Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. – Booker T. Washington
Budgets are tight in schools these days, and it’s not going to get better any time soon. In an effort to help states make the most of their education dollars, the U.S. Department of Education recently released two documents encouraging states and districts to maximize the effectiveness of the resources they have by focusing them on improving student outcomes:
One document offers smart ideas for states and districts to spend wisely while focusing on improving student achievement. It encourages educators to frame all of their budget decisions around several key principles, such as improving student outcomes and investing in programs that have the greatest evidence of effectiveness.1
So what can individual educators do to ensure that they’re using strategies and supports that “have the greatest evidence of effectiveness”? For many special educators, applying the principles you instinctively use when teaching kids with disabilities to your own planning and learning processes will set you on the right path:
1. Find expertise in your peers.
Stay connected over the summer. Once you’ve decompressed and enjoyed some time with your family, spend some time with teachers, either close colleagues or old acquaintances from graduate courses, district meetings, or other connections. Share stories of successful lessons, brainstorm for next year, and just generally enjoy spending time with someone who might invigorate your teaching.
Follow a few select teacher blogs. You can find funny or inspiring anecdotes, tips on using technology, lesson ideas and more, all in an informal format. Check out Scholastic’s top 20 teacher blogs to get started. http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3752562
Join an online professional learning network. There are several social media sites specifically for teachers. Join one or two and try engaging in discussion forums, blogs, webinars, and more. Here are just a few:
• The Educator’s Personal Learning Network site for educators: http://edupln.ning.com/?xg_source=ningcom
• edWeb social networking site for educators: http://www.edweb.net/
• The Future of Education social networking site: http://www.futureofeducation.com/
• Teachade online community for teachers: http://www.teachade.com/
2. Build a collection of reliable sources.
Create your own Resource List of reliable sources for lessons, materials, and information. You don’t need to subscribe to a commercial professional development program if you know where to find good, FREE stuff. Here are some examples of reliable, no-cost resources:
• AIM Center’s Classroom Resources offers accessible textbooks and media; information about text readers; research, presentations, and webinars on accessibility; and more. http://aim.cast.org/learn/stakeholder_focused/teachers
• DiscoveryEducation’s Lesson Plan Library offers hundreds of free lesson plans for elementary, middle and high school students. http://www.discoveryeducation.com/teachers/free-lesson-plans/index.cfm
• Edutopia is a website offered by the George Lucas Educational Foundation with blogs, strategies, videos, and tips for teachers. http://www.edutopia.org/
• International Reading Association’s ReadWriteThink provides hundreds of standards-based lesson plans written and reviewed by educators. http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/
• LDOnline Especially for Educators includes strategies for teaching students with LD and ADHD, teaching resources, and discussion groups. http://www.ldonline.org/educators
• The Library of Congress offers teacher-created, classroom-tested lesson plans using primary sources. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/
• Reading Rockets Strategies provides teachers with effective, research-based classroom strategies to help build and strengthen literacy skills in print awareness, phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing. http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies
• TeacherTube’s new Teaching Resources section offers videos on teaching content, using technology in the classroom, useful quotes, and more.
• What Works Clearinghouse, a service of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, is a trusted source of scientific evidence for what works in education. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/
3. Adapt everything to work in your context.
We know that learning is very much grounded in time and place. When you encounter resources that aren’t quite what you’re looking for, simply adapt them to meet your needs. We teachers adapt for our students, why not adapt for ourselves? Here are some resources on adapting materials and lessons to meet your needs and the needs of your students:
• NICHCY offers information on Supports, Modifications, and Accommodations for Students including information on adapting instruction. http://nichcy.org/schoolage/accommodations
• TeacherVision provides lesson plans, materials, tips and advice on adapting resources. Unfortunately, only a limited number are available to non-members. http://www.teachervision.fen.com/special-education/resource/5347.html
• Education Oasis provides both articles on adapting materials and planning lessons as well as a list of links to online Lesson Plan Banks. http://www.educationoasis.com/curriculum/LP/lesson_plans.htm
4. Check every decision against what will benefit the students.
Self-directed professional learning has one great advantage over state- or district-provided learning: It’s context-driven. Only you know your individual students, the resources available to you in your classroom/school, and the educational objectives you need to meet. By taking charge of your own professional development, you have the ability to focus on the areas which you know will most benefit your students.
While state and district budget battles rage on and professional learning opportunities become scarcer in many areas of the country, you can take charge of your own professional development by building a toolkit of resources. We hope the tips and links in this blog will help you develop your own toolkit, and you will share your favorite trusted resources in our Comments section so that other educators can benefit from your experience.
1 U.S. Department of Education. (2011, May 3). Department of Education provides promising practices for productivity, flexibility: Documents offer ways to maximize the impact of educational investments. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-provides-promising-practices-productivity-flexibility.