Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What Would You Do? Struggling Student Case Study

I fabricated the scenario below to represent the kind of situation many teachers face with children who struggle in school with math learning. I'm wondering what you would do to help this child.

Ambrose is an eleven year old boy. When he was young he suffered from a significant illness that made school attendance and effort minimal from ages six to nine. Then at age nine his medical condition improved. He was able to attend school, but not surprisingly he was significantly behind his peers with regard to most academic areas.

During his years of illness, Ambrose had developed significant talent with drawing and telling stories. He used to entertain all of the hospital staff with his magnificent tales and tremendous, detailed illustrations.

When Ambrose landed in a typical sixth grade classroom at age eleven, he had an educational plan, yet the teachers, both special educators and regular educators, were at a loss as to how to begin to build Ambrose's skills, particularly his skills in math. Also the teachers themselves were rated on Ambrose's scores on district and State standardized tests that he had to take at the grade level even though he had missed so many years of traditional learning.

In an ideal world, the teachers would sit down together with family members and craft a program based on Ambrose's strengths and interests as well as available staff and resources. Yet there was little time for this kind of work and lots of pressure to get Ambrose up to sixth grade level in a few short months. Plus Ambrose was one of many students each teacher was responsible for. It was clear that the team felt the pressure.

What's a teacher to do?

How would you teach Ambrose?

What would you do as a teacher, teaching team, school, parent, classmate to help Ambrose? How would you help him to develop skill while also not defeating his ego and sense of self after all this is a time for celebration in Ambrose's life now that he's well again.

How do you and your colleagues meet a challenge such as the one the fictitious Ambrose presents?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Courage to Speak Up

Recently I spoke up. I was afraid, but I felt deeply that I had to say the words. The words were met with mostly silence, a bit of pushback, and some support too. Then I realized that the words had created more energy and discussion than I thought, energy and discussion distant from me.

So now the words will likely be a focal point of an upcoming meeting. I imagine some will challenge my thinking, and I won't be fully prepared since the challenges have not been shared with me ahead of time. What will I do?

First, I will acknowledge that the words I shared were shared with dignity and humanity in mind, they were words that I hoped would help all of us to think deeply about the people we support and why we support them.

Secondly, the words may call forth a past issue that was controversial. If that is true, I'll share the truth that I know of from that incident and be willing to hear others' truth too. It's an issue that I reached out to settle long ago, but no one would discuss it or talk to me about it. After many invitations to clarify the situation, I gave up reaching out and found peace with the issue myself. It's likely if this issue arises again that I may have to re-live, revisit, and revise all that I know about the issue. The bottom line is something happened that wasn't ideal, but the underlying intent and focus of the situation was positive and good. The situation was put to rest without any closure. So it's likely that there is more to learn and old wounds will be open, but since I understand my part in the issue well and have been transparent about in multiple posts, emails, and discussions, I can accept the fact that it may be the time that others are ready to speak up and I will seek to understand their points of view better. We'll see.

Thirdly, there may be some that disagree with my words shared, and I'm open to learning more. It was challenging for me to speak up, but I knew I had to speak up to foster greater respect, equity, and good work. I certainly don't know it all, and I'm open to learning.

It takes courage to speak up particularly if you're a new member of a team, a minority member of a group, or a person with a unique perspective, but I continue to hold MLK's words close to my heart, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." I will bring that quote to the meeting with me and I'll also bring my best ability with regard to listening to understand as inspired by Lehmann and Chase's book, Building School 2.0, and led by this quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . .Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."


Happy New Year Homeroom Day!

We may use this Learning Goals Sheet on the first day back. 

TeamFive will celebrate the new year with a homeroom day on the first day back to school on January 4, 2016.

The day will consist of the following:

Room Set-Up
When we arrive back we're supposed to have new desks and chairs so we'll likely start the day with setting up the room.

What do You Need, Want, and Desire?
This is a conversation that I have regularly with the students and we'll begin the new year with this discussion. I'll reach out to students with the discussion above to learn about where they are at and what I can do to teach them well.

We'll make time for a good recess and time for students to catch up with one another after the holiday break.

Portfolios and Goal Setting
Students will revisit their portfolios. Complete reflections, and add a new year's goal sheet about what they'd like to achieve in the days ahead.

There will be time for every child to choose and read a book of choice.

Two Facts and One Fiction
To share our holiday events, we may play Two Facts and One Fiction where a child writes three statements about his/her holiday and students have to guess which one is not true. For example I could write the following:
  • I ate in a fancy seaside restaurant with my sons and husband on Christmas Eve.
  • I got a shiny black motorcycle for a holiday present from my husband. 
  • On a gray day after Christmas I took a walk around an old scruffy, cranberry bog with my sister and her dog, Sadie.
It's probably fairly easy to note which is fiction for me, but for the children, it may not be so easy.

Policies and Protocols
We'll discuss what it means to be a good class/school citizen. We'll list behaviors that help us to be a strong, helpful, and kind classroom and grade-level community. We'll talk about ways that we can help one another reach those goals and perhaps even make some posters to remind ourselves of our collective expectations for the days ahead.

Newsletter, Website, Homework, and More
I'll review a number of organizational details with students.

All in all the first day back to school will set the stage for a second successful semester of learning and collaboration. One I'm looking forward to.

Shared Teaching Model: Evaluating Our Efforts

There's no doubt that we're moving in the right direction as we combine our efforts and collaborate to teach children well in fifth grade.

These words by notable educator Chris Lehmann and co-author of Building 2.0, Zac Chase, capsulate why our efforts to work together matter:

"Teaching is not an individual affair. . .Teachers are better when they work collaboratively, but even more than that, teachers teach better and students learn more when the school has a vision that actually means something and a plan to make that vision a reality." "We need to figure out how to build systems and structures that allow good people of honest intent to do great things together." "People work best in service of something that they can believe in, when there is a pathway toward excellence and they can collaborate."

Also, as noted in Gary Gruber's book, Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir, about his life as an educator, collaboration matters greatly with regard to the work we do:

"If we are to succeed in our schools, and elsewhere in our country, we must learn how to build collaborative energy, listen carefully to what is and what is not being said, ask questions that are penetrating and honest, discern the real from the superficial, and help a group move forward with a purposeful, shared vision."

As we embark on 2016, and with the words of Gruber, Chase, and Lehmann in mind, I recognize that our work to develop our model lies in the depth and breadth of the work we do with and for students. That work can be evaluated with the following questions, questions mainly culled from Lehmann and Chase's book, Building School 2.0

Teach Children Well: Student-Centered, Collaborative Environment

Collaborate and Teach with Honor and Equity
As educators, do we do all we can to teach every child well? How does our shared practice honor those we partner with including students, colleagues, leaders, families, and community members? How do we ensure that our practice, routines, structure and schools are focused on what students need to succeed as learners and citizens? Do we foster equitable practice with regard to the needs of our diverse teaching/learning populations?

Meaningful, Effective Programs

Project Based Environment
Where do we embed project/problem base learning to foster student success?

Where is our current structure working well and where can we change structure to improve what we can do for children? Do we use our spaces effectively so that school is essentially a "home away from home." 

Learning Beyond the Four Walls
How do you and your colleagues promote learning beyond the four walls of a classroom?

Minimizing "Administrivia"
How can we minimize and streamline administrative tasks leaving more time for teaching and learning?

Meaningful Educational Experiences
How do we ensure that students' educational experiences are meaningful?When and how do we give students the opportunity to solve meaningful problems?

Do we foster citizenship in our classrooms, shared teaching model, and school?

When and how do we make time for fun!

Collaboration with the Learning Team: Students, Families, Colleagues, Leaders, and Community Members

Parents and Families
Do we make good time and attention for collaboration with students' families?

Collegial Collaboration
How do we collaborate effectively with colleagues so that we are providing a responsive, caring, and effective teaching/learning program for children?

Collegial Conversations
Are our collegial conversations question-driven?

One School
How do we promote attitudes and action that demonstrate we are "one school?"

Vision and Professional Learning

How are we evolving our practice, classrooms, shared model, schools, and educational organizations in ways that result in effective, collaborative learning/teaching environments?

How do we create and enact vision in our practice, team model, schools, and systems?

Blend Theory and Practice
How do we blend theory and practice to best teach students?

Professional Learning
What kind of professional learning can we access to better the teaching and learning we do?

Regular Reflection
In what ways do we make time for regular reflection?

How do we utilize technology to deepen and broaden the learning/teaching we do?

This is the link to part one of my review and this is the link to part two. 

Building School 2.0: Evaluative Tool #2

As I continued reading Chase and Lehmann's book, Building School 2.0, I recognized that there are many questions we need to ask of our efforts, programs, and focus as we continue to build our shared model. I believe in Chase and Lehmann's advise and vision for schools. I particularly don't want to lose site of these words in chapter 17,

". . the fundamental purpose of public school--physical spaces dedicated to and people committed to educating a nation--is a good one." "In an age when segmentation of society keeps people apart from those who think, look, and live differently from how they do, schools bring us together to learn from and with one another." "As a nation, we can imagine many different models for school, but the fundamental idea that we build places where all children can come together to learn remains one of the best ideas we've ever had as a society. We shouldn't lose it. We just have to make sure our schools reflect the time in which we live."

As I consider Lehmann and Chase's rich resource, I note the following questions, questions I will use to evaluate my own practice, the practice of our shared teaching model at fifth grade, and general school, system, State and national efforts towards children and schools.

How do we develop citizenship?
Do we foster citizenship in our classrooms, shared teaching model, and school?

Do we encourage students to question and do we help them understand that "their voices matter"? Do we embed learning modules that "challenge them, push them, and help them to make sense of a confusing world?"

Problem Solvers
When and how do we give students the opportunity to solve meaningful problems?

A popular phrase amongst educators today is Don't ask students what they're going to be, but instead ask them what problems they are going to solve. Lehmann and Chase emphasize this with their words, "help students be ready to solve those problems," teach students to "create and present their ideas in powerful ways," promote "critical consumers and producers of information," and use these processes to ". . help them build sustainable, enjoyable, productive lives."

Modern Schools
How are we evolving our practice, classrooms, shared model, schools, and educational organizations in ways that result in effective, collaborative learning/teaching environments?

Building 2.0 encourages educators to "recognize the best of what has come before us and marry that to the best of what we are able to do today" in order to create modern schools. This process requires that we are "always reinventing."

One School
How do we promote attitudes and action that demonstrate we are "one school?"

Lehmann and Chase emphasize again and again the need for consensus in order for a school community to be one school. To be "one school" requires that we care for one another and have similar expectations for active learning, care, and inquiry for all members of the school community including students, educators, and administrators.

These are powerful rationale from the book for shared teaching and learning models: "Teaching is not an individual affair. . .Teachers are better when they work collaboratively, but even more than that, teachers teach better and students learn more when the school has a vision that actually means something and a plan to make that vision a reality." "We need to figure out how to build systems and structures that allow good people of honest intent to do great things together." "People work best in service of something that they can believe in, when there is a pathway toward excellence and they can collaborate."

To create one school, Lehmann and Chase encourage us to cocreate our learning/teaching communities. They list four attributes of strong, collaborative communities including:
  • Equal status between groups
  • Common goals
  • Intergroup cooperation
  • Authoritative support
Also, it's imperative that we "make time for collaboration" in order to effect these co-created learning/teaching environments.

How do we create and enact vision in our practice, team model, schools, and systems?

In the book, they caution against vision that is only a piece of paper or statement, and instead promote the fact that "vision must live in practice." "The same is true of missions, values, and driving questions." Too often in schools, a vision process is used but not taken seriously with regard to the kind of deep, ongoing work it takes to truly make vision visible in a school environment. It's important to ask who makes the vision and goals. Lehmann and Chase recommend that educators "commit to consensus-driven decision making" and in that process they state that "people must be willing to change and compromise; to listen to opposing ideas, and find common ground." Too often vision is a top down process that doesn't result in true change or impact.

Ask "What's good?" more than we ask ourselves, "What's new?" In regard to vision and goal attainment, humility plays an important role as none of us can be all things or do all when it comes to creating and enacting good vision for our organizations. Lehman and Chase define humility in this way, "True humility means understanding that one's personal empowerment doesn't ever have to come at the expense of someone else's empowerment."

Theory and Practice
How do we blend theory and practice to best teach students?

Lehmann and Chase recommend "blending theory and practice" and note that "wise minds have spent their careers thinking and writing about the very dilemmas facing teachers in modern classrooms." This blend of theory and practice promotes critical thinking and inquiry-driven practice.

The authors remind us that "there are no perfect ideas" and ". . .make solving the problems the focus of the process." They essentially encourage us to "fall in love with" the problem, and to work to "build something new and useful" when problem solving.

Building 2.0 encourages us to "find meaning every day" and ". . .make the everyday meaningful in some very basic ways in every school."

Does our structure serve students well? 

"Rethink schedules to be in service of learning and teaching."

As educators, do we do all we can to teach every child well?

As an educator, I was interested in their recommendations for teachers including "Take care of yourself," "Be as transparent as possible," give kids the opportunity to feel ownership of the classroom, "run a club," "chair a committee," "be present" and involved," and "be kind." Building 2.0 also calls educators to be more--more creative, more imaginative, more inquiring, more investigative. They encourage us to develop "teacher-selves" which are "the best versions of who we are" as honest, whole people. Also Lehmann and Chase caution against ego-centricity in that teachers need to be able to reach out to colleagues and others to solve the often times complex problems and challenges that schools present.

Professional Learning
What kind of professional learning can we access to better the teaching and learning we do?

"Teachers should be readers and learners." Educators must be "scholars of our own profession." We need to be and promote "expert learners." Consider the process of learning to be a process of evolution--evolution of practice, schools, and systems to best serve students.

Encourage Regular Reflection
In what ways do we make time for regular reflection?

"Reflection and refinement" matter when it comes to creating a strong practice and strong educational systems. Often times systems do not value the time or the potential of reflection and refinement. How do your systems, schools, and you "create space and expectations for reflection." A question that leads this work is "What more can we be doing?" Also to "name the problem, we actually stand a better chance of doing something about it."

How do we utilize technology to deepen and broaden the learning/teaching we do?

Building 2.0 promotes the use of technology that "allows students and teachers to inquire more deeply, research more broadly, connect more intensely, share more widely, and create more powerfully. . ."

Lehmann and Chase promote the use of social medial to develop your virtual faculty lounges, "the faculty lounges we wish we had" and the colleagues that promote and encourage our growth and commitment.

Student-Centered Schools
How do we ensure that our practice, routines, structure and schools are focused on what students need to succeed as learners and citizens?

Building 2.0 illustrates many ways to keep students center stage including the following:
  • ". . .listen deeply to their answers and let their ideas change our own."
  • ". . .authority as a teacher comes not from being "tough," but rather from being caring."
  • ". . .we must be authorities within a democracy."
  • ". . .laughing together."
  • ". . .model what it means to be whole people."
  • "plant perennials" by creating learning that's interconnected and long lasting. 
  • "say more and talk less"
  • "be less helpful"
  • "use inclusive language" so that no group including LBGTQ are excluded.
  • consider creating mentor and advisory relationships between students and teachers to strengthen student voice and advocacy. 
  • "listen to understand" 
  • Continually ask, "Are my students learning?" and "How do I know that?"
  • Answer the question, "Why do I need to know this?" regularly. (provide rationale)
  • Teach students to ask questions and think for themselves.
  • Find out what students are curious about and embed those topics in the teaching/learning.
  • Teach modern ways to know and learn such as computer programming, blogging, using social networking, and technology to broaden perspective and connection.
  • Start with students' strengths, not deficits.
  • Design systems with the "belief that the people walking through our doors are capable and accomplished, what they will achieve will be awe-inspiring."
  • Use real life situations and meaningful projects to teach well.
  • Ask, "What do you think?"
  • Assume positive intent.
  • Ask better questions.
  • Teach thoughtfulness, wisdom, passion, kindness." 
  • Employ a new kind of research (p. 259 - I will return to this in a later post).
Do we foster equitable practice with regard to the needs of our diverse teaching/learning populations?

We all know that lots of time and money is spent on achieving equity, and we also know that sometimes that time and money is in name only and not in practice. This is very frustrating. Lehmann and Chase give us some real time ways to assess our efforts in this regard.

First, assess policies and procedures. "If the policy disproportionately punishes children of color" or I'll add children of a particular gender, culture, or religion, "then change the policy." Also, "when creating new policies and procedures, go through the iterative process of asking how it will affect different populations starting with historically underrepresented populations.""Be intentional about creating structures that are good for students who have been underserved and often made to feel that school was not for them." They encourage us to keep these conversations alive with the knowledge that change takes time and intention. 

Lehmann and Chase go on to say that educators "must remember that we are often the most powerful force for keeping our students safe in the classroom, and that each time we let hurtful or careless language or acts go by unexamined or unchallenged, we indicate tacit agreement."

Building School 2.0 is an amazing book, one that would make for an excellent book study for any group of educators who are committed to doing the work we know is possible to evolve our practice, students, classrooms, schools, and educational organizations in ways that matter. I'm grateful to Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase for making the time to share their terrific insight, experience, and vision for schools that teach children well.

This is the link to part one of my review.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Building School 2.0: Evaluative Tool #1

I am reading Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase's Building School 2.0. It's the second time I've picked up the book and started to read. It's another one of those books where almost every word matters and only six pages into the text, I'm already overwhelmed by potential and possibility. Hence, I'll write as I read making connections along the way about how the wonderful practice, principles, and vision of Science Leadership Academy can positively inform, challenge, and move my practice as an educator forward.

Focus Questions
How often do you and your colleagues focus your conversation, efforts, and goal setting on these questions that lead SLA's work:
How do we learn?
What can we create?

What does it mean to lead?

Again and again Lehmann and Chase promote conversation, discussion, questioning, and growth, yet in many American schools dialogue is looked down upon and diminished. Hence a first step to improving any educational environment is to focus on the leading questions above.

Project Based Environment
Where do we embed project/problem base learning to foster student success?

What is the ratio of direct teaching to project/problem based learning? How often do you and your colleagues consider pedagogy and do you focus on the values espoused by SLA: inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection.

Where is our current structure working well and where can we change structure to improve what we can do for children?

How long are your classes? Do you leave enough time for more laboratory and performance based work? Do we create "arts-enriched, small-classroom-sized, deeply humanistic" teaching spaces?

Learning Beyond the Four Walls
How do you and your colleagues promote learning beyond the four walls of a classroom?

Minimizing "Administrivia"
How can we minimize and streamline administrative tasks leaving more time for teahcing and learning?

In what ways can you streamline administrative tasks in order to effect the best possible programs.

Meaningful Educational Experiences
How do we ensure that students' educational experiences are meaningful?

Are the learning experiences you design and promote meaningful? Do we use technology in meaningful, deep, productive ways rather than just promote technology as an "online worksheet"?

How does our shared practice honor those we partner with including students, colleagues, leaders, families, and community members?

Do our practices honor the people we server and partner with? Do we blend "humanity and scholarly" inquiry? Are we creating "healthier, more relevant, and caring" schools? Do we truly believe that the kinds of schools we lead will empower that kind of world--are we committed to the deep impact school has on society, and look at schools as a place to develop a strong citizenry?

Do we support the kinds of schools for others that we support for our own children or do we have a double standard in this regard?

When and how do we make time for fun!

Do we make time for fun?

Do we use our spaces effectively so that school is essentially a "home away from home."
Are our spaces "modern and humane"?

Parents and Families?
Do we make good time and attention for collaboration with students' families?

How do we partner with and serve parents and families in school? Do we regularly invite family members to be part of the school conversation, goal setting, and vision creation?

Collegial Collaboration
How do we collaborate effectively with colleagues so that we are providing a responsive, caring, and effective teaching/learning program for children?

Are our collegial conversations question-driven?

The Right Balance

Finding the right balance is always a struggle in education since there are so many possible paths to travel. This is where good process comes in. How do you choose your path and how do you make the time to travel that path(s) with success.

Though the temptations exist to move along tangental paths, I'll stay the math/shared teaching paths this term as I create a balance of personal/professional effort that matters. Onward.

Re-Look at Time and Effort

At every level in education we have to look at time and effort. When does time and effort result in deep, meaningful teaching and learning, and where is there room for change? This is an important question for every student, educator, leader, family, and community member to ask.

Include Educators in Every Decision

It's unbelievable that this is not true, but it's essential that those who are teaching students each and every day have a say in what happens in their schools, classrooms, and systems to best teach each and every child.

A Quality Tech Device(s) for Every Student

The time has come for every child to have a quality tech device by his/her side while learning. Ideally schools will host a large variety of tech devices that students and teachers may access as needed to inform and empower their learning and teaching. This is imperative when it comes to do our jobs well as educators.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

What's Your Goal?

Godin reminds us that we don't need lots of ideas to achieve success in his recent post, One Big Idea. Which leads me to ask, What's your big idea for 2016? How will you narrow down all your interests and pursuits into one overarching direction, a direction that's meaningful and productive?

Since I like to entertain lots and lots of ideas, this is a challenge for me. I like to wander the field of ideas stopping to consider this one and that yet I also like that deep sense of growth and accomplishment that comes from investing significant time and attention into a few good ideas. Hence as I navigate 2016, I'll focus on the following:

Math Education
I will deeply invest myself into this study this year by reading a lot, attending conferences, writing, organizing the math classroom, carefully assessing and designing learning with and for students, and, perhaps, organizing all this information in a short book for educators and parents.

Shared Teaching Model
I'm going to recommit to this wonderful model we're using this year. First I'll read Lehmann's Book, Building School 2.0, with the lens of how the wonderful work at Science Leadership Academy can inform and help develop our current model of shared teaching and learning. I'll also catch up with CTQ, NEA/MTA Teacher Leadership course in this regard. Further, I want to read articles about shared teaching and developing a vibrant student-centered learning community.

Health and Happiness 
In order to reach these goals, it's imperative that I also focus on health and happiness by not crowding the schedule, staying active, and spending time with family and friends.

There's multiple other directions that I could follow at this time, but from now until June I'll make the focus above the main objectives, then I'll reconsider my direction once again in June. Onward.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Influences: Early Life

Reading Gary Gruber's book, Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir, found me considering my own early influences, the moments that mattered. Like Gruber, I remember well so many of life's moments from my early days living in a three-decker on Pilgrim Avenue to now.

When I consider the highlights of my life, I recognize that there are many. The significant moments are small, but meaningful.

To being, I'll list those moments:

  • Picture taking on the big steps on Pilgrim Ave.
  • The dollhouse.
  • The swing.
  • The garden.
  • The fishing trip.
  • Finding a starfish.
  • Water.
  • Eddie, Randy, and Perry
  • Patty
  • Nana's
  • Lacey
  • Patty, Maureen, and Nancy
  • Pignuts
  • Babies
  • Father Kardis
  • Indian Hill
  • Mr. Quist
  • Vietnam
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Jubilee
  • Secret Garden
  • The Bookmobile
  • Drawing
  • Holy Cross
  • The Music Room
  • Friends and Frisbee
  • Truth
  • Family Get Togethers
  • Clyde
  • White Walls
  • The River
  • Tubing
  • Mountain Ponds
  • An Old House in Errol
  • Babies
  • Laughter
  • Warmth
Just a start of a list I'll return to to brainstorm more about the influences. 

The Intersection of Experiences and Ideas: Gruber's Learning Memoir

I zipped through Gary Gruber's book, Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir. Similar to when I read Vilson's book, This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, I found both similarities and differences to my own journey as an educator. I enjoyed reading about Gruber's many influences and experiences throughout his life, and was inspired by the words at both the start and finish of the book, word's that capsulate his beliefs.

Gruber encourages us to seek "common vision, common values, and common purpose." He goes on to say that "If we are to succeed in our schools, and elsewhere in our country, we must learn how to build collaborative energy, listen carefully to what is and what is not being said, ask questions that are penetrating and honest, discern the real from the superficial, and help a group move forward with a purposeful, shared vision." These are powerful words that fit well with my educational journey now.

"Common Vision, Common Values, Common Purpose"
Our shared teaching model at fifth grade exemplifies this aim. This effort is energizing and elevating what we are able to do with and for children.

"Build Collaborative Energy"
Our model needs to continue to develop this energy in important ways to further our efforts and depth.

"Ask Questions That Are Penetrating and Honest" and 
"Help A Group Move Forward with a Purposeful, Shared Vision"
This illustrates the center of my work as a writer, thinker, researcher, and educator.

Similar to Vilson, I came to know Gruber and his memoir through many interchanges via Twitter which, for me, is a modern day idea exchange.

His book has given me a narrative to return to as I continue my journey as an educator and my work as a teacher and parent who consults and encourages the journeys of my students, colleagues, and children.

I think it's important for young people to read stories like Gruber's as they consider their own paths in life. Life holds tremendous potential for meaningful journey, and the ability to know and consider multiple paths helps us to find the roads that match who we are and what we want to be.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Future Considerations

  • "expert learners"
  • creative days for grownups
  • making math movies with students
  • the intersection of art and math
  • ECET2 Learning
  • Dress to Learn
  • Creating community in the classroom
  • Time that matters
  • and more. . . .

All I Want for Christmas. . .

Years ago when my children became older, our family switched back to the holiday tradition of the French side of my husband's family by opening our gifts late in the evening on Christmas Eve. By the lights of the tree and in the window we gather and share gifts for one another. That means the morning is peaceful and quiet making time for reflection before later celebrations with our extended family.

As I sit here by empty, colorful boxes and bunched up wrapping paper, I'm thinking already about the year ahead and where I hope it will go.

During the year ahead I want to support my family members' pursuits which are essentially to deepen their knowledge and skill in the areas that they study and work. A fairly quiet schedule, healthy food, and positivity will help in that regard.

I also hope for more special family times, times when our loved ones get together to do what we all love to do and to celebrate milestones, holidays, and other special events. Common denominators that bring our family together include days at the beach, hikes in the country, delicious meals, and exploration of new cities, museums, islands, and parks.

With regard to my work as an educator, I plan to focus my attention mainly in the areas of math education and teacher leadership. I want to continue to develop the skills of a proactive teacher leader and I want to study, synthesize, and apply the bountiful research that exists with regard to math education. Those are positive, actionable goals for which I have significant support from my online PLN including Tuesday night #edchats and Saturday morning #satchat. Also, membership and participation with the NEA, NBPTS, NCTM, MTA, CTQ, ECET2 further support my educator development and contribution. In addition, I work with a dynamic, diverse team of educators every day who positively challenge and support my efforts to learn and teach well.

I hope to be more creative in the year ahead too. I enjoy creating by writing, drawing, making, designing, and planning.

Above all I want to respond to 2016 in positive ways that contribute to a better world for all. I sit here this Christmas morning grateful to be apart of a loving and kind family and community, and I want to look for ways to extend that gratitude in ways that matter.

All I want for Christmas this year is a spirit of friendship, truth, kindness, and care.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Leadership: Positivity and Truth

What kind of leaders do we want and what kind of leaders do we want to be?

No matter our status, we are both leader and led.

And how we do that matters a lot with respect to the future of our lives and the lives of others.

Currently in American society we have a political candidate who is leading with hate, negativity, and disrespect. This brings us back to times of great despair and violence in our world. How can our country, a country built on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," entertain an individual who demeans women and people of particular cultures and religion. This goes against everything we stand for as a nation, and it's surprising that people tolerate this in the media, on stage, and elsewhere. We drop to our lowest selves when we condone rhetoric such as this. Further, what message does this send to our youngest citizens?

We can all err when it comes to the need to be positive. It can be difficult to be positive amidst hardship, terror, and despair, but it's imperative that we reach for positivity whenever we can.

It is not so hard to be truthful, and it's our duty to lead with transparency and truth as well as to choose truthful, transparent leaders.

The holidays give all of us a time to lead as we choose gifts, words, events, allegiance, and activity. We lead best by our actions and second best by our words. We can seek ways to promote positive leadership in our lives, homes, community, organizations, states, and country.

Beginning now I will lead in this direction in the following ways. I will speak out against leaders who continue to lead in exclusive, demeaning ways. I will support leaders who lead with positivity, inclusion, truth, creativity, and peace.

In my own life, I'll look for ways to be a positive leader to those I love and those I serve and partner with at my place of work and in the organizations and communities I belong to.

Positivity and truth are gifts we can give to one another as we lead each other forward into 2016. I continue to believe that our world holds tremendous potential for good, and if all of us act and speak up for truth in positive, forward moving ways, our goal of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" will be well served.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


As I sit by the bright lights on the tree and in the window tonight, I'm so grateful for all the care I've received in the past year--care from students, families, friends, neighbors, and loved ones. It's been an incredible year of growth both in the classroom and outside of it. I am so touched by the power and promise education holds for our children, our lives, and our world.

Recently I received a generous donor's choose donation for an activity I was involved in. Then at a meeting a product was discussed that would help a child in our class. I used the donor's choose donation to request the donation. Today I found out that a generous donor from New York who once lived in my home town donated the remaining amount for the product. It was a generous and kind donation, one that will empower all students and in particular a very special student that I teach.

Then today the children brought cards and gifts. They were bright eyed and proud as they showed me their cards, homemade gifts, and wrapped presents. It was such a precious moment for me to receive such acts of grace and kindness.

Now with the 2015 school year at its end and time to celebrate the wonderful holiday with friends and family, I am filled with gratitude for all who have lent a hand, inspired me, and showed kindness. It has been a wonderful year all in all and I thank you for the part you played. Blessings.

Homeroom Day

Today's a homeroom day. Students may wear pajamas if they'd like. We'll have a class meeting, read, create, clean up the room, and watch a movie.

I'm looking forward to a day to work closely with all the students as they share their hopes and interests for the year ahead.

Then we'll all take a few days off to enjoy our family and friends as we celebrate the holidays.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Making Room for Celebration and Joy

There's a couple more days of school prior to the holiday break. Honestly, I wish we had ended school last Friday since I think we're working too close to the holiday for effective learning. Children's attention to school is quickly dwindling which makes teaching much more challenging than usual. Also some have already left for family holidays which means what we teach now will have to be reviewed in the new year.

Like their teachers, the children are ready to play, relax, and enjoy close family and friends rather than buckle down, focus, and learn right now. But, the reality is that we have a couple more days of teaching and learning. I'll use the time to assess students' first semester gains, meet as a class, clean up the classroom, watch a valuable film, read, and catch-up with individuals regarding specific learning/teaching issues.

Most importantly, it's time to keep the focus on peace and team which can be difficult with a host of excited, and sometimes overtired, students (and teachers). Yet, we'll persist today with joy in mind. After hours I'll focus on family and holiday preparations so we're ready to enjoy one another at the end of the week. Onward.

Teaching Well: Partnering with Parents

To teach well, it's imperative to partner with parents.

That being said, it's not always easy to partner with parents.


As parents we love our children so much that sometimes we can't imagine that they might detour from a positive path. Therefore when we receive a note or call from a teacher, we may defend our child first and think poorly of the teacher.

On the other hand, if we feel our children have been judged inappropriately or that a teacher acted without the full story, we want to make sure that our child is treated with fairness and justice. We know that it's important to advocate for our children, and usually those that speak up are heard and responded to.

So, as teachers, we think a lot before we contact a parent. In fact, there may be times that a teacher should contact a parent, but doesn't because they don't want to face the consequences of a parent who may not respond with respect or partnership. Yet, to teach children well, it's important that teachers and parents work together to best support every child. When that happens, the program for a child develops with strength.

What can teachers and parents do to foster this invaluable parent-teacher relationship when it comes to teaching every child well?

First, it's important that teachers respond frequently to student efforts, and as much as possible, teachers should look for ways to share positive, uplifting response more often than corrective, disciplinary response. It's also important that educators use respectful conflict resolution techniques when issues arise.

Next, it's important, that parents understand a teacher's position. In some cases, such as the situation with classroom teachers, a teacher is tending to many learners at once which creates expectations that all learners wait their turn, speak with respect, help each other, and participate with their best effort.

Further, when issues arise, it's important that both teachers and parents take the time to see all sides and put the child first asking the question, How can we work together to help the child experience school with success?

As a teacher I've come to value the role of parents greatly in schools. I listen to their words and regard their thoughts and ideas with respect and depth. As a parent I am grateful to the many, many teachers who have invested in my own children and found ways to encourage and inform their learning and life.

Partnering with parents is not a simple science, but it's a focus that becomes much easier and more successful when we move forward with respect, honesty, and collaboration putting the child's current and future success, happiness, and learning center stage as we work together toward continued positive growth and development.

Monday, December 21, 2015


When it comes to learning and teaching, to be explicit is important.

I realized this recently when I corrected a hosts of tests and other assignments.

In some cases, what I thought was crystal clear was confusing to students.

Also, in some regards, assignments lacked clear distinction about what was being assessed and what was expected.

As I think about the need to be explicit, I will embed the following practices into upcoming work.
  1. Make the time to think about learning units from beginning to end. Clearly identify the end goals or success criteria up front for students, family members, and colleagues.
  2. When creating assessments and assignments add the learning goal and expectation to the top of the assessment or assignment as much as possible.
  3. Create easy-to-access, read, and complete check-lists and rubrics to assignments and assessments so students can identify what's expected and eventually where they hit the mark and where they still have room for greater growth.
It' imperative to think about the need to be explicit when teaching students of all ages. That clarity will help everyone to do their job better. Onward. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

We Can Make a Positive Difference

Last night we watched the film, Beast of No Nation. It was a horrifying film, but an important film for adults in our world to see. It's difficult to imagine that such atrocities occur in our world, but we know from recent events in our own country that we have to stay mindful of what it takes to secure freedom and protect the rights and lives of people near and far, particularly our youngest people.

What makes people commit crimes of such human atrocity? What turns humans away from our wonderful potential to do what is right and good to acts of horror? Probably, like me, with regard to the San Bernardino murders, an initial thought was how could any mother, after giving life, take life away with such disregard. Unfathomable.

I delved into the topic of anger a bit more after watching the film, and found this great response by Martin Luther King, Jr. after he had been beaten by a stranger, "The system that we live under creates people such as this youth, I am not interested in pressing charges. I'm interested in changing the kind of system that produces this kind of man."

How can we better our systems at home and in the world to make positive change so that we don't "produce this kind of. . ." man, woman, child, home, or community.

Last night, I caught the end of the Democratic debate. We are fortunate to have two very strong candidates who will commit themselves to changing systems to better support humankind. This is good news. When we look around at our communities, we are also reminded, as Obama reminded us yesterday in the news, that there are so many good people doing what's right day in and day out to create a better world. We have to deny the smug, better than, and prejudicial attitudes of leading Republican candidates for president, criminals, and international leaders who play on people's fears and propagate hatred and abuse with backward vision and plans. It's hard to believe that still exists after the publicity of so many horrible events in history that demeaned humankind with atrocious, violent behavior and disregard of all that it can mean to be human.

We need to share our best gifts to make positive change and lives for those we love and care for in our homes, our neighborhoods, our places of work, communities, country, and world.

I was heartened by Clinton's final words in the debate as she recollected her new role as a grandmother and her will that we build a better world for all children in our country and elsewhere. If our focus is on doing best by children, we will do best by all. For too long the earnest, loving, and naturally kind ways and needs of children have been lost in the ambition of so many. Let's turn inward this holiday season to find the strength and love to support what is right and good beginning with the youngest of those around us. Blessings to all.

Article from which I copied the MLK quote.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Time on Task with Students During the Day
Time to Research, Prepare, and Respond

When You Don't Know All the Facts

I sat with a group of educators outside of my school system and we discussed a situation we knew of, but we didn't know all the facts. The situation specifics were distant from us, but the impact on our lives was somewhat significant. What should we do we wondered together.

As we wondered, we considered multiple scenarios. Some, we decided, moved into areas too personal, and others we felt would not be positive. In the end, each of us made our own decision as to how to proceed, and I for one erred on the side of what I felt was positive.

As educators, family members, and citizens we face many situations that hit home and create emotion as well as questions. It's not always easy to know exactly how to act. We might ask, "How much should I push or question?" in this situation and "How much should I leave as it is?" When pressured we may even become upset when posed with these types of situations, but for most, we have time to think well in calm, collected ways.

Typically I try to take the long view in situations like this. To the best of my ability I try to see a situation weeks, months, and years ahead and play out the many scenarios I can imagine. I try to choose the path that will result in the most positivity for all involved. I speak up if I think it might make a positive difference, and I stay quiet if I feel I don't have the experience, words, or perspective to affect any kind of positive result.

Not knowing all the facts creates a quandary for all of us, and when that occurs, how do you move forward to the best possible result.

Reaching Children

Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with a young child. When I asked the child about interests, the response was "Dance!"

Now I'm thinking about how I might make that happen. I've enlisted the thoughts of a few others in this regard too.

To reach out to our students, the first job is to talk with them asking, "What do you want? What do you need? Where are your interests? How can I help?" These vital conversations can take place during small group or one-to-one teaching, a lunch meeting, on the playground, and even on a field trip. The key is to make time for these conversations which isn't always easy in a school with lots of children and a busy schedule.

Once you make time for those conversations and you identify the needs and interests, the next step is to work towards meeting those needs and interests in your classroom set-up, curriculum program, extracurricular activities, and your daily patterns and routines.

As I had the chance to explore a museum with many young children yesterday, I had the chance for many good moments of conversation and share. I recognized once again how much I enjoy the bright energy, warmth, and curiosity that children bring to my life and the lives of others. I want to continue to nurture their gifts in the year ahead, and I'll begin that by reaching out more to find out what it is that they need to continue their journey which includes following their interests and meeting their needs. Onward.

Teaching at the University: End of Semester Reflections

The university semester is over. This was the first time in many years that I had taught at that level. The first time I taught teacher candidates was well before this era of greater standards, accountability, and data. So this time teaching was much different.

Overall the opportunity to teach a diverse group of invested, thoughtful teacher candidates resulted in terrific learning for me as well.

I started with the end product in mind. I wanted students to leave my course with a solid introduction to the resources, standards, content, and possibilities for teaching math to young children. I knew it was impossible to teach it all so I felt that if I gave them a good introduction they would know where to turn when researching lessons and troubleshooting learning/teaching challenges.

I also wanted the students to begin a steady habit of reflection and blended learning. Therefore every student created and reflected on their own professional blog and linked sites and lessons on their own professional math website. I hope they will continue to reflect either online or off and collect valuable resources on their professional website.

At the end of the course, I gave students a chance to reflect on the learning and the course in general. They had many good points and suggestions for the future.

If I were to teach the course again, I would provide more opportunity for targeted coaching throughout the semester. I realize how important that is, and where that was employed, students' work and learning were better.

Rather than organize the semester by various resources and topics, after a holistic introduction to how students learn and the content area, I would dive into each main learning topic and facilitate students' learning by utilizing learning progressions, related materials and resources, and lots of opportunities for students to develop, apply, and practice teaching both at the university level and in their practicum settings.

Fortunately, like the students, I saved the course materials and agenda online too. So when I return to teaching teacher candidates, I will use this summary, collected vignettes and suggestions from the students and leaders, and that website to guide the next phase of this focus of my professional learning and teaching.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Musings: What a Week!

It was a eventful week to say the least including the last classes at the University, a grade school field trip, a son's operation, grading students' papers, and a field trip! Not a minute wasted and a constant stretch, but we made it.

Next week I'm looking forward to a peaceful, kind week in our now clean and cozy classroom. We'll review the computation we've practiced. Students will take an end of semester test. There will be time to finish our latest class film, The Secret Garden, and we'll prepare for our new class furniture.

At home we'll prepare for the holidays. Next week we'll make the time to really spend quality time with one another in the classroom as students learn and play. I'm looking forward to a weekend and week of warmth and light, and I am so grateful to all those around me who have supported this opportunity. Happy Holidays!

Life's Journey

Life really looks different from my vantage point now than it did many years ago. There's been so many experiences, observations, and insights in the many years I've traveled this journey. As I age, my view becomes more detailed, my perspective more forgiving, and my hope greater with regard to all that is possible in this big, complex, and unfathomable world we live in.

Each of our journeys is so different. For some, the challenges arise from birth providing a constant source of struggle and challenge with little reprieve. The strong endure this tough early start particularly if there are those around them to love and take care of them. For others, the journey as a child is smooth and mostly happy creating little challenge or struggle. For those, the challenges may strike greater when they do hit at a later age. There may be some for whom there's been little challenge for most of their lives, but I suspect that most of us have our fair share of challenge along the way.

This morning my son had to write an award introduction for a person he admired. He gave that person the Helping Hand Award and his short speech reminded me of what's important in life as he illustrated an admirable person's many wonderful attributes, contributions, and effect on the lives of others including my son. As I read the speech, I thought to myself that the person he wrote about would be proud to read my son's words, words that demonstrated that a whole lot of small acts of kindness and care can add up to one big life of significance.

The holidays bring life's journey to light particularly when you work with young children. While they are starry eyed, they are also cognizant of the many struggles and challenges that exist in their young lives. For many, they know life isn't easy sometimes for those they love, and truly what they want most is peaceful care and community. Most children would rather care for another than worry about themselves because at their core, they are most loving and kind.

As the journey continues through this holiday season, and now that that the assignments for the end of the semester are almost complete, I find myself wondering what I'll do to make this a truly blessed holiday season, one that is built on small acts of love and care that brighten my day and the days of those around me.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Struggle to Success

A student I taught in a couple of different grades struggled a lot.

That student was never near the top of the class in elementary school.

With determination, lots of love, a focus on building her areas of interest and friendships, and a family that didn't give up on her, she succeeded. She succeed through grade school, middle school, high school, college, and graduate school. Now she has a good job.

We could have labeled this child long ago.

We could have decided that she would never become anything.

We could have given up.

But nobody did because people were wise enough to know that if a child is nurtured with positivity and love that child will succeed in his or her own right. They will find a way to their passions and interests, and make a good life for themselves.

The worst thing we can do for any child is to label that child too early or to give up on that child. In life who you are is what you do, and when a child or anyone of us steadily moves forward, we will find the paths we are meant to travel.

Teaching Well: Sensitivity

Can a teacher be too sensitive?

In some ways, I'm over the top sensitive. For example it really troubles me when a parent or student is not satisfied or expresses a concern. Yet, I want parents and students to speak up because how else are we going to create and implement best possible programs. Though there's that little voice inside of me saying, why didn't we get it right the first time.

Though that's not how school happens. School is a dance that includes the synergy of families, students, educators, leaders, and community members. And when there's a problem, it takes all of us to speak up, work together, and move the issue forward.

I'm also troubled by the constraints of school. For example when you're responsible for large groups, no matter how much you differentiate, you can't give a student the same attention as you could if you were in a small group or one-to-one setting. Hence, there's always that regret that you can't be everywhere helping and coaching during a lesson. Yet, you do your best trying to give everyone the time and attention they need.

Another constraint can be too many people. For example when a child has multiple therapists, specialists, and teachers working on his/her case, it's difficult to best coordinate all those services, however, there's no one service you want to remove. So you do your best to coordinate as well as possible.

Taking in the diversity of lives, experiences, challenges, and drive that a large group of students present can be challenging to those of us who are quite sensitive. We see the issues and want to make change, but we often run out of time or support to do that.

Is it better to be a bit less sensitive to teach well. Sometimes I think the best teachers are those that let issues and concerns roll off their backs or who manage those concerns well with ease. It's possible that you can be too sensitive to teach well or at least teach with a balanced schedule of time and attention.

Whatever the case, let's just say that sensitivity plays a big role in education. It's what makes some of us jump for joy when a child triumphs and cry crocodile tears when your desire to reach all is thwarted by any one of the many obstacles that occur in education.

Like all ways of being, sensitivity can be good and not so good. It all depends on the circumstances.

Collaborative Spaces

Where are your collaborative learning spaces in the classroom?

Do these spaces have access to needed materials?

Are these spaces numbered or labeled in some way?

Is there sufficient room for group work?

Today students will split into teams of three to complete a math task. I have a number of places identified in the room for group work, but I could use a few more.

That will be the focus of the early morning work today, getting those spaces ready for the learning ahead.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Smooth or Sharpen Your Edges

As we age, we have the choice to smooth or sharpen our edges.

Now it's great to sharpen those edges if you define to sharpen as to make keener or brighter, but when you think of older people whose edges become biting, bitter, or sharp like scissors, that's a different story.

To smooth one's edges can mean to soften, become gentler, and to work with greater love and care.

As we age, we make decisions. Will be become tough and obstinate, or will become more collaborative, forgiving, and kind.

I think it's best to smooth our edges with sharp focus and keen intent. We want to do well by ourselves and others as well as make the most of this life we've been given. It's not always easy, but it's what's best for us.


I spent the day nursing my son who is recovering from surgery and reading university students' blog posts. The university students offered me lots of advice and led me to wonderful resources and ideas. Their collective effort was wonderful. As I think about teaching the courses, I recognize that it was a lot of work, but it also led to substantial learning. As they say, to teach something is to learn it best.

Tomorrow I look forward to returning to my students and the classroom. Each time I venture from the classroom sphere, I find that I return with renewed energy and commitment. Yes, I like being a classroom teacher and I love what young children bring to my life.

So tomorrow we'll continue our division path as we finally complete that "holiday tips" project that's been planned for days. At the start of the weekend I'll wrap up the university course, and then a few more days of teaching and the welcome reprieve of the holiday break. Onward.

Who's Smarter?

At times professionals can battle with the underlying question, Who's smarter?" When in truth, the answer is "Together we're smarter." It's rare that one perspective, skill set, and knowledge beats another unless you are talking about something very specific, but if you're working on initiatives, the reality is that we do better when we collaborate and work together.

Setting up competitive systems of work and effort undermine the potential that positive collaboration holds in schools. That's why I'd rather see schools rated than teachers with the foundation question being, "How does this school synthesize its resources to best teach children?"

We all know that no one style, skill level, or experience speaks to all children. We know that it truly does "take a village" to teach well and run a school. There's no way that anyone of us can be all things, but together we can be truly magnificent if our collaboration is respected and nurtured with time, structure, and support.

Pitting teachers against each other with evaluations and students' scores reduces the potential of empowering collaboration, and that's a loss for children.

So moving forward in education, let's look deeply at schools and school systems. Who is doing well based on their students and their context? Don't compare school-to-school and look for sameness because contexts are different and needs differ too. But, instead, figure out what the holistic success factors are, and then rate a school based on that. And if a school doesn't live up to its expectations, then help that school out rather than ridicule the organization.

Who's smarter?

We all are when we work together. This is a good challenge to face.

Assessing Your Work Through Students' Comments

Today as I'm home caring for a sick child, I am reading a large number of student responses related to my teaching efforts at the university. It's a humbling affair.

It was my first time in a long time teaching university students. About 20 years ago I taught a similar course at another local university for a few semesters. At that time I was a much younger and busier educator/pareant who didn't even stop to think that I could do it better. Now as a veteran teacher of thirty years I find I am much more cognizant of the growth potential included in any endeavor. I realize now, more than ever, that there's always room for growth and improvement, and that students know a lot when it comes to what works with regard to teaching and learning.

So as I read the students' reflections, I'm reminded of just how much time and preparation it takes to teach a sensitive, student-centered, personalized program. No class of students learns in the same way and all the students bring their own experiences, needs, challenges, and perspectives to class. To teach well is to acknowledge that.

Also to teach well is to know the focus and objectives of the program well. I've been teaching elementary school for a long time. I know a lot about what students want and need at that level. Since this is my first time in a long time teaching university students, I wasn't quite sure about what they knew already and what they needed and wanted to know about teaching math in school. In reality, their needs and wants differed greatly amongst one another as I previously said, and probably, if I were in charge of the world, I would design the course with the following components:
  • Initial teacher-student interview of 30 minutes where the instructor gets to know the teacher candidate with depth related to his/her experience and expectations for the course.
  • Multiple, targeted content/process related lessons where the teacher models best practice and students then discuss and personalize the learning.
  • A tighter connection with the practicum, real world experiences of teacher candidates so that teacher candidates are able to try out what they are learning in the classroom in the practicum and then sharing that experience with others in class.
  • A blended style course of hands-on, technology, workshop, teacher-led, video and more.
In the end, I felt the course went quite well for a first time at this university. I know that I learned a lot and I believe the teacher candidates got a good taste of what's out there with regard to math teaching and learning. Ideally, as stated above, I would enjoy teaching this course in conjunction with the practicum experience. For example, perhaps teacher candidates would be teaching math every day to young children then meeting once or twice a week so that a master teacher could coach, inspire, and inform their efforts. I believe the Boston Fellows program has a model like this. 

There's more to say on this and as I read more comments and assessments, I'm sure I'll return to post again. It's humbling to read assessments about your own efforts, but taking these assessments seriously has the potential to serve your craft and practice well providing you with areas for growth and development. That's exactly what I'll do. 

Home-Work Balance: Sick Children

I'll run my plans in this morning and then return to take care of a sick child at home. Every working parent knows the tug that occurs when you have a child that needs at home care. It's one of the struggles of working and parenting. Fortunately at my place of work there's time built in to take care of sick family members, and that helps.

Fortunately a beloved student teacher who was just hired by our school system for a part time job will lead the class. The students know and love her so they'll be happy. Also I'm leaving a fun lesson that should keep their interest. One I hoped to teach, but can't delay any longer.

As someone mentioned on Twitter last night, this Presidential campaign has not talked a lot about public education. They also haven't talked a lot about work conditions and family/work balance. Instead, a few big issues have taken focus in the campaign talk.

How can we build a better working and parenting world? What do we need in order to have what it takes to care for our loved ones with strength and success? How can our laws affect our lives in ways that positively impact the lives of everyday people, not just those who have the time and money to be heard?

I am fortunate to be in a position to be able to stay home to take care of a sick child. I know that there are others for whom this would be a hardship. It's time we started looking more broadly on what our can can and should be in order to support a strong, positive populous.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Educational Organizations: Systems of Service

As I sit at the hospital today while a family member has surgery, I am reminded of the great potential systems of service hold for every individual's life.

I'm struck to think about the systems of service we provide in an education organization. This makes me ponder the following questions?
  • Who do I serve and how do I serve them?
  • How can I provide better service?
  • How can we as educators collaborate more to serve children and their families better?
  • How do we dismantle the roadblocks to good service?
  • How do we create better paths together?
  • What role does communication play in this process?
  • Do we spend time well in this regard?
First, I serve students. What can I do for them? First, provide a "home away from home" atmosphere. Second, coach well with positivity, knowledge, and care. Finally, assess, learn, and improve as I continue down this path.

Next, work with colleagues to coordinate our efforts to serve all children well. Make the time to meet, target, help each other, and collaborate to teach well.

After that, hone communication and time management skills so that most time and speak is spent towards positive effort and meaningful collaboration.

Further lead and teach with a positive demeanor and care for those I work with, partner with, and serve.

When we look at educational organizations as systems of service, what would you change for the better? Where do you prioritize your efforts and development in this regard? 

Focus In: PreVacation

The school vacation is right around the corner and everyone is ready. There's been a spell of illness which has caught some at school and children are starry eyed as they look forward to holiday festivities. Teachers are tired too--we've been pushing a lot in the last few months and we're ready for the reprieve as well.

Yesterday everyone pitched in and cleaned up the classroom. Now there's some paperwork to organize and assessments to correct. We've got a slew of good division lessons too. Students seem to like to play with the numbers in multiple ways.

As far as the university course goes, the lessons are done and there's a final portfolio review ahead. In the meantime, there are lots of blog posts to read and websites to look over. The semester provided the students with a solid overview of what to expect and do as elementary math teachers.

The new year will bring a deeper focus related to classroom work and teaching each student well. We have an excellent grade-level team, super families and students, plenty of resources, and collective will to do a good job.

There's a few challenges in our midst, but we'll steer clear of those as they don't relate specifically to the work we're called to do.

With regard to professional learning there's lots to read and study with regard to the shared teaching model and math education. That will be the focus as I complete the TLI capstone and continue to contribute to Teachers.Do. Both efforts have been positive, collaborative, and empowering with regard to specific work I do to teach children well.

Empower or not

There are leaders and colleagues in our midst who empower us. They stand by us, give us good ideas, celebrate the successes, and work together. They are the people we look to and for as we reach for better service to children and the education community.

There are also those that do not empower. No idea other than their own is a good idea. They are not open minded. They rule rather than serve and demean rather than empower. It's good to steer clear of leaders and colleagues like that.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Loving our Detractors

Our detractors stand like boulders in our path. They show up in our dreams and challenge our forward movement. Our detractors force us to think deeply with detail and rationale so that our work is good and meaningful. Our detractors can frustrate us too.

Yet, good leaders tell us to be mindful of our detractors and embrace them too.

Who are the detractors in your midst? How can you love them and bring them in?

Are you a detractor to others? If so, how can you mitigate this situation and move towards greater collaboration and support.

These are good questions to ponder during this season of giving and care.

Silent Leaders

Some leaders have a lot to say, and some say nothing at all.

Which is better?

Too much silence creates unnecessary wonder and questions.

Too much talk can create scatter and confusion.

There's a just right level of discussion, share, and information when it comes to leadership. I suspect that differs dependent upon the context of your organizations.

What do you think?

Teaching Math: Holiday Tips Equal Share

Photo Credit
The Holiday Bonus project has turned to a holiday tips project. I'll explain to students how waitresses and waiters pool their tips at some restaurants. Then I'll tell them that each small group of three will get a bag of "tips." It's their job to count the money and divide it evenly by the number in the bag. They will have to complete this problem solving sheet as they work.

You could extend this project by saying that the tips are shared with a certain percentage for each restaurant worker. For example the busboys would get one percentage, the maitre de another, and the waiters and waitresses still another percentage too. That's the way they do it at some restaurants.

For my fifth graders though, I'm going to stick with the equal share problem as we start our division/fraction study and learning. I'll assess students' efforts as they work with similar ability math peers. This will give me good information for future lessons.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Quality Education is Imperative to our Democracy

A well educated populous leads a country towards the good life.

When the education of the populous is compromised by underfunded systems, politics, and failing structure then the country suffers.

It's important for every citizen to take a holistic look at their schools, and then work together to improve conditions if need be.

Every citizen needs to understand what it means to be well educated today and the kinds of schools that lead to a top-notch education.

For that assessment, citizens should look at the following attributes:
  1. Are the schools student-focused? Is there an attitude and effort to help every child succeed?
  2. Are families and community members welcome at schools?
  3. Do educators have the credentials needed to do the job?
  4. Do educators have the working conditions with regard to time, place, and resources to do the job well?
  5. How do students and graduates assess the programs?
  6. Are resources used well? What metrics do you use to assess that? Are the metrics valid?
  7. Are students getting a holistic education, one that prepares them well as future contributors to society and successful, happy individuals?
Last night I heard a story about a teacher from another state. Her work conditions were impossible when it comes to teaching children well. I was discouraged to hear this story. There's no reason why our country can't create conditions for excellence in every school--that's a goal we should all commit to. 

Shared Teaching: Focus In, Target Your Efforts

I continue to think and rethink my role as educator.

Our new shared model at fifth grade is AMAZING with respect to the fact that I can much more often reach the level of excellence when it comes to teaching and learning. Now that I'm not spending lots of time trying to balance all the demands of multiple subjects, I am able to teach deep. That's both satisfying and productive when it comes to how and what I do for students.

This shift to the shared teaching model means greater collaboration, greater growth, and greater tailored attention to each and every learning. Terrific!

This change though has meant changes in other areas too. For example, I continued to hold on to past practice, materials, and efforts, and now I realize there needs to be changes in those areas too. You can't add on or change without taking away or modifying. Hence, I'm going to cull my to-do list so that my efforts are more greatly targeted towards math teaching and learning and less in other areas.

In the days ahead, I'll give my classroom yet another makeover to match my focus on mostly math teaching and learning. I'll also adjust my professional learning efforts in that direction in the next few months. I'll focus more on efforts related to the shared teaching model and math rather than other ares of school life.

There's always some angst associated with change. There's also error that occurs and the need to re-right one's direction. The shared teaching model is a model I've desired for a long time and overall the model's result is giving all of us, teachers and students, the chance to learn with greater depth, breadth, and engagement. This is a wonderful step in the right direction. Onward.

Coaching Students Forward: Math

As I looked over the homework list today, I realized that some students had not completed any homework last week. I recognize that families have busy schedules, but I also know that those students who don't regularly practice math usually don't make the progress that students who do regularly practice math make.

What's a teacher to do?

I sent a note to each of those students' families with the list of practice sites. I also noticed a few other students that need different kinds of assignments in order to support their math progress, and I'll work to provide those assignments this week.

All in all, to help students achieve in math means making sure you're covering all the bases below:

Targeted Home Study
Each week students have a list of online and/or offline assignments that support their in class performance. I can easily see who completes the assignments and who does not. The key here is working with students and families to make sure that practice assignments match a student's needs and ability to complete home study after or before school. It's not going to be a one-size-fits-all, but for the most part, the online and offline assignments I give match most students' needs and abilities since about 89% are completing the assignments regularly

Response to Intervention (RTI)
Our students take part in small RTI groups each week. RTI provides a great way to target students' specific needs. We are faithful to this approach with a close eye on the best groups and materials for each child.

Math Tech
At least one morning a week we provide students with Math Tech practice. We have a host of online sites that students use. This is very helpful to students' overall math learning.

Core Program
Students participate in a large variety of learning options during the core program. There's quite a bit of differentiation during this time thanks to the support of special educators and teaching assistants. This program follows the CCSS scope and sequence.

After School Math Program
Some students attend an after school math preview program once a week to support their learning as well.

Extra Help
When possible teachers provide extra help during lunch and before school.

I've moved to giving an assessment about once a week to monitor student progress and needs as well as to provide a vehicle for regular student feedback on their efforts. I want to solidify and personalize this approach even more in the days ahead.

There's endless ways to teach and promote math today. There is no reason why any student can't achieve in math given all the tools available online and off. The key is good coaching, and that's my responsibility. As I move into 2016, I'll work to provide that with even greater attention and care.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What Does It Really Mean to Teach Well?

Can an educator prepare and present three-five top notch lessons a day with approximately one-hour or less of official planning time a day?

Is one issue with quality education the simple fact that educators do not have the time they need to research, plan, and present high-quality learning opportunities?

Has anyone truly taken the time to break down the roles in education and analyze what each professional is doing and the impact the details of that role have on teaching children well?

It's likely that a lot of roles in education stay the same and do not change no matter the impact simply because it takes time and creates change when that happens. Both time and change present challenges to any organization.

I can speak for teachers who are in charge of large numbers of students most of the day and rated by standardized tests and other measures. Teachers like that, and I'm one of them, are required to present multiple high-quality, differentiated, standards-based, student-centered learning experiences a day. There is great satisfaction in leading quality learning experiences for children as you see the engagement, growth, and enthusiasm that result.

Yet, at times, educators work is challenged in that regard due to multiple factors including the time it takes to complete forms, organize field studies, respond to emails, take mandated trainings, xerox papers, organize/clean classrooms, and watch children at play during recess or transition times.

So one positive step in the year ahead is to to take teacher's time seriously, and to make sure that educators have the time and support they need to craft, personalize, deliver, and assess quality learning experiences. This may mean shifting some roles to make more time so that there's sufficient time to do this job well. But this doesn't necessarily mean more dollars.

If you want to make this happen I suggest you start with the following. Make a chart with each educators name, the number of minutes a day on task, and the number of students that teacher is responsible for during that time. Also make a list of the prep time that goes into each lesson. Then make connections between that work and school-wide goals and expectations. Perhaps do this for one week. At the end of the week analyze if there's sufficient time given to educators to meet the goals set. You may find that you'll be able to make more time for significant goals by adapting expectations and role definitions a bit. That might make a fresh start with regard to teaching every child well.

Teacher as Treasure Seeker: Quality over Quantity

 (Photo Credit)
In the back of my mind I've been wondering what to do amidst all the viable resources for teaching and learning today. Tonight it occurred to me that I have to think of myself as a treasure seeker who keeps only the most precious books, articles, artifacts, manipulatives, tools, and resources.

What does this treasure seeking mindset mean for my work and efforts?

First it means that I'll rid my cabinets, closets, shelves, calendar, and schedule of objects and events that aren't treasures or necessary items. There's so many wonderful tools, resources, and events today that I don't need to fill the schedule or clutter the room with those that are no longer rich or useful.

Next it means that I'll be more discerning than ever about where I spend my professional time and what objects of my craft I'll use. I want my students to have the best that I can offer, and that means choosing quality over quantity with regard to how we spend our time together and the kinds of projects and efforts we embark on.

As a treasure seeker I'll keep my eyes and ears open via collaborative meetings, Twitter, Teachers.Do, blogs, books, educational events, and other medium as well as real time places and events outside of education so that I can continue to enrich and cull my collection and craft.

I like the notion of teacher as treasure seeker and sharer. That's a good forward focus for now.

RTI Focus: The Life of Langston Hughes


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-wing bird 
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams 
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow. 

- Langston Hughes

I'm not great at memorizing poems, but the one poem I have memorized is Langston Hughes' poem, Dreams. I love that poem, and often say it to myself when a dream is challenged or inspired. 

Recently, when thinking about how to design a multi-genre unit for my small RTI reading/writing group, I decided to focus on the life of Langston Hughes. I knew that students would enjoy reading about his life and also be inspired by his tenacity, talent, voice, and vision.

I wanted students to pay attention to the details so we started to learn about Langston Hughes as a mystery person.

First students read a poem written about Langston's life by John Medina in the book, Love to Langston. The poem didn't include Hughes' name so students did a lot of guessing about who this person might be and what he or she may be like.

Later we read a short article about Hughes' childhood. Again his name was missing so students had to ask more questions and find more clues about who we were reading about. This "mystery person" idea created greater attention to detail and more questions. As readers, students were truly detectives.

After that students practiced a cloze reading activity with a Hughes passage. This time students learned Langston Hughes' identity as they read through the text and tried to choose the right words. This text answered many student questions and introduced students to new information and vocabulary too.

Finally, the students read a great Scholastic mini-play about Hughes' life. They enjoyed the play so much that a couple of students took a copy home to read with family members.

There's a lot more we could have done to learn about Langston Hughes and multiple genre, but these lessons created a good set for my lively, curious RTI group. I hosted many of the materials in this website if you want to take a look.