Next Steps

Finding a Space for Teaching

When the partnership began, it was more of an agreement for teaching space.  After a semester of using a high school classroom and engaging in a few opportunities that being in a high school presented, the division chair and I planned more intentional experiences for the candidates and mentor teachers.

Adding Instructional Topics

In the fall, a teacher presented on the learning management system, demonstrating a number of features this tool provides such as seating charts, student schedules, and mail merge emails.  To enhance our discussion of assessment, the division chair guided us through an analysis of a test: its format, the student responses, most-missed questions, and next steps for instruction.

Planning Intentional Experiences

At the end of the fall semester, we surveyed the mentor teachers and collected Student Evaluations of Instruction for feedback that would help us plan for the spring.  This chart captures some of these findings and shows next steps for the spring semester.

Spring 2018 SEI (4.0 or below) and comments Spring 2018 Mentor Teacher Feedback Fall 2018 SEI (4.0 or below) and comments Fall 2018 Mentor Teacher Feedback Spring 2019 Next Steps
Policies of the course on such matters as grading, absence from class, schedule of assignments, etc., were stated at the beginning of the semester included in the syllabus or communicated through some other communication method. More information about candidate’s role for implementation in the classroom The instructor’s communication was clear and expressive (e.g. instructor provided clear examples). There were times when I had two teachers at once and then I wouldn’t see one of the candidates for a couple weeks. I felt that parts were a little unorganized and not consistent. Send email to mentor teachers discussing feedback from Fall 2018, detailing objectives for Spring 2019, explaining task list for field experiences, and assigning candidates.
reading material was interesting, except maybe the book on reading lenses. Some of the links were not available and I think it made the lenses seem more complicated than they were. The readings were helpful, but provide more opportunities for teaching in front of classes. In-class presentations will help prepare candidates for microteaching, but more analysis of real teaching in real time needs to be implemented.

















Additional notes included lengthening the time for mentor teacher and candidate interactions and providing more opportunities to present or teach in front of a class.  Feedback from candidates and mentor teachers informed our planning for the spring semester.  It is our hope that consistently asking for feedback and responding to it will develop trust among stakeholders in this partnership.

When Weather Hits

Partnership Placements

Our district-university partnership for teacher preparation presents me the opportunity to teach my spring English methods course in a local high school every Tuesday.  The embedded field experience hours (practice) interplay with the theoretical readings and other assignments (praxis) to better prepare candidates as practitioners.  This clinical model depends on the high school division chair and university instructor planning as well as mentor teacher buy-in, both of which have developed positively over the past year.

This arrangement works, until it doesn’t.

Alternate Avenues

This week’s snowfall and polar vortex presented new challenges to this model when the district schools closed – and the university did not.  Three emails from candidates alerted me to this problem and asked where we will meet.  The university planned to be open, yes.  But what about an online class?  I looked at the types of engagement I wanted candidates to have with the material and decided on three ways they could interact with each other: Padlet, Google Docs, and Backchannel Chat.

Screenshot of Blackboard post with step-by-step directions for online class

During one of our planning meetings, the division chair recommended my students watch Sugata Mitra’s TedTalk “The Child-Driven Education.”  Candidates used Padlet to chart ideas from this video along with their readings from Patrick Finn’s Literacy with an Attitude and 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle.  The next step was for them to take these ideas and categorize them onto a Google Doc, a strategy called Affinity Mapping – the School Reform Initiative has a nice description of this process.

Finally, we watched Sean McComb’s TedTalk “Let’s Put Compassion Before Grades” and logged onto Backchannel Chat to write reactions to the video.

Capturing Conversations

I made this screencast video using QuickTime Player on the MacBook:


Exploring Tools – (Quite a) Blogging Challenge

Dam of Kerspetalsperre

Black and white picture of the Dam of Kerspetalsperre. Markus Trienke via Compfight

The Edublog Personal Blogging Challenge has pushed me to generate more words and design more content than I have in quite some time.  Oddly enough, I needed the step-by-step structure to break the dam that was holding back my creativity.

Step 7 challenged me to rethink whether I collect or curate resources.  Learning how to embed codes on my blog site has encouraged me to be more conscious of my audience and how that audience might explore the resources I have bookmarked in Evernote or uploaded to a Mindomo map.

The intentionality of setting up a blog and writing posts has not escaped my notice as a teacher.  Selecting a theme, finding widgets, embedding codes, and designing pages before ever generating a blog are all parts of real-world communication.  I changed my theme at least three times in two days before deciding on a crisp, clean look.  I did not want too many or not enough widgets.  And what if my Evernote files are of some interest to someone?  I added those links to a Padlet to find out.

One of my rediscoveries was Mindomo, which I used for several projects some years ago.  I found my old maps and then upgraded the account to add more.  I embedded the code for one of my resources on Teacher Inquiry on my research page and hope to update the map in the near future.

Being Inspired

View to paradise

This is a view of a large lake at sunset. The photographer is at the rocky edge facing in the distance the outlet of water between two rolling hills. Katrinitsa via Compfight

There is something inspirational about water.  This picture aptly title “View of Paradise” invokes a feeling of peace and tranquility.  I find myself in a state of mind to write more reflective and, perhaps, whimsical posts quite different from the current realities of winter.

Walking to my car last night after the first class of the new semester made me realize that I’m kind of okay with not having a window in my classroom.  Perhaps we focused more intently on the lesson because we could not see the drizzling sleet outside.  We were analytical and purposeful in our writing and discussions.

What environment do we need for the most productivity?  But then what kind of productivity do we demand of ourselves?  Is it okay sometimes to pause so we can look for the perfect inspirational picture?  The compfight plugin allowed me to browse Creative Commons images with ease.  I hope the caption will convey enough about the picture for a screenreader.

If my goal is to write routinely, then no matter what the end product is I should feel productive.  Yes, blogging by following steps outlined by a team of professionals has helped me tap into a fountain of words that I’m thankful still exist after so long a dry spell.  I also plan to share these tools with fellow teachers and teacher candidates, particularly steps for accessing and using images and copyrights.

So as I continue with the blogging challenge and find my footing as a writer, I add this picture to remind myself of our own getaway.  My picture of the setting sun at Rough River Lake in Kentucky will be my inspiration.

This view of Rough River Lake was taken beside a dock with the photographer facing the nearly setting sun. Fall foliage can be seen on the trees surrounding the large lake.

Blogging Challenge: Widgets

I have taken up the Edublog Challenge for Personal Blogging.  This, as I see it, falls into my page of research.  Though not as formal as what the university requires, I see value in exploring these avenues of thinking, especially if I can be motivated to generate more writing.   This challenge has definitely helped me tap into a flow of writing that had plateaued and all but stopped during the fall semester.

In learning more about widgets, I can see how useful they can be – and how much they can add to the busyness of a blog site.  Of course, I want people to be able to share my blog posts.  It would also be nice to know how many people have visited my site and where they are located in the world.  I’m still working on these pieces because, again, it is easy to cram too much into a blog site, which will make it less reader-friendly.

I’m interested in feedback on the site and the widgets.  What do readers think are the most interesting items on a blog site?

School Partnership Beginnings

Persistently Reaching Out

Since November of 2017, the director of educator preparation and I had been working to find spring placements for my five secondary English education candidates in one school setting.

In previous semesters, candidates had been scattered across area school districts that were demographically, culturally, and often pedagogically different from one another. With all five candidates in one place, we could focus on conversations about the common school culture while investigating best instructional practices.

The university director stated the following in her January 9, 2018 email to the school principal:

We have a time-sensitive issue of trying to find clinical placement for 5 English teacher candidates for this spring and hope that you can assist.  The placement that was scheduled unfortunately fell through on yesterday due to teachers leaving that district and or changing positions. We really need your help!

She explained the field experience hours and objectives, as well as possibilities for collaboration.

The principal asked that I contact the division leader for ELA and Social Sciences. My introductory email on January 9 said to the division leader:

The principal forwarded your contact information regarding mentor teachers for my secondary English education teacher candidates.  I am beyond excited that you school can accommodate all five of my candidates for observations this spring.

I wanted my candidates to be with mentor teachers at least one day per week for fourteen weeks to complete some of their 40 field experience hours.  For the remainder, they could schedule additional time on other days or attend school academic functions. At the end of their field experience, they would teach a lesson that would be observed by a university supervisor.

Timing Is Everything

The high school division leader said the email came to him at the right time – there was a small window of opportunity in early January that had him in his office planning schedules and not in meetings or involved in other duties (teacher observations, coaching).

In our first phone conversation on January 10, we discussed my request for secondary education candidates to be placed with five mentor English teachers. He said:

“I have five teachers. They’ll do it.”

And, indeed, before our phone conversation he had already identified and communicated with the English teachers for the placements.

The next few minutes of the conversation consisted of the required 40 hours and field experience objectives. We discussed the candidates and their involvement in the classroom, as well as a few views on teacher preparation.

Sharing a Vision

In the midst of such a productive conversation, I decided to share my future goal for the methods course:

“My dream is to have a classroom in a high school.”

Without skipping a beat, he replied:

“I have a classroom.”

The next few days consisted of emails and face-to-face meetings to figure out the logistics of having a methods classroom located in the high school. By January 12, John had placed candidates with mentor teachers, scheduled the classroom, arranged wifi connectivity, and planned an orientation for our first day at the high school.

Moving Forward

The timing of an email on January 9, 2018 and sharing a vision helped launch the district and university partnership that has gained traction for over a year. I hope to hear from others about their experiences with partnership planning and implementation in teacher education.

Understanding Student Perspectives – SEIs Unpacked

Filling a College Need

When I signed on to teach the Educational Technology course for one semester, I was ready to innovate the curriculum.  I had just spent the summer with team members working on accreditation reports and knew that updating the ISTE standards and assignments in that course would make a difference in the way we and the students approached technology.  Having always enjoyed exploring and implementing new technology tools throughout my teaching career, I felt comfortable modifying assignments, creating rubrics, and updating syllabus language.

Then it was class time.

Educational Technology Course

Students in the Educational Technology course came from a myriad of programs — early childhood, elementary and middle grades, high school — and a few not in the college of education at all.  With that in mind, I decided to emphasize that in this class we wear two hats: (1) future teachers who must gather technology tools and resources for future students and (2) future professionals in the field who need to collaborate with other teaching professionals.

In most class meetings we got our hands dirty with a variety of resources.  We used them ourselves, evaluated their effectiveness, and, as small groups or individually, presented them to the class.  On the last day, they presented their final assignment, a digital story of their technology journey.  Students in both sections of the course shared their growth and Aha moments from the class activities, content exploration, and discussion with others who were on the same journey.

Student Evaluations of Instruction (SEI)

At the end of each semester, as our university courses must, student evaluations of instruction (SEI) surveys were distributed.  My experience with abysmal response rates, not unlike this study reports, prompted me to offer a few bonus points if the response rate reached 80%.  I was pleased with the resulting 88% response rate of 66 students – almost as many as I had taught in total during my previous four semesters.  Though opinion pieces, professor appeals, and university decisions posit varied views on the usefulness of SEIs, I appreciated the opportunity to see these students’ perspectives.

Thinking Positive

Filling in for the Educational Technology course at a critical time of updating lessons and assignments to new standards left me frazzled.  So when I viewed Educational Technology section one’s responses, I felt that the time invested in developing new assignments and rubrics was well worth it.  The comments included the following:

“I loved doing the tool curations and finding out new tools which I could find for my classroom in the near upcoming future. I wish I could take her again. I also loved doing the small lesson plans which I had to implement tools like that. I really enjoyed learning about different ways to use apps and see how a lesson plan fits with the technology.”

“The instructor was great. I learned about new resources to implement into my future classroom’s curriculum.”

“She really cares and is there to help with any questions the class had for working with the pieces of technology. I really enjoyed her course!!!!”

“She is very well informed in the field of educational technology and seemed like she was comfortable with the tools presented in class.”

“Honestly, Dr. V was amazing. She did such a great job teaching the course. She opened my eyes to a lot of new things. I just wish this course was a hybrid because there was a lot of workshop time that could have been done outside of the class where she seemed like she didn’t know what to do. We were working and didn’t need much help. The questions we had could have been answered via email. I think she would agree.”

I do, indeed, agree with the last statement about hybrid or online instruction.  The class included workshop time to ensure student-to-student and teacher-student assistance.  We could have had these productive work sessions online.

Checking My Ego

Unfortunately, the only way I can describe the responses of section two of this same course is “brutal.”  Students complained about the content, stated that the course was only useful for other teacher preparation programs, and criticized the communication:

“I sat through this class all semester but learned nothing. I feel like this class was a waste of my time and money.”

“This course had nothing to do with what we were supposed to be learning and it was very frustrating. Instead of learning about tools to help us as teachers, we were learning tools that students could use in the classroom. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything valuable in the class so I stopped attending. It’s frustrating paying for a course you won’t get anything out of. I think clearer goals and objectives would have been better.”

“This class needs to be a hybrid class and should not be required for Early Childhood majors. There was hardly any useful information for Early Childhood majors to actually use in our classrooms and I am severely disappointed.”

Responding to such different student perspectives in my tenure portfolio SEI reflection is daunting and nerve-racking.  I sought out advice from my division chair who suggested “stymied” for some language to use.

Digging Deeper for Meaning

In digging deeper to find reasons for these contradictory perspectives, I can point to several factors that may have been the difference.


As Samantha Thomsen writes, classroom design influences educational outcomes.

In section one, the laptops were arranged on six-person tables.  Students routinely sat in certain seats, often next to an acquaintance or friend, creating natural proximity for group work.  I walked around the room during workshop time and was able to pull up a seat next to students when they asked questions or needed guidance.

In section two, the desktop computers were arranged in five rows of six seats on both the left and right side of the room with a wide aisle in the center. Students sat sometimes two or three in a row, but there were enough seats that some rows consistently only had one student.  I tried to circulate through the rows during workshop time, but even if I sucked everything in really tightly, I could not get to some areas.  During group workshop time, students awkwardly moved to other areas with their personal laptops in tow if they had them.

Class time

Many students worked full– or part-time jobs, limiting their choice of class times.

Section one was taught on Mondays at 1:30, drawing in primarily full-time students with part-time jobs.  My day started around 10:00 with office hours and planning.

Section two was taught on Tuesdays at 4:30 and was filled with students who started their days very early with full-time jobs.  My day started at 8:30 teaching a methods course from 9:00-1:00 off-campus.  Then, between 2:00-4:00 I either planned or more often attended meetings.


The SEIs overrepresented some groups and underrepresented others in both sections.

Section one student majors had the following breakdown:

  • Early Childhood – 11
  • Elementary Education – 4
  • Secondary Education – 1
  • Interdisciplinary Studies – 1

Section two student majors were the following:

  • Business Administration – 1
  • Early Childhood – 6
  • Elementary Education – 9
  • Content area major (math, English) – 2
  • Informational Technology – 1

Interestingly (and too late), I just discovered this site that outlines the Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners.  The overwhelmingly positive statements in section one do not sync with the complaints from early childhood majors in section two.  Section one’s early childhood majors had larger peer support for applying technology standards to younger children.  The same could be said for elementary education majors in section two.


The technical aspects such as classroom machine capabilities, Blackboard assignments, and Blackboard announcements seem to be foundational.

The laptop webcams in the section one classroom allowed students to capture themselves in a picture for their personal introductions on Padlet, unlike most of the personal introductions in section two that used clipart.

Usually navigating Blackboard is fine, but one of the assignments I tried to post and link for section two did not show up where I thought it should.  I posted it again and caused a ruckus.  This problem was unique to section two; whereas, most times the first section taught during the week would be where kinks and ironing happen.

For one class meeting, section two was supposed to attend a teacher panel for the first hour or so of class and write a blog post about it.  Very few students showed up and then some of them were waiting in the classroom unaware. The course announcement system seemed ineffective on this and other occasions.

Next Steps

We hired an outstanding new faculty member to pick up these course sections and other technology responsibilities in the college.  Frankly, I’m relieved.  But as a highly-reflective teacher and lifelong learner, I cannot ignore some important findings from this analysis:

  • Classroom setup matters.  Planning lessons needs to include a vision of the space in which the instruction will happen.  This setup includes group dynamics, as well.  Intentional grouping of content areas and majors makes a difference.
  • Clarity is essential. Nothing can be spelled out too much, said too often, or modeled enough.
  • Concentrate on the present.  This means close off everything that keeps me from being mentally ready for the upcoming class, including   meetings too near class time.

I’m interested in how you reflect on class evaluations or use student perspectives to inform instruction.