Hold a mirror up to your CORE

October 23, 2015

As the holiday season approaches and the holiday goodies start to appear (yay candy corn!), we should all stop to think… Have I been working on my CORE? If I held up a mirror, what would I see?

Are you excited for caramel apples and pumpkin spice lattes? Are you already planning your Thanksgiving Feast? While fall is full of wonderful treats, some of us might be thinking about our CORES!

Maybe you think I mean your CORE abdominal muscles… or maybe I’m talking about the Common Core and diving deeply into math and literacy standards.

For me, this year I’m going to be reflecting on the Core Propositions, the five ideas that are the basis of the National Board Standards. Although I have already certified, I find myself talking about these propositions with many different sets of colleagues. The Core Propositions have incredible power to lead teachers in continued reflection and growth. And we all know Stan Lee’s quote… “With great power, comes great responsibility.” As we prepare to go back to our teacher colleagues, let’s think about how we can talk about this Core…

Proposition 1: Teachers are committed to students and their learning. For me, this means that I really connect with my students – and even my former students! I met up with so many of them this past summer to hear what they’re up to!  I also asked Casey Balio – who is in her second year teaching – about her thoughts on this statement.  “When I first saw the proposition, my immediate response was ‘Yes! Of course teachers are devoted to their students and their learning!’ However, I don’t know that this is always conveyed. Too often we hear our students say that their teachers are trying to fail them or make their lives miserable. In order to have our students learn, they must know that we are committed to them and likewise we must gain their trust and commitment to us.

Proposition 2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students. And this is why over the summer I was reading Scientific American while hanging by the pool. I also love joining professional networks that send me fun books, magazines and blog posts to read. One of my favorite discussions this year was with my “next-door teacher” – Will Farrior. When I showed him Core Prop 2, he said, “Proposition 2 is knowing that you are always the person in the classroom with the most experience and relatable knowledge pertaining to your subject. It means not only being able to answer any level of question relevant to your subject area, but also being able to take the knowledge that you have built up over years of exposure to your subject and present it in a way that is understandable for all learners.

Proposition 3: Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning. A few months ago, I watched a video where the National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples told President Obama that teaching is so much complicated than it seems. Proposition 3 is the embodiment of that complexity. My colleague Monica Lewis (NBCT in Michigan) shares, “One of the intricacies of being a teacher is managing and goal-setting for multiple students simultaneously. The charge of monitoring and managing student learning inspires teachers to authentically teach their students, adapt to their needs, and push them on a trajectory towards academic success.

Proposition 4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience. Do you ever mull back over things you want to modify in your classroom? I have a pile of yellow sticky notes with notes of things I want to consider this year, but one key lever I always examine closely is my classroom assessments. NBCT Craig Williams says, “Assessing students is a key pillar to good instruction. Great teachers actively use this information to drive their instruction and individualize tasks to meet each student’s needs. I  use a pre- and post- test cycle so I can modify instruction from the very beginning to help all children in my classroom meet the standards.”   The assessments we use in our classroom are a valuable twice: first we can use them for feedback that helps us meet the needs of our current students. But then, we’re also learning from assessments and observations of our classes how to improve instruction in the future. What else can you learn from your students and classroom to guide your professional learning and improvement?

Proposition 5: Teachers are members of learning communities. Oh the famous PLCs! I’m excited to be back with my team, but sometimes we might feel as if this term has become a buzzword – has it lost its impact? A colleague and I spent have some time brainstorming ways to liven up the PLCs at school, but I especially wanted the input of others in the community. Parent Elyse Dashew says, I have found that my children are more likely to thrive, academically and otherwise, when their teachers are collaborating, mentoring and being mentored, and reinforcing each other’s lessons. And teachers might consider students’ families part of the learning community. Parents need guidance as to our role in helping our children succeed – how to contact teachers, what the boundaries are, what you’re teaching and why, what we can do to help from home, and even when to stay out of the way.”

I think I’ll print off the Core Propositions and tape them to my mirror. The fall season might bring multiple ways to work on your “core” – abdominal core, Common Core, or Core Propositions. I feel in all those cases, the word “core” has the same definition; those “cores” are central to the existence of something, and like the core of an apple, they contain the potential for so much growth.

So here’s to working on all forms of our core this fall. If you want an extra resource for that process, here are some wonderful questions shared by ASCD and Carol Tomlinson as a “Teacher Leader Self-Assessment.”

Joanna Schimizzi, NBCT

Joanna Schimizzi is a National Board Certified Teacher in her 8th year teaching Biology and AP Biology in public schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District. Schimizzi has been passionate about helping increase student interest in science and careers and has pursued that passion by forging a variety of community and university partnerships. To help ensure that all students have access to excellent teaching, Schimizzi has also collaborated with organizations that advance the teaching profession, and presented at conferences including the 2014 Teaching & Learning Conference.