Saturday, January 26, 2013

Growing School

Someone recently suggested that we're like gardeners these days, nurturing and growing schools with all the new tools and possibilities that now exist.

So as I look forward to this year and next, what will I do to grow school in the next few months and year. It's difficult to think beyond that time frame as the world is changing at such a rapid rate.

Staff: While tech tools are bountiful, we know that skilled educators and assistants can move mountains when it comes to coaching and leading student learning.  Just yesterday, a teaching assistant in my classroom told me a breakthrough story about how he was able to coach two students on a simple, but powerful math concept that helped the children make a breakthrough in math facts fluency and accuracy. Another teaching assistant recently agreed to run a skills lab so that students could access responsive tech while I run a targeted learning lab in the classroom including many teacher-student edits.  Also, local universities and colleges send us preservice teachers who help to educate our children with care and investment. I will continue to look for ways that we can maximize our educator efforts and time to best serve student learning.

Student-to-Student Coaching: Last summer in Hattie's book, Making Learning Visible for Teachers, I read the powerful research related to the positive impact of student-to-student collaboration. I was always reluctant to employ this as I didn't want to "use" advanced students to help teach all students, but the research clearly shows that all students gain when they are put in situations where they coach each other. Yesterday, a young boy helped to solidify this construct for me when he met his math facts goal. I remarked, "Wow, your mom is going to be proud of you." and he replied, "____(name of his student coach)__ is even going to be prouder."  His student coach had taken the job seriously and tried a number of approaches to help the boy reach his goal--he acknowledged her investment, his gratitude and pride.  Terrific!

Skills Lab: I want to more creatively schedule the day so that some of the day is targeted on a skills lab approach. During skills labs (essentially an RTI approach for all students) students will move to and from many learning endeavors including responsive tech, collaborative learning, small teacher-led groups, independent work and more. Essentially, the time will be spent targeting students' individual skill needs with optimal, engaging, successful education tools and strategies.

Project/Problem Base Learning: I want to think more about this time of the day with my colleagues. This is a time of day where we can integrate students' passions and interests with greater depth while also giving students a chance to explore and learn new tools and processes.  We can also embed many standards, learning concepts, skills, knowledge, the design processes and 21st century skills (creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills) into these blocks with engagement. We have discussed asking for a professional day to map out the curriculum year and optimize our resources to help in this regard.

Metacognitive Awareness: Laying a strong foundation of "learning to learn" knowledge and mindsets develops metacognitive awareness and gives students the tools, attitude and desire to learn with strength. I can now often turn a child around with the simple question, "Do you have a growth mindset or fixed mindset about this topic?" or with the statement, "I'm wondering if you really believe that you can learn this because if you don't believe you can learn it, then it may be difficult." Further, revealing untruths and myths such as people are born "without a math gene" helps to encourage students forward and dispel roadblocks to learning.

Physical Environment: The addition of a great tech tools cart, lots of bean bag chairs, a big rug and moveable shelves has created a much more inviting and adaptable environment for learning.  I will continue to keep my eyes open for affordable, fire resistant, comfortable furniture and storage units for the classroom. I also have my eyes on portable sound studios for recording projects, and possible structures for STEAM labs.

Online Units: I have moved most of our grade-level units to Google sites so students, family members and colleagues can access the unit outlines, tools and links 24-7.  This creates greater independence and flexibility with the units. I will continue to organize and revise these units with colleagues to best meet students' learning needs and interests.

Tools: We utilize multiple online and offline tools.  I want to continue to use, try out and/or employ the following tools in the months, year ahead.
  • Laptops: we have 50% one-to-one with laptops which is awesome for all the content creation projects we engage in.
  • iPads: I would like to have a cart of iPads available for our grade-level.  There are many wonderful apps available that make learning accessible.
  • Computer labs: Our school has two labs and these make wonderful "go to" places for specific learning endeavors and skills' labs. 
  • Digital story tools: Students more and more want to access digital books.  They love the fact that they can share the stories easily with classmates as three or four students may read and listen to the story at the same time. They also will be able to utilize online tools such as dictionaries, web searches and others to make meaning. I need to continue my research in this area to fulfill this need. I'll start with a student discussion and a collegial survey.
  • "Rockstars" and headphones: Students are social learners.  They will often use a rockstar to share an online tool.
  • Engaging online games and tools.  Students love SumDog as they can play against each other.  I like it because it's a math software that grows at students' rate of learning and offers  reports.  Other engaging online tools we use often include Google aps, iMovie, Garageband, PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, Manga Math, Greg Tang, That Quiz, and Xtra Math. We use Lexia and Symphony too to build skill and concept.  Students have also identified a list of other tools.  It's time for me to think more about the tools we use, and begin to try out new tools.  I'm especially interested in trying out Minecraft for educators, Atlantis Quest and  enrichment math and STEAM games and tools. 
Research and Development: Our school started a professional blog, Collaborate, where educators have the chance to share their learning from books and professional organizations.  So far only a few educators and administrators have engaged with that.  There's still a reluctance to share in that way. We also have the chance to share weekly at PLCs which are a wonderful, collaborative time to troubleshoot, goal set, analyze data and plan for student learning.  We have professional development times and informal share in real time and online too.  Personally, I want to set aside time each week to learn and develop my craft, and I also want to look for more optimal collegial opportunities to do the same. It is particularly important for research and development to engage in learning opportunities outside of the school system and profession in order to gain new insights and knowledge. 

Conferences and Coaching Meetings: While we have parent conferences twice a year as part of our routine, I want to consider a shift from a reporting meeting (the conference) to a more spontaneous coaching meeting.  This is something I am offering now in addition to a conference, and a concept I want to read more about.  

From School to Learning Community: I want to continue to consider the shift from the idea of school to the concept of a learning community.  A learning community suggests a broader learning platform than school and includes families, students, educators, staff and community members. The learning community extends to the community as well online and offline including museums, nature preserves, local businesses and international locations via Skype, Hangout, Blackboard or other platforms. 

Community Building and Service Learning: The principal in our school started a wonderful service learning component last year.  That has fostered terrific community and a positive, kind spirit in our school.  I want to think about how I can incorporate that into our yearly learning menu with both student spontaneity and response as well as meaning and learning.

Global Citizens: Many are talking about teaching citizenship in general rather than a focus on digital citizenship. I'm wondering how we can build students' awareness and global citizenship attitudes and actions with strength and engagement.  This is something I want to discuss with colleagues. 

Last summer reading Hattie's book, Making Learning Visible for Teachers, reinvigorated and affirmed my investment in engaging, responsive student learning.  We are at an incredibly powerful time in education.  I've roughly listed the main areas for growth and attention for my school year ahead. What am I missing?  Addition and revision ideas are welcome.