Michigan Educators: 'Whatever It Takes'

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May 25, 2016

Thank you so much to The Meemic Foundation for its ongoing support of the Michigan Teacher of the Year program. This cooperation has been central to my ability to travel around the State of Michigan this year. I have had the opportunity to meet with teachers from Negaunee in the Upper Peninsula to Vandercook Lake in Jackson County and countless communities in between. I have given other educators, policy makers and legislators a “teacher’s-eye view” of education and the reality of life in Michigan classrooms.
What I have seen has been remarkable teaching and learning and evidence of a dedicated commitment by the educators of Michigan to serve their students on a daily basis. If I had to boil this ethic down into one phrase, it would be this: “Whatever It Takes.” Teachers routinely dedicate themselves to meeting the needs of the students they serve in order to maximize student learning and growth.
One of my areas of focus this year has been job-embedded professional learning. This approach enables teachers to learn from colleagues by observing them teach in real time, and then sit down after and debrief the experience. The opportunity for educators to get out of their own classrooms and into the space of other teachers has truly transformed the practice of many practitioners in ways that could never occur from traditional delivery models of professional development.
I have drawn new colleagues from around the state into the Job-Embedded Professional Learning Network, which has enabled educators to see their work from new perspectives. Teachers can not only visualize new practices, but they can try instructional approaches and then apply them in a supportive setting within their own school building. This network enables educators to come together and share the most effective job-embedded practices and receive necessary support for how to implement this work in their districts and school buildings.
An example of job-embedded professional learning occurred recently during a “teacher lab” experience in Ross Burdick's fifth-grade math class at Birmingham Covington School. Teachers focused on the extent to which students were engaged during math workshop in a variety of different center-based activities. Students rotated through traditional and digitally based math games in order to reinforce concepts already taught and provide opportunities for new content learning.
In Andrea Marks' social studies classroom, students applied the Notice and Note Nonfiction Big Question #2 “What Did the Author Think I Knew.” Andrea did a quick mini-lesson where she modeled a new strategy for the kids called “Sketch to Stretch” and then had them apply Big Question #2 and the new strategy to their Social Studies reading in partnerships. As guests in Andrea's classroom, we focused our noticings and wonderings on student discussion.
The opportunity to travel the state and educate colleagues about the power of job-embedded professional learning was truly powerful for me as the Michigan Teacher of the Year 2015-2016. I sincerely appreciate the support provided by The Meemic Foundation to enable me to bring this rich work to educators throughout Michigan.

Photo: Ross Burdick conferences with students as colleagues look on during "teacher lab" at Covington School.

Rick Joseph is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2015-16. He’s a fifth/sixth grade teacher at Birmingham Covington School and has more than 20 years of classroom experience. He is also a first-place award winner at the 2012 Microsoft Global Forum for Expert Educators, which was held in Prague. The opinions expressed in this blog are Rick Joseph’s and not necessarily those of Meemic Insurance Company.
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