Sunday, July 31, 2011

Save our Schools March/NBPTS Conference Wrap-Up

In February, I decided to attend the NBPTS conference then later I learned of the Save our Schools March in Washington.  The two events occurred simultaneously.  Both events made me think deeply about my role as an educator.  I came away with the following thoughts.
  • The choice to become a teacher is a tough choice in America today--low wages, demeaning policies and a lack of public support hinders many from joining the profession or doing what's possible in their educational roles.  Note: I'm fortunate to work in an optimal school and earn a fair wage--a model for all schools/educators.
  • Our country depends on a strong public school system for all; currently the quick-fix, test-driven educational policies our government is supporting are undermining the potential that public schools hold to create a strong, smart, innovative people and nation.
  • It's every educators' responsibility to educate all children in their charge with engaging and empowering strategies and efforts that prepare students for the world of the future.  Educators have to rid their schools of pervasive isolation and move towards greater collaboration (in and out of school) to best educate all children.
  • Educators have to be life long learners who embrace evidence/research based practices.  Schools should encourage their teachers to affiliate with national organizations related to content and pedagogy, and national organizations should continue to partner with universities in an effort to bridge the divide that exists between research and practice.
I'm proud to be an educator because I believe that optimal education for all provides our country with a strong foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and pleasing future--a better world for all.  I have a responsibility to work with my colleagues in my school, system, community and nation to learn about and implement best practices to best serve students.  I also have a responsibility to stay in touch with legislators and other policy makers in an effort to inform them about what's best for education today.

I'm open to challenge, ideas and comments, so let me know what you think.  As always, my main objective is to do my job well as a fourth grade teacher.  Thanks for listening.

Pedro Noguera Speaks at NBPTS Conference

Yesterday morning, Pedro Noguera, New York University professor and expert on school reform, diversity and the achievement gap, challenged the United States government and educators to improve education for all children with an inspiring, supportive speech.

Noguera encouraged the government and educators to support educators' ability to serve the whole child utilizing a diversity of educational strategies.  He made the following points in his speech.
  • The politics of blame is harmful; when we focus on blame we can't get creative.  The focus instead should be on responsibility.  When the government blames teachers and teachers blame parents and students--no one progresses.
  • We can't ignore children's basic needs when we want to educate them.  
  • Right now we hold every child to the same standards even though we're not educating under the same conditions.  Every school in America needs to have conditions for excellence in education.
  • The focus should be on mastery; simply covering the material is not enough.  There's a big difference between teaching and talking; if the evidence is not there that children are learning then you have to stop and teach differently.
  • One reason New Zealand's education system works is that it's a system of high-trust, low stakes whereas America now has a system of low trust, high stakes.
  • Every school should employ high quality instruction, an enriched environment, and essential skills acquisition.
  • We have to rethink accountability, reduce isolation and increase collaboration.
  • When adults are learning; the students are learning.
  • Every adult in the school should be engaged in helping students learn - that's the first priority.
  • Schools should have a multi-service lens; partnering with local agencies can help schools serve the whole child.  He cited the fine example of PS 28 in New York.
  • Education can play a role in breaking the cycle of poverty only if students are empowered and engaged.
  • The children's time is right now--educators should ask, "What can we do right now to serve children well," with a sense of urgency.
  • He quoted George Bush's words and warned us not to operate "under the soft bigotry of low expectation."  If you come from challenging circumstances, it's of even greater import that you are prepared.
  • Developing knowledge with optimal pedagogy and strong relationships is essential.
  • If you are working with a population of students that is different from your own socio-economic and/or cultural background, then you have to take the time to know and understand that population.
  • Current national policies limit and constrain educators rather than provide conditions for excellence that engage and empower educators and students alike.
  • Schools bring stability to children.
  • Schools are complex organizations; teaching well is not a simple process.  Policy makers who believe in simple solutions don't understand the complexity of education.  Educators need to be an integral part of the conversation related to school transformation.
Noguera is an ally to teachers.  He supports a positive direction for education in America.  I'm listening and I hope our policy makers are listening too. 

Please add your thoughts about Noguera's speech and ideas if you'd like.  Thanks for listening.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Arne Duncan Speaks at NBPTS Conference

Who can argue with Arne Duncan's words today?
  • Remake schools for the 21st century.
  • Pay teachers adequately.
  • Narrow the role of government, and let educators lead the way.
  • Make teaching a venerated profession.
  • Treat teachers as nation builders.
  • Don't underinvest in education.
  • Keep the best teachers in the classroom.
  • Provide autonomy for teachers.
  • Use the Department of Education as an engine of innovation.
Teachers in the audience were moved to question.  They questioned the methods used to reach the goals above.  Methods that many feel are not reliable, and serve to belittle and degrade teachers.  I agree that it's a time to transform the profession, and I also believe that the transformation should come from educational professionals utilizing respectful evidence-based processes and methods that create conditions for excellence for all of the nation's children.

Karen Cator Speech, NBPTS Conference: Tech Direction

Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology of the U.S. Department of Education, presented at the NBPTS conference.  To me, it was an affirming speech which once again demonstrated the fact that we’re headed for tech integration at almost every level of our work as educators.

Cator began her speech by describing how businesses today are mixing and matching medias, transmedia, to relay content.  That’s the world our children are living in.

She also listed and discussed the avenues technology provides to learners and teachers including:
·      Visualizations, animations, simulations
·      Access to virtual communities.
·      Feedback loops.
·      Accessibility
·      Publishing to wide audience.
·      Global participation.
·      Extension of the learning day.

Ms. Cator also described the National Education Technology Plan, and emphasized that technology makes you highly effective and highly connected.  Pointing to the future, Cator explained that the Nation hopes to connect up to 98% of the country with Broadband.  She also noted that Comcast is about to offer affordable WIFI options to students without Internet connections.

Further, the Director encouraged teachers to leverage the technology tools that students already have to promote lifelong learning in and out of school.

She encouraged teachers to take action in the following ways:
  • Shift control and access to students.
  • Develop your PLN (professional learning network).
  • Be designers – scientists in your own classroom.
  • Create new, motivating and engaging assignments.
  • Share your stories, strategies, results.
  • Support and encourage the professionals around you.
  • Get children in on the discussion

Karen Cator is an energized, positive speaker who eagerly supports technology in classrooms throughout the United States as a means of reaching all children in engaging and empowering ways.

School Culture Considerations

Dr. Romena Holbert from Xenia High School and Margo Gaillard-Barnes from Dayton Public Schools presented “Reboot: Use of Core Propositions to Empower Teachers as Agents of Change” this morning at the NBPTS conference.  The presenters discussed positive changes and collaboration in their own setting while leading us through a number of exercises to foster thought about our own schools.

Since I had just attended an RTI workshop which emphasized the need for cultural shift in order to embrace RTI practices, I was intrigued by this presentation.

First they encouraged teachers to discuss observations, strengths and challenges related to their school culture.  It was interesting to meet with and discuss this information with other teachers in the room.  In many cases, one person’s challenge was another person’s strength.  Hence we were able to share relevant strategies and connections.  This would be an interesting exercise to implement with cross-grade or cross-subject teams in a school.

Later, the discussion led to the elements that make up school culture including observations, assessments, engagement, staff learning, collaboration, developmentally appropriate teaching, whole child lens, available resources, community/university resources, student/teacher motivation, and faculty/student ratios.  Some of the issues found to impact collaboration included hierarchal relationships, dissimilar program expectations, different schedules, communication, the varying sense of urgency and competition.  To maximize effectiveness, collaboration and professional learning communities are essential.

Holbert and Gaillard-Barnes described processes used to foster collaboration and student success including:
  • Getting to know teachers.
  • Developing trust and relationships.

  • Helping teachers set goals.
Implementing a collaborative plan to achieve goals.

  • Integrating action research in the work day.

  • Positive reinforcement and acknowlement of teachers’ personal lives.
Establishing effective routines and a systematic approach.

  • Employing meaningful reflective practices.
Developing ways to foster students’ desire to reach mastery.

  • Keeping motivation alive, not burning out the teachers – realistic growth.

  • Dreaming big!
These presenters, similar to the many speakers at the NBPTS conference, encourage greater collaboration in schools to better foster success for all students.

NBPTS Conference - Day One

Several years ago, the state of Massachusetts offered teachers the entrance fee to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification.  At the time, I was changing grades which is a big job so I decided to dovetail my efforts and apply for the entry fee grant and embark on the NBPTS certification process and a new grade level at the same time.

Just as the literature stated, it was a 400-hour process to obtain certification.  I read many books, created videos of my classroom efforts, and reflected on my practice.  When I received the certification it was met with little fanfare (the librarian made me a delicious cake to celebrate) in Massachusetts, and a year later the grants had disappeared.  I was proud when I received certification as I felt the process was a worthy, growth producing professional development event--one that helped me grow to be a stronger, more versatile teacher.

This year, for the first time, I am attending the NBPTS annual conference in Washington, D.C.  The NBPTS board has put together a dynamic schedule of terrific speakers and workshops.  There's been plenty of opportunity to network with teachers and other educational professionals from around the country.  It's awesome to be in the midst of so many who are dedicated to our country's schools and students--people who have devoted countless hours to honing their craft and serving children well.

Yesterday, we had the chance to listen to Daniel Pink and Diane Ravitch speak.  Both speakers advocated for school change that will provide students with essential skills in the 21st century.  Their talks educated us about the direction we need to take in our profession and schools to motivate children and create conditions for excellence.  I also had the opportunity to meet with other Massachusetts educators to talk about current efforts in our state related to educational change and growth. In addition, I spent an hour or so sharing technology ideas with two dynamic teachers from Newport News, VA.

I embarked on the NBPTS to challenge myself to reach high standards.  At the conference, I'm realizing that the professional collegiality and connection is a great aspect of NPBTS.  The opportunity to share ideas and grow from one another is terrific, particularly at a time when the teaching profession is often ridiculed and degraded.  I'll continue to blog about my learning at the conference.  As always, your thoughts and questions are welcome.

Diane Ravitch: A Call to Action

At the NBPTS conference in Washington, D. C.,  Diane Ravitch noted that it’s a critical time for the teaching profession and public schools.  She encouraged teachers to speak up for schools, students and the profession with the following points:

  • There should be a good school(s) in every American neighborhood.
  • There should be great teachers in every school.
  • Public policies such as NCLB and Race to the Top have been destructive to our public schools and the teaching profession. 
  • How can schools be expected to do better with less?
  • Teaching is a critical profession for our society, and should be supported by policy makers rather than demoralized, belittled and attacked.
  •  Society is failing to reduce poverty and provide health care which greatly impacts children’s ability to learn and succeed.
  • We can improve education by strengthening the education profession, respecting the profession, and creating conditions for excellence.
  • Educational professionals should run the profession, lead schools and make decisions related to public education, not the government—it’s the government’s job to support education with funding and fair laws.
  • Testing needs to be streamlined and used to improve schools, not as a means of rewarding/punishing teachers.  Current testing policies are based on outdated models of motivation and success.
  •  The money saved by streamlining testing, can be used to improve conditions for excellence in schools throughout America.  

Later in the day I spoke to a teacher who had attended Hill Day, a time for teachers to speak to legislators about the teaching profession.  That teacher from Washington state noted that legislators were eager to hear stories from the profession, and that often they don’t hear from educators about what we need in order to provide an excellent education for students.  Hence, it's time to speak up.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

RTI Conference Notes and Reflections - DAY 2

During day 2 of the RTI training, Dr. Austin Buffum led us through a series of activities.  Since there were so many staff members from my school present, we chose to meet in collaborative grade level teams. Throughout the day we listed and revised our next steps.  These are the steps our team came up with:
  1. Create time/spaces in schedule for effective RTI collaborative efforts: intervention/instruction time, PLCs, professional development time.
  2. Coordinate schedules so that SPED teachers, reading intervention teachers and others can meet with classroom teachers during PLCs and intervention blocks.
  3. Determine essential skills in reading, writing, math.
  4. In PLCs, determine norms, topic time line, and common formative assessments based on essential skills.
  5. Develop school-wide leadership team to report back on grade level efforts.
Dr. Buffum stated, “The best intervention is prevention,” and discussed ineffective interventions vs. effective interventions while prompting us to use research-based interventions.  He reminded us that interventions were for students who struggle as well as students who need greater challenge.

Ineffective interventions included the following:
  1. Leaving interventions up to individual teachers, rather than collective, collaborative decisions.
  2. Remedial classes.
  3. Summer school unless it is highly targeted and timely.
  4. Retention
  5. Punitive actions.
Characteristics of Effective Interventions included:
  1. A sense of urgency -- when we notice a need for intervention, act.
  2. A systematic approach to intervention.
  3. Research-based interventions (FCRR, RELNIE, and PBIS were cited as optimal resources)
  4. Directive interventions during the school day, not invitational.
  5. Timely interventions, feedback and multiple opportunities for practice/growth to develop mastery.
  6. Positive, constructive, frequent feedback and practice. (coaching)
  7. Trained professionals, matching professional skills/experience with targeted intervention.
Dr. Buffum ended the day with a focus on tiered instruction:

  1. Targeted instruction at tier one, strategies that make learning accessible to all. (the core)
  2. Tier two, interventions for those who miss the learning at tier one. (core and more)
  3. Tier three, often individualized and highly specific intervention for those who miss the learning at tier one and two - not just special education.
He encouraged educators to effect change by looking at their classrooms and schools with a focus on internal factors rather than external factors.  Our team listed the interventions we currently use, then using a Tier 1, 2, 3 chart with a dual-focus on children that “won’t work” (behavioral) and those that can’t (skills), we charted our interventions.  The charts revealed areas where we had many interventions and areas where we had few.  Our team utilized many interventions for tier one, but we didn’t have as many in place for tier three related to students who “won’t” work.

At the end of the two-day workshop, our school system was left with a firm understanding of tiered instruction as well as steps for further development of our student-centered, success-for-all programs and practices.  In the days following the workshop, a smaller system-wide team met to think more deeply about how we’ll implement the new learning.  Later individual schools will move forward with the guidance of system-wide recommendations and the more specific grade-level action lists created during the workshop.  

In summary, Buffum led us through a process which will deepen and broaden our practice with respect to success for all students--that’s a mission educators in our system care deeply about. I will support the research-based actions Buffum encouraged, and collaborate with my team to better effect success for all in the standards we deem essential. Next spring, I'll return to these notes and comment about what worked and the challenges that remain.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    Drive by Daniel Pink: Classroom Connections

    "We're designed to be active and engaged.  And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren't when we're clamoring for validation from others, but when we're listening to our own voice--doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves."

    -From Drive by Daniel H. Pink

    I recommend that educators read Pink's book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  The book will challenge you to improve your school practices and projects for the benefit of all students.  This is also an excellent book for a study group discussion.

    Pink discusses the "mismatch between what science knows and what business does." Earlier this year, at system-wide institutes, I heard both Ellin Oliver Keene, author of Mosaic of Thought, and Dr. Austin Buffum, co-author of Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities, and How to Respond When Kids Don't Learn decry the same mismatch, and prompt educators to seek science-based strategies for teaching and learning.

    Drive will become a resource book for me--one I will revisit again and again for specific ideas and exercises.  Part three of the book is a toolkit, a "guide to taking the ideas in this book and putting them into action."  There's a specific section in the toolkit for parents and educators as well as a reading list of fifteen essential books.

    When I return to school in the fall, I will carry forth the research, ideas and practices prompted by the Drive quotes below.

    Classroom Culture:
    • "The starting point, of course, is to ensure that baseline rewards--wages, salaries, benefits, and so on --are adequate and fair."  
    • ROWE (results-only work environment) is about "creating conditions where people do their best work," a "partnership" between employer and employees. 
    • "By creating conditions for people to make progress, shining a light on that progress, recognizing and celebrating progress, organizations can help their own cause and enrich people's lives."
    • Self-determination theory (SDT) "argues that we have three innate psychological needs--competence, autonomy, and relatedness.  When those needs are satisfied, we're motivated, productive and happy."
    • Pink relays Douglas McGregor's perspective: "taking an interest in work is as natural as play or rest, that creativity and ingenuity were widely distributed in the population, and that under the proper conditions people will accept, even seek, responsibility."  
    • ". . .our basic nature is to be curious and self-directed" and "If, at age fourteen or forty-three, we're passive and inert, that's not because it's our nature.  It's because something flipped our default setting."
    • There's a mindset for mastery. "Mastery is impossible to realize fully," but "mastery attracts precisely because it eludes."
    • Pink quotes Carol Dweck, "Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life.  Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it."
    Project Design:
    • "Fixating on immediate reward can damage performance over time" while intrinsic motivation, creativity, is a pervasive motivator particularly when a person reaches "flow." 
    • Pink's supports creativity days (projects) when employees (or students) "decide what you will make"--autonomy over task.  Days like these are "urgent in an economy that demands nonroutine, creative, conceptual abilities--as any artist or designer would agree."
    • "Different individuals have different desires, so the best strategy for an employer would be to figure out what's important to each individual employee."
    • Those who work towards mastery "in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more. Those deeply motivated people--not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied--hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves."  "A brief reminder of the purpose of their work doubled their performance."
    • He defines mastery as the "desire to get better and better at something that matters," and he confirms that mastery does not come easy.  "Only engagement can produce mastery" which "has become essential in making one's way in today's economy."  Now "we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement." 
    • He encourages clear objectives, quick feedback, not too easy--not too difficult tasks, and turning work into play.
     Self-Direction, Schedule and Routines:
    • "If-then rewards" can reduce depth of thinking/performance. "Carrots and sticks" generally limit learning.  
    • Only routine, algorithmic tasks benefit to a degree from "if-then," "carrot/stick" rewards.  Those tasks also profit when people understand the "rationale for the task," "acknowledge that the task is boring," and are allowed to complete the task in their own way. 
    • "The more feedback focuses on specifics--and the more the praise is about effort and strategy rather than achieving a particular outcome--the more effective it can be."  Pink's research supports "now-what rewards"--rewards given after a job is done well, a kind of "bonus" reward.
    • He also supports autonomy over time and quotes Ressler, "No matter what kind of business you're in, it's time to throw away the tardy slips, time clocks, and out-dated industrial age thinking."  
    These notes do not give justice to Pink's book, but the quotes will provide me with a check-list of practices and ideas that I can integrate into my classroom culture, projects, schedules and routines when school starts in the fall.

    Please don't hesitate to add comments to this thread that discuss Drive with greater depth or broader connection to classroom life.  It's a challenging task to integrate the concepts, theories, research and philosophies related to education, hence I welcome your thoughts.

    Tomorrow, I'll have the opportunity to listen to Pink speak.  I'm ready.

    Note: With wit, humor, respect and confidence, Pink emphasized the points above during his talk to NBPTS teachers.  He emphasized the innovation that comes from creativity sessions also known as FEDEX days or genius hours.  He also emphasized mastery, autonomy and purpose as the three critical categories for motivation. After his session, it was suggested that the criteria could be thought of as a MAP to lead motivation or AMP to power motivation up.  

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Pedagogical Framework for Essential Skills

    Yesterday, at the RTI conference, teachers were prompted to short list standards thus creating a list of essential standards.  Then we discussed ways that we could bring all students to mastery with those standards by targeting instruction and adding time.  Teams were then encouraged to explore the use of PLCs, multiple teaching strategies and formative assessments to promote positive acquisition and mastery.

    Today, our fourth grade team will discuss this process with greater depth.  I'm sure we'll return again and again in thought and discussion to the idea of essential standards - what's most important, even imperative, to teach.  During these discussions, I don't want us to forget the following pedagogical practices:

    1. The First Six Weeks: Community Building
      • Review of all Comprehension Strategies.
      • Getting to Know Each Other.
      • Creating an Agreeable "Class Constitution."
      • Establishing classroom routines related to behavior, reading workshop, writing workshop, math workshop.
    2. Patterns of Thought and Practice
    3. Passion-Based Learning/Relevance/The Flipped Classroom
      • Learning essential standards through passions/interests.
      • Flipping the classroom by giving children more voice and leadership related to learning schedules, topics, methods and environment.
    4. Technology Infusion/Multimedia Composition
      • Extending the school day with the use of social media.
      • Sharing our knowledge using multimedia composition.
      • Using technology tools to make learning more accessible to all.
      • Formative and summative tech assessment to guide student learning, teaching.
      • Tech as a means of growing/developing knowledge, concept and skill.
    5. Global Connections
      • It's essential that our students engage with others outside of their community.
      • Look for meaningful ways that student learning can extend beyond the boundaries of the school and community.
    6. Develop 21stC Skills
      • Creativity
      • Communication
      • Critical Thinking Skills
      • Collaboration
    When we discuss essential standards today, I'll think about the ways that I can teach those standards within the pedagogical framework noted above.  Let me know if I've missed anything on my journey to teach students essential skills within a relevant, meaningful 21stC framework.

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    RTI Conference Notes and Reflections

    Today, I attended the first of the two day Solution Tree's Pyramid Response to Intervention Workshop. Dr. Austin Buffum, an educator for 38 years, presented.  He presented with a respectful, knowledgeable tone and style using a combination of small group discussion, lecture and videos.

    After the introduction, Dr. Buffum introduced the concept of norms, then teachers made decisions about the norms they’d use for collaboration and discussion.  I liked this approach better than approaches which identify the norms without teacher input.

    Dr. Buffum presented the following norms:
    • start on time/end of time.
    • be present - no cell phones, texts and email during discussions.
    • ask questions.
    • honest/respectful (transparency - brutally honest about current reality).
    • don’t use “I think” or “I like.”
    • focus on what we can do.
    • dare to dream big.
    Then, our large school group met to discuss norms.  After that, smaller-in-size grade level teams met.  We came up with more norms. Our combined list included the following:
    • take notes.
    • stay on topic.
    • make sure that everyone is heard/respected.
    • keep the lens of what’s best for children at the forefront of the conversation.
    • honesty.
    • don’t judge during brainstorming time.
    • open minded - think we can -- not worry so much about the reasons we can’t .
    • be aware as to how ideas relate to grade level and whole school change.
    • positive attitude.
    • spirit of making it better - progress to best serve students.
    • willingness to let go.
    • Letting Ellin Oliver Keene’s words guide us (from earlier conference):  Focus on few key concepts of great import taught in great depth over long period of time, applied in variety texts and contexts.
    Next we discussed the definition of RTI (Response to Intervention).  RTI is targeted instruction plus time with the goal of learning for all.  To achieve success for all, educators have to determine what it is they are teaching -- what are the essential skills.  Standards’ lists are extensive, too big.  It’s important that educators short list the standards to make teachable lists of skills, knowledge and concepts for all children to master.  Unlike school systems of old which were characterized by professional isolation, an accepted failure rate, low college entry and efforts to sort students, school systems today need to work so that all students gain high standards of achievement.  Schools control many factors assuring that students master the core of the curriculum, and they need to determine what teaching practices are effective.  Instead of getting better at what’s popular, we have to get better at what’s effective.  Formative assessment, effective feedback and adequate time are all strategies that promote learning for all students.

    Once essential skills, concepts and knowledge are established, RTI holds educators responsible for student performance.  We looked at factors that hinder optimal student success in our classrooms, grade levels and schools.  We discussed what’s working and what could be better.  Environments that are successful at reaching all students employ a collaborative culture and focus on learning rather than teaching.  These schools expect all children to learn at high levels.  To achieve this goal, schools need to focus on reculture rather than restructure.  To reculture, schools first need to understand what their current culture is, and then determine what changes are needed in order to make positive change.

    Buffum posed further questions for our exploration:
    • How do teachers in your school collaborate?
    • What gets in the way of collaboration?
    • What do we expect students to learn?
    • How do we know when they have learned it
    • How do we respond when they don’t?
    • How do we respond when they’ve already learned the determined skill, concepts and knowledge?
    Later, we discussed formative vs. summative assessments.  Buffum noted the power of formative assessments with regard to student achievement.  As a grade level we explored assessments currently used.  When students and teachers understand the learning path and progress including standards, goals, and achievement benchmarks, learning is enhanced.  Formative assessments, when utilized to promote student achievement and inform instruction, promote effective learning.

    The day was beneficial.  I look forward to greater conversation about our current school culture and our desired culture.  After that I hope that we can work together to short list our essential standards, then work collectively to teach those standards to all children effectively.

    Day Two Notes

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    Patterns of Thought and Action: Tools for Lifelong Learning.

    What is education in the 21st Century? What's important to the ways we run educational systems, schools, classrooms, and learning groups?  How do we facilitate facile, flexible learners?

    I've been thinking a lot about this as I read and respond to blog posts, tweets, videos, podcasts, Google+ stream (what do we call these comments?), conference notes, books and articles.

    Essentially we want to facilitate students' stream of learning -- their lifelong ability to develop essential skills, access knowledge, exchange information and ideas, and utilize relationships, skill and knowledge to create meaningful endeavor (and a better world?).

    What does this mean for your curriculum program and/or educational efforts?  For me, it means strengthening my teaching of Patterns of Thought and Action -- the processes that foster lifelong learning facility and depth.  What patterns of learning are essential to the groups you serve and/or work with?

    The patterns of learning and action that I've identified for my class so far include the following.

    1. Collaboration/Cooperation: Working Together
      • What is collaboration?  What is cooperation?  
      • What do we think about when we collaborate and/or cooperate?
      • What actions help us to become successful collaborators?
      • What collaboration/cooperation processes work best?
    2. Effective Effort:  Working Smart
      • What is effort?
      • How do successful people employ effort?
      • What does effort look like?
      • Why is effort important?
    3. Problem Solving
      • What is a problem?  
      • How do we identify a problem when it occurs?
      • What are successful actions related to problem solving?
    4. Essential Skills
      • What skills and knowledge do you think are essential?
      • What does essential mean?
      • What's the best way to develop or "grow" essential skills?
      • What tools are available to help you develop essential skills?  How can you access these tools?
    5. Self Concept - Passion:  Know Thyself as a Learner
      • Discuss "Learners that know themselves well are more successful learners."
      • Discuss "Happiness, in part, occurs when people engage in activities and endeavors that interest them."
      • Engage in initial learning style/profile assessments, discussions, and share that help students continue self discovery, self knowledge.
    6. School System Organization/Learning Systems/Culture
      • What is our school culture?  Beliefs?  
      • How is our school, classroom organized?
      • How can you access this organization to develop skills, knowledge and concepts in a positive, enjoyable, fruitful way?
      • How can you foster change in your learning environment when needed?  
      • What communication systems are available?
    Underlying all of the thinking patterns/actions above is the premise that students are in the "driver's seat" of their education.  Schools and educators are there to facilitate their development and growth -- we are their coaches, mentors and personal trainers.  We have their best interests in mind.  We are there for them, and it's their job to utilize both educators and schools to best develop their repertoire of academic skills, concepts, knowledge and behaviors.

    From day one, I'll let students know the important role they play in their own education.  I'll introduce myself as mentor, trainer and facilitator.  During the first few weeks of school, we'll discuss each thinking pattern/action above, and create guiding anchor charts which will be posted on the walls of our classroom and social network (our cloud classroom).  We'll revisit the charts and discussions throughout the year as we embark on specific projects, activities and efforts to develop individual and collective growth in the areas of essential skills, knowledge and 21st C learning actions: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication (also, community).

    This is a rough start to a new start for a successful school year.  Let me know what you think?  What would you add and/or take away?  Am I missing a critical category?  How will this look in different grades, schools, subjects?  Thanks for listening.  I look forward to your thoughts.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    4thchat Topics

    I'm in a thinking mood today.  One event I enjoy most weeks is 4thchat.  Thanks to the efforts of Jeanne McQueen and her faithful 4thchat crew, there's always a great topic to discuss every Monday at 7 (CDT).  It's my chance to connect worldwide with 4th grade teachers.  Fourth grade is a unique and wonderful age.  They're eager to learn; they question easily; they learn quickly; they're creative; and they're starting to see themselves in the context of the broader world.

    I like the fourth grade curriculum too.  They're learning about world geography and history.  They read and write a myriad of genres.  They are whiz kids on the computer sharing with one another as they create multimedia compositions.  Their social media involvement is earnest, fresh and enthusiastic.  They ask great math questions and create math models with awe.  As young scientists they're eager to explore more than time affords.  I really wish every elementary school in the country had a science lab/lab teacher (tangent - perhaps that would be a good thing for those wealthy pharmaceutical companies to support).

    So when it comes to topics for fourth grade teachers to discuss.  Here are some that interest me.


    • How do you rest and replenish for the school year ahead?
    • What do you do over the summer to prepare and plan for the next year?
    • What do you hope for with regard to school change in the coming year?
    • What are you thinking with regard to the infusion of the common core standards?
    • How do you involve yourself in the school community beyond the classroom?
    • Collegial relations - what do you think is important in terms of being a positive, helpful colleague in the elementary school environment?
    • How do you prioritize your tremendous task expectations during the school year?
    • How does your school work employ RTI? PLCs? Flipped Classrooms? Tech Models?
    • What free-time experiences best support your work as a teacher? Travel? Nature? Reading . . . .
    Late Summer/Fall
    • What's essential with respect to creating a kind, cooperative learning community?
    • What do you do with your students during the first week of school?
    • How do you teach/create classroom rules?  What rules are most important?  
    • How do you support optimal classroom management practices?  What really works for you?
    • What systems do you set up at the start of the year that support optimal, streamlined classroom functioning?
    • What patterns of family communication do you set up and follow during the year?
    • Do you have a start of the year Open House?  If so, what does it look like?  What do you say?  What's important?
    • Do you have a classroom website?  If so, what do you add to it?  How often do you update it?
    • How do you start your classroom social network?  What are the protocols?  Guidelines? Projects?
    That's a start.  I'm sure I'll think of more as the year rolls along.