Archive Page 3

Tips for tackling your first (counseling) PDP

checklist2By Sabrina Bartels – During a recent training, a teacher from a different building in the district asked how many years I had been working. Just as I was about to reply, she gave me a knowing smile and said, “It must be hard being in your first year! I remember what it was like.” I smiled back at her and responded that I was actually about to enter my third year as a counselor in the district. The complete shock on her face was amusing!

The part about being in my third year of counseling that is not quite as amusing is the fact that I have to begin the process of renewing my license. For some, renewing a license means taking a certain number of class credits. But for me, it means completing my Professional Development Plan (PDP).

What is a PDP? It’s a process I need to complete that showcases my professional growth and that growth impacts my students and their performance in school. It’s quite an intense process, involving three team members from various areas that are responsible for reviewing my PDP goal, documentation of how I am reaching this goal, and any data that is associated with my goal.

While the initial computer work wasn’t too bad, it’s still a little intimidating. Below are some tips if you are like me and just getting started on your first counseling PDP!

  1. Pick a single goal. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) AND my director of human resources at work stressed the importance of only picking ONE goal. If you are as Type A as me, it probably feels like you are slacking a little if you only choose one goal. But seriously, it will save you a lot of stress. I promise.
  2. Pick a goal that focuses around something you are honestly interested in. Let’s be real, you will be doing this PDP for the next couple of years (in my case, the next three). It might as well be something that you are legitimately interested in. I chose mindfulness for the focus of my PDP for multiple reasons. Not only is my district integrating mindfulness into all of the school, but I think it’s a beneficial practice.  I have gone to three different trainings on mindfulness, and all of them have been interesting. I’ve found that while I gain information to teach my students, I am also integrating these practices into my own life, which keeps me calmer. This keeps me interested in my topic (as opposed to sitting through trainings on something I am not as interested in.)
  3. Choose a goal that you can measure. I know this one seems a little obvious, but it’s an important fact to remember! You can come up with all kinds of goals, but if you can’t measure the outcome through some sort of pre/post-test, or another way, it’s not going to be quite as successful.
  4. Collaborate! My PDP goal is similar to other counselors’ goals in my district, especially since we worked on our SLO project for Educator Effectiveness together. Having people you can collaborate with is essential. When you are able to bounce ideas off each other and attend the same trainings, it will make this entire process easier!
  5. Always, always, ALWAYS double-check the checklist. When you do your PDP, there is a little checklist under each section you complete. Make sure that you re-read everything before you submit it and that you answered the question on the checklist. You don’t want to hear back from one of your team members that you need to redo a section because you didn’t meet all the criteria.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Five Kilometers, Four Life Lessons

logo_gotrBy Kay Howell – On a rainy morning in early June, I stood huddled beneath an umbrella, peering into a sea of green t-shirts. Although it was 8am on a Sunday, Bayshore Town Center was buzzing with the nervous and excited energy of hundreds of elementary and middle school girls. At last, the big day was here: the spring Girls on the Run 5 kilometer race.

First, a little background for those not familiar with Girls on the Run. Founded in North Carolina in 1996, GOTR is a non-profit organization that uses running as a platform to promote healthy self-esteem, body image, relationships, and exercise for girls in grades 3-8. Teams meet twice weekly throughout a 10-week season, working toward a 5K run at the end of each season.

I run because I love the solitude, and because I love the feeling of internally pushing myself to my limits. This past spring, I stretched myself in a new direction when I became an assistant coach for my school’s 3rd-5th grade Girls on the Run team. Between battling the cold Milwaukee spring and trying to motivate twenty 3rd-5th graders, coaching was definitely a challenge. But along the way, I learned a few valuable lesson from my girls that have made me a better runner, student, and professional:

  1. Distances are meaningless if you don’t have a frame of reference.

Five kilometers is 3.1 miles. Every practice, some of the girls would walk a few blocks from school to our practice area. The first few practices, they were convinced that they had gone at least one or two miles. Some girls resolutely contended that they could run 5 kilometers in 20 minutes, while others predicted their times would be 2 hours or longer. For most of them, though, they had no real idea of what that distance meant. Our first practice 5K was a shock to some of the girls—they hadn’t really imagined that it would be that far.

  1. Three miles isn’t that far if you’re prepared.

Our first practices were a hard lesson in burnout. One or two girls could probably have run a 5K on day one, but the majority had never run that far before in their lives. As coaches, we reminded our team again and again that they needed to start slow and think about how to maintain a manageable pace. Even as I preached pacing, I felt myself burning out in my graduate classes. As momentum built at the end of the semester, I found myself desperately writing papers and spending most of my waking hours in the library. Coaching reminded me that starting strong is important, but finishing strong is crucial—in a run and in real life.

  1. Swings are really awesome.

Even as a teenager, I loved swinging on a swing-set. There was something so daring about pumping my legs and flying up into the sky—but with the reassurance that solid ground was never far away. Our team practiced out by the playground, and the swing set was a constant distraction for the girls. Seeing the happiness on their faces as they snuck away to the swing-set made me remember that it’s important to take a break every now and have some unscheduled joy, even if it’s just as simple as swinging a few minutes in the sun.

  1. Pain, pause, and perseverance.

Professional soccer players could take some lessons on stunt falling from 9-year-old girls. Almost every practice, one of my girls would suffer a blister that was obviously going to go septic and become a life-threatening condition. There were tears. But nine times out of ten, a girl just needed an encouraging word and a band-aid. Every practice reminded me that it’s okay to be hurt and to take a few minutes to feel sorry for yourself—but then you take the band-aid that you’re offered, get up, and keep going, because sprawling in the grass and crying over a blister will only hold you back.

Every girl on my team finished the race. Some crossed the finish line with the leaders, and a few were among the last to cross the line. But each one finished with a huge smile on her face. And I couldn’t stop smiling either!

The Important Potential of Inter-state Educator Collaboration

stop-collaborate-and-listenBy Nick McDaniels – Collaboration among educators. That’s still a buzz-concept, right?

Collaboration is great except that it often does not happen due to time constraints, or when it does happen, it involves teachers at the same school, teaching the same content, collaborating on curricula or assessments or, even,… analyzing student work using a common rubric!!!

When done well, school-based collaboration can be the backbone of school improvement. Even at the district level, where colleagues are collaborating on district implementation of the common core or preparing to align curricula to new state assessments, collaboration is essential.

But last week I had the chance to collaborate with colleagues from different districts, different states who were all teaching, or being trained to teach, the same subject matter. I attended the AP Government and Politics provided by the AP Summer Institute at Goucher College in Maryland. My facilitator was great, but this isn’t about her. The resources provided by the College Board (frequently one of the targets of my anti-privatization tirades) were also great, but this is not about that either.

I spent days learning from my colleagues. I learned so many new methods, saw so much creativity, and got to learn about how state-by-state, district-by-district, while the educational initiatives are similar, they are not the same. From those degrees of difference, real learning can happen. Where we were not all speaking the same “buzzy” language, real learning happened. Because in spite of both all the similarities and all the differences in education across our country, one thing is clear: Good teaching is good teaching. And with good teaching, good learning will happen because of, or in spite of, whatever initiative is a particular district- or state-led flavor of the week.

I realize that it is impractical to regularly allow teachers to collaborate across state and district lines. But I learned a tremendous amount about teaching from my out-of-district colleagues in a week’s time. Part of that is because we couldn’t talk district-specific jargon, couldn’t talk about specific acronyms that mean something only to us. We had to strip our language down, and thereby strip our thinking down, to teaching and learning.

Hardly rocket science, but important to share nonetheless.

Lessons from Summer Camp

Vlcsnap-2013-02-01-17h42m20s254By Taylor Gall – For the last 5 summers, I worked long days at a Garden Center in my hometown. I loved every minute of it, despite the lack of air conditioning, the bugs, and the stiff green polo I was forced to wear. I worked with amazing people and gained a lot of valuable insight into the worlds of small businesses and horticulture.

This summer, however, I was advised to pick up a job that had to do with children and education so that I could beef up my resume. After searching around, I decided to work for a local Recreation Department just north of the city. In that program I was assigned to work with the third graders.

Now I’ve spent my fair share of time babysitting third graders, hanging out with third graders, and many of my cousins are in elementary school, so I’ve had lots of exposure to this age group. It turns out, though, that attending family BBQs with kids this age is much different than actually teaching them.

I haven’t ever had to teach students this age– I’ve always been strictly 6th grade and up. Even though 3rd and 6th graders are only three years apart in age, they are worlds apart in personality, attention span, and listening abilities.

During my time at camp so far, I have developed a whole new teaching persona. I have had to learn that with younger students, I can’t always rely on their rational sides kicking in.

I’ve had to become more straight forward with the way I discipline them–I can’t be sarcastic or beat around the bush. I have to address the issue head-on in order for them to understand why I’m upset at what they’ve done.

Instead of dealing with ex-boyfriends and ACT stress like I would in a high school classroom, I have to deal with John forgetting his swim suit at home and Jamie taking the ball away from Carson on the playground.

One day, Elijah licked his best friend’s snack and then put it back in his lunchbox, and I was, quite frankly, unsure of how to handle the situation. A graham cracker cannot be un-licked!

I’ve found that dealing with younger kids in a large group setting does not come as easily to me as dealing with teenagers does, but I have been learning a lot along the way. I know now for sure that I am definitely not meant to be an elementary education major, but I have a new appreciation for how hard elementary teachers work to keep order and stability in the classroom.

Week One of Building “S’More” Summer Readers

IMG_0048By Lily Vartanian – With the Dwyane Wade “Live to Dream” summer program underway, the tutors have been working to prepare and plan for their students each day now.

Monday, June 15, the first day of the program, was a busy day for both the new “summer campers” as well as the tutors, with a visit from Tragil Wade, Dwyane Wade’s sister, who is the Director of the Wade’s World Foundation. Throughout the two hours of the tutoring, Tragil was able to visit the classrooms of students on their first day, offering words of wisdom, interacting, and getting to know the kids. The students, in return, were very excited to have a visitor as well as a camera crew, both of which helped add to the excitement of their first day. Students really seemed to respond well to both Tragil’s presence and the notion that they should work hard to make her and Dwyane Wade proud.

Following the first tutoring session, Tragil said goodbye to the students as they departed on the bus. She was able to sit down with the tutors to further discuss her belief, hopes, and motivation for continuing to help struggling readers develop their literacy skills. She shared a bit about her experiences, getting her degree as an early childhood educator, as well as working as a primary-level teacher later on.

It was through her experiences teaching struggling readers and having a nephew who read below grade-level that Tragil was able to personally see the discrepancy between where students’ reading levels often times are, and where they should be. As tutors, this was a wonderful opportunity to hear just how important and dear to her heart this cause is to the Wade family, as well as the Wade’s World Foundation, which has made this program possible.

So far, tutoring has run smoothly, with the first of six weeks now complete. For my students and for many of the tutors, the first week always serves as a “test run,” since testing, attendance, and other adjustments need to be made before the program can begin in full-swing for week two. The first week is often the time to establish routines and procedures with students in the Hartman Center as well, which always requires time and practice.

Finding out about students’ interests, abilities, and building relationships with each of them has been key to the first week, so that we can better tailor lessons to the individual students. To hear from another tutor’s perspective, I asked Emily Carton to share her thoughts about the first week, and the progress she hopes to achieve with her students. She shared about her classroom, which is following a travel theme:

“Within the first couple days with a room theme of ‘Reading takes us places,’ we created reading passports to track our reading progress. We also talked about how reading can take us on an adventure as students colored their ‘carry on’ — the cover of a binder with their instructional materials. We are excited to see if we can work toward our class goal of 25 take-home books each!”

Each day, we hope to focus on certain literacy strategies and key instructional strategies to help the students create meaningful learning experiences. For example, students will work each day on a guided reading story, either reading by themselves, as a group, or with a partner. They will learn vocabulary words from these texts, which will be words that are added to each room’s “Word Wall.” Students will practice writing and fluency, which help with speaking, accuracy, and reading with expression. Lastly, students will have the opportunity each day to take books home to read, enjoy a class “read-aloud” book, as well as have a time for a mid-morning snack.

The days have been flying by so far! More updates on the “Live to Dream” summer program will be recorded here, so stay tuned to hear more about the tutors, readers, and the progress we are making in the Hartman Center in the coming weeks!

“So What’s Next?”

Fudd_JobHunter2By Shannon Bentley – Hey there readers! As you know, I have been blogging about my student teaching experience this semester. For those of you that didn’t know, I finished the school year on June 12th, and I also graduated from Marquette University on May 17th. I have never felt more relieved in my life.

There has been less stress, more chances for me to make extra cash this summer, and I also have the chance to enjoy a little bit of fun on the side. About a week ago, I was having a conversation with my co-worker at my part-time job who graduated back in December 2014. He said something interesting about how people talk to post-graduates. He stated that every single time he tells someone that he is a college graduate, he gets the “so what’s next” question.

I understood where he was coming from. I myself have been flooded with a ton of “so what’s next” questions and even the occasional “have you found a job yet” question. To be honest, what can we expect as college graduates — to NOT hear those questions? I find it intriguing that people take an interest in seeing how the world’s future generations decide to use their degree. However, it can become frustrating for some college students who find it extremely difficult to find a job.

Let’s be honest: if I was struggling to find a job, I would not take the questions from others too lightly, but my co-worker and I thought about ways to answer the question without misleading people.

We wanted to be truthful so we would simply tell people that we DO NOT want to get in to a career right away.

I believe that when strangers, acquaintances, and even personal peers ask those questions, they expect to hear an answer of gold, where we would say that we found a job making $50,000 a year starting plus benefits. Well, it doesn’t necessarily work that way for everyone. If you guys remember my past blog, I did talk about how I was joining City Year AmeriCorps and doing service for one full school year. Sounds absurd for someone who could get a teaching job right away, right?


Like I stated previously, I wanted to enjoy a full year out of school and still gain some more experience before I officially take over a classroom. Besides, I still have more to learn. I also can agree with my co-worker’s answer that I don’t want to take on too much responsibility after having been in school since I was 4 years old.

The point is that college graduates had to go through 4+ years of school, and to hear the agonizing questions after graduation can fluster someone to start their life right away. We’re only 22/23 years old when we enter the real world, and I think that it should be okay to answer those “so what’s next” questions with a simple: “I just want to enjoy myself,” “I want to do service work,” or even “I want to get a career that I know I will enjoy.”

All I can say is that I am proud about being a City Year Corps member after college, and I know that once the school year passes by I will definitely know what is next.

On Family Feuds & Teacher Training

images (1)By Kenzie Kilb – My poor dad.

He’s always the odd man out: as literally the only man in the family, and by way of profession. He’s a financial advisor: he comes from a world of numbers and order and efficiency.

Then there’s the rest of us: my sister, an Elementary Education major at UW-Madison, my mother, an Adjunct Professor at Carroll University, and me, a graduate student in the Education Policy and Leadership program here at Marquette.

While as a family we share many core values and beliefs, when it comes to the topic of education…well, there are arguments. And snarky comments about Scott Walker (from both ends).

One topic that’s become particularly contentious is the debate regarding teacher training and evaluation.

For my dad, education should run like any other business, and the process is black and white. You’re either good at your job or you’re not; if you’re not you should be fired (or at least earn less money).

For those of us in the education field, we know there are complexities. And fortunately, these complexities are starting to be addressed through new methods and research. Last week, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote about a project at The University of Michigan School of Education that made two major proposals in terms of teacher evaluation: the first deals with the way teachers are observed in the classroom, and the second deals with measuring student growth in terms less restricted to standardized testing.

Most importantly, Nocera notes, the proposal avoids “divisive political language” by emphasizing the importance of using teacher evaluations as a means for feedback and improvement, rather than as a means of getting rid of bad teachers.

Ultimately, the proposal in Michigan didn’t pass. But, to me, it offers a hopeful indication that the national conversation might start to shift.

You can find the article here. The ideas are worth consideration– even my dad agreed with them.

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