Monday, June 30, 2014
I am in Washington DC representing the amazing teachers of Colorado at the Education Commission of the States, National Forum on Education Policy. I have the honor to communicate to Legislators, Governors, representatives from higher education and businesses, and other dedicated professionals in education. Please let me know your solutions to current education policy or ideas for new policies that would benefit our students, teachers, administration and community in our wonderful state of Colorado. Let your voice be heard!!
Monday, May 19, 2014
Arriving in Washington DC as the 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year
Oh the anticipation of arriving in Washington DC for the recognition activities for the 2014 National and State Teachers of the Year. I am representing all the amazing teachers in Colorado, wish all of them could be here too. Thoughts going through my mind are I cannot believe this is happening to me and my family, what an amazing opportunity we have.
We arrive in the evening, the other NSTOY's are out on the town taking a night tour of the monuments, luckily I grew up in the Washington DC area and have already experienced the magic of the monuments at night.
The first full day was incredible, we started out at the Smithsonian Institute. We took behind the scenes tour of different museums on the Smithsonian. Some went to the Air and Space, Portrait Gallery, American History Museum and I went to the Natural History Museum for a behind the scenes look at the insect zoo, soooo cool!! My friend that accompanied me was Flat Stanley, he might be a familiar face. I chronicled my insect tour with Flat Stanley and sent his adventure to my sister who is a 5th grade teacher in Rhode Island. Our guide was Dan Babbitt, Museum Insect Zoo Manager. You can always tell how good someone is in their field by the amount of passion they have for what they do and Dan was as passionate as they come. Before my visit an insect was an insect, by the time I left the museum insects were incredible creatures which rule our world. I actually have empathy for insects now.
|2014 NSTOY "insect group"|
|This room is filled with 5 million spiders.|
|Cataloged butterflies. |
After the Smithsonian we were off to the Navel Observatory to have tea with the second lady Dr. Jill Biden. We entered the house on a cool rainy spring day with the marine strings playing a wonderful greeting to us. We walked around the ground floor of the house waiting for the Dr. Jill Biden to speak to us. She is also an educator who currently teaches at a community college. What an inspiration she was, it was an honor to be welcomed into her home and an honor to hear her speak so passionately about teaching.
|2014 NSTOY's at Dr. Jill Biden's house.|
|Instruction from the amazing support at SMART.|
|Planning our lesson.|
Wow I feel like I have been in DC for weeks, the time has been filled with so many amazing experiences and I have not even met the President yet. On the third day we were off to the Department of Education to be apart of "Teach to Lead Initiative" a new proposed project that we got to see before anyone else. Don't worry you can read all about it at ED.gov or at the teachtolead.net. The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "Teachers have spoken eloquently about how important it is to have a voice in what happens in their schools and their profession -- without leaving the classroom." I have to agree I wish there was more opportunity for me as a teacher to work in leadership rolls in my school and this initiative is a great start. I will elaborate on the "Teach to Lead Initiative" in a later blog.
|The Department of Education|
|Getting ready to take on the future with fellow NSTOYs|
|Ready to celebrate with my husband Bill Miner|
|Arne Duncan the Secretary of Education|
Our final day in Washington DC we spent the day at the Executive Building and The White House. At the Executive Building we met with Roberto Rodriquez, Special Assistant to the President, Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council to discuss President Obama's Early Education Agenda then the floor was open up to all the teachers to speak about what is happening in their states. This was so exciting because I got to address the increase of cutting Physical Education, Music and the Arts and how important it is to make sure all states and district understand how important these programs are to the health and well being of our students.
|Excited to have a voice.|
|What an honor!!|
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
This Brain break is great for transition in the classroom. It gives students a minute to move their body and then reengage their minds.
Hopefully you will see how re-energized your students are.
In the space you are standing stretch yourself, loosen your muscles, and make sure you are taking deep breaths as you are stretching. Now a little spring skiing. Using a little hop and rotate your hips, like going down a mogul hill. For a modification eliminate the hop and just bend at your knees and rotate your hips. Now add your arms. Once you have gotten your heart rate up for a minute we will move onto the brain break. Now moving onto the brain break. We usually only use one side of our brain, if you are right handed the left side of your brain is mostly engaged and if you are left handed the right side is mostly engaged. Let’s get both sides engaged. Working with the person sitting next to you, one of you cross your hands and interlace your fingers, then bring your hands back through your arms. Have the person next to you point to a finger and try to lift only that finger. Try to go through all the fingers and then switch.
I had the honor to speak to some wonderful groups in the last couple weeks. I went with something inspirational. Hope this inspires you.
What does this word mean to you? By definition it means to show or explain to someone how to do something. To me it means so much more than the definition. It means getting up each day knowing that I have a really important job; I have an opportunity to guide my students down a path of good health, active bodies and strong minds.
It means being a professional, knowing my standards and how to incorporate them into the curriculum I have created. When I started teaching I tried to expose my students to as many sports as possible thinking this would help students find something they liked, I wanted all students to enjoy being active. As I spent more time teaching I realized that teaching sports was not going to help my students be successful in the future. I change the way I taught by incorporating my standards into a curriculum that included lifelong sports like; hiking, running, basketball, aerobics, softball, weight training, yoga, cross training and more. Now when I look at what my students are learning I am confident that they will have the tools to be successful when they are on their own. Also included in my curriculum is reading, writing and math. I make a point to meet with other teachers in my building to see where our students are struggling, and then I take those skills and incorporate them into my classroom. If my seventh graders are struggling with composing complete sentences and thoughts I need to make sure they have a chance to practice those skills in my classroom. A great example of this is when my students play a game I created called fly swatter. This game includes physical activity and problem solving when it comes to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Spread across my gym are the answers to the questions being asked. Once I present the question students have 30 seconds to discuss the question with their team. They then have a count of 10 to find the answer, if they don’t find it they go back to their team and someone else tries. While students are trying to find the answer their teammates are doing an exercise like jumping jack. This continues till the correct answer is found. But it does not end there, then students have to explain why their answer is correct, using critical thinking and complete sentences. If our students are exposed to the skills needed to be successful in every class then they will understand how important those skills are. The more exposure to the skills being taught, the more likely our students will learn and value them.
Being an advocate for physical education. Making sure that students, teachers, parents, administration and community members understand how important physical education is because it guides students into a healthy lifestyle, which affects them physically, mentally/emotionally and socially . With childhood obesity rate rising every year I think it’s very important that we emphasize how crucial it is to get our kids out of their chairs and moving. Research shows that an active body has an active mind. Exercise cues building blocks of learning in the brain, it affects mood, anxiety and attention; and guards against stress. Physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. Exercise provides stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn. I have implemented 1-3 minute physical activities for all teachers in my school to use in their classrooms to re-energize their students, get their students minds engaged so there is more time on task which ensures more learning. It’s a win, win situation. Students get a small break from their rigorous learning and teachers have active minds to teach to for a longer amount of time. I had a parent approach my principal last fall and told him she really sees a difference in her kids when they are in my physical education class, they are able to concentrate longer, withstand the rigorous 55 minute classes and she sees an increase in their grades. Physical activity really does have an impact on our student’s minds so let’s make sure every student gets the activity they need.
It means caring and supporting my student’s through their educational journey. It’s the relationships we create with our students which is an integral part of their education. I work with kids at every level, physically and mentally. Physical activity allows students to deal with frustration, stress, anger, sadness, incompetence, failure, happiness, elation and success. I guide my students through their weaknesses and strengths, and I find that a significant bond is formed between me and my students. Some of my students believe that my class is the only class they are successful in. They say “school is not for me Mrs. Miner”. They see themselves as great athlete’s not great students. I see them as hard working, competitive leaders that could take the knowledge they know in my class and apply it to the rest of their classes. What they need is someone to show them the connection. I would say “if you worked as hard on your math work as you practiced on your basketball skills you would see how successful you could be”. Sometimes it is not about how smart you are, it’s about hard work, applying yourself and not giving up when school gets challenging. I remind students that all parts of school are important and I tell them that my class is just one aspect of their education. I discuss with them that in order to be successful not only do they have to train their bodies but they must train their minds. If they want to go on in life playing sports they have to understand the balance between being a student and an athlete. Both aspects of their education are equally important.
Teaching is very rewarding to me because I know that I am preparing my students to be successful in their academic and non-academic futures. I also cherish seeing that smile of accomplishment when a student accomplishes a goal. One of my favorite experiences as a teacher is when my students have to run the mile and those who struggle push themselves and reach the goal I have set for them. For some, this is a big challenge. Watching the students who have completed the mile go back out on the track and support those that have not finished, with encouraging words, always brings tears to my eyes. These are the times that I take a moment to relish the fact that all of these students are amazing people and I can say that without a doubt I have found the career I am meant to be pursuing.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Part of the honor of being Colorado’s Teacher of the Year is the opportunity to be a voice for educational issues I am passionate about. I recently attended a Senate Education Committee hearing at the Colorado Capitol and gave my perspective on the Colorado Academic Standards, including the Common Core State Standards. The bill being heard was advocating for pausing implementation of our new standards. I wanted to show support for continued implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards because I believe they are the right step forward for our students. Here is the testimony I shared at the Capitol:
The wonderful thing about my role and teaching physical education is I teach lifelong skills and knowledge that affect our students’ every day. I teach communication skills, cooperative skills, problem solving skills, reading, writing and math skills on top of the fundamental skills of staying active and healthy. This knowledge will help make my students successful adults in our society.
Common Core State Standards are a unified set of standards for English language arts and mathematics created to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to prepare our students for college and careers. The standards reflect real world skills and knowledge, helping to make our students successful in the future. The Colorado Academic Standards provide standards in 10 content areas, two of which are blended with the Common Core. As a teacher I take these learning expectations and use them to design my own curriculum. For example, I do a vocabulary review halfway through my nine week curriculum. During this physical exercise my students get to practice short hand note taking skills. Students are still getting the physical activity they need and are also gaining more exposure to a skill that will enhance their education. I truly believe the more exposure a student has to essential common skills the more likely they will see the relevance and learn the skill.
With the Colorado Academic Standards guiding our curriculum, all teachers are working together toward the success of our students. Not only are we teaching our specific curriculum, but we are all teaching critical skills and knowledge like reading, writing and math. For example, the teachers in my school are great at collaborating with the language arts and math teachers. We find out where our students are struggling and then actively incorporate those skills into our classrooms. As a physical education teacher I found out our 6th graders struggle with graphing data so I began having them graph after fitness testing. This allowed students to see their progress in fitness over the quarter and gave them extra practice graphing. Our 7th graders struggle with composing complete sentences so all teachers in our school expect students to answer questions verbally and in writing in complete sentences. Students are getting more practice which helps teach the skill.
I believe the Colorado Academic Standards are working, are an improvement over past standards and are good for our students. Are they perfect? No. But what is perfection when you are setting guidelines for thousands and thousands of students? Our school has already seen tremendous growth in our students when it comes to English language arts and mathematics because all of the teachers are supporting the essential common skills in their lessons. With more exposure and practice our students are learning the skills.
Change is hard but I believe this change has been a beneficial change to ensure the success of our students. My question to those who are in doubt is, if we don’t use these more rigorous standards, what do we use? What learning expectations will we have to help guide teachers to teach what our students need to know to be college and career ready?
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Education has done a great job working with teachers across our state to create voluntary resources for this transition. Available on the CDE website are sample curriculums lined up with the content standards, examples of lesson plans and assessments for different grades and content areas. I’ve found these resources to be very helpful.
I also think these resources will have a huge impact on retaining teachers from novice to expert. New teachers coming into our profession have great guidelines to follow until they are confident in creating their own curriculum, lesson plans and tests. Also our expert teachers who have been teaching for many years can change their curriculums to keep up with the specific skills students need today, which can be very different from what students needed say ten years ago. The times are changing and I am very excited to see how students succeed with the Colorado Academic Standards in place.
Being a Representative
What an amazing experience meeting all the State Teachers of the Year in Scottsdale AZ last month. It amazed me how similar we are as teachers, our passion for teaching and wanting to make sure we are providing the best curriculum's possible for our students. It was also amazing how different each of us are and that was when I realized that any great teacher could have been at this conference and we as the 2014 State Teachers of the Year were representing all the incredible teachers in our profession. Are we the best of the best not necessarily but we are a great group of representatives, thank you again Colorado for giving me this opportunity.
Networking and creating a platform for my year as the Colorado Teacher of the Year was a main priority. My platform came down to educating and getting the word out on how physical activity can impact the brain and how important it is to make sure our students are staying active through-out the day; before school, during school and after school. I also want to become a support system to novice teachers starting their incredible journey in education, something I think we lack in our profession which is why we lose great educators in the first 3 years. What really influenced me at the conference is how our profession is very linear. Once you are a teacher the only professional growth is administration. I learned about a more lattice growth path in our profession, giving teachers more opportunity to expand in their profession from mentoring novice teachers to expert teachers coaching proficient teachers. More money would always be nice for the movement through our profession from novice to advance beginner to competent to proficient to expert but in my eyes the opportunity to support my fellow teachers and helping them grow into expert teachers so that every student is getting the best education possible. That would be an ultimate goal for me.
If you have any reflection on the professional growth pattern in teaching I would love to hear about it.
You are in the middle of an intense review in class and 15 minutes into your review you notice students are spacing out, starting to become off task, not as engaged. “Time to get your students up and moving.” This is a great brain break for any class. Before class starts hang large sheets of paper around your classroom with a marker. Have students utilize the paper as a tool in their review for vocabulary, grammar, math, reading comprehension (Venn Diagrams), critical thinking and more. Once they are done have them move across the classroom to another paper and add on, correct what is already written. Not only are students up and moving around but they are still practicing the skills you are teaching.