GROWING AS A TEACHER LEADER - Comic Sans Trilogy Volume III: The Comic Sans Perspective on Collaboration

Timeline created by mcbernal
  • Returning to my Alma Mater

    Returning to my Alma Mater
    In the fall of 2017, I began teaching biology at my old high school. After two years of teaching elsewhere, I was starting to feel confident in myself as an educator. I had enough experience under my belt to anticipate the challenges the year would bring, but I still saw myself as a new teacher, and eagerly sought out all the help I could get. It was because of this that I decided to spend my first year at PHS following the same curriculum that the other biology teachers were already using.
  • Going with the Flow

    Going with the Flow
    In my previous job teaching physics, I used inquiry-based learning as the foundation for my practice. When I switched to my new job, the other biology teachers at my school were eager to share their daily powerpoint lectures with me. This teacher-centered instruction was exhausting for me and ineffective for my students. But some of my new colleagues had taught ME in high school! Who was I to challenge the way they had been teaching for so many years? Reluctantly, I decided to go with the flow.
  • Our Year 3 Knowles Meeting - A Turning Point

    Our Year 3 Knowles Meeting - A Turning Point
    Feeling like I was not the teacher I wanted to be, I approached spring meeting feeling demoralized. As I entered the classroom where we would spend the next few days, I felt a positive energy permeate the room. Working in small groups on complex instruction tasks, I felt engaged and excited about learning and teaching again. In that moment, I recommitted myself to putting students at the center of my teaching through the use of group roles and norms to increase equity in my classroom.
  • My Inquiry Work Begins

    My Inquiry Work Begins
    On Day 2 of Spring Meeting, we thought intentionally about an area of focus for our inquiry work for the next year. Forming inquiry groups helped us to find other fellows who would support us in collecting and analyzing data. A group of us formed around a shared goal of building equity in our classrooms through norms and group roles. Although we spent much of the day laughing about the Comic Sans MS font, it was not wasted time. We left the meeting energized and ready to support each other.
  • An Empowering Moment

    An Empowering Moment
    Somehow, I was talked into chaperoning a student camping trip at the end of the year. As I drove there with my colleagues, we talked about what next year would look like. Megan would no longer be co-teaching Biology with me. "I'm so excited for you to do your own thing next year with Bio," said Megan. "I think everyone should leave their own mark on the classes they teach." I didn't realize I had been waiting for it, but this explicit permission to do things my own way felt liberating.
  • A Fresh Re-Start

    A Fresh Re-Start
    At the start of the year, I embraced Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) in my classes. My students used group roles as they worked through problems together. I surveyed my students to gather information about their experiences with groupwork. I used stamp quizzes (developed by a member of my inquiry group) to show my students how they were enacting our classroom norms. My students started taking more ownership of their learning.
  • Talking Less and Listening More

    Talking Less and Listening More
    As my students engaged in POGILs together, I found myself talking less during class. Instead, as I circled my way around the classroom to listen to groups, I found myself noticing and wondering more about their learning. I was able to pick up on specific questions that they had, as well as larger themes that the class was working their way through. When I did lecture briefly to clarify topics, I was able to speak directly to the topics that my students most needed support on.
  • My Formal Observation Goes Really Well

    My Formal Observation Goes Really Well
    I asked the vice principal to observe my class on a day when my students would have a stamp quiz. I wanted her to see them engaged in our classroom norms to complete a POGIL in their groups. It wasn't a perfect lesson, but it represented what my class had become - a space where students were working together through challenging problems to take ownership of their learning. The vice principal was so impressed and excited, she asked if I would consider inviting other teachers to come and watch.
  • Changes in my Students

    Changes in my Students
    As my students continued using group roles and norms during POGILs, something remarkable occurred outside those activities. Students who had never raised their hands before had started asking insightful and thought-provoking questions, which allowed my students and I to hear and learn from more voices. Additionally, my students started to need me less. Even on lab days, I was impressed to see my students turn to each other first when they needed support to work through challenges.
  • An Evolving Classroom Culture

    An Evolving Classroom Culture
    Even on days when I did not pass out group role cards or did not explicitly state the norms at the start of an activity, my students shared air time more equitably in their groups. It was on these days that I started to see just how much the use of these strategies had shifted my classroom culture. My students saw themselves and each other as experts and critical thinkers. They saw me as another expert and critical thinker in the room, but not as the only source of information or support.
  • Becoming More Open with my Colleagues

    Becoming More Open with my Colleagues
    When I started teaching at PHS, it was hard to view some of my former teachers as colleagues. I still felt the need to defer to their expertise and experience. But as I dove into my inquiry work and experienced more changes in my classroom, I realized that the transformations I was witnessing in my students were too amazing not to share. I invited my colleagues in the science department to try out Complex Instruction and POGIL with me. The entire bio team and one chemistry teacher jumped in.
  • Knowles Summer Meeting Jumpstarts Next Round of Inquiry

    Knowles Summer Meeting Jumpstarts Next Round of Inquiry
    At summer meeting, we were asked to start thinking about the next phase of our inquiry work - collecting data about our own professional communities. My inquiry group and I discussed how we would support each other in collecting data about our colleagues, which seemed a daunting task. I settled on Google form surveys and interview questions that I thought would help me to understand what my colleagues in the science department thought about collaboration.
  • Frustrations Emerge

    Frustrations Emerge
    Throughout the year, it became clear to me through surveys and interviews that everyone in my department valued collaboration. I became frustrated when discussing this with my inquiry group. There were so many things I wanted us to discuss in our department. Sure, we were doing POGILs together, but we never looked at student work from those POGILs together. If we all valued collaboration, why didn't I feel like we were collaborating enough? What was stopping us from doing more?
  • Digging Deeper

    Digging Deeper
    I was struggling with my inquiry. My inquiry group helped me to analyze my data and pointed out ways in which it was limiting. For our next inquiry group meeting, I shared an annotated agenda. My group helped me see the sheer number of top-down agenda items from the admin team that we were asked to spend our time on. My inquiry group members also commented on how little time my colleagues and I had to work together. I began to see how these factors were limiting meaningful collaboration.
  • The Missing Piece

    The Missing Piece
    My inquiry group pointed out that I hadn't yet interrogated my own role in the system. I realized that by changing things and being more open with my colleagues over the past few years, I had fundamentally altered the way we collaborate together. Despite the barriers we faced, we still found ways to change our teaching practice through POGILs, group roles, and norms. My initial enthusiasm combined with my colleagues' willingness to jump in created new learning opportunities for our students.
  • Coronavirus Shakes Things Up

    Coronavirus Shakes Things Up
    In March, everything changed. Suddenly, I had no time to self-doubt my decisions or wait for permission to change things. I had only energy and time for putting together new lessons and new ways of learning for my students. What emerged was some of the best curriculum I have ever developed, in the form of a project-based unit about Covid-19. When other teachers sought my help during quarantine, I granted myself permission to see myself in a new way: someone with her own expertise worth sharing.
  • New Roles and New Opportunities

    New Roles and New Opportunities
    When our vice principal emailed us an instructional coach job posting, I applied. In the past, I would have never seen myself in such a role at my school. But given everything I have learned about myself through my inquiry journey as well as my experience teaching during a pandemic, I have come to learn that I am capable. I no longer see myself as a former student at my school, but rather as a colleague. I'm excited to support and learn from other teachers as an instructional coach this year.