture a 5th Grade classroom in Chinatown on New York’s Lower East Side. Twenty-seven mostly Asian children – when I use the classic ‘clap, clap, clap-clap-clap’ signal, they fall silent immediately, eyes on me. Thorough plans from their teacher, including Social Studies – based on a Scholastic News magazine article about Selma and Civil Rights.

How do we introduce this to first generation immigrants (based on their accented English and preference for conversing in Chinese) who clearly have no context for that time? We read the article round-robin (a rarity these days), but the follow-up questions are met with blank stares. To enliven the short article, I’ve found some archival photos online to project on the Smartboard, and invite some discussion of how people might have felt then, seeing the shocking images on TV for the first time ever. Then I continue to a video from the recent 50 year anniversary celebration, specifically the speech made by John Lewis before he introduced President Obama. Immediately I regret this, for so many reasons.

The computer is set to the wrong screen resolution, stretching the images too wide. The sound quality is poor, and Rep. Lewis, with his strong Southern accent and also choked with emotion, induces snickers and imitations. My heart freezes. The mikes, positioned for the tall president, virtually obscure the much shorter Georgia Representative Lewis, so he appears to be bobbing in and out of sight. Suddenly, a Civil Rights icon and personal hero of mine is being subjected to derisive whispers and mirth. I find myself reminding them sharply that this man was willing to give his life for his beliefs throughout the Civil Rights struggle, and on that day, he almost did. The youngsters straighten their faces and attempt to pay attention, but there is no resonance for them. Someone else’s fight in some distant time, and definitely not about them. Epic Fail.

During lunch, I examine the bulletin boards around the room, which are based on their study of the Civil War era. Contemporary illustrations have been pinned up, surrounded by hand-written responses by the children. Around an engraving of enslaved people hoeing land and planting, an overseer on horseback holding a whip, and a white man lounging against a fence, watching, the children have noted: “The people want to get all the work done.” “He needs to make sure the work gets done.” (The overseer) And “He is watching to make sure the work will be finished in time.” (The white man) No-one remarks on the whip, the ethnicity of the characters, or the leisurely stance of the slave-owner.

I fall back on my own stereotypes of China under Chairman Mao, with the devotion of workers to collectivism, common goals of productivity, and self-effacing obedience. 60 plus years have passed since the Cultural Revolution, but how do Civil Rights images look to an Asian immigrant compared to a child born in the South Bronx, in Newark, NJ, or in Selma, Alabama? How does a teacher bring up the subject effectively in a 5th Grade classroom in Chinatown? And does it matter?

So it was with perfect synchronicity that I attended a meeting on May 12th called Digging Deeper: Teaching Rights and Social Justice in a Post-(Michael) Brown Era, offered by the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, in partnership with:

International Perspectives on Human Rights Ed, International Ed Program, Dept. of Humanities and Social Services, Steinhardt School.

NYU Partnership Schools Program

Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, NYU.

The event was spearheaded by Carol Anne Spreen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Steinhardt, NYU, and Chrissie Monaghan, Ph.D. Coordinator, NYC-RTE. Faculty biography., including links to other published works.

Her immediate boss, Jonathan Zimmerman, was also there to give an outline of his own contributions to the subject. Faculty Biography

Also on hand was David E. Kirkland, who spoke from both a professional and personal perspective about the systemic factors influencing people and communities of color in recent times. – for a video with Assistant Professor of English Education David Kirkland discussing how we can understand the complex literate lives of urban youth in and outside of the classroom and the experiences that develop their identity and engagement with the larger world. Faculty biography.

Following these presentations, short introductions were given by representatives of organizations which provide various forms of support and expertise to schools and public forums. I was already familiar with several of these, such as

Teaching Tolerance,

Which is the education arm of the

Southern Poverty Law Center Also

Howard Zinn’s education site -in conjunction with:-

Teaching for Change, and

Rethinking Schools

But there are so many dedicated organizations also offering social justice education programs!


Facing History, Facing Ourselves

Equitas (look under educational resources)

Amnesty International:

Asia Society:

Human Rights Watch:

Global Nomads Group:

Speak Truth to Power: and

Street Law Inc.

Brooklyn 826 (Valencia 826)

Educational Video Center:

Voice of Witness:

While each of these offer distinctive resources and focus, every educator who cares about increasing the depth of exposure and understanding of their students will find a wealth of support here. As with all resources, find the one(s) which meet your needs, match your voice and purpose, and stick with it.

To return briefly to my 5th graders – the educators I spoke to had two important messages.

  • it is best to start with personal stories and experiences before launching into the topic, so that you can create common ground between your students and the theme you plan to launch.
  • (this especially from Facing History, Facing Ourselvespresenter Daniel Braunfeld), create the plans around the age and experience of the students themselves. What works for one group may be entirely inaccessible for another of the same age/grade, so Facing History curriculum is always developed together with teachers on site, not scripted in a pre-digested format.

An article in Scholastic in 5th Grade will be too early and a mismatch for the children’s historical perspective, compared to mine after decades of living through it myself! I hope they will eventually get to discover for themselves, using one of these wonderful programs which are free and available to teachers and schools everywhere!

This post originally appeared on Beth Ellor’s page, and was republished with permission.


Beth Ellor has explored the New York City schools as a parent, as an early childhood teacher, and as a retiree currently providing professional development to inner city schools (as an independent contractor for a celebrated i3 provider). Also a substitute teacher in a wide range of schools, she is a close observer of the reality behind the rhetoric of school success, struggle and reform.

K-12 Writing Standards: What Will it Take to Improve Them?

While global communication has grown and improved by leaps and bounds in the past two decades, the same cannot be said for K-12 writing skills. A new study released by Gary Troia at Michigan State University finds that K-12 writing standards are stagnant from a decade ago, along with student writing achievement. What’s more, Troia says that nearly 25 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. are not performing at a proficient writing level. He takes aim at the Common Core standards for writing and says that though some ideas are strong, others are still not asking enough of student writing.

Any U.S. K-12 educator, in any topic area, can certainly relate to Troia’s findings and surveys have found that employers also bemoan the writing deficiencies of their workforce. So if Common Core suggestions are not enough, what is needed to truly transform the writing landscape of K-12 classrooms and learners? Here’s what I think:

Earlier computer/keyboarding introduction

Troia touches on this point in his study when he says that most schools do not comprehensively address keyboarding until third grade. Many children are learning to type, or peck out letters, on a computer keyboard long before they are tracing letters in a Kindergarten workbook. Through keyboarding, children learn spelling and reading, as well as develop their memory skills. So why are schools waiting until the third grade to maximize on this facet of early composition and phonics? Basic handwriting and traditional ways of learning to write are important, but so is the technology that supports contemporary communication. Writing curriculum should include keyboarding and generally more screen instruction at a much earlier age to capitalize on the technology that can catapult U.S. students into a higher level of writing proficiency. The ideas are there – they just need to start earlier.

More interdisciplinary focus 

Writing is not an isolated school subject; it is a skill that permeates all topics of learning. Parents, teachers, students and administrators need to stop considering writing an area of strength or weakness (much in the way we gear students towards math/science pursuits or creative areas if the talent exists). Writing is a must-have skill in the global economy and one that will be needed in some capacity for every career. We can’t let students off the hook if writing is simply not their strong suit. Writing is a skill that anyone CAN master with enough practice and its practical applications need to be emphasized in every subject area.

Remedial intervention

College is not the place where students should receive remedial help on their writing. Stronger programs need to exist as young as pre-K to ensure that no child moves forward without a firm grasp of the writing skills required. Teachers need time and resources to intervene on an individual level. Of course parental help here is also a necessity but cannot be relied upon to ensure that all students have writing proficiency as graduates. Promoting students that lack grade-level writing skills in the hopes that they will catch up only furthers the problem down the road.

It’s time to put writing on the pedestal it deserves. It is the foundation of K-12 academic success and workplace achievement. If we put writing on the back burner, it has the potential to damage every other subject area and hold our students back from their true achievement in school and life beyond the K-12 and college years. Now is the time to make writing a priority, particularly if we expect this next generation of students to lead globally.

How do you think we can collectively improve K-12 student writing proficiency?

New Teacher Tip: Handling Challenging Behavior Problems

Every class has its share of challenging students. If you feel frustrated with the behavior issues that you have to handle, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone—handling behavior issues comes with the job description. Experienced teachers also have trouble managing talkative students, power struggles and disputes among students. Behavior Management: A Whole-School Approach, a book authored by behavior management expert Bill Rogers, delineates how to handle tough behaviors. Typical classroom behaviors and strategies for handling them are detailed below.

Talking in Class

The nonstop talking of a chatterbox can distract other students from concentrating on their work. This is something that you can tackle by giving positive instructions and avoiding negative ones. Rather than using a “no talking” approach, direct instructions to specific students, and ask them to “remain quiet.” Follow this with a “thanks” to indicate that your request has been met. If the talking takes place while you are speaking, simply stop speaking. This works as a reminder to students that they are supposed to listen and not talk among themselves.

Power Struggle

Some students refuse to concentrate on their work and complete it as a way to pull the teacher into a power struggle. Do not fall into this trap at any time. Give students choices with consequences attached. Let them know that if the work is not completed within a specified time, they will miss free time or face other consequences. This puts the responsibility of their behavior on them and teaches them to make choices at the same time. Make sure to show appreciation to students with a smile or a “thank you,” if they make the right choice.

Arguments Galore

Students who challenge everything the teacher says or does can distract the class by forcing it to focus on secondary issues. It might be difficult not to reprimand a defiant student, however getting defensive or adopting a hostile attitude is not likely to solve the issue. Remain assertive and civil and focus on the primary issue. Repeated instances like these may require and “after class” discussion with the student to explain how the behavior spoils the relationships with you and interferes with learning time of his/her peers.


Sulking behavior is also a distraction for the teacher. This is one behavior that needs to be nipped in the bud immediately. Have a private discussion with the student as soon as you observe this behavior. You might have to demonstrate the student’s behavior and mannerisms to him in order to clearly explain his behavior. More often than not, brooding students are unable to understand that they are being rude or socially unacceptable.

Over Dependence

A student who requests assistance all the time may be doing so out of a need for attention or may genuinely not be able to accomplish the task on his/her own. Assess the reason behind the clinging habit before you address it. Try ignoring the persistent calls to look at the work for a while, and when he/she waits patiently, reward him/her by looking at the work enthusiastically. Another strategy is to have students ask their peers before they speak to you for clarification.

Given that these are the five most persistent and frustrating issues most teachers face, adopting the right strategy for handling them should ensure that you have a class that is well behaved.

New more hands on help? Here is an amazing video from the American Psychological Association for teachers looking for tips on how to deal with challenging behaviors.






The Edvocate’s Definitive Guide to Creating a Culturally Responsive Classroom

Becoming a culturally responsive classroom is hard. To help you along your journey, here is your guide to exploring and respecting the cultural backgrounds of your students while also using diversity as an asset. If you take our advice, you will have a culturally responsive classroom in no time.

Gather a wide base of knowledge about other cultures. This is one of the most critical steps that you as a teacher must take in order to educate students in a culturally responsive way. If you’re an educator, or you’re aspiring to become one, you’d better become familiar with the cultural values, traditions, communication styles, learning preferences, contributions to society, and relationship patterns of their future students.

Don’t just limit yourself to book learning. Granted, you can get some of the education you need by simply reading about cultural diversity. But there is something to be said for genuine interaction and discourse with members of students’ cultures.

Use your knowledge to understand your students better. Yes, it’s true that book knowledge about diverse cultural groups can come in handy when you’re designing lesson plans and educational materials. But taking it one step further, you can often interpret your students’ attitudes and behaviors a lot better if you know more about the cultures they belong to.

Traditional teaching environments force students from those and other groups to modify their thought and behavior patterns to fit standard European-American norms or else face academic and behavioral consequences. However, in a culturally responsive classroom, the onus is instead placed on the instructor to learn about and adapt to the cultural intricacies of the students that they teach.

Avoid stereotyping. This is a big problem that often comes when you are beginning to learn about other cultures. And at first glance, it does seem difficult to apply knowledge about culturally-influenced thoughts and behaviors to the classroom without falling into the traps of over-generalization and stereotyping.

But in order to avoid these problems, your next step is to engage in a rigorous examination of the general cultural practices of their students. This is the beginning of the personal dimension of culturally responsive pedagogy: learning about the specifics of students’ cultural backgrounds and how those cultural patterns and beliefs can be most positively expressed in a real classroom setting.

View each student’s culture as a dynamic and individualized concept. Remember this: a person’s culture represents the sum of many spheres of influence, including context within history, gender, age, religion, family relationships, group memberships, cultural beliefs and practices, historical context, and level of education. Therefore, to avoid stereotyping, the educator must view each student as possessing a personalized culture instead of as a member of a homogenous group.

A bit intimidating? It may seem so at first. However, in practice, there are a variety of methods that can be employed to learn more about a student’s cultural heritage and identity. Read on to Step 6 for some tips on this.

Use classroom assignments as a primary window into your students’ beliefs. Writing assignments can play a significant role in gathering information about student thought patterns and tendencies.  Interviews with family members, assignments asking students to write about learning experiences that occur outside of school, and assignments involving family stories and traditions all can play a significant role in discovering information about a students’ cultural heritage.  Students’ parents can often be solicited as sources of useful personal information and visiting the neighborhoods where diverse students live can help give educators an idea about the level of social support present and the types of challenges that the student might face outside of the classroom.

Get your students’ names right. It may sound simple enough, but a teacher who does not take the time to even know the names of his or her students, exactly as they should be pronounced, shows a basic lack of respect for those students. Teachers should learn the proper pronunciation of student names and express interest in the etymology of interesting and diverse names.

Encourage students to learn about each other. Teachers should have their students research and share information about their ethnic background as a means of fostering a trusting relationship with both fellow classmates.  Students are encouraged to analyze and celebrate differences in traditions, beliefs, and social behaviors.  It is of note that this task helps European-American students realize that their beliefs and traditions constitute a culture as well, which is a necessary breakthrough in the development of a truly culturally responsive classroom.

Give students a voice. Another important requirement for creating a nurturing environment for students is reducing the power differential between the instructor and students.  Students in an authoritarian classroom may sometimes display negative behaviors as a result of a perceived sense of social injustice; in the culturally diverse classroom, the teacher thus acts more like a facilitator than an instructor.  Providing students with questionnaires about what they find to be interesting or important provides them with a measure of power over what they get to learn and provides them with greater intrinsic motivation and connectedness to the material.  Allowing students to bring in their own reading material and present it to the class provides them with an opportunity to both interact with and share stories, thoughts, and ideas that are important to their cultural and social perspective.

Be aware of language constraints. In traditional classrooms, students who are not native English speakers often feel marginalized, lost, and pressured into discarding their original language in favor of English.  In a culturally responsive classroom, diversity of language is celebrated and the level of instructional materials provided to non-native speakers is tailored to their level of English fluency.  Accompanying materials should be provided in the student’s primary language and the student should be encouraged to master English.

Hand out praise accordingly. High expectations for student performance form the core of the motivational techniques used in culturally responsive instruction.  Given that culturally responsive instruction is a student-centered philosophy, it should come as no surprise that expectations for achievement are determined and assigned individually for each student.  Students don’t receive lavish praise for simple tasks but do receive praise in proportion to their accomplishments.  When expectations are not met then encouragement is the primary emotional currency used by the educator.  If a student is not completing her work, then one should engage the student positively and help guide the student toward explaining how to complete the initial steps that need to be done to complete a given assignment or task.  Once the student has successfully performed the initial steps for successful learning it will boost his sense of efficacy and help facilitate future learning attempts.

While popular among educators in traditional classrooms, reward systems should be considered with caution in a culturally responsive setting.  Reward systems can sometimes be useful for convincing unmotivated students to perform tasks in order to get a reward (and hopefully learn something in the process) but they have the undesirable long-term side effect of diminishing intrinsic motivation for learning.  This effect is particularly strong for students who were already intrinsically motivated to learn before shifting their focus toward earning rewards.  Given that one of the prime goals of culturally responsive instruction is to motivate students to become active participants in their learning, caution and forethought should be used before deciding to introduce a reward system into the equation.

A culturally response, student-centered classroom should never alienate any one student, but should bring all the different backgrounds together in a blended format. Teachers should develop their own strategies, as well as take cues from their students to make a culturally responsive classroom succeed.

Teachers: knock down your own biases first. For many teachers, who hail from a middle-class European-American background, a common side effect of being raised in that dominant Euro-American culture is the self-perception that “I’m an American; I don’t have a culture.” This is actually untrue—European-American culture simply dominates social and behavioral norms and policies to such an extent that those who grow up immersed in it can be entirely unaware of the realities of other cultures.

Fortunately, initial cultural biases can be overcome via hard work and reflection.  The necessary element for discarding pre-existing biases is a willingness to go through a process of rigorous self-appraisal in order to learn what needs to be changed to teach in a culturally responsive fashion.  A good way to start this process is by writing down reflections about family history, upbringing, and interpersonal relationship styles and how one’s experience may differ from the experience of a person raised in a different culture.

Eventually the focus of this reflection must turn toward one’s ideas about and racism and bias.  The culturally responsive educator should reflect on the fears, stereotypes, and biases that they have about individuals that are different from them. Once the educator can recognize that their own personal tastes are not objectively better than those favored by other cultures, they can begin to investigate and appreciate the traditions and values of those cultures.

Now take a deeper look into the cultures of your students. It’s easy to be superficial and fall into the twin traps of over generalization and stereotyping when learning about the different cultures of your students. What is important to keep in mind is that each student’s culture is dynamic and individualized.

A person’s culture represents the sum of many spheres of influence, including context within history, gender, age, religion, family relationships, group memberships, cultural beliefs and practices, historical context, and level of education. To avoid stereotyping, the educator must view each student as possessing a personalized culture instead of as a member of a homogenous group. At first blush this may appear to be a daunting task, but in practice there are a variety of methods that can be employed to learn more about a student’s cultural heritage and identity.

For example, classroom assignments can provide a primary window into a student’s cultural beliefs.  Writing assignments can play a significant role in gathering information about student thought patterns and tendencies.  Interviews with family members, assignments asking students to write about learning experiences that occur outside of school, and assignments involving family stories and traditions all can play a significant role in unearthing information about a students’ cultural heritage.  Students’ parents can often be solicited as sources of useful personal information and visiting the neighborhoods where diverse students live can help give educators an idea about the level of social support present and the types of challenges that the student might face outside of the classroom.

Consider how cultural differences might affect academic performance. A person’s culture and upbringing has a profound effect on how they see the world and how they process information. This fact was discussed by Richard Nisbett in his work, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently. Nisbett worked with psychologists in Japan and China and determined that the holistic way of viewing the world typical of many students from those countries differed from that of their American counterparts, who tended to view the world in parts or distinct classes of objects that could each be defined by a set of rules.

Did we miss any?


Culturally responsive teaching is a theory of instruction that was developed by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and has been written about by many other scholars since then. To read more of her work on culturally responsive teaching and other topics, click here to visit her page.


Have You Hacked These Cognitive Tools?

Modern technology offers a plethora of cognitive tools for implementation in your classroom. You’re likely familiar with pedagogical tools and teaching resources, but you may also be wondering what exactly a “cognitive tool” is.

Cognitive tools are tools that, when used outside of the classroom, play a role in productivity. They include word-processing programs, spreadsheets, and e-mail programs. Applied to the classroom, these become cognitive tools, because they improve the learning process, enhancing thinking and understanding. Let’s look at some examples:


Spreadsheets are screens that are divided into rows and columns, and are supplied in programs that have mathematical and statistical computational capabilities. This information can also be used to generate graphical data from the numerical data. Spreadsheet analysis programs are provided with a wide range of formulas that allow many functions, some of which resemble low-level programming, while others are complex mathematical functions. Both of these functions can be used to assist students with learning. Spreadsheets require the prior collection of data, which may be obtained from various real-life or online sources. Real-life sources could be data from a student’s bank account showing how much money the student earned, received, or spent in a month. Or a group of students could collect data while conducting a study on how many cars come in and out of the school parking lot in a month. T

he data would need to be organized into a row- and-column format to make use of the analytical capabilities of the spreadsheet. This skill in itself is useful in showing students how to identify which data is important and how to arrange it. Analysis could be largely automated through familiarization with the various formulas available within the program. Further familiarization with the program would allow students to be able to take their data and convert it into a graphical or visual format, making it meaningful, relevant, and interesting to other students. This could also reduce the work required of the teacher, who could design the exercises so that the correct arrangement of data, formulas, or analysis is crucial in allowing the graphs to appear correctly, thus allowing them to quickly identify students who require additional assistance.


Another cognitive tool that’s very useful in statistical analysis is a database, which is a vastly more powerful tool than a spreadsheet. Databases are larger, more robust stores of data, but are generally built on a more advanced programming platform than spreadsheets. Whereas spreadsheets store single items of data, databases can store information regarding how the data has been changed, and can link items of data together to form data relationships. Databases allow much larger stores of information to be created, as well as allowing multiple students to access them and make changes over a period of time, keeping a history of those changes for future use.

Word-Processing Programs

These have many advantages over paper and pencil. Editing is a lot less tedious, as you can change the document while you work on it without having to erase and start over. Some word-processing programs offer students the option of group activities, so that the group can all work on the same document.

Desktop Publishing and Multimedia

These programs allow users to combine text elements with audiovisual information, such as graphics, videos, audio clips, animations, and other display and design elements. Students who learn with these options become competent in constructing and delivering a complete document that includes videos, audio, and graphic information as well as text.

Most of the programs mentioned here now come standard with laptops and desktop computer software. If you’re curious about how to best implement these cognitive tools in your classroom, read on in future articles about how to best apply technology to your curriculum.

How National Board Certification Helped Me Turn Around a Failing School

Note: The following guest post comes to us courtesy of Dr. Kiela Snider, who has served as an educator in California for over 23 years and has held her current position as principal for Palm Springs Unified School District for the past 12 years. In 2000 she joined the ranks of National Board Certified Teachers (Early Childhood Generalist).  She believes that children learn best when they are in a learning environment that has been shaped by best teaching practices. This was evident in 2007/2008 school year she led 100% her staff in completing either the National Board Certification or Take One! program.  The results of this ongoing commitment resulted in school wide reform at Julius Corsini Elementary that included exiting Program Improvement Year 5, decrease in teacher turn-over, and increased parental involvement.

In the summer of 2005, I was named principal of Julius Corsini Elementary School. It was a tough assignment for a first-time principal. Located in Desert Hot Springs, CA, Corsini was the lowest performing school in the state’s third most dangerous city. Few expected me to last longer than a year – let alone completely turn around the school.

Desert Hot Springs is exactly 100 miles outside of Los Angeles, and the low cost of living has made it attractive to many gang members looking to escape scrutiny from the LAPD. Like the town, Corsini did not have much going for it either. There was so much gang activity that the local news station used images of the school became every time it reported on gang-related crime even if the students and the school had nothing to do with the incident. A housing boom more than doubled the school’s population from 500 to 1,100 students almost overnight, and parents grew weary of an unproductive and unsafe school system they saw as swallowing their children.

Teacher turnover was a staggering 75% each year, and few of the remaining 25% truly wanted to continue working there. Corsini became known as a dumping ground for ineffective teachers, and many teachers in the district considered placement there tantamount to punishment.

During my first two years, test scores continued to drop.

I may have been only 32 years old, but I did not lack preparation. I joined Corsini shortly after completing certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. With a decade of experience educating students from low-income communities under my belt, I chose to pursue the advanced teaching credential because no one else in my district had completed the rigorous peer-reviewed process. I was looking for a challenge. Board certification forced me to articulate exactly what I was doing in the classroom and, more importantly, why I was doing it.

While Board certification improved my teaching practice, I found that my training helped me coach and support my teachers—the perfect skills as I transitioned to my role as administrator. It also emphasized a continuous analysis of one’s teaching practice so that teachers can identify and replicate what’s working and what’s not.

I used this approach at Corsini, and I included all of my teachers in the process. To be honest, it wasn’t a skills issue. Only the best teachers can do well in this type of environment. Through observation and evaluation, I concluded that low morale among faculty was the primary source of the school’s problems. They were simply tired of feeling like they were struggling—both their students and themselves.

Working with my teachers, we determined the best professional development option to address the faculty’s needs. The main complaint from the faculty was that typical teacher training does not make connections between theory and practice. However, I knew of one program that fully focused on practical application.

In the spring of 2007, every faculty member agreed to pursue their own professional growth program through the National Board. It generated immediate results.

Within one year, Corsini student test scores on California’s Academic Performance Index increased 13% percent by an average of 55 points. The following year, scores rose an additional 30 percent in reading and 16 percent in math. Teacher turnover rate dropped to nearly zero.

Attendance at parent-teacher conferences more than doubled from 45 to 95 percent. In 2010, Corsini was one of only six schools nationwide to receive the prestigious National School Change Award from the National Principals Leadership Institute.

I give all of the credit to the National Board Certification. Teachers didn’t see the process as a chore—but as a tool for building a true learning community. Corsini’s story is not a fluke. Nearby Joshua Tree Elementary School tried the same approach and achieved similar results. The school’s principal is Daniele Snider—my sister.

This was more than enough proof for the school district to transfer me to Desert Springs Middle School in 2011, a feeder school for Corsini, and where I was able to see the fruits of my efforts first-hand from the well-prepared students arriving from my former elementary school. I took a slightly different professional development approach at Desert Springs than I did at Corsini. Veteran teachers have the option and support to pursue National Board certification, but it is not a requirement for all new hires.

Like Corsini, Desert Springs Middle School has seen a dramatic jump in test scores. Last year, we saw a 40 API point gain and math scores doubled in proficiency. The school moved from the bottom 20% of similar schools to the top 60%. We make it very clear that there is a standard of excellence that is not an aspiration–but an expectation–for all teachers.

In the three years since I have left Corsini, I am happy to say the school continues to excel academically under new leadership and the foundation I help to lay nearly seven years ago remains strong.

The Call to Teach: Multicultural Education

America’s “melting pot” status is one that most citizens are proud to claim. The fact that people here often refer to themselves as one ethnicity or another, and rarely as simply an American, is proof that being from somewhere else – however far removed – is a source of familial pride. Even African Americans, who do not always have an Ellis Island story in the family tree, find collective strength in the stories of their ancestors and what it means for their lives today. This blending of cultures is both a blessing and curse of the K-12 classroom. With more diversity than ever, teachers have to adjust methods from one student to the next, and from one year to the next. Multicultural education is about more than a classroom with varied skin color – it includes careful examination of the neighborhoods, parenting styles and general experiences that shape each and every K-12 student.

In my new book The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching, I examine multicultural education and what impact the diverse students of today will have on the next generation of educators. Today I want to touch on the term “multiculturalism” and examine its meaning in K-12 classrooms.

Defining Multiculturalism

In its most basic sense, multicultural education is a progressive approach for transforming education based on educational equality and social justice. The components required in educating a multicultural education are content integrations, prejudice reduction, empowering school culture and social culture. These all relate and all require attention as they relate to the efforts of conflict resolution in today’s world. What kids learn in their classroom environments when it comes to interactions with those who are different from them translates into how well they will manage life in the global marketplace.

In the last century, there has been an increase in global mutual acceptance of opposing views and different cultures – though arguably, there is still a long way to go. Specifically when it comes to America, it is crucial that multicultural education exist with the increasing number of students who speak a second language and come from somewhere else. Diversity exists even within mainstream society and students need to have the communication life skills that multicultural education promotes.

Teaching in a Multicultural Society

So what does all this talk about multiculturalism really mean in the contemporary classroom? What can teachers do to make sure they practice pedagogical individualism and promote the diversity that exists in society as a whole? Since each classroom is different, each approach will be varied as well. Some important common ground when it comes to multicultural teaching should include:

Careful observation. David Kolb created a four-step model for really understanding the needs of a particular student group. He starts with concrete experience, adds reflective observation and then moves to abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. In other words, multicultural education cannot be taught in a textbook. It must be developed by each educator based on a particular student group.

Learning style guidance. Teachers can help students discover their academic strengths by helping them discover their own learning style. In this way, students discover what method of comprehension works best for them based on their own backgrounds and personalities. If educators make this learning style quest a class project, an inherent lesson in multiculturalism is taught.

Pride in heritage. Educators should look for ways to emphasize the differences between students in a positive light. This might mean writing essays on family background or partnering with other students to help each other develop projects that accent the culture of the other. This can include prompts that look back on family history for generations, or could ask students to look at their current family setup.

There are scores of ways that educators can approach multiculturalism in K-12 classrooms but the first step is recognizing its importance. For today’s students to experience lifelong success on the global scale, educators must recognize the need for multiculturalism in pedagogy.

How do you adjust to and promote multiculturalism in your classrooms?

4 Tips Cash-Strapped Districts Can Use to Pay Teachers What They Deserve

It’s no secret that teachers in the United States receive little recognition and a salary below their abilities, and that their training after hire consists of professional development that rarely leads to much growth. There is also little incentive for teachers to strive to earn more because pay isn’t based on excellence, but on time on the job. This can lead to quality teachers feeling burned out, with no recourse for better pay for their efforts.

But with a little creativity, this truth can be reversed—even for districts on a tight budget.

Without further ado, here are some things to consider so that teachers can get paid what they’re worth, whether funds are abundant or limited:

1. Rethink the “teachers on an assembly line” mentality. There is a tendency for American teachers to be treated like factory workers. The No Child Left Behind program holds teachers entirely responsible for their students’ performance on state achievement tests, regardless of the many variables that influence students’ performance on these tests. For example, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prepare a sixth grade student reading at a second grade level to perform well on a state achievement test. It is no wonder that standardized testing has caused schools and teachers to panic.

2. Put it into perspective: remember that school principals and other administrators receive comfortable salaries. In addition to concerns about job security, low compensation, and student performance on high stakes test, teachers must also worry about subpar principals who are overcompensated for the successes of teachers. Although administrators deserve to be fairly compensated for their work, their pay does not seem equitable compared to that of teachers. If administrators are to be compensated fairly for the job performed, then teachers, too, should be fairly compensated.

3. Prioritize paying teachers more, and question the assumption that this has to be expensive. When considering these issues, a major mistake made by reform groups is to table efforts at improving teacher salaries because the expenditure does not fit into the school budget. If children are America’s most precious commodity and the focal point of the nation’s educational system, then the lack of funding is no excuse to forgo efforts. Many school reform efforts are cost-effective and can be implemented by resourceful educators. When there is a lack of money, change is contingent upon the faith and commitment level of the faculty and staff. Money should not be wasted on model programs and unsubstantiated trends.

4. Think about the indirectly related factors that will help teachers. Considering factors such as teachers’ professional development, while at first may seem unrelated, can be a key factor for successfully improving teaching salaries as well. When analyzing budgets, it is important to set aside money to hire teachers with the ability to create and teach in-service professional development programs. The ability to train the staff and educators internally will save the school money, and will give the teacher/expert a feeling of usefulness. For instance, a teacher with 30 years of experience and a demonstrated ability to obtain amazing results from her specific teaching strategies might create a professional development seminar to share her expertise. This saves the school an enormous amount of money, and saves the administrator the trouble and cost of hiring a consultant. These savings can then be passed on to the teachers, perhaps in the form of bonuses, etc.

In the end, schools operating with limited funds to support reform efforts will need to be both resourceful and creative in order to affect positive change and strive toward equitable pay for superior teachers. Forward thinking leaders, committed and imaginative teachers, and a supportive community can contribute to change that improves the working environment of our teachers – and their salaries too.

I am sure that you also have some interesting insights on how to pay teachers what they deserve, even on shoestring budgets. So share your thoughts below in the comments.

Top Five Ways to Engage Students in Your Classroom

Note: Today’s guest post comes to us courtesy of Dr. Tina Rooks, who serves as Vice President and Chief Instructional Officer at Turning Technologies. With over 16 years of experience in education, she was instrumental in developing the educational consulting team and building the Turning Technologies school improvement initiative specifically for the K-12 market.

No matter what subject they teach or what age group their students fall into, all teachers face the same basic challenge: They have to find a way to actively engage students in the learning process. Today’s learners tend to respond best to interactive teaching methods, so many instructors have integrated technology into their lesson plans. Here are five ways to engage students in your classroom.

  1. Use responsive technology. Many instructors use PowerPoint slides to present material to students, but to really get students involved and engaged, you need to find a way to turn a lecture into a two-way conversation. Responsive technology can help, allowing you to embed questions into your presentation and enable students to answer using a keypad or smartphone. A good responsive technology solution can enable you to instantly aggregate and display response data in chart form. It’s a great icebreaker, and it can provide incredibly valuable insight by letting you accurately gauge knowledge levels in real time.
  2. Make your lesson focused by defining objectives. Almost any project benefits from clearly defined goals, and education is no exception. When creating your lesson plan, outline the objectives you and your students would like to accomplish. Your goals will vary according to your subject matter, but most sessions will have common themes, such as improving students’ knowledge on a topic and their ability to retain key points. Student participation can also be a goal. If you’re using responsive technology, you can adjust lectures on the fly based on how the class responds, spending more time on harder-to-grasp topics and moving on once student responses indicate that they understand.
  3. Add context to interactive slides. To get the most out of a responsive technology strategy, it’s helpful to think through your objectives for your interactive slides. The exact wording will depend on your subject matter, of course, but there are three general approaches that can work well for all types of topics. First, you can gauge student’s existing topic knowledge with a pre-assessment slide. Then, you can see how they’ve progressed at the midpoint with a slide that has questions designed to explore how they are applying what they’ve learned. A post-assessment slide can help you understand how students are using the new concepts they’ve learned to solve problems.
  4. Keep slides uncluttered and simple. It can be tempting to cram as much information as you can fit onto a slide, but excessive text can be more confusing than instructive. Keep in mind that most learning happens during a discussion of the topic, not from reading the words on a slide, so keep the text to a minimum – just enough so that students can understand the question or subject – and rely on the discussion to flesh out key points. And although it can also be fun to embed graphics and videos into slides, remember that this can distract students from the core of the lesson as well, so only add images and graphic elements that really help to convey your point.
  5. Keep your presentation interactive throughout. It’s fairly common for presenters to start off a session with a warm-up question or icebreaker and end with a Q&A portion. That can be a great way to establish rapport and wrap up loose ends. But it’s also important to keep the audience engaged at every point during the presentation. Using responsive technology to embed questions for the class on multiple slides gives students a stake in the discussion from beginning to end. When crafting questions, remember that the queries don’t have to be specifically designed to measure students’ knowledge – sometimes open-ended questions or queries about the audiences’ opinions rather than fact-based questions can spark highly engaging discussions.

For teachers who are seeking new ways to connect with students, creating an interactive presentation can be the key to achieving a truly engaged classroom. A responsive technology solution makes it easy to embed questions and gather and analyze audience responses. A focused presentation with clear goals captures learners’ attention, and gauging learner progress with contextual slides that are simple and clutter-free gives the instructor valuable clues about the effectiveness of the session. But most of all, inviting students to participate in a lesson as a two-way conversation enhances the learning process. If you follow these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to full classroom engagement.



The Master List of Interview Prep for Teachers

While the precise format for an interview may vary from site to site, no matter where you are, there are some general tips and tricks for succeeding in your interview. Remember to:

1. Smile. Teachers are expected to be good-natured, friendly people; you can convey this by smiling during your interview.

2. Listen. Make sure that you listen very closely to what the interviewer is saying. Maintain eye contact, pay close attention, and be sure to ask pertinent questions.

3. Pause before answering. You don’t have to give
a quick answer. Take a few moments to collect
your thoughts and reflect; then give a well-thought response.

4. Don’t filibuster. Although some people would disagree, admitting that you Add New don’t have all the answers can be a positive trait and not the end of the world. If you’re stumped by a question, let the interviewer know that you don’t have a clear and concise answer. Tell the interviewer that you would probably seek the advice of a veteran educator, especially if it’s in the best interest of your students.

5. Dress to the nines. Like the old adage says, “always dress to impress.” Women should wear slacks or a nice suit and closed-toe shoes; men should always wear a business suit or at the minimum slacks, a shirt, and tie.

6. Participate in a mock interview. Before the interview, have someone from the field of education (friend, family member, professor) conduct a mock interview using a list of commonly asked interview questions. If this is done correctly, then the interview should be a breeze.

7. Break out the portfolio. The majority of teacher education programs require students to begin creating a portfolio beginning with their introduction to education and culminating with their student teaching experience. Ask your interviewer if you can showcase your portfolio during the interview.

8. Research. Make sure that you take the time to learn as much about the interviewing district as possible. Demonstrating a thorough understanding of the mission and vision of the district can really impress interviewers.
Remember, practice makes perfect! It’s a good idea to practice answering questions you think you might face in your interview before you have to answer them in the moment. Practicing what you’re going to say ahead of time can help you sort out your thoughts and sharpen your diction. Common interview questions include:

1. Education and Background
Briefly describe your education background and explain how it has prepared you to teach.

2. Work Experiences
What work and volunteer experiences have you had, and how have they helped prepare you for teaching?

3. Strengths and 
What do you consider to be your particular strengths as a beginning teacher? What are your weaknesses, and how do you plan to strengthen them?

4. Teaching
Why did you select teaching as a profession?

5. Meeting Diverse Needs
How do you plan to meet the diverse needs of students in your classroom? Give an example of how you would plan to meet the special needs of a student in your classroom with a disability.

6. Curriculum
What kind of curriculum do you think is appropriate for the students you will teach? What was your most successful lesson?

7. Preparation and 
What are things you will do to prepare and plan for instruction? What kind of planning have you done?

8. Instruction
What instructional strategies do you think are most effective? How will you meet the individual needs of your students?

9. Evaluation
What techniques will you use to evaluate student learning?

10. Classroom Management
What kind of classroom management techniques do you plan to use?

11. Parent/Family/ Community Involvement
Describe how you plan to involve and communicate with parents.

12. Philosophy/Beliefs
What are your core values and beliefs about education? About students? What is your philosophy of education?

13. Collaboration
Do you get along well with others? What are some people skills that you use when collaborating with others?

14. Extracurricular Activities
What extracurricular and community activities have you participated in? What extracurricular activities would you be able to supervise?

Practice answering these questions while watching yourself in the mirror, or have another person act as an interviewer. Learn what it feels like to say your answers out loud to another person, and you’ll ace your interview when you have to say the words for real!