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JUNE 2006

Best Practices in the Classroom from Outstanding Educators of the Year 2006

PS 91, Queens
By Gerda Radske, Teacher

Sometimes the best lessons learned are those that come from teachable moments not found in the curriculum. When we teach children kindness, respect and responsibility we are also helping to build their character. We need to take advantage of those moments when a child looks at us with eager eyes and ask, “What now?”

More than half my life has been spent in front of those eager eyes and at the end of every school year I question whether I have given enough. Has every teachable moment been explored? As educators, it is not enough to just assess how much our students have progressed; it is equally important to assess ourselves.

Following the curriculum is expected but when an educator can turn an ordinary day into an exciting journey of discovery and learning, that’s an accomplishment! If we teach by example using kindness and understanding we can motivate any child to be an enthusiastic learner. If our lessons are modeled using actual experiences that children can relate to then we become the role modes that they so desperately need.

As Educators, we have been given the task to perform miracles. Our reward is not monetary but instead it is the knowledge that we gave our all to those who so fervently come to us. It is the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you are a role model who inspired them to be all they can be. Make learning an exciting journey and your students will be grateful for your inspiration and motivation.#

PS/MS 43
By John Quattrocchi, Principal

A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is characterized by staff members engaging in collaborative, continuous and collective examination of their teaching practice, professional growth, student learning and how these activities relate to the school’s priorities for improvement. In our Professional Learning Community staff work together to view the whole school as a place where educators teach skillfully in separate classrooms yet are able to find solutions, to various challenges, together.

The PS/MS 43 staff is divided into 12 Professional Learning Teams. The teams meet and focus on developing a shared mission, collective inquiry, collaboration, action/experimentation, continuous improvement and group planning.  The Professional Learning Teams analyze qualitative and quantitative data in three ways: 

  1. What do we expect our students to learn?, How will we know what they have learned?, How do we respond when students do not learn?

Based on the answers to these questions each learning team, under the guidance of a lead teacher, plans activities to address the identified needs.  Learning activities can take a variety of forms: book study, reviews of student work/data, assessment activities, reviewing and transforming theory/research into practice and writing/sharing curriculum and lesson plans. 

Our Professional Learning Team initiative has fostered professional reflection and introspection which has in turn resulted in consistent and sustainable improvement in student performance.#

East Side Middle School, Manhattan
By Jay Lyons, Teacher

Learning requires occasions for discovery. Inventing opportunities for students to discover is inherent to effective teaching. Whether it is understanding the conditions of point of view, or how the event of slavery evolved, the power of the Constitution, the ways in which an author, playwright and poet crafts a story, or how language and media are used to manipulate thinking, each discovery allows for a greater capacity to interpret, question and navigate through a complex world. Developing effective questions to guide that discovery is critical, as is offering students multiple sources such as: narrative film, documentary, rich interactive text, special speakers, museums, the world outside the school building and the internet. Ultimately the goal is to immerse students in the material in order to develop strong habits of mind and, as Grant Wiggins says, “enduring understandings.” An atmosphere of professionalism manifests from that immersion, as students take on the roles of the author, the journalist, the explorer, the historian. The hope is to find ways to create indelible teaching moments.#

PS 66, Queens
By Phyllis Leinwand, Principal

Our building resembles a storybook archetype. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, as the only surviving school house of three built in Richmond Hill in 1898. The building has been recognized as a landmark by New York State and the Borough of Queens. We have renamed our school in honor of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis based on her lifetime passion for literacy. With Mrs. Kennedy’s dedication for literacy as our beacon, our best practices are focused in the area of English Language Arts.

Within our Readers/Writers Workshop, the goal is to empower the students with the tools needed to become proficient readers and writers. We strive to produce independent readers/writers who can navigate a variety of genres. The teachers model for the students how to prepare a well-developed essay using semantic maps as a tool.  PS 66 provides full support to the classroom teachers by a team of highly skilled professionals. These intervention specialists assist the classroom teachers throughout the literacy prototype.

At PS 66 we take pride in our reputation for maintaining a nurturing environment while still producing outstanding test results. We aspire to continue our commitment of best practices in the area of improving student literacy.

It is the goal of the PS 66 community that the words of Mrs. Kennedy are always inherent in the best practices of this building: “Once you can express yourself you can tell the world what you want from it…All changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.”#

Brooklyn High School of the Arts
By Mauro Bressi,
Assistant principal

In leading and supervising my teachers, I employ three basic principles: I model excellence, I support excellence, and I reward excellence. This triad is my foundation for promoting instruction and learning that translate into high achievement among students in my school.

I take being the lead teacher of my department very seriously. It is of primary importance that I exhibit all of the good qualities of teaching that I expect from my teachers. I am passionate, scholarly, committed, and hardworking. I believe my devotion to scholastic and pedagogic excellence inspires my teachers to do their best. There is no substitute for leading by example.

To help teachers do their best, I make sure they have all the tools, materials, and resources they need to do their job effectively. I know the standards and curriculum and anticipate what teachers require for instruction. I ask them what else they desire and procure it for them. I discover where their interests lie, what excites them, and encourage them to pursue those interests with their students. I am sympathetic and caring, not just demanding. I believe a teacher cannot be excellent without essential support.

Although excellence is its own reward, it should nevertheless be recognized, even celebrated. At the appropriate opportunity, I bestow high-performing teachers with a gift or other sign of appreciation. And I let my teachers know how important they are, that their individual and team efforts are meaningful and valued. In this way I build morale and reinforce excellence. I believe in rewarding a teacher for a job well done.

I don’t see how an administrator can do otherwise than model, support, and reward excellence in teaching. It’s fundamental, and it works.#

PS 84
By Robin Sundick, Principal

A core belief of mine, which I included into my school vision, describes a school as a collaborative learning community, where, ’all teachers can teach, and all students can learn.’ Teaching and learning are not mutually exclusive. Explicit, focused and targeted teaching usually ensures high quality learning. A successful school needs both for real instruction to occur.

Staff and professional development are one of the most important components of a forward moving school community. They provide the vital link between, ‘learning and learning how’, between, ‘understanding and implementation,’ and between, ‘knowing and knowing why.’

Research indicates that most teachers know what they need to learn and will seek it out because it is relevant to their well-being and success. They will take away what they need. With that in mind, and to ensure value-added outcomes, professional development should be created with a two-fold purpose. First, to provide the skills and techniques educators need to do their jobs well, and second, to empower them to become life-long learners and part of a larger school community where professional practice is valued and encouraged through study, collaboration, shared planning and reflective practice. It is in this way that teachers can truly become responsible for their craft; resulting in higher expectations and greater student achievement.#



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