Summer Break 2019

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Happy Summer Solstice for all of you in the Northern Hemisphere!

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Check out “Five Fun Facts” about the longest day of the year.

Since it is officially summer according to astronomical coordinates, it’s time to officially celebrate summer for every teacher (even if you are still in a classroom somewhere).

For teachers who need something to do over the “break,” read the following resources:

 

You can also take a look at some highlights from the past school year:

 

Keep on reading and learning . . .

 

 

 

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Don’t Spoil. Tease.

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You’ve probably heard about a little film coming out this month:

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Don’t worry, NO SPOILERS here!

In fact, the Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo have earnestly requested that audiences and critics NOT reveal any details about the movie:

“Because so many of you have invested your time, your hearts, and your souls into these stories, we’re once again asking for your help. When you see Endgame in the coming weeks, please don’t spoil it for others, the same way you wouldn’t want it spoiled for you.”

I’m so wary of spoilers this time around, I refuse to read any preview articles, interviews, or speculation by fans. Likewise, whenever a trailer pops up online or on television, I quickly avert my eyes. I’m suspending my social media use later this week, too, since I don’t trust my friends or myself. No spoilers! 

I already know I want to see Avengers: Endgame. I don’t need any pre-release hoopla to motivate me.

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Read more about “Keeping Students Motivated.”

We’ve talked about how teachers should avoid spoilers in their classrooms. We must be careful to not sabotage, short-circuit, or short-change our students in the learning process. Authentic understanding arrives through wonder and discovery, making sense as one investigates concepts and applications.

Read more about spoiler alerts here, along with a nostalgic look at the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII – ThForce Awakens. (The rumors are already flying about the upcoming Episode IX, and I imagine things will soon hit hyperspace.)

 

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Capture my attention? Done.

 

That said, excited fan-geeks are NOT the same as your typical student. While teachers should still avoid spoilers, they may need to provide a little more motivation in their classrooms. And they also need to help along the way.

Another applicable entertainment analogy is the “TEASER.”

Merriam-Webster defines “teaser” as “an advertising or promotional device intended to arouse interest or curiosity especially in something to follow.”

Often, a teaser doesn’t directly name the product or event. Teachers can apply the same practice to engage students, but not spoil them with every detail or label.

Teasers can appear many months before the actual event, and here this analogy may not perfectly translate to the classroom.

Rather than waiting several days or weeks, a teacher probably needs the learning pay-off to occur much sooner. This “a-ha moment” could be in the same day, such as fulfilling an introductory question from bellwork. Or teachers could “tease” students with a prompt or “what if?” at the end of one day and return to this topic the next class.

 

Like spoilers, we’ve discussed teasers before on this blog. Take a look at some superhero examples and classroom applications here.

In the meantime, decide how spoiled you want to be before the next pop culture event. Maybe a new teaser has appeared and piqued your interest.

Either way, find ways to tease – not spoil – your students in the pursuit of learning!

 

Higher Faster Further

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Captain Marvel is the latest superhero box office smash, and it’s a must-see for fans of the 1990s and/or cats.

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I’m particularly fond of the movie’s motto: “Higher Further Faster,” which comes from a well-regarded comic book storyline by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez.

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The first thing that came to my mind was the single “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” mixed and remixed by French masters Daft Punk, which you can watch and listen to HERE(Readers prone to seizures – be wary.) 

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Added geek bonus: There’s an anime music video based on the entire Daft Punk album “Discovery.”

 

The other reason I like Captain Marvel’s catchphrase is its application to teachers. In fact, I have a couple of related slogans I like to use with educators:

The first line is wholly original:

The best teachers keep getting better.

The second one updates a well-worn teacher maxim about getting lesson ideas:

Beg, borrow, steal . . . and make it BETTER.*

*We could talk a lot more about “making it better,” but for now here are two articles with some ideas. (Even though both are science-focused, all teachers can apply some of these strategies to their respective subjects.) 

 

These two sayings deal with “lifelong learning.” We teachers must practice an attitude of ongoing learning and actions toward improvement, especially if we expect our students to do the same.

Here’s a neat blog article about lifelong learning, which also provides a nifty-keen visual aid.

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Although the above blog’s target audience is business owners and managers, teachers can still learn something for themselves and their students.

 

Speaking of students, a recent article at Education Week tells of a Des Moines high school’s professional development approach to include both teachers AND students.

You can read more at https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/03/13/these-students-are-doing-pd-with-their.html, and here is a noteworthy quote from the article:

Students may not use the technical language teachers employ when commenting on lesson plans, but “you’ll hear patterns of what’s considered best practices for engaging students.”

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Teachers, what are you doing to get better?

Maybe you don’t have a formal joint student-teacher professional development program. But hopefully you listen to your students and pay attention to their ideas, gaining insight into your own instruction.

There are plenty of other ways to get better – professional conferences, publications, workshops, graduate classes, and other traditional methods. Or seek out improvement through personal endeavors like a hobby, travel, and relationships with your family and friends.

The summer season is soon approaching, which is a terrific time to recharge and refresh. It’s also a time to review your performance and refocus efforts on getting better.

What workshop or class or trip will YOU take to improve over this summer?

I’m sure you’ll find time between superhero blockbusters to get better, higher, further, faster, stronger . . .

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Lessons from Stan Lee

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This post is different than most, pausing to honor the late, great, Stan “The Man” Lee.

I won’t even attempt to write a tribute to Stan Lee’s marvelous life and legacy, as several others have done a much better job.

For example, take a look Marvel’s website HERE, which includes this inspirational quote:

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Also, many celebrities have written kind comments about Stan’s impact on their personal and professional lives. You can read several of them at https://www.rte.ie/entertainment/2018/1112/1010478-stan-lee-tributes/.

Even Netflix is honoring Stan Lee by encouraging viewers to use his catchphrase “Excelsior!” when searching for a show. Try it and see what happens.

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My way of thanking Stan “The Man” Lee is to consider all the lessons teachers can learn from his example. How can we bring these same traits to our schools and classrooms?

Enthusiasm

When I think of Stan Lee, the first thing that comes to mind is not the heroes and villains he helped create. Instead, it’s his overwhelming enthusiasm. Just take a look at this cover to his comic book-style autobiography:

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Or this real comic book featuring a real photo of Stan Lee:

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Although many people learned about Stan Lee through his various movie cameos, he actually had plenty of exposure first through comic book stories. Here is a neat article summarizing Stan’s various cameos through years of comic books. You’ll note a recurring theme of self-deprecating humor, fun, and energy.

Here’s an early depiction of behind-the-scenes with Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko:

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Much later, Stan made an appearance to narrate an entire issue of Generation X:

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This stint prompted a company-wide event the next year, in which Stan appeared to introduce every Marvel comic book’s “flashback” story:

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Advocacy

Stan Lee was an advocate for superheroes and their fans. Like the comic book example with Steve Ditko above, Stan introduced comic book readers to the creators and the creative process.

This was long before blogs and social media. Instead, Stan provided monthly updates in the comic books – Stan’s Soapbox, Bullpen Bulletins, and more. Moreover, he made it fun to be a fan.

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Brandon Zachary from Comic Book Resources wrote an essay, “How Stan Lee Created Comic Book Celebrity and Modern Geek Chic,” explaining “He became every reader’s ‘Uncle Stan,’ a sarcastic but kind figurehead of comics. Stan Lee helped mold the modern idea of Geek Chic into what it is today, and turned Marvel Comics from an entertainment company into its very own culture.”

Stan advocated for more than just superheroes and comics. As a writer and editor, he shared stories dealing with issues like alcohol and drug abuse, racism, hate, and more. Here are five of his “Soapbox” writings addressing such issues, including the one below from 1968:

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One noteworthy issue of Amazing Spider-Man is #96 in May, 1971. This was the first comic book published by Marvel or DC to NOT have the seal of approval by the Comics Code Authority.  The “code” was used to ensure comic books were safe for young readers. But in Spider-Man #96, Stan Lee wanted to tackle the issue of drug abuse.

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Forgoing the CCA’s seal of approval, Stan wrote and published the story. Soon after, the CCA updated its guidelines to consider depictions of controversial subject matter in individual stories.

 

Collaboration

Stan Lee is famous for pioneering the “Marvel Method” of making comics. Before this, writers scripted comic book stories with detailed descriptions and dialogue. To save time, Stan reduced the direction in his scripts and allowed the artists to decide things like page layout, number of panels, perspectives, etc. This created more trust with the artist, to the point where both writer and artist were credited as “co-plotters” in many comic book issues.

You can read more about this collaborative approach here, and hear Stan Lee describe the process himself in the following video:

 

Although Stan Lee frequently receives credit as creator of multiple Marvel heroes, he himself acknowledges the powerful role of co-creators and artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber (Stan’s brother), and more.

Here is another example of Stan’s collaborative spirit, shared by recent Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

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Stan’s spirit of collaboration (and marketability) is perhaps what led to the “shared” universe approach in Marvel Comics. Readers could relish guest appearances, cameos, and team-ups among various superheroes and villains. Such crossovers are much celebrated (and copied) in the series of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Ageless Wonder

This is one of my favorite panels from Stan Lee’s memoir:

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Stan Lee had worked in the comic book business for many years before he began his Marvelous run. This is a recent tweet from writer and reporter Brett White, reminding all of us it’s not too late to start something new:

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During my own lifetime, Stan Lee’s work was less in comic books and more in other media. He moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1981 to oversee television and film versions of Marvel characters.

Soon after came video games, including Spider-Man for Atari in 1983. How many 60-year-olds do you know would gleefully help like Stan in this Blip magazine feature?

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The first time I heard Stan Lee’s voice may have been in the PlayStation/N64 Spider-Man game, published in 2000. Even in his late 70s, Stan enthusiastically introduced “True Believers and Newcomers alike” into a “true superhero action thriller,” which you can enjoy here:

 

Stan Lee continued to try new things throughout his 80s and 90s. Some projects were more successful than others. Nevertheless, his work displays an energy envied by creators of all ages.

In 2001, Stan even wrote special “Just Imagine . . . ” comic book stories featuring characters from long-time rival DC Comics.

 

 

 

 

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More recently, Stan Lee worked on several global projects. His last superhero creation was based on Chinese pop star G.E.M. He also helped create multiple heroes for Japanese anime and manga (making a few personal appearances, of course).

 

 

 

 

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There will never be another Stan “The Man” Lee. But we can take inspiration from his enthusiasm, advocacy, collaboration, and lifelong learning. And we can remember Stan Lee’s example every time he pops up in a cameo.

 

‘Nuff said. Excelsior!

Stark Talking

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Nerds love to debate superhero superlatives. Who’s the strongest? Who’s the fastest? Who’s the most powerful?

Thanks to @reddit_user_1948, now we know which Avenger is the most talkative:

Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark.

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These results are based on comparing dialogue from the six original Avengers in the Marvel movies, summarized below:

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Dialogue in the classroom is another topic of extensive study. In such research, teachers are like Tony Stark in that they dominate the spoken word.

One of the most well-known researchers in classroom interactions is Ned Flanders.

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(No, not this Ned Flanders.)

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Flanders found that 70% of classroom time is talk, and 70% of this time is teacher talk (1970). He also reported that teachers of high-achieving students talked less (55% of the time) than teachers working with low-achieving students (80% of the time).

No mention of cause and/or effect here, but one could also consider the advice of Harry and Rosemary Wong (First Days of School), who note that those who are “doing” more are the ones who are learning more. In this case, it stands to reason that classrooms with higher rates of student talk (on task) would result in greater student learning.

Instead of Tony Stark/Iron Man, perhaps teachers should look to less vocal heroes like Hawkeye, the archer Avenger. Following Hawkeye’s example, teachers can use fewer words with more precision.

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Like well-aimed arrows, teachers could use purposeful questions and prompts to engage students, assess understanding, and guide discussion.

We’ve discussed questions before (such as here), and unfortunately, good questions don’t always come easily.

Additional research has found that of the 80,000 or so questions teachers ask annually, 80% of them are low level, requiring simple student responses without much thought (Gall, 1984; Watson and Young, 1986).

Like the Flanders research, some of these studies on teacher questioning are several decades old (“classic”). Effective teaching is timeless, however.

Likewise, several classroom habits still linger. For instance, I’ve studied pre-service teachers’ questioning (Bergman, 2013) and found classroom patterns similar to the past. Here’s a sample of those results:

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No matter how much you talk in the classroom, be sure to make it count. Be intentional in your speech with planned questions and responses to engage students in thoughtful learning.

At the same time, be thoughtful in your own teacher talk. Be flexible and nimble, too, ready to “ad lib” when necessary.

After all, one of Tony Stark’s most memorable movie lines was improvised. Maybe you remember this ending to the very first Iron Man film:

 

Here’s the “behind-the-scenes” story of this famous line, which was instrumental in shaping the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consider how teachers’ words in the classroom can be equally impactful toward student learning and interest.

Adding some humor helps, too.

 

Changing Tools

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Long-time readers of this blog will know that Captain America is one of my favorite heroes. (Just take a look at these posts about Iconic Images, Teacher Evolution, and Grit-ty Heroes.)

Recently, Marvel Comics released the landmark issue Captain America #700, which includes a special back-up story using unpublished pages drawn by the late, great co-creator Jack Kirby with a new script by current writer Mark Waid.

Check out this classic artwork brought to life:

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In the new Avengers: Infinity War film, Cap has a whole new look. Besides facial hair and muted uniform colors, another noticeable difference is his missing shield.

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Over the course of decades and different media, the Star-Spangeled Avenger has used a variety of shields. In fact, the good folks at Comic Book Resources have published a list of TWENTY Captain America shields, ranked from worst to best.

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Each of these shields are unique, but they all serve as both defensive and offensive tools.

Captain America has his shield. Spider-man’s got his “web-shooters.” Batman has endless  batarangs. Green Lantern uses his ring (and lantern).

 

 

What trademark tools do teachers use?

Perhaps the most iconic tool of teachers is the chalkboard (and all its derivations). Just do a quick Google search of the word “teacher” and you’ll discover an array of people posing in front of a chalkboard:

 

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As seen in these images, the chalkboard is cross-cultural and used world-wide.

Much like Captain America’s shield, teachers’ chalkboards have transformed over the years.

First we have the chalkboard:

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In black OR green varieties!

 

Then we got the overhead projector:

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You can face the entire class while you write – BONUS!

 

Then came whiteboards:

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Less chalk dust, but more mind-altering marker smells!

 

Add a projector and computer connectivity, and you get a SMARTBoard:

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More recently, the advent of “Augmented Reality” (AR) is a new addition to standard SMARTBoards. Here are two photos courtesy of the March/April 2018 issue of THE Journal:

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No matter the board, each version serves in the same general capacity – to display visual information, record ideas, provide an avenue for students and teachers to share, and more.

And like Captain America’s shield, the actual effectiveness of the tool depends on the expertise and ingenuity of the user. A state-of-the-art tool used poorly yields shoddy results.

Honestly, the above photos of AR-using teachers are problematic. In one, the teacher is fixated on the board instead of the students; in the second, the computer station is a barrier blocking the teacher from her students. Both examples are just snapshots, but both could be improved with more flexibility and responsiveness to the students.

Let’s look again at Captain America’s multiple shields. Besides the standard round metal variety, I’m particularly fond of Cap’s energy shield.  One version of this tool could change according to the user’s purpose:

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So teachers, whether you have a dusty chalkboard or spiffy AR-enhanced SMARTBoard, or anything between, please be sure to use it well. Practice to increase efficiency. Welcome student contributions. And use it creatively, adjusting to the context of the lesson and learners’ individual needs.

 

 

Who needs friends?

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The new Avengers: Infinity War trailer came out and is already setting records, as you can read in this Forbes article.

Here is a quick breakdown of the trailer’s impact, courtesy of Fizziology:

Putting Captain America’s beard aside, I’d say the most exciting element of the trailer is NOT the big battles or bad guys.  Sure, we get Thanos and multiple fights. But the BEST part is seeing how all these heroes work with each other.  

Just take a look at the “screen cap” attached to the official trailer’s YouTube video:

It’s Bucky!  Black (Blonde?) Widow!  Cap (and his beard)! Hulk! War Machine! Falcon! Black Panther and a whole bunch of Wakandans!

The last time movie-goers saw most of these characters, they were arguing and battling each other. But all it takes to make amends is a world-conquering villain. That’s friendship for ya.

If you’ve paid attention to recent superhero movies, the theme of FRIENDS appears quite often.

 

No, not THAT theme . . . apologies . . .

We mean REAL friends.  To remove the “ear-worm” song from above, take a closer look at the following trailers of current movies.

Start with Thor: Ragnarok . . .

Thor’s “friend from work” comment at the 1:20 mark is one of the best lines in the entire film.  

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(Fun fact – there’s a neat story about the origin of that line, which came from an unlikely source. Read more here.)

 

Or check out this Justice League trailer and listen around 1:50 for Barry Allen/Flash’s awkward “I need friends” admittance to Bruce Wayne.

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Everyone needs friends, and that includes TEACHERS.

Unfortunately, teaching can quickly become an “isolated profession,” and you can read more about this “Lone Ranger” phenomenon in an article by The Atlantic HERE.

A growing research field focuses on teacher collaboration and how to help educators work together.  Some people consider teacher collaboration as the “missing link” in successful school reform.

Here is a summary of one study about “High-quality collaboration” and its benefits to teachers and students.  There’s a useful section in the article called “What this means for practitioners,” and if you’re in a hurry, here’s one excerpt from the summary:

School and teacher factors influence the quality and type of collaboration. Teachers in elementary schools, more so than in secondary schools, collaborated more frequently about instruction. Higher-quality collaboration is more common among female teachers than male teachers, particularly about instructional strategies, curriculum, and assessment.

 

Another study of middle school teachers found positive results from “professional learning communities” (PLCs) consisting of same-subject, same-grade teacher teams.  However, overall effectiveness depended on a lot of factors: “leadership and organizational practices, the substantive details of PLC activity meetings, the nature of conversations in PLC activities, and the development of community among PLC teams.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that last statement about influential factors for successful collaborations. This is the challenge of teacher teamwork.

You can’t force friendship, and you can’t coerce teachers to collaborate. As these studies show, effective collaboration requires meaningful application and multiple nuances to result in teacher buy-in and worthwhile work.

As with most interpersonal relationships, the process is delicate and sometimes messy. Just consider how well superheroes get along (or not) throughout their long history.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping each other get along and collaborate.  Even so, here are three resources (and highlights) that could help.

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“7 Reasons Why You Need a Teacher Friend” (Tame the Classroom)

#1: You need someone to tell you “no” 

When you have a bad idea, like giving students stupid awards, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Heck, no!”  When you’re thinking about writing a parent a nice-nasty reply to a note and you let your teacher friend proof it, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Nope, edit this so you won’t get fired.”

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“Teacher Collaboration: Matching Complimentary Strengths” (Edutopia)

Virtual Collaboration: Share Work Products on a Common Drive

By sharing work products on Google Drive . . . teachers know what their colleagues outside of their collaboration group are doing. They also know how they’re doing it. This enables them to replicate and/or get ideas from each other.

Even without meeting in person, they have instant access to work products, like:

  • Unit plans
  • Lesson plans
  • Curriculum maps

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“Making the Most Out of Teacher Collaboration” (Edutopia)

Personal Steps to Effective Collaboration

If I had it to do again, this is what I would do to get the most out of my formal and informal collaborations with other teachers:

  • Build relationships
  • Observe the best
  • Ask questions
  • Share
  • Come prepared

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The above ideas are not as “scholarly” as the research studies shared earlier. But they can still provide useful steps.  At the least, none of these education offerings require a world-conquering villain.  Be thankful for that!

 

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