Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

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Out of the 1000s of textbook companies and instructional resource providers in the United States, how many do you think cover 100% of your states designed teaching standards?

Whether your state uses the common core or if your state has decided to design its own standards there is only a handful of companies that say they can cover all of your state's standards. In fact, as of 2015, only 11 textbook series (9 from one company), were touted as meeting the common core standards according to a recent EdReports study. With that said, how can a teacher do their job effectively without having all the necessary tools and resources? This is why a master teacher must become the ultimate consumer of education products! The must pair their students with the best resources they can find.

According to a 2013 EdWeek article titled, "'Big Three' Publishers Rethink K-12 Strategies," the "Big 3" textbook companies (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) are already making huge changes in their services. The move away from hard copy textbooks to digital curricula that meets the individual needs of students will drive this change. In the interim, the most successful companies will blend print and digital media. Expect to see more of the following aspects used by teachers: gaming environment, more interactivity, embedded assessments, and social media and collaboration tools. These companies are building content that can be accessed by any device. The digital curricula will be different for each student; it will adapt to the student and their learning style. With it being digital, expect to pay a monthly or yearly fee to update your accessibility to these ever-growing resources.

Here are 10 questions to tackle to demonstrate "exemplary" knowledge of instructional resources.

1 - How Well Do You Know the Resources That Your School District Provides?

Across the United States, most public schools have required resources they must use in order to teach students. These resources are usually purchased from a textbook company that has been reviewed by a school team to make sure it covers the necessary information, and usually the state-created content standards. For master teachers, the district-provided resources are just a place to start.

As a new teacher, you are probably spending time learning the resources that are given to you. Along with that, you are also asked to understand your grade level standards. Highly effective school districts expound on their teachers using multiple resources to meet these standards. They know that the textbook does not drive what happens in day-to-day instruction in the classroom. Exemplary teachers do not start on page 1 and turn the page each day. They chose resources that best meet the needs of their students as well as making sure students meet proficiency for the required standards.

By knowing your district curriculum you know the strengths, weaknesses, and literally, what is missing! You know how your students respond to the curriculum; your knowledge on this obviously increases with the added years of experience. You know what areas in the curriculum require supplemental materials, not just to make the curriculum stronger, but also to meet the necessary proficiency level of a given standard. Some curriculum may be so weak that you have to supplant. In essence, you are finding new curriculum that meets the required content coverage. This is done with administrative approval and support. Another reason for adding, or altering curriculum, is to re-teach a concept to students differently. For example, if students are having a difficult time understanding how to find the solution for a math problem with a missing variable because the textbook is weak, you may have to find another resource that has better strategies in the content.

Master teachers understand how the curriculum builds on itself. They know the curriculum so well they can plant seeds in instruction early with important information that will help the students build understanding later. They know where students are going to struggle with the content, as well as where they can speed up the instruction.

Exemplary teachers are expert consumers and researchers. They are continually looking for better, stronger, and more effective resources for increased student achievement. They understand it is a mix of required district curricula, as well as self-found resources that support the individual students which are sitting in their classrooms.

RELATED: Instructional Design & Curriculum Degrees

2 - What Other Resources Do You Use to Meet Your Student's Needs and Why Do You Need Them?

As mentioned above, master teachers know the strengths and weaknesses of not only the curriculum they are given from the school district, but also understand their student's strengths and weaknesses. They know that they will need to find other resources to meet these needs. In addition, there may be other reasons why you need to supplement or supplant curriculum in your instruction.

Taking into account the learning styles is important to differentiate curriculum for all students. The curriculum materials you are given may not do this. After taking surveys to find out your student's strengths according to their learning style, you can design and find curriculum that supports this data. Many people use surveys connected to Howard Gardner's research on Multiple Intelligences. Here is one such survey. Master teachers first look at what the district-provided programs offer to meet the different learning styles. If they do not find anything that meets the needs of their students, they have several options to get more information: teaching partners, Internet, social media, instructional coaches, principal, and other curriculum providers to name a few.

Another reason for the modification of curricula is to meet the needs of a student requiring an Individual Education Plan. A student may not be able to use the district-provided materials. A student who may not be able to communicate in the same way his peers do may require assistive technology. The teacher and support specialists will then have to determine how the content can be accessed. It may be through an I-pad that connects to a switch. The master teacher finds ways to support the student in accessing the content that mirrors what other students are completing.

As master teachers push their below level and on grade level learners with curricula, they also think how they can push high-level learners. Students who that are high achievers may need curricula that is either supplemented or supplanted…depending on their needs. Making the curricula more difficult and challenging is an appropriate modification, and possible grade or subject acceleration might be another option as well. Exemplary teachers do not simply add more problems or work to a high-level learner's instruction. These teachers must find work that is appropriate, but more complex and at their readiness level.

3 - What Resources Do You Need to Further Your Own Professional Development?

Master teachers understand their own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. For example, some teaches may be more math-minded than literacy focused. They have no problems teaching students math, but they may struggle with teaching students comprehension strategies when they read. They look for offerings that will improve their instructional effectiveness and efficiency. These teachers not only fill their own gaps with professional development, but also become a teacher whom other teachers gravitate towards for support. The highest level of learning is the ability to teach others, and that is what makes an "exemplary" teacher different from a "proficient" teacher in this domain and component of the Charlotte Danielson model.

Whether a teacher finds professional readings, visits with school colleagues, chats with an author or researcher on Twitter, views videos, utilizes an instructional coach, or works with an administrator, an exemplary teacher understands that educational ideas come in many forms. These teachers have a growth mindset and are not afraid to be humbled as they understand they are life-long learners. They shy away from being viewed as "knowers." Here is a great article from the Huffington Post on being a "knower."


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4 - What Does the Latest Research Say About the Subject Areas You Are Teaching?

Staying abreast of the latest research in the field of the subject areas you teach may sound daunting, but a master teacher is continually reading and researching. They understand how the pendulum swings and they are able to disseminate information on how the educational concepts are different from the past. Many educators say, "We did this back in the 90s, and it didn't work." Master teachers can defend the new movement of the pendulum with research and examples to tell how it is different or not.

Science instruction in the past 15 years has changed substantially, especially at the elementary level. The philosophy of inquiry-based science is the leading instructional strategy. In the past, the common science lesson was primarily based on the Madeline Hunter lesson plan format. The teacher implemented the "I do, we do, and you do" model of learning. In an inquiry-based science lesson, students primarily use the 5E Strategy: Explore, Engage, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. In true inquiry lessons, students explore first and create their own questions about the materials that the teacher has provided for them to manipulate. Master teachers are also not afraid to use this model in other subject areas.

Master teachers are not afraid to experiment with the newest research in the educational field, such as alternative lesson formats, the latest brain research, or the newest technological devices. They are not afraid of something failing, troubleshooting something difficult, or reflecting on the effectiveness of a instructional strategy in order to create solid learning experiences for students.

5 - Do You Use a Mix of Digital and Print Media?

The ability to provide students with a mixed media experience is important. Master teachers find resources that match what students are using outside of school to learn something new…be it a video game, YouTube video, social media, etc. These teachers find resources that mirror how current or even what future learners may use. A quick example is the use of the Internet in 1994. Back then, it was limited to a small network of web sites that gave minimal information using text and pictures. Many teachers would not use the Internet, as they were not skilled and could troubleshoot when there were problems. Some teachers used this new technology with their students and they were learning alongside of them.

As many educators can predict, textbooks and learning experiences will largely be digital in the future. Virtual learning has started playing a role in education. A student can walk through a rain forest in a foreign country, experience a spacewalk on Mars, conduct heart surgery on a patient all through a virtual reality learning experience. Exemplary teachers are leading the way with the latest technology and determining how best to use it when they implement it in instruction. The ability for these master teachers to find and use district provided media with other digital experiences will benefit students.

6 - Are the Materials You Choose Engaging and Interactive?

Engagement has two main components: input and output. As educators stress the importance in increasing engagement, we must fully understand what engagement and interactive strategies look for educators. Teachers create engagement by using high quality resources that use as many senses as possible.

Engagement starts with teacher input with effective resources. The actual resources and materials used is only half the battle of engagement. How the teacher facilitates the student's experience with the manipulatives is the next part of engagement. You can have the best resources and the worst plan to use them and get zero student engagement. Exemplary teachers understand they must support students with learning structures and active participation in order to dig into the content. An example of strong learning structures implemented into instruction is the of Kagan strategies. In addition, a powerful example of active participation is the work from Chris Biffle's, Whole Brain Teaching.

The last piece to engagement is output…what the students regurgitate. Whether the student output is summarized information, the ability to perform a skill proficiently, or the capability to complete a task, the interaction between the student and content is on both the student and the teacher. We can support this sense of urgency by creating agency within our students. The engagement level of the student with the content directly correlates to the interactive nature the teacher creates.

7 - What Other Materials, Resources, or Strategies Do You Need That Will Support Your Student's Accessing the Content?

A master teacher's toolbox is ever expanding. They are collecting materials, using new resources, and learning new strategies to connect with kids and supporting them to connect with the content. It is not just the latest technology that teachers need to learn, it is the ability to decide the usefulness of all new materials, resources, and strategies. These teachers understand that it may be difficult for them to choose resources, but they keep in the forefront of their mind this mantra, "It is best for kids!"

The push for technology in the classroom has increased. Public school funding varies across the nation, as some communities are able to fund 1:1 devices for all students, while others strive to have one computer with high-speed Internet access in their school. Master teachers understand just by placing technology in a classroom does not mean the students will be proficient in meeting a standard. They know they must keep learning the latest in technology that their students are currently using outside of the classroom so they can mirror some of those interactive pieces back in the classroom.

Exemplary teachers are always trying to hone their instructional skills, continue to model their growth mindset for others, and continual to support others in their endeavors to get better. This is another aspect in this domain that separates "proficient" teachers from "exemplary" teachers (component D within domain 1 of Charlotte Danielson's evaluation model).

8 - Do the Resources You Use Meet the State and District Requirements, and Specific Learning Outcomes?

Master teachers keep in the back of their minds as they research, read, and experiment with new resources this question, "Will this support students meeting state and district requirements?" Many resources are fantastic, they may even be the ultimate in engagement, but if they do not meet a specific learning outcome, its usage should be scrutinized. Some school districts allow for a certain percentage of instructional time to be used for fun or culture and team building activities, while some school districts do not allow teachers to waiver from the district-required curriculum.

Exemplary teachers understand that they may only get 180 days of school with each student. The amount of time to make sure each student makes at least one year's growth in one year's time is crucial. They know sometimes that they must slow down in order to go faster later. They understand the importance of finding resources that cover multiple areas of required content.

When a master teacher finds a new resource, they know exactly what they can take out or alter from the old curriculum. Too many times, teachers add new resources without taking anything out and by doing this the timeline to make sure all the required content standards are covered becomes daunting. New teachers must be careful and cognizant that the newly found resource meets the needs of the student, school, and district requirements. Teachers may find themselves scrutinized if they are not teaching the required district-provided curriculum. Exemplary teachers not only can support their reasoning for the resource change, but they can teach others why this should be done and how it fits with the students in their specific classroom.

9 - Are the Materials You Choose Challenging and Appropriate for Your Students?

Master teachers continually find and develop materials that are challenging for students at their readiness level. They make sure the materials are appropriate for the student's age and socio-emotional level. The ability to differentiate curriculum effectively is a teacher's continual plight. It is a never-ending quest to find the best materials for the students currently in the classroom.

Exemplary teachers have a plethora of acquired resources over the years. They remember past students whom where similar in their needs and try to use the same resources. In addition, they are finding new resources that might work better than those past resources. Of course, there will be new students with different learning styles and intricacies like no other student from the past. This requires new learning and research for the master teacher.

The ability to share and teach others, not only in how to find or create other resources, but how to implement these resources with other teachers defines the differences between "proficient" and the "exemplary" level.

10 - Do You Look Outside of the District-Provided Materials to Support Students Not Only Academically but Also, Socially and Emotionally?

School districts have budgets that vary across the United States. Some schools have large budgets so teachers have a wide variety of resources and materials. Many schools have dwindling budgets and teachers end up having to purchase many materials and resources on their own. I cannot think of another profession in the public service sector where a majority of the employees uses their own money to purchase materials and resources. Educators, for the most part, are a "giving" bunch of caring individuals. Exemplary teachers understand that the extra time and resources will support higher achievement of the students seated in their classrooms. As school districts do not require teachers to do this, almost all purchase or spend time finding other resources because "it is what's best for kids." Enter the teacher of the 2010s, or the Teacher-Pay-Teacher era, as I call it. Teachers are finding cheap resources either free or for a cheaper price than curriculum providers and companies. See free teacher lesson plans.

Master teachers are finding and creating resources that meet the exact needs of the students in front of them. For example, if they notice students having a difficult time with bully behaviors, finding resources to meet this social need in their classroom must be done so everyone is safe and ready to learn. A good resource for this could be's Educator's Guide to Combat Bullying and Bullying Prevention. These teachers understand that the time they spend supporting students with the social and emotional factors will pay off and it will have a direct correlation to their academic achievement.

In the newly devised Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), positive behavior interventions are required. Most school districts have already started implementing new socio-emotional education programs in schools. Counselors and teachers are asked to teach these important concepts, philosophies, and strategies. Exemplary teachers are putting the same time they do into academic curricula as they do with these programs.

(Charlotte Danielson Model: Domain 1, Component d)

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