Professional Communication

Professional communication involves a prompt response and appropriate language. Address the person by name and/or title and end with your name. Use formal sentence structure, mechanics, and grammar, and avoid text and slang language.

Generally, a professional response time is 1 business day (M-F). It is better to respond timely even if you do not have all requested information or answers. This lets the sender know you got the communication and will be following up more completely later.

Professionalism is one of the evaluation criteria during your student teaching placement.

High Leverage Practices

High-Leverage Practices

High-leverage practices are the basic fundamentals of teaching. These practices are used constantly and are critical to helping students learn important content. The high-leverage practices are also central to supporting students’ social and emotional development. These high-leverage practices are used across subject areas, grade levels, and contexts. They are “high-leverage” not only because they matter to student learning but because they are basic for advancing skill in teaching.

  1. Leading a group discussion

In a group discussion, the teacher and all of the students work on specific content together, using one another’s ideas as resources. The purposes of a discussion are to build collective knowledge and capability in relation to specific instructional goals and to allow students to practice listening, speaking, and interpreting. The teacher and a wide range of students contribute orally, listen actively, and respond to and learn from others’ contributions.

  1. Explaining and modeling content, practices, and strategies

Explaining and modeling are practices for making a wide variety of content, academic practices, and strategies explicit to students. Depending on the topic and the instructional purpose, teachers might rely on simple verbal explanations, sometimes with accompanying examples or representations. In teaching more complex academic practices and strategies, such as an algorithm for carrying out a mathematical operation or the use of metacognition to improve reading comprehension, teachers might choose a more elaborate kind of explanation that we are calling “modeling.” Modeling includes verbal explanation, but also thinking aloud and demonstrating.

  1. Eliciting and interpreting individual students’ thinking

Teachers pose questions or tasks that provoke or allow students to share their thinking about specific academic content in order to evaluate student understanding, guide instructional decisions, and surface ideas that will benefit other students. To do this effectively, a teacher draws out a student’s thinking through carefully-chosen questions and tasks and considers and checks alternative interpretations of the student’s ideas and methods.

  1. Diagnosing particular common patterns of student thinking and development in a subject-matter domain

Although there are important individual and cultural differences among students, there are also common patterns in the ways in which students think about and develop understanding and skill in relation to particular topics and problems. Teachers who are familiar with common patterns of student thinking and development and who are fluent in anticipating or identifying them are able to work more effectively and efficiently as they plan and implement instruction and evaluate student learning.

  1. Implementing norms and routines for classroom discourse and work

Each discipline has norms and routines that reflect the ways in which people in the field construct and share knowledge. These norms and routines vary across subjects but often include establishing hypotheses, providing evidence for claims, and showing one’s thinking in detail. Teaching students what they are, why they are important, and how to use them is crucial to building understanding and capability in a given subject. Teachers may use explicit explanation, modeling, and repeated practice to do this.

  1. Coordinating and adjusting instruction during a lesson

Teachers must take care to coordinate and adjust instruction during a lesson in order to maintain coherence, ensure that the lesson is responsive to students’ needs, and use time efficiently. This includes explicitly connecting parts of the lesson, managing transitions carefully, and making changes to the plan in response to student progress.

  1. Specifying and reinforcing productive student behavior

Clear expectations for student behavior and careful work on the teacher’s part to teach productive behavior to students, reward it, and strategically redirect off-task behavior help create classrooms that are productive learning environments for all. This practice includes not only skills for laying out classroom rules and managing truly disruptive behavior, but for recognizing the many ways that children might act when they actually are engaged and for teaching students how to interact with each other and the teacher while in class.

  1. Implementing organizational routines

Teachers implement routine ways of carrying out classroom tasks in order to maximize the time available for learning and minimize disruptions and distractions. They organize time, space, materials, and students strategically and deliberately teach students how to complete tasks such as lining up at the door, passing out papers, and asking to participate in class discussion. This can include demonstrating and rehearsing routines and maintaining them consistently.

  1. Setting up and managing small group work

Teachers use small group work when instructional goals call for in-depth interaction among students and in order to teach students to work collaboratively. To use groups effectively, teachers choose tasks that require and foster collaborative work, issue clear directions that permit groups to work semi-independently, and implement mechanisms for holding students accountable for both collective and individual learning. They use their own time strategically, deliberately choosing which groups to work with, when, and on what.

  1. Building respectful relationships with students

Teachers increase the likelihood that students will engage and persist in school when they establish positive, individual relationships with them. Techniques for doing this include greeting students positively every day, having frequent, brief, “check in” conversations with students to demonstrate care and interest, and following up with students who are experiencing difficult or special personal situations.

  1. Talking about a student with parents or other caregivers

Regular communication between teachers and parents/guardians supports student learning. Teachers communicate with parents to provide information about students’ academic progress, behavior, or development; to seek information and help; and to request parental involvement in school. These communications may take place in person, in writing, or over the phone. Productive communications are attentive to considerations of language and culture and designed to support parents and guardians in fostering their child’s success in and out of school.

  1. Learning about students’ cultural, religious, family, intellectual, and personal experiences and resources for use in instruction

Teachers must actively learn about their particular students in order to design instruction that will meet their needs. This includes being deliberate about trying to understand the cultural norms for communicating and collaborating that prevail in particular communities, how certain cultural and religious views affect what is considered appropriate in school, and the topics and issues that interest individual students and groups of students. It also means keeping track of what is happening in students’ personal lives so as to be able to respond appropriately when an out-of-school experience affects what is happening in school.

  1. Setting long- and short-term learning goals for students

Clear goals referenced to external standards help teachers ensure that all students learn expected content. Explicit goals help teachers to maintain coherent, purposeful, and equitable instruction over time. Setting effective goals involves analysis of student knowledge and skills in relation to established standards and careful efforts to establish and sequence interim benchmarks that will help ensure steady progress toward larger goals.

  1. Designing single lessons and sequences of lessons

Carefully-sequenced lessons help students develop deep understanding of content and sophisticated skills and practices. Teachers design and sequence lessons with an eye toward providing opportunities for student inquiry and discovery and include opportunities for students to practice and master foundational concepts and skills before moving on to more advanced ones. Effectively-sequenced lessons maintain a coherent focus while keeping students engaged; they also help students achieve appreciation of what they have learned.

  1. Checking student understanding during and at the conclusion of lessons

Teachers use a variety of informal but deliberate methods to assess what students are learning during and between lessons. These frequent checks provide information about students’ current level of competence and help the teacher adjust instruction during a single lesson or from one lesson to the next. They may include, for example, simple questioning, short performance tasks, or journal or notebook entries.

  1. Selecting and designing formal assessments of student learning

Effective summative assessments provide teachers with rich information about what students have learned and where they are struggling in relation to specific learning goals. In composing and selecting assessments, teachers consider validity, fairness, and efficiency. Effective summative assessments provide both students and teachers with useful information and help teachers evaluate and design further instruction.

  1. Interpreting the results of student work, including routine assignments, quizzes, tests, projects, and standardized assessments

Student work is the most important source of information about the effectiveness of instruction. Teachers must analyze student productions, including assessments of all kinds, looking for patterns that will guide their efforts to assist specific students and the class as a whole and inform future instruction.

  1. Providing oral and written feedback to students

Effective feedback helps focus students’ attention on specific qualities of their work; it highlights areas needing improvement; and delineates ways to improve. Good feedback is specific, not overwhelming in scope, and focused on the academic task, and supports students’ perceptions of their own capability. Giving skillful feedback requires the teacher to make strategic choices about the frequency, method, and content of feedback and to communicate in ways that are understandable by students.

  1. Analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it

Learning to teach is an ongoing process that requires regular analysis of instruction and its effectiveness. Teachers study their own teaching and that of their colleagues in order to improve their understanding of the complex interactions between teachers, students, and content and of the impact of particular instructional approaches.  Analyzing instruction may take place individually or collectively and involves identifying salient features of the instruction and making reasoned hypotheses for how to improve.

Week 16: The Curse of Knowledge, part 2

4. Narratives

Everyone loves a great story because our ancestral past was full of them. Stories were the dominant medium to transmit information. They rely on our innate narcissistic self to be effective learning tools — we enjoy stories because we immediately inject ourselves into the story, considering our own actions and behavior when placed in the situations being described. This is how we mentally make connections, and if students are listening to a story interlaced with content, they’re more likely to connect with the ideas. So connecting with content through a story is at the heart of learning and can help alleviate the stress associated with the Curse of Knowledge.

5. Analogies and Examples

An analogy is a comparison of different things that are governed by the same underlying principles. If understanding a process is what we’re after, looking at the result of the process proves informative. An analogy compares two unlike things by investigating a similar process that produces both. Said differently, an analogy highlights a connection, and forming connections is at the core of learning.

Whereas an analogy compares similar processes that result in different products, an example highlights different processes that result in similar products. Copious use of examples forces the brain to scan its knowledge inventory, making desirable connections as it scans. So learning is easier when analogies and examples are used to facilitate mental connections.

6. Novelty

New challenges ignite the risk-reward dopamine system in our brains. Novel activities are interesting because dopamine makes us feel accomplished after succeeding. Something that is novel is interesting, and something interesting is learned more easily because it is attended to. So emphasis on the new and exciting aspects of your content could trip the risk-reward system and facilitate learning.

7. Teach Facts

Conceptual knowledge in the form of facts is the scaffolding for the synthesis of new ideas. In other words, you cannot make new ideas without having old ideas. Disseminating facts as the only means to educate your students is wrong and not encouraged. However, awareness that background knowledge is important to the creation of new ideas is vital for improving instruction. Prior knowledge acts as anchors for new incoming stimuli. When reflecting on the ability of analogies and examples to facilitate connections, it is important to remember that the connections need to be made to already existing knowledge. So providing your students with background knowledge is a prerequisite in forming connections and can make their learning easier.

Making It Easier

By incorporating facts, highlighting novelty, liberally utilizing examples and analogies, cycling our content, telling content-related stories, making our lesson multi-sensory, and harnessing the power of emotion, we can make learning easier for our students.

Further resources: The Curse of Knowledge has been variously described in articles by Chip and Dan Heath, Carmen Nobel, and Steven Pinker, and also in books such as The Sense of Style and Made to Stick. It has been applied to a variety of domains: child development, economics, and technology are just a few.

Week 15: The Curse of Knowledge, part 1

The Curse of Knowledge: When you suffer from the curse of knowledge you assume that other people know the things that you do, and this cognitive bias causes you to believe that people understand you a lot better than they really do. A strong base of content knowledge makes us blind to the lengthy process of acquiring it. Implications for teachers:

  • We do not remember what it is like to not know what we are trying to teach.
  • We cannot relive the difficult and lengthy process that learning our content originally took.

We assume that our lesson’s content is easy, clear, and straightforward. We assume that connections are apparent and will be made effortlessly. Assumptions are the root cause of poor instruction. And acknowledgment is the first step to recovery!

Lifting the Curse: 7 Steps

1. Emotion

Barbara Fredrickson, a champion in the field of positive psychology, has studied the effects of mild positive emotions on desired cognitive traits like attentiveness and ability to creatively solve problems. In what she coined the broaden-and-build theory, Fredrickson found that pleasant and mild emotional arousal before experiencing content leads to greater retention. A quick joke or humorous movie can serve as the positive emotional stimulant. So learning is easier and the Curse of Knowledge is potentially circumnavigated when injecting a bit of emotion into your lesson.

2. Multi-Sensory Lessons

Though Howard Gardner’s influential work states that we each have a preferred learning modality, new research highlights the fact that effective lessons need not be unisensory (only kinesthetic, only auditory, etc.) but multi-sensory. Multi-sensory experiences activate and ignite more of the brain, leading to greater retention. So use a multisensory approach in your lessons to make learning easier.

3. Spacing

Blocked practice is ancient and is no longer considered best practice. An example of blocked practice is cramming. Though it feels like learning, blocked practice results in learning that is shallow, and the connections quickly fade. The preferred alternative is the opposite of blocked practice: spaced practice.

Exposing yourself to content and requiring your brain to recall previously learned concepts at spaced intervals (hours, days, weeks, or months) makes the content sticky and results in deeper retention with solid neural connections. As spaced practice is the way that you learned the content you teach, it makes sense to employ the same technique with your students. So thinking of your content as a cycle that is frequently revisited makes learning easier for your students while helping alleviate the curse.

For more information on spacing content, check out Make It Stick or 3 Things Experts Say Make A Perfect Study Session.

Week 14: Reflections & Resources

  1. *Reflection: You are finished! Aren’t you? By now you realized that as teachers, we are never really finished. Just like our students, we learn every day, every week from our kids and from each other. As you embark on your exciting new teaching venture here are a couple of one-stop-shop resources and a go-to for brain-based learning, I hope will assist you in your future teaching situations. Remember you are a force for good in children’s lives, and you will be good! And HAVE FUN!

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”  ~ Phil Collins

  1. *Reflection: A Final Reflection: As you journey on your professional path, remember to take initiative! Seek out your own solutions to problems, make your needs known, communicate with admin. and co-workers, and ask for the support you need. Practice self-directed learning. Take risks. Be your own advocate. Take credit that is due you, toot your own horn, own your successes. You are skilled teachers and deserve respect and acknowledgement. It’s been a pleasure!

“Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.”  ~ Unknown

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or dehumanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”   ~ Haim G. Ginott

Week 13: Reflections & Resources

  1. *Reflection: You will fail and succeed. Master teachers. Veteran teachers. Novice teachers. We all have fails. You are innovating and creating – often from scratch – ways to reach and teach children every day. This is an enormously hard and challenging task. Every day when you show up, demonstrate vulnerability and risk taking, you are modeling the methods of success for children. You will have fails, and then you will reflect on that, and then you will try again a different way, and attain successes. *Tip: As you reflect regularly on your teaching craft, consider surveying the customers! Use SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, exit slips, etc., to gather student feedback and input. ~ “There is no innovation and creativity without failure” ~ Brené Brown

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”  ~ Aristotle

  1. *Reflection: What do Master Teachers have to say about it? Local Teachers of the Year all have similar philosophies: They help students believe in themselves; … know the importance of being flexible and adapting; they view themselves as students eager to continue their professional growth and discover ideas. Great teachers … “wear many hats, want to hear students’ voices and believe those voices have value, balance Tradition with Innovation, ‘sell it’, and are ‘real’ with students.” What Master Teacher habits and High-Leverage practices will you develop?

“Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself.”   ~ Virginia Woolf

  1. *Reflection: Find a Mentor. You have the benefit of recent educational training in current teaching practices and philosophy. Veteran teachers have the wisdom of experience with children, tried and true methods for connecting with and reaching them; and know that until you reach them, you cannot teach them. You will benefit greatly from finding such a mentor at your school. Look for the teacher who practices open door policy with students during recess and lunch (they always have kids in their room), who offers after school help, who is involved with school-wide events and projects, and who practices self-reflection and attends Professional Developments to stay on top of new ideas and research. This is the teacher who is truly invested in students.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is bitterest.”  ~ Confucius

Week 12: Reflections & Resources

  1. *Reflection: A word on your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. I am hearing more frequently from Administrators and HR personnel: they are doing an online media search on employment candidates. That means those fun photos from that Cabo party weekend, or the angry rant you posted about a co-worker could disqualify you before you even get your foot in the door. Check your privacy settings, including the tagging trail from friends’ sites, and look over your own messaging/posting trail. On the plus side, begin building an online professional profile: follow professional organizations and educational blogs, post and comment in professional forums, add links and connections that show your active involvement in professional development and keeping current with educational trends. That may be the point that tips in your favor!
  1. *Reflection: This is harder than I thought. By now you have glimpsed some of the joys, and also some of the challenges in the teaching profession. We teach because we want to inspire children. It can be hard when we do not see the fruits of our labors right away, or maybe ever with some kids. But you never know what blooms will emerge, maybe years later, from the seeds you plant today, so take heart! You are doing amazing and profound work with children, who may carry your influences places you never dreamed of. You never know how far your influence to inspire may reach!

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” ~ Malala Yousafzai