Learning from New Teachers

When I was asked several years ago to serve on one of the boards at the College of Education at Seattle University, there was only one possible response I could give, “Of course!” While the courses varied when I went to grad school there several years ago, one thing that the college stayed true to was their commitment to service, diversity, and social justice.

I just returned from one of my favorite meetings there, because I have the privilege to be part of a team with other board members and professors to assess the portfolios of graduate candidates. It’s one of my favorite evenings because I get to see other passionate teachers who take their scholarship and learning seriously, I get to see others go through a very rigorous and reflective process, but most of all I get to learn from all these educators who are committed to growth, learning, and becoming better at their craft.

I’m about half-way through my career as an educator, but there is so much to learn from new teachers. The world they have grown up in is significantly different from the one I grew up in, and they have expertise in areas that I don’t. Sure, experience counts for a lot, but only if you’re still willing to learn and grow.

A fire was lit anew a few years ago when I read the books, Mindset by Carol Dweck and Drive by Daniel Pink. Perhaps my motivation to grow as a teacher has been a little intense at times, but it is who I am. Having worked tonight with such talented, committed, and passionate new teachers, I have a renewed sense of urgency to learn from the expertise of our young and able teachers.

It’s a tough economic time to be a young teacher, but listening to these teachers talk about what they will take away from grad school and bring back to their students and classrooms reignites my optimism in education.

Authentic Assessment

The second graders at my school just completed presenting their portfolios to their parents tonight. This year, I wanted the children to focus on learning and effort. When asked to select works for their portfolio that highlighted these areas, I was just delighted when so many of them had such a hard time choosing. They wanted to include everything. By the time they were done, they had scrapbooks bursting with artwork, writing samples, math problems, and much more. While these are a good place to begin, upon reflection, I need to try and tweak these to make them more meaningful. A book I just read, Student Portfolios: A Learning Tool (Lightfoot and Davidson), along with one I read a few years ago, The Portfolio Organizer (Rolheiser, Bower, Stevahn) both suggest that it is the quality of the portfolio process that can reveal progress and achievement. Key parts of the process should include:

  • establishing the overall purpose
  • selecting the type of portfolio
  • considering the audience
  • designing the criteria and selection process
  • determining the time frame
  • generating and/or choosing self reflection activities

While we did include all of these things, I felt I rushed my kids a little in getting these put together and should really build the time throughout the year for them to self-select pieces of work and reflect on them. If done well, these pieces will also act as assessment pieces that can be used to taylor ones teaching as the year progresses. These pieces can then be used as assessment “FOR” rather than “OF” learning (Stiggins has a great book on assessment).

Portfolios should be part of teachers’ assessment literacy. Though it was evident that parents and students had a great time, I will need to remember to have these resources out in September rather than wait until May.