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Monday, April 1, 2013

You Are the Defense Attorney

Teaching in the twenty-first century is demanding. Although it may sound cynical, I believe that our profession has been deemed "guilty until proven innocent."

"Guilty of what?" you might ask. Incompetence. Public perception of our profession has taken a negative turn in the past decade or so. And everyone knows that perception is reality.

With that said, let's get on to what can be done to counteract this trend. Each teacher must become his or her own defense attorney.
  1. Look at the standards by which you will be judged. Get a copy of your state or local criteria and become familiar with it.
  2. Think long and hard about what you have done to prove that you have achieved those standards. 
  3. Compile all of the evidence and submit it to the jury. Or, oops, I mean your administrator.
As detailed in the website Teachers RISE Above, you can gather documents, data, reflections, and more to prove your own competency. I would like to go on record, however, by saying that spending too much time on this pursuit can actually damage your teaching. If you are spending more time worrying about your evaluation than teaching your students, there's a problem.

How can we strike a balance? In my opinion, the best hard evidence of your teaching is your cache of lesson plans. Spending time on lesson planning will not only prove your competence, it will also make you a more competent teacher.

This week I worked on a lesson plan for my next long evaluation. I studied the competencies in the Indiana RISE document to see what was expected. Two domains, Planning and Instruction, will be assessed. That's fourteen separate competencies. It seemed overwhelming at first, but then I noticed that some criteria were mentioned again and again. That allowed me to shrink the list into something more manageable:

Domain 1: Planning
  • Write assessments based on the standards. Work backward to create meaningful lessons based on specific objectives that directly correlate with the assessments.
  • Differentiate instruction.
  • Use multiple data points, including formative assessment, to guide instructional decisions.
This tells me that I must write a standards-based assessment and create multiple lesson plans to support it. This unit of study must demonstrate how instruction will be differentiated (for students who are struggling, as well as those who have already mastered the material). Showing how data led me to develop this lesson, as well as how formative assessment will guide decision-making as the lesson progresses, is critical.

Domain 2: Instruction
  • Present a focused, well organized lesson that includes connection to prior knowledge; concise, meaningful, rigorous instruction; practice and application of new skill; and additional learning opportunities, such as homework or extra credit. Include multiple delivery methods, including collaboration and technology.
  • Engage all students through dynamic, active instruction, as well as open-ended and higher order questioning.
In addition to the objective, differentiation, and checks for understanding needed to fulfill Domain 1, my lesson plan should include a "hook" that connects with students' prior knowledge, direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice, and some sort of extension. I need to use technology during instruction, and students should spend some time in pairs or groups. The lesson must be dynamic in nature, and questions must be developed in advance.

In other words, the lesson planned for a formal evaluation must be one of the best lessons I've ever created. It should not be just any old lesson. It is something special, chosen for this occasion. Because my administrator cannot be in the classroom seeing me teach every day, I need to show everything I've got on that one day.

In my next blog, we'll take a look at the lesson I chose to teach for my evaluation.