Jan 18, 2018

Teacher Feature - Ms. Chapman

Inspired Teaching spoke with Fellow Richelle Chapman (’15) this September to learn about how she begins the school year an Inspired Teacher and 3rd grade teacher at Else Whitlow Stokes PCS.

What is the thing you look forward to most about starting a new school year? 

Getting to know the children! I love figuring out what type of personalities they have, and what they like to do; what they think is fun. I look forward to watching them grow and seeing how they grow throughout the year. I like forming relationships with people, so I enjoy getting to know my students better.

What is your favorite way to get to know your students?

In my class, we do a lot of activities so the students can express themselves. We do an “all about me” activity, where I get to know who my students are outside of how they relate to their peers. This is an individual assignment where they can just speak about whatever it is they want to speak about—and they can choose one part that they feel comfortable sharing with the class. This assignment gives them the chance to be honest. I learn what types of things make them sad, what they’re most excited about, what worries them. I learn about their family values and traditions; part of the assignment is to share what they don’t believe in – things like ghosts, the tooth fairy – so I get to know a lot about what their parents say to them when I broach these topics.

When students enter your classroom at the beginning of the year, what is the first thing you want them to know?

This is a place where they should feel comfortable sharing without someone making them feel bad for being honest about who they are. The first six weeks of the school year, while the curriculum is still growing, I take the opportunity to address any issues that come up in the classroom and put systems in place that allow students to share and have their voices heard. At the beginning of the year I stop the class for all behavioral issues to make sure it’s clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

How do you implement classroom norms as an Inspired Teacher?

By making sure that the student voice is the most important voice in the classroom – relying heavily on student as expert. The students create and vote on the classroom rules. And I ask them “how does that make you feel” and I constantly make sure they are given the tools to solve their own problems. I emphasize the importance of confidence, honesty, and integrity. When my students make norms, they often come up with things that surprise me- “its ok to make mistakes” “have fun.”

How do you view the role of changemaking in your classroom?

Ensuring that the classroom is a safe space for children to grow and be themselves, and holding them to the highest standard of behavior. I give them reasons for everything we do in the classroom so they understand why it’s relevant, and not that we’re doing something just because I’m in a role of power. They are human beings engaging with other human beings and they need to keep that in mind. They need to be careful with their words – they can hurt. They need to understand the weight of interacting with other human beings; it’s a huge responsibility.

How do you encourage and support yourself, as well as your students, to take risks in your classroom?

I think it is important to make sure the classroom is a safe place. To take risks, students must know that people won’t make fun of them, so I try not to be too critical. For myself, I try to be honest with them and talk about what I’m doing when I make a change. For example, last year I did not encourage students to share appreciation for their classmates for shares during morning meeting. This year I told my students that after reflecting, I thought it was important to show appreciation for our classmates when they share. Together, we came up with ways to show appreciation, like silent clapping, snapping, and golf-clapping. At the beginning of the year, it is necessary to set a certain standard in the classroom—I don’t need every system in place yet, but starting the year strong, the way I want to finish it, sets the standard for my students early.

Oct 25, 2017

Teacher Feature - Ms. Odom

Ms. Odom
Ms. Odom

This Fall, Inspired Teaching spoke with Inspired Teacher Leader Patricia Odom (’14) about how she establishes school-wide norms as an Inspired Teacher in her role as an Assistant Principal at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, DC’s only all-male public school.

The school year just started. What is your favorite part about the beginning of the year as an Assistant Principal?

One of my favorite parts about starting the year is the new students and the energy that they come with. Since I work with ninth-grade students, every year is a fresh start. The new students come with new attitudes and new ideas; it’s a new unknown and fresh energy for everybody. Every year is a chance to start over.

What does being an Inspired Teacher Leader mean to you?

I think in my role right now being an Inspired Teacher Leader provides me with the ability to impact more classrooms with the Inspired Teaching approach. I am responsible for coaching other teachers and having them reflect on how they are inspiring students. I push them to ask, “is this lesson joyful? Is it exciting and engaging? Is the student doing the work or am I?” I have those conversations with teachers in all of the classrooms that I work with.

As an Inspired Teacher Leader in your role, how do you establish school-wide norms from the start of the year?

Some norms I design with the teaching staff as a team. We talk about classroom expectations and some are aligned to school and district’s expectations. However, when we discuss our classrooms norms and practices, we focus on developing students’ conceptual understanding in math and science. Using the Inspired Teaching approach, I work with the teachers in those classrooms to help them come up with ways their students can connect the lessons to the real world. What the teachers and I talk about in planning, happens in the classroom. We focus on planning opportunities for students to collaborate, share and expand on their own learning and ideas, versus teacher-directed work. We focus on what an observer should hear, see, and feel in the classroom: It should sound like students having dialogue around the topic of study and the teacher facilitating and pushing their thinking. It should feel like productive struggle on the part of the student, struggle and success, while the teacher provides feedback in the moment.

What are you looking forward to this school year?

The Chancellor’s new strategic plan emphasizes social-emotional learning and joy in the classroom. This year, I’m looking forward to seeing that live here, in our space at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. We are a small enough staff and a tight enough team to make that a reality. I’m excited to put tangibles to the words of joy and social-emotional learning, and identify what that looks like in our classrooms—what joy in our classrooms looks like, sounds like, and what it feels like. I’m looking forward to seeing that come to life in this space.

Looking ahead towards the rest of the school year, what is one of the greatest things you hope to accomplish?

Since I work with ninth-grade, this year I’m really focused on promotion rate because promotion rate is a big deal for 9th grade academy. I’m looking forward to ensuring a 100% promotion to 10thgrade—last year we had 90%. That is one of my biggest goals. In reaching that goal, I’m also looking forward to providing the supports that students need when they are struggling and recognizing when a student may need extra support early enough to establish whatever intervention plans they may need.

Aug 1, 2017

Learning Through Discovery

(Photo credit: Brittney Oswald, Center for Inspired Teaching)

At age 16, I invented functions in math class. Functions didn’t look like f(x) to me; I didn’t even know the term “function.” Instead, “functions” looked like fountains. On the first day of class, my teacher walked in, his Einstein-like grey hair pointing in all directions. As students trickled in, he already had a slideshow of various fountains playing on the board and told us to observe them. Over the next four months, we examined how fountains work. We began as biologists, closely examining the cycle of water flow. Next we were architects as we decided how our fountains would look and how the water would flow. Finally, we were engineers as we practiced virtually designing what angle to position the faucet and how to scale a miniature model of our fountains.

I built and rebuilt models out of old shoeboxes and rulers. I discovered the relationship between the angle of spout and the arc of the water. I wrote an equation that would determine the angle of water for all fountains. I eagerly presented my equation to the class, convinced I would blow everyone away. Quickly, I learned the whole class had developed a similar equation as we all shared our reasoning. Our teacher smiled and pointed to our equations on the board. “What you have here,” he said, “is a function.” Maybe I wasn’t the original inventor of functions, but I felt the joy of discovering the equation like I was the first person who ever did. My confidence and excitement as a learner, which my inspired teachers cultivated at school, drew me to Center for Inspired Teaching.

The past summer I watched Inspired Teaching Fellows rediscover what it feels like to truly learn something on their own. As a part of the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, Fellows experience the kind of inquiry-based learning that they implement in their classrooms — the kind of learning that encourages students to ask why, to explore and discover.

Fellows tackled a problem they all know how to solve: 1/4 x 1/5. In unison, they called out the answer: 1/20. Fellows are then challenged even further: Why? The goal is not that Fellows, or their students, simply know the right answer; the goal is that Fellows will know how to find the right answer. In small groups and clusters, the pre-service teachers huddled around markers, graph paper, LEGO, blocks, and other materials on the carpet. They began to explore why 1/4 x 1/5 = 1/20. Fellows drew, discussed, built models, and created stories. One group even wrote a recipe to demonstrate and unpack the problem. After a while of grappling with their reasoning and asking, in a combination of curiosity and frustration, “Why does this work?,” Fellows came back together as a whole group to present their work.

One group said they decided to represent the problem in a way they all knew: food. “Imagine,” one Fellow explained as she stood by the whiteboard, “I was at a dinner party with one leftover pizza and I brought 1/4 home.” She drew a large pizza on the board and shaded in the eaten pieces. “When I got home,” she continued, “my family all wanted some, so I separated my portion of the pizza, one fourth, into 5 separate pieces.“ She continued to draw. “After my family members each took one fifth of the fourth of the pizza I had, in the end, I only had one twentieth of the whole pizza to eat for myself.” The cohort applauded her work and the next group presented their process. They had persevered through their curiosity and frustration, and wound up satisfied by their learning. The room, which was once filled with tension, was now full of joy. Instead of computing equations, they created explanations. Whether they used blocks, pizzas, stories, or graphs, each group discovered why and how the solution works.

When Fellows fully grasped and communicated the concepts underlying the multiplication of fractions – moving beyond mere memorization of the formula, perhaps for the first time –their faces lit up like mine did when I constructed an equation for my fountain. My time with Inspired Teaching has reinforced my belief that there is a profound difference between surface-level learning and learning through discovery. As I work with Inspired Teaching Fellows and hear stories from their classrooms, I am reminded of the joy of learning like a biologist, an architect, an engineer. Inspired Teachers bring joy and discovery into their classrooms every day. I’m hopeful for a world where every student gets to learn this way.

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