Sunday, April 23, 2017

It’s not about me…Reflections of Student Teaching at PV

Student Teaching is a time of transition, growth, questioning, and daily ups and downs- but after taking some time to reflect this incredible experience I've narrowed it down to the fact that it's not about me. Yes my role as a teacher is essential, but it's really about the students, the mentors and supporters, the community and culture and going back to the basics of what it takes to teach day in and day out.

It’s about students….

It’s about David, Bryce or Jess… (names all changed) the ones that pushed me away all semester, challenged me and some days made me so frustrated by their comments, actions or lack of actions. But they are the ones I will remember, the ones I will wonder if they stayed in school after we tried time and time again to give them opportunities to succeed. It’s about caring even though they don’t.  It's also about the ones that get just excited if not more about content and agriculture as I do.  The ones that make you laugh, make your day or make you think.  It's the students that make us work harder, and I love it. My time at Pequea Valley taught me the importance of the quote ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ I know I need to remember I teach students, and my subject area just happens to be agriculture.

It’s about mentors….

There is a reason they don’t throw teachers right in a classroom, because mentorship is important- and I was blessed with the best. Doug Masser and Jasmine VanSant are the real MVPs. Laughing with these two and learning from them and with them was one of the best parts of this semester, because I know it doesn’t stop here, they are two people I can call in the future as I navigate being a new teacher. They let me be part of the team. The times they were silent, were necessary- for me to grow as a teacher, but also personally. In the last week watching both of them teach showed me how extremely lucky those students are to have them.

It’s about community and culture…..

One part of my teaching philosophy is all about contextually and culturally relevant teaching… it honestly came about because of the time I spent studying ESL and studying abroad, but this is so much more. I have realized that no matter where I am, or the program I lead is in- it must meet the community's needs. I could have done a flower workshop or arrangements for the nursing home, but here it made more sense to provide something free of charge at a location that exists to serve our students, and those in poverty. Place based education and culturally relevant curriculum and events look different everywhere- which means the three circle model will look a little different everywhere- and it should. And the culture at Pequea Valley is different, yet so awesome, I think I will always carry the PV pride.

It’s about the basics…

From Clarity of instruction, to basic directions, lab setup, check in or assessment…. It’s all about going back to the basics when something doesn’t work. It is so easy to say ‘I could have done so much better’ and in all honesty I may have been able to, but only because I have done it a few differetn ways and learned what worked and what didn’t work. Thankful for mentors that showed me the ropes and offered countless helpful hints in learning the basics.

It’s so much bigger than me, it’s about preparing students to be leaders, problem solvers and the agriculturalists our country and world needs. Thank you Pequea Valley for making me a better teacher, giving me a little sass once in awhile, and always making me laugh. With all the PV pride, Ms. Hack

Saturday, April 22, 2017

PAAE Regional Meeting

After attending PAAE Summer Professional Development conference and the National Association of Agricultural Educators I realized the importance of being engaged in your professional organizations.  Earlier this month Mr. Masser and I attended the Easter Region PAAE meeting.  It was great to hear an update about the summer conference and some of the exciting workshops that will be hosted there, along with other tours and events.  Also on the agenda was updates and concerns in the profession, and the importance of advocating for the profession.  It was great to hear how different agriculture teachers have gone about the latest MOU to continue to keep Mr. Chris Weller's position for agricultural education in Pennsylvania.  It was also great to connect with other agriculture teachers- as always.  After the meeting Mr. Masser and I took a tour of the agriculture facilities at Conrad Weiser, and they are awesome!  The agriscience focus of Conrad Weiser is incredible.  It included a dry lab, a wet lab, a small lab room, another small growing lab, greenhouse, mini barn with a steer and an agricultural library and work room!  The program and teachers also assist with a summer institute to give students additional opportunities to do science or agriscience research!  Needless to say, we were in awe! 

Professional Development- CASE and New Teacher Dinner

Both of these came at the perfect time and provided great professional development this semester.  A few weeks ago I chose to make the trek back to State College to participate in the CASE professional development workshop.  This was hosted by Teach Ag! Society and was the perfect time to come up and discover a little more about CASE.  I really like the inquiry that the CASE curriculum focuses on and how every learning objective is linked together.  It was more than learning about curriculum though, it helped me see some things that were happening in my classroom, because I was able to be the student for the day. 

1. I got distracted...which means so do my students.  At one point during the lesson Dr. Foster and the rest of our table got distracted talking about something pretty far off topic, then we quickly realized that we were missing the boat, when the facilitator pulled us back in I this is happening with my students. 

2. Questions are so important...I know this but it's easier said than done.  There was a point where I was answering written quesitons and realized I didn't fully explain....turns out my students do this as well...the things we learn one day as a student.

3. Literacy strategies are needed throughout.  CASE has quite a bit of background information reading, creating unique strategies to help students through this is important. 

4. Taking time to have any kind of professional development is essential. 

Additionally I attended the Eastern Region New and Beginning Teachers meeting.  What was funny about this was that most of us were from Lancaster County, so we decided to all hop in the car together to head to Harrisburg.  The meeting was great because we each were able to share a tool or resource or idea that we have used or created, and as a new teacher, these are awesome resources to have.  I also appreciated it because new and mentor teachers alike at the meeting just care about students and about each other and making the profession better- a group of people I want to spend time with.  

The ACES Newbie

ACES: Agriculture Cooperation Establishes Success, or as everyone calls it ACES.  ACES is a leadership conferences for all FFA members in Pennsylvania to attend, and in the wintery months, it is great to be inside laughing and learning alongside FFA members and agriculture teachers.  As a student at Penn State I assisted with an ACES workshop, but have never truly seen one in action and was never a participant.  I was that jacket chaser though, the one that loved going to these conferences as a student and then I decided to take the crazy role of facilitating them for National FFA for a few years.  Leadership conferences are interesting, as they are only a weekend- and we know leadership happens over a lifetime, but I do think they are valuable.... here are a few thoughts on this newbies experience at ACES.

1. Agriculture Teachers are great.  Yes these conferences are for students, but to engage and interact with other agriculture teachers is necessary and this was the perfect time to do that.  There was professional development on animal science and one session on program approval, although very different, both of these were valuable.

2. "No way, you too!?"  I think that's why these conferences matter.  We have all been there, where we wonder, are we the only ag nerd or the only one that thinks official dress is cool or the only one stoked about livestock judging or food science.  FFA conferences help students from other schools engage in conversations, stories and FFA chapter ideas, which I believe is important.

3. Pre conference expectations and post conference reflection is necessary.  Before the conference started Mrs. VanSant and Mr. Masser sat all the students down and laid down the ground rules if you will, sure the association did that as well, but I learned how important that is to do that as the teacher as well.  Additionally reflection afterwards is important.  We asked students what they thought, and they were honest and open about what they experienced and what they may want to experience in the future.

Overall these leadership conferences are a great experience.  I believe they can always grow and help students take away tangible things to implement and develop themselves- but they help build student confidence, personal skills and are great recruitment tools.

Action Research: Just Keep Trying

A few weeks ago when Dr. Rice came to visit she asked about my action research project and how it was going. My response was 'it is done, but it's not perfect', that is okay with me though. Action research happens all the time and I think many times we do it without officially collecting and analyzing data. At the very beginning of the semester I identified vocabulary and literacy as a focus. After overhearing a few conversations within my first week of observation I realized vocabulary is a topic that has been a hurdle in many classes. The conversations I overheard were in agricultural biology and biology specifically, but the challenges of vocabulary and literacy in education are everywhere- especially in science related courses. In my Foods Unwrapped class I had a wide variety of learners- some gifted, some with Individualized Education programs. Additionally, Pequea Valley is committed to using academic vocabulary, and our content has vocabulary on top of that. Literacy strategies, purposeful use of vocabulary and acknowledgement of both I thought would help me purposeful in increasing vocabulary and literacy in one class, which helped me focus on it in other classes as well.

In order to collect data I did a pre-test and a post test for three different units. These pre and post tests included academic vocabulary that was of focus for the school district and food science specific vocabulary. After analyzing my data I realized this might not have been the best option...but I learned a lot through it.

1. Action Research should happen all the time. As I started reading about vocabulary strategies and trying them out, I realized I wanted to use more and realized I needed to address literacy and academic vocabulary regularly, not always structured, but even conversationally.

2. It requires holding yourself and students accountable. The pre and post tests I did were through google forms and I did not follow up if students did not complete some of them as I tried to keep it anonymous, but this is not the best way to do it, because then sometimes data is not collected accurately for comparison.

3. Students really do need help with vocabulary, and sometimes that is even doing a reading together, stopping and having a conversation and continuing on.

4. These types of strategies take time, but they are good and I want to continue to use them.

Overall this was a good experience, and I know something that will continue yet look different at every school district.

Community Involvement Through Flower Arranging

Community members and fellow ag teacher friends!
It's official I love community projects. They require taking a few chances a few flower arranging dreams induced by nerves, but they are awesome. I don't think there was a better way to end my student teaching experience then with this workshop. After visiting The Factory Ministries with Mr. Masser and Mrs. VanSant at the beginning of the semester I new that this was the spot to host the community flower arranging event. After making the decision to do that, I applied for a grant through the Pequea Valley Education Foundation.

The last month consisted of preparing a wholesale flower account, teaching students how to make flower arrangements and corsages and boutonnieres, and transitioning them into the teachers so they could show the community members how to create the arrangements. I was pretty nervous this week...but the students ROCKED IT! Mr. Masser and Mrs. VanSant and I pulled in to The Factory with students waiting to help us unload and set up, they got right to work. Once the workshop started all I had to do was help with introductions and transitions and then the students ran the rest of the workshop. Some of those in attendance needed a little extra assistance and two ladies in particular sat with these community members and helped them the entire two hour workshop. 

I love that one of our students sat with this
little guy the whole time to help him.
I stood back a few times and just smiled, in all honesty Mr. Masser, Mrs. VanSant and I were not needed, sure we helped out and prompted the ladies with helpful hints to pull the group back together, but other than that, we were hands off. The Factory Ministries exists exists to empower others to strengthen their community. Because everyone’s journey matters, The Factory reaches out through The Factory House and our youth center with resources to help those who struggle with issues of poverty. For some of our students, this is a part of their community they do not see- which was neat for us teachers to experience with them.

One of the attendees at the workshop mentioned adult education classes, which I think would be awesome and a challenge all at the same time. Teaching adult learners is very different than teaching high school learners, and I think our students experienced that as well. Overall this was an awesome experience and a perfect way to serve the community and teach these students some great agriculture as well as career and people skills. Thank you to the Factory and The Pequea Valley Education Foundation for the support to put on this event. Can't wait to see how the partnership between The Factory and The Pequea Valley Agriculture Department grow!

The whole crew of helpers and newly trained florist! Thanks
Pequea Valley Education Foundation

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Supportive Administration

I have said a few times to a few different people that if I could stay at Pequea Valley I would.... because it is extremely welcoming and I couldn't have asked for a better placement and part of that is because of the support the school administration gives to students and faculty.

On multiple occasions this semester I have had the joy of visiting with Mr. Arlen Mummau and Mrs. Amy Koberstein, and their words of wisdom have challenged and encouraged me throughout my time here.  The first time I visited with them was after a few interviews I have had.  We went through what I was asked in the interview, who interviewed me and what they said and some of the green and red flags I may have seen.  I shared with them some of the questions and concerns and they offered some important things to ask the administrations I was interviewing with- they gave the little boost of confidence I needed.  They continued to ask me questions a few more questions such as:

  • Who asked most of the questions?
  • Who gave you a tour? 
  • What did they say about budget?
  • Who would be your support person?

Additionally they shared with me the importance of a supportive administration and a common purpose and philosophy.  Mr. Mummau mentioned how it is not all the time that you will see an administration be as supportive as the two of them are.  He has worked in administration in various schools and said how PV is special- how they work together is unique- and I couldn't agree more.  They also shared their experiences teaching in schools and areas they were not familiar with, which was helpful again to have an outside perspective.

Observation Visit
My most recent visit with them was an observation visit.   I asked if one of them would do a formal observation as they would observe teachers here at Pequea Valley.  They use the Danielson Model, which was a refreshing process to go through.  We talked through the pre-observation process as well as the observation and post observation.  It was helpful to be evaluated in a different way and see what an administration looks for.

Overall I think what I appreciate most about these two administrators, along with all the faculty at Pequea Valley is that they care about students and they care about teachers- or as they say here, learners and facilitators.  From the many times that Mr. Mummau has reached out, checked in or asked if I would help with something to the times that Mrs. Koberstein checks in about classroom management issues.  A supportive administration makes a world of difference.