Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Big Think to Fall Daily Action

Today is the first day of school. Today marks the bridge from summer big think to fall daily action. It's time to apply the research, study, and thought of summer days.

The best way to do that is to create a pattern that gives you time to meet the goals you've set. What will your pattern look like?

For me, the pattern will mirror last year's pattern in a large part with the following elements:
  • Monday-Friday early mornings: research, reflect, and write.
  • Monday-Friday 8-4: Teach
  • Monday, Wednesday Evenings: Teach Teacher Candidates
  • Weekly co-moderating of #edchat
  • Weekly Gates grant work and TLI efforts
  • Monthly participation on Child Study Committee and Union meetings.
  • Periodic Professional Learning Events:
    • Malden #edcamp: October
    • System-wide Professional Learning Events
    • October 7 Lecture: FSU
I've also set aside some time for family, friends, and personal events and efforts. I'm looking forward to applying the big think of summer with the children and colleagues I teach and learn with. Onward. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shared Teaching/Learning: Meeting Special Service Goals

This is an example of what a special service short list may look like.

Thanks to inclusion, students today receive a large list of special services. Unlike teaching/learning many years ago, if you have a special education need today, it's likely that you'll receive special services related to that need.

The challenge with regard to this great service is scheduling. How do we schedule well so that students receive the services they are legally entitled too, and how do we deliver those services in conjunction with classroom/subject area teachers so that the services are well targeted resulting in successful student growth and development?

Many years ago, I learned the valuable strategy of shortlisting goals in order to meet learning goals and accommodations with strength. To shortlist goals, teachers and special service delivery educators do the following:
  • Meet prior to the teaching/learning year.
  • Review the special service delivery documents (an IEP in most cases) with detail.
  • Identify primary learning goals and accommodations.
  • Schedule service delivery times and days.
  • Keep the shortlist in a place that you can easily reference and revise if necessary
  • Meet with the special service delivery educators periodically to assess the success of the service delivery and collaboration.
Now that I'm working in a shared model of teaching/learning, this shortlist becomes more important since special educators and regular educators will be working with all students on the team. Hence, it's imperative that we file the shortlist in a place that all teachers can access and use to inform their teaching/learning design, plans, and delivery.

Do you shortlist service delivery goals and accommodations? If so, how does this help you to help students who receive these special services? What else do you do to make the integration of special services successful for students? This is an important aspect of teaching/learning today. 

Shared Teaching/Learning: Google Forms Parent Survey

Most educators distribute a parent survey at the start of the year. The parent survey is a good way to collect the following information:
  • Parent/Guardian names
  • Parent/Guardian email addresses
  • Parent/Guardian concerns
  • Highlights of student strengths and needs
With a shared teaching/learning model, it's great to use Google forms for this survey. Why is this true?

First, Google forms provide easy share and access amongst the teaching/learning team. Also Google forms allow you to copy and sort the information in ways that inform teamwork and targeted student teaching efforts.

When you create your Google form, think about the information you hope to sort and make sure you collect information in that way. For example you will probably want to sort the following information:
  • Student last names
  • Teacher last names
  • Other?
Also, when you ask questions, don't ask the kinds of questions that are too personal requiring information that family members would not want to put online. In addition, give family members a chance to schedule an early meeting if they have information that's too personal or important for online share. Finally make sure that you have some hard copies of the survey available for families who don't have online access. You may input their hard copy information later so that your online list is complete.

Online parent surveys have the potential to develop greater team and better personalized instruction for every child. Do you use this Google tool, and if so, what would you add to this post? 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Team Planning: Google Calendar

Our first draft team calendar looks like this.
For years, I've used a Google table for the weekly plan. I'd craft a table; add in all the details, and share with the learning/teaching team. Each week, I'd copy the table and make changes to reflect the new week's teaching/learning plans. Typically I'd share the chart about a week in advance so specialists and others could make modifications and connect with regard to specific student's needs and preparation.

This year as I started to do the same, it occurred to me that a Google calendar would serve our shared teaching/learning model better. Since we're working with many teachers, we can have one Google calendar planning template similar (but more complicated) than the example above. Teachers can add specific plans to the top of the calendar to alert each other about specific curriculum foci for the week. Also, we can use the template to review the week's plans and needs from week-to-week when we meet.

This calendar can also be shared with family members so they know what their child's day consists of. This will also help family members when they have to plan a dentist or doctor appointment so that they don't miss a part of the day's curriculum that matters most to their child.

Do you use Google calendar as a planning document? If not, you may want to try this since it's a vehicle that's easily shared, updated, and used on multiple platforms. Let me know if you have any ideas to add to this?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Teaching is a Family Affair

A young woman sets up her classroom during the last days of vacation with her smiling baby in a front pack. Two young sons help their mom, a teacher, organize her classroom. Another teacher's dad, a retired educator, spends the day helping her set up her room. If you're a teacher, you know that teaching is a family affair.

My own husband has agreed to help me move furniture and set up the classroom over the weekend. In year's past, my sons have helped me teach, clean up the classroom, and lend support for curriculum/teaching ideas and prep. Similarly the book shelves are often filled with my children's hand-me down books, and the recess shelf includes their old games and toys.

Rarely does a teacher do the job without the support of his/her family. Family members often join their teacher family members to do the work required to teach well.

What does this say about our profession? Is this similar to the expectations and needs of most professions? Does this point to the fact that teaching is not just a profession, but a lifestyle too? I'm thinking about this, but in the meantime, I want to send gratitude to all those loving family members who are helping their teacher wives, husbands, sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews prepare for the teaching/learning year ahead. We need you!

Math Team: What's Your Number

We'll start the math year by identifying our math "numbers." The number will be the sum value of your first name when each letter has a corresponding value when a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, d = 4. . .

Students will find their name value; write their number on a paper t-shirt; add their face/arm photo, and then write facts about their math number.

After that I'll post all the images together outside the math classroom as an illustration of our 2015-2016 Math Team!  That will send the message that we're all capable of learning math and that we're all part of one big math team!

Naturalist Study: Enlisting the Support of Community Members

This is one of the large-sized maps that the cartographer
made for us. It depicts the natural lands and paths
near our school. 
This morning I'm going to meet with a local naturalist. Many have pointed me in her direction since she has spent many, many years learning about, advocating, and caring for the lands in the community where I teach.

Over the years I've worked with colleagues to learn about the community lands and share that information with students, but I want to go deeper, and I know it is important to get the perspective from those in the community who have truly invested in this work.

What questions will I ask during this meeting? What do I hope to learn?

My overarching question for this dedicated individual is what do you think is most important as I try to nurture, teach, and lead young naturalists?

Then I'll ask the following questions:
  • Why and how did you become such a dedicated and committed naturalist?
  • What is most important to study with regard to the natural environment in the school community?
  • What are the pressing problems?
  • What tools, equipments, and clothing aid this study?
  • What do you suggest for me as I continue my study and work in this regard?
In a similar regard, I contacted the Town Conservation and Surveyor offices recently. The Conservation Department led me to this renown community naturalist, and the surveyor's office created a large number of wonderful maps for the students and me to use during our study. Furthermore, the cartographer in the surveyor's office agreed to come in and speak to our students this year about what it means to be a cartographer.

To prepare students for stewardship of their natural lands, it's important to reach out to members of the community who dedicate their time and attention to these matters. There's a wealth of knowledge in the community surrounding your school, and by reaching out, you better prepare your students for their work and commitments in the future. 

Team Create: Story Collages

This is a Google collage I created to tell students and others my story. 
Yesterday our teaching team met to share ideas and plan for the year ahead. We detailed, organized, and synthesized multiple ideas, events, dates, and times into a first draft of the shared teaching/learning schedule and program.

One idea that we developed together and contributed to was the "My Story Google Collage" project. The project, as depicted above, will take the following steps:
  • Each teacher will create an exemplar Google collage of his/her life.
  • We'll introduce ourselves to the students in each homeroom group with the collage exemplars.
  • Each teacher will also create a Google presentation for their homeroom with a blank slide for each child.
  • We'll teach/review how to make a Google presentation with students, and show them how they can find and upload digital images and employ Google Draw, fonts, color, and format to make their stories inviting to read and look at. At this time, we'll also review good digital citizenship since this is the first tech project of the year. 
  • We'll give the students a chance to create a sketch plan of their collage on paper first during the first day of school.
  • On the second day of school, students will start creating their collages using computers. We'll coach and assist.
  • Finally, once the homeroom presentations are complete, students will present their slides to each other, and after that, we'll publish the slide show for family members and grade-level educators and students. 
  • We may even introduce presentation skills through this project and encourage students to practice their slide presentation with family members and friends prior to presenting their slide to the class. 
As noted in a recent college and career ready post, a first step to building team, and an important step for readying students for their future, is "know thyself." Creating Google collages is one way to build that skill and knowledge. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What's Your Acronym?

Like most members of my PLN online and in real time, I entertain a large array of education ideas and thought. There's the chance that you can get lost in the sea of ideas if you don't right your ship often. With the 2015-2016 school year around the corner, I wanted to align my thoughts and efforts in ways that matter this year--ways that will focus on my teaching/learning goals and vision.

To do that I created a personal acronym to lead my efforts this year (see below). If you were to create a personal acronym, what would it look like? What if you had each student create a personal acronym for the year? You could make a beautiful paper quilt of students' acronyms and hang it up in your classroom or hallway. Also, what if this were a first event at PLC to serve as a way of sharing our goals and focus with one another so we can help each other achieve and develop our craft.

An acronym has the potential to short list and focus your goals. If you create one for yourself, I hope you'll share it with me.

Start-of-Year Practical Matters

A team symbol is a helpful way to communicate the learning/teaching team values.
Students may also make symbols to reflect their own learning goals. 
I enjoy the big think and ideas related to teaching school and spend a lot of time thinking about that, but now that school is only a few days away it's important to focus on the practical matters:

Weekly Schedule
Creating a chart for the weekly routine, makes it easy to plan
and share. I use a shared Google doc for this. 
It's helpful to make a weekly schedule template that you can fill in each week to share with colleagues and other interested members of the learning team. Creating and sharing the pattern of teaching/learning helps everyone to coordinate their efforts with impact.

Class List
It's helpful to make a collection of check-off lists online and/or offline to use as you check in student work, forms, field trip money, and more. It's great to give every student a number as that makes organizing all those papers easier.

Creating a class list with numbers and space for check-off
helps with multiple organization efforts throughout the year. 
Field Trips
If possible, it's great to send out one field trip permission slip at the start of the year to collect money early on as well as permission.

Class Websites
Updating the class websites prior to the start of the year helps parents, teammates, and classmates stay informed about all class events and contact information. I find that Google sites is a great venue for this.

Team Symbol
If possible, it's great to use a class symbol that reflects your class focus and values. Students could be encouraged to make their own symbols of the school year.

The posters, images, and words on the classroom wall should lead and inspire students' best efforts.

Organizing supplies in a central location helps students to access those supplies with ease.

All routines should be posted with simple language and images too. This will help students how to transition, get ready, and close learning sessions.

School Motto
Our school motto is Kindness Matters. There is specific school language and the acronym "KIND" to reflect that theme. I put together a coloring sheet to help students remember what's important too.

What other practical matters do you attend to in those days just before school starts? I welcome your share.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

College and Career Readiness for K-8

When Bob Bardwell called me last spring to ask if I'd talk to K-8 educators about college and career readiness, I was surprised. College and Career readiness for K-8, I thought, why? Bob is working with colleagues to lead this effort in multiple ways including partnering with local colleges and universities.

As I read more about college and career readiness standards and attributes, I realized why Bob wanted a teacher like me to make the connection between what we do and can do as teachers of young children with regard to college and career readiness. This connection begins with the reasons why teachers matter:
  • We treat children with kindness and care.
  • We teach with depth, skill, and commitment.
  • We mentor, model, and coach.
  • We inspire and awaken dreams in young children.
Our role as teachers of young children is to launch these young students with confidence, vision, skill, and care. We help children to realize that yes, it's true, they have what it takes to work towards and achieve their dreams. 

But how can we do this in the early years? There are many, many ways that we can instill this confidence and direction. Some of these efforts are small tweaks and changes to our already strong curriculums, and other ways are more thoughtful, deeper avenues of program design, change, and development. I included many links and ideas in the presentation at the bottom of the page, a presentation I'll share with educators in the same district as Bob today.

As the educators work with me, I'm sure they'll come up with a number of terrific short-term and long-term ways to empower their students with college and career ready vision and goals--ways that match the context and interests of their teaching/learning community. Bob created a great end-of-presentation template that asks educators to note what changes they'll make today, tomorrow, in the next month, and in the next year. I like that way of identifying and committing to change and development both with regard to small changes and greater development. I look forward to seeing where they take this powerful vision. 

I'd also like to hear any ideas that people in my PLN have with regard to instilling college and career readiness attributes, vision, and skill in young children. What ideas would you add to the presentation below? I thank you in advance for your ideas and thought. 
Afterward: I was really impressed with the investment, creativity, and care that the Monson teachers brought to a full day of training. I could tell that their students really matter to them, and that they'll do everything they can to positively inspire and lead those students to worthy college and career choices. Thanks to Bob Bardwell for leading the way

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Where is your allegiance?

When I started my PLN about five years ago, I was reluctant to show allegiance. I didn't know if I wanted to commit to any one blog, chat, follower, or online endeavor.

Now I'm beginning to refine my focus and commit to a number of PLN endeavors that match my overall mission which is to teach students well. 

Right now, there are three chats that I want to commit too as often as I can. Those chats are #edchat, #satchat, and #edchatma. All three chats focus on teaching well and serve to inspire. If I add another chat it will be #mathchat, but up to now, the timing hasn't worked well.

As far as followers, I follow anyone that demonstrates interest in teaching and learning on a micro or macro level. The only followers I don't follow back are spammers or people interested in only marketing. 

I follow a large number of blogs that come to my email--I enjoy reading the updates on those blogs and they serve as inspiration. It's likely I'll continue to add new blogs.

I'm focusing my professional research work in the area of math teaching this year, and look forward to working with a number of consultants, associations, colleagues, and students in that regard.

Similarly I've joined a number of new learning initiatives this fall--all initiatives which contribute to my central mission which is teaching the children well. 

I'm looking forward to embedding the system-wide goals and focus too after the introduction of those efforts next week.

I'm also looking forward to the year ahead, a year where I'll find myself digging in for greater depth, collaboration, and attention to detail with regard to teaching children well. 

It's been a great summer of family, fun, and study. Now it's time to apply that learning to the teaching and learning I do. Onward. 

What is Your Charge in the Year Ahead?

If you had to sum up your school year charge in a few words, what would you say?

I think a great summary is this:

Work with your collegial team to design and implement an inspiring, dynamic, collaborative, standards-based program with and for students that teaches children well and treats them with kindness and care.

Then if asked, "What are the ingredients to getting this job done?"

I'd respond:
  • A collegial team right sized for optimal collaboration
  • Standards
  • Tools, resources, and an adequate (or better) learning environment
  • Time to collaborate
  • Necessary supports (as determined by student and program needs)
Then if leaders asked, "How can we help?"

I'd respond that it's important to lead those collegial conversations about what we do and why we do it. It's important to foster regular, meaningful share of ideas, and provide necessary supports. Further it's vital that our programs altogether provide students with a strong, caring foundation of academic, social, emotional, and physical strength and promise.

So as I embark on this charge, I'm ready for the next layer of pre-school prep which is working with my collegial team to organize the year's plans and initial set-up and communication to welcome the students with kindness, purpose, and enthusiasm. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Learning with 100 Teachers

Today I participated in a training with about 100 teachers. I was inspired by the dedication of both the presenters, participants, and leadership at the school. I was happy for the students who will fill those halls in a couple of days, happy that they will be working with such an invested team.

Talking to Teachers

This week I'm making a number of presentations to teachers just before they start school.

As an educator who is still working full time in the classroom, I know how difficult it is to sit still during the day or two you have before you meet the students. During those days your mind is full of ideas and multiple tasks you want to complete before the students' arrival. You want that teaching space to look just right and need the time and energy to hang posters, move desks and tables, and arrange supplies.

Yet, in most schools, there's plenty of time during the day or two before school starts devoted to professional learning and meetings, and I've been invited to participate in those pre-meetings for a couple of schools. As I speak to teachers, I want to mindful of their busy schedules, full minds, and probably, for the most part, their disinterest in "sit and git" learning at this time of the year.

So what's a presenter to do?

Acknowledge the Reality of the Situation
I want to first acknowledge the reality of the situation since I also don't like too much sitting and listening at the start of the school year, and in this regard I'll let them know that I'm okay with multi-tasking. I don't mind if a participant is checking over his/her first day plans, attendance roster, or administration emails while I'm talking. In fact, in the best of worlds in the future, I hope that the kind of presentations I've been invited to participate in will become choices for educators rather than have-to meetings at the start of school.

Enlist Teacher Voice
I've agreed to participate in these professional efforts because I believe the intent of the events is valuable when it comes to teaching students well. What I will share is work that I've done, and I've found that work to be profitable with regard to students' investment and learning. Yet I recognize that every school and context is different so I hope to invite teacher voice into these presentations. I'll be open minded to what the teachers in the particular systems think, need, or wonder about with regard to the overarching content focus.

Provide Access to Ideas and Activities
While I share some specific ideas, I've created the presentations with lots of links and ideas that teachers can look back on again and again. I've added both presentation documents to my Twitter. The first document, an SRSD math problem solving site is up-to-date, and the second "College and Career Readiness" Perspectives/Practice for K-8 is just about complete as there's still a few slides to update. I'll leave those links up for a few weeks so that the educators involved have the chance to copy the link into their own professional files for future reference and effort. If you're interested in the presentations, I welcome you to take a look too.

I'm looking forward to meeting the educators from communities other than my own. I'm just as much interested in sharing my ideas and practice as I am ready to learn from these teachers as well. I see this work as an exchange of ideas and efforts, the kind of exchange that will help us to develop our craft and contribute to the students and education communities we serve.

School Dream Messages

Last night I had my first real school dream. I had another one a few weeks ago, but that wasn't as much a true back-to-school-dream as last night's. Those preschool dreams always shed light on your school worries and needed focus.

In this dream I was out on the playground for an extended time. It started out to be recess, but by the end I thought I was watching the students in the after school program. When the "recess," was over I returned to my classroom to find it filled with students. "It's time to go home," I stated.
    "Oh no, they responded," it's still the school day.
    "I was just out watching the after school program," I replied, "Now let's go or you'll miss your busses. Come on now, time to go." They looked at me quizzically, and finally collected their things and started down the hall. That's when I looked up at the clock and realized they were right. It was still the school day. Then I went running down the hall after them.

Crazy dream, but a dream with a message and that message is don't forget to trust the students. If they argue with you, it's likely their arguments will hold a lot of truth. Another message inherent in that dream, is typically I had a hard time getting students to leave the room last year at the end of the day or at recess. They liked hanging around to talk to teachers and students, and to play and experiment with the classroom items. I don't mind when students stay back a bit, but it's a real problem if they miss their rides/busses or want to hang back when I have a meeting and there's no supervision. Hence I'll have to make those transition expectations clear.

Though I don't meet with students for another week, the school year starts this week with many professional meetings, events, and set-up so I'm sure this won't be the first school dream I have. School dreams are a part of most teachers' lives, and like all dreams, there's always an element of truth and direction in those dreams, so take a moment to think about what your school dreams mean.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

How Much Time Do You Spend Playing with New Tools and Resources?

It's been a while since I simply spent time playing with new tools and resources. Then last night when I made the time to play, I realized that I should be doing this much more often. You learn so much from simply exploring new resources with a playful, open attitude.

This leads me to wonder how much time we spend as colleagues engaged in play and exploration together and individually, and how much time we make for students to play and explore.A too tight to-do list doesn't provide the room for this kind of creative learning.

During some of our initial STEAM times, I'll make time for students to explore the materials available. I'll do a lot of observation at that time to get to know the students and think about the STEAM year ahead. Similarly, as suggested, throughout the year we'll make time for exploration as we learn science with the 5 E's: Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend, and Evaluate.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Playing with Google Apps

Revised Class Symbol for 2015-2016
I didn't like the team symbol I made with Google Draw. It looked too clunky. So I played around with Google apps to find a better drawing tool. I like the simple way to play with the tools. All you do is go to your Drive, click "new" then "more" and "even more" until you come to the list of multiple apps. I tried several until I found that was what I was looking for. I can't wait to show this drawing tool to students. I'm sure they'll come up with even better symbols, charts, and drawings. Google apps opens a whole new world to learning, one that's been here for a while, but one I'm just beginning to explore with greater depth.

2015-2016 Reading List: Deepening my Craft

I read my summer list and made some notes. I'm creating a new list as I'm about to step into total 24-7 action as an elementary school teacher so time for deep reading will be somewhat short. Usually if I add the titles to a list, I eventually get there.

Books recommended by Socol

Learning Chaos

I was going to title this post, Learning Hierarchy, but that doesn't work since learning isn't a hierarchy. Then I was going to name it learning dodecahedron, but that was too symmetrical, orderly, and limited with regard to learning. After that, I thought about learning fractal, but again there was too much predictability in that model. I then looked up non-fractal and came up with the best metaphor I could find which is learning chaos.

The definition of Chaos Theory from this reference is "Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on."

I came upon this thread of thought today as Ira Socal +Ira David Socol and +Gary Gruber challenged my thinking this morning. My first thought was that Ira and Gary top me when it comes to the learning hierarchy--they make me stretch with good questions, references, and ideas. I really like that, and reach for their perspective. But then when I started to think about learning in the broader sense, I realized that I am stretched in multiple ways by multiple people, and the important factor in all of this is to continue to consider your multiple paths towards your vision and the vision of others--the "relational truth" that I've been referring back to ever since I read Shapiro's Forbes article.

Since my path towards this thought is somewhat non traditional, and the language I use and the ways I think are sometimes unfamiliar to others,  I must say that I enjoy this journey of thought and learning, and continue to look for ways to navigate the chaos that is learning for me and for the many students I teach.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic. Let me know what you think?

Ira Socol sent me this great picture and words in response to this post:

How Do You Continue Learning?

Today's learning landscape is vastly different than learning landscapes of the past. The choices for learning are almost limitless, and the key is to identify where you're at on your professional learning curve, the questions you'd like to learn about, and the venues that help you learn the most.

As an adjunct professor at a local university this year, I'll prompt students to think about their lifelong learning habits and practice. We'll brainstorm a large list of ways to learn and discuss our learning experiences.

Then for one assignment students will be asked to engage in a lifelong learning endeavor from the following list:
  • Book Study*
  • Attend an online or real time conference, reflect in writing, and share. 
  • Attend an edcamp, reflect in writing, and share.
  • Engage in three or more Twitter Chats
  • Research a question using education journals, books, and articles.
  • Identify and follow three top education blogs and reflect upon the learning.
  • Children's book survey
  • Create and present a learning video
  • Join a professional organization, research their resources, and create an advertisement for the organization to share with classmates.
  • Study an educational resource online or off with depth. Introduce this resource to classmates in writing and with a hands-on activity. 
  • Design a personal learning project and complete
Students will complete their projects in the first part of the semester and then share those projects with the class.

It's important that we introduce teacher candidates to the many ways available to stay current with educational thought, research, and practice. 

What would you add to this lifelong learning list?  What are your preferred paths to keeping current with regard to the world of teaching and learning?

*For the book study, I'm going to list the books that I've read which have been most influential in my teaching and learning. Some of the books included will be:
This is Not a Test by Vilson +Jose Vilson 
Thrive by Rami +Meenoo Rami 
Visible Learning for Teachers by 
Intentional Interruption by Katz and Dack
Outliers by Gladwell 
Drive by Pink 
Brain Rules by Medina
Mindset by Dweck 
Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury
Guided Math in Action by Newton 
Why Don't Students Like School by Willingham
Teaching Children to Care by Charney

Friday, August 21, 2015


For quite a few years I've desired Minecraft as part of our curriculum.

I've desired this platform because I've noticed a strong academic difference in science and math with those that play Minecraft and those that don't. Those that play Minecraft are stronger in these academic areas.

I've yet to be able to get permission, but now that many schools are beginning to embrace this 3-D inventive, deep learning platform, I imagine there will be change.

Then today this article was published showing the positive results of Minecraft use.

Time will tell if this becomes part of our learning landscape. In the meantime, I'll continue to read about the merits of this amazing resource.

Teacher Candidate Education: What's Important?

What does it take to prepare an individual to teach well?

What are important components of a preservice program?

What experiences did I have as a preservice teacher that truly helped launch my career in positive ways?

As I embark on the charge to guide a number of teacher candidates through a portion of their teacher preparation program this fall, I am mindful of these questions, and I have the following thoughts. Please feel free to contact me if you have thoughts about this as I'd like to see this from the broad perspective.

We'll begin the semester with the creation of ePortfolios. Every teacher will be responsible for creating, updating, and sharing their ePortfolio throughout the semester. This ePortfolio will not only serve as evidence of their coursework, but they'll also be able to use this ePortfolio later as they look for jobs and develop their practice as elementary school teachers. Several of the ePortfolio pages will also be utilized in their hard copy portfolio binders which are required by the university program.

Elements of Teaching Well
Since most of these educators will find themselves teaching in Massachusetts, I think it's important that they have an introduction and a chance to reflect on Massachusetts' identified thirty-three elements for teaching well. In some way, we'll spend time during each class reflecting on one or two elements for a brief amount of time. Educators' brief written reflections will be added to a chart in their ePortfolio demonstrating an initial understanding of the elements required to teach well with a specific focus on mathematics.

Understanding of Common Core and State Standards: A Blended/Differentiated Model
Since Massachusetts schools are standards-based, we will also spend time interacting with the standards in a number of ways. I will assess students' deep knowledge related to the standards for PreK-8 using a practice MTEL test. Once I review the tests, I'll differentiate students' opportunities to study, learn, and enrich their standards-base skill and knowledge. Students will develop and enrich their standards-base knowledge, concept, and skill with a differentiated, blended learning model that mirrors the way teachers teach today. Activities that will be included in this differentiated, blended model will include the following:
  • Online learning platforms such as SCRATCH,, Khan Academy, That Quiz, Xtra Math, TenMarks, and more
  • Books and articles from a wide variety of online and real time sources
  • Problem solving strategies and processes.
  • Work with manipulatives and hands-on learning
  • Project/Problem Base Learning
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Field studies
LifeLong Professional Learning and Development
Students will be introduced to the many channels with which they can develop their lifelong professional learning and development. As we know, good teachers continually learn and adapt to the changing world of learning and teaching. Education is not a fixed entity. 

As lifelong learners teacher candidates will have the opportunity to learn about and practice the following lifelong learning activities and endeavors:
  • Participation in a professional learning conference or event.
  • Participation in online chats and exchange via Twitter and/or other social media mediums.
  • Following and reading professional blogs, newspapers, articles, and more online or off.
  • Reflecting on this experience and developing a learning path plan. 
Students will have the opportunity to work in a classroom each week. As part of that work, students will observe the teaching, reflect, and teach two or more lessons as well. 

To teach the lesson, students will be required to do the following:
  • Identify the standard(s)
  • Unpack the standard with detail and attention.
  • Design the lesson using this page as a guide. 
  • Teach the lesson. If possible I would like students to have their lessons videotaped by the master teacher.
  • Collect and show evidence of student learning.
  • Reflect on the lesson.
  • Present their lesson and reflection to other teacher candidates.
Teachers as Leaders
Teachers are expected to be models, mentors, coaches, and leaders. They lead young children in their lives. It's important for educators to understand the competencies required for teacher leadership, growth, and development.

We'll spend time as a class reviewing, discussing, practicing, assessing, and reflecting on the following competencies for teacher leadership:
  • Reflective Practice
  • Personal Effectiveness
  • Interperson Effectiveness
  • Communication
  • Continuing Learning
  • Group Process
  • Technological Facility
  • Adult Learning with regard to collegial collaboration and Teamwork.
Tech Integration
Students will be expected to integrate technology into all aspects of their teaching and learning for this course. Each student will be required to bring a lap top to class, share via the Internet, and present using multimedia presentation. Similarly students' lessons will require the use of tech integration too. Homework will include the use of multiple platforms for study, learning, and share.

Data Collection and Analysis
As part of their portfolio, candidates will collect and analyze their own data and the data of the teacher candidate class (mostly without names). Candidates will also have the chance to collect and analyze data with regard to the lessons they teach as part of their practicum. 

As the adjunct professor, I will do everything I can to coach each student toward mastery with regard to the specific assignments, knowledge, and skill requirements of the course. I'm looking forward to getting to know each student well and learning their story of why they've decided to embark on this education journey and what they hope to achieve during the semester.

As noted before, let me know if there's anything I missed or if there are resources you think I shouldn't leave out with regard to providing these students with a top-notch introduction to elementary school teaching with a focus on mathematics. Thanks in advance for your share. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Learning Through Stories and Observation

A colleague called today and shared some wonderful stories of professional growth and development. Just by listening to her tale, I learned a lot. I've watched this colleague grow over the years, and while I may have been a mentor to her at one time, she is now a mentor to me.

A Strong Start for PLCs

Years ago when we first started our PLCs, they had a bit of a military feel. The norms were shared and we were told to follow them. As you might expect, this kind of start resulted in some rebellion because it felt somewhat top-down, an add-on, and dictated.

Our PLCs and teachers like me have developed significantly since that early start. Now the process is much more familiar with a strong sense of team and mission. In fact, I think most teachers look forward to this weekly collaborative event, and I believe most of us would agree that our teaching and learning have grown substantially since the onset of the PLC.

Now I'm looking forward to next year's start of the PLC. What do I expect? Where do I see room for growth and development?

I expect that many of our PLCs will still be data driven. We'll use the data to discuss student needs and come up with creative, targeted plans to serve students well. That's terrific. I believe our PLCs will continue to be led by norms and a spirit of shared leadership. Everyone will get a chance to lead the group, take notes, and keep track of time. (I may be forgetting a norm here--but these are the main roles).

I'm wondering if we should spend some time upfront in our PLCs this year talking about our individual professional goals and questions. If we know where each other is directed, we can support each other better. I think it might be good to take a look at our styles too. I've read about PLC groups that do this. They all take a similar test and then discuss how their strengths and challenges are similar and different in a noncompetitive way. This also helps the PLC group to understand each other better.

As part of the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) that I'm involved in we took this leadership quiz:  The results were informative and gave us a place to start to think about our leadership style. Since PLCs utilize shared leadership, this could be good. I've also read about educators who use the online Meyers Briggs-like Assessment. Understanding each other's similarities and differences has the potential to build stronger PLC teams.

How do you plan to start your PLCs? What do you do to create a strong collaborative, supportive, and successful PLC culture? What norms and protocols guide your work?

These are all important questions to consider as we start the new teaching/learning year.

Does Your Union Serve You Well?

What do you expect from the teachers' union? What are your long-held beliefs about unions in general?

In the last five or so years, my understanding of the teachers' unions has changed dramatically. For a long time I thought of the union as mostly the group that negotiates contracts and troubleshoots difficult situations, but now I see the union as much more than that--it's a group that can serve you well with regard to your professional growth and service to children.

How can you access the union supports to assist the work you do?

First, know your union. Check out the website, attend a meeting, understand your contract, read the literature, and look for what the union has to offer you.

Next, if possible, get involved. Join a union course, apply for a grant, attend a workshop, participate in a conference, listen to a lecture, or contribute to a committee.

After that, use your voice. If you have ideas or questions for the union, speak up.

This year, after a long hiatus from local union service, I've signed on to be a representative again. I'm taking this role with the hopes that I can serve the union membership well by communicating opportunities the union provides for teacher growth and development. I want teachers to be able to take advantage of the many contractual and organizational benefits that exist to develop their craft in efficient, deep, and low cost ways.

I'm looking forward to working with the local board to serve the teachers in our district as well. I'm also hoping that my work with the Teacher Leadership Initiative will broaden my ability to serve teachers locally and via my PLN so that we can all affect education in ways that truly better the profession and the work we do for children.

I'm excited to see where this journey will take me. If you have thoughts, ideas, or questions, let me know.

Deep Reading: What's Your Approach?

I've got a meaty document to read and understand today.

The overview made me realize that this document has a lot of language and ideas that I've been looking for.

I don't want to give it just a quick overview, instead I want to read it with depth so that the words, facts, and phrases stay with me.

How do you read deeply so that the information you read stays with you and impacts your work?

I use the following strategy.

First, I review the entire passage quickly and think, 'Why is this information important to me?" In this case, the information will make me a better teacher by providing me with pathways for better work and effort.

Next, I'll read the article with one window open and take notes with another window. I'll make a two-column chart in my note-taking window, and in one column I'll type significant ideas/research, and in the next column I'll write down how that will impact my work.

Once the reading is done, I'll synthesize the notes in a written document. Perhaps I'll blog or write a private piece. I'll file the document online in a way that I can refer to it readily when needed.

This is a good process for deep reading of online articles. If this was an offline book or article, I'd probably mark up the text, write notes in the margin, and still take notes in an advantageous way with an online document as well. I'd also finish by writing a synopsis that I can refer to. I've done this with most of the professional books I've read in the past few years, and I often look back at those posts to further inform my work and share.

Here's some of the book posts I've written about, posts that serve to influence my work with children well:

There are others, and there's still more by the bedside waiting for a good read. 

As I think of this deep reading approach, I'm reminded of the ways that we can authentically help students access text they're interested in, text that enriches their life and responds to their curiosity. 

Public Work: Open Meetings and Presentations?

I've started watching the school committee meetings to learn of system-wide initiatives, debate, and ideas. The meetings truly are democracy in action as the members discuss a large number of issues. I am thankful that there are people in the community willing to volunteer their time to serve in this capacity, and I think it's great that anyone can attend and participate in a meeting.

The fact that the meetings are videotaped or shown live gives anyone with a television in the community or anyone elsewhere with a computer the chance to watch and listen as well. There are many, many rules to follow as the school committee navigates each meeting.

I wonder what it would be like if we had the chance to watch more committee meetings. Would we want to watch multiple meetings? What would be the benefit? For example, if you served on a policy or regulation committee, would it be beneficial to tape your meetings or would that be too much information share? Would the public sharing of your discussion and debate serve to diminish your openness and idea flow? I'm sure there's a good balance between the benefits of open meetings and the need for more private, idea share, and debate.

Debates about open meetings and share like this are occurring in many professions. Some police are videotaped no matter what they do, others feel that too much videotaping has the chance to impact community policing in less than desirable ways. Some teachers are very comfortable with videotaping their lessons, and others are not. There are many reasons for this.

As you can see from this post, I haven't thought a lot about this in the past, yet this is an important factor in the work we do. Are we willing to stand by our word, efforts, and attitudes whether it's in public or at a more private meeting or space? Does our work reflect our best ability and intent?

This year I'm increasing students' opportunities to develop their presentation skills. I may, if time and will permit, ask individuals if they'd like to be videotaped during their presentations after they've had the chance to practice and learn about presentation quality and preparation. I think it's a good idea for all young children to have a chance to develop these skills as they move forward in a world which will, in many cases, call them to lead and participate in open public meetings and work.

I'll continue to think about this in days to come, let me know if you have related thoughts or experiences?

Too Many Rules May Hinder Contribution

If there are too many rules, some may be unable to contribute and serve.

Similar to the advocacy for voter's rights, we need to think carefully about the rules we make, support, and employ with regard to inclusion and the ability for people from all walks of life to have voice, participate, and contribute.

This is true in schools too--we don't want so many rules that some students are left out of the best parts of school life.

Talk to your Naysayers

There's nothing more difficult than to sit down and talk with your naysayers--to make the time to really hear what they have to say.

Yet, wise individual after wise individual advises that this is a great way to grow and get better.

This is my favorite quote in this regard:

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." - Nelson Mandela

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reference Ready?

Recently I applied for a part time position that inspired me. It's a position that would complement my daily teaching job since the day job and part-time evening job would support each other with good information, learning, and share.

As I applied for the job and became more and more interested in the position, I was met with the need to put together an application packet. It's been a long time since I had to put together such an official packet including resume and references.

I keep my eportfolio up to date for conferences, grants, and other opportunities I'm interested in. It's easy to update the eportfolio on an ongoing basis, and it's easy to link presentations, videos, blog posts, and other pertinent information to the online file.

Yet it's been a while since I collected references. I hate to trouble the busy people I work with to write a reference, yet I don't mind writing references for colleagues and students and do so often. Also when you need to ask for a reference it begs the question, "Are you reference ready?"

As I reached out to colleagues and leaders for response, that question played in my mind .  .  . reference ready. . .reference ready!  As I thought about it, I realized that it's good to think about that whenever you work with colleagues or leaders because if you use respect, work hard, collaborate, and aim to please, you'll be reference ready. On the other hand, if you're always debating, challenging, critiquing, and arguing, you may not be as reference ready as others who are much more pleasant members of the team.

Hence, I pass this along to all of my PLN out there. You never know when an opportunity that inspires you or a need to change jobs will come along, and when that happens you'll want to be reference ready. Don't you agree?

Weak Spot?

What's your weak spot?  Or better, weak spots?

How often do you make the time to sit down and think deeply about those parts of life where you're the weakest and most challenged.

These weak spots tend to reoccur time and again. Our loved ones are compassionate with us about these blemishes on our life path, and they may even joke about these sore spots sometimes.

Others may find our weak spots bothersome, frustrating, and cause for punishment, ridicule, or other harsh consequences.

We all have weak spots, and what makes these parts of our life weak is that they impede the good work, relationships, and life possible.

So what's one to do?

As I think a lot about the school year to come. I'm thinking about those weak areas of my professional life--the areas I truly want to develop in the year ahead. How will I do that?

First, fortunately my work with the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) will direct me towards facing those challenges head on. A quick review of the literature demonstrated that areas where I'm weak are not uncommon and there's coaching available for those areas via TLI.

Next, taking the time to be cognizant of those weak areas, writing them down, and reviewing the related literature often will help me to surpass these challenges. I identified a couple of great articles that I want to place by my coaching corner as reminders:

Finally, if we're observant and listening, we'll get reminders often about our weak areas from the reactions and words of those around us. We can use their signals to guide us away from those weak areas an into areas of strength and promise.

I'm a big fan of transparency, but with regard to my weak spots, I'll keep that list private for the most part, and spend some time today making a plan to strengthen that side of my professional repertoire. Onward.

Lessons from Officer Candidate School

A relative of mine just completed his first six weeks of Officer Candidate School (OCS).

I found his experience to be very interesting.

First, I was happy that my relative was academically prepared for the rigor of the school. Good study habits that allowed him to range from detailed memorization to big picture problem solving supported his success. Students who struggled with academics had a more difficult time or didn't make it through the six week training.

Next, my relative is in good shape. Thanks to a large number of terrific coaches throughout his life as well as access to healthy activity, nutritious food, and good medical care, my relative was able to endure the grueling physical expectations. In fact, he found some of the challenges to be exciting and adventurous.

Leadership skills were paramount during this training. My relative had to learn and demonstrate strong leadership throughout the training.

As I traveled this six-week OCS journey with my relative, I thought a lot about the value of intense training like this. In fact, during my relative's experience, he noted that a well-known tech entrepreneur had been at the camp to undergo a similar training recently. I wonder if all of our twenty-something children should have the chance to attend a deep, challenging leadership training like this, and then once the training is done, they could choose to serve in the military or another path of service to our country such as working in hospitals, at schools, with community organizations, or at our National Parks.

Further, I wondered about how we, as teachers, are preparing our students for paths of success. Are we preparing them for the academic rigor that most jobs demand today? Are we preparing them for the physical fitness requirements and health expectations needed to do good work? Are we giving students the chance to lead and develop with collaboration/teamwork skills and knowledge?

Throughout the six weeks of my relative's journey, I was so thankful for all of his teachers, family members, coaches, neighbors, and friends who have contributed to his strength and direction. He could not have passed without the care and attention of so many throughout his life.

As educators, we have to be mindful of the real-time goals in front of our students to pass tests, complete projects, and learn standards, and we have to be even more mindful of the holistic, long-term goals of supporting confident, self-aware students who are able to meet the expectations of academic rigor, health/wellness, and the leadership/teamwork required to live a positive, happy life.

Matching Energy to Task

How do you match energy with study expectations and goals?

I have differing kinds of energy throughout the day--there is time when deep, thoughtful study is best and there's time when mindless, task-oriented work is best. I find that matching right energy with tasks, serves work well.

As I think ahead, I realize that I have lots of deep thinking tasks to complete. Those tasks take the good energy of early morning work. Those tasks include:
  • Final efforts for the Monson College and Career Readiness Presentation
  • Studying and applying the main points in the social/emotional competency articles sent to educators in my system.
  • Studying the Teacher Leadership Initiative Initial Documents and completing the first tasks.
  • Prepping and reviewing for the SRSD workshops.
I also have some mindless, but physically taxing room set-up work to do. This work will take a good 16 hours. There's xeroxing and paperwork too that doesn't take much thought or depth. 

And a bit of pre-school shopping also--that's easy and fun!

This energy analysis signals the start of the school year, a time when you have to continually manage your energy to do the limitless job that teaching well requires.

As I've noted before, I keep a running to-do list so that I can match energy with task, and I try to stay a few weeks ahead to give myself the luxury of doing work when I feel like doing it rather than rushing it done at the last minute. 

It's good to share energy matching strategies with students too. You can tell them how you manage your energy and time, and then ask students these questions:
  • When do you study best?
  • How do you attack a problem? Do you do the hardest part first? Do you start with reviewing the task? 
  • Do you like to work collaboratively or on your own related to study?
  • Where do you like to work?
  • Do you like to break tasks up into smaller parts or do you like to dig in deep and complete a challenging task all at once?
Students' answers will differ and that's okay. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to best study routines and efforts as our energy relies on so many factors including context, style, experience, drive, and interest.

As I look ahead to the school year, I know that patterns and routines work best for managing and matching energy to tasks. Lead time helps, and collaboration is critical to the good work possible.

How do you match energy to task? What patterns, routines, and motivation help you in this regard? How do you foster conversations about this with the children you teach or parent? I'm curious. 

Fine Tune First Week Plans

I remember my first year of teaching. I spent weeks planning the first week of school, and the plans I made ended up lasting the first month of school! It's difficult, and perhaps impossible, to plan well for students you don't know well, but after many years of teaching, I know that starting the year with a good plan helps to make the start more positive than not.

Today, I spent some time drafting parts of our TeamFive first week newsletter. We'll send out and post a newsletter for family members and colleagues approximately once a week to keep everyone on the learning team, students, families, colleagues, leaders, and community members, in the loop of grade five activities, plans, and events.

I also reviewed a former post about what it means to teach today. This is a good "umbrella post" from which to work as you plan the year ahead.

Further, I made a small revision to the Day One plans and updated the online home study list for the first week of school, and reviewed the curriculum map for the year--a map that's in draft form now since we're leaving room for meeting the specific needs and interests of the students, upcoming standardized test dates/requirements, field study plans, and new initiatives/standards. Hence, the map will be a work in progress all year.

Finally, I took a look at the 2015-2016 Curriculum Chart and made a few revisions.

There's lots to do when it comes to getting ready for school. Our efforts to prepare take a considerable amount of time during the summer months. Starting the year with some new materials, initiatives, and learning makes it more exciting. I'm really looking forward to embarking on the 2015-2016 learning/teaching journey.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Success Criteria

What's your success criteria for school year 2015-2016?

Here's mine:
  • Happy, engaged students.
  • Families that feel and act like part of the learning/teaching team.
  • Collaboration with colleagues to serve children well.
  • Math journals that show and tell the story of each child's math learning progression.
  • Four or more full-process STEAM projects that follow the scientific method and design process.
  • A dynamic, caring class community.

Share Your Plans or Share your Successes?

Last week I watched ESPN's "Angry Sky," the documentary about Nick Piantanida's balloon ride and jump from the edge of space. If you haven't had a chance to watch this film, I recommend it as you'll find it interesting from many perspectives including how one man reached for his dream, what it takes to do something extraordinary, the power and challenge of collaboration, dreams and family, and more.

One quote in the film grabbed me. It was spoken by a man, Joseph Kittinger, who achieved the balloon height record prior to Piantanida. Unfortunately I didn't write down the exact words, but Kittinger questioned the way Piantanida would advertise his extraordinary plans before reaching success. On the other hand, Kittinger, who had the full support of the Air Force and is now a member of the International Space Hall of Fame, would say little of the planned conquest until success was met.

I thought a lot about that because I'm more like Piantanida than Kittinger in that regard. I listened to Kittinger's caution about Piantanida's approach, and have heard the same caution from leaders and colleagues. Yet, perhaps Piantanida, was a bit like me in that once he announced his quest in the media, it gave him the courage and commitment to go through with it. That's what happens with me. If I outline the plans online, then I feel a need to follow through. If the plans are kept quiet and just for me, I find I don't have the same sense of drive, confidence, or enthusiasm to fulfill the plans. I wonder why that's true.

Perhaps, like Piantanida, I am the first in my family to navigate the paths I'm on, and perhaps Kittinger arrived at his quest with greater confidence, experience, and support. I'm not sure. Also, perhaps Piantanida, like me, liked the discussion, debate, and share that results from sharing your plans ahead of the actual work. I get a lot of good ideas, contacts, and perspectives that way, and that interchange serves to strengthen my idea and action for the better.

If you watch the movie, you'll note that the area of sharing your plans is where Piantanida and I are alike, and in every other aspect of life we're mostly different (except for his commitment and love of family as portrayed in the film). I'm a true scaredy cat while he was as brave as anyone I've ever read about. I'm far more pragmatic and he was a tremendous risk taker.

So what do you think? Is it best to share your plans once you reach success, or is it best to share the plans with others first and then try it out unafraid of the fact that the plans may not meet fruition? As in most things, it's probably a little of one and a little of the other. In the meantime, I'll continue to think on this issue, and if you have anything to add, let me know.

Interdisciplinary Theme Days

I'm hoping that my team will host a number of interdisciplinary theme days with students this year. These days would give students a chance to dig in alone and/or with teammates to work on an interdisciplinary problem or project.

Some ideas for these theme days include the following:

Do you host interdisciplinary theme days for your students? If so, how often do these days occur and how do you plan the days so that the learning is rich and deep? Do specialists, assistants, leaders, and family members help you out? I'm curious as to how we'll integrate these engaging Theme Days into our model next year. 

TLI Experience: Initial Focus

Whenever I embark on an initiative, I like to set focus early on as that gives me a lens with which to personalize and maximize the learning.

Yesterday as I listened to Jessica Barnett discuss the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI), I found myself debating the focus I will use to get the most out of this endeavor. I'm drawn to social justice with respect to the need for culturally proficient teaching, equity, and success for all students and in particular, our students who have the least access to a good education. I'm also drawn to the common core as I use that as a framework for all of my teaching/learning efforts. And the area of teacher evaluation draws me too as I've done extensive work in that area with regard to my analysis of the Massachusetts' new teacher evaluation framework.

The area that draws me the most however is School Redesign/Instructional Leadership. This area draws me because it connects tightly with the work I do each day to teach children well. While I already work in a top-notch system that employs multiple terrific strategies and efforts to serve children and their families, I know there is room for growth. In fact, this year, our team is utilizing a new shared model of teaching in order to develop our service to children with strength. Hence, this is the area that I will focus my efforts with TLI.

Tonight, Jessica will introduce the capstone project via a Blackboard session. As I listen, I will focus on the following questions:
  • What research will I access to boost my efforts and result with regard to the new teaching/learning model the grade-level team is employing?
  • How will I document the ongoing story of this effort?
  • What data will I collect from the start and throughout the initiative so that I can track the initiative's strengths and challenges?
  • How will I work successfully with the many members of this teaching/learning team to develop the model with strength?
  • What aspects of this model will work for other schools? How does this model signify school redesign, and how do my efforts reflect teacher leadership? 
I'm really excited about our new model for many reasons including the following:
  • The model fosters collaboration, and that collaboration has the potential result of increased learning and leading for all involved.
  • The model focuses on student needs and interests, and there are multiple components of the model which will help us to serve our diversity of students well with targeted intervention, support, and response.
  • The model fosters a strong sense of team with the entire learning team: students, families, educators, leaders, and community members.
  • The model embeds academic standards into multidisciplinary teaching endeavor that focuses on the whole child (social, emotional, physical, academic).
  • Together we'll employ multiple learning-to-learn behavior/mindset lessons and streams to empower learners.
As the model takes shape, I wonder how the reasons above will grow and change.

I have some fears about the model too. It's good to be cognizant of fears when you start any new endeavor. My fears include the following:
  • How can we do it all? There are so many standards to cover and students come to us with a large variety of needs and interests--can we collectively meet all the standards and students needs/interests too?
  • Will we have the time, resources, and energy to collaborate well? A shared model demands a lot of collaboration. We have some times put aside for this, and we've agreed to add some of our own time to this, but will we be able to keep up with needed communication with regard to student service. Last year, I worked in a similar model and we did a great job overall with communication patterns and share so I think we can do it, but it is an area we'll have to be mindful of.
  • Will I be able to respond to every student with depth? This is a challenge for any classroom teacher, and an even greater challenge when you are responsible for 75 students. I plan to use checklists for the major efforts including math home study, journal review, presentation, STEAM teamwork/projects, and assessments. This will ensure that every child gets an opportunity for thoughtful response, leadership, and learning.
  • How will we enlist the support of those who work with our team? We'll be working hard to communicate and collaborate with one another in our three-teacher team, but we also have to reach out to work with the many, many specialists, support staff, and leaders related to our team. It will be important to create a pattern of response and protocols to lead this extended teamwork.
Why do I think this effort is a good match for the Teacher Leadership Initiative Capstone Project?

First, I believe that schools can better re-align their personnel and resources to teach all children well. Old time factory structures for teaching children do not match current cognitive research with regard to how children learn.

Next, I believe that our strength in schools lies in the strength of our communication and collaboration. The old-time isolation of one-teacher-one-classroom is not an effective approach to good teaching and learning. Instead when we work together as a learning team of students, families, educators, leaders, and community members we can maximize each others' strengths and develop each others' challenges so that we deliver a strong, unified, responsive program to each and every child.

There's a cost benefit to this teamwork too. Rather than three classrooms with three sets of supplies for every child, each learning area only needs a set of supplies to meet the needs of one group--that's less supplies and less cost. Further by designating rooms to particular learning foci, the room design can better meet the needs of that study. For example, the STEAM room will have the space for creativity and exploration, while the Reading Room will have space for books and quiet corners for reading. Similarly the Social Studies/Writing room will have wall space for maps, timelines, and historic figures and plenty of room and equipment for multimedia composition and communication.

This model also exemplifies a shared leadership model in that the teaching team will work together to lead 75 students and make good decisions about student learning and engagement. As we work together in PLCs, we'll have the chance to lead each other as each educator takes a turn at the PLC leadership and coordination from one week to the next. Also, each of us will lead our area of expertise. One will lead Reading/Science Research/Study, another Writing/Social Studies, and the third Math/STEAM. We'll all work to develop learning-to-learn skills/attitudes, social competency, and routines and patterns to support student success. 

So as I begin my TLI journey, the key words will be instructional leadership and school redesign. I'll hold those words close as I journey forward on this teaching/learning path I've traveled for thirty years so far. Onward. 

Shared Teaching Model #2

This year we'll embark on a new, shared teaching model. It's a revision of the shared teaching model we used last year.

It's a model that combines discrete areas of teaching/learning with shared areas of student service and response. The teaching team and building leadership are excited about the model.

I want to document our efforts throughout the year so we can look back and assess what worked and what could be better at the end of this year as we prepare for another year of shared teaching/learning.

I started the documentation last spring with multiple posts about the model proposal, discussions, debate, and ultimately the details of the accepted plan.  Later in the summer, I capsulated the effort to date in a first official story telling post about the new model.

So what's next?

Our first official team meeting is next week. We've got a long list of discussion/decision topics to review at that time.

Then the following week, we'll meet with special educators, set up our rooms, and welcome children to the new model. The week after that we'll have the chance to meet with family members to introduce the model, entertain questions, and provide support.

I imagine that by the third week we'll have started our weekly pattern of teaching, meeting, planning, and decision making related to the needs of our 75 superstar students :)

The journey is about to begin, and I'm excited.


This morning after I reviewed a host of scores and data related to last year's science program, I began to think about the one-hour-a-week STEAM effort I'll lead for fifth graders next year. Where will I begin? What will we do?

I will build this effort in connection with the State science standards which are closely aligned with NGSS, students' interests and experiences, system-wide goals, and successful STEAMwork from the last year few years.

How will we start?

The first job is to create the STEAM learning environment. Once the flooring is done in my classroom, I've got some physical work to do in order to put together shelves, sort and categorize materials, and create our exploration space. Ideally I'd have some dollars and support to create a space like the areas I investigated at the Smithsonian last week--areas captured in the pictures below.

Next, I'll introduce students to our STEAM rationale, goals, and process and we'll create STEAM protocols together.

After that, I'll focus the STEAM time on Learning-to-Learn attributes and mindsets. I did some of this last year, but not enough. I need to do more especially in the area of teamwork to truly boost students ability to engage in wonderful, innovative, problem solving STEAMwork.

The next focus will be the Global Cardboard Challenge. I'm hoping that the team will agree to devote a couple of days plus the one-hour STEAM sessions to this effort.

We'll then move into a number of measurement-related hands-on explorations and activities. I have to couple our STEAM efforts with both science and math standards, and measurement is a good starting place since we'll use those skills all year as we complete further explorations. We'll also employ a coding thread that starts about this time. We'll use SCRATCH.

We'll soon start our naturalist "pattern seeking" study after the measurement explorations with a focus on life science.

Following that we'll move into the standards base areas of explorations related to physical science, earth/space science, and engineering and technology. It's likely that we'll invite some visiting scientists from local museums to help us out with these investigations like we did last year. We'll also employ the space adaptation and marble maze activities at this time.

At the end of the year, we'll return to our life science/naturalist efforts in conjunction with Drumlin Farm, our local Audubon organization.

The STEAM year is outlined, and now it's time to meet with the team to discuss the details and then get busy with the specific activities related to each phase of the year.

Let me know if you have any information, resources, or ideas to offer us as we begin this exciting exploration effort.

Test Assess: The Role of Experience and Other Factors

As I further reviewed a host of end-of-year scores, observations, and efforts from last year, I wondered about the role that experience plays in education.

For example, last year as I employed an open-ended Marble Maze STEAM exploration, I noticed that a few students didn't know where to begin. Even though there had been an introduction, it was clear that these students had not spent a lot of time playing with the kinds of materials this activity offered. They struggled with language, the ability to play and explore, and an open attitude to trying something new.

As I assessed the scores, I found that these same students struggled with the language and concepts related to science study while peers, who I believe had greater experience with science tools, resources, and experiences, did well on the tests.

How do we make up for a lack of experience with regard to play, reading, and study in any curriculum area? First, I wonder if there should be "experience years" that are added to children's school tenure. For example, perhaps a child entering kindergarten receives a play/experience evaluation, and if the evaluation shows that the child has had little experience with play and knowledge/concept experiences, then the child is placed in an "experiential pre-K" program where he/she has a year of rich play and exploration with terrific guidance, resources, and experiences. Perhaps this occurs again after second grade and another evaluation so that children have an experiential year prior to third grade. By extending a child's learning program and including greater, rich experiences, we might have the chance to help students make-up for the experiential gaps that impede their academic growth and success.

The score assessments demonstrated other interesting areas of need and success. For example, and not surprising, some dual-language students struggled and some did not--what made that difference? Children who struggled with math problem solving seemed to also struggle with the science/tech test questions. Students who had difficulty with vocabulary and reading, struggled. Yet, students who typically achieved in the average range on standardized tests, but had high interest in science, did well on these tests. Strong, overall academic students did well, but students who tend to struggle with the traditional program, didn't do as well.

One area that led me to wonder was the children who do exceptionally well on hands-on, STEAM activities, but struggle with language/paper-pencil tasks. Where do we make space for these students to learn in ways that build confidence and success in our still, mostly language based, academic environments in schools? How do we bridge this gap?

I continue to be a fan of data that makes me think about the overall program and service to children. I look forward to listening to my colleagues and leaders who will also analyze the data, and hearing what points they'll pull from the information. How will we use this data to better develop our programs and efforts with regard to engaging, empowering education for all children?  We know that early analysis of student data helps educators to begin the year with new information, ideas, and initiatives to serve students well. I look forward to the analysis, program discussion, and new efforts in the days to come.