Distractions

Time has flown by so quickly! I’ve been distracted in several aspects of my life in both positive and negative ways. I needed to take some time to reevaluate some things and gain clarity in others.

During my hiatus, I’d love to share that my business has grown and is now flourishing. Consequently, that is not the case. On the contrary, the business has taken a bit of a shift.  However, while I continue working to grow my business, I am still working to grow scholars to become critical mathematical thinkers and problem solvers.

I love working with my scholars! My babies! My passion and my purpose! And, quite obviously… one of the distractions hindering the growth of my business. See, it’s quite difficult to provide my scholars with the quality education they deserve if I am not fully attending to their needs. As long as I am required to be in the classroom, my scholars will receive all that I can give. I am reminded daily that these babies need me, whether by a colleague or past scholar, and as much as I would love to be doing what I feel is my next step in my professional growth, God speaks to me through them, reminding me that right now, they need me more. A distraction indeed, but a much welcomed one if I do day so myself.

Let me share another welcomed distraction I experienced during my time away. I had the incredible privilege of working with some of the most amazing, knowledgeable African-American Women educators and administrators, Ph.Ds, Ed.Ds, and Nationally Board Certified Teachers I’ve ever come into contact with. Together, along with the most amazing Project Director, we led the Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign (DTEC). The opportunity to lead with these women, facilitating professional development for teachers around the country was such a humbling experience. I was able to share my knowledge on a different level with educators from different avenues of life and know that what I had to share was valuable and made a significant contribution to their practice. I also had the opportunity to learn more about myself as an educator leader and presenter, about teacher efficacy, and about what it looks like to step out on faith. I hope my DTEC family realizes how much they mean to me personally and professionally. Thank you for the distraction. Ubuntu.

Well, you know what they say….for every positive, there is a negative. Why is it that with all the positive experiences, the negative ones seem to linger the longest? I mean, I have received messages diminishing my professional worth. I’ve had my actions and words taken out of context in attempts to make me appear as if I’m instigating trouble. I have literally been looked at with scowls and grimaces for reasons I can’t begin to explain. Where is all of this coming from? Then I am reminded by so many people around me not to be distracted by those that may bring forth negativity and are working diligently to diminish the dreamer within. What’s more ironic is the fact that I know better! Having had the opportunity to share many of my life experiences with young people and adults on what it means to live within your GREATNESS, I’ve shared the debilitating effects that negativity can bring to one’s life. Negativity is all a part of the enemies plan (earthly and spiritually) to incite one’s demise. I am reminded to proceed with caution. The distraction that is negativity is always looming.

Here’s the takeaway from my realization of  negative and positive distractions. It is true…the good comes with the bad. The negative must coexist with the positive. This is a fact and there’s really no way around it or controlling it. What can be controlled is how one reacts to such instances. My experience has found that negativity feeds and nourishes a fixed mindset. You will seemingly begin to believe the innuendo that are presented with every negative word and action. You’ll find yourself wanting to give up on dreaming. When focused on positive people and things, you feed and grow your mind. You feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment and you will be pushed to challenge your own beliefs.

So,  here are your choices. You can choose to let negative distractions cloud your dreams or you can choose to allow the positive distractions make you stronger and lead you to bigger and better opportunities. But while you’re making your decision, be attentive to your current distractions.

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A Priceless Gift

Well, I’m halfway through winter break. It’s days after Christmas and soon, the New Year will be rung in. I’ve been thinking a lot about myself as a teacher and the many scholars I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. Have you ever wondered if you have really made a difference? How often do your scholars tell you, “You’ve really touched my life. I get it now! Thank you!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a scholar tell me this during the year they were on my roster. In fact, I may have received a few side eyes and under the breath name calling instead and well, that’s okay. I’ve always been passionate about all of them, regardless of how they may have received my presentation. Oh, yes. Of course I received cute little letters and nice pictures telling me how wonderful I was, but nothing that revealed a life changing epiphany for any of my scholars. Something amazing happened during this break which seems to be happening more and more frequently. I was with my family making some Christmas gift exchanges, when I heard my name, “Mrs. Daugherty! Mrs. Daugherty!” I turned around to find a handsome young man walking up to me. I tried to distinguish his face, but man… our scholars change so dramatically as they mature, it becomes difficult to distinguish their matured look. He forgave my puzzled expression and politely greeted me with his name, “It’s me. Justin.” (Justin is a pseudonym provided for confidentiality purposes). My eyes grew big and my heart filled with such joy! I’d taught Justin in the fourth grade. He shared that he is now a senior at an out of state prep school, but he’d recognized me walking through the store. We talked for a moment and my heart inflated with so much pride in that moment listening to all he has accomplished. He was always a bright young man and I knew he was destined for greatness, even in the fourth grade. I must admit, I wouldn’t have recognized him if he hadn’t said anything to me first. I’ve taught hundreds of young people, in three different systems. Names and faces tend to run together for me after so many years. But young Justin, I remembered. He’s excelling just as I knew he would 8 years ago if he remained focused. He is a scholar athlete being looked at by local colleges for entry next year. Another one that made it and was compelled enough to share his successes with me. Needless to say, after we went our separate ways, I couldn’t stop smiling! Later in the evening, I began to think to myself “Who the heck was MY fourth grade teacher?” For the life of me, I cannot remember! In fact, there are only a handful of teachers that I do remember. I remember them because they either said something that made me think or they did something that caught my full attention! These teachers helped mold my life. They helped me think about whom I was and who I wanted to become. They had fully invested in me and my future. Here’s my point. As educators, we work hard, day in and day out, to make a difference in the lives of children. We make plans, we grade papers, and we work long, hard hours, for little to no pay or respect for any of it. We demonstrate, encourage, motivate, and mediate. We watch over and protect, wipe tears and reassure. We realize that some have never received a caring touch or a kind word before we entered their lives. We do all of this because most of us are in this for the outcome, not the income, knowing that more often than not, our scholars will leave us never disclosing the impact we’ve made on their lives. It dawned on me in that very moment that I was one of the teachers Justin remembered. I had said something or done something to make him remember me. It is, in my opinion, the highest praise a teacher can possibly receive. To be acknowledged by a young person you’ve taught and to hear of the wonderful things that are happening in their lives is very fulfilling. To hear that they made it, against all odds and despite their circumstances because I said it was possible all those years ago is the most priceless gift this teacher, or any teacher, could receive.

The saying goes, to whom much is given, much is required. Our purpose is to help our scholars see beyond their current circumstances. We are tasked with leading them away from poor choices and the path of destruction towards better choices that lead them to the path of their desired destiny. I’m here to tell you that this is not an easy task by any means and yes, we will, unfortunately, lose a few along the way, but not for lack of trying. We simply need to remember that there are many more “Justin’s” in our classrooms than not, waiting and wanting to learn how they too can make it. They may or may not tell you that you have had an effect on their lives. Well, at least not at that moment and really, that is okay. But, when that day comes, when you’re walking along in the store, and you hear your name being called by that one scholar you reached years before, you too will receive the same gift that Justin afforded me just the other day. And that gift, I assure you, is… priceless.

What ARE the Odds?

http://insightbyseymour.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/2635-101413-gs2635.jpgFor the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the upcoming PARCC. I’m speaking of the Next Generation Assessment known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. If you thought the Ohio Achievement Assessment was bad, then wait until you see THIS! I suggest, if you haven’t yet taken a look at this new online assessment, you should…and soon!

Over the last 5 years, educators across the nation have witnessed the development and implementation of the Common Core standards. In writing this piece, I found it important to research the who, when, and how the standards were developed before expressing my opinion about the PARCC. In a February 2014 article, Allie Bidwell of US News reported,

Although they only recently captured national attention, the Common Core standards – which lay out what students should know and be able to do by each grade – have been in the works since at least 2008. It all started with former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who was the 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association and now leads the University of California system.

During her stint as governor, Napolitano desired to develop an initiative focused on strengthening the country’s competitive position in the global economy. As students’ performance in math and the sciences have become comparatively lower than their global peers, the goal of this new initiative was “to give governors the tools they need[ed] to improve math and science education, better align post-secondary education systems with state economies, and develop regional innovation strategies” (retrieved from http://www.nga.org on December 4,2014).  Therein, a task force of governors, CEOs, and university presidents was created. Think about that for just a moment. Does that elicit any emotions for you as it did for me?

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I remember hearing that the Common Core was essentially birthed from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 in that the standards were developed to hone in on the skills students needed to know and be able to do by the end of each grade level.  The standards were thick with specific skills all students were to master only, with NCLB, this varied from state to state as state leaders played more of a role in the development of their own standards. Unfortunately, the level of expectation varied significantly as well from state to state. States, like Massachusetts, were known for holding very high academic standards, while other states, like Tennessee, did not (Bidwell, US News, 2014), making it more difficult to comparatively determine whether scholars were making adequate growth compared to their global counterparts.

The Common Core differs in that the numbers of standards have been decreased for each grade level and the depth of each of those standards increased. That’s my subtle way of saying that the standards push our scholars harder to learn skills they are fundamentally and developmentally not yet prepared to learn, whether they are ready or not! Don’t get me wrong, I do see this as an incomprehensible issue. It’s clearly a problem, and yet I was not at all surprised to find that the challenge of developing equitable academic standards has been in existence since the desegregation of public schools in the 1960s. Students of minority ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status, born in poverty from parents struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table, and some of them with nothing more than a middle school education was prevalent then and still exists today. Oh yes! You see, what I’ve just described for you was my current classroom and any educator teaching in an urban school district can relate to that very description.

Our scholars have been chasing their peers to close an achievement gap that was created to keep minorities out of public education and distanced far behind their white peers for years! And now, here we are with the Common Core standards, an initiative started to strengthen our competitive position in the global economy when neither our scholars, nor their families, are adequately equipped with the resources or skills to compete in the local economy!

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Let me be clear, I can appreciate the idea behind the Common Core. I get it. We want to develop critical thinkers, leaders, social changers! But then you add the PARCC to the equation. Oh my goodness! Consider this, the majority of my fifth grade scholars are reading at a fourth grade or below grade level right now. I even have a few reading at a second grade level! SECOND GRADE!! That’s their fluency and comprehension level. Did you catch that? The majority of my class is still behind 1-3 grade levels in reading. They struggle to develop a 5 sentence paragraph with a clear topic sentence and strong conclusion. They’ve been working to develop these skills since the second grade. When they are challenged to push themselves to a higher expectation, they shut down with frustration. Oh, I’m not finished yet. My scholars barely know their basic multiplication facts, even though they’ve been exposed to them two grades prior. Many still struggle with regrouping in subtraction and will argue to the end that 0-4 = 4 even when provided proof that it is impossible!

Finally, after losing our technology teachers about four years ago, teachers were tasked to teach not only keyboarding skills, but also researching skills in a computer lab which we were scheduled to use once, maybe twice a week for 30-45 minutes, if we were lucky. There were several times I’d taken my class in to complete assignments and it’d taken the first 20 minutes alone just to get through all the glitches we’d face trying to simply get logged in! Amazing! Well, the computer lab no longer exists after 6 years of existence. The district has begun transitioning to the use of chrome books. I share a cart with a coworker. Yes, share! We make it work. Our scholars are most knowledgeable about how to search for information because that interests them. However, they still lack in the area of research, note taking, and essay typing. It continues to be a struggle for them since it requires more thinking and effort. Not a very good place to be with PARCC right around the corner, wouldn’t you think?

Our scholars, while they’ve shown growth in reading and math, are continuing to chase the leaders of the achievement gap every single day they enter our urban school. This is based on data from the Ohio Achievement Assessment, a two and a half hour, paper-pencil, written assessment. The new PARCC will assess my scholars electronically and will take multiple days. They will be given multiple reading samples at a time with two part answers where one answer will depend on scholars’ knowledge of and response to the other. On this assessment, scholars performance levels will be scored in the areas of text complexity, range of accuracy, and quality of evidence. There are multiple choice questions, matching, and two part extended responses that will need to be typed, providing explicit evidence from the text provided. The questions are much more challenging since they are multi-step questions and very different from what they’ve been used to. Scholars must use, not only the text provided, but also answers from previous questions to construct their responses. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the sample PARCC, you should take some time to peruse the website. Here’s the link:

PARCC Practice Tests

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If I sound a bit anxious about this Next Generation Assessment, it’s because I am, along with many of my urban school educator friends. It feels a lot like my scholars are being set up to fail! Do you understand that the growth my scholars have made, any growth at all, will absolutely go unnoticed after taking this test! And YES…I take it personally! If they are not functionally or developmentally prepared to meet the Common Core standards then how could they possibly be prepared to take this Next Generation Assessment? Well, I don’t know either, but it kind of sounds like yet another way to keep our minority scholars at the bottom end of the achievement gap. All I know is that we need to get our scholars ready for this PARCC with the limited resources we are provided and hope that just one of them beats the odds, gets across that gap, and comes out on top! With everything we’ve been given, what do you think those odds are?

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A Special Thanks from Transitions

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A year ago TODAY, I launched this educational blog. Twenty-eight posts later (24 of which were written exclusively by me), I continue to transparently share my educational experiences and life lessons. It remains my incessant hope that through my sharing, I will incite other educators to reflect upon their own instructional practices and, in turn, result in a change or modification of those current practices as well.

I have grown a great deal through writing this blog. Opening myself has not been easy, however, it has helped me to learn more about myself as an educator and as a person. It has helped me to look at my instructional practices differently. It’s helped me become a stronger educator without a doubt.

So, today, on this one year anniversary, I want to say thank you on behalf of Transitions Educational Consulting. Thank you for engaging with me through my blog. Thank you for following and offering comments of support and encouragement. Thank you for sharing my experiences with others. Thank you for helping me grow and opening yourselves to new opportunities for growth as well.

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Your support is very much appreciated! Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing. Thank you again.
#Transitions #ExpectGreatness

 

Transitions

A Note of Gratitude

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I don’t know what it is, but these last three months have felt more like six! If your classroom is like mine, then, the honeymoon is OVER! My scholars have turned from the quiet, unsure fifth graders they began the year as, to a group of 20 extremely rambunctious, moody, narcissistic children! Oh, there are some great character traits in the room as well. There are talented athletes, great senses of humor, very bright young folks in this classroom. But, man are they selfish! I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before! I know, I know…it’s the age. The fact remains that it is still a source of great frustration, especially when you work so purposefully every day to teach school and self PRIDE, which in this case, is an acronym that stands for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Empathy.

It happens every single year… I find myself comparing last year’s class to the current. There are as many similarities as there are differences. While I don’t have as many behavior challenges, I have one that requires a lot of energy! I’m exhausted when I get home every night from all the energy that he requires! I have many that love to read, love to do math, just plain love to learn. Then, there’s the handful that have great difficulty sitting still long enough for a 5-10 minute mini lesson. I can’t help but to stop and think about how my scholars are progressing this year. The year started out awesome! So, why in the world am I burned out already!!

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I was speaking with a coworker recently about how drawn I am to the struggling students. He shared that he could really tell how invested I am in my students. That I really have a deep love for all of them that he highly respects. What an amazing compliment! He added, however, that I cannot save them all (I think to myself [with a heavy sigh], “Why not??). Trying to save them all, he explained, will leave me exhausted and disappointed. He’s never been more correct. While I wish I could, I just have to realize, I do not have a cape big enough to accommodate every single trouble my scholars have, let alone every single child. I’m simply not equipped to.

I dropped my scholars off at their Related Arts class feeling exhausted and defeated, just as my coworker suggested. As I dragged myself to the mail room to pick up my mail (yes…I must say, I was a pitiful sight), I began to open my mail while reflecting on the day. Did I make my scholars learning meaningful today? I wonder what my scholars learned about themselves today? What did I learn about myself today? Did I do everything possible to make today’s learning better for them than yesterday? Today…{sigh}…I just wasn’t sure. It was at that moment that I opened an envelope that contained a handwritten letter. To my surprise, it was from VICTOR!!

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A note of gratitude from Victor! Not many words, but a very large message received!

If you remember, Victor was my “challenge” (and also my blessing) last year. He’s a very bright, yet troubled young man. I put every bit of my being into teaching him basic life skills and self worth. As you can imagine, my eyes welled with tears. My cheeks hurt from the smile he put on my face with this letter. What an amazing confirmation! While I read that Victor was thankful for me teaching him multiplication strategies, I believe in my heart that he was thanking me for so much more than that.

I’ve been fueled a bit by Victor’s letter. I felt good knowing in that moment, that even though he displayed a nonchalant attitude towards me and learning at times, he let me know that he heard me something, AND…was GRATEFUL! I exhaled in the moment of gratuitousness.

Just when I thought my teacher tank was filled up, a kindergartner stopped me in the hallway during dismissal. She is the younger sister of another scholar I had last year. She gave me a hug, then handed me a handwritten letter from her brother. What?! ANOTHER letter of gratitude?! If it weren’t before, my tank is definitely full now!

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Another note of gratitude from a past scholar! He inspired ME more than I inspired him! I’M grateful for HIM!

Here’s the takeaway… Be not dismayed by the seemingly unresponsive attitudes that some of your scholars may tend to display. They are struggling with a great many pubescent emotional and social battles. There is a strong need to belong and to roam among the “in crowd”.  For boys, there is the need to show they are the strongest and bravest. It’s like these boys are vying for the Alpha Male position on the playground! Even more concerning, the temptation to join gangs is prevalent among these young men. For girls, they begin searching for love in all the wrong places. Flirtatious behavior is booming among these young ladies!! They want to be the prettiest and the most popular. Sadly, academics don’t seem to find a place anywhere in any of this at times. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Now, add to that the abuse that is either witnessed or endured. The noticeable struggle for parents to make ends meet in order to provide adequate food and/or shelter for their families. There’s also the threat of families being torn apart by deportation and/or simply abandonment. There is the simplistic, intrinsic need to receive a hug, a pat on the back, an encouraging word, to simply feel…LOVED! These scholars are dealing with so much! More than any one of us could possibly imagine.

Find solace in the fact that, in those heated moments, when your scholars tend to make you feel unappreciated, devalued, and disrespected, that there are one, two, or maybe more that you’ve left behind who feel a sense of gratitude for everything you’ve taught them about reading, math, and most importantly…LIFE. Know that they just don’t no how to tell you.

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As I was composing this blog, I received yet ANOTHER note of gratitude from this young lady. My goodness! I didn’t mean to “make her an over achiever”.  I only wanted to teach her to always strive to be the best SHE could be…ALWAYS!! I think she got the point.

Common Core or Common Quagmire?

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The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. (Retrieved from http://www.core standards.org)

Recently, I’ve been battling my feelings about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I feel like I have a good understanding of children’s learning styles and the importance of nurturing their young minds. By definition, the CCSS support this notion. So, what’s the problem? It was after a recent baseline math assessment that I really began to feel differently about this new national initiative. On a particular set of questions, points were not given if a student did not use an algorithmic strategy, even if their process derived the correct answer.  I was so annoyed by this and thought, is THIS how we are assessing CCSS? Are we really stifling students autonomous thinking for the sake of what state and national reformers believe is the best indicator of our children’s futures?

We, as educators, all know the intent of the CCSS is to delve deeper into students thinking. To go beyond surface level learning and extend students foundational knowledge. Learning should shift from the traditional, basal instruction curriculum, to one that is more rigorous and relevant in application. We are to provide a variety of strategies for students and encourage individuality in learning and thinking. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought until I began investigating the expectations of the Next Generation Assessments, such as those developed by the Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Careers. These assessments seem to be requiring students to display much more thinking than is seemingly necessary. One particular video stood out to me. Watch as a 3rd grade student proudly explains a math problem using a strategy from the TERC Investigations curriculum for solving an addition problem. She shows two ways to solve the problem, one way by stacking, the traditional standard algorithm using regrouping, and the other by using a written or visual method that is meant to display mathematical thinking. I’ve attached a link below (retrieved from Math Foundations, LLC, September 23, 2014):

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The unintended consequences of the TERC Investigations: http://youtu.be/1YLlX61o8fg

Quite a compelling outcome, wouldn’t you think? She began so confidently, and by the end looked so confused and disappointed as if she were tasked to solve some unearthing mathematical dilemma rather than a simple third grade addition problem. Is this really how we are expected to prepare our students for common core assessment? Or is this type of assessing progressively becoming more of a common quagmire for our students?

Here’s another example from an Arkansas mom who presents her reservations (and speaks for hundreds of other parents in the area as well) over the common core initiative to the Arkansas State Board of Education.

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Arkansas Mother Obliterates Common Core in 4 Minutes: http:// youtu.be/wZEGijN_8R0

Hmmphf! I wonder what that school board member thought after finding that her thinking did not align with the expectations of the CCSS? Why do we continuously subject our students to that which makes little to no sense? Our children think differently, understand differently, LEARN differently, but yet we force them to learn in a way dictated by people that hide behind degrees and acronyms and have more than likely never stepped foot in an urban school classroom! Now, I don’t know that for certain, but what I do know is that fulfilling a personal philanthropic obligation within a chosen urban school district does not make you an educational expert on best practices in instruction and assessment! I’m sorry, but it doesn’t!  As you can tell, it makes me a little frustrated.

Where does Ohio stand? In August 2014, state legislators began the process of eliminating Common Core education standards in Ohio which would mean students would go through their third set of standards over the course of the next four years. Under this new bill, students would keep the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts this year, without the testing that goes with it. Schools would then switch for two years to Massachusetts Common Core standards (adopted in 2010) prior to implementing new state-developed standards in those subjects plus science and social studies starting in the 2017-18 school year (retrieved from The Columbus Dispatch at http://www.dispatch.com on September 26, 2014). Are you kidding me?! The assessment may change again…already?? How is it that the state is unable to make a firm decision about the state assessment and yet our students are expected to perform proficiently on whichever assessment is decided upon? Granted, if educators are effectively teaching to the Common Core, the assessment shouldn’t matter, but the reality is that it does matter because the standards and the assessment are not developmentally sound.

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Honestly! This has gotten to be too much to think about! Are we really providing high-quality academic standards with the common core or are we setting our children up for failure and further holding them back with what seem to have become common quagmires? It’s something to think about, that’s for certain. As I continue to fight my internal battle between being for or against the Common Core initiative, I do what my passion leads me to do and work for those whose voices are never heard within the political realms of our educational reform, my students.

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Teacher Leader Versus “Teacher” Leader and Why It Matters | CTQ

This is a GREAT discussion. I found this on the Center for Teacher Quality website. With a degree in Teacher Leadership, I was intrigued by this insightful perception and the way the writer deciphers between a Teacher Leader and a “Teacher” Leader. Great, great food for thought!

http://www.teachingquality.org/content/teacher-leader-versus-teacher-leader-and-why-it-matters#comment-32496