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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Better?

I spoke to a bright man who cleans and sweeps a building in an organization I belong to.

For many years he taught school before his country was torn by upheaval. To support his family he took a job as a custodian and has worked for low wages and long hours ever since.

To his happiness, his children are doing well with strong educations, good jobs, and positive prospects. He's happy with what he's achieved, yet I did notice a hint of desire when we spoke of teaching school.

So often we may hold our successes high as we talk or work with others without any regard to the fact that it's rare that one is better than the other, and more typical that those who may be deemed "better" are simply those who had greater opportunity due to a large number of factors.

That's why we have to continually remind ourselves to listen carefully, think deeply, and approach respectfully everyone we work, live, and associate with.

Evolution of the Sloppy Copy

The sloppy copy is typically the draft, brainstorm, sketch of an idea.

It doesn't have to be perfect or highly detailed.

It's the beginning point.

As we move forward with any learning, that sloppy copy becomes more refined and sometimes reaches a point near perfection dependent on the value that idea holds.

There's a relativity related to "sloppy copy" as it can be really loose or look almost like a final draft.

With any endeavor, we have to think about the evolution from sloppy copy--where do we want to go and how close do we want to get to perfection? The more thoughtful, detailed, and thorough a piece is, often the better that piece will be revered, utilized, and shared.

Yet, at times, the serendipitous stroke of brilliance that is the sloppy copy captures our imagination and takes off to inspire many. But I believe that's a less common occurrence. More often than not good work takes time, evolves, and includes purposeful effort from beginning to end.


Know Your Allies

You and your allies won't always agree, but your allies will be there most of the time when it matters.

Allies are those that think carefully about who you are and where you're going. They support you with time, energy, thought, and care.

Those who are not your allies continually disregard your work, effort, ideas, and needs. It's important to realize that they don't have what you need or want, and have to be treated with caution.

Who do you ally yourself to? How do you support those individuals, groups, and organizations? Are you a reliable, trustworthy, honest, and responsible ally?

It's important to know and work well with your allies in order to do the good work possible.

No More Impromptu Deep Hallway Conversations

Due to limited time for collegial conversation at schools, sometimes big, deep questions are posed when two teacher pass each other in the hallway.

These big questions are usually prompted by an event that just occurred, an event that creates a need for a teacher to express what they are feeling, thinking, or questioning.

Yet, every time I entertain a deep, important issue on the fly, I regret it. If I'm running to the xerox machine to make an extra copy with two minutes between one class and the next or if I'm running elsewhere to take care of a quick need, I don't have the time to thoughtfully entertain an issue of importance.

Therefore, I'll say it to myself and anyone else that is listening, the best response to a deep question, thought, or feeling conveyed on the fly is this:

"Thank you for sharing this, when I have some good time to think carefully about it, I'll get back to you."

Then jot down the issue, and make time to think on your own, meet with others, and carefully respond.

Expectations: Getting A Tomato When You Expect an Apple

Sometimes our own expectations create havoc.

For example if you expect an apple when you get a tomato, you won't be satisfied.

It's important to think carefully about your expectations with the following questions:
  • Why do you expect what you expect?
  • What is the history related to your expectations?
  • Have you ever made the time to discuss your expectations with others or are your expectations known only to you?
Many of us carry around expectations that are invisible to others because we simply have never taken the time to ask the question, "What do you expect and why?"

Perhaps if you said, I'm expecting an apple, that's what you'd get, or perhaps you might say, "I'm expecting an apple," and the response is but that's not what the recipe calls for--it calls for a tomato instead, and it will taste much better with a tomato. 

Don't let expectations not discussed stand in the way of good work and promise when it comes to teaching children well. 

Servant Leadership: Extend to Colleagues and Leaders

When I first learned about servant leadership, I grew the practice with families and students in mind. I see myself as a servant to the families and children in my charge--I want to do all I can to support each and everyone of them.

Servant leadership in schools translates into actions including these:
  • When families and students have questions, I take those questions seriously.
  • When families and students question a practice or routine, I think with them about how we might revise the structure to better accommodate all.
  • I regularly design and redesign lessons to meet students' needs and interests.
  • I put children first during classroom and school efforts.
To teach well however you have to extend servant leadership to colleagues and leaders too. How do you serve your colleagues and leaders? What do you do to contribute to them in order to help everyone develop and employ their effort in ways that matter?

Servant leadership in this regard requires the following actions:
  • Careful listening
  • Respectful discussion and debate
  • Collaboration
  • Anticipating collegial or leadership needs and interests
  • Follow-through
As schools move towards greater collaboration, many of us, including me, have to revisit our mindset in this regard. We have to think about new ways to work together, change structures, and update routines to foster good collaboration and effort with regard to serving every child well.

I am keenly aware of this as our new shared teaching model extends its efforts to include all assistants and specialists who support our team. At first I hoped they would just follow our lead, but then I realized that's impossible since our early model work did not include the expectations that make up their job descriptions, responsibilities, and efforts since those are roles we don't do or fully know well. 

Now we'll work to look for ways to update our communication, collaboration, and teaching efforts so that the shared model includes their expectations as well. 

This is all part of moving schools forward to best teach and serve children well. Onward. 


Shared Teaching Model: A Ripple Effect

Our fifth grade team is teaching with a shared teaching model. So far the impact has been positive, rewarding, and enriching. For the most part we've been able to dig in and teach with greater depth and focus due to increased time and focus on specific teaching/learning areas. We've also been able to teach with fewer behavioral concerns and a greater sense of team since all children are getting up and moving often, experiencing a variety of teaching styles, and interacting with similar programs and focus.

When we designed this approach, the classroom teachers worked closely with each other and the principal to craft a pattern that would work well for all students and the curriculum. Through multiple meetings we collaboratively made decisions about multiple topics and details. This collaboration was well worth it as the year has started with few problems or issues.

Now that the model is well rooted, we're finding that it's time to reach beyond the classroom teacher efforts to our work with the multiple specialists and assistants that support our team as the change in model affects them too. They are used to the one-teacher-one-classroom model and have many of their routines based on that model. For example, an act as simple as passing out class reports now requires change since all teachers are teaching all students, hence what we need is a report of all students at the grade level, not just our homeroom students.

Our new model affects other structures too. For example the office needs a list of the rotations so they know where specific students are at specific times since they can't just expect the child to be in their homeroom. Also when specialists work with children, they now work with three teachers rather than only the homeroom teacher, and the same is true for teaching assistants who were used to being with one class.

How will we extend the model to the many who support the students we all teach together? What areas of the model need to be revisited to accommodate our extended team? Soon we'll meet to discuss these points. As the principal so aptly described, a new model will go through a number of revisions as it takes shape and gains success. Onward.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time to Move Beyond the Grade Level Configuration of Schools?

As I study math education deeply these days, I find myself frustrated with the grade level configuration of school--a configuration that expects learners to achieve at the same rate for all subjects just because they are the same age.

Learning doesn't work this way. Students follow their own developmental/environmental paths of learning.

For example some children who have lots of books read to them and a predisposition for reading early,may come to kindergarten fully ready to read while other students who perhaps struggle with words on a page or who have little experience with books or story may need a few years of study to begin reading.

The same is true for math, students progress differently.

Rather than embracing the different ways that children progress with regard to academic skills and interests, we label them as below, at-grade, or advanced as we compare them to their age mates.

Instead we could embrace the notion that every child is on a learning course, and we could work to create and employ programs to move every child ahead with regard to core academic skills of reading, writing, and math as well as interdisciplinary study in areas of interest, the arts, humanities, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math).

There are schools that embrace a developmental structure that allows students to grow at their rate rather than moving them ahead just because of age even if they haven't mastered the foundation skills needed to move ahead.

This is also true for testing. I think it's crazy that we test students by grade rather than be performance levels. If we're going to test, allow students to start at an entry level and test up to where their knowledge, skill, and concept levels off--a place where they can begin to learn more. Then they could test again to see what progress they've made.

Let's take a close look at the students in our schools. What do they need to succeed? Then let's match educators, programming, structure, schedules, and resources to meet those needs in the ways that research point to for greatest happiness, success, and progress. Most schools have lots of room for growth in this regard.

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

There's team and then there's too many for team.

When it comes to teaching well if there are too many leaders and not enough support, no matter how much energy you put into collaboration, the equation won't work.

For sensitive cases it takes the leadership of only a few, a few with time to meet, plan, research, and make decisions together. Too many leaders with not enough time for thoughtful planning and decision making will result in lost potential.

What's a teacher to do?

It's frustrating to know what's possible and not be able to get there due to cumbersome structure.

In a sense when situations like this arise you feel like you're caught in a web, your hands are tied, your voice is lost.

To buck the system is to create issues, yet to go along with things the way they are is to contribute to lost potential.

Sometimes it's best to wait it out, let others stand up, and observe. Often with time the answer arrives. Onward.

Shared Teaching Model: October

The month of September is past and all in all I'd say it was a spectacular month of teaching and learning. We created a good schedule, introduced routines, assessed student learning, and introduced the program to families. The children are happy and engaged, and that's good.

Tomorrow October begins which starts a deeper teaching leg of the year--a time to think deeply about these students we're beginning to know, and a time to continue to build our shared teaching model.

With regard to the three classroom teachers and the principal, the model has been moving along great--all of our spring and summer planning has contributed to a good schedule and a nice teaching/learning flow. The challenge now is to incorporate all the others who support our model by taking a closer look at those structures.

Some of the areas of focus include the following:
  • Looking at our team as TeamFive rather than three separate classes. Last week a colleague passed out "our students" reports to us by passing out three individual classes. That was challenging since we're all teaching all students, so what we need now is lists of all students, not one class or the other. That takes a shift in perspective.
  • Planning meetings always focused on the classroom teacher and student, but now the planning meetings really need to focus on all the classroom teachers since we all share in the students' progress.
  • Support personnel need to think about the students' schedule rather than the individual teacher's schedule so they are where they are most needed with regard to student support rather than teacher support.
  • There's greater room for pulling students from many classes for small group instruction, special teaching/learning groups, projects, and enrichment.
Specifically I can't wait to get beyond the last few assessments so I can dig into the teaching and learning for each and every child. Onward. 

Discouraging Day

Today was the first discouraging day of the teaching/learning year. I guess that's pretty good since we're a month into the year and it's the first tough day.

What made it tough?

I think one of the most difficult aspects of teaching well is the number of people advising you and directing your work--there's a lot of voices when it comes to schools today. I've written about this before and will probably write about it again, but the classroom teacher spends most of the day all day with large numbers of students with very little time on task for planning and preparation. Yet that same classroom teacher answers to a very large number of leaders, coaches, and therapists as to how and when to do the work, the same work that he/she has very limited time to do.

What's a teacher to do?

First, you can reach out for help, but sometimes it's not worth the effort, particularly if the help is not available or open to supporting your work.

Next, you can do what you can do, and that's what I'll do. I'll do the best I can do with all the directives, advice, suggestions, and critique I receive to teach every child well, and when I do that work I'll pay close attention to the most important clients--the children and their families as that's the job I'm hired and desire to do.

Onward.

Math Assessment Week

It's essentially assessment week with regards to math and our fifth grade students. Four out of five days this week students will take assessments. The assessments are not too challenging and students are mostly at ease with the paper/pencil and some online tests. When they finish, they get to read a book of choice, and thanks to the many teachers before me these students all enjoy reading.

To rush past or skip these assessments would result in a less targeted math program since these tests will give me a detailed look at individual students and the class in general. The tests will help me have a better idea of where to put the emphasis with regard to flexible grouping, whole class lessons, and learning design.

On a similar note, I'm anxious to see last year's PARCC results. I worked diligently to embed each standard into meaningful, relevant learning experiences. I tracked and coached my students all year with regard to the CCSS standards and learning routines. When I get the PARCC scores back, I'll note the following:
  • Did my top class performers perform well on the PARCC test? Why or why not?
  • How did my challenged students fair? Where did they test strong and where did they struggle?
  • How did the students do in general? What questions did they complete with ease, and what questions were more difficult? 
  • What CCSS standards did they perform well on, and which ones where more troubling?
  • How did my students do in comparison to other students in the system? If there were differences, where were those differences and what might be the reasons?
  • Do I agree with the PARCC scoring and answers for each item? Where any of the items questionable with regard to wording, answers given, or scoring?
It's difficult to target a program for good test scores this year as we don't know which test we're working towards. People may respond that I shouldn't be thinking about the tests, but teachers know that we are judged on those scores and our program freedom and ability to teach depends on getting good scores. When we don't get good scores, we reap repercussions in a large number of ways.

Right now, there hasn't been a decision whether our students will take MCAS or PARCC, two different tests with somewhat different preparation routes. We also haven't decided when students will take the tests which affects the curriculum map and special events too. We'll be judged on test scores that we can't aptly plan for as we don't know which test or when?

Overall, however, I'll use the results from system-wide assessments that we're giving now to inform future individual, small group, and whole class instruction. I'll focus all instruction on the CCSS which are good learning targets for fifth graders and are applicable to both PARCC and MCAS as the math year continues.


Note: Going forward I'm a fan of PARCC over MCAS for elementary school students as I like the fact that PARCC is on the computer and prompts deeper math learning. I hope a move to PARCC will mean a move towards putting a computer in every child's hands soon, a computer that's used in conjunction with a balanced, blended learning program with high quality educators. Yet I am also a fan of streamlined testing that only takes the time and money its worth--school should not be all about testing, but some testing is positive overall. Eventually I hope that all tests will follow a developmental progression so that students test at their just right step and are moved up accordingly rather than giving every child at the same grade, the same test. There's still lots of room for growth and change in this area of teaching/learning life in order to teach children well. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

School Talk: Important Topics

What are the most important topics related to teaching well?

What questions do you deem as important?

These are some of the questions that I believe deserve discussion and voice of all educators?
  • How do we divide our time so that we meet the most important expectations?
  • How do we provide feedback in ways that matter?
  • How do we make learning engaging and empowering?
  • How do we meet the needs of our struggling and outlier students?
  • How do we keep up-to-date with the research and study related to our work?
  • How do we best share our ideas and efforts to effect growth and change throughout the organization?
The questions we focus on during professional learning time, collegial share, meetings, and online exchange are important to consider as we work to teach all children well. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Who Is Your Coach? Who Do You Coach?

Who is the educator in your midst that coaches you forward?

Who is the educator in your midst that uses positivity, knowledge, experience, skill, and energy to encourage you to do good work, overcome the obstacles, and continue your efforts towards teaching every child well?

What is the regularity of that positive coaching and those words of encouragement?

How does this make a difference in your teaching/learning organization?

What role do you play with regard to positive mentoring, encouragement, support, and motivation?

Do you positively work with your colleagues to help each other reach deep to get the energy and encouragement they need to do the job well, and perhaps to do the job even better than in the past?

Personally I love to work as part of a dynamic team that strives to help every child learn. I love the positive debate, discourse, and share that occurs when everyone on the team has a similar mission with regard to children, and rather than demean each other, they work together to strengthen both individuals' work and the work of the team. Children truly benefit from teaching/learning teams like this.

We all play a role on teams like this, and how we play our role matters with regard to the team's success. For many of us this continues to be a direction different from the isolation and top-down directives of the past. The idea of shared leadership and collaboration in many schools is somewhat of a new notion (or perhaps a rebirth of a former structure), one that has the potential to truly energize and elevate the work we do.

I don't want to forget this as I work to forge new learning/teaching paths in my own work and endeavor--paths that make a positive difference with respect to student learning, happiness, and success. Onward.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Teaching Well

Schools are filled with distractions that can knock you off your good teaching path, but you can't let those distractions get in the way of your success criteria--the goal you are moving towards.

What is that goal overall?

First, in general, my acronym this year is LEAD. It's got a good amount of challenge and sets my direction in a positive way including:
  • Listen
  • Engage with Collaboration
  • A Positive Attitude
  • Deep work with regard to math and STEAM learning/teaching.
Then my more specific charge is to teach math and STEAM well to a range of students in fifth grade and at the college level. To do that job well requires the following;
  • Research and reading about the subject area to stay current.
  • Well designed, prepared, and facilitated learning experiences.
  • Personalized, differentiated coaching, mentoring, and teaching.
  • Feedback that inspires, leads, and creates worthy, forward moving teaching/learning conversation, action, and result.
  • Assessment, analysis, reflection, revising, and refinement to teach well. 
What's the teaching "prize" you're reaching for this year? How will you make sure that distractions don't knock you off course? In what ways will you make reaching your goals a regular part of the teaching/learning weekly routine? 

Improving Schools: Making Time for Meaningful Feedback

I've written this post before, and I'll write it again.

Feedback matters with regard to teaching well, coaching students, and nurturing important student-teacher relationships, the kind of relationships that forward learning.

Providing meaningful feedback is very challenging when the teaching numbers are high and the time for providing reflective, targeted feedback is short.

Yet, good teachers find the time during short planning periods, before school, in the evening, and during weekends. They make the time to review student work, read student stories, and write narrative response.

Many private schools have very small teacher to student ratios and this provides more time for meaningful face-to-face conferences, feedback, and response. While many public schools have good ratios on paper, the truth is that most of the teachers required to provide feedback on their own time are teachers with large number of students most of the day.

Today I'll squirrel away somewhere to focus on many student posts that require feedback. Last week I noticed the increased investment and confidence in the students who already received their responses. That's one measure that demonstrates the importance of feedback. Increased learning is another measure that occurs when good feedback is part of the learning loop too.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Program Development: Direct or Build Together?

As programs develop and evolve do they take on a direction of directives or a direction of building together? Is one better than the other?

If a program is built on directives, what does that look like? How does that impact investment and growth?

If a program is built collaboratively, does the program include all the components necessary to achieve success? What is investment like?

Is directive driven programming more often the choice due to time and money rather than affect? Or perhaps collaborative program development is chosen due to lack of directives?

How do you develop programs where you teach and learn? Do your programs lean in the direction of directive-driven development or collaborative development? How do the way your programs develop and evolve affect the way those programs are delivered and the end effect?

Program development and evolution matters in every learning/teaching organization, and the I suspect that the way those programs develop and evolve affect results. What do you think about this?

Taking Each Other Seriously: Multiple Viewpoints

A friend told me a story about how words fell on deaf ears, no one listened to the need, rationale, description--discounted from the start.

I know this person and I know that the effort described is well rooted in good teaching/learning research and result. I wondered why the person's words were dismissed without any consideration. Did preconceptions about the individual's skill, experience, mindset, interests, or presentation play a role?

This incident made me think about times that I may have dismissed another's point of view, perspective, or ideas. We have all done that from time to time for multiple reasons, but that doesn't make it right.

What's right is to entertain every point of view with care and consideration. To really think about what others have to say particularly those with less voice, power, or acceptance for often their viewpoints lend us the greatest sensitivity, humanity, and originality.

We have to take each other seriously without judgement; to listen with an open mind. That's an initial step towards building strong teaching/learning communities of invested, empowered, and engaged learners and educators.

As you think of your teaching/learning organization, who listens and who doesn't; whose viewpoints are perceived as acceptable and whose voices are typically ignored; and when do you listen well and when do you listen less? These are all good questions to consider as we move forward in our work and efforts to teach students well.

Friday Night Football

Football has been getting a lot of tough press these days for multiple reasons from health concerns to team/player issues. As a long time observer of football, but one who never played, I have a few thoughts about the game.

My own children enjoy football. They like to play and they enjoy watching a game from time to time. While I do keep a close eye on the physical challenges related to the game, I also see many positives with regard to the playing the game as a young person. First, there's a great sense of team that comes from a high quality football program. The discipline, teamwork, and goal setting create strength that extends to other areas of life. Young people have lots of energy and drive, and when this energy and drive are given a positive outlet, good growth occurs.

Further, at a time when young people are less apt to listen to their parents, coaches play a critical role with regard to mentoring beyond the sports field and into other areas of life. This matters. When coaches make the time to coach and mentor well, players benefit. As a parent, it's great to have others helping you do the job of directing your teens and young adults in the right direction.

Also, Friday night football is a lot of fun. It's great to get outside on a nice night in the fall to watch a game with others in the community. It's fun to rally around a team, listen to a great band, and talk to one another.

Of course, the challenges to football are real, and can't be forgotten. As much as possible, the game needs to evolve to be safer so that concussions and injuries are a rarity. I think the game can evolve so that strategy dominates and harmful aspects of the game become little to none. Of course I can't say how this will happen since I'm far from being a football expert.

Also, football coaches need to continue to coach players beyond the field--they need to make sure that their players are getting good grades, accessing supports, solving problems with intelligence and cooperation rather than force, and following rules set.

And, football can't dominate a school system. Other sports and players need to have their share of the time, money, and attention too. There's many ways that a school can do this. For example, during a fall sports season, energy can be directed towards having one or more big events associated with each sport, an event that invites the whole community to come out and support the team.  Similarly arts, academic, and service groups also deserve positive attention too, and every students should be encouraged to support each other in the multiple passion-driven, service-oriented, academic, arts, and sports activities that abound to build a healthy, dynamic teaching/learning community.

As one who never played football and from time to time as a head resident assistant at my college would get quite annoyed with the players in my dorm, I see another side to football these days as my own sons partake in the sport with enthusiasm.

Like most things in life, it's not one or the other, but instead it's the good balance, intent, and activity of an event or effort that matters. As teachers, parents, leaders, and community members we have to continually strive for a healthy balance to support all of our children with strength, care, and good result.

Data Talks and RTI

Yesterday we began to discuss data results with regard to RTI and teaching well in general. In some ways, we all come at the data differently dependent upon our role and responsibility. This created a bit of passion and debate for some of us at the meeting (including me--are you surprised?)

It's not always easy discussing students' needs because we do bring different perspectives, goals, and mindsets to these meeting. In the end though if we all keep our focus on what's best for every child and how we can help each child develop with confidence, engagement, empowerment, and increased skill,  knowledge, and concept, we'll do our job well.

In light of this, what are our next steps?

Next week we'll give students many assessments. Those assessments will give us lots of data as to what math students now understand, how they approach the subject, where their strengths are, and where their challenges are related to math learning. This data will help us to set the course for each child and the program in general.

As I looked at initial data, many categories emerged including the following:
  • confidence and a sense of "I can do this" - some have it and some don't.
  • perseverance and stamina. It was interesting to see who persevered and who gave up easily.
  • focus. Again, this was interesting to see. Some had trouble sustaining focus.
  • knowledge, skill, and concept. Of course this varied for a large number of reasons.
Fortunately our team is filled with experienced, dedicated educators. Also our educator numbers are up this year due to a number of factors which will really help us to deliver the supports needed. Further the students have come to us well taught and cared for which gives us an eager group to teach.

Next week we'll make some flexible groups during RTI to provide some extra support and teaching outside of the core program. This will benefit every student. 

Also, I'll use this information and the meeting discussion to help me differentiate the core program as well.

The teaching/learning year has started and our collective experience, knowledge, skill, and desire to teach every child well will continue to lead us in positive directions. Onward.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Summit

For a long time the hiker sought the summit using a similar trail.

Then a friend came along and suggested he try a longer, more circuitous route.

"But that will take me so much longer," the hiker responded, "what if I never make the summit?"

After a bit of cajoling, the hiker decided to take his friend's suggestion and travel the less popular and longer trail.

Over time the trail became more of a lifestyle than a pursuit. The traveler would wake each morning eager to see what this new course would bring that day, and every day was filled with new challenge, surprise, and learning. In fact, the trail became so intriguing and filled with interest that the hiker all but forgot about reaching the summit.

After a long time of travel, the day finally came when the hiker arrived at the summit. He looked around and noticed the rocky, challenging path he had tried to climb so many times only to fail, and he also could see the long, circuitous path that had led him so joyfully towards the peak on which he stood.

Amazed and grateful to his friend, he acknowledged that it is not so much where you are headed as how you travel there. Then he rested for a while and decided to find a new way home, a trail, not unlike the one that had led him to the summit--one filled with a routine of wonder, surprise, challenge, and joy.

Shared Teaching: New Model New Mindset

A new model of teaching and learning requires a new mindset. This has not been a challenge for the teaching team since we've been orchestrating the model for several months now, and it's running the way we expected.

A new model however has a trickle down affect. When it used to be that you thought of one class and one teacher, you now have to think of all the students with a collaborating teaching team. Hence, we're not talking about "your students" or "mine," instead we're much more focused on everyone's students and how we can bend and shift the structure to accommodate all learners. This is a very positive approach because we can connect, synthesize, and differentiate our teaching strengths to meet the many needs and interests a class has to offer.

There have been many other positive aspects to the new model including the following:
  • Students don't compare teachers with one another since they all have all teachers. There's not talk about students or parents about your class vs. my class as everyone shares in the same program.
  • There's less worry about transitions because the transitions are natural as students move from one class to another.
  • Teachers don't extend lessons way past the point of comfort or interest because we're on a good schedule of nicely timed periods of learning and instruction.
  • Unlike model where students simply shift from class to class we have theme days and response to intervention blocks which utilize flexible grouping and teacher assignments so that everyone is getting a time to work in varied groups--groups that vary in size, focus, and strategy. These groups are flexible and change about every four to six weeks or as needed.
  • Another plus is that each teacher is able to spend more time digging in deep to the curriculum area that he or she is most responsible for. In that respect, I have more time to focus on the best ways to teach math to students and more time to spend on research and lesson design in that area which is valuable.
Hence, on this Friday afternoon, during week four of the school year, I can say that we're off to a terrific start.  Next week is essentially a math assessment week and a STEAM celebration week since we've scheduled our Cardboard Challenge Arcade for Friday (weather permitting). Now it's time for the weekend!

Forgiven

It's easy to forgive those who demonstrate a will to do good.

Philosophical, Experiential, and Knowledge Differences

In education thought and action, philosophical, experiential, and knowledge differences come to play. The way I see it may not be the way you see it. Thus debate.

How is meaningful debate structured? When do people shy away from debate to keep the peace? What role does hierarchy and power play in debate?

The best schools and educational organizations invite debate. The best negotiators, educators, and leaders are savvy when it comes to managing debate for the greater good. Those leaders put the mission first. I expect that we all fall somewhere along the debate success line dependent upon experience, passion, time, role, and more.

In the end, what's most important is that our work result in the best we can do for students each and every day. It's sad when the kind of debate and decisions occur that move us away from the good work possible rather than pointing our time and effort in the direction of maximizing our collective effort.

How do you deal with debate? When are you able to successfully debate, and when do you find that you are less successful? Do you have protocols for debate? Is there preparation involved? Where does a good agenda play a role in this?

Today at our PLC we had an unexpected debate. The debate rose from a new idea that was proposed, and the fact that some, including me, perceived the time for that idea as short. In hindsight, we didn't have to rush the new idea. We could have let it percolate, take its time, and perhaps not even entertain it with any depth at this point and focus on it for next year's class. I felt an urgency because I could see some really good potential in the good idea with regard to student growth and learning. And, when I see good potential, I always want to jump right in. That's not everyone's style and it's a good thing that we bring different debate styles to the table for best effect.

I'll admit I have some room for growth when it comes to debate and discussion. That's something I'll be thinking about in the teaching/learning days ahead. If you have any thoughts, don't hesitate to share.

Active Learning Today: What's a Teacher To Do

I love to multi-task while learning. I like to listen to information that matters and quickly make connections as I learn using multiple online platforms. I find that this active connection making helps me to retain and apply my learning later.

Yet when I'm teaching and everyone is multi-tasking with multiple platforms, it throws me off course as a presenter. I admit I also get a little annoyed, yet I do the same thing when I'm learning since, as noted above, that active connection making results in deep and productive integration of new ideas which is so much better than the result I get from passively sitting and listening to the way a presenter has decided that I learn best.

So what's a teacher and or learner to do?

As presenters we have to think deeply about our learners and spend some time getting to know our learners up front.

One initial technique may be asking questions such as what do you  hope to get out of this presentation, how will you learn this information best, and do you have the big picture view of the topic?

This kind of questioning will create a connection between the instructor and students.

Next, the presenter can outline the teaching/learning path including rationale. After that some time for a meaningful overview, active learning and share, then reflection and final thoughts.

I want to try this approach out with my teacher candidate class as we discuss the expectations for teachers today.

First, I'll ask, What do you think a teacher today is expected to do?

Then I'll give the students a chance to work together or alone to draft a list of up to 33 descriptors of what they think educators are expected to do.

After that, we'll review Massachusetts' teaching elements' expectations, and each teacher candidate or small groups will have the chance to review a few and creatively present those elements to the class as one way to educate all about the expectations for Massachusetts' educators.

This will allow for some active learning, student voice, and share.

I want to think more about how I will change teaching/learning lessons and endeavor for students young and older to make it more learner friendly, active, and purposeful. Onward.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Righting the Ship in the School Sea

A lot of times I feel like a ship at sea during the school year. That's because there's an ocean of activity, both expected and unexpected, happening at all times. And to get to the shores of happy, engaged, and well educated students, I have to continually navigate the ship in ways that matter.

We're moving past the busy port of origin into the open waters of the school year now. What does that mean?

Daily Routine
The students caught on to the daily routine quickly. The weekly schedule is posted on the door and they check it every day as they enter the room. The daily schedule is written on chart paper and they check that too. Supplies have places to accommodate learning and tech schedules are set. A good routine sets the stage for independence and time on task with learning.

Assessments
We're giving lots of start-of-year assessments now. Even though it seems a bit laborious, the data really helps us to target our teaching in important ways for every child. In a couple of weeks we'll synthesize that data and create lots of terrific differentiated paths and choices for student learning.

Tech Menus
We're introducing students to lots of great tech programs that they can use to boost their learning throughout the year. Eventually those tech programs will result in terrific learning choice lists that students can follow during workshop learning times and home study.

Professional Learning Community
We created norms, chose roles, and started this worthy professional collaboration weekly meeting, a meeting that has the potential to invigorate and deepen our work with respect to teaching chidren well.

Goal Setting
Professional goals have been set for most of us and we'll soon meet with an administrator to chart the path for professional learning and growth.

Professional Learning
I've identified a number of books and professional learning events that I'll attend and take part in this year--all events and efforts that match my development interests and needs well.

Field Studies and Special Events
The teaching team is tying up the last few details with regard to planning a large number of special learning events for students. These events give us all something special to look forward to and broaden our perspective related to the classroom learning topics.

Feedback
We've been responding to many emails. Soon students will reflect on their initial learning and we'll respond by reviewing their showcase portfolios and individual work. Then it will be time for the first family conferences of the year. Those conferences provide a good time for sharing initial informal and formal assessment data and goal setting.

Team Building
We had our first BIG team building day, The Global Cardboard Challenge Create Day. On our next team event, students will set up their cardboard games, theaters, and play stations on the playground and invite the younger students in the school to play. These events are joyful, collaborative, and open learning events.

The year is off to a good start. Now the focus is on completing assessments, organizing the data, analysis, and program design/development to best teach each child. Onward.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Anticipation, Transparency, and Share: Vital Elements of a Successful Learning/Teaching Team

When your clients are left in the dark, frustration occurs. This frustration is tenfold when it comes to clients who care and clients who want to be part of the team.

How might you foster that sense of team with a collective mission with regard to anticipation, transparency, and share.

First, anticipate. Anticipate your client's questions, needs, and interests. What will they want to know and when will they want to know it. For example, I'm sure my clients, the families I serve as an educator, will be interested in our system-wide PARCC scores since notice of those score releases are currently in the news. Parents will want to know, "How did my child do?" and similarly, I want to know, "How did my students do?" I'm not sure that parents or I have the privilege to see those scores yet, but in anticipation of the question, I want to be able to tell parents when they will be able to see the scores. Hence I wrote a note to the building administrator to find out more about the score release and systemwide performance data. I found this chart online which provides some information in this regard. Similarly we all want to know what tests we'll take in the spring and when those tests will be administered as those dates affect multiple plans and events. Knowledge about scores past and tests future will help us all to coach students positively with regard to these expectations.

Next, transparency. What are you doing and why are you doing it? Families, students, colleagues, leaders, and the community want to know what's happening in our classrooms, and when they know, we profit from their questions, collaboration, and support. Hence, we send out a newsletter every Friday that summarizes the events that have occurred with images and words, and also announce upcoming plans and events. This kind of transparency which includes the rationale for our work helps to build team, and that sense of team results in better support for each and every student.

Share is also important. When knowledge is treated as a commodity available to only some, but not to others, potential and possibility is lost, and even worse, a lack of team and support begins to arise. Yet, when there's open share, and knowledge is treated as a commodity available to any interested party in transparent, accessible ways, a sense of team develops, and the team that develops also results in ongoing conversation, debate, and questioning that serves to grow our collective impact and effort.

Most organizations are moving towards greater anticipation, transparency, and share which results in empowered, engaged teams that spend more time on forward movement and less time on back tracking and uncovering lost or missing information.

How does anticipation, transparency, and share positively affect your work and organization. In what ways are you developing to fluidly include this kind of work more to benefit the learning/teaching team? Where doesn't this kind of effort occur and why not? How does a lack of anticipation, transparency, and share this hinder possible progress and potential?

As I work with my colleagues to draft this week's newsletter and as I collect and chart data for upcoming parent conferences, I'll be aware of this need, and respond to it with those I serve in mind.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Create Day Observations: Global Cardboard Challenge

Fifth graders spilled out onto the playground as they created with cardboard today. Students also moved from one fifth grade room to another to collect needed supplies as they created. There were moments of sheer delight and moments of frustration too--all part of the learning when it comes to creativity and innovation.

Next year I think we'll host the entire day outdoors. We can set up a complete table of supplies including cardboard, duct tape, paint, paint brushes, glue, and more. Then we can let students spread out all over the hard top and grassy field. That will give all our young creators plenty of space.

This year, however, students built inside and out. Many huddled and worked together troubleshooting the whole way as they turned their imagined arcade games, play stations, or theaters into reality. Others debated when some team members wanted it one way and others wanted it another way. I reminded them that this happens in any design firm when inventors are working together and trying to come up with the best solution.

Teachers monitored and helped with regard to safety, problems, and support. All in all it was a very good day of creativity and play In the next few days leading up to our playground arcade, students will be able to add finishing touches to their designs during recess and free time. Today's Create Day definitely marked the start of the STEAM year ahead. Onward.

Create Day: Global Cardboard Challenge

Today's our Global Cardboard Challenge create day. Teams and individuals will turn boxes big and small into games, play structures, and puppet theaters. We've got lots of duct tape, popsicle sticks, recyclables, paper, and other materials to add to these creations.

Students enthusiastically finished design plans and collected supplies yesterday, and today, spread out amongst three classrooms students will create. My job will be to oversee safety (with scissors mostly), encourage teamwork, support trial and error, and take pictures. I'll watch individuals and teams carefully. I'll witness stamina, perseverance, frustration, focus, new ideas, and joy.

I'm sure I'll tweet out some images and I'm certain there will be some surprises too. Let the creativity begin!

Good Challenge

For a long time I saw what was possible and had to find ways to advocate for change. My advocacy ranged from good to not so good over time, but in the end, due to multiple positive factors mainly to do with efforts to learn and dynamic educators/coaches in my online and real time professional learning network (PLN) there's been change in a number of arenas in my professional life.

Rather than trying to climb a tall, cement wall, I am now moving down a path with multiple, positive possibilities. I am so pleased with this change, a change that has resulted in good challenge--challenge that demands that I keep my effort pointed in the right direction, and challenge that requires me to dig in and learn/teach with depth.

What does this challenge include?

Multiple Tools and Resources
Staffing and structural change, greater advocacy worldwide for teaching/learning changes, and more tools and resources have given me greater opportunity to choreograph a program that meets students where they are and moves them in positive, enriching ways. Knowing how to utilize these resources and structures well is a good challenge, one I'm happy to take as we access so much more and better when it comes to teaching well.

NEA Teacher Leadership Cohort III
This is a dynamic learning endeavor with terrific support and challenge. I'm learning so much and I have the chance to learn in a deeper, more beneficial way.

Teacher Share Platform
Recently I was invited to share with other educators on what I think is a dynamic educator share platform. I expect this platform to grow with significant strength. I'm delighted to be apart of it, and again, I'm learning a lot.

University Partnership
Our collective work with local universities is growing which means we have more teacher candidates in our school. This means we have more "hands on deck" to work with students, and it means that almost our whole school is engaged in the question related to what is good teaching and how do we promote that with teacher candidates. Also, I'm teaching at one of the Universities, and I find that my students, teacher candidates, are posing a positive challenge to my education research, efforts, and share. Also, their ideas and efforts are enriching the work I do with my students.

The Learning Team: Students, Families, Colleagues, Leaders, and Community Members
People are embracing the notion and action of the "learning team" more. Rather than debating with one another to no positive result, instead we are collaborating, sharing, and debating multiple positive ideas and increasingly, collectively developing our craft to teach students well.

The greatest challenge now is maximizing the minutes in a day to move these efforts forward with depth and intent to teach children well. This is a very positive turn in the teaching/learning road :)

Monday, September 21, 2015

School Year 2015-2016 Week Four: Keep the Pace

Week four of the school year begins today and the focus is keeping the pace and pattern established. What does that mean?

It means that lots of time and effort have been put into place to establish a pace and pattern for the fifth grade program. In the first ten days of school over four weeks, children learned protocols, how to transition, and expectations for each learning module. Now on our first Monday of the year, it's time to focus on deepening that learning so the pattern and pace becomes routine, and we can begin to deepen the learning and efforts in the days ahead.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Who Will You Vote For in 2016 Presidential Election?

I don't know who I'll vote for, but this year I want to vote and I want my vote to matter.

I'm starting a Twitter list of influencers that I'll look to with respect to the election.

Who will I add to the list? How often will I look at it? What links will prompt me to read more?

How will you manage this election?

How will you find and listen to the words of your influencers?

Who will those influencers be?


Collegial Share: Inundated

When I ran across a piece of valuable math education information today, I was hesitant to share with colleagues. My hesitation grew from the fact that my colleagues and almost everyone else in the world is inundated with  information today. I could imagine the sigh and response when they saw the post in their email, "Not another education article or link!"

Yet I did send the information because it's so important with regard to teaching students math well. We've got a lot to do in that arena in order to meet children where they are using our multiple resources, staffing, and tools well. The opportunity at hand for dynamic math education is amazing.

What do we do about information share?

Many systems continue to host the same share patterns that they had thirty years ago when I began teaching including a few inservice sessions during the year, some pull-out professional training, a newsletter from the leaders in charge of curriculum, and faculty meetings. New additions for share and collaboration include websites, PLCs, and email exchange. I know that some schools are using Twitter and other venues for share. We tried a shared blog at our school but it didn't catch on.

How does your school share information so that it's helpful, but not overwhelming? Do you share in ways that are inclusive so that everyone gets to learn of good ideas? When was the last time your team discussed professional learning and share, and have your patterns for professional development changed given all the terrific share tools available? Also, in what ways does the "cream rise to the top" when it comes to teaching and learning ideas and practice? Do you have a shared way of curating content and information, a way that's inclusive, current, and open to revision as research and resources evolve?

I like to get good ideas. I like to update practice to reflect the best information out there, and I like to know what my colleagues are doing as well as what they believe in. I'm wondering what they would say if the question was posed, "What are the best ways for our school to promote inclusive, research-based collegial share?" Time may tell.

Connector?

More than anything I like connecting.

I like connecting good ideas with other good ideas, good people to good ideas, needs with solutions, people to people. I really enjoy the potential that connecting holds.

That's probably why I enjoy social media so much.

I also enjoy the little burst in one's mind when synergy occurs--it's a revelation of sorts, the start of something new.

BIG Developments in Education: Learning Paths 2015-2016

Those with powerful tech connect are making tremendous change in education.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have multiple initiatives in the works that are transforming the way we learn and process information.

These changes are trickling down to grade school teachers and students worldwide, and these changes have tremendous potential if utilized well.

What does this mean for learning and teaching today?

It will mean the following:
  • Greater ability to prioritize information.
  • Greater share.
  • Greater accessibility to the experts
  • Deeper learning and integration across all disciplines
  • A new way of thinking about and interacting with information
These are critical changes in the world of learning and teaching, changes that I am thinking deeply about.

How are these changes affecting how you teach and learn in real time? What individual, school, and system changes are you making to reflect this potential? How are you and your colleagues thinking discussing this?

For me, I'm doing the following:
  • Creating Twitter lists related to my main areas of teaching/learning and adding the experts to those lists.
  • Maintaining a regular routine of reading, learning, sharing, and integrating new ideas, research, and study.
  • Collaborating online and off.
  • Trying out new ideas, venues, programs.
  • Keeping an open dialogue with the learning team (students, family members, colleagues, leaders, and community members) through a weekly newsletter, parent meetings, email, blog posts, discussion, and debate.
  • Getting involved in start-up education events and innovations.
The world of learning and teaching is transforming. Ideas that were only imagined years ago are a reality today. There is tremendous potential for better teaching and learning if we meet this information and share with a right attitude and effort. Let me know what you and your colleagues are doing in this regard. I'm curious. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Reach Out

Sometimes good people try to do hard tasks completely on their own. For some reason, they are afraid or reluctant to reach out to others to help out.

Yet typically when one reaches out with earnest and good cause, help is close by.

Good people can get trapped in positive resolve and goals when they don't reach out and try to go it alone.

This is a lesson I've learned and want to share with those of you of good resolve but in need of greater camaraderie.

Developmental Progressions and Teaching Math

To teach math well, it's important to follow developmental progressions. Due to grade level structure in most schools, sometimes children may be pushed along without solidifying a strong foundation in early math skills. This lack of a foundation makes deeper math learning difficult to learn and master.

What's a teacher to do in this regard?

Fortunately in my teaching/learning arena, there are substantial tools and support to help out in situations like this. The key is to determine where a child's concept, knowledge, and skills are and to build from there. A child's level of achievement will likely differ amongst the concept strands as well. For example a child may achieve grade level standards or beyond in geometry while struggling with number sense.

As I look ahead to the differentiated, standards-based, and engaging program, we'll follow this path:
  • Whole class, introductory activities that create community, build routines, and allow me the ability to assess students' overall efforts and foundation.
  • Specific assessments related to the general content, facts, computation, and problem solving.
  • Analysis of assessments, both formal and informal, and decisions about each student's program, supports, and direction.
  • Program execution, continual review, and revision to best meet every child's math learning needs and interests.
As mentioned before, there's a temptation to want to rush this process, but I believe careful, collaborative attention to each child and the latest research about learning and teaching math well is what matters in this regard. Onward.



Room for Sarcasm?

I grew up with sarcasm.

I used it a lot.

I'm wondering about the roots of sarcasm, and I'm noticing how it can truly impede positive efforts.

Changing the Way we Teach and Learn

This morning's #satchat inspired me to write. As educators from across the globe shared amazing apps and teaching ideas, I once again realized that we definitely have to change the way we teach and learn.

Today with the amazing and bountiful tools and resources available, the key is to teach students how to create, curate, and navigate learning paths to reach meaningful success.

There's lots to do in this regard, but here are a couple of starting events:
  • Talk to students about the opportunity to learn whatever they want in today's world, and see what they have to say. Chart the good ideas. Keep the conversation alive.
  • Provide students with the opportunity to share their favorite resources and avenues for learning.
  • Give open ended assignments with multiple choices for completion and learning.
  • Inspire questions, invention, and pursuit.
  • Tell the stories of creators, inventors, problem solvers by word of mouth, video, books, Hangouts, and more. 
This is a much more exciting, vibrant, and rich time to teach, but we have to change our systems, structures, roles, and mindset to do the work well. Please add to this post with comments and ideas so we can all move forward in this effort with greater effort and resolve. 



Teaching Teacher Candidates

What do teacher candidates need to know in order to teach well?

Daniel Willingham recently wrote a New York Times editorial about the topic.

This year I'm leading a group of teacher candidates with regard to elementary math curriculum preparation. Willingham has something to say about that to in this post--a post that inspired a number of valuable follow-up comments and responses.

I want to consider Willingham's thoughts with greater depth in the coming days, but for now I want to think about where I am leading these future teachers.

They've already had some content review instruction, and many have taken and passed the State mathematics teacher exam. Hence, they have a base of knowledge for teaching math.

We started the course with a DOE publication about teaching math and an NCTM guide--both documents were timely and comprehensive with regard to developing a multi-faceted, relevant, successful, child-centered math program. We also spent some time creating ePortfolios and blogs to use for learning share, collection, and reflection.

Now we'll move into lots of nuts and bolts about teaching math including the following:
  • use of manipulatives and learning progressions
  • problem solving
  • vocabulary
  • lesson research, design, and implementation
  • related children's books
  • blended learning
  • tech tools and programs
  • algorithms
  • math workshop
  • STEAM and project based learning
  • assessment, data collection, and the use of data to inform instruction
I'll use examples that include the math concepts, knowledge, and skill that students most need to master as evidenced by a recent assessment I gave them. In the future, I'll rework that assessment as it was too long and the range was too large with regard to the information that would be most helpful to me.

By the end of the course, students will have learned about what's included in a strong math program, how to plan and implement learning experiences (lessons), advantageous tools and resources, and ways to research, organize, and promote engaging and empowering student learning in math. 




School Leadership

What is the job of school leadership?

Who are the leaders in school?

When is the word leader used broadly and when is the word leader used more specifically?

How does a leader's work, communication, outreach, coaching, and conversation impact an organization?

When is a leader a manager and when does a leader inspire--can the two roles intersect?

When is leadership turned upside down so that we are led by those we serve rather than the other way around?

Who nurtures and coaches leaders? How do they get what they need to sustain and deepen their efforts?

Leadership is needed in every school and educational organization. We all need people that we look up to to help us navigate the path towards serving children well. In the best of cases, there's opportunity for shared leadership as well as leadership that fosters what Pink affirms in his book, Drive: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Good leaders keep the conversation going about best efforts, forward direction, and growth--they help us to identify the shared vision, protocols, and efforts we collectively commit to and carry out. The voice, words, actions, and passion of a strong leader are known well to those they serve.

In this time of tremendous change and evolution in education, leadership is more important than ever. As educators we are looking in multiple directions, both private and public, via unions, public policy, and state/federal initiatives/speak, and to our colleagues and leaders in close proximity to chart the course.

It seems like many are discussing leadership today throughout multiple disciplines, and I believe this is an important discussion with respect to the potential schools and individuals hold to impact a positive education for every child. What do you have to say about this topic?


Friday Musings: Starting School

We're ten days into the new school year, and there's much to be thankful for.

New Floors
First of all, the new floors in my classroom have certainly brightened my teaching/learning space so much more. I didn't realize the impact the old dark rugs and some old, rickety shelves were having on me. Now that the shelves are replaced by sturdier, metal shelves and the floors are bright, the room is far more welcoming. That's positive.

Inviting Furniture
In addition, we're starting the year with hokki stools and a stand-up desk which provides some nice options for the children when it comes to comfortable work stations. A colleague has already reached out to write a grant to get more of those for our classroom.

Family Support
Many, many families were represented at our Curriculum Night which is a sure sign of support and interest in the work we do at school. Their interest and commitment to their children is further evidenced by children's readiness to learn, participate, and work with us as we begin the year's teaching/learning journey.

Positive Leadership
The building administrator has been very positive and supportive as educators endeavor with new ideas, creative solutions, and share with regard to summer study and innovation. The schedule was carefully crafted to accommodate so many special teaching events such as Response to Intervention (RTI), Professional Learning Communities (PLC), early year assessments, school assemblies, and special events.

Play
The playground continues to be big, grassy, and playful making recess a time of day that children look forward to.

Buddies
Our buddy program started with happiness as fifth graders and buddies colored paper birthday cakes and then fifth graders read birthday stories and other tales to their kindergarten friends.

Math Talk and Share
In math students got up and presented their study of the numbers zero and one. We learned about the fascinating story of zero and talked a bit about history in general with the big questions, "What is History" and "Does History Change." On a similar note, my niece was featured in the Junior Scholastic magazine for uncovering an important story from history that happened in her own neighborhood resulting in renaming an area to represent the Native American people who lived there so long ago.

Tech Updates
Tech rules have been altered to allow more academic freedom on behalf of teachers which in turn allows us to meet the diversity of students' needs better too.

Fifth graders treasure their time learning with kindergarten buddies.
There is much to be thankful for this year, yet there is much to work to do in the days ahead.

PLC
Our first PLC was very busy and productive, but also made me realize that I will need to find ways to coordinate well with the multiple individuals that service the children in my class. I will continue to think about the best way to do this especially when it comes to educators that I don't meet with often due to scheduling issues and time for planning. In some cases, there's a need to understand the roles and responsibilities better with regard to those educators and the services they deliver.

Creativity and Imagination
The Global Cardboard Challenge design planning activity began in earnest as I introduced students to the design packet and teams were created. Many students are excited about this open ended creative activity and have big ideas for their in-class and at-home creations. On Monday a few fifth graders will present the activity to the whole school at a school assembly with a multimedia presentation they created. Monday will also mark the first day that fifth graders lead the school as school assembly as anchors, ushers, and tech crew--roles the students readily volunteer for and look forward to.

Assessments Time
The math year is moving along well. Students are enthusiastic about sharing their homework, talking about math, examining numbers, and using new online programs. We've got an assessment period to complete before the rich learning routine takes hold--a routine that will include substantial differentiation and blended learning opportunities.

Field Trips
Field trip plans are almost complete, and this week we'll put the finishing touches on that effort so we can send out the year's permission slip and fee request.

Shared Teaching
The new model's schedule and pattern is also taking shape. Students easily transition from class to class, and when needed, we change it up to accommodate individual students, small groups, or whole class efforts. That students-first flexibility is a terrific aspect of this new shared teaching model.

It takes a bit of reflection to put the busy week to rest and to make room for family and outside-of-school activities on the weekend. Overall it's been a terrific start to the new school year.


". . .a small gesture can change the life of a child."

Today an educator I work with reached out to help a child. She went beyond the expectation and did something special to empower a child and his family. This simple, but extraordinary, gesture made a positive difference.

As I showed students' the second Caine's Arcade movie today, I was struck by the Imagination Foundations' founder, Nivan Mullick's words, ". . .a small gesture can change the life of a child."

In schools we witness these gestures often when an educator helps a child, a student helps another student, and parents reach out to help their own children and other children too. In schools we have multiple opportunities to enact these small gestures, and it is in this work that we serve children well.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Next President

I watched a part of the Republican debate this week.

I really enjoyed hearing Rand Paul standing up to Trump's degrading comments with his comment that suggested he hadn't heard such comments since junior high. I also liked Paul's emphasis on peace.

I also liked when Carly Fiorina responded to the question about Trump's comments related to her looks. I liked the way she talked about a women recognized on currency too. She has the right idea when it comes to not seeing women as a special interest.

I liked Rubio's comment about the president-elect being ready and able to serve from day one with all the knowledge necessary to do the job.

And, I liked the way Carson used data to discount part of Trump's discussion about vaccinations.

Though I typically politically disagree with Christie, I have to admit I make a personal connection with him on some level.

And did I see Trump blush with embarrassment or am I imagining that?

All of the candidates elect are bright. It takes strength to stand up and speak in front of millions. As a Democrat, who voted Republican once in my 56 years, I listened carefully. I'm open minded, but I want what's best for most people, and I know the Republicans are weak when it comes to health care for all, human rights, public education, and other matters that matter to most people.

Yet, there's so much more for me to learn when it comes to choosing who to vote for.  What kind of  President do I want?

First, I want a President who knows what today's people are like--what they want, what they endure, and what they need to live happy, peaceful, successful lives. Many candidates represent an old America, one that doesn't exist anymore. Many candidates use too many sound bites and don't reflect data about who the real America is.

Next, I want a President that is going to contribute to and work towards a peaceful global society. There's no doubt about it that we rely on one another throughout the Globe. We have to move towards greater equilibrium, peace, collaboration, harmony. The next President has to surround herself/himself with experts and experience--people who know what it takes to move towards peace.

Also, I want a President that puts the human condition first, a person who seeks to find creative solutions to problems.

I want a President who doesn't owe a lot of people--someone who is free to do what is right, not what he/she is beholding to do.

I want a President who is bright, intelligent, brave, committed, and kind.

I'm listening. I do believe tremendous potential for good and positivity exists in our world. I work with children every day and I see the promise of the future in their bright, energetic, and optimistic eyes.

I hope everyone will take this election seriously. I hope everyone will think for themselves and vote for the kind of person that represents a stronger, brighter, more promising USA. We need someone who is willing to listen, reach, collaborate, and develop--a person willing to embrace the positive action of the past and forward the promise of the future. Who will that person be?

Productive Struggle: Teaching Well

It's always interesting to note the words that stay with you after you read a book. Recently I read Principals to Action, Ensuring Math Success for All and the words that stayed with me were "productive struggle."

What is productive struggle?

Productive struggle is struggle that is rightly challenging and forward moving. This struggle is not overwhelming or defeating, but struggle enough to develop good learning. We can see this kind of struggle supported in the video below:

How is productive struggle exemplified in your own life and work?

How do you promote productive struggle in the classroom?

This year, my teaching/learning efforts are filled with productive struggle. Rather than some of the oppressive struggle that I've experienced in the past, this year I'm experiencing productive struggle in the following ways:
  • Implementing a relatively new shared model of teaching with colleagues.
  • Teaching math and STEAM with greater depth and personalization.
  • Teaching teacher candidates how to teach math to elementary school students.
All three of my main efforts this year are worthy and positively challenging goals. I believe in those goals and I know there's lots to learn to achieve the goals with strength.

Similarly, I will make ever effort to connect student learning and struggle with meaning, relevance, scaffolding, and systematic, strategic process to learn math and engage in STEAM problem/project based learning.

To face productive struggle with confidence and strength, I'll emphasize the following:
  • reflection and analysis
  • goal setting
  • planning and design
  • modeling, coaching, and collaboration
  • taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from them
  • acknowledging goals met and celebration
I'll be thinking a lot about productive struggle this year, and I'll also use that term with students as the year moves forward.

How do you promote productive struggle in your own life and the life of your students? In what ways is that approach working to improve your craft and living? Why does this emphasis matter with regard to teaching children well? 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day Nine: School Year 2015-2016

We started school on 9/2, and we've only had nine days of school so far. We haven't even had a Monday yet. Many routines have been introduced, curriculum night is past, and now we're mostly focusing on early assessments online and off as well as our initial team building STEAM activity, The Global Cardboard Challenge.

Today students will fill out their online password chart. We'll talk about the opportunity online learning presents as well as the responsibility required. Then students will have some time to try out one or more venues in our school hallway tech lab.

Later in the day, we'll have our first buddy time. Students will help their buddies create a birthday cake line plot, and then they'll read books about birthdays. Onward.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Learning Online

A laptop is an amazing tool for learning when used well. 
Last night after curriculum night, a number of parents asked me about online learning. That led me to revisit our efforts to help both parents and students access online learning in a helpful, engaging, and empowering way.

I believe that learning well benefits from a balanced approach with multiple efforts, resources, and tools, and as part of that, I do believe that the use of technology holds a valuable place.

So, how do I help students access technology in ways that help them learn.

First, I need to make the programs and platforms accessible. So today I worked on a password card that students can use to add passwords and follow instructions to access good tools. I'll keep a copy of the password card available online too so that it can be easily viewed and updated.

Next we need to talk as a class about online learning. How can we make the most of this terrific learning option. When we talk, we'll discuss issues such as time, routine, productive challenge, progress, digital citizenship, and asking for help.

After that students need time to practice in class so I can help them out with regard to accessing the tools, making good choices, and more.

I also need to communicate all of this information with families and colleagues which I'll do via our weekly newsletter.

Lastly, and happily, I need to stay current with regard to trying out new tools and revising choices as tools and students' needs change. Fortunately our tech access policies have shifted which gives me greater ability to do this.


Today's Math: Focus on Zero and One

Yesterday we considered the connection between history and math as we learned about the history of zero. Today we'll continue that exploration.

We'll also revisit routines, listen to students present their homework, list what we know about zero, and consider the number one--what do we know about one.

While these first few days of math education include more traditional teaching, the conversations, vocabulary study, and share will lead to more active learning in days to come.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Does History Change?

Today I posed two big questions: What is History? and Does History Change?

A student's initial response was, ". . .but this is math class." I assured the child that math has a history. Unlike trees, math didn't just grow, but instead was invented (Though some trees were invented too through the manipulation of seeds.)

Amazingly students grasped the notion that math has history and that history does change dependent on clues, perspective, and evidence. They understood that what we always thought as true, might change if new discoveries or analyses are made.

We watched a great story about the history of zero, then we talked about zero's many names and properties. We also talked about what zero isn't--properties that don't belong to zero.

Tomorrow we'll continue this study of the history of zero, and we'll also remain open minded to new information and ideas because history can change over time.

Math Teaching: Don't Rush the Start

There's a temptation to rush ahead in these early days of school, but that's not wise. It's best to stay the course with regard to establishing good routines, adequate review, and creating community in order to set the stage for teaching well.

What does that mean?

This means listening carefully to the learning team in the early days. Hearing what their questions, thoughts, and ideas are?

This means making sure that students have a solid introduction to the teaching/learning routines, tools, expectations, and options. It takes time to match this effort well to each student.

It also means observing your learners well so that you know how to meet their needs.

Ruth Charney in her book, Teaching Children to Care, advises us to take the first six weeks of the school year to establish routines. This is good advice for every discipline. When we rush ahead too fast we leave important learning and skill behind.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Who Has the Time? Who Has the Responsibility?

One big issue in schools is the way we use time?

Often the educators with the greatest responsibility for student learning have the least time to research, plan, prepare, and work with individuals and small groups of students?

There's something wrong with that equation.

Learning in large groups is often ineffective.

Every school should do a roles, responsibility, schedule, and structure audit. This audit should answer the following questions:
  • What is the ratio of time to people for every individual? For example most classroom teachers have a ratio of 1:20+ most of the day. I don't think that leads to best teaching/learning.
  • How is time spent? If the large majority of an educator's time is spent sitting at meetings, is that effective? Perhaps, but how would you make that decision? What further questions would you ask?
  • Does exhaustion play a role in teaching/learning success? For example is an educator who has large groups a day more exhausted than an educator who works with about five students a day? Perhaps, yet I know this depends on multiple factors, all factors that need to be assessed.
  • What about the responsibility for professional learning--where is this steep and where is this less steep? How does this affect the roles and responsibility quotient?
  • With regard to professional learning, is time well spent or does it mimic old time, factory-model learning?
We can probably save money (or at least not spend more) and increase educational success with roles, responsibilities, schedules, and structure audits in many schools. However, there are schools (and I know of some) that don't have enough staff, and those audits will demonstrate that there's little extra and a need for greater staffing and support which will cost more money.

We spend a lot of time in schools debating the wrong questions. We'll do a better job if we pay attention to the questions we're asking, right questions that include who has the time, and who has the responsibility?

NCTM Leads the way for "Ensuring Math Success for All"

Teacher candidates and I are reading The National Council of Massachusetts' publication, Principals to Action, Ensuring Math Success for All. This publication outlines the components of a successful math program today. While reading the book, we are posing questions one could ask as he/she evaluates his or her readiness for or practice as a math teacher.

I've listed my questions below and included two terrific guiding charts from the publication. I recommend that every math teacher read this terrific, timely publication (c. 2014) to spur continued growth and apt math education for every child. You can buy the book version or download the PDF for a very reasonable cost.

My Questions
Note that I wrote questions that I'll use to guide my classroom teaching efforts. 
  • How do we eliminate racial, ethnic, and income achievement gaps with respect to math education and reach a high level of math learning for all students?
  • How do we balance focus on learning procedures with meaningful, relevant application and use of procedures?
  • In what ways can we lift, deepen, and broaden the math curriculum?
  • How can we teach so that there is less focus on tests?
  • In what ways can we eliminate professional isolation, develop greater coaching, promote high quality math professional learning, and develop a collaborative structure for our craft as math educators?
  • What do I need to know better in math in order to have a deep understanding of the discipline?
  • How can I make sure that students are effective learners and doers of math?
  • How can I inspire students' interest and curiosity for math learning and application?
  • What "high leverage" practices do I currently use and promote in math class? 
  • What practices are most effective for learning math?
  • When and how do I give students the chance to engage with challenging tasks that support meaningful learning?
  • How do I connect new learning with prior knowledge?
  • In what ways do I address preconceptions and misconceptions?
  • How do I help students meaningfully organize knowledge, acquire new skills, and transfer and apply knowledge to new situations?
  • Do I give students the opportunity to socially construct knowledge through discourse, activity, and interaction related to meaningful problems?
  • In what ways do I provide meaningful, descriptive feedback so students can reflect on and revise their work, thinking, and understanding.
  • How do I help students develop metacognitive awareness of themselves as learners, thinkers, and problem solvers?
  • How do I help students learn to monitor their learning and performance?
  • How do I move from the old-time, traditional math lesson of "review, demonstration, and practice" to new and more successful patterns that include establishing goals, implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving, using and connecting  mathematical representations, facilitating meaningful math discourse, posing purposeful questions, building procedural fluency from conceptual understanding, supporting productive struggle in learning mathematics, and using evidence of student thinking to assess progress and adjust/enrich instruction? 
  • When introducing a new concept do I set goals, demonstrate rationale, show connections to past learning, and help students to identify the central mathematical ideas and where they are going?
  • How do I identify and use tasks that promote high level reasoning and problem solving?
  • How do I promote active inquiry and exploration in math class?
  • How do students in my class examine, explain, and compare concepts through a variety of representations? How do we make this work explicit to one another?
  • In what ways do I promote mathematical discourse?
  • Do I pose a variety of meaningful, rich questions in the math class to spur student thought, problem solving, and mathematical reasoning?
  • Do I make the connection between procedural fluency and the underlying concept as I coach students toward procedural fluency?
  • Do students understand that mathematical fluency means the ability to flexibly choose among methods and strategies to solve problems?
  • How do I promote productive struggle and perseverance?
  • How do I allow students to reveal, reflect on, critique, assess, and monitor their math thinking?
  • How is our commitment to access and equity visible in our math program?
  • Do we have a powerful curriculum?
  • Do we have appropriate tools and technology?
  • Do we employ meaningful and aligned assessment?
  • Do we exhibit a culture of professionalism?
  • Do I have adequate access to technology, and do I use technology in ways that deepen and further students' mathematical reasoning and problem solving ability?
  • Do I use assessments effectively to promote thoughtful, forward moving math education for every child?
  • Do I foster, contribute to, and support a culture of professional collaboration and continual improvement?
  • Do my colleagues and I work as a professional team to research, analyze, and create best practices with regard to math teaching and learning?
  • Do I reflect regularly in ways that develop my practice as a math educator?
  • Is the curriculum map a flexible resource which allows for reasonable variation to meet students' needs?
  • Have we collectively established criteria and protocols for use of technology in math class?


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Strategic Change and Development: Path to Serving Children Well

When we see room for change, but feel powerless or oppressed, or possibly don't have the skills necessary to effect change, we may reach for process that's ineffective, problematic, or challenging.

In the best of circumstances, mentors, coaches, and leaders reach out to us when we feel this way and provide us with apt paths for advocacy and change.

When we reach points of understanding that to gain apt change you need positive strategic process, collaboration, advocacy, and effort, then we truly begin to realize the change our vision presents.

It takes strategic effort and development to make positive change.

It takes listening to the voices of many including your naysayers to forward positive development and effort.

It takes the confidence that good change can occur when we work together, listen to each other, and trust that our collective, compassionate, and thoughtful efforts will result in change that is best practice and service to the children we teach.


It Could Happen This Way: New Programs/Apps

As I think of positive ways to advocate for a new tool/app system in my school district, I provide the following scenario.

A teacher like me is introduced to a large number of tools and programs daily via my online PLN. I'm also met with a large number of student needs, interests, and passions as well as standards and curriculum to teach. As my program evolves, I am constantly on the look out for tools and venues that respond well to the program requirements and students' needs and interests.

So when I learn of a program, I would like to do the following:
  • Access the trial. Follow system-wide protocols for appropriate, forward, engaging, and empowering digital use.
  • Try it out with students. Chart results.
  • If worthy, apply for the funding needed.
  • As long as the program meets system-wide protocols and funding is available, funding would be provided and the technology would be available.
  • Also, when tech is deemed profitable, it would be shared so that others could access if desired.
This would be a more fluid, responsive system of app/program use--one that has the potential to invigorate our efforts to personalize and differentiate teaching in order to serve all students well.