After my last blog about PLCs, I had a couple comments asking what they were and how we did them successfully.  So first off PLC stands for Professional Learning Community.  Basically meeting in teams according to subject, department, and grade level.  We meet once a week and it rotates each week, but we meet as a subject team the most often. 

What we do:

As a subject team we plan curriculum, develop common assessments, analyze student results, make goals to improve student learning.

As a department we set department goals, report on student learning, discuss and plan new strategies.

As a grade level team we only meet once at the end of the quarter and once at mid terms.  We discuss students that are struggling and ways we can best help them.  This team has been so successful this year that the local universities are trying to figure out what we are doing.

For this to be successful the teachers HAVE to buy into it.  I think that you also have to have teachers that really care about students, not just the lip service but really willing to put in the extra work to help students succeed.  PLCs are a great tool in helping all the students in your classes succeed by using your colleagues expertise to ensure all students learn.
Collaboration seems to be the buzz word of education these days.  My school has been meeting in PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) now for a few years and it has been a huge success.  The way our school collaborates got noticed by the district and now all the secondary schools are trying to mimic the way we are doing things.  The funny thing is that my friends in the other schools hate PLCs.  They say they are a huge waist of time at their schools.  I wonder what the difference is?

Maybe because we were the "experiment" we were more willing to try something new.  Could the real question be, is change really that hard to except?  Or are some teachers so stuck in their rut that they fear a new idea that could improve the way they teach because it would require more work.  Maybe I'm weird, but any work to improve student achievement is well worth it to me.  Besides that, working so closely with my colleagues on our instruction and creating common assessments to help us better understand what methods work best makes my job easier.

So I guess my plea is that we embrace change so long as it improves student learning, no matter how much work it entails.  The more of us that embrace new ideas and programs, the more of our colleagues will follow suite.
There, I've come clean.  I am out of the closet. I am a coach, and I believe that coaches can be the best teachers.  Coaches are usually stereotyped as poor teachers, lazy teachers, and don't care much (except for their team).  I beg to differ.  My experience with coaches has born out quite the opposite.  The coaches at the schools I went to were some of the best teachers I ever had, and the coaches at the school I am at are some of the best teachers I have ever observed.

Successful coaching skills are also the same skills that make successful teachers.  For example, a successful coach must be able to motivate their players.  Isn't that one of the largest obstacles in teaching, motivating students?  Also, coaches,  if they want to be successful, must be able to relate with their players.  Coaches need to be able to make things easily understood.  Coaches need to have an ability to prepare and then be able to change the plan when it isn't working.  This sounds a lot like what a successful teacher needs to be able to do.

When I tell people that I coach I get so tired of the response they give, "Oh, so you teach so you can coach."  NO!! I coach so I can teach.  I teach Geography. I teach History. I teach Basketball.  I am a teacher, but aren't all teachers really coaches.  We are all coaching our kids to succeed at various subjects.

Sometimes I wonder what my kids tell their parents.  I had the craziest phone call of my teaching career the other day.  This parent called me during class (which was weird enough) and was yelling at me for teaching her son Muslim prayers.  I obviously didn't want to talk to her during class so I said I would call her back during the break.  So during the class break I went down to the office so I could have a private phone and called her back.  Immediately I knew that she was ignorant about Muslims because she was ranting about how they are all terrorists and how she didn't think that her freshman should be learning about them much less reciting prayers.  I had to explain to her that we never recited any Muslim prayer (just taught them the Muslim Creed) and that yes indeed I thought it was important to teach my students the basic fundamentals of all major world religions.  She couldn't grasp the fact that all Muslims weren't terrorist or that they share many of her Christian beliefs.

Anyway, back to the original point, apparently her son had told her we were recited Muslim prayers.  This obviously was not happening.  However, it makes me wonder what do my students tell their parents about what they learn in class.
Due to a debate that broke out in response to my last blog, No Teacher Left Behind, I really started to think about the points being made on both sides.  I came to the conclusion that teachers, like everyone else in the world, get stuck doing lots of good things.  Often we get stuck doing too many good things.  We get bogged down with good things.  We have so many good things going on, that we don't really see that there might be better things to do with our time.

I got this idea of good, better, best from one of my religious leaders and really it applies to everyone, especially teachers.  I think that every teacher can agree that the most important aspect of teaching is actually teaching kids.  That is what they pay us to do.  So maybe as we weigh all the things we have to do in a day we can ask ourselves, "is this the best thing I could be doing to help my students learn?"  There are all kinds of good things teachers can get caught up in doing, there are even lots of better things we could be doing, but shouldn't we always be trying to do the best things for our students.  I know that I am not giving specific examples, but that is because every teacher should weigh what the best things for their students are.  My better and best practices will be different from every other teacher.

I am sorry that I have become so preachy in my last couple of blogs, but since I'm preaching I want to say please don't get left behind doing good things for your students.  Try to find the better and best things you could be doing for your students, and then you won't be the teacher left behind.
I know that I am talking to the wrong group here, but I just hate teachers who run from learning.  Let me explain, I saw an ad for some technology training called no teacher left behind and it got me thinking about some of my colleagues who refuse to learn new things.  They are "teachers being left behind."

Allow me to vent for a second.  The biggest problem with students today in my opinion is apathy.  That is also the biggest problem with teachers, I call it stuck-in-a-rutness.  So many teachers get stuck in a rut and don't even care.  They refuse to try new things, learn new things, and do hard things.  How can a teacher expect students to try, learn, or put forth effort if they suffer from stuck-in-a-rutness?  These are teachers being left behind.

I get so annoyed by teachers who don't know a thing about computers, or any other technology for that matter.  If we are trying to excite kids about learning then shouldn't we try to use the mediums that they are already excited about?  Use computers, music, blogs, and (heaven forbid) ipods.  Do anything to help excite a kid about your subject.  Isn't that why we teach?  For the kids.

Don't be left behind, do something new.  Learn something new.  Maybe, just maybe, try something hard.
As election season is starting to heat up more and more empty promises of "fixing education" are being brought up by politicians and the media.  I get so tired of the same old story, "our public schools are failing! Look at Japan or Germany, we can not fall behind."  Empty promises follow or useless legislation like No Child Left Behind laws that actually hurt schools more than help them.  What would it take for politicians to actually do something useful for education?

I look at the leaders of our country and they are for the most part highly educated, smart people.  They have endless resources to them and on occasion can get things done in a hurry.  I look at this big stock market bailout the government is getting pushed through and wonder if it is really impossible to focus a little on the education of our children.  I'm not talking about giving education some more lip service, it gets plenty of that, but doing some real research to figure out what kinds of things would improve education and then doing it.

I'm not the kind of person that complains without possible solutions, so here are a few things that a little government push could really help:
Class size: we need more schools and more teachers.  This would cost a lot of money but would go a long ways toward fixing the problems.
Better Teachers: it hurts to say this but my teacher training at the university I went to was really lacking.  I learned more from a good mentor teacher in one day than in two and a half years of classes. 
Higher pay for teachers: of course I would like this, but I think with higher pay the job market would become more competitive.  Thus only the best teachers get jobs.  I know many people who say they would like to teach but can't live off the pay, so they do something else.

I know those aren't original thoughts or anything, but sometimes the obvious is what the government needs.  Maybe it is time to focus on something that will help our country in the long run like educating our children instead of bailing our companies that were involved in stupid business practices like giving out sub-prime loans.  I don't know, just a thought.
My biggest fear as a new teacher was classroom management.  I teach possibly the most difficult age of students, 14 year olds.  All I could think of the summer before I started teaching was how to keep them in line.  I would ask anyone and everyone for advice and I got all kinds of responses some good and some bad.  "Don't ever give them an inch they'll take a mile."  "Don't smile until Christmas."  "Firm, Fair, and Friendly."  "Just be just." 

I found that some of that advice is pretty good and some of it lousy, but the best advice that anyone gave me about classroom management was to just be yourself.  Let the students see that you are a person, as if they can't just look and see, but all they see is a teacher not a person teaching.  Laugh, get serious, be excited, and most of all be interested in them and the things that they are interested in.  I went to plays, tennis matches, band concerts, sewing competitions, and football games.  Then I read the Fablehaven series and the Twilight series.  I followed the NBA, NFL, MLB, and College Football.  Then most importantly I took time to talk to students about what they were interested in. 

That plan, right there, solved all behavior problems in my classes.  If anyone acted up other students would tell them to knock it off.  Because I cared about them and let them see it, they cared about me and what I had to teach them.

It worked for me, but I know there is no one-way-fits-all program.  What works for you?  I love to hear other people's methods so that they can help me improve mine.
Every teacher has one, a secret curriculum.  Do you know yours?

As I was driving with a teacher friend to a summer workshop, he asked me if I knew what my secret curriculum was.  I didn't even know what he was talking about.  He explained that every teacher has a secret curriculum that they want their students to learn, some teachers know their secret and others either don't know or don't realize they have one.  Often the secret curriculum is what the student will remember from the class for years to come.  He explained that some teachers secret curriculum is to teach students to sit still, or some teachers teach responsibility, others focus on hard work.  I asked him what his was and he told me that he wanted all of his students to learn to be their best at everything and to smile and enjoy the journey.  He laces this secret curriculum in everything that he teaches.

Thinking back to my days of school I realized that he is definitely right, all teachers have a secret curriculum.  There was the one who taught focus, then several taught reponsibility, plenty taught silence, some taught apathy, a few taught dedication, and one taught me to think for myself.  The secret lessons that teachers taught me are all that I remember from many of their classes. 

Of course this conversation has been burning up my thoughts as I try to figure out my secret curriculum.  Is mine to care for others, is it to have fun learning, to chase your dreams, is it hard work, reponsibility, to be all you can, to think...I don't know yet.  After just one year teaching I don't think that I have it nailed down yet. 
I have been thinking about how to reach my students better, and I am looking for ideas using technology.  I believe that the people reading these blogs would be the technology savvy people and would be the best suited to give advice on the topic.  So here is the question, in which ways do you use technology to reach your students? 

The one thing that I have done that works great is I make test review podcasts.  The students love them, it gives them an excuse to listen to their i pod plus they are studying.  The nice thing for me is that they are really easy to make.  All you need to do is download a podcast recording program (there are several free ones), buy a little $10 microphone for your computer, and you are good to go.

I have also been trying to think of some good ideas on how to use a blog with my students but I haven't come up with any real useful ideas. 

If anyone has some good ideas on using blogs or other forms of technology in the classroom let me know. 
Say What!?  That's right, driving home last night someone called a local talk radio show and said, "those who can't do, teach."  I had never heard that before, but when I got home and told my wife, she said that it was a common saying.  Obviously, whoever said that is still holding a grudge against their 11th grade English teacher who failed them.  Teachers are doers, they do some of just about everything. 

As I was tossing that statement around in my head last night, I started comparing other professions to teaching.  For example, a teacher is the owner of a small business.  Their classroom is a business and their students are their employees.  If they can't motivate them to do their work then the business goes under, in other words, students fail and the teacher gets put on the street.

Teachers are in sales.  They have to sell a lesson objective to 240+ students everyday.  If the students don't buy into the lesson they fail, the teacher didn't make the sale and so they also failed.  Just a thought, ask any salesperson if they want to pitch a sale to a room of 14-15 year olds that don't really like what you are selling.

Teachers are performers.  They put on several shows a day that have to spark the audience's attention or they are out of a job.  Not only are they the star of the show, they write, produce, and direct it also.

Teachers are into psychology and sociology.  They have to research and write.  They also have to take and make phone calls, file, read and edit papers.  Teachers are managers, leaders, planners, and examples. 

Hmm, it seems to me that a good teacher could succeed at most any profession.  Maybe those that can do--teach.
Ever since I decided to become a teacher people have been asking me what kind of teacher I am going to be; the mean teacher that doesn't let anyone talk, the easy teacher who lets kids do what they want, the coach who passes out a worksheet and then sits at his desk and does who knows what, etc.  I really don't like teacher stereotypes because rarely did anyone ask me if I was going to be the teacher that puts in extra hours, that comes up with engaging new lessons, that connects with his students, that students look forward to coming to class to see what's next.  The comment that bugged me the most is when I would tell someone that I am a coach, and they would say, "oh, your one of those teachers."  That always make my blood boil.  Aren't the best teachers just coaching their students?  So if good coaches apply coaching skills to their classroom it will make them better teachers (a blog topic for another day).

Now that being said I was at a teacher workshop at the University of Utah a couple of weeks ago and sure enough I saw a bunch of teacher stereotypes in the group of about 20 teachers.

Coach- sits in the back and watches game film on laptop.
Smart Guy- wants to make sure that everyone in the room knows that he is smarter than the professor.
Clueless Lady- wants to be like the above guy, but just proves that he is the most clueless in the room.
Complainer Lady- has too tight curls in her hair that complains about everything to do with teaching, and hates her students (time to retire was 10 years ago).
Textbook Guy- says when asked if he wanted supplemental readings on the topic, "no, the text book is good enough for my class."
Just doing my time Guy- Playing video games on laptop in the back of the room.
Pervert Guy- sits next to the youngest most attractive lady in room and hits on her.
The Mediator Lady- the one who shoots down clueless guy and smart guy for too many comments, and gives just doing my time guy and coach dirty looks (and you know she could kick your butt if you said anything otherwise).

I try not to fit into people's negative perceptions of what teachers are, however, I am not so blind to see why they have these perceptions.  It makes me mad that people generally stereotype teachers negatively, but when your a good one you are the exception.  At my school I have been impressed with our teachers, and I was beginning to think that the perceptions were wrong, then I went to the workshop and now I wonder.
I haven't been a teacher for long but one thing that I realized quite quickly was that I am now a celebrity. Everywhere I go I now have my own little following that could pop up at any time. I realize that as I teach for a longer time the following is just going to get bigger. Everywhere I go will be "hey Mr. Rowley," or "hey Coach," or my favorite "what are you doing here?"

You know you look at different professions and some make you celebrities while most don't. In one's job one deals with maybe 30 different people on a personal level on a daily basis (that's being generous). In my job I deal with 240+ on a daily basis, and every year I get a new 240+. That is not even taking into consideration that 240+'s parents that I deal with periodically through out the year. Just say I have 240 students times 1.5 parents (you don't always meet or deal with both) times 30 years in this area and I will be known by about 18,000 people. That doesn't include co-workers and other teachers/coaches from other schools that I get to know.

Professional Athlete= Celebrity
Movie Star= Celebrity
Teacher= Celebrity

Most kids dream of growing up to be rich and famous, well, half of that is the reality of a teacher, too bad its not the rich one. Eat your heart out Brittney Spears, I got famous without selling my soul.
Since this is my first post on this blog, maybe I should introduce myself a little bit. I am about to start my second year teaching World History and World Geography in a very affluent part of Utah. My kids are so rich that when I talk about any part Read More...