4 Great Visual Teaching Tools for Science Teachers

By Anica Oaks

Employing just the right visual teaching tools can make a critical difference between science teachers bringing their material brilliantly to life before their students’ eyes and watching them grow frustrated and overwhelmed by the difficult concepts. Reluctant or struggling learnings may need to process information through a different channel for the lessons to stick. After all, around 65 percent of the population is comprised of visual learners. When you consider that humans visually process about 90 percent of all information in any given environment visually, that makes sense. The knowledge you present may not always inherently electrify the classroom all by itself, but recognizing and playing to your students’ strengths can keep them engaged.


Chuckle and roll your eyes if you want, but these ubiquitous visual gags are naturally sticky ideas ideal for making any notion easy to instantly recall. Try setting up a moderated classroom subreddit. Encourage students to use any of the countless online meme generators available now to creatively repurpose existing templates toward what you teach. Next, let them comment, upvote and reply with their own memes to each thread. It may sound ridiculous and even shallow to elder generations, but this is a downright devious way to sneak learning into the same motif kids choose to riff on sports, anime, video games, and life’s generally ridiculous minutiae.


Depending on your school’s scheduling philosophy, you likely have roughly an hour to 90 minutes for your students to digest your planned lesson. Any scientific discipline has its dry-but-essential subject matter rife with weedy swamps of complex concepts, formulas, and key memorization. When you drop this stuff into a visually appealing infographic, you distill intimidating blocks of data into a digestible layout that anyone can understand at a glance. Depending on exactly how you plan to present it, animation and eye-catching graphics alongside charts, maps, and embedded videos will make the information leap even more vividly into the eyes and minds of visually oriented learners. You might be amazed at just how user-friendly and intuitive many template generators are nowadays, too.

3D Print Models and Virtual Reality

True, the surest path into many students’ minds may pass through the eyes. Still, so many scientific disciplines confront the most foundational physical laws governing the universe. It also just so happens that many visual adept pupils are also highly receptive to tactile input. A 3D-printed replica of an elemental particle, internal organ, or mineral fragment may shed light on and familiarize students with key characteristics and concepts no simple diagram or photograph could present with as quite as much immersive, up-close detail. 

This approach to hands-on explanation also dramatically improves information retention by reducing cognitive loads, but if 3D printing is somehow out of the question, virtual reality simulations can create highly interactive spatial environments emulating numerous real or fictitious scenarios in which students can learn meaningfully and call upon knowledge practically in an unforgettable fashion.

Collaboration Spaces

At its best, scientific discovery and innovation is rarely the product of a single mind’s labor. More often, it entails a synergy of intellects collaborating for the good of expanding human knowledge. With that reality in mind, consider opening a collaborative online platform for your students. These dedicated spaces provide tools and shared feeds where your pupils can brainstorm, pose questions, discuss charts, and house multimedia assets. You can participate too by uploading your own images, text, documents, sketches, videos and links against a visually appealing backdrop of your choosing. Forums and discussion boards are wonderfully simple, but this is a means of encouraging teamwork in which students can teach one another in styles that suit them individually.

No two students’ optimal learning processes are any more likely to match exactly than randomly chosen strands of DNA. However, evidence would certainly suggest there may be something unexpectedly thought-provoking about the phrase, “Seeing is believing.” Teaching tools such as a stream table or infographic breaking down the elemental makeup of the human body will almost assuredly not detract from anyone else’s learning. In fact, it will likely reach unique students not as engaged by traditional lectures while reinforcing scientific concepts others may already grasp in a unique light. Everyone wins.

Movies, Word Finds, and Coloring Sheets

My daughter is in eighth grade now. She’s doing math I don’t remember and solved some problems the other night that I couldn’t help her with (luckily, Alexa could). She’s taking German and is all guten this and guten that when she gets home. She’s a programmer on her robotics team. She’s read “The Lottery” and “The Monkey’s Paw” in English class. She’s getting better at playing along with Jeopardy!

She has also brought home a coloring assignment and a word find during the first four weeks of school.

In sixth grade, we joked that one of her classes should have been called Watching Movies I’ve Already Seen.

I am supposed to be upset about this. The teacher in me (who gave up word finds and coloring sheets as assignments many years ago) should be outraged. I should follow the lead of many other teachers and parents who demand more of schools and post my disappointment on social media. Like Alice Keeler, I should decry the absent “depth of knowledge” and whine that my child had to waste 30 minutes of her Thursday night searching for German words in a soup of letters when she could have been spending quality time with her mom and dad (as if she has any interest in doing that). Maybe I should pen a diatribe to the offending teacher, explaining just how wrongheaded such assignments are. This is 2019, I could all-caps her, and this is UNACCEPTABLE. Or, if I were feeling especially peeved, I could take a photo of the word find and teacher-shame the woman on Facebook so all her friends can see what a terrible educator she is.

But I’m not going to do any of those things.

I’m not going to do them because I’m a teacher and I understand.

Also, I’m a human, and I get that too.

The Most Imperfect World Of Them All

Look, my wife and I weren’t thrilled about either assignment. In a perfect world, every task would push my child to get just a little better, a little smarter. Every activity would be tightly situated in a cozy “zone of proximal development” nook, a magical place where students are challenged just enough to stretch their abilities but not so much that they become frustrated and start throwing things.

I hear there’s also puppies, rainbows, and cotton candy there.

But teachers don’t work in a perfect world. Far from it. And middle school teachers may work in the most imperfect world of them all.

I am positive that the teacher who assigned the coloring sheet did not think to herself, “This is a killer task that will challenge my students.” Same for the teacher who handed out a word find as students exited her room or the one who showed movies every other Friday. So why did they do it?

It’s a question worth asking because most of the time people have reasons for doing what they do. We may disagree with those reasons, and they may have some underlying assumptions that are wrong. They might be operating under a debunked theory, like learning styles, or they might feel pressured into doing something they’d rather not do.

We may never know their reason, but it’s usually safe to assume that it’s not the one we’re ascribing. One of the more regrettable human characteristics is our propensity to assume the worst of others, even as we give ourselves pass after pass. After all, we know our motives and our reasons; we’ve lived with them our whole lives. But when a driver cuts us off, he’s an idiot who shouldn’t have a license, instead of a daydreamer who had an exhausting day with a 150 thirteen-year-olds.

This is Water

In 2005, the writer David Foster Wallace gave a commencement address to the graduating class of Kenyon College. In his speech, “This is Water,” Wallace said, “The really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.”

He warns the graduates that they “do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means.”  That large parts of adult life involve “boredom, routine, and petty frustrations.” As an example, he uses the kind of soul-destroying, after-work trip to the grocery store with which every adult is all too familiar. Wallace describes how many people choose to think in such situations:

“The traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.”

And that, I would submit, is exactly what those who gripe about movies, word finds, and coloring sheets are doing. They are making it all about them and their kid.

Luckily, we can choose to think differently. More Wallace:

“If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.”

It’s about compassion. Grace. Empathy. Understanding. Realizing that you are not the center of the universe and that other people make decisions just like you do. So that when they make a decision you find baffling – like assigning a word find to an eighth-grader for homework – you don’t instinctively think the worst of them. You choose what to think.

It is possible that…

The teacher wanted the kids to have something “fun” to do because they’ve been doing a lot of rigorous work in the classroom.

The teacher wanted an assignment that showcased artistic kids’ abilities instead of the usual assignment that allowed writers to thrive.

The teacher is under pressure to assign regular homework, but knowing her students are already getting a pile of homework from their other classes, she gave them something brainless that they could quickly finish.

The German teacher read this research that concludes word finds actually help with learning a second language.

The teacher gave students plenty of time in class to finish the coloring sheet but your kid screwed around and ended up having to take it home per class policy, so now it looks like “homework” when it really shouldn’t have been.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility that the teacher knew better but did it anyway.

You know, like that time you destroyed your diet because Joyce brought donuts to school.

Or when you smoked that cigarette even though you were quitting.

Or when you sucked down your fifth Long Island Iced Tea and hit on the IT guy at the staff Christmas party.

Or a thousand other decisions you’ve made in your life that you aren’t proud of but you forgive yourself because you were tired, or stressed, or angry, or hungry, or you just didn’t know any better at the time.

Forgive the Meatless Big Mac

It reminds me of something a friend of mine shared on Facebook recently.

It was a picture of a McDonald’s Big Mac, buns open to reveal no meat. Below the image, the customer, Rob Goddard, had written:

“So I go to McDonald’s since I’m sick and don’t feel like cooking, and order a Big Mac meal and head home. I get home and to my amazement, there’s no burger…on my burger.

Initially, I wanted to be upset, as a paying customer, and blame whoever it is that made the sandwich for such a stupid silly mistake. However, as someone who has worked in the service industry for a long time, I couldn’t help but laugh. It really made me reflect on some of my worst days where I’ve made silly mistakes and had to stand silently while getting screamed at by some angry middle-aged Karen lady about how stupid and uneducated I must be.

I headed back to McDonald’s to show them and get a corrected one and we all had a great laugh about it. I was happy to laugh with the staff and wait for a fresh one. We, as humans, all make mistakes and no matter how stupid or silly it may seem, it happens! Not every situation involving simple mistakes needs to be hostile or make the individual feel belittled. We have all forgotten to put the Big Mac on the Big Mac at some point. Be kind.”

So, the next time your kid comes home with a coloring sheet, or a teacher assigns a word find, or you find out that your child spent the last hour of school watching a movie you don’t see as particularly educational, maybe stop a second and, like Wallace recommends, choose to force yourself to think differently. Show others the grace, forgiveness, and understanding you regularly allow yourself.

Be a better human.

Why Teachers Need to Incorporate More Physical Activity Into Their Lesson Plans

By Frankie Wallace

Source: Pixabay

Finding a balance in the classroom can be difficult. Incorporating time for grammar, nutrition, mathematics, science, technology, and a plethora of other subjects is already hard all on its own. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, though, covering so many subjects without turning your class into a horde of zombie-children in the process can feel impossible. The lack of focus and increased levels of pent up energy that come with hours of trying to sit still and listen can be difficult to contain.

That’s where good old physical activity comes into play. It may be a simple concept, but the idea of incorporating exercise into the classroom is a critical ingredient for education success. 

Why Physical Activity Matters

Physical activity is a necessary part of life. The act of moving around, stretching your legs and getting your heart pumping faster should be intimately integrated into a long day in the classroom. 

We live in an era where the general lack of physical health isn’t just a concern, it’s an epidemic. Over a third of American adults are obese at this point, with a staggering 13 million of their children following suit. 

But the importance of moving around and getting regular exercise doesn’t stop with the weight issues. Physical activity can also help prevent things like heart disease, depression, and even the possibility of developing hypertension.

In addition, many studies suggest that getting a healthy amount of exercise throughout the day leads to better test performance, focus, concentration, and overall cognitive development.

It can even improve sleep. However, regarding that last point, it’s best to allow for at least three hours between the activity and the actual act of going to sleep. In other words, many students will need to exercise before or at school if they’re going to get their physical activity in early enough to feel the benefits at night.

Hence, the need to get moving in the classroom itself.

Incorporating Physical Activity Into the Classroom

The question that still remains, at this point, is how to get your students exercising without inciting a riot. Here are a few suggestions, with the caveat that each of these ideas should be personally adapted to your own school, classroom, students, teaching style, and curriculum.

Have a Game Plan in Place

The first thing you should consider before incorporating more movement into your class schedule is how to do so without inviting chaos in the process. As a general rule, it’s advisable to introduce any physical activity into your classroom with clear rules and boundaries in place and communicated to the students. This will provide a straightforward structure within which the exercise can take place.

Take Breaks

One simple way to get your students up and moving is to create regular breaks. Finland, for instance, is well-known for providing 15-minute breaks every hour. The practice has reportedly led to impressive results. 

The idea of a break is just as good for you, as the teacher, as it is for the students. The ability to get a little bit of exercise can help ease the stress that so many educators cope with on a regular basis.

Related: One Simple Way to Steal Time for Grading

Incorporate Apps

If you’re at a loss for how to find ways to get your students moving, consider looking for apps that can lend a helping hand. At this point, many developers have designed apps with the express purpose of helping to facilitate movement.

For instance, the app GoNoodle enables students to dance to popular songs. The Sworkit Kids app is another great way to get everyone working out together. All it takes is a couple of Google searches to see the wealth of application-based options geared towards physical activity that is available.

Go for a Class Walk

Walking burns 40 times more calories than sitting. Big surprise, right? While it’s understandably not always an option, if you can plan a nature walk or even just a walk around your school on a daily basis it can make a huge difference. 

Try to tie it in with something you’re learning. For instance, if you’re teaching elementary kids, go outside and have them count their steps or jump a certain number of times while skip counting. If your middle schoolers are in the midst of studying kingdoms in biology, have them look for plants, bugs, animals, etc. and categorize them as they walk.

Work Activity Into the Curriculum

Another option is to look for other ways to work physical activity into your curriculum right in the classroom. Have students act out events from history class, create a dance that represents a formula or concept they’re learning, and so on. When students can combine hands-on activities with something they’re currently studying, it can make the process much more relatable and thus, easier to understand and retain.

Create a Pair of Fitness Dice

Finally, consider designing a pair of fitness dice specifically for the needs of your classroom. Have your students get in on the project, voting on activities to include. Then, use them to get everyone up and moving with a particular, dice-rolled goal in mind.

Moving in the Classroom

Rolling fitness dice, going for a walk, taking scheduled breaks, and incorporating exercise apps are all great ways to get things moving. However you go about it, though, the important thing to keep in mind is the end goal: to increase the health and learning capabilities of your students. Not only will they benefit physically from the added exercise, but they’ll likely also find it easier to sit still, concentrate, and learn.

Doubling Down On Teacher Evaluations

This popped up in my Twitter recently:

It’s hard to get so much wrong in 60 seconds but Hess manages it, which is not surprising. No matter how badly teacher evaluation reform efforts fail (and the most expensive one failed spectacularly), you can count on Hess to make excuses and point the finger at every reformer’s favorite whipping boy, implementation.

Related: What Defenders of Teacher Evaluation Reform Still Get Wrong

Hess doubles down on teacher evaluation reform in the video above and continues to demonstrate the extent to which he just doesn’t get it. One has to wonder if he’d be so endlessly enthusiastic about this reform’s potential if it was his money being flushed down the toilet instead of the billions wasted by philanthropists sticking their noses in areas they clearly don’t understand.

Hess starts out by referencing the New Teacher Project’s 2009 report that found that less than 1% of teachers were rated unsatisfactory, a finding that Hess claims sparked a wave of reform (he neglects to mention those reforms were driven by a handful of people with very deep pockets and not the result of some grassroots movement of parents who thought their kids’ teachers were garbage). Hess, like most reformers of his ilk, is especially bothered by the fact that more teachers working in schools with abysmal results aren’t rated unsatisfactory. That’s lazy thinking and damaging to students attending those schools.

While he doesn’t come right out and say it, Hess’s argument implies that he believes a large percentage of teachers working in buildings where students do poorly on standardized tests should be relieved of their duties. He believes this in spite of the clear connection between the socioeconomic status of a school’s students and its test scores. He believes it in spite of a lack of evidence pointing to teachers as the problem. He believes it even though I’m sure he’s read the Johns Hopkins report about troubles in the Providence Public School District, where observers reported deteriorating facilities, a lack of quality curriculum and alignment, unsafe school environments, and teachers who felt “a lack of agency and input into decisions at their schools and classrooms.”

In other words, a whole lot of problems in our schools are created by people other than teachers.

But Hess doesn’t care. “The kids aren’t learning, so it must be the teachers’ fault,” seems to be his motto. Nevermind that the report’s authors “encountered some judgments and attitudes from individual principals that, based on what we know about effective schools, do not support higher student outcomes” or that observers “noted the presence of many devoted teachers, principals, and some district leaders who go above and beyond to support student success.” If Hess had his way, many more of these dedicated professionals would be out of a job because the test scores just aren’t good enough.

Hess then gets to his main point, explaining how “well-intentioned reforms can turn into clumsy mandates” that leave principals spending 150 hours a year filling out paperwork just to evaluate their teachers. That’s a problem, says Hess, because it’s driving away great leaders who don’t want to spend all their time clicking boxes on iPads. Of course, Hess doesn’t mention that all of these observations and focus on test scores might also be driving out great teachers. What he does lament is that even with all this extra hoop-jumping, we still aren’t firing enough teachers!

Hess concludes, “Teachers absolutely have to be evaluated more rigorously” without explaining why. The Gates Foundation already tried it. It failed to improve student outcomes and it led to a host of unintended consequences, not the least of which is that teachers will do whatever they can to avoid working in buildings where the students are likely to do poorly on standardized tests and some of them will say the hell with it altogether. (Who Hess proposes to replace these duds and quitters remains unsaid in the video.)

The solution, says Hess, is to give school leaders more “authority, leeway, and autonomy and then hold them responsible for what they do with it.” I’m sure the Providence teachers who work for those principals who hold “judgments and attitudes that do not support higher student outcomes” would be tickled to hear that Hess wants to give them more authority and less paperwork. And just who will hold the principals responsible when they decide to fire the mouthy second-grade teacher who gets great results and keep the docile, compliant newby who volunteers for every literacy night but whose students don’t do quite as well?

Thanks to reformers, many school leaders have already been given more authority, leeway, and autonomy to evaluate their teachers. Most have chosen to rate them highly. Hess is arguing they’re wrong to do so. But what does he know? He’s not the one watching them work every day. He doesn’t see who goes above and beyond for student success, as many educators in the most challenging schools in our nation do. He’s just looking at numbers, and his response to numbers he doesn’t like is to remove protections for teachers and make it easier to kick them to the curb. That’s not a solution; it’s a knee-jerk reaction that won’t make our schools better and will probably make them worse. Because what good teacher wants to work in a system where her principal has the “leeway” to take away their jobs without even having to spend a couple of hours crossing i’s and dotting t’s?

Are Teachers Trusted?

For about half the days of the last 20 years, I have been trusted with other people’s children. I knew I would be when I decided to become a teacher. It’s an awesome responsibility and scary enough that I spend most of my time at work actively not thinking about it. I have taken large groups of children on field trips, where I am responsible for their safety. I’ve taught countless students who have allergies that could kill them. Every year, I am trained in how to administer a life-saving dose of epinephrine. I am the sole first responder should a student have a seizure in my room, which happened once. I am responsible for getting students onto the correct buses or to the pick-up area at the end of every day when parents call at the last minute with a change in transportation. Fail at this, and an eight-year-old can be dropped off at an empty house or I can create parental panic over a missing child.

I am also responsible for the future of the republic, or so I’ve been told. Economist Eric Hanushek believes that lackluster teaching in America’s schools is responsible for a “permanent recession” and that our low achievement on international tests prevents students from accessing good, high-paying jobs after graduation. If students haven’t learned to read by the time they leave my third-grade classroom, they are consigned to a future of unemployment, substance abuse, and incarceration. More pressingly, they could be held back, which comes with its own serious consequences, such as a higher likelihood of dropping out.

Last year, the idea of arming teachers to protect students (and themselves, I suppose) from school shooters briefly dominated the news. In May, Florida passed legislation allowing teachers to carry guns at school. And so, for a brief moment, when fear (okay, it was probably politics) was involved, even those who regularly bash our education system, its teachers, and the unions to which they belong were willing to trust educators to pack heat around their kids.

Related: So Now They Trust Teachers?

All of this means that I should feel like a trusted professional. Every teacher should. And indeed, most people do trust teachers. Only 10% of those polled by Gallup rate teachers as having low or very low honesty and professional ethics, putting teaching near the top of our most trusted occupations.

The paradox of teacher trust is that while teachers are trusted with other people’s children, the future of the republic, and with firearms, we’re not trusted with the color copier. And the mistrust doesn’t end with expensive ink cartridges. Teachers are subjected to a daily dose of indignities that send the clear message that they just can’t be trusted. Here are ten.

Teachers are subjected to a daily dose of indignities that send the clear message that they just can't be trusted. Click To Tweet


As mentioned, most teachers do not have access to a color copier. Most of those who do have access must first get permission. As for black and white copies, my previous district wasn’t too trusting here, either. Every teacher was assigned a username and password to type into the brand-new machines. This was a feature that could be disabled by the district. It wasn’t. Such a policy allowed the district to keep tabs on how many copies each teacher ran. And keep track they did. Every year, we’d get an email telling us our number and comparing it to the average. The district also compared buildings, the clear implication being that some people were making too many copies. How those in central office determined that was a mystery, since they regularly displayed an astonishing level of ignorance about what actually went on in classrooms and since they were responsible for the paper-heavy programs teachers were using.

Access to the Building

Some teachers are not trusted to enter their buildings at night, on weekends, or during breaks. For years, my wife was not given keys. When she was given keys (because teachers needed them to enter during regular school hours thanks to the fortress mentality schools have adopted in the wake of school shootings), she didn’t have the ability to disable the alarm system. Clever district leaders will explain such policies by telling teachers that they should leave school at school and protect themselves by staying away. But the truth is obvious: teachers aren’t trusted in the building alone. They might attempt to use the color copier.

Keys to High-Value Rooms

In my last district, the key to my classroom opened the key to every classroom. Except for two. To enter the computer lab (which was where things like extension cords, computer speakers, and ethernet cables were stored), I had to find the computer teacher, the principal, or the janitor. The same went for a tiny room where a technician repaired Chromebooks. By having different locks on these doors, the district sent the clear message that they suspected thieves among the teaching staff. And that janitors from a private company that paid its employees nine bucks an hour were more trustworthy than the professionals they’d hired to educate the community’s children.

The Laminator

I once worked at a building where teachers were not allowed to touch the laminator. It seems some teacher screwed the whole thing up one time by using it incorrectly, so instead of, say, training teachers on its correct use, the principal just banned teachers from even approaching it. To get something laminated, one had to submit the materials to a central location. Then, about a week later, you’d get your laminated stuff back. Provided the laminator didn’t break down. Or the laminator person (also called a laminator?) didn’t take a day or two off. Or she didn’t run out of laminating film. Anyway, I’ve never laminated again.

Air Conditioning

Here’s a new one for me. This summer, my district installed air conditioning in the newly renovated part of our building. They didn’t put in central air but instead installed hulking units in each classroom. Each unit has its own thermostat right there on the side. If you’re jealous, you should be. Until you learn that teachers aren’t allowed to actually control their own air conditioning units. The thermostats don’t do anything because the district has decided that teachers can’t be trusted to not turn their classrooms into walk-in freezers. They have instead given that power to one person sitting at central office. A sort of God of Air Conditioning. Teachers: trusted with the future, just not with the AC.

The God of Air Conditioning


Teachers are not trusted to use their time effectively. For years, I worked in a building where parent-teacher conferences were scheduled from 5 – 8 pm. The idea was to take the hour between 4:00 and 5:00 for dinner or prep. But I didn’t want to stay until eight o’clock, so I started right after school (since there were a number of parents already there to pick up their kids) and didn’t offer parents any slots between 7:30 and 8:00. I left early, but I wasn’t supposed to. What I did wasn’t technically allowed because teachers can’t be trusted to use time how they see fit. Instead, we’re forced to remain in the building for the second half of half-days, required to remain on campus during our planning time, and need special permission from the boss if we need to leave 30 minutes early, instead of just arranging coverage of our classes on our own, like trusted professionals would. What’s especially galling is that teachers, more than any other professionals, regularly volunteer their personal time to do their job. We’ve already proven our collective professionalism and dedication, but districts consistently set policies that suggest they believe teachers would slack off if they weren’t forced to stay at work.

Professional Growth

Have you ever wondered why states require teachers to attend x number of hours of professional development each year, or force teachers to take x number of college credits every x amount of years in order to keep their certification, or why districts require preapproval of said college courses, or why principals do book studies, or why districts offer voluntary PD?

Because no one trusts teachers to keep learning on their own. This in spite of the fact that Dave Burgess has sold about a bazillion copies of Teach Like a Pirate, Twitter is overrun with educhats, and thousands of teachers willingly give up time during the summer to attend conferences.

Professional Judgment

Sure, teachers went to college to receive training for the job. Okay, the state certified them to teach. Yes, they’re forced to learn and keep growing professionally. Yeah, they probably know their students better than people who never interact with them. But that doesn’t mean their professional judgment should be trusted. It’s not enough to say that a student needs extra help. You must have The Data to prove it. It doesn’t matter if a student isn’t learning from the program teachers are required to use. Teachers must not deviate from the curriculum. Teachers who want to supplement must get permission because they can’t possibly know which programs are research-based. Fidelity to programs (often unproven ones), pacing guides, goals chosen at the district level, and forms to fill out so you can show a video are all evidence that your leaders don’t trust your professional judgment.

Lesson Plans

If you’re required to submit lesson plans, you’re not a trusted professional. There are only three reasons teachers are asked to submit lesson plans. The first, and only legitimate reason, is if a teacher is struggling. In an attempt to diagnose the problem, principals should ask to see a lesson plan to determine if the teacher knows how to structure an effective lesson. The second reason is for compliance purposes (to see whether teachers are sticking to a pacing guide (ick) or to make sure they’re actually teaching the standards). The third reason teachers are asked to submit lesson plans is because they work for micromanaging tools who don’t understand how pressed for time teachers already are and who think lesson plans tell them something about what actually goes on in classrooms. Principals have a supervisory role to play and they should trust and verify that teachers are doing their jobs. The way to do that is to walk into their classrooms and watch them teach, not give them busy work that makes it clear how little you trust them.

I have strong feelings on required lesson plans. You can read more here: How to Get Your Principal to Stop Requiring Lesson Plans

Our Words

I once had a principal who wanted a copy of every newsletter teachers sent home to parents. She said it was in case parents called with questions or concerns; if she had the newsletter, she could reference it during the phone call or parent visit. My suspicion was she just didn’t trust her teachers. Since most of us sent newsletters every Friday, there was no way she could read all the newsletters. By asking for a copy, she was making a preemptive strike against any criticism of her or the school’s policies. Knowing you had to submit your newsletter made you think twice before informing parents about administrative decisions they may have opposed. This is the same reason districts warn teachers off social media. It’s not that they’re afraid you’re going to make yourself look bad because you post pictures of your vacation to Cancun and parents might see it. It’s because you might tell parents that the thousands of dollars taxpayers just voted to spend on new Chromebooks was wasted because the district won’t hire people to fix the Chromebooks when they break or because you might share a screenshot of an email written from your boob of a Superintendent in which he states that teachers will be subject to disciplinary action if they wear their union t-shirts to the football game on Friday night.

Perhaps they’re right to not trust teachers to keep their mouths shut when it comes to policies that demoralize them or that harm the education of their students. Or perhaps they could trust that teachers know what they’re talking about. That their concerns are the community’s concerns. That by allowing them their voice they could benefit from word-of-mouth when they do things well. They might realize that by trusting teachers to speak up when things aren’t right, they’ll try harder to get things right in the first place and learn from their mistakes when they don’t, which will strengthen the organization and improve schools for everyone in them.

But until teachers are allowed to print their newsletters in color and not have to send copies to their principals, I’m not holding my breath.

Other examples of how teachers aren’t trusted: