Friday, July 31, 2015


"Solitude is very different from a 'time-out' from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other." - Henri Nouwen

Roles and Responsibility Audit

Would a roles audit in schools buy more time for student service and effective effort?

If you conducted a roles' audit, what factors would you analyze?

I'd analyze the following:

  • Time on task with students (mandated and by choice)
  • Time spent at meetings (type of meeting/time)
  • Time spent on curriculum work in school (detail by work including copying, creating. . .)
  • Efficiency, effect of committees, meetings
  • Time spent on school-related efforts after hours (list specific efforts and time)
  • Time spent arranging, organizing, purchasing, taking care of teaching/learning equipment
  • Time in direct service and/or collaboration with colleagues
Once I collected the data, I'd then look at which roles have the most time-on-task with students, and which roles have little time-on-task with students. Then I'd look at the amount of time-on-task with regard to colleagues, meetings, and equipment, and then look at the impact of that time--does it make a significant difference, and how do you know that. After that I'd begin to look at restructuring roles for better effect. 

In most schools, there's little extra people time so this is probably a null issue as most schools could profit from more hands-on-deck for sure. In some schools, I think roles probably could be reshaped for better effect, but that would depend on the outcome of a roles and responsibilities audit.

We can all take the time to audit our own time, efforts, and effect too. What do we do that makes a difference? How do we know it makes a difference? And, what do we do that's less effective or even negative with regard to potential and possibility? This is an important consideration too--one that's difficult to do on your own, and one that would be a great talking point for a critical friends group.

The more we can shift roles and responsibilities toward greater shared leadership, reasonable/doable expectations, and time-on-task with students, the better our school systems will be. 

Why Write a Lot

Perhaps I should change my Twitter handle @lookforsun to write-a-lot because I write a lot!


I write a lot because I see so much potential for positive change and development in education.

It's amazing what is possible, and it baffles me why we're not spending more time doing the work that matters rather than staying mired in old think, roles, structures, and discussions.

As I've noted before, I love to be a part of an inclusive, transparent, forward thinking, creative team that serves others, and in this case, children, well.

I love the synergy, enthusiasm, and positive result of work well done.

When I see efforts that are directed toward goals that are half-hearted or not that important, it frustrates me because there's so many positive paths to follow.

So I could choose to bottle up all these ideas, thoughts, and commentary, or I could express it leaving me free to do the best possible work I can within the parameters posed, and leaving the ideas open to those who are ready and willing to courageously champion the good work possible. Onward.

System News?

Does your system post a regular news report to keep the learning team informed about events, goals, and other important matters?

Is your system news a two-way communication piece that provides information and invites questions and comments?

As we move from old-time schools of isolation to organizations of greater collaboration, it seems like a weekly news report could help to build greater team and effect as educators. Also, what's great about news and schools is that our overall goals and objectives in schools are positive and there's little need to hide or mask information since what we're all trying to do is teach children well.

What would you include in that news report?

I would include the following:
  • Note of Inspiration from Leader(s)
  • Celebrations and Congratulations: The good news of an organization.
  • Questions and Challenges: A list of questions and/or challenges that individuals or teams in the organization are working on and seeking advice for.
  • Professional Learning Events and Opportunities: List of upcoming, notable professional learning events.
  • Professional Learning Share: A short sentence or two that tells of an individual's recent professional learning endeavor and a link to more information for those interested.
  • Opportunities: List of job and volunteer opportunities within and perhaps outside of the system. 
I believe that a news report such as this posted online and shared with all interested parties would help to build dynamic learning/teaching organizations--organizations that invite voice and choice as well as positive, proactive debate and discourse. Also, taking the time to write a report like this diminishes the time needed to answer all kinds of questions and to straighten out confusion because the information is there for the taking typically before anyone has had time to wonder about it. 

None of us have all the answers, and there is no one way to teach and learn, but when individuals in organizations work together in transparent, open-minded, inclusive ways, then the potential for good work rises, and that matters when it comes to teaching children well. 

Crafting Naturalist Grant and Study: Part Two

It's vacation, but I know what happens if I don't capture the ideas right away. Life gets busy and the good ideas and information are lost.

So, I'll take a few moments to draft important factors about our upcoming collaboration with Drumlin Farm.

Yesterday Robin Stuart, Drumlin Farm's Education Director, and I sat down to discuss the grant proposal I'll draft for the local funding source, WPSF.

We're hoping to include the following components in the grant:

Naturalist Leader Training
Robin would come to school to lead a group of volunteers possibly including a mix of family members, high school students, college interns, teachers, and community members. Those naturalist leaders would lead small groups of students into our selected nature spaces.

Nature Spaces and Outdoor Exploration
We'll study on the playground, in a plot of land near the playground, possibly a wetlands area about a 1/2 mile from school, and at Great Meadows in Concord. I want to contact the local conservation department soon to access maps and discuss our local land plots to find out further information. Our work in the nature spaces will involve a host of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activities as well as State standards in math, technology and science.

Protecting Endangered Species - Endangered Frogs
Drumlin Farm works with Brian Windmiller at Grassroots Wildlife Conservation with regard to the reintroduction of native species. We could participate in this work by raising native frogs in our classroom, collecting and reporting data on the process, and then releasing the frogs into their native habitat. Windmills and Drumlin Farm naturalists would visit the classroom to get us started. We would host one or two large aquariums to watch the tadpoles grow and then develop before reentry. As citizen scientists, student data would be added to the larger data pool. We could use the data work as part of our math study as well.

Robin gave me some good materials ideas. For example, at Drumlin, they make their own nets. We could do the same by buying the materials and leading students in a net making event. We'll also add viewfinders, thermometers, aquarium habitat materials such as amphibian sand, UVB/UVA  light, and more.

Study Focus
I asked Robin, "How do you inspire young naturalists?," and she responded that she focuses on developing observation skills, the ability to craft and ask a good question, and question follow-up-what comes after asking the question, what does that process include? As noted above, we'll also focus on the data aspects of the study as part of our math work.

Tech Connect
Massachusetts Audubon is following Connecticut Audubon's lead with the use of Creek Critters. We will use this app as part of our naturalist study. I also want to try to find or make protective covers for the iPads so that students can bring them into the field to take notes, photography, and make videos.

Nyanza Grant
As part of a special river stewardship grant with Drumlin Farm, our work will also continue to focus on understanding and caring for river habitats. Some of our work, in this regard, will take place near our local river, The Sudbury River.

Science Logs and Assessments
I will work with colleagues to design good assessments and student science journals or logs to track the efforts, learning, ideas, and future actions.

To put this learning into action, we have the following steps to follow.
  • Share this work with administrators and invite ideas and considerations
  • Complete tech form to get permission to add the "Creek Critter" app to the iPads
  • Complete researching and writing the grant and pass the grant to leadership for signatures. As part of the grant, create a study/research plan for students. 
  • Review the standards and find relevant books and articles to inform the study
  • Wait to hear about grant approval
  • Upon approval, organize the study efforts and begin sometime in late October, early November.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vacation Time

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in."
                                                  - Robert Orben

It's so important to take a week or two to simply do whatever it is that you want to do, but it can be hard to pull yourself from that which you are committed to for a few weeks of reprieve.

Rather than post about nuts and bolts, and daily teaching goals and efforts, I'll reach a bit higher in my morning time of thought and writing. I'll seek out and read quotes that inspire the work I'll do in the days ahead and add those quotes to this post. In the meantime, feel free to use the search to the right to look for posts and thoughts that pertain to your interests and needs.

Quotes to Ponder:

From Goodreads:

"But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools." - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

"We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress. One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually." - Martin Luther King Jr. 

From BrainyQuote:'

"A nice person is a 'yes' person, whereas a good person is a person who accepts their responsibility in things and moves forward and tries to constantly evolve and isn't afraid to say no or challenge someone or be honest or truthful."
- Miranda Kerr

"Today, no leader can afford to be indifferent to the challenge of engaging employees in the work of creating the future. Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it's pretty much the whole game today." - Gary Hamel

"I really believe deep in my soul that we're going to have to step up and face these challenges and be tough and pull together and unify and be creative and be willing to sacrifice." - Zach Wamp

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How Do You Measure Success?

During last night's #edchat, there was a short discussion about whether those on social media truly implement the ideas they discuss during chats.

I've been thinking about that, and I've also been thinking about how we measure the ideas we employ. What do you do to truly measure the effect of practice you deem profitable?

Not only does measurement help us to identify success or lack of success, but it also helps us to revise our programs for better effect, and it can serve to develop our confidence too. Rather than just subjective response about efforts, good measurement provides us with more accurate response.

This year as I teach math and STEAM as the main subjects of my work, I'll employ the following measurements.

General Math Knowledge
GMADE is a system-wide test we give at the beginning of the year to assess students' general math knowledge and skill. This year not only will I give the test, but I'll also teach the content included in the test as the year progresses. In year's past we gave the test, but didn't pay specific attention to the content, then last year we assessed the test, categorized the information we not included in the grade 5 common core, and made a teaching list for the year ahead. I'll see how students do on the test when they take it again in late winter. Also, I want to look more closely at the validity of this test as some students who score very high at the start of the year aren't able to demonstrate much growth since the test does not extend that much higher than the highest students' skill level. I want to study that with greater depth.

Math Problem Solving
SRSD problem solving. I'll give students an early year assessment and assess their work using the created rubric. I'll continue to assess and coach as the year goes along and use the assessments to inform teaching and practice. I'll assess growth by students early year to late year improvement.

Common Core Math
Common core math will be assessed in a large number of ways. I'll use formative assessments throughout units and a summative assessment at the end of each unit. I'll also give the system-wide end-of-year test and a practice standardized test (PARCC or MCAS dependent on what the State chooses as this year's test venue).

Math Facts
I'll give early year facts test and then set up a responsive learning menu coordinated in part with our RTI efforts, at-home practice, and in-class study. I'll assess student growth regularly in this regard in an attempt to help every child reach mastery. I consider mastery as 100 facts with three or less errors in 5 minutes or less. For fifth grade I expect students to reach this with addition, subtraction, mixed add/subtraction, multiplication, division, mixed multiplication/division, and mixed add/subtract/multiply/divide, and for enrichment I add simple algebraic expressions and other math skill facts.

I'll take a look at existing STEAM assessments. I'll use that information to create a STEAM assessment. My main focus in this area is that students are able to collaborate, think/act critically, create, and communicate with STEAM problems. I also want to make sure they are learning the core information embedded in the STEAM activity. I need to think about this assessment pattern.

Too often the way we report on student learning may not be accurate. Even when we use assessments like the ones above, we may not be accurate as there are so many factors that come to play with regard to student learning and effort.

Yet, we know it's important for students to learn well and gain the knowledge that will help them to succeed in tasks as they move forward. My own son relayed a STEAM-like, real-world learning challenge he had at a course lately. I had just read that his course was trying out non-cognitive tasks and I bet this was one of them (it wasn't exactly non-cognitive, but I believe they meant it wasn't purely academic, but more hands-on and collaborative). My son had trouble with the task, and I noted that we're trying to employ more learning related to that kind of task with our STEAM labs.

Back to the point--to do good work, we need to assess well. Our assessments won't be perfect, but in many ways, they'll be better than subjective response alone as subjective response often represents just a few voices and those voices tend to want to show success whether it occurred or not.

Teaching Year Short List

  1. Create and support an inviting, welcoming, inclusive learning environment.
  2. Deep, active, responsive math and STEAM teaching/learning.
  3. Thoughtful, positive collaboration with regard to our new teaching/learning model.
  4. Lots of learning from new initiatives: Teaching/Learning Leadership cohort, Cultural Proficient Teaching efforts and learning, SRSD Math Problem Solving.
  5. Regular reflection, reading, and share online and off. 

Do Your Ideas Matter?

Do the ideas you have matter?

What makes you think you have good ideas?

Where's the proof? Where's the evidence?

Why do you continue to share even if there's not much support for what you believe in?

These are all questions that come to mind when you have a new idea or when you're promoting an idea you believe in.

Some will support your think and others will look the other way.

For me, what keeps a new idea alive, is the knowledge that the idea has potential to make a positive difference in someone's life. How about you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Template and Design Play

You could spend all day playing around with the templates, designs, colors, and format for your blog. I'll probably keep playing in the days ahed. Enjoy the transitions.


I read my 2015 summer reading list this morning, well at least most of it. As I read through the articles, I made decisions about what to do with each one with respect to the year ahead. When you read professional information, it's best to read, plan, and act as that ascertains that the reading will find a place in the development of your craft. I added this action list to my 2015-2016 Teaching/Learning list.

The most inspiring article I read was the most recent, "Access to Learning Content Is Not The Same as Equity in Education" by Jordan Shapiro," which really struck a nerve in me. I want to reread the article again with greater reflection, but for now it will stand as a centerpiece for my work in the year ahead.

Another very powerful article was "Changing What We Teach" by Terry Heick. I was happy to be introduced to Heick and his terrific ideas and images. I know connecting with his work further will deepen my ability to design learning well with and for students.

Less intense, but still valuable, were a number of articles that led me to the actions listed below.

Improved Classroom Efforts
Action: Continue to advocate for meaningful technology use and integration. Use the articles noted here as part of that advocacy.

Action: Follow Tony’s lead by demonstrating empathy (“I can understand where you’re coming from. . .”), having fun with students, listening more than talking (a challenge for a talker/writer like me), create and learn daily, and pay attention to cultural relevancy and each student’s/colleague’s areas of interest and competency.

Actions: Attention to seeking out the best assistive technologies to help each and every student and continued to focus on personalized, blended learning.

Action: Continue to advocate for modern-age, healthy, inspiring cafeteria.

Action: Students love animation, play with and then share the apps listed on this list.

Positive PLC and Collegial Efforts
Action: Bring design think to PLCs:
  1. Understand the users.
  2. Observe the current status quo.
  3. Define the problem.
  4. Brainstorm solutions.
  5. Sketch or build a model of a rough plan.
  6. Test new solutions.

Leadership and Teaching Skills
Action: Print this article and hang it in my teaching corner. Use the language with colleagues and students, apply the attributes to the best of my ability.

This is another great article to print and post in your work area. Good language to share with colleagues and students too.

Learning Design
Action: This article would be a great focus of a PLC as it demonstrates how we can use technology to better support culturally proficient teaching. The article offers a great lens for inclusive learning design.

Action: More great considerations for culturally proficient teaching. I want to intentionally employ the attributes listed here and above to a specific unit and chart the results. This will help to embed these characteristics into my work.

Action: How can I deepen learning in all areas? When I teach, I need to ask, “Is this deep learning--why or why not?” Then make necessary changes.

Action: Excellent how-to post for creating a maker space. I like the idea of using themes. I’ll start with a measurement theme this year.

Action: Good article for child-centered learning. I especially like the advice to make time for students’ personal issues.

Action: We can employ these brain-based strategies into all curriculum areas. Children learn best when active, intellectually and emotionally safe, empowered, and when they understand the power of confusion.

More considerations for deep learning design. Good work to consider as I work with curriculum leaders and coaches on learning design work.

Parent/Colleague Share
Action: I want to share this article with families and colleagues at the start of the school year.

Action: Next time a visiting educator remarks on students moving around, I’ll share this article.

Math Education
Action: Embed into first STEAM Theme: Measurement

Action: Integrate into SRSD Problem Solving work.

Action: Integrated into Landmark Numbers unit

Death Stats Actually Inform Healthy/Safe Behavior Efforts

When you watch the news often, the sensational stories can muddy your view of what's really happening in the world. That's why I took a look at death stats last night. I was wondering what truly threatens the health and safety of our children.

When I teach children and parent my own children, I want to be aware of those threats so that I can lead them in right ways.

For young children, 0-14, the leading causes of death are congenital abnormalities, injuries and accidents, and endocrine issues, flu, and pneumonia. Thus as a teacher, what's important is to make sure that you foster a safe environment at school and teach students about safety as well with the following emphases:
  • wear your seatbelt
  • learn water safety behavior and learn to swim
  • report unsafe, harmful, and violent conditions and get help
  • don't take irresponsible risks, know what is safe
  • don't play with fire
  • be smart with strangers, it's best to be with others most of the time
  • wash your hands often, eat well, sleep well, and take care of your bodies.
  • when sick, see a doctor and follow the doctor's orders
Also making it a requirement to have local doctors, law enforcement, and fire fighters meet with students each year will help in this regard.

For teens, and young adults 15-24, the major threats include traffic accidents, suicide, homicide, poisoning, accidents including drowning, endocrine issues, and surprising to me, leukemia. While I'm not a doctor and don't understand the causes of leukemia and endocrine issues well, the other areas of risk seem to be well connected with education. How can we help our teens and young adults to be safer?

First, why not share these stats with teens and young adults--let them know what the risks are and engage them in conversations about health and safety. Give them a chance to consider the result of unsafe behavior with regard to driving a car, drinking and driving, and other risky behavior. Also, as with the younger children, take some time to review water safety and provide swimming lessons. 

With suicide as the number two risk and homicide the number three risk for teens and young adults, it points to the fact that emotional health and safety are critical at this age. How do we make the time to support our teens and young adults, both in school and at home, with regard to their self concept, acceptance in society, contribution, and a positive sense of belonging? Where do we make space for these young people to find meaning, contribute, and belong? 

Sensational media stories can play with our sense of fear and importance when it comes to health and safety for the children we parent and the children we teach. The stats point us in the best directions when it comes to supporting safe and healthy environments and activities for kids. Don't you agree? 

If we look at risks for older people, most of those risks begin with unhealthy behavior as children and teens. Hence, it's also important to teach good nutrition, the dangers of smoking, and the positivity of healthy activity.

Teaching Journey: Long Term View

The short term plans are set, and now, what does the long term view look like?

For me, in a sense, my long term view can be described as nesting. I want to deepen the work I do for children in the long term. I want to make my learning environment more inviting and welcoming and my craft more centered and personal for each and every child. In a sense, I want to build a strong nest for teaching and learning.

What does that process include?

First I want to develop a safe and supportive environment for my nest which means developing collegial connections and a sense of team with students, families, colleagues, leaders, and community members. How can I be a contributing team member? In what ways can I make sure that my nest is firmly planted in the learning community with strength and sustenance?

Next, I will continue to develop my craft with daily reading, writing, reflection, and study. I'll also make a commitment to learn new literacies and apply those tools, resources, and pedagogy regularly to my classroom work. I want to commit to collegial learning design with and for students so school is welcoming, engaging, and relevant to learners. I will remain an active member of my PLN as they serve to keep me up to date, challenge my current practice, and inspire new learning and craft.

I'll do what I can to keep my energy fresh and ongoing. Positive physical, social, and emotional energy is a key component of teaching well. A healthy routine, frequent breaks, and good nutrition support optimal energy.

Compassion for Self and Others
As I  always say, teaching and learning are endless propositions and no one can be or do it all. As we move towards our best work, we need to be compassionate to ourselves and others. We won't always hit the mark, but in strong, caring school communities we will have the support we need to get back up and try again. This is essential to teaching and learning well.

I'll continue to reflect and share the teaching and learning journey. I'll read, practice, and then write about it. Hopefully my words will help others now and then with inspiration, new ideas, links, and resources. I'll speak up for what I believe is right and good in education, and I'll change my mind when new information makes a better case for good practice. I'll see the teaching/learning journey for what it is, a life journey that changes often as the world around us changes too.

Children First
In the end, my work as parent and teacher will continue to put children first. As a servant leader, I'll let the children lead my work. They're my muse and inspiration, the fuel that propels my career forward. I wonder where they'll take me :)

Start of School Nuts and Bolts

I've been chopping away at the 2015-2016 school year to-do list. Now it's almost time for vacation. So before I take some days to enjoy family and friends in places near and far (not too far), I want to visualize the beginning days of school.

Team Meeting
The school year will begin in earnest on August 28th when I meet with my grade-level team. We'll spend time solidifying the schedule, writing the early year family letter, completing the curriculum map, creating team logistics, and firming up other details for our new shared model.

School/System Goal Setting and Scheduling
Then on the first day of school, the superintendent and principal will relay the school year goals and vision. I'll spend some time matching the goals and practice I've set to whole school and system objectives.

I'll also make time that day to meet with special educators and other specialists to look over students' IEP's and then schedule services.

Room Set Up
Then it will be time to set up the room. I may do that before, but I know I'm getting new floors (the 30+ year rug will be replaced by new flooring) and it's likely that the floors won't be done until just before the start of school.

Students' First Day
I will coordinate first day plans with my grade-level team, but I imagine the day will look like this:
  • Welcome conversation, greeting, and questions.
  • Establish classroom protocols with students.
  • Practice transitioning from one classroom to the next.
  • Facilitate a STEAM or math lesson that's engaging, one that builds community.
  • Review school rules and protocols. 
  • Homework and newsletter review. 
Our year starts with a two-day week for students which is a nice way to ease the children in after summer vacation.

I know I'll continue to study, reflect, and write, but it's a lot easier to enjoy vacation when the plans are set for post vacation efforts. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

How Do You React to Children Who Call You to be Better?

Every summer there's a child or two you think about. He or she sticks around in your mind because they called you to do or be something that you weren't able to be or didn't do.

Those children who stick around in your mind like this typically have something to teach you, something to spur you forward with teaching/learning.

You could deny the challenge these children bring to you. You could ignore their words, actions, and requests, or you could take these kids seriously and work to remedy the issue they presented to do better with children like them next year.

For me, one child who inspired me, is a child who was very, very interested in current events and history, particularly events and history related to the African American Experience. That's what he wanted to learn about and that's what he wanted to talk about. My partner teacher often met his need by finding great books for him, and giving him a chance to talk and read about his interests. In my class, we often talked about current events using Flocabulary's Week in Review as a catalyst to the discussions.

Yet when we walked along the Freedom Trail in Boston and he mentioned that we needed to include the stories of famous African Americans more often in our curriculum, I took that seriously. Also when he became frustrated during STEAM lab, I took that seriously too. This summer I'm doing some research and working on new ideas to meet this boy's inspiration.

Another child in my class was a tech enthusiast who knew a lot about technology. He aced all the standardized tests and had a knowledge level that typically exceeded most of the students and teachers too. While this child was often engaged, I think I could have done a better job. For one, he most wanted time to talk about his ideas. He also needed more mentors that knew what he knew about technology, gaming, and invention. He was hungry to use his intelligence to do something of merit, something big, something wonderful.

As a team, we met his needs in many ways. He wrote tremendous stories. He made movies. He presented to the class and shared his knowledge, but I think I could have done more, and I'm thinking about how I can better meet the needs of these very bright, eager, and tech savvy students. For one I'll invite small groups of students to lunch so I can learn about them more and give them a greater chance to talk. That will help me to create more opportunities to meet their needs. My partner teacher found success with this approach and I noticed how the students loved it.

We have to think carefully about those that meet us with discontent, new ideas, and inspiration for greater growth. Instead of dismissing their energy and sometimes frustration, we can really dig in and think about why this occurs and how we can better respond to learners like this.

Let your students inspire you; meet their needs with your best possible work, and continue to grow and develop your craft. That matters when it comes to teaching and learning well.

When You Don't Get a Response, Do You Email Again?

Some folks rarely to never respond to an email.

That leaves me to wonder did they receive the note; did they read the note; and if they received and read the email, why didn't they respond? 

The lack of response leads to the next question, If people don't respond, do you send another email to those people?

That's tricky. While a regular lack of response demonstrates a lack of interest or acceptance for some reason(s), if the information is important to share, you may need or want to share with future emails despite the lack of response.

This leads to the next question, Do some not like transparency? For example, if you're transparent and share the news, then others know about it. They can't say later, "I never knew that or that never occurred to me," as the information has been shared. From the sharers point of view, open share gives everyone a chance to comment and weigh in on the event, action, ideas, or thoughts. From the receiver's point of view share could mean additional responsibility, work to do, or room for debate and discourse. Those actions may be unappealing to some.

As I've written numerous times, I'm a fan of as much transparent share as possible. I'm also a fan of responding to emails whenever possible even if the response is I'll take a look at that later, but thanks for sending it to me. I'm also a fan of creating transparent threads for regular share so that people's email boxes don't become too full and there's a place to see new information when you have a chance to take a look.

Last year we kept the families, leaders, and students aware of all curriculum efforts in a timely fashion. That resulted in very few emails as most information was shared. And when there were emails, they were typically targeted to very specific questions, ideas, and thoughts that served to boost our shared teaching/learning program. Ample, appropriate, responsive communication usually means less email exchange because the important information is there for the taking.

A lack of response to emails leaves one with lots of questions and as Godin writes in a somewhat related recent blog, a feeling of ". . .fear and agitation and, "uh oh, what's wrong."

While I continue to think about this issue, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. In the meantime, if I believe it's important to share the information in a targeted way, I'll share the email. If don't receive a response, I'll note that the receivers aren't interested or don't have a thought or opinion about the topic, and I'll continue my work as noted.

Schedule Field Studies Now

Have you ever tried to schedule a field study while you're teaching? If so, you know it's practically impossible because you simply don't have any wait time during working hours when you teach children.

Hence, I recommend that you try to schedule field studies during the lazy days of summer. Typically the docents and schedulers have the time now to talk.

Bringing our students to wonderful places of learning is an important part of the learning experience, and summer is a good time to schedule those events.

Study Tips: Mom and Son Conversation

My son, a college sophomore, is engaging in an intense summer program. He called the other day to relay the strengths and challenges he's facing with regard to the program. One challenge was the test taking. Unlike his small liberal arts college that supports differentiated, personalized study/learning, in the setting he is in, there's only one way to learn which is the "sit and git" as some call it and commonly referred to as lecture style of learning. He said that by the time he and his classmates get to the lecture hall, they are all so tired from the physical work related to the program, that many doze off in the air conditioned room. Also the tests are all multiple choice and there are uncomfortable distractions in the room as they take the tests.

As I talked to him, I thought about the ways I coach my students forward when it comes to standardized tests and tough learning situations, and I gave him the following advice:
  • Sit in the front of the room as there will be less distractions.
  • Take notes while learning. Box the important words that you write down, use different colors, and jot questions that you're thinking about on the side of the page as those questions will help you to remember the big ideas. Later you can focus on the boxed words and phrases.
  • Study every night by writing about what you learned. 
  • Use self talk (I got that from the SRSD approach). You'll do better if you positively coach yourself forward.
  • When taking the multiple choice tests use the SAT approach:
    • Read the question carefully, underlining key words if you can. 
    • Think about the answer in your head before looking at the answer choices and jot it down with quick notes if possible.
    • Then, and only then, look at the answer choices. 
    • Eliminate those that you know don't fit, and then choose the best response.
    • When bubbling, finger check your answer by saying the correct letter in your mind while touching it with your finger. This helps to prevent bubbling errors.
My son graciously listened to me and then scoffed at most of my suggestions. I was not surprised as that's what teens and young adult children often do when parents offer advice (I did that probably more than any other person as a teen and young adult).

But then, the next day he called to say that he thought he did a lot better on the next test. "I sat in the front of the room," he shyly confided in me.  
    "Did you finger check the bubbling?, I asked.
    "Yes, I did that too," he answered.
    "Don't forget the self talk; that helps," I reminded him.
    "I'll do that," he agreed.
    "And give it 100%. No matter what happens in this program if you give it 100% you'll be proud of your effort, and then you can decide where to go from here." I added.
    "I will," he said.

It was a great mom and son coaching session, one that made me realize that all the cognitive research I've done and applied to my teaching/learning context is worthwhile and helps students learn and apply their learning with strength.

As for my son, time will tell where this program leads him, but I know for sure, he's learned a lot about himself and how to study which are skills he'll bring forward when he returns to school in the fall. 

Take Time to Reflect

A couple of years ago I wrote the online book, Reflect for Success: Teach Well. To write the book, I took Massachusetts' 33 elements for teaching success and wrote a reflection guide for each element. I chose those elements as the backbone for the book because after reviewing the elements with depth the year before, I realized that those elements specifically illustrate what it means to teach well.

Reflection is the stairway to good teaching, and if you're wondering how to start a reflective path for teaching well in the year ahead, I suggest that you read a page of this book each day, and then in your own online or offline journal, log, blog, or vlog, write a short reflection that tells how you will incorporate that element into your craft in the year ahead.

There's no need to go in order with regard to the elements, instead start with the elements that you're the most interested in.

If you do choose to use this online book as a reflective guide, and you see room for improvement, additions, or modification, please send me a note via Twitter @lookforsun. The nice thing about this teaching prep is that you can do it in your home, at the beach, in the car, or anywhere you find that inspires thought and reflection.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Taking My PLN Seriously

I first learned about PLN's about five years ago. I came home discouraged after a professional learning session and started searching for alternatives online and that's when I heard about developing a PLN: a Professional Learning Network.

Now five years later, my network is strong, supportive, and sensitive. Whenever I need a link, resource, answer, or advice, I have a large network of professional educators and education enthusiasts to turn to.

This ready corp of enthusiastic educators has served to help me develop my education craft and practice substantially. I am forever grateful for their generous share with regard to their expertise, creativity, innovation, and care.

Currently my PLN includes the following:
  • WPS colleagues, leaders, students, families, and community members 
  • Twitter followers and those that I follow
  • Multiple bloggers
  • Pinterest users
  • Google+
  • ECET2 Colleagues
  • TLI Colleagues
  • MTA/NEA local, state, and national colleagues
  • FSU Professors and Students
I've yet to sign on to Voxer, but I imagine I'll do that one of these days since so many like it. The same is true for Instagram. I probably will resign on to Facebook professionally at some point too, but the reality is that I can only manage so many social media sites. Twitter remains my favorite, and Google+ is a close second. 

I welcome members of my PLN to reach out to me with questions and needs.

How has your PLN developed over the past few years? When do you find that you reach out most to this group of wonderful educators? How has having a PLN affected your teaching and learning?

It's time to take my PLN seriously with regard to the depth that they've fostered in my work and learning, and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that today. 

Crafting a Learning Experience: Pattern Seekers in Nature

This week I'll meet with Robin Stuart, Education Director at Adubuon's Drumlin Farm, to plan next year's naturalist study and investigations. We have been working with Robin, Drumlin Farm, and the SuAsCo grant in that past two years to develop interdisciplinary, hands-on study that fosters knowledge, stewardship, and interaction with local habitats. Overall the study has been deep and rewarding as we watched students learn in beautiful, natural spaces including Great Meadows in Concord, MA, Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, MA, our local school habitat, and Great Meadows in Sudbury, MA.

The past studies were conducted with the same students in both fourth and fifth grade. This year's students visited Drumlin Farm last year to learn about life 1,000 years ago so they've had some introduction, but in a large part, we'll be starting fresh with a new group.

Robin has mentioned that she wants to involve us in creating a habitat for an endangered frog species. I think students will really love that work. I imagine we'll connect our science reading and study related to the life science standards to this project. I also guess that students will work as conservationists, naturalists, biologists, and environmentalists as they contribute to this effort. Further, we want to write a grant, Pattern Seekers: Interdisciplinary STEAM Study,  to our local funding source, the Wayland Public Schools Foundation, to access expert visitors, field studies, and naturalist materials similar to the magnifier you see in the picture above.

I expect our naturalist work next year will include the following events:
  • Studying about the specific frog species, habitat, adaptations, life cycle and more. In a sense, learning the life science standards through study related to this endangered frog species.
  • Participating in the frog habitat creation at Drumlin Farm probably in September or October.
  • Naturalist observations and learning experiences integrated with our STEAM lab efforts in the classroom and school habitat.
  • Integrating close reading strategies and SRSD writing responses with related science informational text.
  • Ending the year with another visit to Great Meadows to apply our naturalist learning to specific investigations that day.
Now in the third year of our collaboration with Drumlin Farm, I am convinced more than ever that schools should connect deeply with local museums, nature preserves, conservation, and educational organizations to help students learn in deeper, more relevant, and connected ways. 

School systems can take this idea seriously by identifying local education-related organizations and making sure that educators at different grades and subject areas give students the opportunity to work with depth with each of those organizations sometime or several times throughout their tenure in the school system. This will help to create active, connected lifelong learners. 

Designing with Science

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A River Does Not Fit Into a Box

Learning is fluid. Learning is a lot like a river.

A river doesn't fit into a box.

When we create box-like systems we will find that those systems don't fit learning well.

It's better to create flexible systems that have some structure and some fluidity too.

I'll think about that as I start the new school year a month from now.

Summer Study's Twists and Turns

It never goes exactly as planned. Summer always poses lots of opportunity and lots of surprise as well.

SRSD Math Problem Solving
The summer study has been similar. Work with Leslie Laud at thinkSRSD has proven to be positively challenging as I prep for deeper math problem solving with students next year. The ongoing creation of Numbers that Define You and Landmark Numbers and Figures has been equally engaging and promising. I love starting school with new units of study to share with students. I wonder how they'll meet the planned study and where revision will be necessary to rightfully engage, empower, and educate.

+Wesley Przybylski's edtech workshop at Regis was similarly positively challenging. I had taken a bit of reprieve from immersing myself in new edtech tools and then when I saw Wes and +Chrystal Hoe present it reignited my passion for engaging with new tools which led me to reach out to administrators and colleagues with the desire to embed new tools and policies into our edtech landscape for better learning and student engagement.

Bob Bardwell's passion for career and college readiness prompted me to study the topic and create connections to the work that K-8 teachers do that matches the attributes and intent of readying students for their future. Additionally I had the chance to visit beautiful Monson, Massachusetts and learn of their educational pursuits, challenges, and directions. I look forward to sharing ideas for college and career readiness at grades PreK-8:

The end of the month will find me readying the classroom and working with the grade-level team to put the finishing touches on the preparation for the year ahead. I also look forward to the ideas and goals I'll learn from leaders and colleagues at the start of the year.  In the meantime, it's time to focus on family and some time for fun. It's been a terrific weather summer here in New England and I look forward to exploring the beaches, mountains, and cities I love to visit in the days ahead.

Thoughtful Approach

There's lots of room for error.

There are multiple paths to travel.

At best, if we move with a thoughtful approach and consider that many possibilities with respect and care, we will arrive at places worth the effort.

WeVideo Enthusiasm

A few years ago, I used WeVideo for a collaborative student project. I found it to be a terrific movie making venue.

Then after learning more about Google apps from +Chrystal Hoe  at  the Regis College EdTech Workshop hosted by +Wesley Przybylski, I decided to give WeVideo another try to capture the learning I'm doing with +Leslie L at +thinkSRSD .

With the exception of the fact that any movie making project is a "forever" project, one with endless possibility, I really liked using WeVideo to organize the information I learned so that I can use it in the future to lead my work with students as well as to serve as an easy way to share the learning with colleagues. If you're interested in the process I suggest you try WeVideo by going to your Google Drive, clicking "new," then "more," then "connect more," searching for "WeVideo," adding that app, and playing around with it to create your own movies.

Here's a copy of the movie I made today if interested. Let me know if you have any questions.

Express with Respect

Some have advised me not to email. Others have advised me not to email with length. Still more have told me to make an appointment and talk in person. Then there are those who advocate for strategic change.

I have listened to all of these words of advice, and I've tried the approaches shared.

What speaks to me the most in this regard is the fact that when we see room for positive change we have to speak up with respect.

We can't blame, taunt, ridicule, or condemn, but instead we have to speak up for what we understand as a positive path for change and growth.

Many do not like it when people speak up. When people speak up it can feel like more work and criticism to some, but if we don't speak up, good potential is lost. And, when good potential is lost, particularly with regard to teaching young children, a life might not be as good as it could be and that matters.

On occasion, people have spoken up to me. Like many, I too have felt the words as criticism and a call for more work. "Don't they understand what I do?," I might think. But more and more I resist that urge now, and instead I respond with, "Let's talk about it. I want to know more. I want to help. I appreciate that you took the time and had the courage to speak up." Then we meet and we talk and we make positive change. It's an awesome experience, and one that serves to develop strong, positive, forward moving relationships.

I will continue to speak up when I see room for positive change. I'll keep the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. close at hand when I do:

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

I will work to speak up with as much respect and care as I can.

Also, I will meet those who speak up to me with an open mind and heart, and with respect and honor, I will listen for ways that I can help foster change and effort that makes a positive difference too. Onward.

#Satchat: A Positive Push

This morning #satchat hosted @pammoran and +Ira David Socol live from the ASCD conference. Pam and Ira focused on the topic of growth mindset and school change. They relayed countless examples of how they've brought positive change and growth to the Albemarle School System. I look to Pam and Ira as well as the #satchat hosts and participants for leadership and growth regularly.

The talk was challenging for me because I often feel stuck when it comes to change with regard to the work I do. I look outside for support, encouragement, and collegiality in this regard, but as inspired by Ira this morning, I need to look in too to see how I respond to the need for change and the desire to embed new ideas into the work I do.

Hence, after today's talk, I'm challenging myself with the following points.

Children First
I have taken this to be the centerpiece of my work, and I want to continue this effort. Pam continually discussed our need to first and foremost pay attention to the needs, interests, and passions of children, and she stated that when we put children first, we inherently need to take risks to do what is right.

Inspiring, Welcoming, Learning Environment
Creating an environment that's inviting and inspiring is important when it comes to teaching and learning well. The way we organize the furniture and materials, and the protocols we create with children to lead our learning community matter with regard to moving schools from old time factory models to new age centers of innovation, inspiration, and intellectual development.

New Structures for Learning Success
Our team is employing a new shared model of teaching that breaks away from the old-time one teacher-one classroom model. The work we do in this regard matters. I'm fortunate to work with educators and a building leader that support the change. To make it successful we need to plan carefully, be mindful of what we do, and record our efforts regularly so we can support continued change and development to best meet the needs of all students.

Curriculum Development
Moving the learning to deeper and more engaging and empowering experiences. I need to think carefully about what I teach and the way I teach it with regard to my responsibility as a math teacher, STEAM coach, and reading, writing, and math interventionist. How can I inspire, support, challenge, and coach my young students with strength.

In the past few days I've reached out to some leaders for support and information related to the work I do. I was hoping for positive encouragement and response, but I got little response or encouragement. Instead I was met with silence and more rules to follow. Perhaps I didn't give it enough time or I'm expecting too much. I was very discouraged, but then this morning, Ira and Pam challenged me to look in and do what I can with the critical colleagues I have, people who are willing to try something new to teach children better.

Also advice from many on the chat made me realize that strategic, respectful action is what it takes to move change beyond the classroom. I'll think more about that as I focus on the change and efforts listed above.

Once again thanks to the #satchat moderators, Pam Moran, and Ira Socol for tremendous inspiration this morning. It's this kind of inspiration and information that helps teachers like me throughout the globe do the work that's possible to promote what's best for each and every child. I appreciate.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Limited Tech

Yesterday I got very excited at the Regis College EdTech Workshop as I learned about multiple Google add-ons and apps and other apps for student learning.

I played around right away with the tools for some professional work I am doing. I wanted to play around more to think of ways I could add those tools to student learning efforts. In year's past I have done lots and lots of tech projects such as digital stories and math movies. The tools now are even better.

Because I've met with very difficult challenges with regard to permission to use new technology in the classroom, I consulted with the tech department to see if the processes for tech use have changed. I found out that the processes remain the same which means that almost all new tech has to pass through a large number of leaders prior to approval. That takes a lot of time, and often the leaders don't approve the technology for multiple reasons.

So what is a teacher to do?

While I believe that teachers should have the chance to try out tech responsibly in their classrooms with students and then choose and share the best tech, I also have to follow the rules of the school system where I work. A couple of years ago I got so frustrated over the process that I raised my voice, and that led to weeks of harsh consequences that upset me and my family for a l o n g time. I don't want to repeat that.

Hence, I'll steer clear of most tech for the year ahead. I'll use the programs that are allowed and encouraged by the leadership, and I'll take a leave of tech conferences and new tools with regard to student learning. I will, however, use the tools I learned about to organize my own work and prepare learning modules for students and colleagues.

Systems are made up of many people, and there are multiple rules to follow for multiple reasons. In schools, teachers have some say over what they do, but if there is rule and they don't follow it, that's considered subordination and they get fired.

I write this to share my thoughts, to acknowledge that I will follow system guidelines, and to voice an issue that exists not only in my school, but in many American schools. In fact, and in contrast, one of the presenters pointed out yesterday that there's much less worry about technology use overseas and much greater ease and frequency of use.

There's lots of math to teach, and I can do it with Google docs, presentation, SCRATCH, paper/pencil, manipulatives, That Quiz, Khan Academy, Symphony Math, and a few other approved online and offline games. I can do the same for my STEAM teaching responsibilities. But part of the fun of teaching and learning is readily employing new tools that meet students' needs and invigorate the daily class efforts. For now, however, that work is on hold.

Speak Up When Served Well

People often speak up when unserved, but sometimes people forget to speak up when served well. It's important to do both. When there are problems and challenges, speak up, and when events go well and support is there, speak up too.

Taking the time to express need as well as gratitude, helps us all to gravitate towards efforts and events that matter.

Tool to Streamline MA Teachers Evaluation Process

Truly the Massachusetts New Teachers' Evaluation System's elements are attributes that lead to teaching children well.

The challenge for leaders and teachers alike is keeping all those elements in mind as we plan for, complete, and reflect upon our work.

The chart below accessed via this link provides an easy way to review the elements, read about each one, and then later add your work/links in order to share your evidence and reflections. You simply, click the link, click file and make a copy to display your own work or you can highlight, copy, and paste into a document on another site such as Word. Remember to use "landscape" for the page size.

Then rather than a complex, multi-page system, the evidence and effort becomes a one-page affair that's easy to access, review, and discuss.

Link to Evidence Chart:

Design Learning

How much time do you spend designing learning with and for students?

Do you work with colleagues to revise or create units of study that are relevant, meaningful, and reflective of modern day ways of collecting, analyzing, synthesizing, and presenting information, ideas, and creativity?

It seems like too much time is spent using plans and projects that have been used for a long time without revision or that are given to us. Often these materials don't reflect the students we teach or the context we teach in.

As you consider your efforts to design learning with and for students, I offer my design learning presentation as one guide that you and your colleagues may use to lead this important work with regard to teaching children well.

Employ New Literacies

Cartoon that exemplifies students' metacognition when
using the SRSD approach to math problem solving. 
Yesterday I watched Wes Przybylski and Chrystal Hoe employ relatively new digital literacies with skill and ease at the Regis College EdTech Workshop. As I watched, I was reminded that I need to constantly rethink the way I produce content. It can't just be words on a page. Therefore as I prepped math problem solving templates, exemplars, and plans for my work with Leslie Laud at thinkSRSD, I employed WeVideo as part of my Google Drive to share some of the work. In the fall, I'll teach children to use WeVideo as one way to share their math thinking and learning. It's a rich platform that will result in deep math thinking, problem solving, creativity, and share.