About 150 teachers attended a conference at Cal Poly on Friday to glean valuable insights from one another, with more-experienced K-12 teachers offering mentoring and advice to their less experienced colleagues on topics such as how to manage classroom behavior, integrating technology into the classroom and motivating students to learn.
The gathering was part of the second annual Better Together: California Teachers Summit, a day of learning and collaboration that was held simultaneously at 38 sites statewide and attended by about 12,000 teachers.
The free event was the product of a partnership among three organizations — the education advocacy and collaboration group The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, the California State University system, and the nonprofit New Teacher Center.
“We have a lot of new teachers here, which is really, really exciting,” said Tanya Flushman, a Cal Poly education faculty member and conference coordinator. “And so we have a lot of sessions for new teachers, specifically on ‘How I should start my year?’ and the tips and strategies for that first year, which is a really critical year of teaching.”
Teachers were encouraged to raise concerns and brainstorm in small groups. In addition to insights from experienced teachers, everyone shared stories of successes and challenges.
At Cal Poly, one young teacher shared a story about using a clip from the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” about a Japanese sushi master, to inspire his students to push themselves to be their best.
Another teacher talked about the best methods for assigning homework and encouraging students to actually do it — by challenging them with work that requires problem-solving and critical thinking, rather than just completing a list of tasks.
Pacheco Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Carmen Jimenez told a story as part of a 15-minute presentation dubbed an EdTalk, akin to a TEDTalk, about several fourth-graders mistakenly left on the playground at the San Luis Obispo school because of a monitoring snafu.
“The other fourth-grade kids had to be rounded up as they were running wild in the play yard,” Jimenez said. “But my students were nowhere to be found. Finally, we went to my classroom and they were all in there. And not only that — they were reading quietly.”
Jimenez said the goal is to teach a student to “make good decisions on his or her own and help others without being asked, even when nobody is watching.”
We’re really about bringing teachers together so they can learn together.
Tanya Flushman, Cal Poly education faculty
Paso Robles High School science teacher Mark Fairbank talked about developing rapport with students by attending their plays, sporting events and talent shows. Seeing a teacher in the crowd builds a level of support beyond the classroom and plays a valuable role in helping teachers work with students during instruction.
One student-teacher expressed concern about how to straddle the line between commanding respect and developing rapport with students.
She described having trouble walking the line between being too friendly with students and then having to suddenly adjust by being strict. She said she received comments of a sexual nature from male students, while some admitted illegal activities, for which she was compelled to report or discipline them. She wanted a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom but without losing control.
“You should ask the student how it would make them feel if they were treated that way,” a fellow teacher advised, urging her to lay out for students the three Bs: be safe, be respectful and be responsible.
You should ask them how it would make them feel if they were treated that way.
Teacher advising peer on classroom misbehavior in group setting
Another teacher said laying down ground rules early in the year can help and urged the teacher to advise the students: “I won’t be mean, but I can if I have to” and then sticking to strict discipline if necessary.
“Tell them what’s appropriate for class and what’s not,” the teacher advised. “Then don’t engage. Sometimes they’re going to push you to see how you’re going to react. If you say, ‘If you do that again, you’ll be sent to the principal’s office,’ some will do it again just to see how you’re going to react.”
Flushman said the conference gave teachers a wide range of tools. Other topics addressed included how to manage project-based learning, grant writing, incorporating environmental education and balancing group and quiet study.
“We’re really about bringing teachers together so they can learn together,” Flushman said. “They have real conversations on the needs they have. The onus is on the teachers to guide that conversation and learn from each other.”