Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Follow Voices Unfamiliar

One of the best ways to grow your practice, outlook, and think is to follow voices that are unfamiliar to you.

We are often drawn to and very comfortable with voices that resonate with us.  We understand those voices quite well and they give us an easy stretch to reach for.

Yet, we need to hear the voices of those quite different from us, but often it's not easy to find those voices.

How do you best find voices and people to follow online and in real-time that provide you with a new lens to seeing the world?

Who are those voices to you? What follows?

The more we reach out to understand each other better, the more able we'll be to live and work with each other. I'm grateful to the courageous people who offer their voice, opinion, and values to us so we can grow with better understanding.

Let me know what you thoughts or ideas you have with regard to his post? I'm on the lookout for greater information in this regard.

I know I'm restating this, but the opportunity to watch foreign films is one inroad to this need.

Caring for Children Keeps Us Centered

I've only been away from school for a week and my think/work has expanded well beyond the day-to-day classroom needs and events. I like to think big and wonder about ways that we can work to make this a better world.

Come Monday though, the children will quickly center me on what's important with regard to teaching well. They'll enter the room with a variety of moods and actions alerting me right away to their current needs.

I'll make the time to observe, respond, and let them settle in with a quiet, open task of reading, writing, or drawing at their desks. Then we'll attend our school assembly which will remind students about our community warmth, protocols, and focus. We'll have some time for recess, play, and snack and then we'll begin our focus on the new year of learning.

I'll remind students that I'm there to serve them, and that they should let me know if there's something they need in order to learn well and feel safe and comfortable at school. I'll also remind them of our school goals which are to master that "long list of standards" because we know "knowledge begets knowledge" and to also learn and study the subjects we're interested in and curious about in ways that matter (pbl, hands-on, inquiry-based. . .). I'll ask them what they want to add to our agenda too. They know that their ideas matter so I'm sure they will share.

The students know I'm committed to helping them develop a strong learning foundation, one that will help them have greater voice, choice, and success in the future. They also know that I'm not perfect and sometimes they have to help me make the best decisions with regard to helping them because I want every child to learn with happiness and success. In our class, we work together.

I believe that family members and colleagues also know that my partner teacher and I want to make every effort to help every child succeed. To date, families and colleagues have been comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with us with regard to developing a dynamic learning community. We will continue to invite the ideas of all members of the learning community and respond accordingly. It is terrific to have a teaching partner because when it comes to building a dynamic team, our work profits from two sets of ideas, lenses, and experiences. We also work in conjunction with a larger grade-level team that also supports our work with care and contribution.

I'm sure my thoughts and work will continue to extend beyond the school room doors during the rest of the vacation, but come Monday, the children will "put me in my place" as their teacher and caretaker, a role I'm happy to fulfill.

Contribute to Communities of Care

How could a movement towards Communities of Care develop our world in ways that matter?

How can we rethink our political structure so that the emphasis is on communities of care--small communities that work to the benefit of all the people who live and work in that community?

I work in a small community that does care, and demonstrates, to a large degree, what communities of care can do to support individuals. Some of the attributes of this community include an attitude of caring for one another, lots of intersections and collective work within and amongst community organizations, preservation of natural areas, attention to infrastructure and zoning, community services, and invested citizens.

As educators, we can support this movement by making sure that our schools are communities of care--communities that work with all students, families, citizens, educators, and leaders to build a warm, welcoming learning organization.

We can further our work by looking for ways to collaborate with other local care providers such as health and wellness organizations, basic needs services, police and fire staff, and local organizations in ways that help our students and ensure that the areas around our schools are safe and child-friendly.

I imagine that in communities of care the members of that community or those that profit from the members of those communities would be required to contribute time, dollars, and goods as determined by the community and perhaps guiding national laws and protocols.

At the national level, the work would focus on those services that tie our communities together and services and incentives that strengthen communities throughout the country with a focus on context, community decision making/needs, and our good work with communities throughout the world.

As an interdependent people and world, it is time to look at how our efforts impact the efforts and lives of others. This week as I watched films from other countries around the world, I noted so many harsh conditions--conditions that prevent individuals from having the luxury to think beyond the basic human needs of safety, food, shelter, freedom, health care, and joy. In these movies, the focus was on survival first and anything else that most of us in the United States consider to be a right as second.

There is such tremendous potential in today's world to build communities of care with strength and focus.  How does your work support a community of care? How does your organization support and contribute to this notion? What about your town, neighborhood, city, or state?

In the new year, I'll be thinking of the ways that I can better contribute to the communities where I belong in ways that increase care. I believe that's one direction we can positively move in this ever changing, and sometimes challenging, world we live in. Do you agree?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do You Use Principled Negotiation to Forward Your School Community?

I read Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Fisher and Ury. The book is challenging me to think about decision making at schools in new ways by using principled negotiation. I also see this book as a next step to the book, Intentional Interruption, which maintains that we don't spend enough time on problem analysis in schools. While Intentional Interruption points to ways we can better analyze and solve problems, Getting to Yes provides a terrific process for negotiation and decision making.

It's a new way for me to think about problem solving--one I hope to use with students and colleagues. In the paragraphs and bullets below, I offer some main ideas from the book. I recommend that you read the book to get the full understanding, and even better, this book would be a great tool to use as teaching/learning groups work together to make decisions that impact students in positive ways.

The first step to principled negotiation is to separate the people from the problem. You have to recognize that the people "have emotions, deeply held values, and different backgrounds and viewpoint; and they are unpredictable. They are prone to cognitive biases, partisan perceptions, blind spots, and leaps of illogic." and as the authors assert, "So are we."

As you consider the people, consider the authors' proposition that we should "be hard on the problem, soft on the people." The following points are some of the many emphasized by the authors:
  • ". . .the ongoing relationship is far more important than the outcome of any particular negotiation."
  • "Put yourself in their shoes."
  • "Withhold judgement. . .try on their views."
  • "Discuss each other's perceptions. . .make perceptions explicit."
  • "Listen to them and get a sense of what their emotions are."
  • "Emotions are driven by a core set of five interests: autonomy. . .appreciation. . .affiliation. . .role. . .status."
  • "Allow the other side to let off steam," tell their story and express their interests and concern.
  • "Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said." Ask for clarity with respect if needed. 
  • Build ". . .a personal and organizational relationship with the other side that can cushion each side against the knocks of negotiation."
  • "Build a working relationship."
  • "Don't react to emotional outbursts."
  • "Speak to be understood" and "speak about yourself, not about them."
The book suggests that the focus should be on underlying interests rather than each others' positions--what is it we are interested in individually and collectively. A focus on interests helps to explicitly outline the issue(s).
  • A focus on interests rather than positions makes it possible to develop a solution.
  • ". . .a close examination of the underlying interests will reveal the existence of many more interests that are shared or compatible than ones that are opposed."
  • "Shared interests and differing but complementary interests can both serve as the building blocks for a wise agreement."
  • "Realize that each side has multiple interests."
  • "Make a list to sort out the various interests of each side."
  • ". . .give your interest and reasoning first and your conclusions or proposals later."
  • Be mindful of tone, attitude, affect. 
  • ". . .know where you are going and yet be open to new ideas." ("An open mind is not an empty one.")
Once interests are shared, the next step is to create options. Too often negotiations don't work because the negotiators did not make the time to create enough options to choose from. To create abundant options, you have "to separate the act of inventing options from judging them; (2) broaden the options on the table rather than looking for a single answer; (3) search for mutual gains; and (4) invent ways to make their decisions easy."

Fisher and Ury present a format for creating options including pre-brainstorming, brainstorming, and post brainstorming actions
  • Pre-brainstorming: define purpose, choose participants (5-8), change environment, design an informal atmosphere, and choose a facilitator.
  • Brainstorming: sit side-by-side in semi-circle, introductions, ground rules (no criticism rule, no attribution, "off the record" suggested), brainstorm a long, imaginative list, and record ideas in full view. 
  • Post-Brainstorming: star the most promising ideas, invent improvements for promising ideas, set up a time to evaluate ideas and decide.
The final step is to decide on objective criteria, and it is advised that the criteria be chosen prior to roles as this ensures fairness. 

As I study this book, I can see positive implications for school work. For example, we recently wrestled with the problem of noisy halls. We took the positional negotiation route and really didn't get very far. On the other hand, the use of principled negotiation could result in the following potential:
  • We will get to hear the interests behind the conflict of noisy halls--what is it that each party is interested in. I suspect our interests will be quite similar, but I'm not sure.
  • We will create a large number of options. After reading this book, and considering the perceived interests of the participants, I've already thought of a few possible, win-win solutions that I didn't think about before. I wonder what others would come up with.
  • And with regard to objective criteria, once a solution was chosen, I can imagine us checking ourselves using the criteria to see if we're meeting the mutually agreed upon decision. 
  • The challenge with regard to this issue is making the time to solve it well and choosing a facilitator to lead the negotiation.
Another issue at play is a scheduling issue with regard to students' services. We always negotiate for the best times, but we rarely discuss interests. I hope to start our upcoming discussion by first listening to the interests of the service delivery educator--what is it that she hopes to achieve, and what's important to her in that regard. Again, I suspect my interests and her's are quite similar, but differ with regard to specific details, details that are potentially easily met in a decision that allows both of us to serve the students well. 

Getting to Yes has a lot to offer school personnel as we navigate countless negotiations with regard to the changing landscape and abundant potential that exists in education today. Have you used the strategy of principled negotiation in your education organization? If so, how has that enhanced your ability to collaborate and serve students well? I plan to continue to use this book as a guide as I navigate the teaching/learning road ahead. I'm excited about the potential this process holds for developing our school communities in positive ways. 

Apt Systems for Protocols, Policy, and Process

As an employee, I have many rules to follow.

It's difficult to keep all those rules in mind, yet there's reference lists to look at for reminders.

With regard to rules, however, I have the following ideas.

Add the Date to Rule and Protocol Lists
Often rule lists change without notice, and sometimes rule lists are not dated. That makes it difficult to know if you're up to date or not with the latest edit, change, modification, or enrichment. I suggest that all rule lists have similar format, dates, and update notices.

Organize Rules and Protocols in One Place
I believe it's advantageous for organizations to have a one-stop-place for rules and protocols. A website would serve this need well. The website would include introductory documents such as mission/vision statements, yearly goals, and more. Then the pages would include updates to specific rule and protocol lists.

Explicitly Introduce and Invite Discussion Related to Rules and Protocols
Modern day online programs typically have a section for user questions, ideas, and notes. This serves the community of users well and helps to develop programs with inclusivity and the best ideas. System-wide rules and protocol sites could have a similar spot for clarification, questions, discussion, and response. This would help to create clarity, understanding, and development of policies in ways that matter.

When organizations have common goals, protocols, and understanding, there is positive development. When those rules and protocols are shared in accessible ways and updated regularly to reflect the voice and response of the entire learning/teaching community, the chance for system-wide development is increased and enriched.

Reading a Tough Book

I'm reading Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In and it's a tough read for me. It's tough because the information is mostly new to me which leaves me with the following feelings:
  • Why didn't I learn this before? (the book was first published in 1981)
  • How will I embed this into my work in ways that matter (I know it takes time and practice to embed new learning)
  • Do I really believe what this book says--Yes, I know it's true, but for me it means a shift.
I'm always on the lookout for that book or expert that will move my thinking and work in a more positive and enriching direction and this book is a good find for me. 

I'm sure I'll write more about this book and some of the education connections it brings to mind in days to come. Typically reading a tough book is worth the time and effort. 

Parents' Practical Wisdom

I sat next to a parent at a swim meet. We got talking about education, and she said, "I don't know why students are not required to see it, say it, and write it." when talking about the acquisition of math facts. Later, she commented on writing basically saying that students don't write enough. My response was that's why we need parents on every committee, they often see education from a more worldly and practical standpoint.

The parent was right when it comes to facts--we know that multimodal efforts in any area deepen understanding and access. Also, we know that when students write daily, their writing develops with depth. Yet, do we follow through with this knowledge?

Extending our learning teams to family members, students, and citizens will at first seem cumbersome, but will then result in better service to students.

How can we do this in ways that matter?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Where Do You Take the Inspiration?

Brain pickings has amazing posts like this one about creative leadership. Just ten minutes on Twitter opens your eyes to wonderful ideas and paths to follow. Yet, we can't travel all those paths as one person which brings us back to our study routines, vision, and goals. What is it that you are creating? Where is it that you are headed? And what do you want to do?

Those are critical questions as we navigate limitless resources for betterment, a job well done, and learning.

For me, the words "practice what you preach" call me forth.

I want to be the educator that takes ideas from many resources and implements those ideas in the classroom and school environment for positive student growth and development.

That means following the new year's list of teaching efforts, playing with lots of hands-on science materials, researching NGSS questions, creating my own TedTalk-like science talk, coaching students through the same activity, listening and learning from colleagues, and continuing a positive path of teaching/learning. The ultimate goal is to teach well. Onward.

Videoblog: Comfort Level

Yesterday I made a short film for a PBS contest. In truth, it wasn't the best film. To make it really good would have taken hours, hours I didn't want to commit to a contest at this time. The whole event made me think deeply though about my comfort level with video share.

I am uncomfortable speaking in front of a crowd whether it be on a video or on stage--I've never developed those skills to a comfort level I'm satisfied with.

Last year I worked on those skills a lot with my students during our TEAM research project. This year as my students from last year led school assembly, I had to think the efforts from last year payed off since their ability to stand up and speak to a crowd of 500 students, family members, educators, and leaders were remarkable. I know that this skill, in part, came from the countless times they rehearsed their TEAM research presentations last year.

To create a really good PBS film would have required that I present via video, and make the time to really think through the film including script, visuals, and video. Students did that well last year as we made our WeVideo Endangered Species Film.

Like many today, I reach for a video rather than text if I want to learn something fast. A quick search of YouTube or the Internet and I typically find what I'm looking for. Students will need the kind of presentation skills necessary to make a great video, and as learning/teaching develops, educators will need those skills too.

So I'm adding this to my list of skills to develop as the new year takes hold. I'll match this effort with students TedTalk-like science presentations that will be coming up in the next month or so.

Have you developed your speaking skills with strength? Do you videotape presentations regularly? Have you worked with students to develop this skill?  If so, please send me any ideas, posts, or "how-to's" to help me develop this skill. Thanks in advance for your help.

Navigating a Storm: Teaching Well

A friend of mine is a religious follower of Dan Rockwell, author of Leadership Freak. Her recommendation prompted me to sign up for the follow too. Rockwell offers countless tips and advice on leading well. This information can be applied to our work as educators as one way to improve our work and service.

Today Rockwell discusses how to navigate a storm. It's good advice and the kind of information that's good to clip, save, or store for a moment when a storm arrives.

Last year, met with an unexpected storm, I could have used this advice, but now moving beyond it I'll use his final tips as I continue to move forward:

Not only is his advice good for a storm, but it's also good for the new year of teaching and learning

1. Set your priorities: What is your main focus for the next leg of the school year. For me, it's meeting my evaluation goal which is apt teaching of all grade-level math standards.

2. Develop and explain plans: Standard by standard the students and I will study, learn, and practice until we reach mastery. We'll review previously learned standards often.

3. Clarify what doesn't matter: Mostly I have to focus on my charge, the education of 44 fifth graders with regard to math and science. I can contribute to issues beyond the classroom, but those issues don't matter as much as the work I do that directly impacts the students I teach.

4. Track Progress: I've been using a Google spreadsheet to do this in math. Now it's time to create a similar Google spreadsheet to track the science math. I'd also like to track needs met, attitude, and effort with a bit more attention.

5. Go public: Well, if you read my blog, you know that's not going to be a problem :)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014-2015 PLC Reflections

Our Professional Learning Community (PLC) includes leaders and educators. We meet every Friday for an hour to discuss issues and plan for teaching events that affect our fifth grade learning team.  So far this year, we have spent a lot of time discussing targeted efforts with respect to students' learning progress and needs. Throughout these discussions we have discussed formal and informal data points, student engagement, and teaching ideas.  In all, I believe our meetings have been effective and have served to make our collective contribution to children stronger.

Compared to the past, I believe our PLC approach is stronger now. I believe this is true because the practice has become embedded in school culture and we've learned from past efforts how to become more efficient, inclusive, and targeted. We've established roles and share notes each week. Also we have a bit of a pattern in place with respect to our approximately six-week RTI periods--periods where we assess, create groups, target teaching, assess again, reflect and then move into a new six-week period. The PLC and RTI approaches support each other and result in more tailored attention to individual children and small groups.

As our PLC's move forward, I wonder how we can work to grow this effort with even greater result. For starters, the book I learned of recently, Rethinking Positive Thinking,  would create a good discussion point in this regard. I'd also like to see us identify one or two main growth areas and then try out action based research and the use of greater assessment to move our collective efforts ahead in areas that matter a lot. We started an approach like this with our discussions and share related to at-risk math students.  During the next two weeks we'll use data and discussion to further this discussion with all math students in mind as we create new RTI groups and refine our efforts within those groups to teach well.

One idea I have for future growth is to identify the children we feel we are reaching with the least success and work together to reach those students in better ways. We would first have to identify the attributes we consider most important and then the students who are not demonstrating success in those areas. Then together we would have to identify better ways to reach those students, try out those efforts, collect data, assess, reflect, refine, and so on.  This could be a great initiative with important, life changing results.

For my own part, like many, the key is to continue to work at collaborative skill and effort. I've been keenly aware of the changing expectations in schools as we move from isolation (one teacher--one classroom) to greater collaboration. I've been observant of efforts that work well and move us forward and efforts that don't work as well. I've watched the way that educators embrace new thinking and share their efforts with effect and look forward to learning more about that as I conquer my new year's professional book list.

We're fortunate to have PLCs and RTI embedded in the work we do each week, and now the focus is to continue our work in this regard with greater individual and collective skill and result.  Onward.

Resources for Future PLC Growth
Neuroscience of Successful Teams

Making Learning Priorities Visible

Students in my class are creating a service learning display.

The display will make visible our school's tremendous efforts toward serving others.

Several years ago, in order to make time for PLCs, our principal brought all students in the school through a series of service learning lessons. He gathered each grade level in the cafe and used video, words, and examples to teach the children about service learning.

Since that time, an entrepreneurial effort has grown exponentially throughout the school. Individual students, small groups, family-children, whole class, and other teams focus on specific service learning efforts to help others.  Typically the efforts include research, assembly presentation, advertisements around the school and via the intercom system, a collection of some kind, and then contribution. For example, recently a couple of second graders fostered a service learning project to collect blankets for the homeless while another group asked students to make cards for cancer patients.

The service learning display focus audience will include our entire learning team: students, family members, educators, leaders, and community members.

The display will include a title like this:

What Can You Do to Help Others?

Then we'll the quote:

"The time is always right to do right." - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

After that, we'll add the subtitle:

Happy Hollow 2014-2015 Service Learning Superstars

Following that title will be pictures of this school year's students who have fostered service learning projects with a short description of each project.

To the corner, we'll add the directions for creating a service learning project to inspire other students, student teams, and classrooms to get involved:

How to Become a Service Learning Superstar
  1. Choose a need that you want to understand better and contribute to.
  2. Set up a meeting to discuss your project with the principal. 
  3. Study that need by researching the following questions:
    • What is this need?
    • Why does this need exist?
    • How can people make a positive difference with respect to this need?
  4. Create a presentation that teaches others about the need.
  5. Edit your presentation with a teacher or family member.
  6. Present your project to others via school assembly, classroom presentation, school advertisements, and/or social media share. 
  7. Lead an effort that raises money, collects needed goods, and/or facilitates an activity that makes change. 
  8. Create and present the result and reflection of your service learning work (optional)
  9. Add your picture and project write-up to the Service Learning Superstar Display.
Finding a place to make learning visible in a school matters. Displays like that send a message to the entire learning team about what's important as well as giving each member of the team a way to take part in important initiatives. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Teaching/Learning Questions

What questions are you wondering about with regard to the teaching/learning year? Here a few to ponder.
  • Help me to understand how this action supports dynamic student learning?
  • What is missing? What do you think will make this better? 
  • How can I help you?
  • Given this tough situation, what would you prioritize as most important and why?
  • What standard does this teach and develop?
  • Why aren't students engaged?
  • What makes him/her angry so often in school? How can we change that?
  • How can we help you help your child? 
  • Collectively, what are our teaching/learning priorities and how do we work together to reach those goals?
  • How do we collectively assess and share our efforts, challenges, and success?
  • How can we help each other teach/learn?
  • Which standards require more support in order to teach well?
  • How can we help you to use your time effectively?
  • What policies, efforts, and events empower your teaching/learning, and what actions serve to demean, deny, or hinder your efforts?
  • What do you want to know? How can I make this knowledge more accessible to you?
  • What's standing in your way with regard to dynamic teaching/learning?
  • What do you expect of me? How can I contribute to the organization in ways that matter?
  • What examples of inspiration, good teaching, and effect can you share with me to uplift my practice and work?
  • How can we best support students' acquisition of the basic needs of health care, food, shelter, and care where needed? 
  • What current collective efforts and work are ineffective and no longer needed?
What questions would you add to this list to improve your teaching/learning personally and collectively? 

Teachers are Leaders

Eric Sheninger posted an article that lists 5 powerful habits of successful leadership.  I am drawn to leadership articles since the role of teacher is a role of leader. We lead the students within our charge and each other each day. With this in mind, I took the habits listed and reflected on each habit from a teacher's point of view.

1. Create/communicate a vision of what the organization (class, students) can be.
My teaching partner and I do this in a large number of ways. First we synthesize standards, system-wide goals, students interests/needs, and the learning community's thoughts/ideas into a responsive, dynamic program that makes our learning/teaching vision visible--a vision that focuses on efforts that lead to engaged, empowered, well educated students. 

Next we communicate that vision in the following ways:
  • Weekly newsletter that includes notes about what the learning team has accomplished, what's happening now, and what's to come. This note also invites the learning community's ideas, collaboration, and questions.
  • School assembly share.
  • Service learning work.
  • Share to a wider PLN via social media.
2. Develop and communicate a purpose for the organization

We repeatedly share the following purpose:
  • Every child deserves, and is capable of, successful, meaningful learning. 
  • Successful learning depends on a commitment to time, attention, apt strategy, and the choice to learn.
  • A good education helps all students have greater voice and choice, and that voice and choice, in return, leads to greater personal happiness, success, and contribution to a better world. 
  • Teachers are there to serve the learning community (families, students, colleagues, leaders, and citizens) in ways that make a difference for student learning, empowerment, and engagement. 
  • Our collective mission is to learn in ways that are meaningful, useful, and life-enriching. 
3. Grasp the fundamental values necessary for human flourishing while living and communicating these values. 
  • Meeting basic needs is a first requirement to good learning and living. 
  • We support the school motto/value, "Kindness Matters."
  • We know that every learner is a mix of strengths and challenges. We work together to develop strengths and overcome challenges. 
  • Good learning depends on community care and investment towards and with one another.
  • We all work to develop apt learning to learn behaviors and attitudes
  • Balance is important, and good learning depends on discipline, community, commitment, and fun. 
4. Develop a strategy to turn the vision and purpose into a reality, consistent with these values.

We have put a large number of routine structures in place to make the teaching/learning vision and values a reality:
  • Weekly PLC and Team meetings.
  • Year-long standards-base list of teaching targets and learning events.
  • Regular assessment, reflection, review, and revision of efforts.
  • Student meetings as needed to nurture and forward the teaching/learning community.
  • Regular communication with learning team via newsletters, family meetings, emails, phone calls, and special events. 
5. Develop processes and feedback/coaching mechanisms that reinforce the behaviors and beliefs that lead to individual mastery and organizational success.
  • Regular student assessment and reflection via one-to-one meetings, project/assessment feedback and coaching, class meetings, goal setting, and accessible resources such as websites and teacher email response.
  • New Evaluation System that respond to teacher goals, efforts with systematic feedback and coaching. 
  • Self reflection via blogging and other efforts. 
This process leads me to the question, what does successful teaching/learning look like? In summary, I offer the following response:
  • Students understand the learning goals well, and systematically move towards reaching and exceeding those goals with teacher/peer/parent coaching.
  • The learning team strategically and collaboratively works together with and for students to lay a path towards continued standards-best, student-interest/need development.
  • The daily teaching/learning is exemplified by a dynamic group of engaged, happy, empowered, confident learners who work together to develop their own and others' learning in ways that are meaningful.

Revisiting Kidblog

In the new year, students will write more in math.

I'm thinking of possibly using Kidblog.

I have an account.

The lesson is ready.

It's important to use a number of platforms with students.

And it's good to give students an audience to write for and with.

Finally, Jeff Bradbury offers a valuable introduction to Kidblog.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Hands-On Exploration: Playlist

Now that we've caught up for the most part with our math standards roll-out, we'll have time to play more with science invention and exploration. Here's a short list of what's to come. I have a lot of play to do to prep for these explorations. I'm sure the list will continue to grow in depth and breadth. In the meantime, if you have ideas for me--please let me know. 
  • Little bits' Inventions
  • Batteries, bulbs, magnets, and wires
  • Growing plants
  • Composting
  • Simple Machines
  • Marble mazes
  • Sound inventions--making music and other beautiful, useful noise
  • Energy makers, users
  • Weather models
  • Adaptation review
  • Hack toys
  • Geometry models
  • Coding math models. 
Videos that inspire:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Peaceful, Timely Process for New Ideas

I LOVE new ideas. I typically get really excited about good, new ideas since those ideas result in student investment, new ways of seeing the world, and better work and service.

I generally curate new ideas with the following questions:
  • Does the new idea represent a better way to meet a goal?
  • Does the new idea respond to an unmet need?
  • Is the new idea streamlined, efficient, engaging, and life enriching?
When I come across ideas that meet that criteria, I generally jump right in and try it out.

I navigate the process carefully with student use/need at the forefront continually asking the questions:
  • Are students engaged?
  • Do they want to keep working without my prompting?
  • Are they likely to access this effort at home?
  • Is the idea making a difference in their overall learning?
  • Is this idea allowing me to spend more time on student coaching and less time on management aspects of teaching/leading a class.
The initial navigation is never easy. In fact, it typically takes me many, many hours of at-home work, reading, conversation, assessment, and reflection. The initial work is tiring, but what keeps me going is the promise the idea holds for better teaching and learning.

The difficult part of every new idea is the pushback the ideas receive. I wonder why some don't trust my time, research, effort, and care--why would they think this idea would not be good since so many thoughtful educators throughout the cybersphere are working tirelessly to implement similar ideas.

Yet, I don't know it all--I don't have all the answers, and good curation and multiple voices are part of the successful navigation of new ideas. 

I guess the stumbling block for me is when others negate the idea without conversation, trying out the new idea, or really taking the time to investigate with me and students. They're quick to say, "We don't support that."

Yet, that happens with almost every new idea--most big ideas are not quickly entertained or accepted--look how many years it took for people to embrace the notion of zero when it came to numeracy understanding, representation, and use. 

I need to learn more about the process of new ideas.  I know why new ideas are good. I see what great new ideas can do for children, learning, and our society.  Yet, I don't fully understand the best systems, speak, and work to use in order to move a good idea forward.

I need to find out the following:
  • New idea speak: I have some great books for that.
  • Innovation systems: I have people I can query about that.
  • The role of credit and ownership with regard to new ideas: I want to understand this more because some are quick to use a new idea as long as you don't ask for credit. For example one may forward your idea quickly without your name with no problem, but if you want to be part of it, there might be reluctance. I've read about it, but I don't fully understand this behavior. 
  • What does successful innovation look like? How do people emotionally and intellectually practice the implementation of new ideas. 
These are not new questions. In fact, I've read and written about this topic many times before. Now, however, I'm seeing it in a new light.  

I know new ideas matter and can make a substantial, positive difference in so many meaningful and important ways. I'm not giving up on the integration of new ideas to better the work that we do.

I just want to grow this process more with integrity and with colleagues so that the way we import new work and ideas is more peaceful, inclusive, examined, and shared in timely, profitable, positive ways.  

I welcome your ideas, feedback, and resources as I journey yet another teaching/learning path.

Thank you!
P.S. You might think it crazy that I'm writing about this on Christmas morning, but if you think about Christmas, you realize that the day signals the birth of a "new idea" about the way we live with and for each other--a "new idea" that was initially met with life ending ridicule and contempt, but a new idea that continues to foster the best of who we can be when considered with care and truth. 

Manager, Officer, Facilitator. . .Playmaker?

As an educator, what is your role--officer, manager, facilitator. . .playmaker?

In the changing structure of schools and society, I am thinking about the descriptors we use to talk about our role.

This came to mind the other day when teachers were discussing behavior in the halls--there were many words used, words that ranged from more police-like words to the kinds of words used by camp counselors.

Similarly when we talk, write, or lead with students or colleagues, what words do we use--are they words that invite inclusivity or words that emphasize hierarchy or somewhere in the middle?

What words invite collaboration and what words incite fear, frustration, and discord.

In the changing world of schools and learning, the words we use and way we use those words matter a lot. This point signals change for many of us, particularly those of us who are veterans in the population.

I was reminded of this when I spoke with my son this morning.  He responded, "Mom, everyone knows that," and I replied "Not really, your generation knows that, but others don't necessarily know that."

So as I think about this, I realize I need to be cognizant of the kinds of words I use, the way I use them. I need to ask more clarifying questions and question in ways that invite positive discussion and decision making.

There's more to come in this arena, but I'm opening up the avenue of thought--one I'll think about as I busily clean, cook, and prepare for today's festivities.

Ways to Invigorate Tech Use in Schools

There are many ways to invigorate tech use in your teaching/learning environment. In our school, we fortunately have many of these processes and structures in place.
  • Regular share of tech updates, accomplishments, use, and future plans.
  • A up-to-date, inviting, accessible website of engaging, empowering, educational tech tools.
  • Room for student/teacher choice and voice.
  • The use of inclusive tech--the kind of tech where students "see themselves" in the platform. 
  • Easy systems of updating, adding, modifying, and deleting tools based on need and interest.
  • Wireless printing and connections wherever possible.
  • Tech devices for all educators and students.
  • A diverse palette of the best tech tools available: laptops, tablets, hand-held devices. . . .
  • Ready access to headphones and other equipment that assist ready, productive tech tools
  • Differentiated professional learning related to tech equipment, tools, programs, protocols, blended learning, and more.
  • Inclusivity with respect to the development of rules, protocols, discussion, and debate. Decision making that includes students, families, educators, leaders, and community members.
  • Beta testing new tools, working with inventors and other tech experts, and field studies to tech-related companies and sites.
  • Growth that replicates the ongoing conversation-like, give-and-take development process that most organizations are beginning to embrace.
  • A willingness to discuss, embrace, and debate tough issues.
  • The ability for students to bring in and use their own devices at school.
  • Flexible, facile infrastructure.
  • Continued reading, implementation, and share of up-to-date research.
  • Shared protocols and similar expectations, access for all staff, students--equal access, use. 
This list is just a start, what would you add, enrich, or modify. I'll continue to review and hone this list in the days ahead. 

2015 Peaceful Response

With a focus on love and peace in the new year, I'm thinking of what that will look like and the words that will lead to this?

At the center of this work is the desire to provide every child with a life affirming, future-ready, holistic program. I want my students to learn with happiness, care, engagement, empowerment, and success.

Classroom Actions
How can I make learning a dynamic, engaging, inviting activity for each and every student?
  • Focus on the standards
  • Focus on individual student needs and interests
  • Focus on hands-on, project-base, differentiated learning
  • Listen and respond to students, their families, colleagues and others with respect to student needs.
  • Continue learning
Collegial Care and Collaboration
How can I work with colleagues to develop a top-notch, student-friendly, welcoming and successful learning environment?
  • Listen, observe, and incorporate the ideas of others
  • Debate and discuss with depth, care, research, and the shared goals in mind
  • Ask questions when policies are not clear
  • Contribute and help out when possible
Learning and Professional Development
How can I continue to learn in ways that positively affect the teaching/learning work I do and environments I contribute to?
  • Continued share with my PLN online and offline via reading, conferences, chats, and debate
  • Continued writing and reflection about the learning I do
  • Organization of my blog into a more manageable and accessible collection of ideas, practice,  questions, and think on my new blog/website: TeachWell Collections and Connections.
Personal Health and Happiness
How can I balance my professional life and personal life in ways that matter?
  • Engage in interests new and old: music, nature, friends, home, travel. . . .
  • Follow a healthy weekly routine of living (always the challenge :))
  • Make time for sleep, rest, relaxation, fun
  • Care for those I love the most.
The year ahead's path is invigorated by a central question that I am passionate about:
How do we teach children well?

I am committed to this quest because together I believe we can positively impact the world in ways that matter if we pool our insights and good work to create the best possible environments for learning and care inside and outside of school. 

Like me, we all have room for growth in this endeavor, and I look forward to this positive development in the year ahead. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

If Educators Spoke Up More, Would Schools Be Better?

Many educators fear speaking up.

Others don't make time to do it.

Still more think it's inappropriate.

And some, like me, share.

Yet that share comes in a variety of modes, regularity, and length.

Many educators on social media support respectful, regular share. They welcome educator's stories, opinions, questions, and ideas.

Others in our teaching/learning communities don't welcome share, opinion, or thought, and some may even see share as a nuisance, disrespect, or inappropriate.

I believe that the more everyone in the learning community speaks up, the better our systems of education will get.

Transparent share means less time is spent on figuring out what others' think, and more time is available to debate, discuss, and synthesize our ideas to teach every child well.

I've made a commitment to speak up.

I work at sharing my viewpoints with respect and care, especially viewpoints that may include critical analysis.

At the root of my work is the belief that no one has all the answers or is the best at what we do, but instead, our strengths come from our honest, respectful share, collective goals, and collaborative work.

When confronted, I try to see a situation from another individual's position, point of view, or effort. Often, I gain new insight, greater affirmation, or critical correction and connection.

This deep analysis frees me to do good work during my on-task time with students. This also frees me to enjoy those I love well.

Our democracy is based on freedom of speech, the ability for individuals to share their thoughts, opinions, and perspectives. This free share creates a process of honing and refining ideas and work--it's a critical component of a free and prosperous society.

Social media has given us a place to express our opinions, opinions that are sometimes not given time or attention elsewhere. Sharing invites critique, comment, agreement, and disagreement.

In the end, our respectful, sensitive share makes us better. Onward.

Collegial Respect

As teachers, we bring a myriad of experiences, beliefs, and talents to the teaching/learning community.

It is imperative that we're cognizant and respectful of each other's values, strengths, challenges, needs, and personal commitments.

While one teacher may be passionate or driven in one academic area, another teacher may be invested in a different area of school life. The teaching/learning community benefits from our diverse passions and investments.

One reason I blog is because it would be too much to share this inquiry with any one colleague--I blog to share and understand education well. My posts are here for the taking, if interested, but no one has to read what I write. I blog mainly to better my craft and detail the focus. At school, I try to keep my share more directed towards timely matters and team needs.

Collegial respect profits from good structure in schools, and that good structure includes time for teacher breaks and planning during the day, time for collaboration, and time to develop our craft with reading, research, and other learning opportunities. A too rushed and too demanding environment challenges collegial respect.

Collegial respect also profits from apt communication--systems of share that give everyone a voice and help everyone on the team know what's going on.

Further, it's important to be cognizant of each other's personal commitments too. For example, it can be grueling to teach and be a caretaker of very young children or elderly parents. The "care taking" hours at school and home create a very challenging situation and when that's the case, and we need to be mindful of those teachers' situations. There are also times when teachers experience challenges related to health, relationships, or conflict that impact their work and effort. There are other times though when a teacher may have double time and effort for the job, and at times like this, those teachers may be able to do more than what's typically required.

As educators, we have to be mindful of each other's responsibilities and needs. Our teaching/learning communities benefit from collegial respect, and it is the sum of the parts that matter--the overall teaching/learning we're able to provide for the children we serve each day.

Navigating the Sometimes Challenging Teaching/Learning Road

I didn't think I'd be writing about teaching again this morning, but yesterday's twist in the road has given me pause to think.

A parent showed me an incredible invention. I asked administration if I could share it with students. The answer was yes, and we had an incredible 90 minutes of teacher and teacher/student share, but then others in the school system noted that there were further policies to follow--policies I didn't realize connected to a beta test, a parent share (in this case).

As I've used tech over time in school, I've hit one road bump after another. I've also hit multiple points of engagement and learning success, and it's that success that keeps me coming back to trying out new tools and learning about innovative tech use. Many times, points of great challenge have also been points of great success. It has truly been a bumpy road especially for an early adopter like me.

I must say that I am tired of the continual challenge presented when trying out new tech, but I am also cognizant of the need to be discerning and keep children safe with regard to Internet use. Just like everyone who uses tech everywhere, I'm trying to make the best decisions--decisions that allow students to use tech in ways that accelerate and deepen learning in wonderful ways, and decisions that also teach children how to be safe and caring when using tech tools.

So how will this latest challenge affect my future work with children and technology?

This is a tough question because new tools are exciting and beneficial to use. Typically new tools I identify intrigue students, get them excited, and elevate learning in wonderful ways. There's little call for behavioral considerations when using new tools and there's lots of cause for celebration as children craft amazing projects, have fun, and learn with depth. Families typically embrace the use of new tools since many of those tools are similar to the ones they use in their own industry and homes--programs far better than what was once repetitious, one-dimension practice or study.

Yet the process that exists to try new tools is lengthy, detailed, and challenging in multiple ways.

On one hand, if I don't try anything new, I stay safe and away from controversy and lengthy procedures. Yet, on the other hand, when I try new tools, my students get the chance to learn in amazing, deep, and exciting ways--ways that make learning accessible and engaging.

Is there a happy medium? Perhaps.

I could try one new tool or two, but at the rate of tech change and with the need to try out a tool with students to really know if it has value, one or two trials are not sufficient. Also students are bringing to school projects completed with new tools at home, and they request the use new software and programs at school daily. Last year, while advocating for a tool that engaged students tremendously, I became frustrated, raised my voice, and shared opinions that were not welcome--that episode led to an approximately two-five month follow-up set of painful, harsh responses and events--an episode that continues to haunt me with nightmares and fear today. Hence, the stakes are high with regard to new ideas, requests, and innovation in many schools.

To really use tech well, you have to continually explore and investigate new tools in timely ways with students. A tool that adults love might be boring to a child, and a tool that an adult might think to be uninteresting may be the best gateway tool for a reluctant or challenged learner.  We don't really know until we try out the tool in a number of ways with children.

What I'd really like is a system of tech use that is led by protocols rather than strict processes. For example, similar to the books we use in the library, in a system like the one I envision teachers would have the discretion to use the tools they want as long as they followed a protocol that protected students' rights, followed related laws, and embraced criteria for teaching well.

Creating this kind of policy in ways that include all voices in a school system would create dynamic, profitable conversation and learning community share. Also, I believe that a system like this would result in more dynamic, inclusive use of technology throughout schools. It seems like systems that are too tight and directive challenge our abilities to explore, investigate, share, and use technology in dynamic engaging, empowering, and educational ways. People, afraid that they are not keeping up with the latest mandates, tend to stay quiet about tech use or not develop their use of technology beyond a few acceptable programs, and this behavior, in return, results in less positive change and growth.

These are not simple issues with regard to teaching and learning today. What keeps me in the game is the fact that I know the right tools and processes, online or offline, can make a big difference when it comes to student engagement, empowerment, and education. One of our seemingly most "inattentive" bright students was fully engaged while the parent-inventor spoke and later used that attentiveness to explore the inventor's program with discernment, connection making, and strength. Also, I have seen what these tools can do for children in homes where there is little academic support, but lots of love--the tools provide the needed academic support and response for home study and practice giving these students a chance to compete with their classmates who have that at-home academic support. Further, I know that these tools can accelerate learning, and acceleration may mean, in part, that some of the problems we now have will be able to be solved by brighter, more sophisticated students in the future. The new tools bring endless possibility to education, and that possibility brings the promise of a better world for many. That's why I continue to reflect, research, engage, explore, and share new technology tools and programs.

So as I move forward from this latest challenge, I will look for ways to deepen the use of the tools that exist in my teaching/learning environment. I will also continue to be on the lookout for new tools and when the best ones arise, I'll follow mandated procedures to the best of my understanding. And like all teachers, I'll continue to recognize that good teaching is not all tech or no tech, it's the right balance of online/offline tools and resources, strong learning community relationships and connections, understanding the teaching goals, knowing each child, and caring for each other. Onward.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Student Beta Testers

About two weeks ago a parent in my classroom contacted me to tell me he had invented a coding program and he asked if I would like to take a look.

I responded that it's typically best to try out any software with children to see how it really works, and would he like to come in and try it out with the students. I then contacted my administrator to gain permission.

Both the principal and parent agreed, and we decided to meet first so I could take a look at the software. I listened, watched, and noticed that the program was intuitive, student friendly, and efficient. I had a sense that students would love it.

Next, the parent came in, shared the program highlights, and then students got to work. For almost 90 minutes they were engaged learning to program. You could hardly hear a pin drop, and you could see that children were engaged. Many were also making connections to other programming languages and tools they had used recently.

I was grateful to the dad for sharing his story of invention, modeling an inventor's attitude and effort, and sharing his invention with the students. The students were grateful as well. In fact, the most tech-savvy students in the class were mesmerized by the presentation.

Upon a return visit to the classroom by the parent for some final individual efforts, a young student approached the parent and said that he had tried all the projects on the site and then they engaged for a while in conversation about programming. Another student soon after engaged the parent inventor in the same way. They felt a kinship to this parent inventor and computer scientist.

About a week later, the tech department personnel requested that a form be filled out for further beta testing approval and so now the parent will work with our tech department and perhaps with us again if approval is gained.

The chance to have your students meet inventors and innovators, try out new inventions, and explore technology at new and engaging levels is awesome--it allows students to have a first-row seat with regard to invention, innovation, and today's tools.

I hope more family members will share their interests and inventions with our students as this is one way to inspire our students in ways that matter. I also hope this parent will receive approval so that he can return to our class as his invention develops.

Vacation Starts

Secretary Malone looking at a picture of Ayaan and me
during Twitter chat. 
With enthusiasm, the children left the room ready for a multitude of vacation plans.

The day was filled with special events including a Twitter chat with Secretary of Education, Matthew Malone. That was an unexpected surprise of the day.

When I get home, I'll read a number of cards and eat a few treats that the students gave me. I always tell them, the cards are my favorite gift. The messages mean a lot to me.

Time to say good-bye to school year 2014, make some time for those I love, and relax for a few days. Happy Holidays.

Good Process Leads to Good Results

Sometimes we talk and say nothing.

Sometimes we sit around a table to make a decision, but we don't really make the time to collect the facts, analyze the data, or pose the question well.

We may bring our leanings, and we may not make the time to listen to others' point of view.

Or, we may hold different goals in the conversation never really agreeing to what it is we're trying to relay, decide, or improve.

A good conversation about issues that matter needs shape, focus, and organization. It typically doesn't just happen particularly if diverse views are involved.

A good conversation starts with the question, "What is it that we're trying to achieve?" Without a common purpose, the conversation won't go anywhere.

The next important question is, "What's getting in our way of achieving this goal, and how can we reshape our efforts to meet this goal in positive, dynamic ways?"

Then it's vital that you let all those who affect the goal add their thoughts and ideas. If the share only involves a few rather than all who are impacted, the result will not be as strong or effective. It's imperative that inclusive, efficient share processes or vehicles are used so everyone who has a point of view or investment in the problem has a chance to speak up and say what they think.

After that it's time for negotiation, creative problem solving, decision making, action plans, assessment, and reflection.

Good process leads to good results.

So prior to any conversation that involves a problem, it's best to begin with an explicit discussion about the process you will use. That will lead to greater success.

There is Still Time for Dreams Unmet

Since my earliest days, I've been a dreamer.

Two strong dreams were born in me. First to be a mom and the second to teach.

Thanks to the coaching of many dedicated teachers and loved ones as well as good fortune, I pursued my dreams. Today I'm a mom and teacher--two roles I would not give up, and two roles that I still work at as there's always room to do a better job.

Today, with the glow of the holiday spirit around me, a third, unmet dream, sparked. I had thought that dream impossible given the years passed and other factors, but today the dream resurfaced with a sense of possibility. It's a simple dream, not yet within my grasp, but one I realize I may achieve with time, care, and focus.

Our dreams are what make us young and hopeful no matter our age or situation. Our dreams pursued are the gifts we give to ourselves, the gifts that energize us and move us forward.

Today's Promise

Fear woke me in the wee hours, and then the first email I read was this inspiring Ted Talk Year in Review shared by Patrick Larkin.

There will always be stories in the news and elsewhere that scare and sadden us, but there will always be good stories, the stories of hope and promise too.

So in our final day of school for 2014, we'll have a day of promise. I'll share the Ted Talk so students have a wonderful glimpse of the future. I'll also share a story of creativity and a movie of a child's good work. We'll have some time to talk about holiday safety, traditions, and anything else that children want to bring to mind, and of course there will be time for play.

On that note, I wish all in my PLN a joyful week of celebration and care for those you love.

Monday, December 22, 2014

School Behavior?

The issue of school behavior arose at a recent meeting.

The issue has actually arisen for every one of my 29 years of teaching.

My sister who is a teacher and I debate the issue often. We both have somewhat different philosophies about school behavior.

I listened as the issue was discussed.

I added a few points, and then when I got home I kept thinking about it.

What are the common protocols for behavior in a school?

When is noise good, and when is noise a problem?

How can we all learn together in a community that's respectful--respectful of each other's learning/teaching needs and respectful of young children's rights and needs.

How can we shift a discussion about behavior so that it doesn't reoccur year after year--what could we do?

As I think deeply about this, I have the following thoughts.
  1. At what age are lines appropriate and good, and when are lines not appropriate for students?
  2. Is it a good goal to be absolutely quiet in halls, or is there a level of quiet that's good enough?
  3. If children are consistently noisy in the halls, how can we positively empower them to quiet down and respect the classes around them?
  4. Are established spaces conducive to good learning? If noise is a factor is there a better way to reorganize spaces so this doesn't occur?
  5. Are we crowding our schedules so much that there isn't enough time for good transitions? Is that an issue we should be concerned with?
  6. What truly is the issue? Have we collected data so we really know where the issues lie? 
In schools where numbers are small and space is great, this is not an issue, but in many schools in the United States numbers are quite large and space is at a premium so this is an issue of concern.

Our discussion today got me thinking. Any thoughts?

2015: Teaching in the New Year

I find myself returning to this list to keep efforts focused and timely.

Teaching/Learning Road Map: January - June 2015

Refine the weekly teaching/learning routine with teaching partner. 

Creating the Service Learning Board with Students
  • Take new pictures on Monday, and update board on Fridays.
I started this road map earlier by mapping out my primary work, the math curriculum for the start of the year. Then continue standard-by-standard in blended, differentiated ways.

  • Prep Science and execute TedTalk/Science Teaching Project with key science questions that relate to all grade-level standards. 
  • Prep hands-on science investigations related to science standards. Access supplies and specialists through WPSF grant process and PTO funds. 
  • Continue to focus on new/existing science standards, knowledge building, and hands-on STEAM exploration. 
Read Aloud
Classroom Organization
  • Look for ways to integrate new student jobs for making the classroom as student-friendly as possible. 
  • Continue to organize, update STEAM Center (work in progress)
Special Events
We also have a number of special presentations and events to plan including the following:

  • NStar free Wattsville Energy Presentation (follow-up with scheduling)
  • Discovery Museum Science Visits: Funded by WPSF Grant
  • Author Visit
  • K'Nex Simple Machines Building Days: Funded by WPSF Grant
  • Science Ted Talk Research/Teaching Presentations
  • Spring Family Conference Dates--starting in March
  • Writing in Science 
  • Biography project prep. 
  • Hands-On Science Exploration
  • Marble Maze STEAM Project Dates
  • Biography Project introduction activities in preparation for the June Event.
  • Spring Rivers Day field study.
  • Fifth Grade Play
  • Field Day
Professional Learning
There are books to read and conferences to attend.
  • Continue regular routine of morning research, reading, blogging and weekly #edchat, #satchat, PLC work, teamwork, newsletter and more.
  • Continued participation in child study and school council committees. 
  • MLK Weekend: A focus on Communication w/book list. 
  • Educon 2.7: Focus on Developing Craft, Honing Vision, Direction
  • February Break: Focus on Classroom Community and Mindfulness
  • March Teaching and Learning Conference: Focus on the Future of Education
  • April NCTM Conference: Math Teaching/Program Development
  • Spring/Summer: Focused study on brain-friendly learning
  • Wayland ELA Institute: Learning Design presentation, lots of learning.
  • Wayland STEAM Institute:Global Cardboard Challenge/Math Coding Potential Presentations. 
  • Teach all standards
  • Make time for keyboarding practice
  • Follow system-wide protocols, preparation efforts. 
Educator Evaluation
  • Update evidence list regularly with notes and copies of evidence. 
  • Respond to administrator efforts, requests as needed. 
  • Continue to work on primary goal: teaching all math standards. 
2015-2016 School Year
There will be some staffing changes in the year ahead so I will have to wait until that information is known before planning for that school year. 

Pajama Day!

I sat with a young child helping him with a math activity.

He kept moving the conversation from the math activity to what was really on his mind--holiday vacation plans.

I listened and responded.

Then I asked, "Will you be here on Monday?"

He responded, "I don't know, but I'll definitely be here on Tuesday--it's pajama day!"

Sometimes we forget what really matters to young children.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

New Paths of Living and Learning: Internet Exploration

As we age we hold on to traditions, routines, and ways of thinking.

There are so many new ways to live, work, and ponder today though that it's worth challenging your old think with a day of online exploration.

I did a bit of that today.

Thanks to +Jason Pollock I had the chance to listen to the Azealia Banks interview which brought me into worlds I know little about. I was very interested in the interview as I am curious about the path to greatness in the arts, voices of women, and our cultural response to diversity. I know that often artists go through a period of great rebellion as they bring their vision and voice to the world, and I believe this interview may reflect that.

The Azealia Banks' interview introduced me to a musician, Rachelle Farrell,  I never heard of, and want to listen to and investigate more.

Another tweet by the artist +Tim Needles showed me that I can listen to Saturday Night Live easily through YouTube. I can imagine clicking on a comedy sketch when I need a laugh.

The way we live and work is changing.  There's so many new avenues for learning, exploration, and entertainment.

As educators it's important to keep up with this changing landscape, one that allows us to hear more voices, understand more people, and broaden our work and lens for teaching well.

How have your daily habits changed with the onset of so many venues?  What new routines have you added or changed in light of this?  Amazing potential exists.

Good Teaching is a Conversation

Good teaching is a conversation.

It's a give-and-take.

It's call and response repeated again and again.

With good teaching, all members of the learning team including students, family members, educators, leaders, and community members share common goals and work together to meet those goals with continual effort, assessment, questioning, response, and refinement.

Good teaching is a journey that morphs and changes as the year takes hold.

No one in the team is the expert, and no one in the team is without voice or knowledge. We bring our strengths together to create and develop a dynamic learning program.

Together, we journey to best effect an engaging, empowering, educational experience for every child.

Students and I will focus on that "conversation" tomorrow as we meet and discuss ways that we can improve our classroom learning community.

I'll say, "The last few weeks represented a big push in the area of mathematical thinking and math operations. Sometimes it felt "too pushy" to me and I thought some students were feeling a bit overwhelmed. That's why I want to pose this question today: How can we make our classroom a more caring and happy learning community? I'd like to hear your ideas. First, we'll brainstorm. Then we'll prioritize. After that we'll make an action plan.  Let's get started."

Then students will brainstorm ideas as I write them own on chart paper. We'll create the action plan and do what we can before the holiday vacation begins.

Giving students and the rest of the learning community voice and choice like this serves to deepen and further the good work we can do together.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Learning Forward: Book List

This morning's #satchat resulted in a lot of homework in order to move my teaching and learning ahead.

The chat led me to three areas of focus and the books listed below. If you have other titles to add, let me know.

The first order of study is the topic of communication. Communication is a critical skill for teaching and learning well. I've identified the following books to read and study:

The next area of focus is community building.  How do we model and teach students the skills in this regard. I plan to read DCulberhouse's blog and the books listed below:

Finally, I know that students profit from understanding their brains well. The more they understand how their brains work and the "power of mind" they have to positively affect their lives, the better off they'll be. In that regard, I want to give a deeper read to two books I've read quickly:

There's much to know about teaching and learning today. Chats like #satchat, #edchat and others can lead us in the direction of the best books, thought leaders, conferences, courses, and other experiences that help us to build our craft and service to children. I look forward to the study ahead--the challenge will be finding the time and place to complete this work. 

Blogs to Read


We Make Mistakes

We make mistakes.

Most often our mistakes are not purposeful, but representative of old think, misunderstanding, not enough care, a misguided goal, or a too-quick response.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize a mistake, and when we do there's a sense of righteousness that arises first--"Not me!"  Yet with reflection, the mistake typically becomes clear and then remorse occurs.

We carry that remorse until we're ready to amend our error, own our mistake, and move forward with new understanding and learning.

The key here is to stay clear of the big errors, the ones for which there is little possibility of return--mistakes such as unsafe behavior, hurtful acts towards others, and broken laws.

As far as those more common human errors. They are truly the stepping stones to learning. The more we risk, try, and reach out, the more errors we will experience, and the more we experience those errors, the more resilient we'll become making us better able to navigate the road ahead.

As we reach forward, we need to be compassionate and supportive of one another since we all will misstep at one time or another. That's part of the path of living.

We Rely on Good Leaders

When events occur that are out of our reach we rely on good leaders.

We rely on leaders with good values, courage, a willingness to collaborate, and care for others.

Often leaders are ridiculed, yet we look to these same leaders to make the tough decisions, to lead the way.

As educators, it's critical that we give our young students the chance to try out leadership in ways big and small.

Only when students have the chance to lead will they develop empathy and understanding for the leaders in their midst. When students lead they also understand the responsibility they have to support and choose good leaders.

It seems like this is a new age for leadership as our understanding with what it means to lead continues to evolve.

Leaders can reach out to those they lead for ideas, support, and help. Also those who are led can support leaders by contributing best efforts and speaking up when it matters.

The role of leader is a role that carries important responsibility, and it is in our best interests to choose and support those around us who are willing to step up to this important role.

Creating the Best World for Children

How can we create the best possible world for children?

What can we do together to build systems, infrastructure, and communities where children feel loved, cared for, safe, and happy?

Is it true that focusing on what's best for children creates a world that's best for all of us?

Are children the common denominator when we seek the solutions to world problems, peace, and harmony?

For example, with regard to a crisis in our midst, if we use the lens of what a child would say or need, would that set us in the right direction for current solutions and future work?

Too often we see the world with the lens of our own needs or the fleeting "here and now," we don't make the time often enough to see the world with the Iroquois view:

"In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation. . .even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine."

Today, as I go about my work, I'll think about the children in my midst and how my activity best serves them. I advocate this lens as I think it is a lens with the best potential for a better world.

Sony Cyber Attack: Thoughts

The Sony Cyber Attack frightened me.

I was frightened because I know how small matters can turn into big, senseless events if not tended to well.

We see that throughout history.

I also understand that many governments around the world operate with different values than our own so it's difficult to understand how one country or another may react to events.

I've been listening to the news.

I'm not an expert at political affairs and I don't know all the details involved.

What I do know though is that there's a lot of creative energy involved in the entire situation, and I'm wondering how that creative energy could have been used to create betterment in our world rather than a huge time-consuming affair that doesn't seem to be doing anybody any good.

We're a tightly interconnected world now.

What we do in one country resounds in another.

How we treat one people affects how the people near and dear to us are treated.

To me, this is a delicate matter, and I hope the people, companies, and governments involved will move forward with care and the best interests of the common individual in mind.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Is There a Just Right Balance for Teaching and Nurturing Children?

Yesterday marked the end of our math operations unit. It was an intense unit since I was weaving in multiple concepts in order to catch-up with the system-wide scope and sequence.

Students worked with great care as we managed to study all operations with problem solving, decimals, and base-ten understanding.

There's still some work to do to solidify the concepts and skill for everyone as well as to boost math writing skill in this standards-based area, but collectively the children have a strong foundation to move forward with.

Our future work will also include our Response to Intervention (RTI) efforts. Based on yesterday's assessment, students will be placed in small focused groups to further develop and enrich their numeracy skills and application. Multiple teachers take groups during our two scheduled 30-minute RTI times each week.

During the regular class time we will soon move onto the first fractions unit with a host of differentiated activities and project base work.

In the meantime, however, we've got a few days before the holiday break to relax a bit and learn with greater creativity and student choice.  I find myself always debating the "push factor" as I teach. On one hand pushing forward in multiple ways to strengthen students' academic foundation builds confidence, knowledge, and a readiness to learn more.  On the other hand, this push is sometimes demanding, dry, and less creative than more student-friendly project work, the kind of work we'll do during the next three days of learning.  There's less behavior issues when the learning is more student-centered, but in some cases, there can be less learning too. This is the "dance" I often refer too--the fine line between fostering good, challenging learning and making the learning too demanding and not fun at all.  Like most teachers, I'm always striving for that just right learning place, but with 20-plus students that's not always an easy place to find since it's a different place for every child.

I'll continue to debate, discuss, and reflect on this BIG question in education, a question that's close to the standards-based vs. child-centered learning debate. I believe there's a right, "happy-medium" in this debate, and that "happy-medium" is different in every context. It's a balance educators have to continually strive for as they carefully observe, listen/respond to, and design learning experiences with and for students.

In the meantime, prior to the holiday break, the main verb now is NURTURE. It's time to take a few steps back from the hurried pace of school life and give children a chance to learn in natural, fun, and friendly ways. A time more appreciated after the hard work we completed during the past unit.

Let me know where you stand in the debate I acknowledge here?  How do you create a "just right push" and student-centered learning and work?  This is a question I'll continue to explore in the days and weeks ahead.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How Fifth Graders Learn with Khan Academy

As you may know, I've been using Khan Academy to assist my own learning and the learning of my students for quite some time. The more I use it and observe students using the platform, the more I'm able to coach students with apt use.

Typically students use Khan Academy for home practice. In most cases it's better than paper/pencil practice for the following reasons:
  • Immediate, targeted feedback
  • Scaffolded learning opportunities.
  • Available teaching videos and hints.
  • Multi-modal learning with video, models, words, and numbers.
  • Data collection that easily shows students, family members, and teachers students' minutes and progress.
Students best use Khan Academy with some teaching and coaching. The following actions assist student learning.
  • Target students' practice with topics that match classroom learning and goals.
  • Assign a specific number of minutes for practice during a week's time.
  • Show students how to access close captioning and zoom features.
  • Make sure that students have good quality headphones available. 
  • Encourage students to take notes during the videos pausing now and then to write down key words, try out problems, and scribe other information. Writing it down helps to imprint those ideas.
  • Encourage students to write down questions or ask questions when they don't understand.
  • Make the time to sit with a child while he/she uses Khan now and then to observe and coach strategy. 
  • Share students' data with them, and show them how to use the data to forward their own learning.
In the old days, learning at home was as good as the books in your house, older siblings' support, parent help, the at-school lesson, and the assignment page(s). Today programs like Khan fill in the gaps that once existed for at-home practice and study. This gives a diversity of students a chance to learn more.

How do you use tools like Khan Academy with your students? How do you coach them so that they use online platforms in ways that boost their concept, skill, and knowledge levels? 

I'm so happy to teach in a time when we have tremendous tools like Khan Academy to assist the work we do in schools.

Khan Academy was listed in this post

Who Needs You?

I continue to gain inspiration from Godin's daily blog.

Today, his writing brought me to the question, "Who Needs You?"

As I think about this, a few people pop into my mind--people I haven't made time for in the past few weeks, and people who could use a dose of what I can give.

In the classroom, there are a few who need me right now more than before--I'll give them that attention and extra care today.

I have a few colleagues I can help too, and neighbors.

Not everyone needs us, and we don't have what everyone needs, but all of us have what some people need, we just have to make the time to make the connections and do what is needed.

Thanks for the inspiration, Seth Godin.