Thursday, November 28, 2013

The School Year Ahead

In order to enjoy the holiday, I have to put school to rest, and in order to put school to rest, I need to chart the course ahead. Having a good map makes a big difference when it comes to doing the job well.

School Community
I've tried many different ways to interact and collaborate with the school community. Some have been successful, and some have not been successful. In many ways, my vision for the community doesn't match the vision of others, and this has been troubling at times. Since my earliest days, I've been impatient for change--when I see something good, I want to act on it. Yet the process of innovation and change in complex systems is often slow, slow that is good due to the scrutiny, assessment and discernment, and slow that is not so good with regard to lost potential, fear, and competition. Therefore for the rest of the year, I'll continue those "greater system" efforts that have worked, efforts such as sharing new learning, helping others when I have what they need, and contributing ideas when asked, and I'll back away from some of the bigger issues with regard to systematic change and effort.

The Grade-Level Team
There has been lots of positive sharing, learning, and growth with the grade level team. The fact that we share newsletters, classroom efforts, questions, materials, and tools makes us stronger. Our engagement in shared study and new curriculum efforts have been positive too. This is a dynamic team, one I'm happy to work with, and will continue to support and learn from in multiple ways.

The students are the center of my work.  I want to look for more ways to respond with care, provide feedback, listen, accentuate their contributions, and develop team in my classroom. At this time the children are happy and engaged with the learning. I want to continue that spirit and also build greater independence, collaboration, contribution, and learning in the weeks ahead. For starters, I have a box of papers and online docs to review. When we get back to school, I'll make plenty of time for one-to-one reading/writing conferences too. There are many student creations to share in our upcoming newsletter, and I'll also make time for class meetings so students may tell me what they need, want, and desire in order to learn well.

Learning Design
The challenge to embed the standards into worthy learning design is a wonderful challenge--one I look forward to each day. I truly enjoy the act of personalizing and differentiating content in ways that teach children well. In the next few months I'll focus on three areas of learning design.

First, I'll continue to build a multimodal, blended math learning environment by utilizing many tools, strategies and processes to teach math well.  I want to study more about the connection between math learning and visual literacy too in this regard. The challenge with math is time as there is never enough time to teach all the concepts required with the kind of depth and repetition necessary. Hence, I'll look for ways to be both efficient and sufficient with regard to developing a sturdy math foundation for students' future learning.

I'll work with my grade level team, a consultant, and the ELA curriculum director to renew our narrative unit with both past and new strategies. I'd also like to build my own ability in writing throughout this unit too so that I am able to model the strategies with strength.

Finally, using the work of Donalyn Miller, Fisher, and Frey, I want to develop our reading workshop, close reading, and read aloud work to build a vibrant community of readers. I set aside the time in the schedule for this work, and will make the time to study, read to and with students, and analyze text together.

Throughout the learning efforts, we'll employ multiple tools including technology to strengthen learning, engagement, and share.

Professional Associations
The professional associations I enjoy feed my work as an educator.  In that regard, I'll complete the NBPTS renewal process, engage in RETELL study, plan for spring presentations at The Wayland Literacy and Math Institutes, attend Educon, chat, read blogs, and participate in a number of edcamps in the months to come.

The course for the second half of the school year is set.  I'll return to this menu after the Thanksgiving holiday celebrations.  As always I welcome your feedback should you see areas I've missed or new information that will nurture the course.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Best Teachers

A number of Thanksgiving Day cards reminded me of what the best teachers do.

The best teachers devote themselves to children in the following ways:
  • Thoughtful response.
  • Engaging, new learning.
  • Developing independence. 
  • Listening.
  • Kind, targeted feedback.
  • Positivity.
  • Dignity.
  • Care.
The best systems provide teachers with the support they need to do this job well.

To be a "best teacher" is a lifelong journey, a goal that is never fully attained, but one that is nurtured by caring, daily effort and learning.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

December Recipe

After Thanksgiving there are three weeks of school and many goals to meet.

The first priority is the Culture Celebration.  Every child will share an informational poster and artifacts of his/her culture or a culture they've chosen to study.  The primary learning goals related to this topic include research/writing and presentation skills as well as knowledge and concepts related to immigration, migration, and culture.

Our math goal includes the completion of the multiple/factor unit, partial product multiplication, and geometry standards.

In addition, we'll focus on reading response/close reading, reading workshop, read aloud, and a focus on what makes a good story.

Most of all the focus will be to run a thoughtful, steady, fairly low-key classroom which is a nice complement to the busy holiday season that surrounds us.

First Green Screen Production: Echo and Narcissus

The students act with a child's 8.5 X 11 drawing serving
as the backdrop
Last year, with a few left over dollars in the year's materials' budget, the principal allowed us to order some new and different supplies including a stand-up table, stools, bean bag chairs, and a green screen. The cutting-edge teacher next door did a lot of the research and identified the tools. Similar to the great tech and teaching strategies she implements, I kept an eye on her efforts last spring and this fall, and now I'm starting to employ some of the new tools, starting with the green screen.

This is the book used. 
During parent conferences I thought a lot about children's needs as parents spoke. In response to the needs, I created a number of reading groups including a project/research book group, a literature group, and a play group.  The play group spent a few weeks reading, discussing, staging, and practicing the Greek myth, Echo and Narcissus. As part of that preparation, I read the whole class a number of versions of the myth so we could discuss the many ways that the story and characters were depicted. Since all of our versions likened beauty to "blond-light-skinned beauty," the readings also led us into a discussion about the cultural relativity of "beauty," and the fact that all cultures have notions of beauty, and that "beauty" is not limited to the way it is described in this myth, a myth that grew out of a light skinned culture. During the year we'll continue to read folk tales and myths from many cultures, and I will continue to revisit that theme among others.

This is the kind of green screen set-up we used. We
did not use the lights this time. 
Once students understood the characters, setting, and story well, they began prepping for the play. Since our room is set up for the upcoming culture presentation, it dawned on me that the neighbor's green screen would provide a good background for the woodsy scene, and better yet if I asked one of the students to draw a background, we could produce a green screen version with the child's beautiful drawing. Hence, yesterday, in front of a few class members, the play group performed in front of the green screen. Then last night I put the pieces together, crafted the film, and sent it out to the play group with a lot of compliments and some further practice tips as they prepare for Wednesday's live performance for a third grade class.

I'm sure this first green screen production won't be our last as we all have more to learn such as where to stand, how to refine the green screen tech and use of the lights, what to wear, voice volume/speed, and staging. Many of the children, not in this group, expressed a desire to do a similar production so I'm sure this play won't be our last. The green screen production was one engaging way to meet many new/old standards, build team, practice fluency, apply comprehension, and create. There are so many ways today to both teach and engage students, and this is one example.

Note: Please know that a production like this in a large class is not a simple affair--it's "messy" learning with lots of noise, movement, redirection, and discussion.  Good learning sometimes looks and acts that way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Visualizing A Busy Pre-Holiday Learning Day

I've used the metaphor of a Broadway show when I talk about the school day, but today seems more like a sports game. It's the holidays and children will be thinking about the fun to come. It's also a time where I want to close a few units before Thanksgiving, hence timing, energy, and focus will have to be good.

We'll start the day with a math vocabulary activity as morning work. The activity is quite easy and a good review so students will likely get right to work. After school assembly and as students snack, we'll review the vocabulary and the multiple/factor card activity. Snack n' Math assures a quiet, thoughtful audience.  Then students will return to completing multiple and factor cards 1-100, together we've completed about 25 so hopefully we can complete another 25 today.  Then it will be quick transition to math RTI where I'll continue to review rounding with my small group.

Lunch will bring a short rest, then a quick 15 minute transition where we'll play "What's My Rule" altogether, then off to gym (while students are at gym, I'll prep the room for the "green screen" filming).  After gym is reading workshop, and that will be a tricky time as I will support the play group's dress rehearsal while finalizing two book groups with a meaningful discussion.  We'll film the "green screen" version of the play with the rest of the class as a quiet audience (and my college son as the helper) after reading workshop then move into a short recess and then a film about animal adaptation to prep for an upcoming field day focused on that topic.

Yes, a busy day with many important transitions and lots of key learning points and experiences. I'll wear clothes I can easily move in as it's important that I'm quick too.  Is this good learning? At this time of the year and this point in each learning experience, yes.

The day in the elementary school classroom is jam packed with multiple initiatives going on at once--it's a joyous, engaging day when orchestrated or strategized well.

Thanks for joining me in this visualization.  Now I'm off to start the "game."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving 2013

What will Thanksgiving 2013 bring? As our family grows, the holidays take new shape. I started the celebration today by sending my son a care basket because he won't be able to make it home this year. I am comforted by the fact that he'll spend the holiday with a caring community.

The rest of the family will be home, and we plan to celebrate with many other relatives. I look forward to putting the school books aside to relish the stories, smiles, and friendship family will bring in the days ahead.

With Thanksgiving so late, the holiday will quickly spill into Christmas. College bills and an ever growing extended family will make gifts a low priority this year. However we will focus the gifts we do buy on our summer adventure to visit my oldest son. The gifts will build anticipation for the journey.

The year takes on a more regular pattern as you get older, and the seasons seem to arrive and leave with a bit more speed. Yet while the pattern becomes more predictable, the change within each season seems faster and more unpredictable. Loved ones pass more often as you reach my age, and it's sad that they are gone. Yet we bring their traditions, stories, and favored foods, decorations, and activities to mind and home during the season, and share that history with the little ones who fill our homes with joy.

Though our clothes are different, and our families more diverse than Norman Rockwell's depiction above, the same warmth and love pervades the holiday, and that is what I'm most thankful for. I wish all in my PLN near and far a loving holiday with those you treasure most. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MTA 2013 Unconference Notes

MTA invited all members to attend their unconference at Microsoft in Cambridge today. I attended with a couple of lifelong friends, teachers from Worcester. Similar to edcamps, the event served to awaken me to many great resources and perspectives related to teaching children well.

Meg Secatore and the MTA's Professional Learning Team organized the event which included a terrific breakfast and lunch, representatives from ed start-ups, wonderful learning spaces, and a well orchestrated schedule of events. Dan Callahan, an edcamp co-founder and  Burlington Tech Integration Specialist, led the event.

Jenny Leung, a seventh grade Language Arts teacher from Groton-Dunstable, shared her experience at the Smithsonian as well as the way she focuses her teaching on theme rather than content. Jenny shared a prezi and her Smithsonian project that demonstrate the way she blends multiple resources to foster literature, composition, and creation related to theme. The conversation grew as Jenny and Laura Beals D'Elia shared their ideas about optimal common core implementation which focuses on compelling questions and themes that appeal to students' developmental levels. For example, the study might focus on themes such as friendship, family, team, journey, freedom, identity, and more. They noted that we underestimate what children are capable of learning and understanding.

Later, I facilitated a conversation that focused on the connection between visual literacy, model making, and math learning. I shared a connected blog post, and the educators in the room shared many strategies and resources including ST Math, a math model making program that children enjoy, and many new ways to use Google apps for making mathematical models such as Google's new equation tool.

At the third session, radio journalist Monica Brady-Myerov shared her start-up, ListenEdition, which is a learning resource with lots of promise for developing students' listening, speaking, comprehension, and multimedia composition skills and understanding.

During the last session, I continued my focus on visual literacy and returned to Jenny's presentation to learn more about the topic. During the discussion, it was noted that Suzy Brooks demonstrated a terrific way to develop and use visual literacy to teach comprehension strategies during her 2012 ED Talk. I was also reminded of Molly Bang's book about images.

At the end of the day there was a smackdown which is a time to share great tools with a series of fast paced two-minute shares by many attendees.

This is a list of many of the wonderful tools shared throughout the day:

30Hands: Free and available on iPads and iPhones. Terrific for taking images of students' work and videotaping their explanations of the work. This is another tool that's great for building effective speaking skills, and it can be used to record students' fluency growth and development too.

Quandary: Literacy/Research Skill Development.

Narrable: Terrific free new tool similar to voice thread used for multimedia composition and share.

iPad App Doink: Great green screen app $3.00

Blendspace: Great resource for multimedia composition, learning design, or building a blended learning environment.

National Archives Experience: Wonderful site for primary source images and text.

All About Explorers: Fictional site that helps children learn about digital research and safety--at first students think the site is factual, and then after close attention realize that much of the text is fiction.

Better Lesson: Multiple common core lesson resources.

Edtrips: Nice resource for organizing all field trip info/payments (Betsy, you might like this).

Greg Tang Math: Good reminder about a great math resource.

Notability: Great site for organizing and working with notes.

Teacher Summer Institute at The Smithsonian Institute: A chance to learn about visual literacy with processes such as see-think-wonder and claim-question-support using art to reach common core standards of making a point, supporting that point with evidence, and sharing/questioning. The Smithsonian Institute has a great website with lots of art for classroom share. They will also set up a docent led videoconference with your class to learn about a painting if interested.

In summary, the MTA unconference was a full day of learning in a great space with friends and colleagues.

Note: Follow this edcamp link If you're interested in attending a similar learning experience in the months ahead.

Content Focus: MTA's Unconference

Today I'll attend our union's unconference. Using an edcamp style, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA)  is sponsoring this event at the wonderful Microsoft building in Cambridge. Before attending an edcamp, conference, or professional event, I like to think about my focus areas.

I'll remain somewhat open minded today as I choose or offer conversations, but two areas I want to develop in the next few months include the use/creation of math models in math education and composition (online and off) related to all content areas.

As I learn and plan these content area approaches, I will utilize the five M's of successful teaching which I learned about yesterday during Jeffrey Wilhelm's presentation at NCTE. The M's lend a good structure to content teaching and learning:
  • motivation: compelling (to students) essential questions and learning that is connected.
  • teacher modeling: making learning visible in many ways.
  • mentoring w/gradual release of responsibility.
  • monitoring: a time for coaching students’ independent work.
  • multiple modalities: the more modalities children learn in, the better they will learn.
  • multiple measures: multiple ways to demonstrate progress and achievement

The math model work will include the many engaging ways that students can create, apply, discuss, and memorize math models as a way to build visual literacy and math understanding. I will explore the ways that we can make models that clearly depict math processes in child-friendly ways--models we can apply to both simple and sophisticated math work.

As for composition, I will begin this focus with a look at my own writing--where can I improve, grow, and do better? As I improve my own craft, I will keep track of the processes and efforts that will also serve my students well across all genre.

The one last area I am interested in today is learning about the ways that teachers are navigating union structure and support as well as the ways teachers are dealing with the multiple initiatives on the teaching table--a giant list this year in Massachusetts.

I'm looking forward to another day of collegial share and learning, one I'll share with two lifelong friends who are also teachers and many others in the teaching field, those I know and those I'm about to get to know.

What's interesting about setting your agenda prior to an event is that after the event you realize that you achieved some of your focus and also discovered new areas that you didn't anticipate or realize would come your way. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 22, 2013

NCTE Conference: Today's Focus and Agenda

Today at the NCTE Conference I'll have my eye on the future with regard to teaching children well.

I'll first focus on digital literacy and multimedia composition as I lead round table discussions and share a poster. I look forward to the discussions I'll have related to the use of digital tools and composition in the literacy studio to foster students' development of reading, writing, speaking, presentation, and 21st century skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

I also look forward to reading and learning about ways to continue to develop students' reading and writing engagement, comprehension, and routines.  Similarly I will focus on my own professional and recreational writing and reading efforts as I know that we teach better if we are also engaged in the many curriculum areas we promote each day.

Finally I'll look for examples of interdisciplinary, project/problem base work that relates to literacy development, student engagement, and knowledge building.

Today's Agenda:

7:00 a.m. Registration, coffee, and a chance to get my bearings.

A. 9:30-10:45: My Round Table Conversation

B. 11:00-12:15 In order to build my knowledge and understanding of high level digital story writing and share, I'll attend this workshop.

C. 12:30-1:45: At this time I'll present my poster related to multimedia composition.  I look forward to discussions with others who are interested in this topic. 

12:30-2:15 I'll grab a bite to eat and look over the many books available to purchase.

D. 2:30-3:45 As I continue to work to build my support of all readers, I'll attend these
elementary sessions to learn and engage in the conversations below.

 E. 4:00 - 5:15 I am interested in strategies to engage our most challenged students, and this workshop will provide that information.

If I'm still energized, I'll attend this event. I look forward to the vibrant presentations that 
are included in this celebration. 

A Year of Revision

As we employ multiple new tools, strategies, and programs, the year has been in a constant state of revision. The basic schedule has been altered multiple times to meet the needs and interests of students, colleagues, and leaders. At times, these shifts have been easy and expected, and at other times the changes have seemed too quick and too many.

This push-pull of old-new, data response, and student need with multiple voices often leaves the classroom teacher, particularly the elementary generalist teacher, in the midst of many initiatives with little time for planning, thought, understanding, or organization.

Yesterday after a large number of changes over a period of days, the last expression of change was met with dismay--How can I employ one more shift, change, addition? I thought weary, upset, and overwhelmed by the heavy weight of recent education traffic. I didn't expect to reach that point. I had previewed the data, and it looked pretty good. I knew the team was working hard, and the children were happy. Perfect, no, as nothing is ever perfect and there is always room for change, but I didn't expect to be challenged so, and the fact that it came after many recent curriculum challenges simply served to tip the scale.

I went home. I thought more about the most recent change, and yes, it was child-centered, research-based so I worked to alter the schedule and make room for the effort.

How can we make change today without the wasted time of too much anguish, struggle, and back steps? How can we encourage one another on this teaching road as we move towards new, and hopefully better, practice?  What is the best way to strengthen team, teaching, and collective knowledge? What are we going to remove from our schedules in order to make room for advantageous change and growth?

As I alter my route yet again this year, this is what I'll do.
  • Adhere to the new schedule as much as possible, but know that changes will continue to occur as we respond to data, student needs, new research, and structural change.
  • Advocate for lead time and heads-up for information that is tough. It's difficult to hear challenging information at a collaborative meeting without any preview or time to think about it in advance.
  • Stay as classroom and child-centric as possible, the joy of the job comes from working with children and serving them well.
  • Know as a generalist you cannot be an expert in every detail of the job, and there are many details to choose from. 
  • Place your growth, research, and extra effort in areas that are well supported, positively encouraged, and enriching to you and your students. For too long, I've tried to create in areas where there has been considerable pushback and struggle, so for now I'll leave those areas alone and move into areas where there is support and care.
  • In many respects be your own boss, the caring leader you look for, and in that resolve make sure you don't work too much, take care of yourself, and do the most important task at work which is to teach children well each day that you are there. 
As you face the multitude of changes in education this year, how do you keep calm, centered, and focused on the positivity and growth in the job?  Where do you find your strength and support? How do reconcile the fact that you cannot humanly meet all the demands that are currently present, demands from multiple sources in and outside of systems?

Teaching children well is important work, work that draws those who care about the welfare and education of children. It is a unique profession to be in, and a profession that holds great promise if done well.

As I write today I am reminded of so many ways that I can bring more peace, positivity, and promise to my own work too--we are always in the midst of change as humans, families, and organizations, and the key is to travel the road well bringing as much happiness, love, and grace as possible to your own life and the life of those you work with and serve.  Onward.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Teachers Want to Do the Right Thing

As school systems deal with multiple new initiatives and goals how do they relay that information, and motivate the learning community to embrace, engage, and employ the new initiatives.

A thoughtful, well orchestrated, well communicated plan is helpful--here's where we are, here's where we're going, and this is what we expect.  Explicit, direct information with rationale and support speaks to educators who want to do their best possible work to support children.

On the other hand, random emails, unexpected critique, and last minute expectations can serve to frustrate and demean the learning community by making individuals feel more like robots or machines than valued team members.

Again, lead time, transparency, regularity, and inclusion are methods of communication and care that have the potential to serve a learning community in powerful, proactive, positive ways.

We've Always Done It This Way

How many actions in your personal and professional life are done because you've always done it that way? Do you take the time to think about those annual, traditional events and analyze the value of the event?  Like precious gems, some traditions are timeless and serve to strengthen family, friendships,and organizations, and other traditions remain with little enthusiasm or investment--a have to.

In my own family, we make the time before holidays to talk about the holiday--what traditions do we want to keep, and what traditions will we change this year?  Like organizations, families are in a constant state of change so what works one year may not work the next.

Rather than see traditions and events as a road map, I like a yearly revisit to make sure we're all onboard with the events' theme, details, and intent.  Just because we've always done it this way doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. On the other hand, we can't always revisit every event every year, sometimes the traditions road map is exactly what we need.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lots of Traffic on the Teaching Road

There's lots of traffic on the teaching road these days. New teacher evaluation systems, standards-based report cards, new standards, RTI, PLCs, new tech tools, RETELL, progress monitoring/data, new tests/old tests, and probably more cars, busses, and trucks of change than I can recall at this moment.

I've driven my teacher car in a meandering path to best navigate the traffic to get to the place I'm at right now.This rest stop is a good one so I think I'll park my car for a while, focus on the children in my class, and teach well. I'll let others navigate the change for a bit while I deepen and strengthen my classroom craft with the tools, strategies, and materials I've gathered on the journey so far. I'm looking forward to this child-centered, classroom respite.

Error and Balance

Sometimes when we try to do too much, we err, and those errors point us back to the direction of greater balance, precision, and care.

If our efforts are well intentioned, thoughtful, and centered on the mission and vision of our jobs, the errors will serve to teach, not harm.

Teachers' jobs change by the second as we respond to multiple needs, requests, and changes oftentimes all happening at once. Yet, that doesn't dismiss the care we need to take with all we do.

Creative Catch-Up

Students have been reading, writing, and creating at an amazing speed. They, like me, have had a taste of the endless learning possible with both yesterday's and today's tools. Our school, fortunately, is brimming with wonderful resources such as an outstanding library collection, great tech tools, and lots of paper, pens, paints, and clay which sets the stage for this exploration.

I've been wrestling with their spirit lately as I've tried to move the standards forward with strength. Instead I met the natural resistance of children who want to finish a puppet show, prep play sets, invent, build, finalize research reports, perform a piano version of "Over the River and Through the Woods," and simply talk to each other about all this learning.

Last night I rethought the balance. I need to have happy, engaged students to teach well and forward the standards. Hence, I'll give into their wonderful spirit and joy in the next few days prior to Thanksgiving so they have some time to create, express, and share. As they work, I'll catch up with the many readers, writers and mathematicians who have been waiting for final discussions and edits as well, and sneak in some time to forward the standards too.

Teaching is a balancing act of standards and students' spirits. If we don't make the time for children's expression, creativity, and share, we won't gain their investment, engagement, or attention for the many standards we have to teach.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Sea of Standards

Multiple standards fill the year's menu--same standards for a variety of learners--some ready, and some not so ready for this sea of standards.

You can't pour standards into students' heads, instead it takes careful teaching with multiple tools and lots of encouragement along the way. Continually reading, revising, adapting, and assessing, teachers are working diligently to embed these standards into worthy child-centered learning design.

The challenge is that the standards don't fit neatly into a year's time, a year of skinned knees, trophies to share, and the desire to socialize, play, and invent. The teacher is often put in a tough place between standards' expectations and students' needs and interests--the two aren't a perfect match, and that's very, very challenging.

So, how do you do it? How do you meet the standards and teach a worthy, responsive student-centered program too. I keep trying, but sometimes it doesn't feel right to rush children to do yet one more math paper, close reading, or written response when they'd rather make the play scenery, create a puppet show, invent a new pencil sharpener, or tell you the story of the great weekend they just had.

I haven't given up trying to do both, and I'm open to your ideas. Let me know if you have any suggestions. 

Strategies that Support Team

As we continue to move from more individual planning and teaching to greater collaborative work to serve children well, a focus on team is critical.

What contributes to building a dynamic, productive team?

There are many structures and routines in place at my school which contribute to this including the following:
  • Weekly PLC time.
  • Periodic release time.
  • Shared newsletters, assignments, and efforts.
  • Collaborative planning and teaching (some).
  • PLC protocols.
Other factors that can contribute to this more include:
  • More time for collaboration and share.
  • Right sized teams--sometimes our team is too big for productive work.
  • Prioritizing.
  • Lead Time.
  • Thoughtful structure and process for initiatives including lead time for collaborative planning, time for team reflection, revision, and adaptation, and time for material prep. (We recently had this time related to our persuasive writing unit, and it served children well.)
What structures, routines, and processes are helping your school to move from individual work to greater collaboration?  When is this helpful, and when is this not helpful?  

I'm fortunate to work with a dynamic team of teachers who are all committed to fine, collaborative work that teaches children well.  Hence this is a wonderful time to develop team with even greater effect. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Crowd Control or Teaching?

Sometimes it feels like crowd control trumps true teaching in a class of many children. That's why it's so important to institute rituals, a sense of community, and team. As much as possible children have to understand and work towards effective care and collaboration--the ability to work together, support one another, and follow a simple list of rules so that everyone gets as much voice, attention, and teaching as possible.

Today I increased the expectations, and now I need to have that meeting about how we're going to support each other as we reach to study, collaborate, and learn more. We'll have that meeting tomorrow. Rarely is there a dull moment in teaching--all teachers know that.

Macrosphere:Microsphere: A Teacher's Week

A weekend of big ideas, the macrosphere, leads to a week of focused work, the microsphere.  The weekend provides time for research, big idea plans, and reflection, while the week gives one a chance to "practice what you preach."

What will this week bring?

Multiples and Factors
We'll jump into this unit with the factor/multiple card project and lots of number talk and action.

RTI Math
My RTI group will continue to learn and practice the skill and meaning of rounding numbers as we take a close look at Thanksgiving dinner preparation costs, and plan a wonderful feast.

Reading Workshop
The book groups will meet every day this week. Project book groups will finalize their presentations and share. Another group will continue to focus on Julio's character and the question,Why or why not should Julio be chosen as class President?, as they read and discuss, Class President by Johanna Hurwitz. The third group will listen to another version of the story they'll soon peform in order to build a stronger sense of character and setting, then they'll continue to practice their play parts, build scenery, and make the final preparations for their presentation to third graders.

The Culture Project
Promised Lands will kick off the week with a musical immigration presentation. Students will also learn how to research online as they find facts and write paragraphs about flags that represent the culture they've chosen to study, and the whole class will embark on an analysis and illustration of Richard Blanco's poem, "One Today," as part of our close reading/reading response work.

Animal Adaptation
To prepare for our animal adaptation day as part of Farm Days, students will read and respond to an animal adaptation informational article. They will also have a chance to focus on animal adaptation vocabulary and concepts as they watch a related film.

Read Aloud
Our read aloud time will continue to focus on immigration and migration picture book stories from all over the globe. As we read we'll continue to focus on comprehension strategies, story elements, and knowledge building.

Professional Learning
Our weekly professional time will focus on the culmination of our persuasive essay unit with shared scoring and reflection. We will also engage in progress monitoring related to our reading workshop and intervention efforts, and discussion about our current goals related to the culture project and close reading/reading response work.

The back and forth of the macrosphere-microsphere informs educators' work well. The key to this back and forth motion is to keep the balance flexible and forward moving--"a little for today, and a little for tomorrow," as my father always encouraged.  Happy Day PLN!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Join Me at NCTE

Many think of a multimedia literacy studio as one where children are glued to computers, however the truth is that tech devices are used strategically to inform and develop learning in a well orchestrated multimedia literacy studio.
This Friday I have the wonderful opportunity to present and learn at the National Council of Teachers of English Conference (NCTE) in Boston. I will lead a round table discussion related to Multimedia Literacy Studios and present a poster describing Multimedia Composition.

Presentation QR Code
Simply scan to open presentation. 
Today I organized my initial thoughts and share in this Google site presentation. Please take a look if you're interested, and let me know if you have any feedback. I'll likely review and revise a bit in the days ahead.

If you plan to join me Friday morning for the round table discussion or Friday afternoon for the poster share, let me know where your interest lies and the questions you'd like to discuss.  I would like the presentations to target your needs and interests.

Extraordinary Coaching: Positive Change

Last night I had the chance to witness an extraordinary event. It was at the Division One Massachusetts Volleyball Championship Game. My niece is a member of the team.

Yes, this was an amazing event because my niece played, the team won, and I celebrated with my family, but furthermore the event was extraordinary due to the fact that it was evidence of positive change and extraordinary coaching.

I sat next to my 83-year old mom who watched the event with awe. Always an energetic, athletic woman, my mom said, "I would have loved the chance to do this."  I knew what she meant as I was feeling the same emotion. Women my age and my mom's age didn't have a chance to participate in any or many organized athletic events. Mostly during our time as high school students, athletics were reserved for the boys. Now, thanks to the efforts of many I can't name who advocated, wrote laws, and instituted actions, girls and boys mostly have equal access to athletics. This change was evidenced last night in the girls' volleyball team's tremendous athleticism, and in the eyes of the many younger girls in the audience--eyes that sparkled as they looked at their mentors--bright, athletic high school girls who exemplified what it means to be a team.

The Barnstable volleyball girls are a TEAM! And that fact is a tribute in a large part to their coach, Coach Turco.  I have never personally met the coach, but my sister has been telling me one story after another about his extraordinary coaching. He builds team, and that was clear last night. Throughout the game the girls used multiple rituals to support one another, communicate, and maintain momentum. I continually noticed strategies that I could bring back to my classroom as I try to coach my students well. Coach Turco's efforts clearly moved beyond the team as it was clear that this game was an event that brought the Barnstable community together with many, many supporters at the game, and multiple stories moving throughout the gymnasium related to the positive effects of Barnstable's Volleyball Team had on graduates and other community members.

The work we do each day as teachers and coaches matters a lot, and the effort we contribute makes a difference. Coach Turco's time is much more important than the win; it is the gift of team, camaraderie, effort, and a job well done that he's given to his players--a gift that will continue. Also, the work we do to advocate for what is right and good matters too. I wish that every individual who advocated for girls' athletics could have been there last night--it was a proud moment for all of them, and an opportunity to celebrate the fact that moving education in a positive direction is the right thing to do, and one way to build a better world.

So often we hear people complain about the world today, yet last night's event was a clear opportunity to celebrate positive change and a better world.  Let's continue to support and encourage the efforts displayed last night, efforts of extraordinary coaching, team, and support--the kind of good news that serves to encourage our best work in schools everywhere.

Strategizing Math/Reading Open Response Efforts

Mnemonic for Math Open Response Problem Solving
Now that we're moving into the year with more deliberate effort and greater stamina, I will focus more on open response work in both math and reading. As I assessed last year's score it was clear to me that I needed to provide children with more independent practice in both areas.

Using the successful persuasive writing unit as a model, I'll begin with planning the unit structure, then benchmark assessments. After that I'll employ a series of weekly strategies, adaptations, and independent practice. Next there will be a midpoint assessment, more teaching, and finally a summative assessment.

The roll-out plan includes the following:
  1. Contacting the teaching team about collective approaches, strategies, and efforts.
  2. Establishing a plan including graphic organizers, mnemonics, mnemonic visuals, supporting videos, teaching strategy plan, supporting materials including math open response problems and reading response articles/questions.
  3. Hosting the unit materials on a website that is easily shared with students, colleagues, and family members. This is the initial creation of the math open response website and reading response website.  
  4. Giving an initial benchmark assessment in both areas. Analyzing student results and needs--both individual needs and classroom needs. 
  5. Further strategizing.
  6. Teaching, adapting, strategizing, formative assessments to reach the teaching goal which in both cases will be fluid, facile, accurate, independent success with math open response problem solving and reading response answers.
One way to elicit memory and investment with a mnemonic is
to have children make an illustration with the mnemonic
like this example. 
We're beginning to embed Hattie's wonderful research in Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning a reality in our schools. By matching our work with real-world problems and text, student investment, and a successful roll-out of strategies, adaptations, assessments, and coaching we are teaching well.  If you could have seen students' faces when they noticed their extraordinary progress and growth related to their persuasive writing growth and success, you would understand how powerful this work is. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Withstanding Pushback Related to New Ideas

It's natural for new ideas to be met with pushback, in a sense it's a natural process of editing, revision, and contradiction that occurs--a process that actually serves to make the idea better in the end. Yet, withstanding that pushback can be a painful and lonely process. What is one to do?

First, if an idea persists, it's likely that the idea is a good one. Hence, nurture the idea with research, trial, discussion, and promotion. Listen to the naysayers, cull the idea, and grow it with effect. Don't lose hope, beat yourself up, or become angry--the truth is that all good ideas go through a process of resistance, and all good ideas end up rising to the top eventually.

Hence, dance the dance of new ideas rather than meeting an idea's natural journey with combat. Expect naysayers, criticism, and loneliness as that's part of the new idea journey. Don't get angry at those who resist you, instead look for any nuggets of wisdom in their negativity and glimpses of support in their retort, then move on and/or away. Seek out others who love the idea as you do. Be critical often of the new idea yourself making sure that the new idea has integrity and will, and as the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation promoted, "Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground--the unborn of the future Nation." Also, be aware of the role you play in others' new ideas with positive debate, discussion, and collaboration.

As a lover of new ideas and the promise ideas hold for better lives and a better world, only now am I really beginning to understand that ideas take on a life and journey, and understanding that path well helps one to nurture, navigate, and promote ideas that matter and contribute to positive growth and change.

Building Learning Communities: Powerful #satchat

This morning's #satchat initially focused on the faculty meeting, but quickly turned into a powerful discussion about learning communities. I want to capture the essential points I gained so that I can reflect on these issues more in days to come.

First, do we consider schools learning communities?  
In a learning community, all are considered learners who learn together by regularly sharing knowledge, gifts, skills, questions, ideas, and needs to move the collective community forward.

Next, in your learning community, are ideas, information, and process shared in a fluid, positive, open-minded manner? 
Secrets are few. Mission, vision, and goals are created with the systematic, transparent input of all, and are regularly reviewed and revised to meet the learning community's growth and work.

Also, in your learning community, is time treated with care, and not wasted with meetings that aren't well planned?
Crowdshare documents and systems are used with lead time to cull conversations down to the most essential points, and real-time is used for our most worthy discussion in effective, efficient, and inclusive ways--ways where no one voice dominates, but all have a chance to participate.

In addition, do leaders model what they expect in the community with regard to communication, share, growth, and learning?
Leaders readily share their learning in effective and efficient ways promoting a culture of learners and responsive action. Leaders, whether they be student leaders, classroom leaders, school leaders, parent group leaders, or system leaders, adopt growth mindsets looking for ways to build and develop their practice in transparent ways for best effect. Servant leadership is a powerful model for learning communities. Authors and books recommended during the #satchat including Deming and Senge, Greenleaf, Musashi, Book of 5 Rings, Napolean Hill, Carnegie, Godin, Sun Tsu, “All Systems Go”, “The Fifth Discipline”, and “If You Don’t feed the T’s they Eat the S’s,"

Is your learning community effective, and are systems streamlined and transparent?
Efficient and effective learning communities that serve mission and vision rather than the system itself make a difference. In schools that means that most time is spent serving children with quality time-on-task efforts and work. Additional time is spent in worthy, effective collaborative learning design in order to produce the best possible programs for children.

What can you do?
From where you sit in your learning community, what do these notes mean to you? For me the #satchat discussion and these notes point to the following actions:

1. Know others well and expect best intentions. As a veteran teacher, I've often been disappointed with the inefficiency and sometimes oppression inherent in schools, but as we move forward I want to relay my questions, thoughts, and ideas with positive intent, a sense of camaraderie, and promise with an eye on future growth, collaboration, and serving children well.

2. I want to continue to learn about and strengthen my ability to be a servant leader in my role as teacher. With this in mind, I will continue to find ways to study, hear, observe, and respond to my learners' needs and interests with strength, care, and deliberate action.

3. As a member of the learning team, I want to find ways to hear my colleague's ideas, and work together to build effective collaborative teaching and learning initiatives. Our PLC gives us an opportunity to do this with strength.

That's my initial response to this morning's powerful, global chat. Thanks to the wonderful moderators who encourage this think and work every Saturday morning: Brad 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).  I appreciate. 

The Fourth Grade Journey Continues

Multiple/Factor Card Activity
Today we turned the curriculum page as we culminated our place value and persuasive writing units. We cleaned the room, sent home unit assessments, and had some time to learn and explore in relaxed and enjoyable ways.

When Monday arrives, we'll embark on the following units:
I'll begin this new leg of the year with a reminder of what "real learning" is--the kind of learning journey we took with the persuasive writing unit including initial assessments and review, a focus on the goal (standard), and strategizing, adapting, and assessing as we moved towards the goal. 

Today as I passed out the initial, middle, and end assessments for the persuasive unit, I heard students remarking about their growth and pointing out how their first persuasive essays were so short while their final pieces were long and detailed. They also discussed the particulars such as the specific details, language, paragraphs, and reasons--the elements we emphasized throughout the unit. They happily noticed their progress, and demonstrated pride as they held up their work for others to see. I told them that their assessments were also assessments for me demonstrating successful teaching and areas that I still have to work at to teach both standards and students well. I like to share this information as one way to build the understanding that together we are a learning community, a team of learners including students and teachers. 

Next week as I introduce the culture project and multiples/factors unit, I want to enlist the same understanding and investment in the learning cycle from assessment and goal setting to effective learning and mastery. With this in mind, I am reminded of how important the introductory phase of a unit is, and how rushing does not serve the unit teaching and goals well.  Hence, I'll take the time needed for a good start to both units.

Finally, the more I embrace new tools, standards, and strategies, the more I'm enjoying the act of teaching and learning--it is definitely where I want to invest my energy.  Hence, I'll work with care to make a commitment to my classcentric goals, leaving the big picture issues and events to those in that realm.

Step-by-step, strategy-by-strategy, the fourth grade year typically moves quickly.  Even more important than the strategies, standards, and goals is taking the time to hear, respond, and enjoy these young children that I teach and serve each day. Onward.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Caring for a Creative Community

Angela's amazing cartoon--humorous and informative at the same time. 
My class is a creative community, and it is my job to care for them.

During tech workshop yesterday children were completing comics, Google presentations, puppet shows, story threads, and more. There wasn't a corner of the room that wasn't buzzing with activity. Twenty-three bright, creative, energetic students can create quite a stir.

It's another turning point for my classroom community.  They've learned how to use multiple tools for presentation and communication. They have developed classroom friendships, and opened their eyes to the endless field of learning.  And, they've proved that they can truly attend to lengthy learning tasks and assessments. For example, they all spent up to two hours of sustained attention writing an end of a unit persuasive essay assessment yesterday--amazing!

So how do I care for this sparky, spunky team?

I'll start with yet another room overhaul by going in early this morning to quickly reorganize the many classroom centers and supply areas to make more room for the latest projects and our upcoming Culture Celebration. Also, in response to the upcoming holiday season, I'll simplify the schedule to a "less is more" focus including daily reading, writing, math, and tech workshops plus read aloud. I find that the holidays are a good time for more routine and focused activities since many children are busy with outside-of-school recitals, celebrations, and special events. Finally, it's a time for another round of student reviews.  Hence, I'll copy a number of checklists, review recent assignments, and determine direction for individuals too.

The teaching year remains a journey of both expected and unexpected twists and turns--the key is to keep the children center stage in the journey. That's what matters.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Matters: Scores?

In many respects it feels like scores take top priority in schools today?

What is your score as a teacher?

What is your score as a student?

If scores are dealt with using disrespect, they can have a dehumanizing affect.

What does it take to get good scores?

For some students, the good scores come easy. For other students, the good scores are difficult to reach. For teachers, the scores depend on many factors including teaching support, family support, classroom materials, time-on-task, and student numbers.

The scores are mainly based on ELA and math multiple choice and written responses, tests that in many ways are troubling to some for multiple reasons. To do well on scores also means that the curriculum for the most challenged in those areas may become lots and lots of same kind of teaching rather than the creative, project base learning that's enticing, engaging, and exciting for students--project/problem base learning that replicates the kind of work students will do later on in life, and the work that keeps students invested.

For young fourth graders in Massachusetts the scores depend on the ability to handwrite a very long draft and final story that takes about a day's work--that's a lot of writing for one day, and writing that is done in a way that few real-time writers embrace as most real time writers type a draft, let it simmer, edit, then publish with care. The standards in both ELA and math are broad and deep equaling more than a year's teaching for some children.

So with this reality in mind, what is a teacher to do?

I will continue my commitment this year to trying to get good scores and teach an engaging, interactive program too. It is challenging to do anything new as there is a lot of fear related to these scores and the practices that support them, but I'll go forward each day trying to do both--new and invigorating plus tried and true to reach scores and teach well too.

I will work with my grade-level team to share ideas, and teach children well. We have a dedicated team of teachers who are willing to share their ideas and focus.

I will remain mostly class- and team-centered as to do this work well takes focus, time, and care.

I will not see students as a "score" and continue to foster team, a love of learning, and academic mastery in child-centered, caring ways.

Can I achieve this goal?

What makes this more complicated is that my students' achievement is dependent on so many more than me, and there's lots that we can all do to help students achieve in schools including the following:
  • Lessen disruptions: We need thoughtful time-on-task to do our jobs well.
  • Interdisciplinary study: If specialists and others that serve our students employ some of the standards too that will help with scores. 
  • Keep classroom numbers and make-up reasonable: Think about students' needs and numbers when making class assignments. For example students at grade four, seven, and ten are responsible for long essays as part of their tests--this teaching takes lots of individual coaching, editing, and support--perhaps the teacher/student ratios for ELA should be lower at these grade levels so that teachers have time to coach writing well. 
  • Coach teachers too with care and support. Rather than making teachers  "numbers," use the best leadership practices to create team, shared investment, and optimal programming so that all are invested in the goal of getting good scores and teaching students well.
  • All hands on deck: As much as possible foster high-quality, time-on-task teaching and efforts with students with as many professional educators as possible.
  • Strategic, Targeted Efforts: Support teaching teams with their ideas and efforts to teach well which includes knowing students' needs through formative and summative assessment, strategies and adaptation, and worthy, engaging, productive learning experiences. 
  • Transparency and Accuracy: Report scores in timely, transparent, and accurate ways. Heresay and inaccurate score reporting will serve to create frustration, ineffective efforts, and lack of team. 
  • Feedback: Provide feedback regularly to foster student learning, family involvement, and growth.
  • Family Support: Regularly communicate goals, efforts, and coaching tips to families.
  • Teach the Standards: Know and teach all standards. The language of the standards for my grade level are rich, deep, worthy learning goals that can be embedded into engaging study. 
If used well, the scores can be a source of effective discussion, effort, and education.  However, if used with inaccuracy, lack of transparency, and disrespect, scores can serve to demean both children and educators thus creating schools that are unhappy, stressful, and ineffective.

Let's strike the right balance. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What do you notice? Prepping for Math Talk

I've started using Google conversation/writing threads to foster community, develop writing skill, and share ideas. I post a thread or presentation and invite all the students in.  Each child adds to the thread with a post. I offer a comment or place a "sticker" on the page to respond to the child's work.  Children who are uncomfortable with the share may write their own document.

This week I'll post the math chart below and ask students to share what they notice.  This thread will help students to prepare for Friday's Math Talk, an introduction to multiplication facts, multiples, and factors.  I know that I don't like to attend a talk cold, instead I like to warm up to the idea with pre-reading, writing, and thought.  This thread will give students the same opportunity.  I'm excited to see what happens.

Students will comment on a thread similar to the chart below to prepare for Friday's Math Talk.
Students will add to the Google doc during homework time and class tech time.  I will print and hand out copies of this document to support our Friday morning Math Talk. 

Asking Questions

Many don't like questions, and I ask a lot of them.

Recently I received a host of answers for questions I was wondering about.  The answers served to inform my work.

In one area, the answer pointed to lots and lots of extra work if I want to try something new--I'm shelving that new work for a while since the answer pointed to something I don't think will last. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm not ready to invest yet as I don't see the connection between the system and apt student learning.

In another area, the answer was ever so helpful as it will help us to save time by traveling a learning/teaching path with important knowledge.

A third answer will help me to be ready for both a personal and professional event.

A fourth answer could mean support for a new event, or not--we'll see.

Even though some shun questions, it's your right to ask, and by asking questions we better understand the supports around us, the needed information and items to travel the teaching/learning path well, and a better sense of the time line we'll follow to do our work well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

SRSD: Writing Skill

We've adopted SRSD: Self-Regulated Strategy Development as part of our writing program. Essentially, I see SRSD as a "coach yourself" model of learning, performance, and production which includes an awareness of what's expected and the steps necessary to get there.

So far students have embraced this model by memorizing mnemonics, practicing/learning the steps to good writing, and realizing the ways to edit and analyze writing to inform edits and revision.

The more I learn about this model, the more I like it because it emphasizes the role that students play in their own work and learning thus maximizing their ability to regulate their strategies and effort.

Like any good teaching strategy, it takes time to figure out how to employ SRSD with effect in your classroom, synthesizing the approach with other successful strategies. This week my students will take the final assessment related to the SRSD approach with persuasive writing. Prior to the final assessment I'll give the children a chance to think and write about the mnemonic, process, edits, and revision.  Then the students will have about an hour to "show off" their best persuasive writing skills.

In a sense, the final assessment is similar to the end of a session swim test.  You practice and learn the strokes during the entire session, and then at the end you take the test to see if you've moved up to the next group. Similarly my students will take the test, and I'll be able to see who learned the approach and genre well, and who still needs further coaching.  I'll also be able to determine the strength of my teaching--where did I hit the mark, and where can I improve during the next writing unit focused on narrative.

Do you use SRSD in your writing program? If so, what have you found most helpful about the approach?  How do you plan a unit with SRSD in mind?  What are the steps, and how much time do you devote to each step?

SRSD is one more tool for the teacher's toolkit, an important tool because it serves to develop students' academic independence and success.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Learning Paths Model: How Do You Depict Learning Today?

We know that learning is a life-long endeavor.

We understand that we travel multiple learning paths, and on each path we find ourselves in different positions. For some paths we excel and move quickly, and for others we struggle and move slowly.

How would you depict your learning path life?  How do accelerate and enrich the paths that are most meaningful to you, and how to you coach yourself along that paths that are necessary, but challenging and cumbersome?

As you teach, how do you help students understand the multiple paths in their learning life, and the role they play when it comes to moving along those paths?  How do you engender a sense of team and collaboration when it comes to respecting and assisting each individual's path profile, needs, and success?

Teaching today, more than ever before, is an act of coaching children to travel paths of learning success. As you think about that, how would you draw a diagram that depicts the paths you support and direct with children?  I've made a first attempt below.  Let me know what you think, or share you're own illustration.

How could I draw this so that I also reflect the interdisciplinary nature of paths, the way paths intersect to effect growth and synthesis?  Also note that the lines should be wavy--learning is not a straight path. 

Note: It would be interesting to have children draw a picture of what they think learning is, then share the illustrations and talk about the nature, action, and emotion of learning.  I believe that would build capacity.

Caring Commitment: Big Sister Association Celebration

"We are what we do for each other."
- Elizabeth Warren

Last night I had the chance to attend a celebration of the Big Sister Organization of Boston. It was a wonderful event held at Boston's magnificent Museum of Fine Arts. The event served to once again remind me of how important it is for educators to leave education circles regularly to interact with other agencies, organizations, and systems for inspiration, learning, and outreach.

For starters, the organization's story including the specific story of Colleen, a young woman from South Boston, whose life was greatly impacted by her big sister Gretchen. This story inspired me and reminded me of the tremendous impact that positive time and care have on children. These stories exemplified the night's theme, Big in Boston: Every Girl, A Masterpiece.

Further, the night was dedicated to Mayor Menino, Boston's long term mayor who is leaving office at the end of the year. Menino has been an avid supporter of the Big Sister Organization, and has made a point to recruit Boston area woman to serve. After his retirement he will serve on Big Sister's board. A highlight of the night for me was the chance to say thank you to Mayor Menino, a leader I've looked up to for a long, long time, and an example of someone who really cares about his job, and puts his best effort forward each and every day for the people of Boston--an effort that resonates in the community and beyond.

The evening was moderated with charm and humor by Charlie Baker, a candidate for Massachusetts' 2014 gubernatorial campaign, and Jack Connors, benefactor of many Boston organizations and co-founder of Boston's ad agency Hill Holliday. Senator Elizabeth Warren also spoke recounting her own amazing journey from humble beginnings to the United Senates Senate as an example of the incredible possibilities that exist for girls today. A local newswoman and Big Sister supporter, Lisa Hughes, began the event with enthusiasm. Thoughtfully orchestrating the event from the background was Big Sister's chief executive officer, Deborah Re, and her team. Karen Kaplan received the Big Sister's "Believe in Girls" award, and shared her story of the encouragement and efforts that led to her success as she rose from receptionist to Hill Holliday's CEO. She acknowledged the role that Jack Connors played in her success with reference to the fact that kindness, care, support, and believing in yourself are key factors in the success of any individual and organization.

In all, the night left me with the following ideas--ideas that will impact my work as an educator:
  • Commitment to your work matters, and in the end that is what you will take away.  Do you do your best work each day? 
  • Humor and charm lighten and brighten events.
  • Story brings people together and inspires.
  • Contribution to positive endeavor beyond your own home, work, and family are important. Choose where you will contribute that effort and make it count.
  • There's a big world of opportunity out there; make sure that your students are aware of this world, and know that they can contribute to, engage, and lead in this world. 
  • The possibilities are extraordinary if you're willing to believe.
  • How do we serve each child with the thought: "Every Child, a Masterpiece."
  • We need to stop now and then to celebrate, and if you have the chance to celebrate choose a magnificent location if possible.
What events outside of your school and family life impact the work you do each day as an educator?  How do you reach out beyond the school walls to develop your teaching/learning repertoire so that you bring a broader, deeper experience to the students you teach?  Do you make the time to celebrate positive endeavor, action, and results with others? These are questions I want to ponder more as I continue on the education road. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Coaching: The Finer Points

I just read my latest post to a trusted colleague, and he responded with a challenge to list the finer points related to good coaching including starting with meaningful strengths.  I want to think about this topic, and I offer this important question to any who can lead the discussion with related posts or ideas.  Thanks

Vulnerability, Coaching, and Growth

Embracing growth makes us vulnerable.

Vulnerability, in part, is when you acknowledge your shortcomings and areas for growth.

Many choose not to go this route, and many today still think of acknowledging shortcomings as a step in the wrong direction rather than the right direction--why would we want others to know of our areas of weakness or need to improve. Even some evaluation systems or professional ranking routines may serve to punish those who embrace or acknowledge goals which make them vulnerable, goals they might not reach.

Yet we know that embracing our areas of greatest need and our willingness to be vulnerable (human) helps us to move forward in our lives, professions, and relationships.

As we coach students, colleagues, and others, we have to be aware of vulnerability too. At the coaching table, those you coach put trust in you--they share a willingness to be vulnerable, to grow with the expectation that you will honor that vulnerability with empathy, honesty, hard work, and care.

Yesterday, a young bright child stood next to me as I edited her writing piece--a very strong essay for a young child. As I coached, I debated in my mind about how much to push and how much to wait, and eventually decided to push hard this time because the child was ready for a writing leap. After the hard push, I looked at her--she looked vulnerable and a little disquieted by the event.  I asked, "Are you okay? Was this edit too much?" She waited, and then I explained that her lengthy prose was wonderful, and would fit the fiction genre so well, but for persuasive it hid her main point and argument. "What do you think?" I asked.  She nodded and smiled ready to tackle her work. The student, a quick minded, bright girl probably hadn't had much feedback like that before--she was probably used to lots of "Just Greats" on her work. Knowing that we need to continue to move these "high" students along by coaching well, and prompting growth, I made the choice to push--a choice I believe was right for the moment. Coaching, like teaching, is a dance--while you want growth, you don't want to push too hard or create a level of vulnerability that's harmful either. That's the challenge.

Similarly during a math test yesterday a number of children could not figure out a problem. I encouraged by saying, "Remember good learning includes struggle. If you knew all the answers right away, it wouldn't be a good test. I want you to stretch, think, and push yourself. This test will help me to help you do your best and learn. Try to get some of the answer. Challenge yourself." The good natured fourth graders followed through. They persevered. I offered some hints to some which gave them an inroad to the problem and prompted response. In both of these scenarios, we didn't lose the common mission which was aimed at collective and individual academic growth.

Coaches, leaders, and teachers who see their role as developing organizations with depth and care, coach with honesty, compassion, and an eye on making things better. Good teachers, leaders, and coaches are keenly aware of vulnerability--they put the mission of positive learning and developing center stage as they work to kindly and truthfully coach towards greater growth and more successful individuals and organizations.

With this in mind, I'm wondering about these questions:

1. Who are the coaches in our midst?  No matter where we sit on our continuums of need--who are the people that coach us forward with empathy, care, and strength? We must all seek coaches to lead us forward if we want to grow.

2. How do you coach others in your midst?  Do you keep the collective mission center stage in your work while also mindful of individuals' long-term and short-term needs and desires?  Do you have a trusting, honest, and caring relationship with those you coach?  Are you coaching with clarity, focus, communication, and direction?  Are you a loving and compassionate guide?

3. In our organizations are we collectively committed to common goals, mission, and vision?  Do we clearly understand and agree with our organizations' mission and vision?  How is this mission and vision created, communicated, coached, adapted. and met? Do we feel like we're a part of the process or that the process is placed upon us?

These are important questions as we move ahead. We have to be vulnerable to grow and learn. We have to be aware of the vulnerability of those we coach and work with. We also have to recognize together the role vulnerability plays in our collective success with regard to the good work we do.

No one is without room for growth, and no one is without the ability to kindly, respectfully, and knowledgeably coach others around them. Schools can be one-to-many ratios in classrooms, schools, or systems, or they can be many-to-many ratios where all are working to coach, teach, and learn from each other thus creating vital learning communities with shared mission, effort, and result.

There's lots to learn in the world of education today, and by placing vulnerability, coaching, and growth at the forefront, we will get there in ways that will make us all more successful, purposeful, and proud.