Thursday, October 31, 2013

What's Your Number? Standardized Test Scores

What's your number?

No, not the number of children that smile in your class each day.

No, not the number of children you reach with multiple strategies.

No, not the number of children you support through difficult times or social dilemmas.

No, not the number of hours your prep, plan, read, research, respond, create, and teach.

It's your standardized score number.

Do you know it?  Most of your leaders do, and you're judged by it too.

This poses a dilemma for teachers in so many ways. It's not a dilemma of wanting to teach well in creative, responsive ways.  It's not a dilemma of assessing how students are doing, and personalizing instruction to help students gain skill, knowledge, and concept.

It's a dilemma because the scores are narrow and based on a few hours of work on selected days during the years. The scores are affected by multiple factors in and out of school, yet classroom teachers and a few others are given the scores, and judged by them.  The judgements also are typically not reflective of the whole picture, data accuracy, or understanding.

There's nothing that will zap a teacher's energy more than reducing that teacher to scores, scores that are based on old fashion paper-and-pencil, sit-at-your-seat for-a-long-long-time-tests.  When you get the feeling you're a score, a number, a piece of data, you immediately begin to feel like a mindless robot, a "do-it," not a thinker, creator, nurturer, guide, or coach--just a number.

What's your score? Do you wear it on a t-shirt; do you place it on your classroom door, and is it in your teacher report card?  It won't be long before that is a reality for many teachers, a sad reality that makes me want to encourage young people to go the alternative education or private school route--a place where real teaching may still be able to exist, a place sadly where only those with means can afford to send their children.

This is a reality that is putting teachers in very difficult positions these days, positions which I'm only now becoming more aware of.  A sad day for education, a very sad day.


As you know, I have a lot to say, and in many places my voice is not met with welcome, regard, or respect.

I've been thinking a lot about this, and wondering about what to do.

I've come up with a number of ideas.

First, since my voice comes from a strong vision, it can sometimes be strong, and even uncomfortable for some. I want to think more about my audience--who they are, what they need, and the words that speak to them.

Next, I have strong resolve, resolve that I have thought carefully about, and a resolve that some do not want to think about, reflect upon, or consider.  I won't bury my voice when it comes to important matters, even if those matters are challenging and difficult. Similar to the way Chris Lehmann recently spoke about the faculty at SLA, "I'll do what I say, and say what I do."

Some have said, "You're prolific" responding to the number of posts, tweets, comments, and discussions I share. I'm not ready to slow down yet because by sharing these words, I'm able to move forward. Once the share is complete, I'm ready to tackle the next step on this forward vision--there's a light ahead and I'm following it.  The key here is that you don't have to read it all, and I don't expect you to--these posts are for the taking only if you're interested. Also, I'm open to critique, debate, discussion, and questions, after all, I certainly don't know it all.

Hence, I'll continue to share my voice, and as I do I will develop my skill and focus so that I am serving my work well in order to teach children with care. It's often not easy to share voice, but with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the wind at my back, I'll continue to share.

 "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent 
about things that matter. "
-Martin Luther King, Jr 

Team Leader

We all know the team leader.

He or she is the one that pulls the team together with transparent communication that inspires, encourages, challenges, and most of all creates a sense of team. My son often reminisces about the inspiring, emotional speeches his football coach would give to foster a sense of team as well as collective and individual best effort--a coach's gift that continues to inspire today.

The team leader develops systems, structures, and schedules that promote collective strength and practice.

Good team leaders are vulnerable too, able to hear critique, own error, and better work to foster team. They use their team member's error as stairways to growth and learning as well, and seek member's ideas, suggestions, and criticism to further the collective purpose and effort.

A good team leader ensures that there are few surprises, and that the whole team is aware of important events, mission, goals, and vision.

Organizations with strong team leaders, thrive.

As educators, we are essentially team leaders for those that we teach and lead

In what ways do we foster team and promote collective effort as well as autonomy, mastery, and purpose for each team member in order to promote a strong team?

How do we communicate to and with the team, and how do we meet critique, error, and need for change?

Do we foster learning teams whose collective strength serves each member's individual strengths?

It is a great responsibility to be a team leader, whether your team is an entire organization, school, classroom, sports team, or club.  What you do in this regard, matters.

This is an area of teaching life I want to think more about.

Educator: Craftsperson

As an educator, I like to think of myself as a craftsperson, one who is continually honing her craft to teach children well. 

I looked up the definition of craftsperson on wikipedia and found this:

Historically, craftsmen tended to concentrate in urban centers and formed guilds. The skill required by their professions and the need to be permanently involved in the exchange of goods also demanded a generally higher level of education. . . .Once an apprentice of a craft had finished his apprenticeship, he would become a journeyman searching for a place to set up his own shop and make a living. After he set up his own shop, he could then call himself a master of his craft.

I searched a bit more, and found this creed by Josh Kaufman. Although Josh was talking about MBA's, I found that I could apply his creed to education. Below I copied each line of his creed, then placed a question or comment in italics to lead my craft. 
"I am a craftsman. I am dedicated to perfecting the art and science of my craft, which I have chosen freely."
I will commit to regular reading, research, reflection, and collaboration to hone my craft. 
"I am constantly, relentlessly searching for ways to improve my craft. I am dedicated to learning from the masters who have preceded me in every way I am able."
As Chris Lehmann @chrislehmann recently suggested, I will look back and forward to masters of the past like Dewey as well as today's masters to learn.
"I create valuable things that other people want or need. I generously offer my work as a gift when it is wise, but my purpose is to help those who value my work enough to pay for what I have to offer. No one has an unlimited claim on my craft, knowledge, or the fruits of my effort. I work for people who value and support me."
Teaching is much like a gift to the children we serve, yet it is important for educators to expect adequate compensation and support for the work they do as that provides the lifestyle and necessities that allow us to commit to our craft. 
"I honestly promote what I have to offer, consistently and to the limit of my capabilities. I make no apologies for promoting my craft. I am proud of my work, and it is my duty and responsibility to reach people who may benefit from my craft. I can help them no other way."
I share the work I do in multiple ways to benefit others. 
"I do my best to ensure that every single person who trusts me with their time, attention, or money is happy with their investment. If they are not, I will do whatever is in my power to do right by them without delay."
I am committed to those I serve, particularly children, with the best of my work.
"Skills are a craftsman’s credentials. I care more about a person’s character, what they know, and what they can do than where they grew up, where they went to school, or how many letters they have after their name. I choose to work with other craftsmen: people who are skilled, not simply schooled."
I look forward to working with other skilled educators as we collectively develop our craft. 
"I respect other craftsmen, and I generously assist them however I’m able. I have no respect for the fool who searches for a way to enjoy the fruits of labor without effort, or the scoundrel who seeks to enrich himself by deluding others. Value, not wealth or fame, is the true measure of every craftsman."
I am a collaborative member of the educational team near and far.  
"I take good care of myself. My mind and body are the tools I use to advance my craft, so I take care of them. Rest and recovery are essential to my life: a worn-down tool is of no use at all."
I seek, advocate, and employ the time, environment, and activities that help me to care for myself. 
"I never stop pushing my limits. I am constantly testing and experimenting with new ways to expand my capabilities. It is my way of life."
I am committed to life-long learning, new ideas, and new learning.  In that regard, I expect that I will make mistakes, mistakes that I will learn from. 
"I refuse to waste precious time and energy on trivial matters, trivial problems, and trivial people. I choose to focus only on the most important of demands: those that help me advance my craft or take care of the people who depend on me."
I will stay away from trivial matters that impede the essential efforts, attitude, and work that teach children well. 
"The world is an uncertain place, which I can not fully predict or control. Regardless, I will do everything in my power to prepare for every challenge and weather every storm. Nothing in this world is powerful enough to stop me from continuing to practice my craft."
I won't let sudden change or unexpected events get in the way of doing my best job.  I will meet the expectations of my craft with flexibility, creativity, and adaptation. 
"Anything that I can do to improve my craft, I will do. This will keep me busy until the end of my days: a challenge I gladly accept. I am a craftsman, and always shall be."
I will live a lifestyle that contributes to my craft, educating children well. 

As an educator, do you consider yourself a craftsperson?  If so, why?  If not, why not?  As an educator-craftsperson, what does this connection say about your craft and focus, and how does it make you similar or dissimilar to others in your profession?  What changes in your outlook, schedule, and long-term focus does this craftsperson/educator connection make for you?

In so many ways, as an educator, I am a craftsperson, one who will look to Kaufman's creed as a source of inspiration and direction.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoughts About Math RTI

As I think about the math program, I find it manageable to meet the needs of most students in the class.  The students that I find most difficult to serve are those about two years below grade level, the ones who really struggle with math concept and skill.

Year after year these students come to us, and year after year we have difficulty meeting their needs because what they need is a five day a week developmental math program that starts where they are and builds with apt tools, attention, and strategy.  It takes a keen teacher to serve these students well, and as I remember from the math class I took last year, about 10% of students fall into this category.

What is your school doing to serve these students well?  How are you managing your staff so that you can find the time to provide that needed consistent five-day-a-week developmental program to bring these students forward.  I think if we really make the time to look at our resources well we'll be able to implement a program like this to serve children well.  I'm interested in your success stories, strategies, and efforts in this regard.  Thanks.

School Teams Instead of Classrooms: Elementary Student Advisories

I think the time is here to create school teams rather than classrooms.

Similar to advisory groups, the school team would consist of one professional educator with a small group of students.

The team, like a family, would be a child's first home in the elementary school.

The team leader, the teacher, would get to know this small group of children well. He/she would be the children's first advocate in the school house making sure that children are getting the program that best serves their needs.

Each day, elementary school children would meet with their team for a significant amount of time.  During that time the team would engage in read aloud, independent reading, independent writing, social skill discussions and trouble shooting, and other team building activities.  The team teacher would be the one responsible for report card distribution, backpack packing, parent conferences, and family communication.

In the school house today there are many professionals who play many roles, this team/advisory role would be a responsibility of every professional including classroom teachers, special educators, therapists, coaches, and possibly curriculum leaders too depending on the context, numbers of students, and personnel available.

A small, responsive group within the larger group may serve to personalize education for all students with greater effect each day.  What do you think? Is this possible, and would it make a positive difference in schools today.

Should Children Have Homework?: The Homework Buffet

My students are writing persuasive essays about this topic, and you might or might not imagine that their opinions include both yes and no. Today they'll work at writing details and facts to support their opinions.

What do you think?  Should children at your grade level have homework?  This is a popular topic today on education threads.

Overall, after lots of thought, I do think children in fourth grade should have homework, but I think that homework should be thoughtful, tailored, and responsive to student needs and interests. It is the homework buffet.

At our grade level the buffet is a 15 minute reading-15 minute math-15 minute writing menu with lots of choices in each category, and some mandatory work.

For math, the mandatory work includes a nightly That Quiz test that reviews our current concept focus, and a choice of Xtra Math to solidify fact skills or Khan Academy grow-at-your own rate program if you're facts are strong. For bonus, there are many games, playlists, and choices available.

Reading choices include reading a book of choice or working on Lexia, a phonics/reading comprehension online program.

The writing menu includes a weekly mandatory contribution to a class writing thread plus choices of writing in your offline journal or online journal, practicing your keyboarding skills, writing an article to publish on the class blog or online reading/writing games.

I think a nightly routine of study and practice builds discipline, and gives students a chance to try out their independent learning routines and actions before busy Middle School and High School days.  I also like the idea of tailoring the choices to each child's needs and interests, and with that in mind, I am always available to work with families to craft an optimal routine for their child.

The advantage of online homework and writing means that my feedback with regard to comments, and in-class follow-up teaching is timely and targeted--there's not that long wait time that lots of paperwork creates. Similarly the online math practice provides students with direct feedback for their responses thus giving them a chance to figure out what they're doing wrong or to strategize ways to quickly complete that which they know well.

Yes, I do believe students in fourth grade should have homework, but that homework should be personalized with a child's learning needs and interests in mind.  Homework should not be a nightly battle, a source of tears and angry outbursts, a time that diminishes a child's self concept or a barrier to activities that develop a child's important skills, interests, talents, and passions.

What does your homework pattern look like?  How can you tailor this pattern so that it is efficient and responsive to students' needs and apt teaching.  Is my homework buffet perfect?  No, but taking the time to discuss the routine with families at fall conferences was one step in the right direction. I welcome your thoughts and ideas related to this topic.

Related Posts
Homework and Feedback
Homework: A Letter to Parents and Family Members

March 2016 Update: Recently I've read more research related to homework. At the early years, there is no real research that supports homework beyond nightly reading and perhaps some math practice. There is research, however, that demonstrates homework's negative impact on issues of equity, engagement, and empowerment. Where does that leave me? I think I will make homework broader and more optional next year. I'll list homework and try to inspire students to extend learning outside of school, but it won't be a focal point of classroom time. I'll think more on this in days to come and continue to work with families in this regard.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Collaborative Learning Design: Persuasive Essay

Our English Language Arts Director is leading a collaborative learning design effort related to writing persuasive text. She began this effort last year by facilitating scope and sequence planning sessions. During those sessions teachers aligned the new standards to the school year schedule. She also began a series of consultant and teacher team efforts to develop the curriculum, assess student work, and build effective practice. Leslie Laud, representing Hill Literacy, is the consultant.

I think this work is exactly what we should be doing in schools for the following reasons:
  • Teachers should be working together with common goals for teaching children well.
  • Time should be set aside for meaningful, purposeful teacher collaboration.
  • We should be assessing students' work regularly, discussing those assessments, and building our practice for best effect.
  • If deemed necessary, the addition of an outside consultant can be helpful, but it is important to keep the school context and teacher voice and choice alive in this effort as the teachers will be the ones who will keep the practice growing in the days, months, and years ahead to teach children well.
  • Throughout the unit teachers are often talking about the focus, sharing ideas, strategizing, and working together. This is very positive.
At this point in the effort, we've achieved the initial goals of teaching children the genre of persuasive writing through examples and modeling. We've practiced self regulation mnemonics and speak, and students and teachers have written many persuasive essays. I've been hosting the class work and efforts in this website

Now it's time to work with greater depth. Children's last assessment showed that they have format, voice, and structure, but now they need to work with greater effort on the details, facts and language that support a terrific persuasive essay. If you've written persuasive text, you know that's not easy. Trying to come up with the best examples and evidence to prove your point takes thought, writing skill, and time. As children continue to work on the latest essay topic, "Should Children Have Homework?," I'll make time to review the many ways we can include details and facts to prove the opinion chosen. I came up with a longer mnemonic to lead this, "FEEDS TREE WELL."  Sounds crazy, but it was as close as I could get to building the TREE mnemonic we're using to extend their writing. Essentially FEEDS is a mnemonic for the detail/fact types that support a good fourth grade persuasive essay. TREE is the mnemonic for structure, and WELL is the mnemonic for using linking words and extraordinary language.  

It will be a bit laborious as we play with this concept today, but I'll make the time to lead the children through each step with the knowledge that if they take the time to remember the mnemonic (and write it down if needed), think, and use three-four details or facts for each of the three reasons in their essay, they'll have a much better chance of convincing their audience to agree with their opinion, and just think that might mean a change in homework. I've created a few visuals to guide student work which I've shared in this post. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Related Posts

Idea Dilemma: How Do You Share?

I believe in transparent idea share if it means that children and educators will benefit.

Yet, I'm getting tired of sharing ideas that are used too often without credit or respect. There are some that freely use other's ideas without any credit or share. It is so demeaning to share again and again, and see your ideas used without credit or acknowledgement, particularly by those who are quick to ridicule and criticize an idea you use when it doesn't work well.

On several occasions this year, in particular, my ideas were ridiculed only to be used later for good effect by the same people who criticized those ideas. Also, I was invited to share my ideas on several occasions with little to no thank you, acknowledgement, or follow-up.  That left me hollow and frustrated.  I like to be part of team, and work together to grow and develop our collective practice, yet I don't like being used.

In business, ideas are often harbored, hidden, and protected as that provides an economic edge for the company. That's not such a bad practice if you're talking about a new chair, tech venue, or food, but when you're talking about the healthy, happy, learning life of children, an idea not shared, is potential and possibility not met. Yet, it seems like those that harbor ideas in schools, gain greater promotion and praise--they manage the message, share, and use their ideas to benefit their professional status first, and children next.

I will continue to freely share my ideas because I think it's important for all educators to put children first in their practice. If an idea can benefit children well, it should be shared, acknowledged, and put into place if possible.

I wonder about the protocols, ethics, and professional responsibility when it comes to idea share in schools. For me, it is my intent to credit an idea source at all times. If I miss, I want you to let me know, as it is an oversight. I am also committed to trying out new ideas without criticism for the idea's designer, but with collaborative critique instead--we all should work to grow our ideas to build strong learning communities in and outside of our schools.

Let me know your thoughts about education idea share, protocols, and ethics?  I don't want to be used and ridiculed, but I do want to share ideas if I think those ideas make a difference.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Arne Duncan Moderates #edtechchat

I wonder what Arne Duncan, The United States Secretary of Education, thought of tonight's #edtechchat. It was a well attended chat with educators from all over the United States and the rest of the world too.  It was a mostly positive chat about the benefits of connectivity on the web.

Interfacing with so many wonderful educators inspired me, and also made me want to return to my classroom with strength. Teaching day in and day out is a challenging job today--so many standards, so many possibilities, and so many needs. At times, it's even challenging to know where to start.

My class is rolling along. We have a good pattern, strong community, lots of great tools and materials, and much to learn. The key is maximizing my efforts and time so that I am serving each child well.

Serving children well today is more possible than ever given the wonderful tools we have, yet sometimes old time structures prohibit the best of what we can do.

With Suzy Brooks recent quote about looking for opportunity rather than obstacles on my mind, I'll push forward with an eye on essential skills, engagement, and caring coaching to serve my students well.

Thanks to my PLN and tonight's vote of confidence from the Secretary of Education, I'm ready to keep moving along the ed path, looking for as many ways to do the job well as I can.  I appreciate your support as I cheer myself along.

Let Vision's Light Lead You

Have confidence in your vision.

Treat your vision with care and trust, and share your vision with happiness.

Don't expect others to understand without explanation, illustration, and share.

Your vision is the light that leads you.

A light that depends on your keen observation, listening, and reflection, and a light that will be revised and refined along the way.

Others may not see your light, but know they have their own, and coming together to share the light is integral to positive movement.

You have that freedom--the freedom to question, tell your story, advocate for what you see and understand as a good path, a promise, and potential.

Like a fine sculpture, your vision is always a work in progress, a work that gains from both the cut of naysayers and the new clay of comrades who share the journey with you.

Vision is not a race or a contest or a battle, instead vision is a direction, one that may be rocky at times, and smooth and inviting at other moments, but a direction nonetheless.

We spend a lot of time denying vision's strength and pull, when instead, like great leaders before us, we should trust the energy and not waste time with indecision.

Recognition of life's gifts, beauty, and grace leads us forward toward vision, and the support and care for others gives us companions on vision's path.

Educators, like us, who have chosen a career to serve others are led by vision's light, and the more we understand vision's strength and pull, the better we will be able to serve.

Thanks to DKerr's video for prompting this reflection:

Amazing Inspiration: Thanks Daniel Kerr

I woke up to find this video on Connected Principals, and I'm so happy that I took the 16+ minutes to watch it.  Kerr's message is powerful and life enriching, one I want to bring forward. Too often, I've wanted to blame those around me for not changing fast enough, embracing new ideas, or transparently sharing the news of the organization, but Kerr's message emphasizes the positive momentum and bright inspiration we can bring to, and reap from, others.  His message about balance and taking care of ourselves is integral to our success, happiness, and best gift giving when it comes to our families, students, colleagues, friends, and others. I appreciate Daniel Kerr's courage and generosity in sharing his learning, inspiration, and change. I will pay it forward.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mission and Vision

When you love to write and dream, you have to stop now and then to make sure you're following what you truly believe in--your mission and vision.  Hence, at this juncture in the road, I'll declare what I'm committed to as an educational professional.
  • First and foremost, I'm committed to teaching the children I serve in Team 15 well.  That means finding ways to successfully engage and educate each child with responsive, standards-based, multi-modal learning experiences.  
  • Next, I'm committed to staying current with educational research, tools, materials, and strategies. I will do this by regular interaction with my PLN near and far, reading research, and attending educational events. 
  • Third, I want to be a kind, caring, and compassionate colleague who recognizes I'm only one voice, and that the collaboration of many voices including transparent discussion, debate, and shared decision is the way to build and develop a successful learning community. I will foster this through thoughtful work and sharing in my PLC, grade-level team, school, and project groups.
  • Finally, as Chris Lehmann emphasized at the MassCUE conference I want to "do as I say, and say as I do" with practice that reflects belief and commitment. 
For now, that's my professional mission and vision.  There's room to tweak and refine my work in these regards, but in general this is the path I'm on at present.  As always your debate, ideas, and questions are welcome. 

Limited Technology

Currently I'm working in a climate that limits tech use.

In order to use a new tech tool I have to go through a lengthy tech approval process which includes filling out a form, negotiating with a department, and following a number or rules. This process is very different from the way I believe tech is best used. I believe that tech should be used similar to the ways we have used books, materials, and strategies; when there's a student need, we should be able to find a tech resource to fill the need.

Since tech is changing all the time, I keep current by weekly interchanges with my dynamic PLN (Professional Learning Network). Their tweets, blogs, and presentations keep me up to date with what's happening in the tech world, and I employ and discard tools accordingly. Similarly I let my students curate too--I don't stick with tools that are dull, boring, and uninspiring unless the impact far outweighs a child's frustration which once in a while that may happen. I typically look for tools that are educational, engaging, and responsive to individual and collective needs.

Why do I share this?

First, I want the families I serve to know that I'm limited in this way.  I will continue to share my tech research with families and others so they can access apt tools at home to further their children's learning if the potential occurs.

Next, I will continue to use approved tech at school, but I won't be able to quickly introduce the exciting new games and learning venues as I have done in the past--the kind that keep learning fresh and exciting.

After that, there will be a bit of back-stepping, for better or worse, to more paper/pencil.

Rather than a cumbersome form-filling-out process, I'd rather see tech, tools, and programs readily chosen and shared using a protocol, rather than a lengthy form process.

For example, recently a well-loved program was shut down due to disagreement with a game and an avatar. A protocol may have prevented us in the first place for choosing that game as the protocol could have specified avatar appropriateness--what to accept, and what not to accept. Similarly a protocol could specify the types of games we approve as an organization and the types of games we don't approve. A protocol like this will take time to debate and create, but the process would be educational to all, and the end result could mean that we could employ tech in responsive, timely ways to best educate children today.

For many, tech is still feared.  For me, I continue to see tech as a dynamic resource allowing greater accessibility, engagement, and success when it comes to learning.  I agree that there are aspects of tech that can be hurtful, and I believe that rather than limit, we should teach children how to navigate the waters of technology by teaching them what to avoid, how to react to tech troubles, and the ways to use technology to benefit learning and life.

As I always say, I am one voice. I don't have all the answers, and I welcome your feedback and response. The more we transparently and openly discuss, debate, and decide about tech use in today's world, the better we'll be able to use technology to live a good life and develop a positive world.

A Beautiful Day: A Renewed Resolve

Today is a beautiful day where I live. The sun is bright, the colorful leaves are scattered everywhere, and the air is crisp.  I had a great night's rest, and the camaraderie of close relatives, hence a sense of warmth pervades my world.

The start of the school year brought many unexpected conflicts with regard to my professional vision and the readiness of those around me. An attempt to make the new evaluation system transparent, collaborative, and forward moving was met with less enthusiasm and support than I hoped for, and the grade-level efforts for starting a weekly STEAM effort each week was met with ridicule, scrutiny, and a lack of support. I didn't expect either. I expected that all would embrace the new evaluation system by giving teachers adequate time-on-task to learn, collaborate, and use the system for best effect, and I anticipated that our efforts to start STEAM (science-tech-engineering-art-math) would be embraced since the whole world is pointing educators in that direction. I also expected that greater transparency, communication, team, and lead time would occur given the tremendous research that points to the terrific effect those attributes bring to organizations, but still many fear, resist, and hault these efforts.

How did I contribute to this cavalcade of less than positive events? What could I have done to prevent this?  First, on a number of occasions last year I sat down with leaders and discussed my vision. I was met with little support or response. I persisted and wrote up my thoughts over the summer, and similarly I received little to no response. My team went forward, and still we received little to no positive response, and substantial scrutiny and criticism.  Now most would say, "Why did you persist?  Couldn't you see that you were getting no positive response or support? Why would you move forward in this climate?"  What made me move forward was the researched belief that collaborative, transparent, shared-decision making environments thrive, and the the fact that children today are hungry for, and in need of, STEAM education.  My research, experience, and observation pushed me forward in this regard.

Clearly, my efforts in both of these realms are not welcome at this time. I tried, I persisted, I pushed forward, and thick walls have been raised to keep me away from this work.  What would have made this easier would have been to receive clear response initially, responses such as "We do not want you to do this; We don't believe in your ideas; We are not going to support those ideas; or further, Don't do that."  I never received those responses, instead I received mostly a silent response, which I took as no position, and therefore moved forward.

So where do I sit now on this beautiful day.  I sit with the thought that I want to bring "the beautiful day" into my teaching and classroom, and effect what I can within those four walls. We've got great supplies, eager students, supportive parents, and lots of learning to do. State guidelines and standards support that work, and I'll do my best by every child to personalize their experience with a high-quality, multi-modal day of responsive, standards-based, interdisciplinary and discrete learning experiences.

I was thinking big, and trying to "be the change I wanted to see in the world." I tried, and my attempts were thwarted in quiet, uncomfortable, and hurtful ways.  I'm moving beyond those efforts for the time being into the beautiful day that the classroom can and should be.  I welcome your thoughts and wisdom should you want to share, and in the meantime I'll think about the current goal--teaching Team 15 children well.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Starr Sackstein and #satchat Inspiration

Starr Sackstein led a wonderful #satchat discussion this morning related to her new book, Teaching Mythology Exposed, Helping teachers create visionary classroom perspective.  Still smarting from recent setbacks, I entered the chat a bit uninspired, but hopeful that my PLN would once again come to my rescue with inspiring thoughts, challenges, and debate. Thanks to Starr and the wonderful #satchat moderators and educators, I left the chat renewed!

First, we discussed many myths related to education, myths that persist today. Taking the time to unearth and understand myths really propels individuals and organizations ahead.

Next, the #satchat discussion helped me to set new goals with regard to my teaching--goals that make a difference, and goals I'm excited about embracing. These goals will be acceptable to my leadership as well, hence, I won't have to engage in the painful debate and discussions I've wrestled with lately, mostly debates about new technology and curriculum.

The goal I'll embrace is personalized learning--looking for ways that I can coach both students and families with regard to each child's learning confidence, success, and engagement. I really like the role of educator-coach, one who can help a child succeed and learn with happiness and success. Who can deny that this is a primary goal of every educator?

I'll embrace this new emphasis with the following questions:
  • What does each child need to learn and progress both with the classroom program and learning in general?
  • How can I plan and facilitate the classroom program so children are getting what they need regularly?
  • What can I offer for home study so that children are practicing and building skill and knowledge in enjoyable, profitable ways?  (the homework buffet).
  • How will I help children develop their "learning to learn" skills, routines, and efforts.
I'll begin this goal with a review of students' latest efforts, and tweaking next week's program to reflect their work and need.

After that, I'll make more time to talk with the students and listen to their needs. Then I'll respond to those needs by updating classroom learning areas and schedule focus.

In every way, I'll turn my efforts back to the individuals in my classroom, and away from the bigger issues in the organization for now. As far as my interest in broader education issues and potential, I'll keep that conversation alive with writing, tweets, chats, and conference/edcamp participation.  

It's a wonderful new world of learning and teaching thanks to social media and professional learning networks (PLNs).  I especially want to thank today's moderator, Starr Sackstein, the #satchat founders and moderatorsBrad Currie and Scott Rocco, and the many other moderators of #satchat including Shelley Burgess, David Culberhouse, Darrin Jolly, Amy Illingworth, Billy Krawkower Jay Graham (Indonesia), Holly Fairbrother (Singapore), and Andrea Stringer (Australia).  

Transparency and Share: Building Better Schools

I am so indebted to my PLN who is always sharing--sharing ideas, curriculum work, debate, and discussion that helps to forward the work we are capable of doing to teach children well.

No one can know it all, but when professionals are willing to share their learning, questions, and experiences with others, everyone gains including the children we teach.

Many educators remain shy about sharing their learning, experiences, and questions, and that creates a bit of a dam when it comes to the work possible.

Hence, I continue to be an advocate for regular, timely professional share as I know that's one very important ingredient to building vibrant, successful learning environments.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Thoughts 10-25

I returned to class after the two-day MassCUE conference only to realize that it was time for a class clean-up and refocus. Hence, we sorted the books, clean the desks, and rearranged the room a bit to prep for the second half of the first semester--yes we're just about at the quarter point--week 9 of approximately 30 weeks. It was good to clear the cobwebs so we're ready for the next ten weeks' agenda which includes the following:
  • Completing the persuasive unit.
  • Starting and presenting the culture project.
  • Problem Solving, Operations, Multiples, Factors and Geometry.
  • Lots of reading: reading groups, read aloud, close reading activities.
I hope to continue to work at knowing each child well and coaching with care and detail in the next 10 weeks.  We have a very nice class community which inspires my work.  Now for a true weekend of family and fun.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Day Two: MassCUE 2013

I arrived at Gillette Stadium and enjoyed a cup of coffee, bright sunshine, and time to write before day two of MassCUE started. Chris Lehmann soon took the stage and gave a challenging and affirming keynote. I follow Lehmann (@chrislehmann) on Twitter and visited his school, The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, for the Educon Conference in 2012 so I knew I would be inspired. Some of my favorite notes from his speech include the following:
  • Lehmann encourages all of us to reread John Dewey's work.
  • He wants us to inspire a love of learning.
  • Lehmann wonders why so many passionate teachers cannot make change in education, and asks why do problems persist?
  • Lehmann wants us to build schools that teach children how to live. 
  • He cautions us to think carefully about the language we use, for example "We don't deliver instruction, we teach."
  • Lehmann wants educators "to dream bigger."
  • He endorsed MIT's Media Lab concept, "Lifelong Kindergarten."
  • He prompts us to teach in ways that focus on "how brilliant children are," not "how brilliant we are," and notes that we may have to unlearn some of our usual ways of instruction to better teach children.
  • Lehmann encourages us to develop the learning community by sharing videos and news of class events with families via the Internet and other resources.  
  • SLA, The Science Leadership Academy, uses Understanding by Design learning methods and process.  They have consistent language and learning frameworks throughout the school.
  • He states, "It's not about the technology, it's what we do with it."
  • Lehmann's first priority is to encourage students to be thoughtful, wise, passionate, and kind. 
  • His school focuses on inquiry, and he notes that "inquiry is for all of us."  Three basic inquiry questions he uses with students: What do you need?  How do you feel?  What do you think?
  • Lehmann added that he doesn't want us to forget to have fun when teaching, and he finds it a great honor to live up to the vision children have for him. 
  • He believes that the structure and system of a school are integral to its success. 
  • At SLA they try to be as transparent as possible, "say what they do, and do what they say."
I went to Lehmann's follow-up session which was mainly a question and answer format where many teachers posed questions for Lehmann who answered with heart, experience, and humor.  

Next, I watched Rob Ackerman and Molly Maguire present a digital portfolio presentation. They use Evernote with their students. I'm pleased with our use of Google sites for this, however I enjoyed listening to the types of information students collect and reflect on. I was particularly interested in their use of audio recordings to share student fluency growth with families.  I liked the way they discussed students' engagement with the process too. Although I haven't used Evernote yet, many find it to be their first stop for note taking, information share, ePortfolios, and organization. 

After lunch I had the chance to learn about some great new tools through the conference tweets and my visit to the LearnLaunch start-up space. Now I have a lot of homework to do in order to try out the following tools with greater care: 
  • Doink Green Screen App: Could be great for movie making, anxious to try.
  • 30HandsLearning: Nice IPad/IPhone app for recording events with images, words, and drawings. 
  • Educanon - Looking forward to trying this app which has the potential to make videos more meaningful as it allows teachers to add questions at important parts of the film, and collect student responses. 
  • BalefireLabs: A subscription service that evaluates apps for student learning; this could be a great resource as we move more towards using tech for engaging, effective learning. 
  • TimeTribe: This looked like fun, and I want to try it out.
  • SkillBott: An interesting platform for developing life skills--possible tool for upper levels related to this year's wellness goals. 
  • ListenEdition: Public Radio for the Classroom, This is a resource that could inform our reading, writing, research, and speaking goals well at third, fourth, and fifth. I plan to try this out. 
  • Vertical Learning Labs: Math Models, Games, and Learning
  • Edtrips: A platform for collecting field trip money--might make life easier for us. 
  • ThinkCERCA: Close reading resources--looked very interesting, and potentially helpful for reading comprehension. 

I tried the 30Hands app tonight, and although I have room for finesse, I found the app to be a useful tool for student learning and share. I look forward to trying it more in the days and weeks to come.

Inclusivity in Schools

How might schools move towards greater inclusivity?

For many years now, I've been crying out for school idea management systems so good ideas from all areas of school life find their way to meaningful action.

Now, I'm thinking that I have to craft a more vital plan of action--a better way to build inclusivity in schools.

Massachusetts has moved towards inclusivity with structures such as school councils, the new educator evaluation plan, and a transparent, timely website. Those are steps in the right direction.

The key is to use those structures, and more to build inclusive work environments that develop autonomy, mastery, and purpose (Drive by Pink) through shared leadership. How might this happen?

To start, learning communities should be led by vision, and that vision should be nurtured throughout the year with touchstone assessments, regular communication, strategizing, and needed revision  Keep the vision alive.

Next, the vision and goal setting for the next year should be an active, ongoing process that includes the voices of all within the system. Data points, personal experiences, and current research should inform this movement. All should be thinking about where are we going, where are we now, and where do we want to be, and all should be familiar with the ways to share their ideas, knowledge, and time. Like any successful team, a learning community needs to work together and play to each other's strengths.

When possible, the leg work should be done online and shared in that way too leaving the time to meet for vital conversation, debate, and planning. Our face-to-face time is precious and should be planned for, and utilized, with that in mind.

Inclusivity in schools means that everyone has voice and choice, and with voice and choice comes greater investment, innovation, and effect.

It is no longer a question of whether schools should move from a factory model, or a question of when. The time is now, and the question is how. Oppressive factory model schools are outdated and ineffective. These schools present a dangerous, and ineffective model of leadership and structure to our students. Instead inclusive learning communities not only lead with effect, but also offer our students a viable model for leadership, collaboration, and effective effort in the future.

A Senseless Murder: A Caring Teacher Gone

We all ache for Colleen Ritzer's family, friends, neighbors, students, and colleagues.  We are all asking why did this have to happen--a senseless, cruel death.

The news everyday reports horrible stories about senseless deaths of innocent people, and we are particularly moved when these senseless deaths occur to moms and dads, teachers, children, friends and others close to the perpetrators that kill.


If I can cull any meaning from this horrid act, it is the fact that we have to build caring, loving communities where we live and where we work. That doesn't mean there won't be disagreement, debate, and utter frustration at times, but it does mean that at the foundation of all we do, and before all else, we have to build communities of love.

I will take Colleen Ritzer's life into mine by working with greater effort to build the kind of community the news demonstrates she was committed to--a child-centered, loving, caring community.

My prayers and thoughts are with her loved ones, and though an evil act, my heart aches for the violator too--why? Why would he throw his life away like that? An act we cannot imagine.

Include Educators in School Decisions

Yesterday at MassCUE, Tony Wagner emphasized that all stakeholders should be included in school decisions. Teachers are stakeholders at schools. We care about our students and we want to contribute to successful learning communities. Too often, educators are left out of the bigger decisions that affect school culture and effort, or just as bad, we're given only a superficial role. This exclusion tears at investment, potential, and promise.

Perhaps decision makers are worried about the extra time and effort it will take to include teachers' voices, but that investment of time and effort is worth it since the decisions made will be more inclusive and, I believe, more effective.

All educators in a school should be part of the conversation when it comes to decisions related to developing and supporting a great school. Their voices should be consulted when vision, goals, and objectives are set. In addition, their voices should be heard when problems occur, and a need for change is present. Important decisions made without teacher voice will not engender the promise or potential possible.

Include educators in school decisions. This seems like a natural, obvious request, but it is a request often unmet.

Where Does Your Passion Lie?

As you think of your professional career as an educator, where does your passion lie?  What is it about teaching and learning that really motivates you and pushes you forward?

Yesterday as I attended and presented at the MassCUE Conference, I found myself thinking about that question a lot. As I moved from learning event to learning event, I wondered about where I am headed in the profession.

It was easy to eliminate some roles, products, and efforts. I wouldn't make a good trade show representative, virtual school teacher, or science coordinator. While I honor what those roles bring to the profession, that's not where my passion lies. What really speaks to me is the detail and coaching involved in teaching young children each day.

As educators from Weston, Massachusetts presented deep learning and teaching efforts related to STEM, I found myself hungry for more of their research, depth of thinking, and connection making--the learning design they used to build the modules were thoughtful, child-centered, and enriching. Similarly as Nancy Carroll introduced us to her students through Skype and discussed her efforts to broaden their world view and knowledge, I was challenged and excited--I know that the work she shared is a next step for my classroom efforts as I want to give my students this gift of using empathy, understanding, poise, and comfort when interacting with the world around them.

Coaching and learning design are my professional calling.  I truly enjoy working with both teachers and students in a one-to-one or small group personalized way to develop skill, interest, voice, and choice. As I sat with my colleagues during the keynote and lunch, I was keenly aware of the different gifts we bring to the education table--we're not all the same, and we all have something of value to bring to children. Recognizing, sharing, and supporting each others' gifts, vision, and needs is integral to building strong learning communities.  We need to make the time to do this with a common goal of teaching children well.

Challenging yourself to attend conferences, present your craft, connect online, collaborate, share your strengths and challenges, and be open minded to the gifts and challenges of those around you will not only help you to identify your passions, but also help you contribute to teaching children well.  Hence, in this post, I encourage you to challenge yourself as you seek your passion.  Reach beyond your comfort zone, be open to error and learning, and let these experiences hone your vision and unveil your true passion.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MassCUE Conference Day One 2013

Nancy Carroll referred to the beloved Jetsons as an early'
foreshadowing of today's videoconferencing. 
Today was the first day of MassCUE's annual two-day conference at Gillette Stadium. It was a day of learning as I navigated new information, ideas, and challenge.

The day started with an enthusiastic talk by Tony Wagner who relayed his exciting vision for education including the seven skills students desperately need, and a vision that is wonderful and similar to his talk in this video .

The first workshop I attended was a presentation by The Virtual High School representatives.  I found it interesting to listen to the ways they foster collaborative learning design.  They introduced me to the collaborative tool, Teambox which might be a useful tool for a collaborative learning design effort with colleagues at some point.  The Virtual High School could be a useful resource for some high school or middle school students in your school.

Next I watched the Weston Elementary Science Coordinator and the Tech Integration Specialist share their STEM efforts utilizing SCRATCH, Lego WeDO, Lego Mindstorms, and challenge projects from Tufts University.  Their work, planning, and result was exceptional and enriching to all the students in their elementary schools.  They noted that last year's MassCUE conference inspired them to make change, and the system made a choice to think outside the standards and employ this early science, tech, engineering, and math learning with depth and breadth.  Next year they hope to include Google Blockly as well as integrating the programming and engineering tools with more standards across disciplines.

The third presentation I attended introduced me to videoconferencing in the classroom.  I was amazed at how much Nancy Carroll's Walpole fourth graders learned about geography and math using Skype or Google hangouts to meet students, teachers, and experts all over the world.  During the presentation we videoconferenced with Nancy's prepared, poised, and polite fourth graders.  They shared their videoconference highlights, tips, and review.  This is an activity I want to include in my classroom sooner than later.

I presented during the final session to a large group of educators.  I presented Tech Connect: The 24-7 Classroom, and introduced many ways that teacher might use technology to teach well and make connections to learning in and out of the classroom.

I look forward to another day of learning tomorrow.

Student Google Doc Writing Thread

Like many teachers, I've been trying to find an efficient, inclusive way to respond to student writing. This year, I'm trying the use of a Google doc writing thread, and I'm liking it.

Essentially, I create a Google doc each week with a different writing focus.  On the doc I create a table with space for student writing and teacher comments.  Students add their stories, paragraphs, essays, and ideas during the week. I check in each night and comment on each child's efforts.

There are many aspects of this assignment that I like including the following:
  • The thread is public, but not too public.  It is shared by our class community and a few more.  Hence children have a good size audience for their work.
  • Children may easily read each other's work, and get ideas from one another.
  • Families may read their child's work and other children's work to have a good idea about fourth grade writing skills, challenges, and strengths.
  • I get to check in on and respond to student writing each week in a timely way. 
  • I have the chance to assess individual student writing as well as the class writing weekly, and use that information to inform follow-up writing focus lessons.
  • The assignments are generally light hearted and enjoyable to read.
  • The assignment provides good practice for the Common Core expectation that all fourth graders can type one page of text with skill. 
Take a look at the example below.  This might be an approach you'd like to try.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Roads Diverge and I'll Take Both?

My paths divided in two. I'm taking both, and it's time to reset my vision.  One for the organization I work for, and one for my own life of learning and research.

As for my organization work, the important priorities for the moment seem to be engagement, scores, and service.  That's the cream that's risen to the top.  How can I make each of these goals both meaningful and successful?

There's no doubt about it "servant leadership" leads to engagement.  I'll continue to employ that model of teaching.

While I have all kinds of feelings about scores, I will cull the meaningful aspects of this goal from the title which includes awesome writing, thoughtful reading, and math facility.  I like all three of those subjects, and will work to build a meaningful standards-based curriculum in those areas.

My system regards service to others as a primary goal.  I will look for ways to support and embed this work in my curriculum efforts.

As for my other path, the one that reaches for art, creativity, innovation, and exploration, I'll look for ways to use my love of writing, reading, research, tech, and creativity to enliven my life and hopefully contribute beyond my day-to-day world.  I'm not quite sure where this path will take me, but I know it's a strong stream in my life--one that cannot be denied.

Do you currently live a life of two streams--one for daily needs and one for the world of your future?  If so, how do you manage the two?  What does the balance look like?  Do you have a list of helpful hints?

When I attend the MassCUE conference tomorrow, I'll be thinking of the two streams.  I'll take notes and collect ideas to feed both.  I'm likely to meet some innovative and dynamic people to learn from and look up to in this regard.

Life is such a journey, and unlike Frost's decision for now:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took". . . .both
"And that has made all the difference." - Let's see?

Note: Quotes come from Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken"

Sharing the Why

Most mornings before I get to school I think about the "why's" I'll share with students prior to each learning experience.  I know if students understand the rationale for what they're learning, they'll do a better job, and invest more time and effort.

So what are the "why's" for today.

1.  Words Their Way Assessment

Good spelling makes good communication.  If you spell wrong, people won't understand what you're saying, and if people don't understand what you're saying you'll have a harder time getting what you want or desire.  So today we're going to test your spelling, then we'll assess the results and figure out the best ways to help you spell well.  So do your best, so we know what you know, and know what you need to learn.

2. "Read like a Writer"

Ralph Fletcher, a famous author and teacher, visited Wayland last year.  He told us that one way to improve your writing is to "read like a writer."  So today as Ms. Angers reads a book, think like the writer and wonder why the writer used the words, pictures, page breaks, phrases, and paragraphs that she chose to use.  Using "mentor texts" like this one is one way to improve your writing, and wonderful writing entertains, informs, and communicates with your reader in convincing, enjoyable, and helpful ways.

3. Writing Workshop Focus Lesson: Facts and Details for Persuasive Text

As you know, we're all working on our persuasive writing.  We want to be able to convince others about matters that are important to us, and perhaps important to our family, community, or world.  In order to do that, we have to be convincing when we write.  Yesterday's assessment showed me that almost everyone has the OREO structure of Opinion, Reasons (3), Examples, and Opinion.  Yet, yesterday's writing also showed that almost everyone lacked enough detail to be convincing.  A rule of thumb is that you have about three good details for every reason, and most people had only one.  I went home and did some homework.  I tried to think of all the ways a fourth grader could add detail and I made up this practice sheet.  Let's work on it together so that we can begin to stretch our thinking in ways that help us write more detail to make our persuasive essays more convincing.  We can do it!

4. Chinese Immigration Story: Landed by Milly Lee

Get cozy because it's time to finish Landed by Milly Lee.  We're reading this book as one of the many activities we're doing to better understand United States immigration which helps us to understand our country and the people in it well.

Who remembers important details from the story? (list the details)

We're also reading this become to build our skills as good readers.  One strategy wonderful readers use is "Asking Questions."  What big and small questions do you have about this story?  I'll write the small questions in this column--those are questions that we can answer quickly, usually with a word or two, and I'll write the big questions in this column, those are questions that take more thought and inferencing.

As I think about today's "why's" and rationale, I realize that setting the objective and purpose in a meaningful way not only builds investment, but it also builds a strong, collaborative learning community.

What are the "why's" for your teaching today?  How will you invite participation, collaboration, and investment into each lesson?  In what ways will you connect the learning experience with important life long learning.  When we do this school becomes much more than a task, instead school becomes a meaningful way of being.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Persuade Me!

My students are working thoughtfully to learn persuasive writing techniques. We started this endeavor about a month ago with baseline essays.  Then we taught the children self regulation mnemonics such as TREE (topic, reason, example, ending) and OREO (opinion, reason, example, opinion).  After that we practiced using linking words and discussed and practiced the five-paragraph essay format in order to give their arguments some structure.

Today was the mid-unit assessment. Almost every child wrote a five paragraph essay with a bold opinion and three reasons in the topic paragraph, three detail paragraphs with discrete reasons and examples, and an ending summary paragraph.  Many had voice, several demonstrated evidence of craft, and lots left the reader with something to think about.  It was a satisfying mid-point achievement for these young authors. One I will congratulate them on tomorrow.

Now for the next step. In the next step I want to develop greater commitment to their topics, thought, and detail.  Many only included one fact or detail to support each reason, and often, even though they may have written three sentences, all the sentences were essentially one detail.  Hence I want to stretch the depth of their thinking, and the types of detail they use.  I read a number of articles about persuasive technique tonight and came up with the following exercise to begin the stretch. I'm hoping this exercise will help them to come up with a greater variety and depth of detail to support specific reasons related to their opinion.

After practicing this skill, students will have the chance to continue writing new persuasive essays about topics of their choice. They'll also have the chance to analyze another exemplar of a fine persuasive essay. We may even turn some of the essays into speeches as another way to build voice and detail, perhaps we'll even have a debate to foster enthusiasm for the unit goal and focus. All the work we do will be posted on this website for easy reference.

What are your most powerful persuasive techniques?  How do you teach this unit well to young children?  Thank you in advance for sharing your ideas.

Low Tech

The last few years of my teaching career have been marked by an enthusiastic move towards greater tech with teaching.  I like tech for many reasons including the fact that tech often makes learning more engaging and accessible.

Lately, the backlash related to tech use has been too much for me.  I don't want to lose my job, and I'm too tired to advocate at the moment, hence I'm making a move to low tech.

Students will complete a presentation or two, type on Google docs, access homework links and newsletters via the Internet, and sometimes use a few skill based programs, but for the most part that will be it for a while. On my own time I'll continue to investigate and write about tech, but I won't employ much at school unless led to do so.

The no tech advocates will be pleased with this decision, and most families probably won't mind since most of my students use a lot of tech at home.  In the meantime, I'll focus on the units leadership promotes.  Yet another change in the teaching road.

Sticking Points

Yesterday on a venture outside of my typical environment, there were many sticking points.
  • I met a law professor who was passionate about his work, study, and outside writing and research. This reminded me that I have to make the time to surround myself with academics, visionaries, artists, and idealists more often.
  • I spoke to a young college student passionate about researching and inventing better prosthetics--his passion was contagious.
  • I watched another young college student use his gift of talk and social understanding to engage a wide range of individuals in minutes.
  • I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a good friend that caused new revelations and learning.
  • I noticed the absolute beauty of the landscape.
  • I listened to the ongoing tale of an adventurer I know--another chapter of a fascinating story.
  • I visited with some loving grandparents and got a glimpse of my later life through their words and actions. 
I repeat this often, but the chance to get outside of your typical surroundings always results in a renewed outlook.  I have to do this more often.

Academic Freedom

What is the role of academic freedom in public schools?

To me, academic freedom means that educators have the choice to respond to students with tools, strategies, and materials that educate well.

I do believe that academic freedom should follow a set of "loose-tight" protocols, protocols that ensure that the tools, strategies, and materials used match the intent and purpose of an institution's vision and mission.

I also believe that protocol setting should not be taken lightly. Setting protocols should be a thoughtful process that includes the voice of all members of a learning community: families, students, educators, leaders, and community members.

When educators are given academic freedom, they are able to embed their passion, research, observations, and experience into responsive choice and voice when it comes to teaching children well. When curriculum becomes scripted, chosen for us, and mandated, little room is left for the art of the job--the ability to choreograph a program that speaks to the learners in your midst.

I believe learning design has to be a collaborative process that includes time, effort, creativity, research, and response.

Academic freedom is important to good teaching, and "loose-tight" protocols are important too. How does your organization promote academic freedom while also presenting a united front that supports an organization's mission and vision? I want to learn more about this topic.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Expect the Best: Moving Beyond Subjugation

Often those who have lived in subjugated experiences, grow to expect the worst.

Students who have grown up with subjugation may present as angry, frustrated, and distrustful.  That's because the treatment they've experienced has taught them to be cautious, wary, and critical of the environment around them.  Essentially, they've learned a survival tactic from a young age--a tactic born out of the world they've lived in.

The same may be true for any population that has faced prejudice or oppression, their defense mechanisms are heightened, sharp, and ready for another blow of dominance, control, or injustice.  The world they've experienced has been an "against the odds," contrary, uneasy world.

If you have faced subjugation or oppression in your own life, you may have embraced a pattern of "expecting the worst," and your expressions and responses may mimic that pattern.  Similarly students who have faced subjugation may often respond with anger, frustration, fear, or distrust.

In the face of this issue, the first step is to recognize this in your life or the life of your students.  The next step is to take this apart for yourself or your students--acknowledge the prejudice, oppression, and perhaps even cruelty experienced as well as the response patterns learned. Then move towards behaviors that "expect the best" and looks for the good.  Behaviors like that will engender the best of others and open paths of communication and exchange.

For many years, I've had success with students who faced subjugation, but I've never been able to express why. In this post, I finally am able to "see" some of what is going on in these angry children--the defense tactics and response they've built, tactics born in worlds, both small and large, that have met those children with prejudice, oppression, and dominance.  A lesson learned. A lesson shared.

What Are Your Expectations?

Often at the route of conflict is unshared expectations.

You expect one thing, and the associate expects another; yet the two of you never share those expectations, hence conflict occurs.

Therefore, before conflict arises, questions should be exchanged?

"What are your expectations for this endeavor?  What do you hope to achieve? "

"What are your expectations for my work, leadership, collegiality, daily efforts. . . ."

The same is true in family life. We bring a palette of expectations to the table--expectations born of our experiences, learning, and attributes, and often when those expectations are not expressed, shared, or discussed conflict arises. Conflict we could easily circumvent by the question, "What do you expect from me?"

Children in school thrive when they know what's expected. Current goals for placing the objective on the board prior to each learning experience, lesson, or module actually do make a positive difference. Children, like adults, like to know the expectation, and they profit when they have a chance to discuss that expectation, goal, and objective prior to the learning activities and share.

One fear that may inhibit people from sharing expectations is the fear that they might not be able to live up to those expectations. The truth is that we rarely live up to, and hardly ever, exceed the expectations of others, instead expectations become a kind of melting pot where through conversation and collaboration we meld our hopes, objectives, and goals creating a new collective objective.

If you've lived with a person for a long time as I have, you've seen that in action. The expectation-combination results in the life you share, a little of you, a little of your partner, and a lot of new result--expectations that you didn't even imagine at the start.

Hence, good collaboration starts with sharing individual expectation. It should be a first effort in any new relationship, new endeavor, or new objective.

Focus on the Good

As I looked over the many Twitter threads yesterday, I was reminded of all the good that is happening in education. As a critical thinker, I have to stop now and then to recognize and reflect on the positive events that are happening in the world of learning. Here's a short list to consider:

Education Chats
Lots of terrific online Twitter chats to invigorate your practice on your own time in your own home. 

Great Education Conferences
Many, many opportunities to learn with other passionate educators. 
and so many more.

A constant source of ready information, affirmation, and challenge. 

Your questions answered, thoughts heard, rumblings acknowledged, debate entertained. 

You Tube
Just about anything you want to begin to know is available on Twitter.  It's a good place to remind yourself, introduce yourself, share, and immerse yourself in a topic you're interested in. 

Ready Information
Information abounds to ignite, deepen, inform, and connect your lessons and daily work. 

This is such an amazing time in education where the resources to do a good job are readily available. The challenge today is to match our school structures, routines, and schedules to the opportunities that exist.  This is a good time in learning; now let's make it a good time in education too.

How Does Your Communication Grow?

Communication is an essential topic for individuals at all levels of an organization. What is the best way to communicate today when information is available everywhere, and change is happening at rapid rates? What matters?

I noticed in my school system recently, that a large number of communications (announcements) have been collected and sent out as one. That's a positive change as all that information shares a common thread, the format is concise, and the pattern is regular. Once people get in the habit of reading that correspondence, there's little chance they will miss out on important school and community events, and there's little need to send out numerous paper announcements of those events as well which will save time and money.

 I try to send one email out to families from my class each week. Essentially I write what we've done, what we plan to do, important events, and other information that will support our class community. Children are invited to write and publish articles each week in that newsletter as well. I make every effort to share all information related to the classroom with students, families, educators, and leaders. All the newsletters are stored on one Google website for easy reference and review.

What about schools or school systems? What are the best patterns of communication to encourage, inform, and cheer the learning community on? What is the best format for that information? When is unshared information an obstacle, and when is information unshared positive? I believe a weekly memo from a school leader is important as it keeps everyone up to date and on the same page. Similarly I believe that regular correspondence from the system leadership is important too as it's motivating to hear what is happening throughout the organization. When you get a regular message of projects, intent, goals, and vision, you truly feel like part of the team, and you better understand your role in the overall effort.

When educators study or attend conferences, I also believe it should be a professional obligation to share the highlights from that endeavor on a school wide blog, website, or document. The more we teach and inform each other of what we've learned, the more the community will grow with strength, versatility, and collective knowledge.

As you can tell, I like to know more than less, and with that, I like to make decisions about what makes a difference to my work. When I know what's going on in the greater community, system, or school, it's easier to align and inform my practice with common goals and intent.

How you grow the communication streams in your organization matters? Streamlined, consistent, and inclusive communication streams promote a sense of team, shared knowledge, and common investment, and that supports the best of what we can collectively do in schools today.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Share is Efficient

When people share, efficiency prevails. When people don't share, confusion occurs. That's why transparency is so effective in organizations--it saves time, it builds understanding, and it supports growth. I'm sure people have many reasons for not sharing information, efforts, and vision, but usually those reasons are not as powerful as the time and potential lost when sharing does not happen.

MassCUE Conference Presentation: Tech Connect: The 24-7 Classroom

I'm delighted that I have the chance to attend MassCUE's 2013 Digital Learning, Global Connections Conference this week. The conference which takes place at the expansive, bright, and energized Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, has been one of the best sources of tech knowledge and inspiration for me over the years. Many of the tech tools, projects, and pedagogy I currently use came from the MassCUE conference presenters, exhibitors, speakers, and discussions.

After looking over the schoology site MassCUE created, I know that there will be lots of learning for me this year as well.  I can't wait to hear Tony Wagner and Chris Lehman speak.  Both men have inspired me in the past, and I look forward to more inspiration, affirmation, and challenge during the keynote addresses. I also look forward to the many new products I'll get to view and the many presenters I'll learn from, both presenters I've learned from in the past and people new to me and my work. The informal discussions and share are just as important, and this year's conference offers a chance to talk and work with those in the ed-tech start-up world via LearnLaunch as well as the hundreds of educators that will attend the conference.

The work of many dedicated Massachusetts' educators, government agencies, and private organizations support MassCUE each year.  I know how much extra work these officials, volunteers and MassCUE professionals devote to this work, and I am appreciative of all that work.

This year I'll present a workshop titled Tech Connect: The 24-7 Classroom.  The workshop will introduce educators to many tools and processes that can be used in and out of the classroom to forward learning for both children and professionals.  I welcome all interested educators to the presentation discussion and share.  You may get a preview by looking at the presentation slide show below. Also, in the meantime, if you plan to attend my presentation and have a specific learning question or need, please let me know as I'd like to include your interest in the presentation if possible.

Substantial Share, Sharing of Substance?

Is there a difference between substantial share and sharing of substance.

I share a lot.  I love to banter and toss ideas around like a ball.  I tell my own children, "Ideas are my sport."

Yet, there's a difference between banter and substantial share, and there's a difference between substantial share meaning the size or number of shares and sharing of substance referring to the meaning and value of a share.

In my blog share, I've been writing for many audiences including myself (to cheer myself on for challenging work), my clients (families and students), my evaluators (leaders), my PLN, and every other learner out there that might profit from my error, idea, or insight.

Similarly I read and listen to the ideas and discussion of many, a diverse online and offline audience. Frankly I'm interested in the weave of ideas that permeate our world today--and I'm even more interested in those ideas that have potential for better lives and a better world.  I do believe we have work to do, and there's lots of potential for moving things forward in positive ways.  This notion has been born from my own life, a life that has profited from positive growth and change due to the efforts of many.

Recently an error that I've made is that I have felt that I had to import all of my ideas and research into my work.  Recently I tried to snowplow a big idea into a system that wasn't ready for the change.  I didn't sneak the idea in, instead I publicly and transparently researched, planned, collaborated and began the idea only to find that the idea was unwelcome and worse, criticized and scrutinized with strength forcing me to eat a huge slice of humble pie as well as to rethink my professional work and effort. Now I realize that one can research, write about, and play with big ideas without having to embed all of those ideas into current work.  Current work and big ideas can be separate at times, and your work doesn't always have to reflect all of your research and current ideas. "Practice what you preach" is a motto with integrity, but the reality is you may work in places that are not ready for the weave of your "practice" with your "preach."

This revelation, probably surprising to some, brings me a great deal of freedom for now I know that my thinking, ideas, and research can take up one thread of life while my current work can travel another thread.  When possible I'll mesh the two, but when impossible I'll write about one, and practice another until time allows the change.

This brings me a sense of direction and peace.  In class, I'll innovate, embed, and practice the new and old ideas that are welcome including reading, writing, and math workshop and social studies/science unit exploration.  And in my writing, I'll continue to research and share ideas related to optimal learning environments, pedagogy, experiences, and tools.  This is a juncture where the river divides for a time, and in a sense I am traveling both streams, and that's okay.  Our day-to-day practice, work, and living may not always match our future dreams, research, and vision.  One brings the daily sustenance while the other serves as the light that leads us forward.

Thanks to my PLN near and far for sharing this important positive step in my teaching and learning life. As always, your thoughts are welcome.