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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What's Next?

Yesterday's misfit day led me to come in early and organize my workspace which is a couple of counter tops with bins of supplies and papers.

It also led me to think about the next steps given the revelation yesterday that test season does not allow teaching as planned.

So what does it allow?

Slow it Down
Test season allows me to slow down the pace and focus on strategy and depth with math talk, conversation, and problem solving. We'll do that.

Review
Test season also gives me a chance to review science content through hands-on exploration, adventure, videos, books, and discussions.

Biography Projects and Reading
It lends itself to students' work on their biography projects--lots of reading, research, writing, creating graphics, and costume design.

The Outdoor Classroom
More time for outside adventure now that we finally have a hint of spring and warmer weather.

Choice Time
The fact that many are saturated from the year's learning means we have to make more time to let the learning deepen and grow with free time choices such as reading, writing, creating, playing games, and more.

Community and Relationships
It's the students' last year at our school. That brings about a range of emotions, so it's very important to spend some extra time on community and relationships at this time of upcoming transition.

Health
Lots of play, healthy snacks, and water.

Listening
I'm a fast and talkative coach. It's time to slow it down and listen more.

Memories
We'll continue to add to the showcase portfolios in ways that matter.

School Year Saturation Point

Saturation is the state or process that occurs when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with, or added.

Yesterday when I shared a thought with a colleague, that colleague looked at me with a blank stare. That's when I new he had met the saturation point in the year--a time in the school year when you've met the limit for new ideas, problems, and thought.

It's not surprising that educators are meeting their saturation points this spring since it was a year of multiple initiatives and the continuation of new endeavors from last year. Right now educators are completing student evaluations and educator evaluations. They're giving tests and taking courses. They're also planning curriculum, organizing special events, and waiting for news of next year's assignments.

Students also begin to meet saturation points at this time of the year--they're overloaded with tests, homework, new learning, and spring sports--it's a busy time of year.

When the saturation point hits, it's important to take a step back and deepen rather than add anything new. It's okay to jot down new ideas for the future, but as far as implementation--this is not the best time. The saturation time is also a good time to acknowledge each others needs and build a more caring community.

Heed the signs of saturation, step back, and make time to enjoy the students amidst all the activity of the last quarter of the school year.



Note: I wonder what brain scans look like at saturation points--what is the cognitive result of saturation?


Change Course

If you don't have the typical supports, space, or structure, you can't expect to do the work you're used to.

That's what created disruption today.

The scheduled was changed.
The materials and space I'm used to were not available.
The typical supports were not there.

Yet, I expected the same result.

For the remainder of test season, I'll realize the teaching/learning landscape is different during these weeks which requires a different approach to teaching and learning, a more one-size-fits-all, traditional effort.

That's just the way it is.

Rethink Spaces for Deeper Learning

Marble mazes are everywhere in my classroom.

If you were to visit the room, it would look like someone's recycled materials room as the mazes are simple machines made from cardboard, plastic bottles, old mimeo sheets, and more.

I'm ready to have my classroom back because all that room we could spread out to has become full of mazes, so there's less room to work which means more time at desks in the traditional style. Plus we're taking the tests which means lots of traditional quiet-at-your-desk-independent work.

It's not ideal, yet students don't want to part with their creations so I've been leaving them up a bit more. Thursday will be the last day because we can't continue with such limitations on collaborative space to study and work.

What's ideal?

If we're going to invest in STEAM and deeper learning efforts, we're going to have to re-think time and space.  Big, deep, creative projects do take time and space. For deep learning, students have to have the time to revisit, revise, and share, and that means there needs to be the space for display and craft.

There also needs to be spaces for quiet work, group work, and presentation.  How can we maximize our school space and structures to make time and place for this kind of work.

This week, at school, we'll just have to go with it and live with the disruption of STEAM and testing in one room.  In the future, I want to do the following:
  • Work with my team to discuss space and focus. Who will teach what, and how will space affect those decisions?
  • How will we chart the year? For example, PARCC testing and our own system-wide-testing created a difficult schedule for teaching. Next year, we need to look at the expectations up front and plan so that testing doesn't take us away from needed continuity and routines for good learning and project work.
Rethinking spaces in school is a big jump from traditional classroom set-ups and structure. But if we really want to match our work with research and need, we'll have to make time for that discussion. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Challenging Day: The Value of Routine

When teaching young students there is great value to routine.

The testing regiment has disrupted that routine which has made it difficult with regard to continuity, pacing, apt planning, and good teaching.

In the future, now that we have an idea of what the tests entail, it will be important to schedule the tests so that they do not disrupt the routine as much.

I also hope that the number of tests are lessened as the testing-learning ratio at this time of the year seems a bit off balance.

In the meantime, I find that I'm trying to get that just right apres-test routine--one that engages students and matches their "I just took a test" mood and energy.

As I think about today, a challenging day, I realize that there's greater need for class meetings, team discussions, and learning simplicity. Our supports are less, schedules disrupted, and continuity broken, hence to keep the peace and continue a sense of team, we've got to move with a bit less speed and more simplicity as the test schedule continues off and on through the middle of May with 4 Math PARCC tests, 1 PARCC ELA, a system-wide test, and two MCAS science tests ahead. Onward.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Empower

Empower

Define: Give someone the power or authority to do something.

Empowering can be overt or subtle, and can happen in multiple ways.

A look, one word, a hug, or smile can empower.

Strategic, deep action can empower too.

How we empower those in our midst both professionally and personally matters.

We empower with language, actions, attitudes, response, affect, and mindset.

In my midst, there are many who empower others.

A colleague will speak to parents about math and empower their ability to help their children with a math-friendly attitude and actions.

Another colleague is running the Boston Marathon and raising money to empower families who need support.

A relative empowered a friend who met with a troubling circumstance with comforting words and a show of support.

A brother empowered another by supporting a great trip and time together.

A teacher empowered a child by inviting him to lunch and having a heart-to-heart conversation.

A leader empowered a team by fostering a deep, thoughtful, organized strategic planning session related to the needs of one child.

In a competitive society, empowerment has sometimes been seen as power for some and not for others--a bargaining chip, but in reality to empower more means greater power for all--a win-win proposition.

As we act as parents, educators, friends, and colleagues, we can ask ourselves if we're empowering or defeating. Empowering those around us serves all well.

Vision Setting: Now, Later, and After That

As you create vision, there's the need to think about now, later, and after that.

NOW
What's critical at the moment? What events, actions, mindsets, and behaviors need attention? How does your daily agenda fulfill those needs and move ahead with the details that create strength, good work, and promise?

LATER
What's a few weeks or months down the road? How are you preparing for that work? What efforts will set the stage for success in these endeavors?

AFTER THAT
What are your long term goals? What do you need to do to reach those goals? What kind of time do you carve out of the "now and later" schedule to make time for the "after that" vision?

I keep repeating that sage advice my dad gave me, "A little for today and a little for tomorrow," which leads to good balance as you develop your skill and craft for now, later, and after that.

Choreographing Deep, Rich Learning

What are the ingredients to deep, rich learning?

How can we lead students through a large number of learning/teaching endeavors during their early years so that we build confidence, skill, knowledge, and passion?

What projects, resources, pedagogy, and environments matter in this regard?

If we audit our schools, what would we keep, what would we discard, and what would we revise?

What do our students think about this?  What matters to them in this age of ready information and resources, but possibly less time for depth and relationship?

What cultures do we want to build in our schools, classrooms, and greater community, and how do those cultures affect student learning for the world of their future, not ours?

How do our structures support meaningful culture and community building? Whose voices are heard? What process sets the stage for this architecture?

What is the long range vision? What do we hope and dream for our young students? How do we make that happen?  Do we share similar vision and mission?

In many ways, I think of the school day as a play--the intersection of multiple people, activities, and goals to best inspire, inform, and engage students as they build their repertoire of knowledge, skill, concept, confidence, and affect to develop themselves, their communities, and their world.

I think about my young learners. I think about what they like, what they need, and where they want to go. I blend that with the standards, structure, time, and available resources to craft a day that appeals to them and achieves the multiple goals set forth. I work with my team to do this well, and I don't always achieve the vision that leads me--it's a continual process. Every teacher knows that.

How do you choreograph your day, week, year? Who and what impacts that choreography? When is the choreography just right, and when does it fail?

There are many, many questions that arise when one thinks of choreographing a school day for best learning for all children. Questions that are important to consider as you travel this teaching/learning path you're on.

Educator Role Definition and Learning Depth

As a high school student, I was integrated into a humanities program. The teachers on the team taught the literature, history, arts, and religion of a similar time period each year. The course of study helped me to integrate ideas and see the world with intersection and depth. This was a rich, forward-thinking curriculum.

Similarly, in many elementary school classrooms, teachers are able to meld a number of content areas together into rich interdisciplinary units to provide students with a similar intersection. And, now we read that Finland is getting rid of "subjects" to also provide students with a broader, richer real-world lens of teaching and learning.

As I think about blended, interdisciplinary study, I wonder about educator's roles in schools.

What is that just right role that blends depth with the intersection of content, concept, and skill?

As an educator who teaches two subjects this year rather than five, I am much more able to reach for depth. Further investment in these two subjects would create greater intersection too. Perhaps, if my partner teacher and I had the time we could create rich, interdisciplinary units that integrate multiple subjects under a meaningful, relevant content umbrella. The endangered species unit at fourth grade met that goal to a large part, a goal that was led by a 2030 study of education.

It's important for school communities to analyze roles and structure with regard to the kind of depth that results from those teaching/learning models. What roles and structure provide the kind of learning depth that develops students' ability to perceive their world with both a broad and deep understanding, an understanding that enables them to navigate this changing world well?

Tend Websites

Do your websites lay fallow with old information and outdated formats and lists?

Or do you have a regular routine of tending websites to make sure the information is current?

Who do you enlist in your tending process? Or do you make the decisions by yourself with regard to how to prune the pages to make them as user friendly and up-to-date as possible?

Website maintenance should be an ongoing endeavor. For school personnel, this process can take on a routine that stays ahead of the school year routine.

Here's how I develop and maintain my teaching/learning websites:
  • Each spring and summer, I update the general classroom websites to reflect the new teaching/learning year to come. Those websites include the following:
  • During the summer months, I also create the following new websites:
    • Teaching Team Website: a website that includes class data lists, IEP plans, weekly schedules. This website supports the teaching team. 
    • The Teaching Team Website is a one-stop spot for all classroom data and
      other information that helps us to teach children well. 
    • Class Newsletter Website: A website that hosts the weekly newsletters and essentially serves as the year's storybook.
  • During the summer and also during the year, I update specific websites and website pages related to curriculum units and standards. About a month before a unit, I'll review the webpage or website as well as blog posts about the unit. I'll think about what we'll keep from the previous year and what needs revision. Then I'll research, collaborate, and revise the page prior to teaching and as the teaching occurs. I've added a couple examples of these pages or websites below.
The websites are available to the entire learning team including students, family members, colleagues, leaders, and community members as a way to access the curriculum program 24-7. Also as I read and study, if I learn something new that pertains to a particular website or web page, I'll readily add the link or information to upgrade the page. I typically share links to web pages and websites in weekly newsletters, on home study pages, and in reflective blog posts. I welcome critique and conversation about the websites in order to develop the work with the learners' interests as the primary focus.

How do you tend your websites? What website structure and format do you find easiest to navigate and use for your learning/teaching endeavor?  These are good questions for a learning team conversation as we can learn and grow from each others' experience and vantage point. 

Deepening the process involved in website development and care, will help to deepen the work do to help every child succeed as well. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Week Ahead: Details

Moving from #satchat's big ideas to the nuts and bolts of teaching well next week. Then it's time for friends and family.

PARCC
Students know the routine. We'll follow the directions, and students will take the tests as I proctor.

Math
We'll continue the grade-level review we started last week.

Marble Mazes
During free time and recess, students will have the chance to refine and decorate their projects. They can also make movies about their work. On Thursday interested parents are invited to visit and look at the projects. Then students will reflect on their work and take a short content assessment.

Scientist Visit
A scientist from the local Discovery Museum will visit and teach students about matter.

Specials
Schedules have changed due to PARCC, but students will still have all specials this week.

No School on Friday: Good Friday


Leverage Tech Resources to Optimize Student Learning

When was the last time you and your colleagues sat down and discussed the ways you use technology to maximize student learning?

Who makes the technology decisions for your students?

How are those decisions made, and what patterns of curation inform those decisions?

Do all students have equal access to the best tech tools and projects?

These are important questions with regard to student learning today.

With the questions above in mind, I have the following thoughts:

Curation Patterns and Routines
Regular, inclusive patterns of curation support optimal tech use. These patterns profit from the following actions:
  • Steady trials of new tech venues with small groups of students well-matched for the trial. For example, I get invitations daily to try out new tech. I have lots of students who would be great curators of the tech. I'd like to match them with the tech, let them try it out, assess, and review with me and other educators. That would give us a steady inside look at new venues, and help us determine if the tech is useful, engaging, and promising. In addition, students involved in the trial, could later teach others the venue.
  • Open platforms and routines for tech trials. Too many rules and cumbersome process hinder growth with regard to the use of new tools and venues. 
  • Easy-to-access funding for trials, tests, and innovation.
  • Long term assessment of venues with broad parameters for learning/teaching value. 
Due to the way tech changes, it's important to keep up on the latest and greatest tools. If you let too much time lapse, the job becomes too big to tackle for apt use and learning.

Good Process for Tech Share and Curation
It's important that teachers share what they learn about tech use regularly. There are many terrific platforms out there for student learning. In this regard, I suggest starting with a simple, open google document that educators can add to when they find a tech tool useful. A tech integration specialist or tech committee could re-look at the document to make it user-friendly on a regular basis. That might mean updating columns, organizing content, editing for user-ease, and posting on a faculty website. 

This is a draft of the kind of collaborative chart your school could create for open share. 


Looking at Tech Use with the Lens of Cultural Relevancy and Equity
What tools do your students regularly use in school and out of school? I have noticed both gender gaps and economic gaps with regard to tech use, and I have found that these gaps translate into academic gaps as well. For example my students who use Minecraft and Scratch are generally stronger at math than those that don't use this tool. We've integrated SCRATCH somewhat, but we've yet to integrate Minecraft which builds students' ability to visualize math well. By surveying students and making the academic connections, you can see where inequity with regard to gender, economics, and perhaps other factors exist. Then you can mitigate those gaps by incorporating the tools that lead to academic growth into the curriculum in thoughtful ways.

Blended Learning Design that Embeds the Best Technology
There needs to be time for worthy, inclusive, collaborative blended learning design to deepen and develop student learning. This is the BEST way to identify and embed good tools for student learning. Too often those that choose the tools are removed from the daily learning. It's best to have a complete team of educators, assistants, family members, students, and administrators work together with good process to design learning units that are deep and meaningful. This is when we will reach the best design for vigorous, engaging, and empowering deep learning. Too often, in education, we are satisfied with quick fixes with regard to learning design, and these quick fixes don't help us to achieve the broad-based learning we aim for.

As we look ahead with regard to teaching and learning, it's clear to me that we have to re-look at roles, structure, and routines in all areas including technology. The way we work together to curate technology and design learning experiences with and for students impacts the work we do greatly. If we re-look at the way we spend our time and the roles we play, we will find that we can make change to better serve students.

I don't have all the answers in this regard, but these are a few points to consider as you leverage technology to maximize student learning. 


Note: I changed "maximize" to "optimize" because maximize suggests quantity while optimize suggests depth. 

Marble Maze: Final Official Day


The marble maze simple machine project took on a life of its own. Although today was the last official day, students implored me to keep the projects up so they could continue to build. Therefore the projects will remain up for recess and free time building and design.

If I do the project again, I'll do the following:
  • Start out with the web page like I did this time. 
  • Supply the STEAM center with lots of recyclables in an organized way.
  • Preview the project with students who are reluctant during project work.
  • Work with students to make good teams.
  • Give each child a box of essential supplies including duct tape, scotch tape, popsicle sticks, wheels and wheel-like objects, scotch tape, and clear plastic overhead sheets. (Note that the duct tape created friction which often hindered the marble's ride so I'll likely look for slippery adhesive tape in the future--any suggestions?).
  • Assign each group to a team "workshop area" in the classroom.
Next week students will have the chance to make their own movies of their projects.  They'll also complete reflection sheets related to their project's strengths, challenges, and learning. I'll likely share some of their comments as I use the information to further analyze the project's merits and needs for future teaching. As part of the reflection, students will be asked to screenshot one photo from their collection or the collection on the Storify below to upload to Google Draw in order to add important labels and captions to further share their project details and learning. 

How Do You Recognize Each Child?

As I think more about this year and my plans for next year, I'm thinking about the systems in place to recognize each child.

Birthdays
Many teachers have special systems in place to recognize birthdays. I've always said that I want to do it, but haven't incorporated a system yet. Next year, I'll finally do that. Birthdays are special days for young children.

Lunch Meetings
This year's new job list offered a good way to recognize everyone and give everyone a role in classroom life. Yet, because we didn't start the structure early in the year, it never became rooted deeply in our classroom culture. So next year, I'd like to start this early and then arrange regular lunch meetings for each committee to meet and discuss their job and plans.

Feedback
I continue to strive to offer feedback in the best, consistent ways. That's challenging with large numbers of students to teach. Students receive feedback on assessments regularly and that helps them to see what they've mastered and what they still need to study. Narrative feedback is typically provided for project work. Sometimes I'll send a special email acknowledgement for extraordinary work and effort. Feedback is essential and I want to continue to think about feedback loops for next year's class as well as the end of this year.

Class Meetings
Regular class meetings give students voice and choice related to learning events and classroom culture. This serve to acknowledge students' ideas and needs in meaningful ways.

Thank You Notes
Some years I'm good at this and other years, I'm not so good. Again preparation at the start of the year helps. Making a box that includes addresses, cards, and stamps at the start of the year will help you to write those thank you cards each and every time a child presents you with a small present or act of kindness.

Share
Making time for students to share their special talents, interests, holidays, traditions, and more is important to building a child-centered classroom where students are recognized. Finding time for share is difficult, but important.

Greetings and Time for Talk
Making time to greet each child warmly everyday and talk to each child informally on a regular basis is important. Noticing their special attributes, feelings, and interests matters.

A critical part of our job is relationship building. By finding good ways to recognize each child regularly we can build those strong relationships. This is one important part of the overall choreography of successful teaching and learning.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday End-of-March Reflections

To me, the longest teaching month of the year, March, is almost over. We made it! The month was extra challenging given new tests and curriculum areas to manage. Thanks to lots of great support, those areas are taking shape. We've also started having a few warm days which make outdoor play a lot more inviting and easy-to-access--that helps.

Due to the new testing regime, the daily schedule keeps changing, so flexibility is key. My colleagues' mantra has been, "We just have to go with it," as we check in with each other daily to make sure we're on track with each day's schedule.

Going forward the students will continue to test, study math, engage in science explorations, watch related videos, read books, and write stories and reports. I've got to make time for team meetings too because with all these changes, you need the meetings to keep everyone on the same page.

Through the best teaching moments and those moments that could be better, I keep saying to students, "I'm here for you and the teaching team will do anything we can for you to make this a successful year, so please ask questions, give it your best, and help us teach you well by sharing your ideas and telling us what you need."

I also don't want to forget the joy possible and so important. Today I'll do that as I step back and take lots of photos and videos of their learning in action. Later students can incorporate those videos and photos into their learning reflections.

Shortlist Goals

A long time ago I studied inclusion practices at Boston University. It was the same time that full inclusion of all students was starting in our school system.

The courses were terrific and helped me to work with my colleagues to institute many practices that still support apt inclusion today.

One important strategy I learned was to shortlist goals. So instead of trying to do it all, you and your team choose 3-5 goals to reach.

I am thinking about this today as I am about to attend a team meeting related to students' needs and goals. As I think about this meeting of many, each with a different perspective and school role, I'm wondering first what our shortlist of goals will be. What do we deem most important for the children we want to serve well?

I am also thinking about the overall goal of the meeting? What is it that we want to achieve? Which of these school topics will take precedence:
  • learning
  • obedience
  • mindset
  • learning-to-learn routines and actions
  • areas of competence
  • coordination of services
  • home-school communication and support
  • just right academic goals and support
  • specific content/concept areas
As I think about our students, I'm wondering about the need to establish the following constructs:
  • point person for communication and collaboration--a team leader.
  • small homeroom with team leader each day to support a healthy, prepared start to each day.
  • homework club to coach home study completion.
  • fewer overall teachers/classes with greater depth and targeted learning design.
Today our goal will be to create a strategic plan for better service to children. I'm looking forward to the conversation and resulting action. 


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Marble Maze Project Closure

Tomorrow represents our last official marble maze project day. I'll leave the projects up for another week for recess play and work. Then next Thursday we'll move the projects from the room to make room for new learning experiences.

As my blog demonstrates the project had many highs and lows--it was a challenging project to facilitate, coach, and complete, but it was also a terrific learning opportunity for the students and a learning experience that most students enjoyed. It's definitely a keeper, a project I'll improve for greater effect.

Next Thursday students will have the chance to reflect on the project. The reflections will include descriptions of their project work, collaboration, successes, and challenges. The reflection will also include a summary of the learning and ideas related to how the project could be better for future classes.

In the meantime, I'll invite interested parents to drop in to look at the projects at designated times if they're interested. We'll also share the projects with our kindergarten buddies.

True project/problem base learning is not easy teaching, but it can be rewarding and motivating for our young learners. Also it's the kind of learning that replicates the skills, mindset, concept, and knowledge students will need and use in their future.

Addition
My post-college son commented about the fact that it was good to get all students, particularly girls, involved in STEAM early. Then I read this Casap article that supports this work as well.


Professional Learning Website

A professional learning website can support faculty and students well.

The website could include the following:
  • Inservice plans and dates
  • Local course offerings and cost
  • Institutes and Conferences
  • Online learning opportunities
  • Social media chats and connections
  • Links to financial support available
  • Links to information about professional development points, credits, salary increase ranges.
  • Advice and models of professional development paths
  • Collegial share related to professional learning endeavor
A good professional learning website that is tended to regularly and inclusively will help educators develop more independent, thoughtful, and targeted professional learning paths. 

Communication that Supports Good Work

A colleague prompted me to consider good professional communication once again.

I believe that good communication has the following attributes:
  • Consistency--people can rely on a regular update every week or so.
  • History and Assessment: Past events are noted and analyzed for knowledge and growth.
  • Current Events: Events currently in place are shared including invitations to partake in or contribute to the event if you're available or have something to add.
  • Future Plans: Future efforts and ideas are shared and input is welcome. 
  • Mission and Vision: Mission and vision are included and referred to regularly. 
  • Thoughts and Problems are shared too enlisting the support of the community as one way to grow ideas and solve problems. 
  • Streamlined and Pleasing to Look At: The communication gets to the point in a graphically pleasing, efficient way. 
Good communication keeps everyone in the know and helps us to work and feel like a team.  When communication is lacking, potential for better work and greater team wanes too. Good communication is also efficient since it helps us to target our work in ways that matter. 



Test Readiness

Are you ready for new endeavor?

That question came to mind today as I prepped the room and students for today’s standardized tests.

I found myself a bit nervous about all the little details involved in the process. Details that are new and unfamiliar to me.

I want to jot down notes about preparation so that as we plan next year’s schedule and test prep, we won’t forget the many good readiness tools and processes we used to help students with these tasks. No matter how you feel about the tests, it’s our job to help students

I was grateful that our system was well prepared. We put many actions into place to set students up for success, actions such teaching a standards-based curriculum, well-staffed and well-prepared training sessions, tech checks and preparation, materials acquisition, and process organization. Also, my partner teacher and her colleague extended the preparation further by passing out little “encouragement” brown paper bags to each child. The “encouragement” bags were available to parents to fill with an encouraging note and healthy snacks for test days. These wonderful teachers also wrote every child a personalized letter to read prior to the tests--a letter that encouraged their best work and effort on test day.  Overall administrators, tech specialists, principals, teachers, students, and test coordinators put a lot of time into positive preparation for test success.

On test day, there are also many preparations that are important to test success--small matter, but matters easily forgotten if you don’t write them down. Here’s the list that helped my students:
  1. Sign in
  2. Get your assigned computer.
  3. Have your headphones, a sharpened pencil, and book to read ready.
  4. Eat your snack quietly and read at your desk.
  5. Be prepared to listen carefully to directions and do your best on the test.

There’s teacher preparation required too including:
  • Set up the room as noted by the test manual.
  • Log into the computer site.
  • Remind students to do their best on the tests.

As far as school-wide preparation, these actions were very helpful:
  • A tech specialist and test coordinator on call to troubleshoot and help out.
  • Storage bins for all test materials.
  • A place to store the storage bins.
  • Folders of scrap paper. Scratch paper to help out if students need to use paper to jot down notes or figure out an answer. Folders to cover the screen if a child has to use the bathroom and to host the scrap paper.
  • Extra headphones on hand if needed.

As a learner it’s been interesting proctoring these tests for the first time. The experience has reminded me about the way it feels when you learn a concept or process for the first time.

I am so grateful that our system took the time to prepare teachers and students well to take the tests as directed.


Expectations for Success?

Teaching/learning organizations have changed a lot in the past five years. There are multiple new initiatives at play. There are also new roles and structures.

In thinking about these changes, I'm wondering about what the expectations are for success in the teaching/learning organization? As with most education topics, those expectations will change from community to community.

Some expectations will be explicit. For example Massachusetts has outlined the attributes for teaching/learning success in their teacher evaluation documents. Other expectations will be more subtle which takes observation and good listening to understand well.

Bottom line in all teaching/learning organizations is the need to treat one another with respect and care and to keep your efforts and attitude focused on successful student learning. We won't always hit the mark we aim for as teaching is challenging work, but we can all support one another as we move in that direction and do our best work.


Analyzing Learning Success?

Last year many of my students had wonderful success and growth in specific curriculum areas. One child in particular did not achieve the same success in one area. I tried a number of approaches, but still success with those subject goals for that child did not come. I wondered if there was some underlying learning issue going on since others were succeeding with similar learning/teaching measures.

Then this year, that child, with another teacher, has made tremendous growth. The other teacher and I have somewhat different styles, but what I believe to be equal commitment and overall success with our work.

So, why did this one child do so much better with this year's teacher in that subject area than with me?

I can point to many possible factors to examine if we want to look deeply at this issue, factors such as class make-up, time-on-task with the subject, project work vs. explicit teaching, type of homework, feedback and response, age and readiness for learning, extra help, at-home supports, classroom organization, and teaching style.

More than worrying about why one child succeeds with one teacher over another, I think this story points to some important truths about teachers and students:
  • No teacher is the best teacher for all children.
  • Every year is not a child's best year of learning.
  • Children thrive under different kinds of teaching/learning endeavor--it's not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to teaching children well.
  • One year's struggle may turn to another year's success by putting the right learning structures and tools in place.
  • As educators we need to collaborate with one another and discuss the ways we gain success with specific students. We can learn from each other in this regard. 
As I watch and listen to my colleague, I think that some of the factors that may have helped this student this year were the following:
  • A class make-up that supported independence.
  • Greater explicit teaching which I think this child responds to.
  • More "Response to Intervention" support given the struggles last year.
  • More repetition with skills for daily practice and at-home practice.
  • More direct feedback to daily efforts--I want to query my colleague more about feedback patterns in this regard. 
  • More time-on-task and attention to the subject given the different structure of this year's grade level teaching than last year's structure.
As we continue to collaborate to support one another with teaching well, it's important that we consider who succeeds under our direction and who continues to face challenge and why does that happen. Conversations like these can be sensitive, but when fostered with right direction and support, the conversations can help us all to develop our skill and craft well. 





What Do We Measure?

Yesterday I was struck with a child's extraordinary interest and skill when it came to engineering a marble maze with simple machines. The girl demonstrated stamina, creativity, and skill that stood out amongst her peers. Yet, we don't have an official measure of these important attributes--a measure that people take note of.

Similarly another child in my midst exhibits tremendous social skills that shine amongst his peers. Not many children his age are able to navigate the social scene with the same grace, compassion, and success. Our report card has check boxes for social skills, but those skills aren't typically honored at special ceremonies or awards nights.

As I think about choreographing a program that teaches the whole child well, I'm thinking more about how I can recognize important skills and attributes that fall outside of the standards. If a child has an average rating on standards-based tests, yet exhibits strengths that are extraordinary and very important to real-world success and happiness, how can I acknowledge that. Also, how can I work to help students develop those non-standards-based, but critical, skills, behaviors, and mindsets?

I'm not the first to ask these questions. In fact, many are asking these questions as they craft learning/teaching programs worthy of children. As I continue to develop my skill and ability to design and deliver optimal learning experiences, I'll think about the measurements related to each area with greater depth.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Marble Maze Simple Machine Challenge Continues

I finally decided that the maze project will be completed on Friday and made more time for the project today, tomorrow, and Friday.

It was a circus-like event in the classroom as existing teams, newly formed teams, and individuals continued to craft and test their simple machine mazes. It wasn't always peaceful as some teams had arguments during the process and a few made  a few not-so-positive choices. I got a exasperated too when the creative chaos turned to cacophony.

At one point, a small group shared their finished design--it was spectacular. They were literally dancing and calling out with joy. That's when I called the principal down to take a look. The children were delighted that he was coming and rushed around putting finishing touches on their mazes in progress. Once he arrived, you could here the children calling, "Come see mine!," "See me," and "Look at this." To the students' delight, he managed to take a look at everyone's displays.

After that it was time for clean-up. In thinking about the day, I realized that these projects take on an upside down bell-shaped curve movement. First there's the excitement to get started and all the big ideas, then there's the energized effort, after that there comes a big dip--the "We'll never get there stage," and then the movement starts getting better again as student make adjustments and decisions related to the final design.  I must say I don't like the low point, but I can't imagine a creative project without one.

Tomorrow and the next day there will be some more refinement and decoration too. Mazes will get names and I'll take a photo of each one. Next week I'll make some time for student reflections, and then children will have the chance to take them home or throw them away.

Then no more big projects like this until after the tests are done sometime in mid May. As I wrote earlier these big projects and tests are not a match especially in a rom the size of my classroom. Onward.

The Value of Strategic Planning

Our team will engage in strategic planning this Friday as we look deeply at the needs of students. At the recent Teaching and Learning Conference 2015, David Johns, Executive Director or the Initiative for African American Education advocated for strategic planning when it comes to teaching every child well. We'll follow his lead.

Strategic plans in all we do help us to do our teaching/learning work well.

What does a strategic plan include?

Goal/Vision
First, we have to think deeply about what it is we want to achieve. What's most important, and what is not as important? We have to prioritize. The goal setting process needs to be deep, reflective, and inclusive. We all have different vantage points in our teaching/learning communities and the more that we can share our vantage points, priorities, and goals, the better we'll be able to work together to best teach students.

Action Plan
Once the goals and priorities are set, the next step is to create the action plan. What will we do? When will we do it? How will we troubleshoot around problems? What will we use for a communication vehicle? What are our communication protocols? How often will we communicate? When will we meet again to review, assess, and refine our actions?

Final Efforts
How long will this effort last? How will we close the effort? What kind of final reflections will we make, and where will this effort lead in terms of future action and effort?

We'll participate in more strategic planning the following Friday at PLC, strategic planning related to math teaching, DDMs, and an upcoming parent meeting. That effort will include the steps above as well.

Good process leads to positive efforts. Laying a path for thoughtful, inclusive strategic action will help you and your team to achieve the goals you set forth.


Addition
As I reviewed this post, I realized that it fits well with the use of principled negotiation outlined in this post. Together good communication/process, apt analysis routines, principled negotiation patterns, and strategic planning can serve to uplift PLC work to the benefit of all students.

Plan and Re-Plan

A new grade level, new content units, and a new testing pattern have disrupted the teaching/learning schedule I planned for the weeks ahead. It's time to re-plan with students' and system interests at the forefront.

I want students to be able to do their best on these tests. Yet I don't want the experience to be overwhelming or problematic. The test scores rely on the teaching that's occurred in the past six-seven months as well as a child's foundation and outside-of-school study. There isn't the time or continuity now to make a big impact beyond review since the schedule and supports are choppy due to testing.

Hence, the new schedule looks like this:

March to Mid May
  • math/science content review
  • test taking
  • reading and biography project
  • specialist subjects, recess, class meetings
Mid May to June
  • STEAM
  • PBL
  • reading, writing, and reflecting
  • special events: play, biography project, field studies. 
That schedule should serve us better than the schedule that preceded it. 



Scaffolding PBL: Keep Trying

Once again in the midst of a big PBL effort, I'm wishing I had scaffolded the project more. Many are engaged with the project on all fronts, but a few never really got invested. They're lost.

The project requires a lot of continuity so if you've been absent a lot or didn't start out with a good team for your learning style, that's served to disconnect you from the project.

Also if you haven't spent a lot of time building and making things, this project is introducing many new skills, skills that many of your peers may have already developed with strength and focus.

The same thing happened with a math project this week. Thinking many students had the tech skills for the project, I introduced the focus and expected everyone to be ready to go. But then I realized some didn't have the prerequisite tech skills for the project. So that meant that a project I thought would be a one-two lesson endeavor actually would take much more time and coaching.

In some part, these unexpected turns in the road are due to the fact that I've changed grades. I'm teaching a lot of content for the first time, and that always brings with it multiple unexpected events and challenges. Also, I'm realizing that blended learning such as the math project and STEAM require support for some students, more support than one teacher can provide. Hence in the future, I'll need to think about how I can enlist the help of special educators and assistants with projects like these.

The choppiness of the schedule right now due to the almost-every-other-day test pattern is also making it difficult to dig into deep, rich projects since many students forget about a project's elements and directions after a day or two. Next year, I'll advocate that we take the tests all in one week to provide some sense of routine with regard to the tests and other teaching/learning areas.

For now, the focus is getting through the planned projects and tests with good coaching, positivity, and attention.

I'll use this disruption to lead to better efforts next year with regard to the curriculum path, project work, and test weeks.




Test/STEAM Intersection

The intersection of standardized testing and STEAM study is making my classroom uncomfortable. The types of spaces, time, and attention both need don't support one another.

Why?

First, with regard to space, the STEAM project needs lots of space for supplies, storage, and invention. The project has spread out into all corners of the room, and there just isn't a lot of space for 44 students' collaborative and individual creations--projects that are growing in all kinds of ways with lots of trial and error.

On the other hand, the testing requires me to stretch out the desks so that students can't see each others' work and so that I can get around to proctor. A room without distractions also sets the stage for good attention and test work. Also both the testing and STEAM activity take time, focus, and lots of energy. And there's only so much energy for learning in a day.

Next year, I won't match a big STEAM project with testing in the same room as it creates too much havoc with regard to moving materials, keeping students focused, and doing good work. Hence, we'll finish the STEAM project, our marble maze simple machines, by Friday, clean it up, and make the room a test-room for the next 3-weeks of testing, and then for another three weeks in May. After that we'll have the space and time for more STEAM study.

Hopefully next year's testing schedules will be set early in the year at the State level so that we can use this new knowledge and experience to create optimal learning paths that help us choreograph our learning goals, schedules, and structures well.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tests Upset the Flow

I was going to reserve comment until the summer, but anyone who reads my blog probably realized it wouldn't take me long to talk about the tests.

The tests upset the learning flow--there's too many tests.

Young children thrive on a positive routine and thoughtful classroom choreography.

When that routine is upset, the equilibrium of the classroom is upset and learning doesn't happen in the positive ways possible.

How do tests upset that equilibrium?
  • Special educators and teaching assistants are pulled from service delivery to administer tests--that means that our inclusion classrooms do not have the typical support, and children who benefit from that support do not get it.
  • Our access to technology is compromised. At our school we're used to having lots of tech access and our blended learning programs depend on it. We've come to rely on that technology as a terrific avenue for personalization and differentiation. Now, with the tests, we don't have the same access many mornings because so many are using the computers for testing.
  • A choppy schedule impedes learning. With students taking 8 PARCC tests, two MCAS tests, 12 system-wide content-area tests, and one system-wide grade-level math test, many mornings are atypical due to testing. That means students are sitting in rows working independently to take the tests. By afternoon, their openness to learning is not what it typically is due to the test demands. Also for those that struggle with the content, these tests are very challenging to their energy and confidence related to further learning. 
  • Some specialist schedules and teacher collaboration meetings are upset by scheduling the tests as well. 

What should we do?

I remain a fan of streamlined standardized testing as I do think the measures, to some degree, positively influence programs and learning. Long ago, before these shared standardized tests, some children's lack of growth or development were not noticed or cared for. Now that some students who struggle are a "low test score," there seems to be greater attention to their overall program.

I do think, however, that the tests should be given during the second-to-last week of school on two-three days. I think everyone should take the same test that places them where they left off the last time and tests what new skills they've acquired and how high they've grown on the standards-knowledge list. This would mean that all students would be testing at their just-right level of challenge and the results could be given to a school to inform programs for the following fall so that every child, with regard to skill development, receives the instruction needed. 

Tests like these would mean that our teaching learning programs throughout the year would be monitored by a number of informal, formative assessments and perhaps a system-wide test or two to gauge students' progress and needs. Then there would be "test week" the week before school ended, and a final week to celebrate everyone's efforts related to a wonderful year of teaching and learning.

Two tests would cost less and take away less time from the terrific learning and teaching that's possible when good choreography, great tools, and vigorous, joyful learning environments are in place.

It's possible to move in this direction.


Addition
I continue to remain a fan of the common core as guiding knowledge, skill, and concept principles. We probably have to move beyond matching these standards to specific grades due to the natural developmental curve that occurs with student learning, however, I do think its good to have a set of common standards to work with as these standards promote depth of learning, great collaboration with regard to teaching, and a solid foundation of knowledge, skill, and concept. Since "knowledge begets knowledge" we have to work towards giving every child a strong foundation from which to grow. 

The Night Before the Test

Teachers have crazy dreams at night.

I woke up with a standardized test dream. The computers were everywhere, the booklets strewn around the room, scrap paper unnamed. . .it's the night before the first test that I have to administer.

Crazy, but true, there's stress when it comes to administering these new tests.

Stress due to all the little details you have to remember.

Thanks to our outstanding test coordinator, when I opened up my laptop there was a message from her reminding us of all the details we have to know to test right, details such as pick up your bin, assign computers, use the same ticket for each day of the testing, and more.

The other stressor here is that the children aren't themselves either--this is a new way to think of our classroom and effort. We typically collaborate, move about the room, and talk a lot when learning. This is quiet, do-it-by-yourself, and don't-talk-about-it work. A bit of a challenge for my energetic crew.

Luckily I'll also have the help of a teaching assistant and the student teacher. I'll go in early too to make sure everything is in order and to move the cardboard simple machine projects to the side for less distraction.

Once the testing is done for the day, there will  be time for play and recess and then we'll move on to other learning endeavors.

I'm sure I'm not the only teacher awoken by test dreams during this season of new tests and routines. I wonder where it will take us in the days and years ahead.

Monday, March 23, 2015

History Plays a Role

The history of an organization matters.

It's best to unearth that history and examine it.

What strengths does that history show, and what challenges are depicted in an organization's timeline?

To acknowledge the history of an organization, initiative, or individual can shed important light on future decisions and development.

The history should not serve to mire the future movement or an organization, but instead it should free an organization to move forward in ways that are strong and successful.

Flexibility with Fraction Computation

The young boy said, "It's hard to remember what to do when you add and when you multiply fractions."

"I know," I responded, "your brain has to keep switching. They call that flexibility."

When I teach I think about the brain and how it reacts to information. Earlier in the year students wrote essays that examined the similarities and differences when calculating with whole numbers. Today they'll make models and write explanations related to fraction computation. I believe that the time to think deeply about each fraction operation process will help students to differentiate the meaning and process.

Students will use the learning menu to guide their work in the computer lab.

I'm looking forward to coaching students as they dig in deep to learn about fraction computation. Let's see what they come up with.

Empowering Educators

Educators join the profession to make a difference in children's lives.

For many reasons, teachers find their way to school because they know the work that educators do matters to children and to this world.

They want to impart a love of subject, mindsets and behaviors for success, a sense of collaboration and community, and creativity too.

There are many ways to empower educators in a learning/teaching community, and when educators in a community are empowered, the work they are able to do for students is amazing!

As I look over my history of 29 years as a school teacher, I am cognizant of these empowering structures and actions both from the past and present:

Transparent, Regular, Consistent Communication
It is empowering to know what's going on. When teachers are in the know about an organization's history, current goals and plans, and vision/mission, they work as part of that team. Lack of knowledge leads to conjecture, side-talk, and rumors. Whenever possible it's best to tell the story from start-to-finish of new initiatives, goals, and plans.

Last year our school system had a major reconfiguration at the elementary level. The process was well planned, explicit, and transparent which resulted in few to no issues and a healthy change for all. This is evidence of the role that thoughtful, open communication plays with regard to empowering educators and the entire learning community.

Inclusive Decision Making
When educators are invited to the decision making table in honest, valued ways, that's empowering. Educators are invested in students' welfare and they want the best for every child. When they are invited to be part of the decision making process this increases investment, effort, and delivery. They feel like part of the team and thus model that sense of team to the entire learning community.

When decisions are repeatedly made for educators, investment and effort can wane.  To make decision making inclusive requires explicit, thoughtful process that's efficient and targeted on the important matters of school life. Good process includes timelines, patterns, apt communication, agendas, and structure. Making the time to create and share the process upfront helps everyone at the decision making table to interact with skill and purpose.

Energy Management and Long Term Plans
We all bring to the job a personal amount of energy. Over time the energy ebb and flow might be about the same, but from time to time one may have more or less energy to give the job. As a mother of young children in a two-parent working household, my time was greatly limited, but as a young professional without children I had lots of time, and now again as a veteran teacher and mother of young adult and teen children, I also have more time.

Similarly different roles in the building might use energy differently. For example teachers who are mainly with 20plus students or more all day may have less available time and energy than teachers working with one or two students at a time. I know that's not always true because working with one very challenging-to-teach student can sometimes require as much energy as a class of 25--it depends on the situation, but there's definitely different energy requirements for various positions, and I'm not exactly sure how you audit that, but it's a factor to consider as you think about what's possible in schools and how to maximize our efforts with regard to teaching students well.

I often think that we haven't factored in the "energy quotient" enough when it comes to maximizing our efforts and deploying our resources for best effect. Without deep thought about this I think we sometimes offer too much of the same program rather than lots of pockets of deep learning and expertise. I want to think more about this, but for now, the energy and time available for each professional is an important consideration with regard to empowering educators. When educators are asked to succeed with unreasonable expectations, that's not empowering, but when the expectations match the available time and energy, that is empowering.

Leaders as Coaches
There's lots of talk about leveling the hierarchy in schools. I like to think of that as moving schools to more of a servant leadership model which is a model where leaders serve their staff. For example as a servant leader teacher, I serve my students and they lead me. I continue to believe that successful organizations profit from the leadership of wise and experienced leaders, people who work with staff to set vision and goals, and then lead all towards those goals in ethical, respectful ways. I look forward to working with good leaders.

I believe that leaders empower their employees when they coach those employees forward with good communication, modeling, responsible risk-taking, compassion, vision, and care. A leader in my midst has fostered tremendous growth in many due to his ability to be compassionate about individual's personal stories, needs, and interests. It has been amazing to see how his care has transformed educators. Another leader I worked with wasn't afraid to use truth and honesty coupled with support to help educators move through their tough spots when it came to teaching well. Good leaders inspire and empower which makes learning/teaching organizations strong.

Mission and Vision
Teachers are empowered when they are working for a common, transparent vision, a vision born out of the greater needs of the entire teaching/learning community. When the mission and vision are well made and taken seriously, education communities grow with strength.

Collaboration
Using time-on-task for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) with good structure and process uplifts organizations. Making more time for apt collaboration and shared responsive service to students also empowers educators. We can't do the job alone. It takes strategic, thoughtful collaboration to do the job well. This doesn't mean that every decision has to be a collaborative one, but instead it means that we have the opportunity to work with each other to develop apt purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Fair Salaries
When educators receive a fair salary for their efforts it translates into investment since there isn't the need to have countless additional jobs to pay the bills.

Empowering educators leads educators to their best effort and contribution to the teaching/learning community. I'm sure there are factors that I've missed here and will add to the list as time goes on. As educators we can work to empower one another too with actions similar to the ones above.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Are You Ready? MA Educator Evaluation

As a fan of reflection and growth, I've been taking the Massachusetts Educator Evaluation System seriously from the start.

The first summer I analyzed each element of the assessment in the TeachFocus Document.

The second summer I reviewed the elements again with a simpler format in Reflect for Success.

I also created an online ePortfolio to collect and record efforts. I made my ePortfolio public so that other educators could look over the document to inform their own file creation, study, and work.

Further, the Massachusetts Department of Education has created numerous supports for the system on their website and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) has a great resource as well.

This morning, I looked over my goals and evidence carefully. I noticed the areas that were strong and areas where I can continue to develop my work and practice. I also made a document to host next year's goals and evidence as I always begin thinking about that work in the spring of the previous year.

As one who has traveled this system from the start, I offer the following thoughts and ideas:

Streamline the System and Make it Transparent
Our school system has done a good job streamlining this system. I expect it will be streamlined even more in time. This system does not have to be complex to be effective.

Make All Related Information Accessible
Our system has a website that includes some of the information. The more that you can house the information in one easy-to-access website for your system, the more you will empower all to complete the process without too much trouble.

Educators Take the Lead
I encourage all educators to lead this process with the following actions:
  • Keep track of the wonderful work you do online or offline. Use my ePortfolio as a model of one way that you can navigate this system. Then choose a system, public or private, online or off, that works for you and your evaluators. 
  • Know what's expected. Keep track of all goals, correspondence, and expectations at the State and system levels. Understand those expectations well. For example, I'm well aware of the goals, but I'm still a little fuzzy about our DDMs. I need to ask more questions.
  • Stay ahead of the process. I suggest that you reflect and draft goals during the summer months. Lay out a professional teaching/learning plan in August, then share that plan with your evaluator(s) if you'd like at your fall evaluation conference.
  • Think long term about your professional path and talk to mentors about this. Long term planning will help you to save money and target professional work that serves you well. (I also recommend that you do the same with your long-term financial plans as there are special savings plans and options for educators.)
  • Ask questions. It's better to ask questions than get caught unprepared.
The Massachusetts' Educator Evaluation system is a system that can work well for your long-term growth and development as a professional educator. Working with your colleagues, union, and leadership will help you to navigate this system so that it supports the work you do with and for students well. 

Let me know if there are resources I've missed and that also support successful work with this relatively new system. I'm interested. 


Blog Organization and Restructure: The Time Has Come

Updated after receiving Dan Callahan's comment.

My blog is too big.

I need to sort and organize the posts.

Thanks to Dan Callahan's comments, I'll look for ways to use the posts to inform shorter books or websites of related information while keeping this blog as it is.

As I do this, I'll begin jotting down topics that seem to prevail:

Curriculum
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Project Base Learning
  • Learning to Learn Behaviors and Mindsets
Educator Skills
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Research and Development, Professional Learning
  • Life Balance
Organizational Structure
  • School Structure
  • Leadership Structure
  • Professional Learning Communities
  • Education Roles and Responsibilities
  • Response to Intervention

In many ways the role of educator touches upon countless areas of organizational life as we work with many people in and outside of our systems each day. 

A Place for Teacher Leaders

As a veteran teacher of 29-years, I want to remain a classroom teacher, but I also want to have some say over the work I do each day.

The United States Department of Education supports this movement towards empowering teachers as leaders. This is a movement that supports the notion that moving up does not mean moving out of the classroom. The effort, in part, has been created to keep highly qualified teachers in positions with direct service to children.

As I think about this role of teacher leadership, I recognize that it will play out in many ways dependent on teacher skill and passion as well as organization culture and need. Some "teacher leaders" will become coaches and mentors while others may spend more time with innovation and deep practice. Some will do both.

To develop teacher leadership in organizations there will need to be explicit efforts in that regard. Where I teach there are already many structures already in place that support teacher leadership including Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), support for professional learning within and outside the organization, and research/planning committee work.

I am thinking about the ways that we can deepen and develop this work to develop greater leadership and voice for all within the teaching/learning organization.

For starters, I think the following actions will help.

Develop Leadership Skills
Educators need to develop their own leadership skills through reading, reflection, study, and share. Where are your leadership skills strong, and where do you need to continue to develop those skills? When I think of leadership, I use a broad definition which encompasses the leadership responsibilities we all have in our positions as classroom teachers, assistants, coaches, parents, and more.

Support and Develop Effective Collaboration
Continue the evolution of collaboration efforts. PLCs have moved us forward in this regard since we have structured time and focus for student-centered collaboration. This is good. We can continue to deepen our work in this regard by including assistants and specialists in the efforts regularly. Greater efforts related to goal setting, assessment, research, development, and effective decision making processes will further our work in this regard.

Employ Effective, Consistent, Transparent Communication Patterns
Communication streams continue to be an area of change and development too. How are teachers' voices consistently integrated into teaching/learning decisions in your organization? How is information that affects teaching/learning decisions transparently and systematically shared with all members of the teaching/learning community? Optimal information share is critical to developing the good work possible in organizations.

Empower Educators
How are all educators empowered in your organization? In addition to communication, how are the goals and direction of the organization continually shared, and how are personnel coached forward in positive, proactive ways? Like any successful team, educators profit from direct, uplifting coaching and goals with regard to serving children well.

Explicit Role Definition
Sometimes negativity and conjecture arises when educators do not understand each others' roles. For example, today in the news I saw a colleague highlighted for very important education/community work. I never thought of that colleague's role as including that work. That shed a whole new light on the colleague's impact and efforts. It also made me realize why that colleague is not available for other work, work I actually had counted on the colleague for.

Similarly a friend of mine who is an expert at books told me a story the other day about an educator who is less of an expert at books. I reminded my friend that she's got fantastic experience in that area and should be recognized, utilized, and compensated for that knowledge. Not all educators have the time or inclination that she has when it comes to knowing children's books with depth and care.

The more we understand each others' roles and goals, the better we'll be able to synthesize our efforts to best meet the organizational goals related to teaching every child well.  None of us have the time or ability to be all things in an organization, and that's why good role definition and delineation plus collaboration help us all to teach children well.

Observation and Respect
As educators we can sometimes feel overwhelmed when the expectations are excessive and we don't have voice or structures for collaboration. However, when the demands become reasonable, voices welcome, and effective collaboration structures are put in place, we then have the time to look around, observe, and see how the organization's pieces fit together to teach children well. Though respect is always the most important quality, it's much easier to be respectful when the appropriate supports and expectations are in place.

As educators' jobs take on conditions for excellence, then more educators will be able to use their voices in ways that lead schools and organizations forward in ways that matter.

Teacher leadership follows the call for autonomy, purpose, and mastery highlighted in Pink's book, Drive. I would add to that list collaboration because it is the work we do together that matters most when it comes to serving children well.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Systems and Patterns for Teacher Voice

How do you access voice from those at the front line of your organization?

Do you take their ideas, observations, and opinions seriously?

Do you explicitly share information that supports their work, vision, and direction?

Are they part of the decision-making team, the work that affects what they can do to teach well?

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Similarly, how do you access voice from the students you teach?

Do you take their ideas, observations, and opinions seriously?

Do you explicitly share information that supports their learning, vision, and direction?

Are they part of the decision-making team, the work that affects their successful learning each day?

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Voice and choice remain critical factors with regard to school success.

When students or educators feel unheard, good potential is lost.

Explicit, streamlined systems for communication support voice and choice.

What do those systems look like?

Do people take those systems seriously?

Are the systems inclusive and well defined?

These are all questions I'm curious about as I move forward in the profession with a goal of teaching well.

Room for Growth

This morning's #satchat brought to light the many areas where I have room for growth with regard to classroom teaching. Teaching well is a limitless proposition--you're never there, but you can always improve.

My overall goal is to lean in and teach a dynamic standards-based, student-centered program with an emphasis on positive collaboration, good communication, depth, purpose, and continued growth.

I'm charting my areas of need below so I can take advantage of related learning opportunities in this regard in the days and weeks ahead.

Communication
I continue to want to think about this area of my teaching/learning life. I come from a home where direct conversation was a constant--we debated nightly at the dinner table and there was no topic that was off-limits. I've come to recognize the diversity of communication styles and comfort levels at play in a work environment--we all have different histories, expectations, and styles when it comes to communication. I continue to learn about this as I try out multiple communication venues.

Establishing regular communication patterns that keep the learning team up-to-date and in the know is mostly successful. At times, there may be too many emails outside of the pattern, and I think greater early year analysis and pattern establishment with the team will remedy that. I also want to have more face-to-face contact up front in the year with collaborating teachers in order to create successful patterns of communication and goals together.

I have also found that the more we can prioritize as a team about who-does-what and what we aim to do, the more targeted and pointed our communication will be.

Our weekly PLCs really help with regard to team communication and share as does the weekly meeting I have with my partner teacher. Regular, transparent communication from colleagues and leaders also supports this share.

Home-School Communication
I want to be more explicit next year with regard to home-school communication patterns and expectations. I want to make sure that families understand well what's available as well as the goals of the classroom program. I also want to make lots of time at the start of the school year to invite family participation and voice in this regard, and adapt communication systems accordingly.

Strategic Planning
Strategic planning related to supplies, student services, and the curriculum really helps when it comes to teaching well. If you spend the time upfront organizing those aspects of the teaching/learning year then you have the time needed to troubleshoot and respond to the unexpected events and needs that always arise. This kind of planning relies on lead time and good communication with regard to system-wide, grade-level, school, and curriculum goals as well.

Classroom Choreography
Since students respond to a variety of teaching strategies, there needs to be room to include lots of differentiation with regard to learning experiences, voice, and choice in the classroom. We need to make sure that every child is getting what he/she needs often. I was reminded of that yesterday when I had the chance to work with a young student one-to-one for the first time in a long time. We had such a terrific share and I could tell that the student was really happy. Similarly one of my colleagues takes a boys' writing group each week. They publish a monthly magazine. They respond very well to this personalized, targeted attention that develops skill and a joy of writing too. How do we choreograph the day so that every child gets what he/she needs? What patterns of learning and teaching serve our students best?

Shared Responsibility
This year I work with a partner teacher and a grade-level team. The teaming is terrific and really benefits student learning. No one teacher can do it all and we have to look for ways to work together to target the work so that we're doing what's important for every child.

Curriculum Program
I want to review the curriculum program with depth. I'd like to weed the program of ineffective practice and programs and replace that with more meaningful, culturally relevant work. I will work on this during the summer on my own and with my team. I'll also target topics and venues for greater professional learning in this regard.

This summer I'll make the time to review what worked well this year and what I can improve upon by myself and with my team to teach better. The areas above are areas that will be critical to a good analysis.