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Finding Focus

dalai-lama-i-find-hope-in-the-darkest-of-days-and-focus-in-the-brightest

Celebrations, ceremonies, and assemblies crowd the months of May and June.  It should be a time for educators to celebrate a year of learning and growth.  But sometimes it’s not.  As a former teacher, parent and TeachCycle coach, each year I reluctantly stumble across the school finish line. Why is it so hard to celebrate as we culminate a year of hard work?  Could it be that as the school year ends everything seems important and it is difficult to find focus?

This May I was determined to find focus.  How could I use my experience coaching TeachCycle teams of teachers to focus and engage in my own fast cycle learning? You see, as the school year fades into the dark days of May and June what has always seemed hard (getting my kids ready for school on time), seems impossible.  My mornings are filled with treasure hunts for sneakers, my incessant nagging of “I’m leaving without you” which doesn’t fool anyone to full on sprints back to the house to retrieve the book report, baseball glove, and favorite pet. It is an endless whirlwind of chaos and stress that I want to stop.  My challenge is nothing truly earth shattering. Simply, how can I support my kids to get ready for school on time?

So, one fine crazy May morning, I tracked how many minutes it took us to get ready for school, mad dash and all.  Then I set a goal to reduce that time by ten minutes.  The first strategy I implemented was using a timer to see if the kids could get dressed in three minutes.  Guess what?  It worked.  PJs in the hamper, clothes on and ready to go in two minutes flat.  My next strategy is to have the kids organize their backpacks before bed. If this strategy doesn’t work, I will try a different one or differentiate my strategies because what motivates my son to get moving won’t always work for my daughter.  My hope is that a more peaceful morning exit will lead to more time to celebrate this school year and perhaps give us a better start to next year.

So, how can teachers use TeachCycle to survive the school year with a little less stress? Here’s an example.  A middle school TeachCycle team discussed this student need:  the sea of raised hands and blank faces after introducing a research project.  They wondered how they could support students to ask more specific and purposeful questions? So, one fine crazy morning they started the TeachCycle process.  They simply asked the students to share questions about the upcoming project. The data revealed that more than fifty percent of their students needed support to ask better questions.  The next step was to support more students to ask quality questions. They modeled and gave specific feedback to the questions that students were asking as the worked on the project.  Each time they implemented a new strategy, they measured student progress.  Sometimes the strategies they implemented were effective and sometimes they weren’t but the team continued to iterate and find out what worked best for their students.

This is why BetterLesson launched TeachCycle; we want to bring continuous improvement cycles within reach by supporting teams of teachers:

  1. To identify challenges based on student needs,
  2. Pick simple ways to measure progress
  3. Try new strategies to see what works!

We know supporting students to ask better questions is a small win in May but this team and others like them find great value in focusing intently on something small but high leverage. If you are interested in supporting your students to ask better questions, check out these BetterLesson resources and strategies (strategy 2) or if you are searching for some amazing and engaging  ways to end of the year, take a look at these lessons,!  Either way, try and spend a few minutes focusing on all the learning you supported this year.  Teachers are amazing and you deserve to celebrate before July!

We’re Hiring a Blended Learning Instructional Coach!

Job Summary:  

Full-time opening in our sunny Cambridge, MA office for an individual who has been a successful teacher in a blended environment, strategically using technologies to personalize learning for students. Ideally, you’ve seen the power of Blended approaches to give students more control over their learning and allow teachers to focus their use of time and energy.

You will join the BL team to coach other blended teachers who want to improve their practice through TeachCycle. TeachCycle brings “lean start-up” principles to teacher learning by engaging school-based teacher teams in structured experimentation to address rich problems of practice. It’s awesome and if you’re awesome you should apply.

Role includes:

  • working closely with our TeachCycle design team as we engage in our own structured experimentation and iteration of our company model
  • virtually coaching teams of 3-6 blended learning teachers across the country as they engage in TeachCycle
  • collaborating with our Blended Master Teacher Project team to support Blended Master Teachers in creating content
  • Identifying strategies from our Master Teacher Projects to be used by teacher teams engaged in TeachCycle

You should:

  • have experience as a blended classroom teacher
  • love learning from and supporting K-12 blended teachers
  • be a skillful facilitator of adult learning
  • understand and follow the latest trends in teaching and learning, especially all things blended
  • be psyched to geek out with other adult learners about blended learning
  • be reflective about your practice and actively seek feedback for improvement
  • produce compelling verbal and written communication
  • be a self-directed, diligent teammate with 5+ years teaching/coaching experience
  • get along well with others and work calmly in a fast-paced startup environment :)

We offer:

  • Opportunity to work with an awesome team to solve important problems
  • Competitive salary
  • Health benefits
  • Generous equity
  • Great office near Porter Square
  • Many permutations of high quality dark chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit
  • Flexible schedule and vacation policy
  • Fun/weird/weirdly fun weekly team get-togethers
  • Chance to spend every day improving the lives of teachers and students

If this gets you fired up, come help us support teachers in taking charge of their professional learning. You know you want to. Apply here.

As always, BetterLesson is committed to maximizing the diversity of our organization. We are an equal opportunity employer and seek individuals of all backgrounds to apply to this position. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.

Daily Data: How TeachCycle is Different

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Data. It may be one of the most controversial buzzwords in education, but can small data inform and enable targeted, meaningful changes in practice?

Even as a self-proclaimed math geek (…and one who loves data and numbers), there was indeed a time when I stressed about student data and the pressure often associated with it.

While big data from district benchmarks and summative assessments are important, teachers can’t always translate it into the classroom in an easy, concrete way. Small data, however, is immediately actionable. So, read on to find out more!

Thankfully, data is so much more than an end of unit assessment or a district testing score. Our teaching is about more than a single test, and our data should reflect that. Data should be about the teaching that occurs every single day, and the impact that intentional, informed instruction has on students’ mastery of skills. For example, did more of my students build off of one another’s ideas in class discussion today after I tried that new, “Silent Discussion” strategy?*

Data’s a lot friendlier if it’s about something concrete and immediately important to us and our students.

As educators, we all want what is best for our students. And, put simply, small data can  help us learn what works best for our students as quickly as possible. That’s why BetterLesson launched TeachCycle; we want to bring continuous improvement cycles within reach by supporting teams of teachers to:

  1. Identify a Teaching Challenge, based on key areas of pressing student growth.
  2. Pick a simple, intuitive way to measure progress (small data FTW!).
  3. Try new strategies, and see what works!

As a math TeachCycle coach, I’ve worked with inspiring teacher teams to use small data in their daily lessons — and what a powerful impact we’ve seen! Take my middle school math team for example. We’ve been focused on helping students stay on task and make meaningful contributions to their group discussions. Teachers each focus on a slightly different metric, for example: what % of my students can make one or more meaningful contributions to the group. The team discussed and defined meaningful, and then we set off to try some strategies with students to see how we could support more students to meaningfully contribute to a group discussion. This team implemented a “Participation Rubric” and “Group Roles,” and it’s been so awesome to see the number of students who made one or more meaningful contributions to the group increase each week. The teachers bravely narrow their focus, and “go small” in order to get some pretty cool, powerfully-big results. The team was thrilled with the results, but they were even more excited to see how quickly the students’ engagement in group discussions changed with the implementation of such an easy strategy. Now that the expectations for group discussions are more clear,  the team feels like group work is running more smoothly.

In TeachCycle, you get frequent, small data about which strategies best support your students’ learning. And as a teacher myself, I cannot count the number of times I thought I had implemented the best strategy to support my students understanding of a skill or skills only to be shocked at the results of the end of unit assessment. The power of small data, is that you are able to quickly determine if this strategy is making an impact for your students or if you need to tweak it or try a new one.

So whether you use TeachCycle or not, definitely consider joining the small data train. Small data lets us quickly determine what is and what isn’t working for our students. And what’s more powerful than that?


*This example shows an ELA class, but this strategy can be used in any class. Additional Silent Discussion Resources: Silent Discussion in Action, Why Try Silent Discussion?, Silent Discussion Directions

The Unicorn, Realized

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BetterLesson launches TeachCycle, our new continuous learning platform

TeachCycle is the first scalable attempt to support any team of teachers, anywhere, in engaging in continuous improvement cycles.

Real professional growth is all about continuously learning. And for teachers, this means continually improving your practice by learning (as quickly as possible) what works for you and your students. There’s no silver bullet.

What’s cool is that everyone increasingly agrees. Teachers and administrators alike, think that continuous improvement processes are the bees knees when it comes to professional development. And what’s more, everyone we’ve talked with further agrees that teacher development should be:

  1. Collaborative: Innovation is a team sport.
  2. Job-Embedded: It can’t feel like one more thing added to your plates.
  3. Personalized: The specific needs and growth of your students must be at the center.

And yet, the humming, engaged, teacher-led PLC remains the unicorn of PD myth — often sought and rarely sighted.

So why does it remain such a mythical creature?

Because cultivating a bottom-up, beautifully-efficient PLC is hard to pull off. Very hard.  It requires that schools provide their teams of teachers with plenty of collaborative planning time, highly-trained coaches or mentors, and a shared continuous learning process that easily embeds itself into their daily practice. That’s a high bar when added to the already-overwhelming demands schools must meet daily.

With TeachCycle, our grand challenge is to make this high bar more attainable; to bring the unicorn within reach. And it’s a challenge we’re pursuing with all due gusto — thanks largely to a lovely, $1.8M investment from Scott Cook, Founder of Intuit, and his wife Signe Ostby.

Our model is simple:

  • Step 1: We pair up teams of teachers (PLCs) with an awesomely expert TeachCycle coach who joins the team remotely via the interweb.
  • Step 2: The team and coach select a Teaching Challenge based on a rich, actionable area of student growth. And they identify a single, simple metric by which to gauge progress.
  • Step 3: Finally, they tackle these teaching challenges by engaging in a simple 3-step process for structured experimentation: Teach, Measure, Learn (more on TML here).

After just a few weeks of implementing TeachCycle, the process of structured experimentation becomes integrated into teachers’ daily workflow.

And critically (we think, anyway), it’s a teacher-owned, school-supported process. It’s not some external provider foisting its notion of good teaching onto teachers and schools.

Instead, TeachCycle is a responsive set of supports to empower teachers to engage in structured experimentation to minimize the time is take to learn what work for their students (and what doesn’t).

It allows PLCs everywhere to realize their inner unicorn. And so far, teachers and administrators are pretty fired up:

“I felt that this was the first time PLCs weren’t just meeting for a meeting’s sake. I had an individualized goal and was working toward it. My time and experience were valued.”

Teacher Indian Trail Middle School, Plainfield, IL

“TeachCycle is small-group professional development that can be quickly modified to meet the needs of individual teachers. The components of reflection, discussion, sharing, and strategies mean that it is easy to make changes in the classroom right away.”

-6th Grade Teacher, Sinagua Middle School, Flagstaff, AZ

“TeachCycle allows teachers a rigorous and intentional model for which to have professional conversations regarding the learning of each individual child on a timely basis. Isn’t that the essence of teaching?”

-Principal, Oldham County Middle School, Buckner, Kentucky

Ready to join up? Holler at us: rachel@betterlesson.com. Or sign up for a demo here.


Background on BetterLesson:

BetterLesson is an edtech company committed is to to empowering teachers to learn what works best for their students (as quickly as possible). BetterLesson supports this mission in two ways:

  1. BetterLesson.com, a curriculum sharing community with over 500,000 registered teachers, is building a living, breathing body of knowledge around effective instruction. Through BetterLesson’s Master Teacher Projects, BetterLesson recruits the highest performing teachers in the country to share the full suite of their effective practice (all of their lessons and best practices). In partnership with the NEA, the Gates Foundation, and the Learning Accelerator, BetterLesson has launched four K-12 Master Teacher Projects in Common Core Math, Common Core ELA, Next Generation Science, and Blending Learning. BetterLesson currently has over 10,000 rich, comprehensive lessons across every single CC standard…and there are more on the way!
  1. TeachCycle, BetterLesson’s continuous learning platform, empowers teachers to learn as quickly as possible what works for their students (and what doesn’t!). TeachCycle pairs teams of teachers (PLCs) with an expert, dedicated TeachCycle Coach. Together, they engage in structured experimentation, using TeachCycle’s simple Teach, Measure, Learn process to tackle rich teaching challenges based on specific areas of student growth. You can learn more and read teacher and administrator testimonials here.

‘Tis the Day Before School Starts

Back to school

 

‘Tis the day before school starts when all through the town

Busy teachers and students are everywhere to be found.

The classrooms are cleaned; each desk arranged with care

With hopes that great learning will soon happen there.

School zones signs flash, lighting up morning traffic

Causing groggy commuters a small bit of panic.

“Make sure you slow down,” these signs warn,

“for tomorrow morning, young children will swarm.”

Out and about, sun-tanned students visit store after store

Using supply lists to gather pens, paper, pencils and more.

Meanwhile, inside the schools, teachers collaborate, copy and plan

Making sure they are ready for each young woman and man.

Down in the lobby, new students check in

And counselors, office staff and administrators grin;

Good thing they are greeted by such an incredible team

Cause high enrollment is bursting each building seam.

Over in the library a group of teachers is meeting

Working hard to make sure that their lessons are keeping

with standards based units, concepts and assessments,

as well as individual student needs and investments.

The past week of in-service workshops

were enough to make any educators’ head drop.

But each moment closer to meeting our classes

Makes even the most boring PD session seem painless.

The afternoon wanes and I look around my desk

Which is slowly gathering its school year mess,

“Summer freedom feels fleeting,” I sigh,

as I look at the forms and papers stacking high.

As I get overwhelmed, thoughts of students interrupt my musings

And I pause to think of the rosters created by a computer’s choosing.

Each of these teenagers will soon be in my care

And I grow excited about all the adventures we will share.

All summer long, I’ve been reading and thinking

About all the ways I can be more engaging.

Professional literature and educational tweets

Are all fodder for ideas and plans I can now complete.

So bring on the students, the learning and fun

Even though it is hard to get up before the sun.

For each of my teacher friends far and near

Know that the 2014/15 school year is here!

 

By Jessica Keigan. Reprinted with permission from the Center for Teaching Quality, home to the Collaboratory, a virtual community for all who value teacher leadership. Original piece found here.

BetterLesson is Looking for a Director of Master Teacher Projects

BetterLesson is an edtech startup and our mission is to transform teacher development at scale.

Summary:  There is a full time opening in our Cambridge, MA office for an experienced individual who will head up Master Teacher Project Operations and support teachers doing amazing work to benefit their peers!  Master Teacher-created content feeds the BetterLesson PD product that, in turn, supports teachers across the country who want to drive their own professional learning.  You will be helping thousands of teachers!

The Role: This role will:

  • work with other senior team members to manage the vision, budgets, execution and evaluations of the Projects
  • manage project associates to support the Operations work
  • hire, train and support master teachers to: effectively create lessons on our site; connect virtually with their teams and coaches; share feedback/revisions around content as it’s being generated
  • will foster a high-touch, highly productive relationship between Operations, BL’s instructional team, and the Master Teachers.

About You:

  • understand and follow the latest trends in teaching and learning (ideally both in the classroom and in teacher development roles)
  • are self-directed, diligent teammate with 5+ years management experience
  • enjoy (don’t mind?) analyzing, extrapolating and responding to data
  • produce compelling verbal and written communication
  • listen closely but also participate in high-level strategy
  • gel well with others who work calmly in a fast-paced startup environment :)

The “Nice to Haves”

  • Well versed in the wonders of Google docs, Analytics, and Excel formula
  • Experience with large scale budgets
  • Previous classroom experience and/or knowledge of curriculum and instruction

 

Click here to apply!

BetterLesson Honored at White House Maker Faire

On Wednesday, June 18, President Obama will host the first ever  White House Maker Faire and meet with students, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch new businesses, learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and fuel a grassroot renaissance in American manufacturing.  BetterLesson CEO, Alex Grodd and BetterLesson Master Teacher, Tommy Young,  have been invited join the inaugural White House Faire in recognition of BetterLesson’s commitment to highlighting and scaling the work of  exceptional STEM educators.

As a part of the effort to  create a “nation of makers” and empower America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future, President Obama will announce an initiative to dramatically expand the number of students that have the opportunity to become Makers. BetterLesson joins  the Department of Education and five other agencies; over 150 colleges and universities; more than 130 libraries; and major companies including Intel, Autodesk, Disney, Lego, 3D Systems, and MAKE  in committing to create more Makerspaces, enlist more educators in teaching Making, and launch other programs that allow students access to the tools and mentors that will bring their ideas to life.

BetterLesson is committed to sharing “what works” in classrooms across the country. Our partnerships with the Gates Foundation and the NEA have allowed us to showcase  the exceptional work of Master Teachers across the country. These teachers embrace tactile learning, and engage their students through hands on activities.  As a natural extension of rigorous, Common Core aligned learning, they incorporate making and building into daily lessons.

Tommy Young, a 1st Grade Teacher, from Waitsfield, VT endows his students with the math skills to tackle rigorous challenges.  In his lesson,  Building Towers, his first grade students become architects of towers, in an effort to reinforce number sense.  In Building Monsters, Tommy wraps up a unit on money, by having his students create a budget, develop a plan, and then build their own monsters.

While Tommy is being honored at the White House, many other BetterLesson Master Teachers have incorporated making principles into their lessons. These talented educators enable their students to become “makers” by giving them the mathematical tools necessary to tackle any problem.

In her lessons Build a Bird Nest Box Day and Build a Bird Nest Box Day 2, 3rd Grade Math Teacher, Diane Siekmann (Phoenix, Arizona) features an open-ended task that also builds on other disciplines as students research the needs of bluebirds, and design/build a nest box from cardboard.

In Real Life Measurement,  an integrated math-science lesson, Cathy Skinner, a 5th grade teacher in Scottsdale, Arizona, has students design and  build self watering plant containers for their seeds.

In this great lesson (Design with 9s) 3rd Grade Math teacher, Jennifer Valentine of Tuscon, Arizona, challenges her students to create designs inspired by their knowledge of 9 facts. In the follow up lesson, students use household items to create the designs.

BetterLesson’s commitment to the Maker Movement will include future Master Teacher Projects as well. Building off the success of previous Projects, the Science Master Teacher Project and the Blended Master Teacher Project will create a critical body of knowledge around the Next Generation Science Standards and highlight strategies for successful blended learning.

In focusing a project around Science and the NGSS, BetterLesson (in partnership with the NEA) will spotlight science educators who embrace the ethos of the Maker Movement, and employ strategies in their classrooms that unlock the maker spirit in their students. The Next Generation Science Standards place an emphasis on engineering practices. This emphasis on engineering skill-building dovetails perfectly with the Maker Movement.

The Blended Master Teacher Project, created in partnership with the Learning Accelerator, will detail the effective techniques of teachers working in a blended environment. These educators who skillfully flip their classrooms and individualize learning give their students more space and time to be Makers. This project will emphasize this critical element of successful blended learning.

BetterLesson is thrilled to join the White House in celebrating the first ever “Day of Making”.  We will be joining the #NationofMakers in celebrating the the power and ingenuity  of Makers!

 

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