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Owning It

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With foreword by Harry K. Wong

Change is coming at us from all angles: technological, cultural, social, and environmental. This presents a great challenge (and a great opportunity) in schools and in the teaching profession. With Owning It, you'll discover an array of easy-to-implement strategies designed to help you excel in the myriad of modern-day responsibilities of teachers and educators: classroom leader, mentor, colleague, team member, and public professional.

This book will empower teachers to own their careers, teach effectively, and develop strong relationships:
  • Acquire straightforward strategies for dealing with everyday situations found in classrooms, schools, and communities.
  • Understand the multifaceted role of a teacher in today's schools and how to balance the numerous responsibilities -- from classroom management to relationships with colleagues.
  • Feel inspired and motivated to bring out the best in yourself as well as in your students.
  • Observe creative approaches to improve teaching strategies and student engagement.
  • Answer reflection questions to connect with and relate to the strategies covered in the book.


Part 1: Owning It in Your Classroom: Strategies for Creating an Environment of Achievement
Chapter 1: Revisit Your Personal Philosophy's Value
Chapter 2: Make the Most of the First Five Minutes of Any Class
Chapter 3: Increase Your Classroom Presence to Seem Like You're Everywhere at Once
Chapter 4: Never Sabotage a Teachable Moment
Chapter 5: Help Students Learn Out Loud and Still Keep a Handle on Your Classroom
Chapter 6: Transform Your Perception of Data and Help Your Students Succeed
Chapter 7: Think Outside the Bubble on All-Important Standardized Tests

Part 2: Owning It With Your Most Challenging Students: Strategies for Succeeding With At-Risk and Struggling Student Populations
Chapter 8: Bring Ethnic Identity and Culturally Relevant Curriculum Into Your Classroom
Chapter 9: Close the Achievement Gap With At-Risk Students
Chapter 10: Succeed With At-Risk Youth
Chapter 11: Manage Disruptive Classroom Behavior
Chapter 12: Establish a Negotiation With At-Risk and Struggling Students
Chapter 13: Reel Parents in With Three Basic Strategies
Chapter 14: Empower Students by Putting Them in Charge

Part 3: Owning It at Your School and District: Strategies for Succeeding as a Member of a Staff Team
Chapter 15: Turn "Not Another Meeting" Into "Let's Get to Business!"
Chapter 16: Help Your School's New Teachers Succeed (and Stick Around)
Chapter 17: Improve Schools by Minding Collegial Generation Gaps
Chapter 18: Approach a Colleague About a Conflict
Chapter 19: Five Ways to Make Shared Positions Work for Teachers, Students, and Administrators

Part 4: Owning It in Your Community: Strategies for Making a Positive Impact Beyond Your School and Classroom
Chapter 20: Turn Potential Foes Into Supportive Allies
Chapter 21: Put the Spotlight on Your School
Chapter 22: Get Teachers Into the Community and the Community Into Teachers
Chapter 23: Step Up and Share Your Ideas With Fellow Educators
Chapter 24: Make Blogs an Essential Support Mechanism for Teaching

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24 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

Chapter 1



Time to Get Real

Revisit Your Personal

Philosophy’s Value

A component of teaching I think is important for every educator is having a personal philosophy or some core beliefs that underpin how you view your role as a teacher.

If you are just beginning your teaching journey, this might be something new for you, or at least something not yet fully formed. If you have many years or decades of teaching behind you, this is something you can easily articulate. Regardless, allow me to take you back to the days when I was training to become a teacher.

When I enrolled in a credential program in 2001, my first assignment was a twopage essay on my philosophy of teaching. A year later, at the end of the program, the director told us that the first question a job interviewer would ask us would be,

“What is your philosophy of teaching?” Although no interviewer actually asked me that question during interviews, I always saw its importance for teachers new and seasoned. It makes us think about what we do and why, and it holds us accountable.


Chapter 2



First Impressions

Make the Most of the First

Five Minutes of Any Class

Remember the old Head & Shoulders shampoo tagline? You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

As teachers, we actually get a chance to make a first impression every single day— often several times per day with each class we teach. With students who are accustomed to the rapidly paced sound bites and topic switches of a new media world, if we don’t grab their attention quickly, we know that they often tune us out and the rest of the class period is usually shot.That’s why the first five minutes of any class are crucial: they are an opportunity to connect with students, set the tone, convey expectations, and state in clear terms that day’s goals. In this chapter, I establish how students are your customers and then detail five strategies you can use to make the most of your first impression every day and with every class.

Students Are Your Customers

Before I was a teacher, I managed a seafood restaurant on the California coast.


Chapter 3



Visibility Is Everything

Increase Your Classroom

Presence to Seem Like You’re

Everywhere at Once

Every teacher with classroom experience knows that simply managing your classroom can be an everyday challenge that often overshadows instruction and learning. One of the keys to ensure your classroom stays on track is to create the impression that you are always visible and aware of what goes on within its walls.

When I was a new teacher, I really struggled. All the typical new-teacher clichés applied: my students were constantly off task, I shouted more “be quiet or else” warnings than I had time to enforce, and I left school each day feeling disrespected.

Too often, I didn’t feel my students learned anything that day. I found this frustrating because, in my credential program, I’d excelled in all of my teaching-theory classes and had been a pretty decent student teacher. But all of a sudden, on my own in a real classroom, I was sinking.

Then, my dad gave me a book that had seemingly nothing to do with teaching, yet it changed my teaching forever. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2002) outlines the work of two sociologists, James Wilson and George Kelling, and their broken-windows theory. In this chapter, I explain the thinking behind this theory and how it applies to education. I then present five strategies you can use to ensure there are no broken windows in your own classroom.


Chapter 4



Please Stop Thinking

Understand Four Things Teachers

Say That Sabotage Learning

As teachers, we always keep an eye out for the teachable moment, those unexpected twists and turns (usually student-prompted) in our daily routine that allow us to grab hold of a question or comment on a mistake and spark in our students knowledge that is real-time and interesting (Lewis, 2017). I’ve found that capitalizing on that teachable moment can often be the most memorable, powerful part of the day.

I find the challenge with making teachable moments memorable and powerful is that we disrupt students’ ability to absorb that knowledge if we use words, phrases, and instructions that do the exact opposite of what we intend. Instead of invoking thinking, these words actually sabotage it. Bringing these phrases to our consciousness and then banning them from our teaching lexicon, using the strategies I present in this chapter, can help us truly take advantage of teachable moments and inspire learning in our classrooms.


Chapter 5



I Said Be Quiet . . . and Start Talking

Help Students Learn

Out Loud and Still Keep a

Handle on Your Classroom

In chapter 4 (page 29), I wrote about ways your own words can disrupt teachable moments and achieve the exact opposite result of what you aimed for. This chapter also focuses on the power of words but focuses on ways to encourage your students to use their own voices, because one of the best ways to engage students is to make them active participants in their own learning.

I once had the opportunity to visit one of California’s lowest-performing schools.

Located in a high-poverty neighborhood, with test scores in the gutter, the school had all of the stereotypical low-performing attributes—except one. According to the school staff, there were very nearly no behavior or discipline problems.

As I toured from classroom to classroom, I had to agree. The students seemed very well-behaved, and the teachers seemed to have their procedures and routines down to a science. As bells rang, the students moved through the halls with grace and ease.


Chapter 6



Deal With Data

Transform Your Perception of Data and Help Your Students Succeed

For better or worse, data are the global currency for living in the 21st century world.

We can either let data limit us and our students, or we can use data’s power to our advantage and the benefit of our students. Consider this: What single factor ultimately determines whether a student is at risk?

It’s not work ethic, as we all know students who don’t like to work hard but are still skilled enough to make it through high school and even college. It’s not ethnicity, as we all know students of different ethnicities who are low and high achievers. Nor is it gender, socioeconomics, or the neighborhood he or she lives in.

What ultimately determines whether a student classifies as at risk is the data we collect on him or her. Often, educators identify poor academic performance as a key indicator of students at risk of dropping out (Ormrod, 2010). Although different states have different names for students who meet, exceed, or do not meet standards, a student who consistently scores in the lowest category is indicative of a student at risk for dropping out of school. Within this label lies a multitude of complex factors such as work ethic, home life, and socioeconomics; however, it is often a student’s test data that determines the label in official terms.


Chapter 7



It’s Test Time

Think Outside the Bubble on AllImportant Standardized Tests

It’s that time again. Time to start training your students to fill in the bubbles that too often matter most (whether they are literal bubbles on paper or the computerized versions).

Like it or not, for most teachers, those literal or figurative bubbles determine in large part the public’s perceptions of our school and district, our students’ opinions of themselves, and our school site’s administrators (who may change, for better or worse, once test results come in). Because there is correlation between school ratings and real estate values (Harney, 2013), even real estate agents closely monitor test scores and use them to recommend certain districts and neighborhoods to prospective home buyers. In some places, those test scores also determine whether we are considered highly effective teachers regardless of where and whom we teach.

Perhaps you see standardized test scores as truly indicative of your students’ capabilities, and yours. Or perhaps you see them as another reason why high-performing schools will continue to flourish, while other schools continue to languish.


Chapter 8



It’s About Time

Close the Achievement Gap

With Struggling Students

The achievement gap is a popular buzzword for students performing below, often far below, their expected grade-level proficiency. However, for these students, the achievement gap is not a buzzword—it is a devastating disadvantage that, if left unaddressed, can severely undermine their opportunity to live successful lives. This affects everyone. A report from McKinsey & Company states this gap “represents hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized economic gains” in the United States alone (Auguste, Hancock, & Laboissiere, 2009).

I once had an eighth-grade student who I will call Eduardo. Eduardo’s classmates constantly poked fun at him for his inability to do simple things, such as add and subtract or tie his shoes. His grades were very low in all his classes, and for as long as he or his mother could remember, he consistently failed in most subjects yet continued to advance to the next grade level year after year.


Chapter 9



Let’s Talk About Race

Bring Ethnic Identity and

Culturally Relevant Curriculum

Into Your Classroom

If you teach in a school like mine, where traditionally minority students are actually the majority, yet most of the teachers are white, then it is highly likely that race and ethnicity play a large role in your school culture—even if (especially if ) these topics are seldom talked about. Consider the following scenarios.

Scenario One: It’s 7:30 a.m. on a chilly Tuesday morning, and I’m unlocking the door to my classroom. David (pronounced dahveed), one of my top students, runs up to me and begins profusely apologizing. “Mr. Kajitani, I’m so sorry. I didn’t do my homework last night.” Since he is not one to miss his homework assignments,

I question him as to why. “My uncle was at work last night, and ‘la migra’ [what my Mexican American students call U.S. Citizenship and

Immigration Services] came to his work and hauled him away. They put him on a bus back to Mexico, and my aunt, who lives with us, was freaking out all night. I couldn’t get to my homework.”


Chapter 10



The Secret to

Motivating the

Unmotivated Student

Succeed With Students

Who Are At Risk

Let’s be honest—as teachers, we often dread a lack of motivation in our students more than any other trait. That dread places our students at risk among the most challenging cases, because they frequently enter our classrooms with a multitude of family and sociological barriers, often paired with well-established track records of low academic achievement. All these things serve to make motivating a discouraged or disinterested student to achieve academically a daunting challenge. That said, it can be done.

How do I know it can be done? Because teachers, coaches, and educators are already doing exactly this (Lamperes, 1994). How do they do it? This is a complicated issue (of course it is!), but I’ve come to believe that there is one main factor behind any adult who successfully motivates students who are “unmotivated,” at risk, or struggling: make real connections with them. Build relationships. Help them feel seen. Believe in them. Have a stake in their success and show it. As Rita Pierson


Chapter 11



Beyond the Bad Kid

Manage Disruptive

Classroom Behavior

This chapter was coauthored with Pete Fisher.

A student who is a chronic behavior problem can sink your whole class. All the detentions in the world don’t seem to make a difference. Every phone call home seems to end with a nonanswer or a parent who is equally frustrated with the student.

It’s tempting to peg that student as “the bad kid.”

Yet, as teachers, we are still the ones responsible for that student’s learning and the learning of his or her entire class. We can’t afford to see any student as bad or beyond learning.

As I wrote about in chapter 9 (page 69) and chapter 10 (page 77), when working with students who are struggling or are at risk, we often find ourselves needing to teach much more than the academic content in our books. As many of our students battle poverty, racism, and a widening achievement gap, we’re frequently the first ones to see the manifestations of these factors in the ways these students act in class.


Chapter 12



No, or Quid Pro Quo?

Negotiate With Students

Who Are Struggling

Think about the best negotiator you know. Is it a businessperson who can close any deal? It is a lawyer who knows how to convince a skeptical jury? Or, perhaps it’s a child who always seems to end up with the front seat in the car or the last cookie in the jar? Whoever it is, I’ll bet he or she enjoys the art of negotiation that moves people forward.

As teachers of students who are struggling or are at risk, it is crucial that we also embrace this art of negotiating and moving people forward. It’s a matter of survival. We also know that in a full classroom of high-need students, negotiations can become unclear, confusing, and sometimes downright messy—and getting mired in them can stall the learning at stake for everyone.

Negotiating with a student starts with us and being conscious of our posture. In my experience, crossing your arms and hovering above a student with a scowl on your face is a sure way to build an immediate wall between you and your student. Instead, assume a relaxed posture or sit down next to the student, shoulder to shoulder.


Chapter 13


13 the Uninvolved Parent

Reel Parents in With Three

Basic Strategies

When calling the parents (or guardians) of students at risk, most teachers in lowperforming schools have had the exact same experience, many times over. It goes something like this:

Ring, ring . . .

Ring, ring . . .

Ring, ring . . .

Ring, ring . . .

(Hang up phone.)

If we are lucky enough to catch a parent, it’s not uncommon to find a less-thanenthusiastic person on the other end of the line, a person who seems uninterested in improving his or her child’s behavior or academic performance.

Convincing some parents to come onto our campus to meet with teachers is harder than the gum under our students’ desks. However, we can’t give up. I do believe it is a part of our job as teachers to help bridge the gaps in their families as well as their classrooms. Getting parents or guardians invested in their children’s education is a critical factor in reaching students who are struggling or at risk and in helping them succeed.


Chapter 14





Empower Students by

Putting Them in Charge

This chapter was coauthored with Mindy Crum.

When you, as a teacher, encourage students to take ownership of their learning and their results, more often than not, you will find they take that responsibility seriously. When I (Alex) was a student, I loved going to my parent-teacher conferences.

I remember sitting around my teacher’s desk with my mom and teacher early in the morning before the school day began, eagerly awaiting the grown-up conversation.

Of course, I attended school in a middle-class neighborhood in a high-achieving district, and my mom was very involved in my education. As I consistently earned good grades, I often left the conferences beaming with pride at all the nice things my teachers said about me. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many students, especially students who are struggling or are at risk.

For these students, parent-teacher conferences are a half hour (or more) of teachers telling their parents or guardians how many homework assignments they haven’t completed, how poor their scores were on the latest round of standardized tests, and how they need to modify and improve their behavior. That is, assuming the parents


Chapter 15



Making Meetings an

Hour to Empower

Turn “Not Another Meeting!”

Into “Let’s Get to Business!”

As teachers, we have a lot on our plates. As a result, we have a lot to discuss—and that discussion usually takes place in the form of a meeting. The problem? There’s at least one meeting every day!

From individualized education plans to behavior support plans, my own gradelevel team seems to hold more meetings than there are topics to discuss. Likewise, when it comes to meetings about our students, especially students in crisis, there is a lot at stake in each discussion.

Although we don’t have time to waste in long and unproductive meetings, that doesn’t mean that meetings aren’t crucial for keeping schools and teaching teams functioning. They are! Critical issues, such as determining what is essential to learn in each content area, developing common assessments, and learning new strategies from each other, are only a few of the things we need to discuss. Thus, effective communication and collaboration are imperative for helping our students.


Chapter 16



Welcome to Teaching.

Please Stay

Help Your School’s New Teachers

Succeed (and Stick Around)

For many schools, retaining good teachers is a considerable challenge. Retaining great teachers is a feat that requires remarkable leadership and a school culture that facilitates their success.

Consider Brenda, one of the most promising new teachers our school had ever seen. Her student teaching with students at risk got glowing reviews, she was eager to jump right into leadership roles, and her classroom was well-organized and ready days before veteran teachers had even set foot on campus.

Weeks into her first teaching year, though, she pulled me aside to tell me she felt that the staff did not want to connect with her. One colleague had even told her there was no point investing time into first-year teachers because most of them left.

“Once you show up for your second year, you’ll be treated like you belong here,” the colleague told her.


Chapter 17



Talking ’Bout My


Improve Schools by Minding

Collegial Generation Gaps

Just as there are generational gaps between teachers and students, so too are there gaps between generations of teachers. Although teaching is a profession that has us working shoulder to shoulder with colleagues across several generations, we often ignore this. Or, we focus on the voids each generation brings to the table rather than the strengths that can fill those voids.

In a time when our profession is filled with volatility that comes in the form of uncertain budgets and pink slips, there is often a division between long-standing teachers with many years in the same classroom and newer teachers who have spent the past few years bouncing from job to job.

When I was invited to give a presentation at one of our district’s elementary schools about a new computerized assessment program, I arrived at the school site and the principal told me, “My staff is comprised mostly of veteran teachers who are not very comfortable with computers. In fact, we can’t even get some of them to check their email.”


Chapter 18



We Need to Talk

Approach a Colleague

About a Conflict

When I signed on to be a full-time coach for teachers, my district administrators told me I’d be designing professional development, conducting sample lessons, and helping teachers plan and assess curriculum. Although I do all these things daily, what strikes me most is how often I’m called in to help coach a teacher on approaching a colleague with whom there is conflict or the potential for conflict.

As teachers, part of our job is to help students learn to get along, and yet I find myself constantly reminded how often we teachers need lessons in managing conflict among ourselves. The foundation of these lessons, I’ve found, is to look more deeply into the concept of conflict itself. In this chapter, I will help you rethink the nature of conflict between colleagues and offer an eight-step strategy for resolving conflicts.

How to Rethink Your Approach to Conflict

Conflict is not always a negative. It can be a positive catalyst to push us into new growth. For any successful organization, conflict is inextricably linked to those turning points that lead to success (La Duke, 2016).


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