nlutz@mph.net'

About Nathan Lutz

Nathan Lutz is an elementary school French and Spanish teacher. He frequently presents workshops at the local, state, and national level. Nathan has served the world language community as president of Language Educators of Central New York, and as the National Networking Coordinator for the National Network for Early Language Learning. In 2012, he was a participant in the UPenn STARTALK Excellence in Leadership Institute and was a participant in the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers' Leaders of Tomorrow Program in 2007. Nathan currently serves as the chair of his school's Diversity Committee and he is the World Languages Community Leader for Teach for America. He has published several publications concerning world language education with Early Advantage, Little Pim, and Research Education Association.

Let’s Get Personal: Forming your own PLC

Hands put over another, palms down.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PLCs – otherwise known as Professional or Personal Learning Communities, are another one of those educational buzz word acronyms that keeps creeping its name around schools. We teachers are told “Go out and form your PLC.”

Having a network of professional development is by no means a new concept. Teachers have been seeking professional development since the era of Socrates. When most teachers think of “professional development,” they think of sitting in a room after school and having an outside consultant who hasn’t been in a classroom in years, come in and tell you how to do something. There’s usually a cringe accompanied by this thought. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing all educational consultants. Full disclosure – I’m one, myself.

I personally prefer “Personal Learning Community” over “Professional Learning Community” because when it’s personal, you get to define what it means for you.

Who informs your instruction? Is it your principal? Your department chair? Another member in your department? Is it a college professor you had/have? Someone who teaches across the hall from you? Someone in a teacher’s organization? Someone on a list-serv to which you subscribe? A blogger?

The thing about teaching is that it’s both a science and an art. No matter what science a teacher brings to the craft, there’s still the art of how you approach instruction. Every artist works differently – and this when teaching gets really neat – because you take your lessons and activities into so many directions.

Good instruction comes from constant self-reflection and tweaking of approaches. Sometimes you can’t see something because of your vantage point as teacher. Sometimes you need an extra set of eyes in the back of the room to show you a different perspective. This is when bringing in another educator from your building to offer some friendly constructive criticism.

Here are some ideas for generating your own PLC:

Classroom Management That Doesn’t Make You A Monster

Godzilla

Is this how you feel when you’re managing your class? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No matter how versed you are in your content area and pedagogy, one of the most important elements of the true art of teaching is classroom management.

In all my years of teaching, I confess that this is probably the weakest aspect of my craft. I’m definitely no artist when it comes to managing the masses. My particular problem was that I was a softie until things got too out of control and then I became Godzilla. I definitely don’t like releasing the Kraken, so I resorted to research and sought counsel from the some of the most gifted artists in this area.

Early in my career, a wise principal suggested I sit down with the kids and ask them what they think a successful should look like. From there we crafted a list of RULES and slapped it on the wall. When someone deviated from the rule, he was immediately busted and some sort of PUNISHMENT was enacted. The funny thing about the kids’ list was that it was a lot more draconian than any list of expectations I had ever seen. It was almost exclusively constructed of “DO NOT” statements that sounded like a school marm’s version of the Ten Commandments.

I started suggesting that we construct statements that are more positive sounding. I demonstrated with a sentence that showed how certain behaviors should look instead of what they should NOT look like. My example was: “Eyes and ears focused on whomever is speaking.”

When I frame this exercise, I don’t even like using the word “rules.” I prefer “expectations” or “procedures.” Heck, this year I might even entitle it “How We Roll.” The point is: keep it positive.

If you’re still trying to wrangle your students, there’s no time like the present to gather your students together and ask them what a successful classroom looks like. Write down what the students say and synthesize this list into a manageable document that can be posted for them all to see and refer to. Try to keep it simple. Craft your expectations so that everyone can succeed.

By |September 19th, 2012|Teaching Tips|0 Comments|

The Case of the Missing Curricula: Plotting Your Own Course

Compass Study

Don’t feel lost without a prepared curriculum. Use these tips to create your own.  (Photo credit: Calsidyrose)

Many school systems have very regimented curricula. I have a teacher friend who literally opens up a binder, turns to whatever day it is, and that day’s lesson’s objectives, procedures, materials, and assessments are all there for him. It’s more like an actor reading a script. Then there are those teachers who work in independent, charter, or less rigid school systems that have a looser grip on what teachers are supposed to teach. I imagine there are several shades of rigidity and laxness in between.

When I started my current job nine years ago, I kept pestering my principal for the curricula for the courses I was going to teach. After all, I was teaching two languages to the entire elementary school, spanning some seven grade levels. It was a little intimidating! After she sheepishly handed over seven sheets of paper, I realized why she was so reluctant to do so; the “curricula” was a mere list of vocabulary words that were taught to each of those seven grade levels.

At that point, I was even more stressed out because I had a huge job ahead of me. Furthermore, without having had the chance to meet these kids, I was completely unaware if they knew these umpteen words on the page, or better yet, if they even knew how to use them.

After an initial full-panic mode, I eventually rationalized with myself: “I’m just going to take it month by month and see where things go.” Sure, I had to make a general plan, but I had to stay flexible.  Here are my suggestions on how to do this:

By |September 7th, 2012|Teaching Tips|0 Comments|

Let’s Get Flexible: A Compulsive Planner’s Guide to the Unpredictable World of Teaching

2012 Calendar

(Photo credit: danielmoyle)

Once you’ve got your physical space all set, you can refocus your mental energy on the “big picture” of the year. It all starts with a plan. One thing that isn’t decided – or at least shared with me until a few weeks before school starts, is my schedule. For us planners, this level of uncertainty can be unnerving. It can also hold you back from making schedules and class lists.  This is when I need to embrace my inner yogi and command every iota of flexibility I can muster. I must say that over the years, I’ve really adapted to this lifestyle. It did, however, take years.

That doesn’t meant you can’t start today. It all comes down to three things: Flexibility, Organization and Estimation.

Beautifying Your Classroom: Organizing Your Physical Space

Image

My classroom: The Before Picture. Check out the After Picture at the bottom of this post. (Photo: Nathan Lutz.)

During my first teaching job, I was something of a teacher nomad. I traveled from room to room to teach French, lugging a box and CD player. I couldn’t even use a cart because I was in the three buildings. Like a hermit crab, I had to haul my entire space with me everywhere I went. You would think after all those years I’d be thrilled to get my own space, but the truth is, I’m kind of freaking out.

Yes, the walls are teeming with possibly, but it’s hard to see all the potential with my stacks of books and boxes all over the room.

Setting up your classroom can easily feel incredibly overwhelming, but if you break it down to the most important components, it starts to feel a lot more manageable.

Here’s how I approach it: