Brooklyn Rookye

An email yesterday from Andrew, one of the graduates of MATCH Teacher Residency:

I'm having a fantastic time at Achievement First Endeavor (a charter school in NYC; I blogged earlier about a sister school, Elm City Prep in New Haven). The school is incredibly focused on improving our culture and our literacy instruction. I have been running "Control the game" literature classes since the beginning of the year, but we just shifted as a school network to that model.

Pictured: the principal of that school, Tom Kaiser. Here is a NY Post article about it.

"Control the game" means teaching a book through having kids read-aloud, and the teacher intersperses questions, generally through cold-call.

It's always nice for a teacher when a move you're doing on your own happens to be adopted by the whole school, or his case, the whole network. It means you don't have to change what you're doing, but kids will be more familiar with the way you teach (because other teachers will reinforce the method).

The leadership team is taking small steps each week towards tightening up, too. We have weekly professional development sessions that are targeted and actionable. We watch a lot of videos of teachers in our own school that have tight transitions and strong routines so that we can borrow and norm.

Teachers tend to love watching video of other teachers in their own school. It's still rare. The cost is it's time-consuming to prepare the video. The benefit is it feels more "real" than watching random teachers from schools around the nation show "best practice."

Andrew is doing one simple thing that I encourage all teachers, but particularly rookies, to do:

I've been watching other people in my school teach. i try to sit in on one class for about five minutes everyday. I bring my grading into a room, so that I can watch and grade (while I notice little things in the classroom).

It has helped me a lot to see the little ways that teachers set the tone in a classroom and the small tricks that are procedural but that kids get a lot of joy from. I now have about 15 ways to instruct kids to put their pencils down after a quick stop-and-jot or independent work. Each method is quick and fun. The kids like how i changed it up each tim -- intentional variation of some routines has helped my classroom culture a lot.

I remember a philanthropist in Boston, Pam Trefler, describing her early days of student teaching at Dorchester High School. I may be getting this anecdote wrong, but the gist was for all the high-falutin' stuff she'd learned in Ed School, she described that nobody had showed her how to deal with...pencils.

The culture of the school was that many kids didn't bring pencils to class. And it stopped her class cold in the early days.

She ultimately settled on having a large supply of those stubby, uncomfortable "golf pencils." This created a balance between teaching responsibility (bring your own, to avoid being required to use a crappy pencil) and making sure kids could actually, you know, write stuff down.

It was amazing to have Laura (his coach from our teacher residency) visit me in NYC and give me some much needed feedback. One issue was advice about students raising their hands during independent practice; the other was how to analyze my questioning during the read-aloud by Bloom's Level, so that I can think about ratio and rigor.

Onward, rookie!

P.S. Evidently analyzing video of teaching isn't the only thing they do on professional development days. Andrew also sent me a YouTube clip of teachers from his school singing Bohemian Rhapsody...