Monday, February 29, 2016

Support the Team

How do you support the team?

How do you help them reach the goals they've set, the dreams they have, and the work they want to do?

My team of fifth graders is such a good team of students. Every day they give it their best. I'm so proud of them.

I want to support them in every way that I can.

Forward Drive

After a troubling weekend, a tough decision, and painful redirection, I'm charting the course again.

Where am I going?

Math Education
I'll dive back into Boaler's book later this week as I create and employ "floor to ceiling" exercises to develop students' fraction understanding and knowledge.

My colleagues and I will choose a half day to shore up our STEAM efforts for the weeks ahead. We have a good plan, but we have some details to shore up.

Social Competency
Students will create their Character posters on Friday and continue social competency study in Open Circle.

Teacher Leadership Initiative
I'll focus on the details for this initiative and work to complete the capstone.

We have a team meeting planned this week, and I've got some reading to do to prepare for this.

The new course is set. Now it's time to start moving down this path.

The Club

There are clubs that I do not belong to.

At times, I may have tried to gain membership, but clearly I am not welcome.

Why try? some have asked. I tried because I saw the club's merit, but truly if a club doesn't want you, you don't want them either.

There are so many avenues for belonging and doing good work that one doesn't have to repeatedly knock on the door of the club where you are unwelcome.


The path of teaching/learning is always filled with new surprises. What you think may be simple, might be complex. And visa versa. There's a lot of unpredictability on this road--a small road compared to that of others who lead hospitals, run for office, or work to keep peace in troubled political spots, but a challenging road nonetheless.

Having a growth mindset at times can be a problem as seeing the promise of change and readiness to try out new endeavor is often met with challenge. So, as I'm redirected yet again, I'll take a break from innovation and change for a few days and focus on the schedule at hand, a pattern of caring for children in my charge with as much positivity and good work as possible. Onward.

Picture That: Math Models and Problem Solving

Today students continued working on a short, targeted process for solving word problems. Essentially they did the following:

  • read the problem carefully marking up the text with a pencil
  • drew a model of what the problem was stating
  • created an algebraic equation
  • solved the equation
  • reread the problem's question
  • wrote an answer using a sentence.
I purposely used somewhat simple problems so students could focus on using a variable, writing an algebraic sentence, and answering the question with an explicit sentence that matches the question asked.

I reviewed the acronym, RICE, that we used to guide the problem work. Then I modeled one problem. After that student after student got up to model the problem work for the class. It was great to hear students apply the strategy. And even better, it was wonderful to see how students represented the problems with models.

Tomorrow students will have the chance to apply this process as they take part three of the systemwide math test. It will be interesting to see if they apply what we've been working on as I walk around the room.

In general, it was a good lesson, one that we'll build on a lot next month as we return to the POWerful SRSD approach to solving multi-tiered math problems. 

Who Cares?

I read an interesting article about care today, and what the article brought to mind is that sometimes you may care more than others, and sometimes it might be the other way around.

For example, you may work and work and work for something, but to some, your efforts might not matter--they simply may not care.

The same is probably true for you. You probably have friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that are driven and invested and passionate about topics you may not be interested in.  That happens. We're all different.

Yet, it's good to discern the care quotient when you get involved in matters. For example if you advocate for an issue that's close to your heart with people who are uninterested, it's likely you'll get little support. On the other hand, if you give your all to an initiative that many support, there will be many fans and lots of help.

Don't hit your head against the wall and try, try, try again with those who aren't interested in the first place. Instead, find your allies, comrades, friends, and enthusiasts--the ones that see what you see, desire what you desire, and are willing to work for that end.

There's so many places and people out there that will embrace who you are and what you do, that it's not worth your while to advocate in circles that don't welcome you. Find your circles of care--the people, places, events, and ideas that you can enthusiastically contribute to with support and meaning. Onward.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Upsides of Downsides

When you face troubling challenge, the upside is the empathy you gain for those who are oppressed or challenged. When you face challenge, you now know what it feels like to be greatly challenged.

Over the years, I have faced challenges that continue to develop my sense of empathy. Each time I face similar challenges, I realize more how a sense of positivity, team, shared mission, and collective vision matter in the work we do.

We can't go it alone in organizations. It's a shared effort to do the good work possible. We have to work together, respect each other, communicate, and move forward with inclusivity to do the best that we can do. We also have to be mindful of our expectations since what one individual believes is reasonable, another may perceive as a mountain. One also has to have empathy by "standing in the shoes" of the people he/she works with--what might that individual feel or think as she or he makes a decision, encounters a challenge, or works to do a great job.

The upside of every troubling downside, is we develop our own leadership skills, empathy, good process, and understanding along the way. And as mentioned in an earlier post, new work and effort often invite challenge, challenge that some embrace with positivity and enthusiasm, and challenge that others face with trepidation and greater challenge.

My weekend was unexpectedly and unhappily usurped by the challenge at hand as I await next steps by those that understand the details in ways that I don't know. When you volunteer to do something new, one has to expect the unexpected. Onward.

Supporting Good Work?

The weekend has been taken up with a conflict related to what I perceived to be good work.

I was asked to support an initiative that I felt was positive. I checked with authority, gained approval, and gave it a number of hours.

Then when a new question arose related to the effort, I reached out for clarification. At that time, I was challenged with regard to my offer to volunteer--the challenge included multiple issues I had not considered. I reached out for greater clarity.

Sometimes good work that's new opens up channels that have not been considered or reviewed before. Some may be reluctant to try what hasn't been tried, or do what hasn't been done. I never expected what I saw as a fairly simple offer to help become such a complex issue.

So this weekend, I've reviewed the effort and my offer to help. I've received a number of emails related to the effort, and I've written for more specific clarification. Now I await the detail I need to go forward so that I meet the regulations questioned.

Moving down new paths always brings with it new questions, decisions, and efforts, but that doesn't mean the path isn't worth the journey.

Over the years, I've tried a number of new paths of study and learning, and I have been questioned a lot. I've also hit a lot of hurdles in my efforts to innovate, try out new resources, and do new work. I've thought a lot about this and tried many different ways to develop my work with others and in concert with systemwide efforts.

Just recently, at our PLC, it was noted that if we change the schedule a bit next year, we will have the potential to uplift our collective efforts for students. So rather than just ask for a change in schedule, I asked a leader how we might go about advocating for change, and I asked the team if we could work together to advocate for this change. The team recommended that we devote time to discussing the change, and the administrator said that it would be good to show how the change could be made. Therefore, I made a draft of how the change might possibly be met, and the team agreed to discuss this change at an upcoming PLC or team meeting. Hopefully this collective effort to make change will be met with a more harmonious, inclusive process of strengthening what we can do for children.

Making change and doing good work relies on good process. With the initial issue in mind, I want to ask leadership, how can one be sure that their offer to volunteer is within the expectations of system leadership right from the start. I know that understanding of the mandated trainings (which I've read and studied) is one response to this request, but I wonder what other suggestions will be made. Who is in charge or this oversight? What are the proper channels? And how can this recent laborious effort become a more streamlined and targeted approach in the future for those who want to volunteer to help students and others with regard to educational endeavor.

We must continually consult our words, efforts, and time with regard to how we help each other teach children well. At the root of all this work is the question, "Will this result in positivity for those involved?" If our work results in work that positively affects the children we serve then in general, I think we should find ways to work together to make it happen.

Meet Challenge with a Positive Pattern

One way to meet challenge is to review your professional pattern--what efforts are integral to doing the work that's positive.

Generally this pattern works well.

Morning Read, Research, Write
Generally the morning is a good time to shore up my thoughts and efforts with reading, research, and writing. This morning study sets the stage for a positive day.

Teach Well
The school day is mostly spent teaching students, responding to their needs, completing paperwork, and doing the leg work to prep for learning opportunities. Generally almost all of this time is active, purposeful teaching work.

This is a good time to prepare any materials needed for the next day, clean up the classroom, and attend professional learning meetings. This is also a good time for other, more personally related efforts and endeavor.

Some evenings are family-driven and some find me doing the work related to professional learning efforts such as #edchat moderation, TLI study, #ECET2 proposal work, and work related to my main focus areas: Math, STEAM, and Character and Social Competency work.

A positive pattern supports the path to good work and endeavor. Onward.

Shared Teaching: Moving Forward with TLI

On Friday and Saturday, I'll meet with the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI)  Massachusetts cohort in central Massachusetts. Together we'll work on our capstone projects. My project is focused on developing our shared teaching model in ways that matter.

To date our team has done the following:
  • Proposed the model
  • Revised the model
  • Gained approval
  • Introduced the model to students, families, and colleagues
  • Met with family members at fall conferences.
  • Coordinated and sent out our first standards-based reports. 
  • Nurtured and developed the model schedule, efforts, and practice
  • Surveyed students and family members with regard to the model
  • Met with the principal to review the model midyear
  • Shared the survey and review with the systemwide administrators
  • Met weekly as a grade-level teaching team and as an extended team of coaches, specialists, assistants, leaders, and teachers.
Now that we're getting closer to the 2/3 point of the year, our thoughts are moving towards how we can continue to develop and improve on this model in order to teach children well.  We have the following efforts planned:
  • Establishing a date to meet to develop our shared STEAM efforts
  • Coordinate student-led spring family conferences
  • Discuss and advocate for an improved schedule next year
  • Work with administration with regard to the needs for the learning environment to be sensitive to specific student health/educational needs next year
  • Revisit and revise last year's introductory efforts such as the website, team letters, supply lists, and team Back to School Night presentations.
  • Completing this year's orders and submitting receipts.
  • Working together to complete this year's teaching efforts, almost all which are planned, but many still to be executed
  • Completing students' transition materials
  • Ordering materials for next year
  • Possibly pulling our work together and presenting it at a local conference next year
As I've said again and again, this, in many ways, is one of the best years of teaching I've had due to the terrific team approach we're employing--I LOVE what we're able to do, and how our sense of team and collaboration is moving us forward. 

When I meet with other TLI participants this week, I'll look forward to listening to their stories and hearing about their efforts. I'm sure their work will impact ours--it should be a wonderful weekend of growth. 

Tomorrow's Lessons

Tomorrow students will continue to develop their ability to solve short math story problems using a variable. We'll use the RICE acronym to lead our work, and students will lead their peers by modeling the process in front of the room. There may be some time to work in small groups too.

We'll celebrate the Lunar New Year as a school so I must remember to wear red--our Chinese New Year celebration has become a welcome tradition, one the children look forward too.

There will be time for my small reading group to practice the Dr. Seuss play they're planning to present to a younger grade. I want to buy a few Dr. Seuss hats to support this work. Just checked the prices for the hats--instead we'll make them :)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

What's on Your Bucket List?

Like most people, I don't want to get to the end of the road having missed some of the greatest moments possible.

For me those aren't grand, glorious moments, but simple moments with the people I love.

It's good to be mindful of what matters to you, and it's important not to let others steal your time, focus, or beliefs in that regard.

It's your life to live, and live it well. Keep your eyes open and direction set towards those moments that bring you the most joy and happiness, and remember that this is your call no matter who would like to you think otherwise.

Let Reality Guide You

If the postman delivers the mail every day at 4 p.m., then don't expect him to deliver it at 10 a.m.

You'll be very disappointed every day if you're waiting by the post box at 9 a.m. for that letter only to find, that as usual, it comes at 4 p.m.

The same is true for most things in life, if it's usually one way, it's unlikely that will change.

So if you want different results, find a different way.

One Step in Front of the Other

Moving towards developing your craft can be a challenging path when you see room for change with regard to current systems.

In general, it seems like people don't like a lot of change. It also seems like really taking the time to employ inclusive, deep, and comprehensive process is not our natural instinct as humans. The book, Intentional Interruption, supports that.

Yet, it is such a wonderful feeling to do a good job. Last year we spent lots and lots and lots of hours proposing a new model for our grade level team. There was a lot of waiting involved. For four months we revised and rewrote the proposal and waited for a response, and then finally in the last weeks of the school year our proposal was approved, and this year I am able to teach in ways I've dreamed of--deep, meaningful, comprehensive ways since there's greater team and a more streamlined menu of tasks which enables me to spend more time on the details and lessons. I LOVE it!

Now, I want to make it better. Let's face it, what I like about working is the challenge to keep developing craft, getting better, and doing a good job. I'll never be satisfied to leave things as they are because getting better and doing a good job is at the heart of what I do as lead learner and teacher to my students.

What I hope for is that schools will begin to develop more inclusive, steady, and organic processes for idea generation, share, implementation, assessment, and refinement. I want to see a more flattened hierarchy, hybrid roles, and greater teamwork--the kind of teamwork I witnessed on IDEO's well-known grocery cart video.

I want to see us reaching out for more modern, comprehensive, and deep processes for developing good work. For example, I believe that organizations like The Energy Project have something to teach school communities--they have what we need, and at some time in the near future I'm going to dig into their website to learn more as I know it's going to translate into better work.

Overall it's a one step in front of the other process of discovering ideas and ways to do the job better; advocating for those ideas with the best processes, language, and efforts I know; and then continuing to advocate even if no one responds emails, answers the questions, or provides support. There are some who are there willing and able to help, and there are others who aren't ready to support the forward movement, but I suppose that happens everywhere and to everyone. And I know I'm tenacious about good ideas--when I see one or hear of it, I want to embed it as quickly as I can. Why wait when we know we can do it better?

As I write, I realize I've written these ideas several times over during my tenure. I'll be on the lookout for those who experience what I do to gain a bit of wisdom as I forward the research and learning I've done. Onward.

Positive Process for Evolution of Organizations

What processes does your organization use to develop in positive ways?

Is the process inclusive including multiple voices from many roles or do just a few make decisions for many?

This came to mind yesterday at PLC as we reviewed our overall efforts for English Language Arts. As we worked to really look at the data and think about ways to develop the program, it was clear that scheduling was an issue.

Overall the schedule is great especially given the fact that this our first year with a shared model of teaching with three fifth grade classrooms, but if we were to make change with the schedule we would be able to do an even better job next year.

As we talked about this, I wondered how we might make this change. Also after being part of the NEA/MTA/CTQ Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) School Redesign Cohort, I've come to realize that scheduling is a critical issue in every school organization, and in many ways, the schedule holds the key to our best efforts.

In the old days, before TLI, I might not have the confidence or skill to use good process to advocate for scheduling process changes--changes that would invite more specific voice and choice on behalf of all stakeholders, but after yesterday's discussion and the TLI work I've been doing all year, I know it's in the best interests of the children to advocate for the better schedule, hence I asked administration what would be a good first step with regard to this advocacy. It was suggested that I try to fit in what we wanted while also fitting in what everyone else needs too.

So this morning, I worked for about five hours rearranging the puzzle pieces of a K-5 elementary school scheduling puzzle. It was much like playing a game of chess. I didn't have all the parameters, but I worked with what I knew to be true (or at least thought to be true). It seemed like what we desire at fifth grade is possible after all that puzzle work, but of course, I could never do this alone since I don't stand in everyone's shoes.

Therefore I sent the schedule idea forward with the hopes that we could perhaps change the process a bit this year in the following ways:
  • Start scheduling earlier.
  • Include more voices with greater specificity and detail.
  • Look for ways to make the schedule meet everyone's needs more (don't forget we already have a terrific schedule, and I'm grateful for all the work that's gone into it. I'm looking for the frosting now, the even better than really good schedule.)
Yesterday as I watched IDEO's classic shopping cart video, I was reminded of the need for good process no matter what decisions we are making. That film sets a great example of modern day problem solving--an example we may want to use as we move forward with our advocacy for an even better schedule next year.

Change and evolution takes time and optimal process. As teaching and learning change, process becomes the centerpiece or linchpin helping us to reach the potential and promise, or as some might say the "collective genius" of the group.

Step one is to advocate. Step two is to recognize that change takes time and many voices. Step three is to be patient during the process and the many, many reiterations this will take as many educators work together to craft a wonderful pattern for as some say our "little city" of a school, a "city" with multiple, wonderful endeavors happening all at once.

Schools truly are microcosms of society. There is a lot of complexity involved in what we do together, but there's tremendous potential too, and if we're willing to give the problems presented the time and good process they deserve, we'll continue to develop our collective craft with the goal of teaching children well. Onward.

P.S. If you have some great scheduling software you'd like to share, let me know. I know in my mind how I would code this, but my facility with coding is weak. I can see it, but not really do it (yet!).


Have you been baited?

It's excruciating to have the bait right in front of you.

You want to snap.

And typically the one doing the fishing knows about how long it takes for you to reach for the bait.

The key is to resist, use proper channels, and be confident in your position.

I'm the kind of person who likes straight forward dialogue. I'm not a big fan of the baiting effort to get what you want.

Instead I like an honest conversation, data analysis, and protocol share.

Baiting takes a lot of time and sucks up a lot of energy too, energy that could be spent on more important affairs.

Back to the original question, have you been baited? If so, how do you react--what's your strategy?

Lesson Planning: A Catchy Start

The principal happened to walk in during a lesson introduction the other day. He liked what he saw and asked me to present it at an upcoming faculty meeting.

That made me think about what it was that he saw and wonder what exactly did he like.

I queried more and he noted that he liked the quick engagement he saw. He said that the lesson didn't start in the typical "open up your book and get started" way which he felt may have led to greater investment.

I thought about this, and realized that reading Hattie's book a few years ago actually sent me on a journey of improving my learning experience design with and for students. I thought about what has impacted my practice with regard to lesson starts and here's what I came up with.

Over the years, I've thought a lot about lesson choreography as I've planned learning experiences with and for students. I've read quite a bit about it too. There are a number of strategies I use when introducing a lesson.

Make it Meaningful, Provide Rationale
For starters, and as Jo Boaler affirms in her book, students learn better when the learning is meaningful. This is particularly true for girls--they want to know why they are doing what they are doing and they want to know that it has meaning. Hence prior to teaching I think about the long term meaning of the activity and how that learning relates to the bigger world. For example to start a lesson about problem solving, I showed the now classic shopping cart design video from one of the United States' most famous design firms, IDEO. The film is a great depiction of problem solving in real life as a STEAM team gets together to design a better shopping cart. After showing the film, I reiterated the film's message that good process is essential for problem solving, and that I was going to introduce them to a process which will help them solve math problems, the kind of simple problems included on the upcoming GMADE test.

Short, Inspiring, and Thought Provoking: About Ten Minutes
I'm also conscientious of John Medina's research in Brain Rules for Presenters which suggests a ten-minute introduction as attention begins to drop dramatically after ten minutes. So as a teacher you've got ten minutes to whet the learners' appetites, deliver instructions, and answer questions.

Rich Ingredients: Make Connection, Tap into Students' Emotions/Experiences, Use Narratives and Good Questions--Perplexing, Paradoxical, and Unexpected
Further, years ago I read a great piece about lesson choreography by Michael Ebeling, Reaching Their Full Potential: Motivating Learners and Building Interest. In the post he shared this chart for great lesson design:

Tell or Show a Story
Also, when I read Why Don't Students Like School by Daniel T. Willingham, he shared the following research related to lesson design:
  • ". . .organizing a lesson plan like a story is an effective way to help students comprehend and remember." ". . .often summarized as the four Cs."  (p.67)
  • "The first C is causality, which means the events are causally related to one another." (p.67)
  • "The second C is conflict. A story has a main character pursuing a goal, but he or she is unable to reach that goal." (p.67)
  • "The third C is complications. . .Complications are subproblems that arise from the main goal." (p.67)
  • "The final C is character. A good story is built around strong, interesting characters, and the key to those qualities is action."
  • ". . .stories are easy to remember." (p.68)
  • ". ..stories are easy to comprehend."(p.67-68)
  • ". . .stories are interesting." (p.68)
  • ". . . structuring a lesson plan around conflict can be a real aid to student learning." (p.85)

Further, William Parker, in his post, Triggering the Brain with Wonder, offers terrific ideas for making lessons meaningful and ends the post with these words, "If brain research has shown parts of the brain are triggered by music, then it makes sense that when we couple information with music, art, storytelling, or imagination, we are conveying more than just facts, we are also creating deeper understanding or even moments of awe."

If you sometimes wonder why your work is important, remember that education is more than just sharing information; it is also creating learning moments that can become amazing moments--reaching into parts of the brain that none of us really understand but that can be stirred and triggered by something beautiful."

When the principal walked in he saw me showing the With Math I Can introduction video from Amazon's new positive math mindsets initiative, and then  Prince Ea's eloquent rap, "I Am Not Black." I tied the two films together by saying, "Let's not forget that we're all capable of learning, and if we work together and support each other's individuality, we'll all make progress on this learning path." Then we moved forward to review computation strategies together. 

I find that starting the class with rich global connections, connections that help students to see the value in what they are doing for their lives, communities, and world invigorates the learners and makes them ready for the deep learning ahead. 

I'm sure there are many other ideas that can be added to this, so please don't hesitate to share. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Coaching Students: Not Everyone Sees it the Way You Do

It can be a tremendous revelation to students to understand that not everyone sees things the way they do.

One child I taught was often dismayed since he felt slighted by his friends. He wondered, "How could they do that."

He and I talked about it.

I said, "You notice a lot, and not everyone notices as much detail as you."

He listened.

I continued, "Before judging, ask questions. Ask, why did you do that or what were you thinking. Perhaps even ask, did you see what I saw and explain what you noticed."

People look through many different lenses, lenses affected by experience, culture, gender, and more. It's important to respect one another's individuality and develop empathy as we learn to learn, live, and work with one another.

I was reminded of this common, but rich lesson too as students asked me if they could watch this wonderful video again today.

Friday Musings: Last Friday in February 2016

"This week went fast," I exclaimed to the students, "Do you agree." Most agreed that it was a fast and good week of learning.

I continue to adore this shared teaching model as it really gives me a chance to teach deep, and as a result, students are enjoying the lessons and learning experiences much more. In fact at the very end of the day, the teaching assistant joked, "Giggling is not allowed." as one young boy delighted in creating a SCRATCH, Jr. animation.

One good week leads to another, and here's what's on the agenda for the week ahead.

During math class we'll continue our focus on problem solving as we prep for the problem solving section of the systemwide standardized test. Then we'll head back into our study with fractions by looking closely starting with an analysis of the Google table fraction bars students made prior to the February vacation.

We'll also return to our character study projects and poster work. I want to teach students the elements of a good poster before they begin work on that effort.

I want to shore up our math tech list since we'll be spending Tuesday's RTI day on completing the systemwide tests and catching up on math tech expectations and efforts.

The only special event scheduled for next week is our celebration of the Lunar Year which was postponed due to a snow day a few weeks back. It should be a week where we make many gains in the curriculum.

Seems like next week will be a good week to continue to catch up on a lot of planning and paperwork as well. Moving forward.

Delving into Character: What Does it Mean to be Responsible?

As I assess my whole class and character, I'd say that they're mostly positive, respectful, persevering, courageous, cooperative, kind, tolerant, friendly, disciplined, honest, agreeable, and grateful.

Yet, as with any individual or group, there's room for improvement. As we continue down Character Road, we'll do the following:
  1. Complete the Character Posters and projects we've been working on.
  2. Focus explicitly on responsibility and what that looks like--we can improve a bit on this as I look around the room to find computers not put away, snack wrappers not properly disposed of, and some desks topped with materials.
  3. We'll also look deeper at perseverance and self control as it relates to positive learning.
The class has really embraced this study with enthusiasm, so the energy is right for this kind of work. Onward. 

Meet Mischief with Positivity

When students are mischievous, a teacher often has to call them over for redirection.

In the best of cases, you're able to do this quietly so a child isn't "called out" or publicly redirected. Sometimes, however, given the situation with many children in one class that's impossible to avoid.

When you do call that child over, one great strategy is to start with a positive message such as, "Before I talk about the reason I called you over, and while I have you here, I wanted to compliment you on the __________________, and because you're so capable in that way and so many more ways, let's use this time productively. How can I help you stay on task and contribute, rather than interrupt others' learning at this time."

Typically when I do this, a child has the good resolve for the mischief, one I'm able to follow for a win-win solution.

Get That in Writing

Too many issues and problems in school lie in the fact that no one wrote it down.

A promise made and not met can be troublesome if no one wrote down the promise in the first place.

Conversations, decisions, and facts can be forgotten if no one keeps notes.

Conjecture confounds good decisions, process, and collaboration, while accurate notes, data charts, letters, emails, and other written communication support collective effort and result.

So, get that in writing, whenever you can as one way to foster good work and positive collaboration.

Collaborative Decisions Matter

The PLC group teased out a student problem.

Together everyone added their knowledge about the issue past and present.

Multiple ideas and solutions were shared.

The teacher who had the broadest view of the situation chose to be the lead, the teacher with the second most information and connection to the issue decided to support the first person.

Everyone agreed on a solution path--steps to help the child feel better while also getting the support, encouragement, and teaching/learning needed.

This is the kind of strategic process that matters--a process based on data, expertise, experience, collaboration, and care with a students-first focus. Wow!

This is why I like PLCs so much and believe they are one, integral ingredient to growing schools well if done with the right intent and good process.


If we desire, we do change, grow, and transform.

The old adage, that you "can't teach an old dog new tricks," doesn't hold in an age where growth mindset is the mantra. That "old dog" can learn new tricks and grow his/her craft and practice too.

We are not mired in our old ways, but admittedly some old ways do take time to change.

Also our personalities come to play here. We are all different, and there isn't a one size fits all when it comes to right personality or way of being. Would we all want to be the same? How boring would that be as Shel Silverstein suggested in one of his poems.

We are all transforming all the time. This fact brings me back to the life path image I hold. In the image everyone is walking along the path, and during the journey you find that some walk with you, some lead you on, and some fall behind--that movement is always changing. A best friend one day might move far away from you, while a new friend arrives. Or perhaps there are a few that walk most of the road with you throughout your entire life. I don't like the linearity of this path image as I'd like to grow it to be more 3D, perhaps if I played Minecraft more that would be easy to do and create.

As we walk the road and interface with many, I am reminded of the need to utilize the best possible structure and process to support our transformation and movement forward. As I ready for today's PLC, I'm reminded of the discomfort we all felt as we began the PLCs so long ago and how this structure has changed from the start and continues to change for the better the more we employ better and better strategy and process. In addition, as I watched the school committee meeting this week, I took note of the many processes used by the superintendent to bring about share, voice, idea exchange, and choice--multiple processes. Reading about the exciting work of The Energy Project, being apart of the NEA/CTQ/MTA Teacher Leadership Initiative, attending edcamps and ecet2, and working in a shared teaching model have all made me think deeply about process and structure this year.

We are as a people moving away from good vs bad to continuum think, and I believe we're also moving in ways where we use greater empathy, collaboration, and team to help each other rather than perhaps, the trickery, competition, and conniving ways of the past. Yes that still exists as we might see in current elections and other matters, but for the most part, I'm beginning to notice much more talk about teams and togetherness, capacity and collective effort, shared paths and mutual gain and benefit.

I'm excited by the potential that transformation brings to individuals, organizations, and those we serve. I'm happy to be apart of this collective growth mindset driven path of doing better work and making positive change. Yes, it's a humbling journey, and even painful at times, as we reckon with past struggles, challenges, and hurtful events, but the more we move forward with truth, honesty, care, and investment in what's best for all of us, the better that path will be. Onward.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

We Are What We Do

Everyone knows it. We are what we do.

And guess what, people are watching, listening, and perhaps even following our lead.

Hence we have to take those words seriously, "We are what we do."

Yet, we are also human, and we won't always live up to the ideals, vision, and goals we set for ourselves. Even with our best of intentions, we'll make mistakes, err, and take a wrong turn.

In most cases, those around you will empathize, help you out, lead, and lend a hand, but there will be times when people will use our shortcomings to knock us down, hurt us, and punish us.

Some believe that punishment is the best way to change an individual, and perhaps, at times, it has a place.

Yet, mostly, we need to support one another; help each other make the right decisions; do good work; and move forward with grace and good will.

Working with the public day in and day out calls us to be our very best all the time. Fortunately, we mostly work with people that support us in that call which makes it easier to do.

We are what we do. Say it 100 times. Then do your best work. :)

Just Right Expectations

I was reminded recently that good leaders have just right expectations.

These leaders don't expect perfection, but look forward to one's best work.

They're not in a race, but instead coach a steady pace of service.

They foster collaboration so each of us helps to move each other forward.

They know error occurs and work with you for good result, and they're quick to notice what's working well too.

These good leaders conduct the orchestra of their organizations every day.

I'm fortunate to work with some leaders like this.

Changing Rules of Positive Practice

What rules related to professional practice are widely held and respected in your organization's culture?

I would guess that in most organizations those rules have changed somewhat in the past many years--what was once the mainstay protocols for an organization may be quite different today.

It's good to be mindful of changing rules and protocols, and it's good to inquire when you're not exactly sure what the expectations are.

There's been lots and lots of change in educational organizations in the past ten years. In my educational world, these following changes have occurred (note that there are positive, welcome aspects of each change, and in some cases, more challenging and less positive aspects of change too):
  • onset of multiple tests and data sets related to teacher accountability and evaluations
  • new educator evaluation system
  • more leaders and the addition of coaches and specialists
  • common core standards
  • more planning time (yeah!)
  • PLCs
  • RTI
  • new report cards - move to a standards based report
  • tech integration
  • growth mindset and learning-to-learn objectives
  • greater need and expectations for ELL education
  • new curriculum units
  • new building configurations
  • three different grade changes - 4th to 5th to 4th again.
  • move to a shared model of teaching
  • new and more mandated trainings.
Fortunately it seems like there is less change with regard to quantity in the year ahead. I know that I'm ready for a reprieve from the dramatic level of change and new initiatives that have marked the past ten years to fifteen years of teaching. I generally look forward to change, but too much change can be troubling.

As I look ahead, I'm looking forward to having same protocols and rules in place for a while so I can focus in on the work I do with students each day. 

Sometimes . . .

Sometimes you cajole, entice, encourage, invite, introduce. . . .

and sometimes children just want to giggle, play, relax, and wonder.

It's often better to give in to that now and then, as the learning after that is often better.

Scheduling Matters: Establish Positive Patterns

The schedule is a critical component to teaching well in the elementary school. Without a good schedule, teachers can't do the good work possible.

Overall we have a good schedule this year, but it could be better. We have a few hours during the week that are clumsy in that we have little bits of time, not enough for anything substantial or interrupted time that prevents the good learning possible.

In the best of worlds, I think the scheduling for the year ahead should begin in late winter. At that time, I think that teaching teams should have time to analyze what works and what doesn't work in the schedule. For example for our team, the rotations work quite well--that's awesome. Specials have been well planned too. The big challenge has been the RTI times since the time planned is not ideal for a number of reasons. We also have some lag time after lunch we may be able to be remedied.

Once teaching teams have a chance to weigh in, I believe that schedulers should have substantial in-school time to plan the schedule. I'm sure there's computer software that can help out. While everyone is at school is a good time to figure out the issues and share drafts until a final cut is created before the end of the year.

If the scheduling were done by June, teachers could use some of their summer study to prep for the year ahead. Also we'd have an easier time getting things rolling in the first two set up days and the initial days of the year.

I don't think all people understand the complexity and power of an effective schedule when it comes to teaching children well. I understand the challenge of this, but I also realize the potential too. What do you think?

Doing the Right Thing

We all err at times no matter our age, gender, culture, race, geography, or interests.

Most well meaning people don't like to make mistakes, especially mistakes that hurt others. Often those kinds of mistakes are mired in complex histories, experiences, relationships, and events.

Rather than "forget that" as many would suggest, it's good to unravel the error in order to see the details, understand the problem, and move forward with positivity.

Doing the right thing is at times easy and accessible and at other times vague and problematic. We do well though if we all move in that direction as well as we are able. Onward.

Choose Your Words

"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble." - Yehuda Berg

Words are powerful. Yesterday as we watched the film, Akeelah and the Bee. I loved the emphasis on the power of words. As a lead character shared the example of W.E.B. Debois and the power of words, I was reminded of this. Then later in the day when I chose to bring up a subject at a less than ideal time, I was reminded of this again. The power of words is something we can't forget.

Timely quotes by W.E.B. Debois copied from goodreads.

“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.” 
― W.E.B. Du Bois

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” 
― W.E.B. Du BoisThree African-American Classics: up from Slavery, the Souls of Black Folk and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

RICE: Math Problem Solving Review

This week's systemwide test has a section that includes lots of short word problems. Unlike the multi-level problems that the PARCC test presents, problems we're working on with our POWerful SRSD approach and by making digital math story problems, these problems are short and sweet thus needing a quicker, easier acronym to guide the work. I like the clarity of the RICE acronym (see image at the top).

Learning from yesterday's test, I'll have students start by writing down the acrostic on this sheet:
After that we'll practice a host of short and somewhat simple word problems using this guide.  I've decided to include a quick review of using variables as well. So since the focus is use of variables and good strategy, I've chosen to keep the content somewhat simpler.

We'll review the acronym, write the acrostic, complete some problems together, and then I'll let students work with friends or alone to complete the rest of the problems. At the end there are a number of equations that students may use to write their own problems. They always enjoy that part of the process.

I think this will be a good review for students, one that will likely take one or two lessons. Let's see.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Akeelah and the Bee: An Empowering Story

Powerful quote from the film.

I felt privileged watching the powerful film, Akeelah and the Bee, with my students today. What a terrific story about perseverance, tenacity, intelligence, friendship, love, and care. The movie was a perfect fit for my fifth graders' interest and our numerous talks about growth mindset, social competency, character, and personal passion and interests. The movie also demonstrated wonderful resilience and challenge in the face of adversity.

We started watching the film on the snowy afternoon right before the February break and continued watching today during lunch (due to indoor recess) and at the very end of the day. If you're looking for a great film to share with your Middle School students, I recommend Akeelah and the Bee.

Learning from Giving a Systemwide Test

As I walked around the room today watching students take a systemwide test, I noticed a large number of teaching points.

First, if you work in a system that gives these tests, and you want to do well, it's important to quiz students regularly to see who knows what. For example I saw one child making an error that I wouldn't have expected--an error that could have been easily cleared up with a bit more practice. The error was related to standards for fourth grade, however, and we all know that it's difficult to retain every fact and figure learned from grades past and not every item is repeated every year even with a spiral program.

Next, it's important that students have the opportunity to write down and utilize math vocabulary. In one case, we had studied a concept in depth with lots of hands-on work, but the study didn't involve a lot of writing, hence when it came time for students to recognize the sophisticated math word related to the concept, many missed it. Lesson learned.

After that, it was a good idea to review a lot of the vocabulary as a class using a crossword puzzle in days prior to the test. That helped students recall past words and learning.

Similarly, it was important to review the many concepts on the test that are not included in our curriculum scope and sequence as that gave students a chance to do well on those concepts. One concept we didn't review and that I noticed a lot getting wrong was how to tell time with an analog clock--that's something to remember for next year if we use this test again, and something that would take about 2-3 days practice with some fun online games.

Sharing optimal strategy with students, I believe, helped too.

For this test, this is strategy that works:
  • Take your time.
  • Eliminate all that don't work, and circle the ones that do work.
  • Carefully bubble and double check your answers.
  • Do your work on the page and then check it over.
  • If you don't know an answer, skip it and circle it on the bubble page as a later question may help you to remember that answer.
  • Read the words carefully, and study the images
I'm sure as I administer the next sections of the test I'll notice more lessons to learn, but these are the some initial strategies that work well for the computation section of the test:
  • Do your computation on paper, not in your head so that you can check it.
  • Write your numbers carefully. Often students don't do this then they think the number they've written is another number.
  • Line up your numbers.
  • Check your work by doing it twice or completing the inverse operation.
  • Don't squish your work--you're always welcome to use scrap paper.
  • Copy carefully. Lots of times students copy the wrong numbers down.
I likened the test practice value to the value of studying and getting your driver's license, and the fact that sometimes it's very important to be precise and test taking is good practice for that. There's something to be learned from every endeavor including test taking. 

Let Your Questions Lead You

Similar to food, there are few ideas or knowledge areas that don't interest me. I'm a fairly curious individual who thinks of learning as a sport. Yet too many tangents leads to dissatisfaction, hence I'm always working to right the road and prioritize well. This morning as I worked on a questions that I'm very interested in, it occurred to me that one of the best ways to prioritize is to let your questions lead you. It was one of those simplistic, but very important, revelations that has finally rooted itself in my mind and effort in a way that makes sense.

So as we think of our main questions, which questions take priority, and why are those questions important to you.

For me, I really love to teach in ways that inspire, motivate, and develop the learning team. I always work towards those classroom moments when everyone is engaged with enthusiasm, care, and creativity--true learning moments. To reach these moments requires terrific teaching, and terrific teaching is the goal I seek, a goal that I'll achieve by following Dorothy Day's quote, "People say, 'What is the sense of our small effort?' They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time."

With Day's wise words urging me forward, these are the questions that will lead me forward towards terrific teaching?
  • What is most important to know with regard to teaching and learning mathematics?
  • What are the best ways to teach in order to develop students' sense of confidence, growth mindset, learning-to-learn habitudes, and a strong knowledge, concept, and skill foundation?
  • How can I continue to promote and model the qualities of good character and social competency with and for students?
  • How can I work with my collegial team to develop STEAM efforts with and for students that matter? 
These questions will lead me in the days ahead.

Collaboration Builds Equity: STEAM Roles

This is a dynamic model for the design process. One I hope to embed in our STEAMwork.

I must admit that I've never been a big fan of Literature Circles as I felt the roles were too contrived and got in the way of the quality of a good, organic literary discussion. Perhaps I never gave the structure enough time, or maybe, I was reaching the goals I wanted to reach in reading without those roles. While I didn't embrace those roles, I know that many teachers did and still do use those roles successfully today.

Now that I'm working with colleagues to develop our STEAM efforts, I've been struck by the need to develop students' ability to utilize the design process with optimal collaboration and teamwork. In fact, I like to call it STEAMwork, and say to students let's maximize the TEAM in STEAM.

Our last STEAM Theme Day, a day focused on creating Rube Goldberg-like marble mazes, was a terrific grade-wide day of design and creativity, but I desire more. I want students to better be able to maximize their design efforts, collaboration, and presentation. As I've thought about that, my thinking has been impacted by a system-wide professional learning event related to STEAM, the advent of of a number of upcoming STEAM Days, collegial discussion, the desire to make math class more inquiry based and collaborative, and recent presentations and research I've done.

Last night I had the chance to view a dynamic art invention project created by seventh grade teacher, Peter Curran, from the school system where I work. I really liked the design process this talented art teacher used to promote student invention, creativity, and collaboration. I listened carefully as the Superintendent presented the teacher's work as I watched the video of a recent school committee meeting. Peter welcomes people to view his art website and recent presentation for an ArtEd Conference. Also, as I read Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets, I was struck by her research and vignettes related to the relationship between collaboration and learning success. Boaler demonstrates how some students simply don't know how to collaborate or don't have an open mindset towards working with others. She relays an effort where students where deliberately inspired, taught, and invited to collaborate, and how their success grew. She lends this, in part, as an example of how to build greater equity in our teaching/learning environments.

I have witnessed how the lack of collaborative skill or openness has hindered STEAMwork, therefore I read Boaler's suggestions carefully. As she discusses the work at Railside, the name she gives to an urban school in California where she conducted studies, Boaler states, "Part of the reason students worked so well at Railside, was that multidimensional mathematics was taught and valued, and the teachers taught students to support each other's learning." STEAMwork (science, tech, engineering, art, math) invites students into problems that have multidimensional solution paths, so this is a natural match to the inquiry based, open-ended learning problems involved in our STEAM Theme Days. Boaler also supports the use of roles to help children by providing some advantageous structure to the effort to help students learn to collaborate in ways that matter.

As I considered the roles she presents, I knew that I wanted to match our STEAM roles a bit more tightly to the design process. I also wanted to include the great Stanford University design path, the seventh grade art teacher used. Further, I wanted to create roles that would fit well with our upcoming STEAM explorations--roles that laid a path to collaborative success.

I came up with the following drafts:

First, one issue I have with roles is that they can be too tight and not allow all students to experience every aspect of project/problem work. Hence I first created an introduction to STEAM Teams:

Next I outlined each role. Ideally I'd like to print these roles, cut them out, and place them in badges with lanyards to make them official and easily identified. I can imagine our team meeting with groups of same role students as well as groups of mixed-role, project group to help them plan and support each other with their STEAMwork. We might even survey students about the roles they desire most and make teams based on the surveys.

Finally I created a roll-out chart that demonstrates what each student in each role would do during each phase of the design process:

The principal has given our team a half-day of release time to review our STEAMwork with greater depth. We also have a PLC planned to support our efforts.

As I wrote this post this morning, I was reminded of the great IDEO video about the design of better shopping carts. This may be a good film to share with students:

Bringing good structure to our STEAMwork will make the work more equitable and successful for all. I'm looking forward to developing the project in this wa

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Too Fast

The lesson was too fast again. Why? I felt the rush to get through the material for the upcoming test--a test that teachers and students are rated on. For the teacher, to be rated well means that there's less pressure and greater ability to teach in ways you believe in, and to be rated not so well means lots of pressure, oversight, advice, and management. Hence if the students do well, I can continue to craft meaningful lessons and learning opportunities that extend from traditional paper/pencil work. I want that autonomy because I know that kind of learning is engaging, enriching, and encouraging.

So I chose to teach with speed for a few lessons so that most students with be familiar with the words and concepts. Soon the test will be past and I'll be able to go back to more meaningful, deep, and engaging teaching. When this happens I'll especially reach out to those who didn't like the push, the ones who felt a bit overwhelmed by the too-fast pace. I'm looking forward to that change. I've shared this rationale with the students.

The teaching/learning arena is filled with decision after decision as teachers reach to meet mandates, students, goals, and vision. We want to do well by our students, but we also need to fulfill the expectations set, expectations that often outweigh the hours in a day.

Also there are some that like the fast paced lesson, the quick review, and the ability to refresh before taking a test. That kind of review provides them with what they need in order to show off what they know in a standardized test format. The year's teaching will never be one size fits all, instead it will include a series of differently focused efforts--some fast like the past few days and some rich, deep, and engaging like the month of exploration to come, a month that will be led by Boaler's research and work in Mathematical Mindsets.

Walk the Walk

When I get involved in big discussions, in the back of my mind I'm always thinking, "Am I able to live up to these words, challenges, and conversation." Typically, with regard to some comments, the related practice is deeply embedded in what I do, but in other cases, the work is more challenging--work I believe in, but still struggle to embrace with regard to my daily teaching and learning.

There's plenty of challenge when it comes to teaching well, and I expect that every teacher has that short list of professional goals they want to achieve, the goals that really demand the best of them.

Tonight's #edchat was about teacher leadership, and no matter what the opportunities are for leadership in your work arena, every teacher has the chance to be a great leader to the students they teach. What does being a great leader mean with regard to the students you teach?

First, it means, as one #edchat participant said, stepping back, and letting others lead. In the classroom this means, more of them and less of us. It means that you make lots of room for student voice and choice, and you regard their words carefully. This is not always easy since there are many competing perspectives and goals in a classroom when it comes to teaching all children well, following all mandates posed, and staying true to what you know to be true about effective teaching and learning. But day after day, as a classroom leader, it's your job to think about how you will help the children and put their interests, needs, and passions first.

Leading well also means communicating well. How do you enlist students in the classroom community goals and efforts? How do you let children and family members know what's happened, what's going on, and what's planned? Our team sends out a weekly memo to the learning/teaching team as one way to keep everyone in the loop of what's happening. We also make an effort to let students know what and why we're learning what we are learning. We give students a chance to affect the learning choices and processes too.

To lead children well means to model the best of whom we can be with good character and effort.

As educators I think it's a good idea to advocate for greater teacher leadership, voice, and choice in schools and school systems, and I think it's imperative that we begin that leadership in our own classrooms by leading the children we teach with the best of whom we can be and what we can do for them. Onward.

Growing STEAM Efforts with The Science Practices

How can we employ the Science Practices to develop our STEAMwork for the upcoming STEAM Theme Days at Fifth Grade?

Our team will meet soon at PLC to discuss our STEAM efforts. As we discuss this, I hope we can think about how to more deeply develop our efforts using The Science Practices. The chart above will help us.

To start, I think we can do the following:

Plan Prep: Ask Questions, Investigate, and Collaborate
There's a certain amount of reading, research, and study that will set the stage for the real world hands-on investigation. We need to decide on the materials we use and who and how we'll lead that preparation. During this prep, I think we should help teams to develop a good structure and process for the investigation by explicitly discussing what good collaboration looks like. We also need to explicitly discuss the value and process of questioning as well as the investigation time line and process.

Use Math
In math class, I'll match the investigations math needs and process with our current topic focus and learning for all.

Investigation Process and Roles: Design a Model, Argue, and Analyze
In order to complete all of the practices above, we may want to institute the following roles:
  • Lead Engineer: The person who leads the design process and collects and organizes the materials.
  • Lead Designer/Discussion Facilitator: The individual who draws and labels the model on big paper.
  • Lead Writer/Discussion Coordinator: The person who leads the discussion, shared Google doc writing of the argument, and video presentation.
  • Lead Presenter/Videographer: The person who video tapes all aspects of the project and puts together the final presentation. 
Presentation: Explain, Present, and Respond to Questions
Teams present to one another and field questions. The presentations are also shared with family members via our newsletter. We could possibly invite family members in for the presentations if time permits. 

I want to think more with my team about these titles and roles. I'll look around to see what other roles people use in this regard. I also want to think about our roll-out process and steps in the days to come. I welcome your thoughts and ideas. 

Note: More roles to consider as we develop this:

Test Day #1 Prep

Students have 13 standardized tests left beginning today and ending in mid-May. There are three systemwide tests this month, and 10 scheduled for May (test month!).

Two out of my three math classes will begin the tests today, and one class will begin tomorrow since we didn't finish the prep yesterday, and will do that today.

What does the prep look like? Essentially for homework students are completing a computation review and in class we reviewed measurement models and lots of vocabulary. Later in the week we'll review computation, take another test, then review problem solving, and take the final test.

Before the test starts, I'll tell students that every test has its own best strategy. For this systemwide test, the following strategies work well:
  • Take your time, this is not a timed test.
  • Read with your pencil, underlining key words.
  • Study the pictures or models and eliminate those that don't fit by marking with an x, and then circle the one that does fit.
  • Bubble the correct answer carefully, then "finger check" your bubbles by actually touching the number and the bubble to make sure you're bubbling the right answer. Young children sometimes make mistakes with the bubbles.
Our system has been employing this test for a long time. It gives a broad brush view of a child's math knowledge and typically mostly matches classroom observations and performance. Some of the questions and language are not a direct match for the new standards which required some prep outside of the standards, and not everyone holds on to that knowledge since we don't teach it with depth like we do with the current standards.

When students finish and check their work, they'll close their booklets and then silently read at their desks until the end of the period. We have a bit of extra time scheduled at the end of the day for any students who need more time to finish today's section. 

While they test I'll observe how they tackle the test and answer procedural questions. 

In part, I'm also assessed via students' tests in this case. Leaders look at the growth from the fall to the winter. What's challenging about this is that there's little room for growth at the top so if you scored high in September, there's little chance to grow much more, hence I'm not sure if the test is a good one for growth determination. Also since some of the questions are not related to the curriculum and not a focus of deep teaching, I wonder if it's fair to rate educators on this test. I've mentioned these points, and I know some at all levels are thinking about this. Typically, though, most students "grow" with the determined average range so there's little need to worry.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Give in to the Tired Days

Every so often, a typhoon of tiredness hits.

I can't really predict when it will happen, but it typically happens after I've completed a big project or a series of creative efforts.

As educators, these tired days are part of our learning/teaching path.

When they arrive, it's best to give in to it because the next day is a always a new, or perhaps the day after, it's a new day!

The First Try at a Lesson is Rarely the Best Try

I tried a new lesson idea today. I thought it was a great idea, but when I was teaching it to the students, I realized that the lesson had plenty of room for refinement. All in all it wasn't a bad idea, but there was too much error in the models and too little room for student exploration, voice, and discussion.

If we don't try out new ideas, we'll never develop our craft, so at times, we have to be satisfied with a lesson that leads to betterment rather than a lesson that's terrific first time around.

Tracking Helps one to Understand

Tracking hits, responses, delays, time, scores, teams, and more helps to understand the landscape and specific details of any issue better.

Rather than get upset, simply keep track. Then after some time of tracking with detail, than review the data and make some decisions about next actions.

I wonder how often we forget to use this methodical, practical, and effective method with regard to problem solving.

Doing the Work You Don't Like

Image Resource
We all know what work is our least favorite, the jobs of life that we most readily avoid and have to push ourselves to complete. For me, taxes, saving and submitting receipts, collecting field trip money, and a number of other detail-related routines at work and at home top the list. Fortunately most of the jobs of the life I live and the work I do, I enjoy, and for that I'm grateful.

Yet, with regard to those jobs I don't like, it's imperative to weave that work and effort into the pattern of living and working. If we don't make time for those jobs, they pile up and become a point of tremendous stress and worry. So, rather than avoid or procrastinate, it's good to get underneath those tasks by thinking through the reasons why the tasks are so onerous and figuring out how to make the jobs more doable.

So as I sit down this morning to complete a few tasks that I've procrastinated on, I'm mindful that someday in the near future, I'm going to privately list all that I avoid, and figure out a better way to complete that work. The carrot is that less avoidance will mean more time, and time is right up there with the list of life's gifts I value most. Onward!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Positive Routines: February - April Leg of the School Year

The best way to develop new learning is to make it part of your daily routine. That repetition leads to efforts that matters. So in the coming days, how will I shift the daily and weekly routine to better represent the values and learning I'm gaining via research, study, and share.

As a shared teaching team, we already have a good weekly/monthly pattern, one that includes all of our main teaching/learning goals and efforts. To shore up this more, I plan to do the following with regard to the weekly routine.

Math Class
I will start most math classes with a review of Boaler's research in child-friendly terms and endeavor. As time moves on, I'll move my overall math teaching and learning more in the direction that Boaler suggests, a more open-ended, inquiry-driven, floor-to-ceiling, collaborative style of teaching and learning.

Social Competency
I will continue to focus on the attributes of character in the coming days to solidify those elements in students' minds. I want students to understand what character looks like when displayed in our classroom and school. I also want to deepen my own understanding and display of good character traits as I mentor and model for students. Further, I hope that students will apply this study as they read about famous people as part of their biography project. I hope that they'll discover the elements of character (or non-character) that played significant roles in the life and work of the people they choose to study.

With the continued guidance of our school counselor, we will develop other aspects and efforts related to social competency or the "soft skills" as noted in the film, Most Likely to Succeed. We will devote time at least once a week to this study.

Current Events
I really like the way that the Flocabulary Week-in-Review videos spark current events discussions and efforts. I want to work with the grade-level team to find out the best times to embed this weekly review.

RTI ELA and Math
Our continued, weekly efforts with regard to RTI give us the opportunity to explore new and deeper ways to teach and learn with small groups. I want to think about this opportunity as well as the need to organize well the work I do in this regard.

Workshop and Lunch Meetings
We have some time each week for workshop which means it's a time to catch up with individual students and the whole class. I'll use this time to help students meet a number of goals they've set for themselves and goals set for them by a myriad of teachers and leaders.

With regard to the yearly schedule, I don't want to lose sight of the following efforts as well:

Though race is not a formal part of our curriculum, it has come up in class discussions. Just last week, one child asked, "Why do we have dark skin?" Which led me to review the research I did in for this skin shade lesson. Also, TED just came out with a video about skin shade which I hope to show (see below) and I also want to replicate a colleague's success with a recent lesson about labels. Racial injustice is a reality in our society, and it's best to discuss the issue with good research and resources regularly in order to dispel the myths and prejudice that exist. We live in a diverse world, and the more that our students can grow to judge each other based on "the content of their character" rather than the shade of their skin, the better our world will be.

Our team has been working well on developing our STEAM Theme Days. We have a PLC date planned to better our efforts in this regard. I'm hoping that we can embed greater efforts with regard to the Science Practices and Fullan's six C's: Character, Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Citizenship, and Communication. I think we may also want to think about the way Boaler uses roles for her STEM inquiry based projects, yet I don't want the roles to be too limiting.

Nature Stewards
Once the standardized tests and fifth grade play are past, we'll focus more deeply on the biography project and our naturalist study. This creates a great focus for the last few weeks of school, one that builds on the year-long study in all subject areas.

Back to School: Making Character and Positive Mathematical Mindsets Visible in our Daily Efforts

These points are copied exactly from Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets, page 172-173
It's been a wonderful vacation week of mostly doing what I want to do, and now it's time to ready for the return to school.

I outlined the plans a week ago Friday at the start of vacation, and now I want to focus on some of the specific lessons and routines I'll employ to develop craft and better teaching/learning.

With regard to my work to embed Boaler's research outlined in her book, Mathematical Mindsets, I'll start each math class tomorrow with the following information:
  • First, I want to thank all of you (students) for your kindness and support, I've written a thank you note to you that includes a personal note. Please bring home these notes and share them with your family members.
  • Next, I read a lot about math over vacation, and I want you to help me include the following focus areas that I read about in Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets*, (hold up the book) in each math lesson. New learning takes time and I need your help.
    • Everyone can learn math to the highest levels.
    • Mistakes are Valuable.
    • Questions are Really Important
    • Math is about Creativity and Making Sense
    • Math is about Connections and Communicating
    • Depth is Much More Important than Speed
    • Math Class is about Learning, Not Performing 
  • Today we're going to look at, color code, and talk about a number of measurement models as one way to prepare for tomorrow's systemwide test. As we noticed in Mr. Rockwell's wonderful model, a good picture or model helps people to make sense of and remember big ideas. So take out your colored pencils, and let's get ready to study these models together.
In the weeks ahead, I'll turn Boaler's big ideas and practice suggestions into real time lessons, posters, and projects to both embed her wonderful work into my practice and also use her powerful research to develop students' math interest, skill, and application.

I also want to start the day tomorrow by making a bridge to the learning we did before we left for vacation. As students trickle in, they will clean their desks and ready for the week. Then I'll welcome them back with a meeting on the rug. I'll congratulate them on their Character Day efforts, and tell them that we're going to extend that learning and effort in the days ahead. I'll mention that it's a small effort to talk about big ideas like character, but it's a much greater effort to actually make those ideas visible in your day-to-day talking, studying, and playing. 

I'll then say, I want you to think about how we can make the attributes of character visible in our classroom and school as you watch this J.K. Rowling speech. Remember that to make something visible means that you can see the actions and hear the words that demonstrate those specific big ideas. 

We'll then watch J.K. Rowling's speech, and after that we'll begin working on the following chart in small groups:
On Friday, partner groups will each focus on one aspect of character and make a poster about that attribute. Student groups will cut up their original worksheets and give the line that relates to each poster to the partner group in charge of that attribute. Each partner groups will consolidate all the information into one great line about how we can make that element of character visible in our school and classroom. 

So on day one after the vacation, the focus will include positive mathematical mindsets, measurement models, and character attributes. That will set the stage well for the study to come until our next break in April.

*The attributes listed above come directly from the book Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler