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Monday, July 25, 2016

Strategize for the School Year Ahead

Once the school year starts, there's hardly a moment to breathe. The pace of school life, particularly at the early-childhood and elementary levels, is marked by significant time-on-task with large numbers of children and tremendous responsibility for coaching, leading, and responding to students', families', and system-wide needs, expectations, questions, and requirements.

Summer gives you the time to strategize for the year ahead, and as you strategize it's good to think about the new and existing initiatives, opportunities, and expectations that exist. In the best of circumstances, I think it serves educators well to stay ahead of these new efforts and endeavors so that you don't have to back track, do it over, or repeat work. Plus to plan with the future in mind means that you're ready for this new work.

To break down this strategizing, I recommend the following actions:

Read and Watch System-Wide News
I've started watching our system-wide school board meetings to stay on top of what's expected and what's to come. It helps me to be aware of what the community and administration are talking about so that I can reflect that in my questions and teaching efforts. Similarly I read the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education update each week. That too keeps me in the loop of what to expect. I visit our Union website regularly too in order to read the details and find out more about initiatives, opportunities, and efforts I have questions about. It's good to make knowledge routines like this a regular part of the teaching/learning routine you do or that you share with colleagues.

Evaluation System Requirements
It's good to be well aware of the expectations of your evaluation system. In Massachusetts we have thirty-three elements of effective teaching and learning that we're responsible for. I've outlined those elements in the TeachFocus website, and there's a simpler, more general outline in the Reflect for Success website--an outline that can provide an effective teaching reflection practice for teachers in any state.

I suggest choosing your student and professional learning goals during the summer when you have ample time to think about who you are and where you want grow as an educator. I outline my goals and efforts on an ePortfolio that I publicly share as a model for others. I don't think it's necessary to publicly share your ePortfolio, however, a published ePortfolio can serve you well as you submit proposals to present or attain grants if interested.

Curriculum Map
The summer is also a good time to sit down with colleagues to create a loose-tight map of the teaching year to come. It's important that the map is "loose-tight" so that it leaves room to respond to the students' needs and interests as well as new goals and expectations set by system and state administrators. The leisure of a summer day lends itself to good thought and collaboration in this regard. This is an example of our team's curriculum map draft--a draft we'll likely update in the weeks to come before school starts.

Schedule and Routine
Similar to the curriculum map, it's important that teaching teams take a close look at schedules and routines and use time as effectively as possible to teach well. The use of time is paramount in schools, and making the time upfront to create a schedule that maximizes teaching/learning time is worth it when it comes to teaching every child well. In most school systems, the schedule is published in advance of the school year leaving time for educators to do this valuable work.

Field Studies and Special Events
Working with your team to identify field studies and special events during the summer means that you have the time to call and schedule those events. Typically classroom teachers have little to no time to make phone calls during school days, hence it's advantageous to schedule special events during the summer months.

School Calendar
Our system has turned to Google calendar for scheduling and that's almost always terrific. We can quickly look up a date to see if it is open for scheduling an event. Similarly we can list our events so that family members and others know what's going on and when. Looking over the calendar and adding important events during summer months is also advantageous since you have the time to do this.

Professional Learning Plans and Forms
Most systems will provide some funding for professional learning, but this requires filling out forms. Summer is a good time to catch up on those forms (I have to do this!). It's also a good time to research and plan for professional learning events to come. Typically if you get your requests in early you may be able to attend an event at no cost since your system will support the event. For events you have to pay for, it's good to look around and see what's available. There's often many low cost or free professional learning events available that are worthwhile. Events like local Union conferences, edcamps, ECET2s, and museum/nature preserve events are often free of cost and sometimes result in additional credits for a low cost too. Spending some time searching the web and talking to friends and colleagues about these opportunities over the summer helps you to chart your professional path well.

Long Term Plans
It's important to have a professional long term view. If you only move from one event to the next, it's unlikely that your professional path will be as meaningful as you'd like it to be. Yet, that being said, some people do move serendipitously from one event to another and exceed all expectations. So there's no one way. However, I believe that a well thought out, long term plan, one that you're willing to revise as you go along as needed, is advantageous.

Summer gives you a chance to think about the big picture. Where do you want to be in a year, five years, ten years? What do you want to do? Who can you contact to help you on your journey and what learning/living experiences will help you travel that road?

The Teaching/Learning Environment
The way you set up your teaching/learning physical environment matters too. As schools transform many of us are finding ourselves in outdated environments with new ideas for teaching and learning. This leads to the need to transform our environments as best we can with painting, signage, carpets, good furniture, and storage vehicles. Depending on what and whom you teach this can be a small job or a very big one. Nevertheless, it's important to make some summer time to create a space that's conducive to the learning/teaching goals you aspire too.

Fun, Family, and Friends
The best teachers enjoy life. We all know them. They have rich personal lives, many interests, and a love of working with children to teach and learn well. If you're all work and no play, you're going to be a dull teacher. It's imperative that we have lives outside of the day-to-day work we do. For some of us that's more challenging than others, but wherever you fall, it's an important consideration.

There are many ways to strategize for the school year ahead. This time to think, plan, read, research, play, and wonder is essential to the good work we can do with and for students. The key is to set aside the time to work alone and with others to strategize for a successful year ahead. How will you do that?

Teaching Better: Real Time Systematic Ideas for Betterment

There are so many ways to better our teaching/learning systems--ways that don't necessarily have to cost a lot of money, but can result in a more vigorous, dynamic, and forward moving education organizations.

Timely, Inclusive, Transparent Share
A weekly newsletter that shares the main points of an organization's efforts and growth keeps everyone informed and prevents unnecessary and time consuming conjecture and confusion. This kind of a newsletter may also serve to positively coach the teaching/learning team including family members, students, educators, paraeducators, administrators, and community members forward in ways that matter.

Inclusive, Honest, Transparent, Full-Circle Committee Work
The new ESSA legislation points to the need for decision making and committee work to include representation from all stakeholders including students, family members, educators, paraeducators, administrators, and community members. This kind of inclusion leads to better, more targeted, and responsive decision making. It's also important that committee work serve a true purpose and represent honest voice and choice. Too many old committees have stayed around, but don't serve a purpose. Hence it's important that committees truly play an integral role when it comes to the positive, full-circle work that can be done to serve a teaching/learning organization well.

Holistic, Visionary Decision Making Rather than Short Term Fixes
Rather than lots of low cost, short term fixes, it's important that systems do the deep, inclusive thinking to make thoughtful long range plans that include multiple steps along the way. For example, when it comes to infrastructure change and improvement, it's important that one decision lead to another so that money is not wasted and decisions represent the best possible solutions. As noted above, when these decisions are made in inclusive ways representing the voice and choice of all stakeholders, it's likely that the decisions will be better.

Of course, information and times change which can alter decisions readily. I faced this with Smart Board technology. At first Smart Boards seemed wonderful, but right after the first inclusion of the boards, the research and technology changed making the Smart Board outdated due to its limited 24-7 use and share. When that happened, it was time to change directions quickly so as not to lose out by spending money on outdated tech. Rather than a Smart Board, it's best to have a giant surface computer in every classroom or simply a white board that a computer can be hooked up to with document cameras.

Deep, Holistic, Inclusive Vision and Goal Setting Processes, Tracking, and Evaluation.
The goal setting process is integral to successful individual and collective work. It's important, however, that the process is honest and inclusive. Too often goals are set, but the work behind the goals is not deep, inclusive, or holistic, and when that happens the goals are less potent, honest, or forward moving.

Of course, goal setting processes need to be loose-tight since the world of education is evolving at a very fast clip. What's true one day may be debunked the next. Yet, when goal setting processes are deep, thoughtful, and inclusive, it's likely that the goals set will well represent the needs, interests, and potential of all stakeholders.

Similar to a deep process of setting goals, there needs to be a deep process of tracking and evaluating those goals. Too often we set goals, but don't institute a success criteria or tracking process upfront. Hence, no one really knows for sure if a goal is met or not. That's why it's important that success criteria and tracking processes are set when making the goal. John Hattie discusses this a lot in his book, Making Learning Visible for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Teachers. This is a fact I have to keep in mind with respect to my individual work as well.

Money Well Spent, Resources and Supports Well Identified and Utilized
It's also important to track and evaluate how money is spent and resources are identified and utilized in any teaching/learning organization. What money is well spent and what resources are well used when it comes to effective teaching and learning? Of course, once again, the evaluation process used to determine success has to be inclusive, transparent, and honest to be valuable. This kind of evaluation is integral to the good work possible for individual educators and for entire organization.

Professional Learning Decisions and Efforts
Well organized, targeted, and communicated professional learning efforts and outcomes also serve an organization well. How are professional learning events chosen, organized, advertised, and shared with the teaching/learning community? How is the potential of professional learning dollars and time maximized and evaluated with regard to moving systems forward in ways that truly impact success for every child?

Inclusive, Thoughtful Time, Role, Routine, and Structure Audits
How are time, roles, and structures used well to forward the best possible learning and teaching? How are these elements audited with an inclusive lens focused on an organization's overarching vision and goals? What changes can be made to affect better learning and teaching? How can these audits become a regular part of school culture so that systems continually evolve to do better and more targeted work with regard to teaching children well?

Macro to Micro Think and Action
It's important to take ideas for the broader system and apply that thinking to our individual work too. If we look at the ideas above, we can ask ourselves these questions to impact our own work as well:
  • How do you share your teaching and learning in respectful, accessible, pointed ways so that those who are interested in, or can benefit from, the information are able to find, read, and use the information in helpful ways?
  • How do you set vision and goals for your individual and committee work? Do you identify the success criteria and tracking systems up front so that that your work goes full circle and results in better teaching and learning?
  • How do you spend your teaching dollars? Do your purchases impact positive teaching and learning? How do you track and evaluate this?
  • What professional learning will you engage in to better your teaching and learning in the year ahead? How will you embed your learning into the teaching and learning program to better teach students?
  • How do you use time as an educator? Can you better use time to affect your teaching and learning efforts?
  • How do you define your role? What changes can you make in that definition and related work to better affect student learning?
  • What does your teaching/learning schedule and routine look like? How does this schedule and routine maximize what you can do with and for students?
  • What does your learning environment look like? How can you improve the learning environment to better promote optimal teaching and learning in your classroom or learning/teaching space?
As I've noted so often, I believe the next step of school reform lies at the system level as we move schools from old time industrial/corporate models to new age, living system, knowledge-age models. This is an exciting transition to come--one that I believe will not only impact teaching and learning, but one that will impact humanity, culture, and communities too. What do you think?

Fifth Grade: What Can You Expect?

I've done a lot of thinking about the fifth grade year, and how to teach well.

There's so many details when it comes to the teaching/learning year. And amongst all these details, you have to stay flexible and keep an open mind to who your student are and what interests, needs, and contributions they'll bring to school.

Essentially, as the year takes shape, and according to what I know now. This is what one can expect at Math/STEAM fifth grade this year.

This is your classroom.

Who Are You? What Are Your Expectations, Interests, and Needs for the Year Ahead?
Introductions, assessments, conversations, and share. 

We Are a Team!
Learning about team with the Global Cardboard Challenge and a visit to Gillette Stadium to engage in a real world STEAM study activity. Teamwork and study throughout the year with our Open Circle/Social Competency programs and efforts. 

Everyone Can Learn. We are All Learners
Studying and trying out learning to learn behaviors and mindsets.

Independent/Collaborative Reading, Writing, and Composing Throughout Multiple Genres
A steady diet of reading, writing, and composing throughout the curriculum.

Social Studies Lens
Learning about the world through geography, history, current events, and social competency.

Learning the science standards through reading, research, writing, expert visitors, field studies, and lots of hands-on exploration and experiments.

Data Tells a Story
Mathematics is used in many ways to tell a story, make sense of situations, and support critical thinking and decision making. Graph literacy is integral to using math data to tell and interpret facts and figures. 

Numbers: Math Ingredients
Exploring, investigating, creating with, and manipulating numbers as a primary ingredient of all mathematical study and application.

Math Systems
Learning about the definition of systems and applying that knowledge to the study of the base-ten place value system.

Virtual Space Exploration
A visit to the McAuliffe Science Center to learn about space in hands-on way. 

Area, Perimeter, and Volume
How and why do we measure area, perimeter, and volume, and why do we do this?

Math Operations
Analyzing, practicing, and applying the many ways one may "operate" on and with numbers to solve problems and demonstrate relationships.

Measurement Conversions
Review and application of common measurements and measurement conversions.

Parts and Wholes
A thoughtful study of fractions and decimals with real world application. A potential related study of States of Matter with a lens on proportional thinking.

Studying two-dimensional and three-dimensional figures. Looking at where those figures exist and how we describe these shapes with mathematical terms, size, and relationships. 

Water Study and Conservation related to the Local Environment
Students will utilize STEAM to study and apply identified standards as they learn about our local wetlands habitat.

Teamwork and the Arts
The Fifth Grade Play and a potential trip to see a musical performance too. 

Global Changemakers
Modeling the study with a focus on Frederick Douglas and a visit to the African American History Museum in Boston. Then independent research, writing, creativity, and presentation related to notable global changemakers throughout time.

Assessment Leads Instruction
Focus on informal and formal formative and summative assessments at the classroom, school, system, and State levels to inform instruction. We will embark on the Next Generation MCAS for the first time this year. 

In the days ahead, we'll firm up the loose-tight curriculum schedule to create a map for daily, weekly, and yearly plan to support this study.