Photo Credit: Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.
For 21 years, Sara Ferguson G’09 has proudly and effectively carried on a three-generation legacy of teaching. This past winter, that legacy helped her effectively manage a difficult situation in her school district which propelled her into the national spotlight.
Just four months into the school year at the Chester-Upland School District, parents and teachers were notified that there were not enough funds to pay teaching staff. Speaking for herself and her fellow educators, Ferguson announced that “The students don’t have a contingency plan. They need to be educated, so we intend to stay on the job, without pay, as long as we are individually able.”
More than a rally cry, that statement proved Ferguson and her fellow educators had the courage of their convictions.
“We often speak of our beliefs, but we’re seldom put to the test. We were tested and we showed America that we put our children first,” she says. “I’m proud of my colleagues and our commitment to our students. As educators, we are acutely aware of the consequences of failing to educate students. We just couldn’t let that happen.”
The teachers’ heroic stand made the headlines and also came to the attention of two women who use the national spotlight to support educating America’s youth: First Lady Michelle Obama and comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.
In January, Ferguson was invited to represent American educators and join the First Lady at the President’s State of the Union Address.
“Both the President and First Lady expressed gratitude for our service and said that they are very proud of the job we do,” she says. As Ferguson sat in the First Lady’s viewing box, she thought about her relatives who have been teachers and about her colleagues.
“I thought of the many educators who came before me, people whose sacrifice and hard work may have seemed to go unnoticed,” she says. “I had them all there with me. The First Lady never knew how crowded her box really was!”
Ferguson also thought about the lesson she is constantly reinforcing with her students to always put their best feet forward. “I always tell my students that they never know who is watching them. Now they’ve seen this firsthand and several students have told me, ‘Ms. Ferguson you were right. The President was watching us!’”
Shortly after her appearance at the White House, Ferguson was invited to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. During the live broadcast, which also featured First Lady Michelle Obama, DeGeneres presented Columbus Elementary School, where Ferguson teaches math and literacy, with a $100,000 check from J.C. Penney Co.
“I never imagined that she would present my school with a $100,000 check,” says Ferguson. “Ellen is a very warm and genuine person and along with J.C. Penney, demonstrated her support for education. At the end of her show she spoke to our students. She told them, ‘Kids we believe in you. Don’t ever give up!’”
Ferguson feels her experiences as well as her training at Cabrini have served to refine her skills as an educator. “My Cabrini education gave me a well-rounded perspective on education and educational issues, and taught me skills that have continued to serve me well,” she says. “This past year I never dreamed I would be interviewed on live radio and television, but the presentation skills I acquired at Cabrini helped me be comfortable and self-assured in some high pressure situations.”
In addition, she highly values the collegial network available to her as a Cabrini graduate. “I have built lasting relationships and know that if I need assistance or advice, there’s a Cabrini alumnus ready and willing to help me out.”
The adversity that propelled Ferguson into the spotlight is nothing new to her. Neither is her resolve to keep adversity from negatively impacting her passion to be the very best educator she can be, and eventually help enhance and reform the educational system by taking on an administrative role.
“Over the years I have encountered many difficult situations, but once I walk into the classroom and interact with my students, the adversity fades,” she says. “The students are bright, dynamic, and energetic. They deserve the best I have to offer them every day.”
Ferguson received a master of education degree with a concentration in education leadership at Cabrini.
Bloom’s Taxonomy, long considered a foundational and essential element within the education community, has moved into the digital age. Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy is a new way of applying the six levels of reasoning skills in the hierarchical pyramid model, which was first developed in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom and revised by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl in 2001.
The digital revision is a result of re-thinking the reasoning skill levels in terms of today’s “Digital Native” students. So called because they are the native speakers of the digital language of computers, gaming, and the Internet, this current K-12 student population also has been interchangeably coined the “Net Generation” or “Digital Generation.”
The focus of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy is on using new digital tools to facilitate learning by these Digital Native students. It also requires that assessment practices become more innovative. Traditional tests and quizzes requiring students to reiterate basic knowledge from lectures, class discussions, and homework assignments are no longer considered the most effective assessments for today’s Digital Natives.
Instead, Bloom’s digital version is based on learning through collaboration and participation, using a wide range of technology-supported learning methods and technological tools at each of the six levels: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
Some recommended applications of the digital taxonomy include online quizzes and tests using:
With spring in the air, it may seem like it is getting more difficult to keep order in the classroom. Distractions typical of this time of year cause more students to lose focus. Lost focus can be the foundation for disruptive classroom behavior. To reduce the effect disruptive behavior has on learning, take some tips from veteran teachers on how to keep order in the classroom:
Prevention is key. Veteran teachers know the value of planning lessons so that different learning modes, like lecture, desk work, and group activities, accompany each class session. That kind of variation helps lessen disruptive behavior and keeps learning on track. But they also know the importance of being diligent to remind the class about behavior expectations before each transition.
For example, before moving to a small-group activity, veteran teachers remind the class about the expectations for each group to work cooperatively, to raise hands if they have a question, and for voices to be kept low.
Execute well. Experienced teachers know to be quick and fair in keeping order. They deal with behavior that distracts learning with as little disruption to the lesson as possible.
For example, if two students are talking together, a veteran teacher will continue the lesson while standing between the offenders, or ask one of the talkers a question about the material being covered. At the same time, veteran teachers are careful to exercise fairness by disciplining every offender and disciplining them each in the same way.
Privacy matters. Finally, in the case of recurring disruptive behavior by an individual, classroom veterans make sure to speak with the student in private to review behavior expectations and outline disciplinary action.
The social network is closing the gap between public teacher and private citizen. As a public medium, it has encouraged a sweeping interest in teachers’ private lives simply because it is so easy to get a peek into what a teacher is like outside of the classroom.
Newspapers have trolled sites to find embarrassing postings. Superintendents review Facebook pages of applicants before making hiring decisions. School districts have taken action against a teacher’s contract and states have taken action against an educator’s certificate for ethical misconduct based upon social networking evidence.
If you use social media outside your classroom, be aware that your Facebook status, blog posts, and shared photos may be viewed by parents, students, administrators, and community members, and may be public for a long time.
Before sharing information on social networks, consider your content carefully and ask yourself how you would feel if one of your students accessed that content and shared it with others. However, certain social media are good teaching tools. The key is to separate your personal social media use from your professional use.
For Facebook, have a separate teacher account that you use to communicate only with students and parents and only post information relevant to the classroom.
Create a private Twitter account just for sharing information and sending comments about course topics to students and parents.
With regard to texting, unless you are group-texting everyone (i.e. to meet at a certain place during a field trip), student questions and comments should go on your teacher Facebook page.
Finally, stay current with your district’s social media policies. To learn more about new social media policies at different school districts, visit www.npr.org/2011/12/07/143264921/friendly-advice-for-teachers-beware-of-facebook.
For insight in safely and ethically structuring your Facebook page, visit www.scribd.com/doc/16957158/Teachers-Guide-to-Using-Facebook-Read-Fullscreen.
Sally Berenzweig G’92 won the 2012 Jefferson Award for outstanding volunteerism. Berenzweig, co-founder of the KidSafe Foundation, won the award for developing an eight-week curriculum focused on child-abuse prevention.
Hans Kalbach, a current Cabrini graduate student and second grade teacher at Media Elementary School, has been featured in the online news service, MediaPatch.