Thursday, March 31, 2016

Time to Ponder

Today marks the end of a month or so long set of deadlines and activity that was really, really busy. It is so nice to have a moment to ponder. It's always surprising to me at the end of busy periods like this that the end does come and life calms down. That's often difficult to remember during the thick of a busy period.

The conference period is especially busy since you are spending time talking to more than twenty families and often children too about the teaching/learning program, strengths, challenges, interests, and goals. It is a worthwhile time that lays a strong foundation for the learning that comes after it.

Going forward I want to match the conference time with a quieter, gentler teaching/learning schedule next year in order to reserve the energy needed for thoughtful, interactive conference meetings.

In general I want to look carefully at the curriculum map for next year and work with my colleagues to space out the high energy activities and events well while also making strong periods of time for deep study and learning. Overall our curriculum map this year has been right on target. There's been few to no dull periods and there's always a project or special event to break up the routine and add some spice to the learning.

Part of this effort also involves streamlining professional learning too so it's the right amount of time to invigorate and develop good teaching, but not so much time that you're exhausted.

Tomorrow begins the Test Leg of the school year in earnest as we prepare for the PARCC tests in multiple ways. It's a good time to shore up the learning that requires greater practice or more or different teaching.  After that comes our STEAM/Special Project time where we'll be spending days investigation inside and out, at school and away from the school, altogether, in teams, and one-to-one.

A Caring Classroom Community

Yesterday a number of events signaled the need to develop the care factor in the classroom.

We focused on character a few weeks ago and need to get back to that, but now, it's time to focus on care. With the teacher out, a tough start, and lots and lots of changes and special events on the horizon with regard to big projects, standardized tests, and the  transition to Middle School, it's time to slow it down and focus on care as a community of learners, classmates, and friends.

I'll start this process today by meeting with two girls in the class to get their ideas about how we can build this into our classroom. Then I'll invite those two girls to invite two more students to lunch one day next week to continue the conversation. Eventually we'll bring the conversation to the whole class as we boost classroom community in ways that make our end of the year as special as it can be.

A Better Day: Rebounding

Yesterday after a two-day hiatus from school due to illness, I had already forgotten the level of detail necessary to teach well each day. Knowing this makes it easier for me to understand how those who are removed from the every day ups and downs of classroom life can forget easily the intensity and specificity doing a good job in teaching requires.

With my sights set on a brighter day, I'll start by outlining all those details.

Tomorrow begins with prepping for a substitute at the start of the day since I'll be at a morning IEP meeting. Throughout the year educators are required to take part in meetings related to IEP reviews. The meeting are typically quite long, detailed, and targeted towards a child's gains, needed support, and goals. Parents and guardians and all educators related to the child's services attend the meeting.

I also have another student conference planned just before that meeting.

The students will all take a system-wide 5th grade math test. We've worked on part one of the fractions unit for some time, and now it's time to see how children do on their own. The test will provide me with good information with regard to where and how to move next with regard to fractions and problem solving with our current curriculum goals.

I have a special student lunch planned. And during the planning period, I'll work with my grade level colleagues, if possible, to draft our newsletter and discuss a few upcoming events. Then in the afternoon I'll continue reading Harry Potter with my small reading group. After that we'll have a short class meeting, some time to play, and spend about 15 minutes continuing to watch an entertaining movie that models some good (and also not so good) social decision making and friendship topics, Jump In.

After school I hope to review the math tests and make plans about the next steps in math. The focus is set--the day will be a good one!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

One Change Affects Another

Changes in schools don't happen in isolation as one change affects another.

That's why systems think in schools is essential.

That's also why really good communication and big think is important too.

You can't just announce a school change without thinking about the domino affect it will create and making the appropriate time and consideration for that domino affect.

How can we help each other out with regard to change?

First, change agents have to think deeply and broadly about how the change will affect all that are affected. For example, today's change had to do with CORI forms. Just a couple of months ago people who were monitored while with children did not have to have a CORI form, now anyone in our school who does not have a CORI form has to be monitored at all times even if it means walking to the restroom.

So what does that mean for change? It means the following:
  • Whenever possible, if you're expecting a visitor or enlisting volunteers for your class, make sure that they get CORI'd sooner than later.
  • If you are expecting a visitor that will not be CORI'd you'll likely need extra staffing support since a teacher cannot leave a large class of children alone, so if the visitor needs to leave the room he/she will need a chaperone.
  • If you've planned an event and didn't ask your presenter(s) to get CORI'd, you need to now contact those presenters and ask them to get CORI'd.
  • If you are taking chaperones on the field trip, you have to have the office check the CORI list to see who is CORI'd.
CORI checks help to keep students safe. These new, more specific safety rules with regard to CORI's will support our students. 

But, we can't forget that change in schools is not change in isolation, but instead change that needs to be well described, distributed, and reviewed in order to be instituted with success. 

Yet, another learning experience in the schoolhouse. 

3D Math and Science

Today a parent who is a researcher asked me some questions about math.

I replied that he was probably working with the tools that are the future of math learning. I asked if he mostly uses 3D models and software. Of course, the answer was yes.

It's time that we look for ways to build our math and science programs out to greater use of animated 3D models. Also it's really important that it's not just the students whose parents are buying them 3D creation programs like Minecraft or Lego Mindstorms that are getting the chance to learn in this way, but instead all young students.

Second Most Challenging Day of the Year

I believe we all have them. Those very challenging days that make you wonder what you've learned throughout your tenure of teaching. Whether it's your first year of teaching or your 30th, you're bound to experience these down days when your skills, knowledge, and abilities are challenged.

How can I avoid a similar day in the future?

New Teaching Means New Organization
First, it's becoming more and more necessary to keep every paper, email, and note related to an event together in one easy go to space, a place that's quickly accessible as there's bound to be changes and challenges, and that's when it's necessary to check the facts. It's been a long time since I revisited the way I organize so many aspects of the way I teach, and now with many changes at play, it's time to revisit those organization systems to support the inevitable changes and challenges that occur.

Guard Your Time
Next, I have to remind myself to guard my time. It's easy to be called into a conversation or issue, but it's always best to schedule any important conversations and not entertain them in an impromptu time. Every time this happens, I remind myself and then after it doesn't happen for a long while, it typically happens again which reminds me again of the danger of impromptu meetings about important topics.

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place Online and Off!
After that a place for everything and everything in its place extended to the online world. When a topic begins to become a string of loosely knitted emails, then you know it's time to create a website or make a file home for that topic. What we do with the information we receive is very important especially when that information impacts our daily work.

Make Time to Nurture and Develop Relationships
Then, the standard, relationships. "The people are more important than the issues," is a comment often made when there is focus on the importance good relationships play in your professional and personal lives. I can't emphasize that enough, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to remember.

Coming back after a two days of sickness is not easy as the class routines and efforts are never quite the same as when you're there leading the children. This is especially true today as we teach differently in many ways than in the past, and this difference is often not understood by substitute teachers.

The day after these challenging days is always a better day as I'll certainly benefit from the reminders and new learning.

Special Events: Are They Worth It?

I need to rethink special events.

I think that special events really make the year special, but planning, preparing for, and managing special events is time consuming work since it involves the following actions:
  • research
  • phone calls
  • filling out numerous forms
  • waiting for approvals
  • collecting and sending in funds/payment
  • rearranging schedules
  • giving up planning periods and breaks
  • and more. 
All of this work mainly takes place after school on your own time.

Yet, special events have the potential to enrich everyone's experience of school.

So what's a teacher to do?

In the best of circumstances, special event planning and preparation will be supported by school communities with efficient systems and reliable support. There will be time to consider the effort it takes and the value of the many possible learning experiences. 

Many children from many homes readily have special learning experiences outside of school, and many do not. These special experiences open the doors for what's possible with learning and make learning better for many reasons.

Today a long prepared special event began with a lot of disruption and frustration for a large number of reasons. The idea would have been to flexibly roll with the disruption thus limiting the stress, but I just couldn't believe that the prep work didn't result in the start planned--I was frustrated.

How can we ensure that this doesn't happen in the future?

First, make the time you need to attend to the event preparation. Today I got delayed by an unexpected visitor, and I should have politely excused myself to look for the scientist and help with the set up. While in the busy school setting we are met with the need to meet, ask questions, and respond constantly, there is little uninterrupted time--that's part of the environment. 

Next, when help is there, be grateful, but don't expect there to be help as in busy school settings, the help you expect is often unavailable due to a large number of reasons. Schools are very busy places.

Finally, it's good to add those special events, but don't add too many as that can take more time than is realistic which may have partly been the situation today. 

It's already that time of year when the schedule and demands at school are busier than ever as this year begins to intersect with next year's planning and lots of upcoming standardized tests which upset all the routines, coverage, and building events. The best teachers remain flexible, positive, and amenable to the perennial change that occurs throughout the school days, weeks, and months. I need to follow their lead. 

Navigating New Territory

"Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better." - Albert Einstein

Recently my husband and I signed on to help the local Farm CSA plan its educational program. We did this as a way to learn more about our local community and habitat as well as to grace our summer tables with healthy, farm fresh vegetables and beautiful flowers.

As I continue to work on this effort, I am thrust into the quiet, thoughtful, and beautiful world of naturalists--a world I've visited often through outdoor adventures and teaching school. This new venture finds me entering the natural world at a deeper level, a level of those who have spent their lives carefully researching and tending the land around them.

I know that I will learn a lot this summer from these nature experts--I will learn about the tools we use, the land beneath our feet, how plants thrive, cooking with wild plants, weeds, herbs, and fresh veggies, and ultimately a greater respect for the natural world we live in. I'm sure that this work will, in a sense, quiet my soul and root me more firmly as I navigate this new path--a path that will undoubtedly strengthen my ability to teach and parent as well.

Note that my husband and I learned a lot as we completed this job. We met amazing naturalists and environmental supporters and enthusiasts. I hope to take what I learned and use it as I forward our collective naturalists efforts with fifth graders in the spring. It was a great opportunity to learn at a wonderful local farm.

Honorable Leaders

"Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong." - Thomas Jefferson

"Who sows virtue reaps honor." - Leonardo da Vinci

"The leader who exercises power with honor will work from the inside out, starting with himself."      - Blaine Lee

"At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance especially if one had no choice." - Maya Angelou

I am so frustrated, tired, and fearful of all the low, demeaning, disrespectful, and frightful political speak and actions that barrage us daily. I am hungry for honorable leaders. As a parent, educator, neighbor, community member, friend, and family member, I know that we all benefit from the leadership of honorable people--people who lead with the wind of positive, humane, and inclusive values at their back.

As a mom of young men, I hope for these honorable leaders for my sons too. I hope that their professors, bosses, friends, co-workers, and coaches will lead them with positivity, honor, and a hope for a better world.

In turn, I hope that my sons and I can continue to develop our ability to be honorable--honorable with speak, action, discipline, and truth.

We do not have to settle for low behavior and goals in our selves or others. As we reach to be better and more honorable, we can also ask that of others too and make it happen together. We don't have to accept behavior, language, or effort that is beneath our dignity or best selves. Yet, we are human and will err, so our efforts to be honorable need to be collective effort where we support one another with trust, transparency, and support.

Who are the honorable leaders in your midst? How do they lead with honor?

Who are these honorable leaders and mentors in your community, state, country, and world--the ones who reach beyond themselves to lead with positivity and promise for many?

Are we at a point in the world, where people no longer believe that to be honorable is a direction of merit? Or are there still many honorable, good leaders amongst us?

Could it be that the messages of the honorable are hidden and lost by the sensationalism, marketing, and money making created by those who use negative and demeaning speak to make their case?

As educators we work to teach honor to students--we reach for creating honorable, just, and fair classrooms where everyone belongs, learns, and contributes. This aim calls us to be as good as we can be so that we model this good work and effort daily. It's not a small call, but it is a worthy call.

What role does honor play in your life? Who are the modern day leaders in your schools, communities, states, and nation that you look to as mentors of this valuable role? What do you read and reflect on to develop your ability to be an honorable leader?

I want to learn and think more about this topic and look forward to your thoughts. In the meantime, I'll work to continue to grow a sense of honor in myself and in the children I teach and parent. Onward.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Student Success: Plan an Event

Weekly young students at our school get up in front of the whole school to discuss an event they are planning to help someone in need. They organize the event from the idea stage to research to presentation to putting on the event and reporting the results. It's amazing to see grade school students do this.

Similarly we hear of many middle school and high school students planning events as well.

Recently I've had to plan a big event with a number of educators from all over the state. It was a lot of work and a lot of learning too. We reached out to many people and learned a lot about what it takes to plan a good event, budget for it, and make it happen.

As I worked on this I realized that all students should have the opportunity to plan an event. It should not just be adults who are inclined in this way. Every child should have the chance to brainstorm ideas, make the calls, create the timeline, present the agenda, put on the event, and assess the results. How do we make this happen?

First, like in my school, I think creating a service learning culture is terrific. The principal of my school and a parent or two got this going a few years ago and it has transformed our entire school community in so many powerful ways.

Then with regard to all the high school and middle school events that occur, I believe that students should be part of all the planning and event committees. They should have a responsibility to contribute and learn in this way.

There are so many real world ways to hone your skills, knowledge, and concept, and planning a meaningful event is one way to do this. 

Give In When You're Ill

Two days ago I thought I'd never have the energy to teach again. That's how ill I was, and now today after considerable rest, lots of fluids, and mindless television shows, I'm feeling a lot better.

We do ourselves and our students an injustice if we go to school when we're really ill. It's best to take the time you need to recover and then you'll be raring to go again.

I write this so that the next time I get ill I'll read it and remember that we have to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to take care of others. Onward.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Does Your Union Work For You?

In the recent past I got to know my Union better. Through this knowledge, I realized that the Union membership is one way to have an important voice in education. Working together in solidarity with fellow educators gives us a collective voice which has the potential to positively impact our schools and the children we teach.

I wish I had known more about my Union earlier on. I wish I understood what was available with regard to grants, professional learning opportunities, advocacy, and support. Now as a local Union Board Building Representative, one of my main objectives is to help my colleagues understand what their Union dollars do for them. I want to make that information accessible to them, and invite them to get involved too. I want to make the connection for them that Union membership and involvement is a wonderful way to impact our dailly work conditions and our ability to serve students well.

What does your Union do for you? It's a good idea to ask that question and seek some answers. At our local level we're asking those questions and looking for effective ways to utilize Union streams to empower what we can do as educators. This is a positive direction.

Good Communication: Truth and Transparency

Some people are so open and forthcoming with communication. You know what they stand for, and you understand their point of view.

Others are a mystery--you're never quite sure what they are saying or why they are saying it.

If you read my blog, you know I'm a big fan of truth and transparency. With all but the most private affairs, I believe we should be open, honest, and respectful with our communication.

When we don't understand, we should be able to ask questions so that we do understand and understand well.

In the past, I often accepted comments I may not have understood or felt were demeaning or disrespectful because I didn't have the courage to speak up. But now, I understand there is no harm in asking questions or responding with the truth if a false statement is made. Also with that confidence has come the ability to speak with greater respect and care.

Just because some may be in the know due to experience or camaraderie, that shouldn't hinder any of us from asking for greater clarification and knowledge when we don't know what's going on.

Sick Day Challenge

Flu struck and I'm not surprised since many students were similarly ill last week. There's not much educators can do when illness strikes except give in to it and get better as you can't teach well when you're ill.

There are many ways to avoid illness too including the following:
  • Making time for hand washing breaks
  • Getting the flu shot as soon as they are given around midyear
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating well
  • A healthy balance of school and work life
Once I recover I'll fit in a few more hand washing breaks for all of us and use wipes more often to wipe down our shared materials such as computers. Soon we'll get to leave the windows open more often too and that fresh air will help.

Now it's time to get better. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Front Load School Goals

As I think ahead to 2016-2017, I'm cognizant of the fact that our energy as educators is heightened at the start of the year and wanes towards the end. The residual effect of teaching every day often with thirty second transition intervals can result in exhaustion. One way to plan with this in mind is to front load your goals and development by planning to institute good change at the start of a new year.

As I think ahead to my proposed goals, I'm wondering how I'll make these goals actionable.

First, for the professional learning goal related to cultural proficient teaching, I'll read Emdin's book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. I'll also reach out to Primary Source to see if I can craft a Wayland Public Schools Foundation to boost cultural proficient teaching in ways that represent our very diverse school population. Further, I'll write an NEA grant proposal to fund an idea I have for boosting cultural proficiency with our student population.

With regard to the student learning goal, I'll continue to review and revise the math program to best teach all students towards mastery of grade level standards and more. In this regard I want to determine the best ways to differentiate, personalize, and collaborate with and for students to boost growth. For starters, I'll deeply review this year's work, keep what worked, and build on what could be better.  I'll use Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets and more books and learning experiences to develop this work. I suspect I'll have more specific details to share once I do a thorough reflection of this year's program during the summer. I'd also like to hear what leaders have to say about the program from their point of view and the point of view of our teaching/learning community as one can only assess his/her work so much, it takes many eyes. We'll survey the learning community too about the whole program this year, and I'll add some specific questions about math.

The other goals are listed above, goals that may change a bit once I hear of systemwide goals late in this school year or early in the next year. Thankfully I'll have time this summer to think clearly on this work and make a plan.

I'm Right and You're Wrong

So many conflicts occur because of the belief that one is right and the other is wrong, when in general, the truth lies somewhere on the continuum.

So Many Positives--Don't Lose Sight

As a critical thinker, it's imperative that I stop now and then to note the positives. I stay in my school system because there are so many positive aspects to teaching there. While, like every school system, there is room for growth, there are the following positives in place.

Highly Supportive Parent Community
Parents in the community care deeply about education and contribute time, funds, and energy to support that.

Wonderful Readers
Thanks to the passionate efforts of reading specialists and ELA directors, our students mostly love to read and read well.

Magnificent Mathematicians
We are beginning to make the same strides in math that we have made in reading, and this is good.

Lots of Technology
We have lots of tech access and tech tools. This is a good start with regard to worthy tech integration.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
The system has supported PLCs with time and structure, and this has resulted in stronger teams and better work.

Response to Intervention (RTI)
In many cases, RTI helps us to better personalize, differentiate, engage, and empower learning. I believe we know our students better and teach more because of RTI.

We have lots of great resources.

Community Funded Innovation
Community members run a fund that supports innovation. This has enabled us to develop our programs.

METCO and Immigration
Our school is wonderfully diverse thanks to the fact that we're a METCO community and we have many immigrant families. This makes the education stronger for everyone. This helps all of our students ready for the diverse world they will live and work in.

Beautiful Playgrounds
Our schools have big, grassy, wonderful playgrounds and plenty of recess to enjoy those playgrounds with.

Sensational Specials
Each week students have the chance to study art, music, specific technology and library, physical education. From third grade on students have the chance to learn a specific musical instrument and play in a band or orchestra.

Field Studies
Every grade visits signature local venues in order to learn in the field.

Before and After School Program
Students can extend their learning with before and after school programs that include multiple special classes and learning opportunities.

Summer Study
There are a number of summer study options open, some with a fee and some without a fee.

Kindness Matter
Our school motto is evident in so many ways including student service projects, collegial support, weekly school assemblies, and multiple special events.

In many ways, our schools are good models for any school. We have so many wonderful elements in place to teach well. We continually grow these efforts as well to make us all stronger and better at what we do.

So for this critical thinker whose always looking for better, here's the list of what's already good!

Where Am I Headed Educationally?

From big ideas to real time efforts--that's the rhythm my professional path regularly takes. I love to engage in discussions about the big ideas that affect education, and I also like my daily efforts to mirror my commitment and enjoyment of the big ideas. So with regard to those daily efforts, where is it that I'm headed.

All Things Math
I truly enjoy teaching and learning about math. There are so many ways to build this effort including reading more about math and teaching math, attending math conferences and workshops, teaching math daily, responding to students' math learning/teaching, building in more "maker math" and "model creation" into math class, and greater tech inclusion. Some efforts that I will choose from include the following:
  • Finishing Keith Devlin's Mathematical Thinking MOOC
  • Participating in Jo Boaler's online math course.
  • Attending an NCTM conference
  • Reading NCTM magazines
  • Revisiting the current math curriculum and revising to make it more culturally proficient, hands on, and meaningful.
  • Learning about and incorporating more technology into math teaching/learning particularly technology related to gaming and 3D platforms such as Minecraft
How can I best invite all students into the learning in ways that empower, engage, and educate. With regard to this goal, I want to read more, participate in related chats, conferences, and conversations, and write a grant to lead some actionable study and research in this regard with a local expert organization, Primary Source.

Students love this hands-on, real world, collaborative learning and learning this way matters a lot with regard to students' future and their ability to solve real problems in important ways in the future. I want to grow my work in this regard and have some ideas about this which I'll write more about later. 

What Powerful Ideas are You Forwarding in Education?

What powerful ideas are you forwarding in education, and how are you forwarding those ideas? These are ideas I support.

Teacher Leadership and Shared Leadership
In what ways are you restructuring schools so that you're moving from outdated factory models that have a top-down hierarchy to models of shared leadership that maximize autonomy, mastery, and purpose for all employees? How are you utilizing idea systems to create inclusive avenues for growth and development?

Constructs such as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and Response to Intervention (RTI) can serve this movement well if done well. More lead time, inclusivity, and transparency can also serve this movement well? Is information shared regularly and inclusively? Is everyone invited to share their ideas and experiences? How do you maximize the voice, choice, commitment, and investment of the entire learning team including students, families, educators, leaders, and community members?

Shared Teaching
How are you moving from the one-teacher-one-classroom to shared teaching models? I have had the opportunity to work with a team teaching grade-level approach this year and I have to say it's the best year of teaching I've ever had. What we can do as a team is so much more powerful than what I could do as an individual teacher. There's still room for growth, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Learning in 3D
How has your teaching environment moved from "secretarial skill" teaching with computers to learning in 3D with the use of 3D printers, modeling software, computer coding, Minecraft, and more. Are you maximizing your technology tools and efforts or is it more of the same? This is a critical component of teaching well today, but it seems like many schools are reluctant to identify their best talent and energy in this area and give them the green light to innovate, try out new ideas, engage, and empower the learning that's possible. Some school districts like the Albermarle School District is doing this under the leadership of Pam Moran.

Meaningful Learning Design
How are you embedding latest research with regard to growth mindsets, brainwork, cultural proficiency, and social competency to design learning that invigorates and empowers learning? Who is designing the learning? Are you simply buying standard programs or are you tailoring the learning to the children in your schools? The way we design learning experiences with and for students matters and there is so much that everyone in the learning community can do to maximize the potential quality learning design holds.

Remaking Schools
How are you changing the way your learning environment looks to empower better learning? What small changes can you make right away to make schools less factory-like and institutional and more humane and inviting? What kind of furniture do you have? Do you have rooms designated for specific learning goals? What does your outside space look like? Again, context matters in this regard, but every school should work to remake the learning environment to create a space that students want to be in every day.

Professional Learning
How are you motivating and helping educators in your system grow as professionals? In what ways are professionals learning what matters to teach well? Are you accessing the best supports in this regard or are you satisfied to embrace watered-down, standard resources? Do you encourage personal paths of professional learning and support those paths with needed funding and time?

There are so many ways that we can grow schools to be as engaging, empowering, and successful as possible? What matters is that we're doing this with inclusive, transparent, big think, and actionable ways.

Friday, March 25, 2016

We Do Better When We Work Together

Together we do better almost all of the time.

I remember when on a whim I bought a car. It didn't last long. But, whenever I've bought a car with family members, we've had better luck.

The same is true for the work we do in schools.

When decisions are made without broad and inclusive voice, the decisions are often incomplete, but when decisions are made with good process such as a recent restructuring of schools in the district where I work, then the decisions are typically almost complete and positive.

A big part of working together is openly sharing information and updates. Generally when transparency rules, people read what they want and use the information to better inform and strengthen their efforts. Lack of open information leads to wasted money and time as well as repeated effort.

There is so much promise in the work we do when we do it together. Today I spent the day crafting an event with a number of educators. My challenges were someone else's strengths--I don't think any one of us could have done this as well on our own.

I'm looking forward to emphasizing this message to students during the last six weeks of the school when we work on a large number of collaborative learning events that require teamwork.

A Culturally Proficient Year

This year I've made more of an effort than ever to teach with cultural proficiency, but I still have room for growth. I'm inspired to do this because of the terrific investment of my students when they see themselves in the curriculum and when the curriculum speaks to them.

While my efforts this year have been successful, I still can do more. How will I forward this movement?

First, I'll reach out to Primary Source a local organization that can help me with this. I'm hoping that they can help me craft a grant that our local foundation might fund to help me with this effort. I also want to write an NEA grant proposal to support this work. Further, I'll begin collecting titles, articles, and events that will support my learning in this regard.

My goal is to revise a number of units in the curriculum to better reflect the cultural diversity of my class, community, and State in general. This will be one of my overarching goals for the 2016-2017 school year.

Link Collection
I will start collecting related posts and links as I move this study forward. Here are starters:

From Ira Socol:  and

From My Own Collection:
Unpacking Powerful Words
Are You a Culturally Proficient Educator?

Paul Toner shared The Opportunity Gap

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Chris Emdin
I had the chance to hear Chris Emdin speak and I'm looking forward to reading his book.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Map the Learning Year for Greater Success

As I end a week of parent-student-teacher conferences, I am aware of how powerful the showcase portfolio with its data points, student project, pictures, stories, and more is with regard to having a conversation about how we can best support a child.

As a teaching team we gave the portfolios a lot of attention, but next year I even want to give the portfolios more attention. Over the summer, I want to think about the pieces we add to these important books. I also want to add an online website that matches the portfolio--a place where can add students' films and creative projects so that during the meetings we can show both the online and offline efforts.

To make the portfolio powerful, it's important to focus on a good number of quality learning efforts, efforts that provide a good picture of a child's learning experiences, interests, and growth throughout the year. It's also important that the portfolios reflect the whole child and entire teaching/learning program. With this in mind, I'd like to reach out to specialists too so that they can work with students add to add to their showcase portfolio presentations.

I'll think more on this in the weeks to come, but these are a few initial thoughts as I end a week of conferences.

Working Better

The family-student-teacher conference period is a time of thought with regard to how I can do the job better with respect to serving students well. There is never a shortage of what we can do, but it's worth taking the time to think about how one can put new ideas into action.

The students are at the center of this work. How can we serve each student well?

In the six weeks ahead, as we focus on test prep and skill, concept, knowledge points, I hope to simplify many of the learning structures so that I can focus in more on coaching students with positive mindsets and learning strategies. What that means is that the actual learning experiences will have less problems and a simpler format so we can focus on good work, collaboration, can-do attitudes, and asking questions. I'm hoping that simplifying will give me more time for student feedback and individual/small group coaching.

Notice Students Doing the Right Thing
During the conference period we discussed multiple goals, so now I want to make an effort to focus on students doing the right thing--making efforts to reach their goals.

Organized Classroom
At this turning point, it's time to restructure and organize the classroom. We've moved beyond many of the materials, posters, and items that fill the room so I can now put those items away and reorganize to support this somewhat traditional six-week test prep and learning time. After this six weeks, we'll move into a more hands-on, project oriented final six weeks of the school year and that will spur another reorganization at that time.

Professional Learning
I'll continue to work with the TLI and ECET2 groups at this time. The April break will give me time to catch up on this work and study.

It has been a terrific year so far. This six-week period is a time or serious study and student support. Following this period the learning will take on a more celebratory, collaborative, and project focus. Breaking the year up into multiple learning periods helps to keep the learning interesting as well as giving teachers the chance to support a wide variety of teaching/learning goals.

Thursday Thoughts: The Week Ahead

The past week was marked by a delayed opening on Monday due to snow and a terrific visit and lesson from origami expert, Michael LaFosse. Students also worked on American Revolution research posters, reading, science, and more fraction model and calculation work.

Next week students will continue down the same path with the addition of a Matter Presentation by the a Discovery Museum's visiting scientist and a unit fraction test to see what fraction ideas students have mastered and where students still need to learn more.

The week will also find teachers meeting for a PARCC training meeting. It's been about a year since we gave the tests so we need a reminder about all the procedural elements. I hope to find the energy and time for a class clean up too.

For the most part, it will be a typical week which will give us a chance to embed the many ideas and suggestions we learned of during this week's parent-student-teacher conferences. It will also give us a chance to focus on student service and care.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Do the Right Thing: Teach Well

Like an old record, a painful past professional experience plays over and over again in my mind.

While extremely painful, I learned so much.

First, always treat people with as much respect as possible.

Next, be compassionate when people make mistakes. We work in a business that pulls at our heart strings and challenges us greatly at times. We are bound to become upset, make mistakes, and debate. Instead of punishing colleagues who are upset, reach out to help.

After that, don't be afraid to speak up, tell the truth, stand up for what is right, and do the right thing. In the long run, you'll never regret doing your best and advocating for what is right and good.

Partner with Parents

As I met with students and parents this week for the yearly spring conferences, I recognized the value of partnering with parents with regard to teaching students well.

I also wondered if we give this valuable effort the right amount of time and focus. After all if we have strong parent-teacher-student partnerships, children will learn more and do better.

How can we rethink the structures, routines, time, and effort that support these partnerships. What more can we do to add value to this critical relationship. I will think more on this in the days to come. In the meantime, I'm open to your thoughts and suggestions.

It's a Redo!

Yesterday I was very excited to teach with a number of exercises I created to explore fractions. I liked the productive struggle the packet created, but there was some definite room for revision I realized as students worked on each part of the exercise.

So, right after the class, I recreated the exercise. I made some new models and more room for productive struggle and thought. Today we'll try a redo of yesterday's lesson. I'll explain the thinking process behind the new exercise and then I'll watch how students tackle the work to see if it prompts them to question, work together, and gain understanding.

I could jump right into the numbers, but I really think it's important that we spend considerable time with the models and looking at fractions through a number of lenses before we move forward. Tailoring lessons and learning exercises to meet students' learning needs and interests is a good way to keep the teacher-student conversation and effort towards learning and creating brain paths interesting, deep, and forward moving.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Creating and Sharing Showcase Portfolios

Students are using their showcase portfolios to present their best efforts and reflections to parents during the mid-year conference period. As I listen to students present, there is so much that I truly appreciate about the showcase portfolio process.

First, the showcase portfolio provides a great vehicle for student reflection. From time to time students top to think about their learning and write related reflections that often include examples and images of the specific learning experiences, projects, or assignments.

Next, the portfolio is a great vehicle for telling your story. Students are able to lead the conference by using their portfolio as a vehicle of share and organization.

Finally, the showcase portfolio becomes a keepsake of the year's learning, a book to refer to as a child continues to learn and think about the direction where his or her learning is leading.

To create a meaningful and useful showcase portfolio, it's important to think about the actions it takes from the start of the year. A good portfolio profits from the following:
  • Initial set up of cover, title page, dividers, and initial assessments
  • A chance to gather images or examples of signature work and then time to thoughtfully write about the related value, thoughts, and response to specific learning experiences, events, and efforts in timely ways.
  • Teacher comments and feedback.
  • Student letters to family members and teachers who support their learning.
To best incorporate the showcase portfolio work throughout the year, signature learning assignments should include a start-to-finish "story" in the portfolio. Essentially the showcase portfolio should tell the tale of where a child started with a specific learning goal, how he/she met the goal, and final reflections. 

In the best case scenarios, children have a lot of choice with regard to their learning as well as with the way they display and discuss their learning. The more that students own the learning process and showcase portfolio reflection and creation, the better they will learn and experience what it means to be a successful learner. 

At Your Service: Teaching Children Well

As an educator, our role is essentially to say to our students and their families, "I'm at your service. What can I do for you?"

While family conferences are an add-on to the typical schedule and prep time, those conferences do support essential conversations, focus, and analysis--the kind of work that deepens what we are able to do for every child.

As educators we are advocates for the groups of children we teach. Each day we make the best possible choices to teach our students well. When we meet with family members, we meet with individual children's advocates--the ones who keenly see that child's needs and interests. It's in our best interest and duty to listen carefully to every family member and hear their words, needs, interests, and hopes for their child.

Yesterday as I listened to many family members, the following general needs stood out, many of which we already focus on as a teaching/learning team:
  • Know every child very well. Know what they love and want.
  • Stay on top of every child's learning--know well his/her strengths, challenges, and needs, and respond to that regularly.
  • Nurture children's passions--make time in the curriculum so that every child has a chance to shine and develop that which he/she loves.
  • Build a strong foundation of detail and big ideas--make time to edit the writing, respond to the math, read with a child, and coach in all areas.
  • Design and choose activities for learning well--focus in on the most important learning efforts, response, and coaching since time is precious, and that work is critical to teaching students well. 
As educators, our first call is to the students within our charge--it's up to us to do all we can in order to advocate, nurture, teach, and respond to what it is those children need to be the best that they can be with respect to the curriculum, their relationships with others, and their interests and needs.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Family Conferences: A Time to Work Together to Serve Children Well

It's conference time--time to meet with each family. In some cases, children are running their own conferences, in other cases it's the teacher and parent(s) who are meeting, and still more it's a mix of both approaches. Those are the choices we gave to families.

As I think about the conferences, there's a part of me that wants to be "everybody" for everyone--I want to be able to be the teacher that makes a difference, smooths the rough patches, contributes to growth, and cares deeply for every child. It's true, I do care deeply for every child, and it's also true that there's been a lot of progress and growth for every child, but it's also true that children, like us, are a mix of strengths and challenges--like all of us, they bring to the world a set of unique and very special traits and characteristics.

As I meet with families, we discuss each child's wonderful strengths as there's not one child without those strengths--the characteristics that make them stand out. It's also true that no child is every child--children, like us, have their unique profile. Some have many, many friends, others ace most tests, and still more are wonderfully creative. Most are a bit of this and bit of that--yet, there's really no one who is everyone, no one that has all the characteristics of all children.

So as I meet with parents, I think it's important to recognize the unique strengths. I also think it's important to acknowledge areas that might not come as easy, areas that require greater attention and perseverance if deemed worthy. I also think it's important to discuss how we can work together to support each child well.

In the long run, what I wish for every child that I teach is first that they are surrounded by people who love them and are committed to them as that's the greatest gift anyone can ask for. Next, I wish that every child will think of themselves as worthy of a good life. After that, I want children to develop confidence, interests, skill, and knowledge--the tools to build a good life. Finally, I mostly hope that every child I teach will find happiness--happiness with people they love, positive work they're invested in, a good life, and contribution to their loved ones, community, and perhaps the greater society.

The best we can do for every child is to give them the best of who we are and what we do. As elementary school teachers we lay the foundation of skill, concept, and knowledge in content and learning-to-learn habits and attitudes. We have the potential to strengthen children's dreams as well as their paths to reaching those dreams.

I'm fortunate to work in a community that cares deeply for their children. It is a pleasure to work with families to serve children well. Conference time reminds me of that.

Chart the Course 2016-2017 School Year

It's that time of year when I look ahead and create the to do chart to prepare for the next teaching year. I build the chart off of a preparation chart I made a few years ago. The big changes that I know of now will include ESSA and MCAS 2.0 which I want to read about over the summer. This is an outline of the main initiatives and teaching focus.

The overall goals for the year are drafted on this page.

The chart below outlines the tasks for summer and early school year preparation. I will update the chart regularly to reflect new learning, focus, and effort. 

November 2016 Update: I noticed that someone was reading this post so I decided to revisit the post to update.

Spring and Summer 2016 Professional Learning

Summer Study: 
Summer is a good time to study, research, and prepare for the school year ahead.
  • Continue to research, write, and update The Thirteen Days of Math, SRSD   Problem Solving, and Numbers that Define YouI only updated this work a bit and have used it some as students prepare for operations' units.
  • Update Grade Level Curriculum Chart in conjunction with Colleagues (start in summer, complete in fall).  Our team met to do this over the summer, and did some good work in this regard.
  • Read about ESSA and MCAS 2.0, and look for ways to continue to develop a more culturally relevant and equitable classroom/program for all students. I continue to study ESSA and learn about MCAS 2.0
  • Summer reading Study continues
  • Read about ESSA Study Continues
  • Read Draft of State Tech Standards (or final copy if published)I did not study this in depth since I have little voice and choice with regard to this area of school life. I've put my energy elsewhere.
  • Revisit the curriculum night presentation with a focus on Lifelong Learning CompetenciesWe worked on this as a team. 

Update local union website. This was completed and deserves another update soon. 

Prepare for, attend, and present at Wayland Institutes last week in June and MTA summer conference in August: Literacy Institute and STEAM InstituteI completed this task with good effort and result.

Continue to update and create 2016-2017 website with colleagues. Update and refine existing curriculum websites.Completed with colleagues and good result. Continues to be updated as needed. 

Update Learning-to-Learn Website with a focus on student collaboration and team building.Continues to be updated and used. 

Determine classroom needs, complete order forms, shop for supplies, and keep receipts. The PTO gives us a few hundred dollars for supplies, but we have to turn in receipts to get that. (See STEAM List) . Continue to design, update, and organize STEAM CenterLots of effort completed in this regard, more to come.

Work with colleagues to determine field study choices and possible WPSF grant ideas. Complete the related research, organization, and calls related to this.We wrote a few grants and planned lots of great field studies.

Complete Mandated Online Trainings: This takes about a half day. Make sure that the trainings are up to date at time of completion. Completed as directed.

Summer Work Just Prior to Start of School

Curriculum Night Presentation Revision (ongoing)
Complete Revision with grade-level colleagues. Completed

Meet with special educator, to review student services and schedules. Review and revise Complete Assessment Form/class chart.Completed--charts look a bit different.

Ordering: Check orders, put away all supplies.Completed

Room Set Up: Create a math/STEAM focused classroom.Completed, ready for another updated

Team Meeting Summer Date(s) :

Review, revise, and set up Class Data Chart.Ongoing effort- updated now

Incorporate system-wide and school goals into overall year’s plan and efforts. Coordinate teaching of learning to learn curriculum into first six weeks with colleagues. Analyze student standardized scores and make related changes to curriculum program. Ongoing goal

First Weeks of School: Use these documents as guides - School Year Plans,  Description of Plans

Work on grade-level schedule and calendar with colleagues
Start of Year: Practice Routines that MatterCompleted

9/15 Dot Day: Coordinate with TeammatesWe did not do this this year.

Global Cardboard Challenge Date ______ rain date______ Do we want to coordinate this with team building efforts at start of year?Completed and well loved by students.

PLC Start: Establish overall focus, norms, roles, protocols. . . .Completed

Curriculum Night: Establishing the Learning Community
Extended time granted, date established. Completed, great movie shared.

Early Year Assessments/Goal Setting,Math SRSD Assessment, Work with colleagues to identify best early year assessments.Completed

Parent surveys: Google form survey included in first newsletter - work with colleagues on this.Completed

Early Year Family Meetings (optional) - invitation in first newsletterCompleted

Evaluation Professional Learning and Practice Goals:
Update goals to reflect system-wide goals, summer work, review with admin., continue efforts to meet goals. Completed

Learning to Learn Curriculum: Work with team to update and embed into learning.
Classroom Culture:

  • Set norms with students
  • Practice following norms
  • Discuss classroom community.
  • Work to empower student voice, respect, and contribution from start of the year. 
  • Create guiding signage with students Be explicit. Ongoing 

STEAM Workshop: Update STEAM Efforts
Naturalist Study Review and updateEfforts changed due to systemwide admin. decisions. 

Math Workshop: Begin with Numbers Define You, Examine Landmark Whole Numbers, Fractions, and Figures - Review and updateContinues, used as fits

Professional Learning for School Year 2015-2016

Focus on adult learning theory, presentation skills, and updating current presentations.Good effort, growth in this regard.

Complete TLI Shared Teaching Capstone Completed.

Wayland Institutes MTA Summer ConferenceCompleted
Drumlin Farm/SUASCO Collaboration - Focus on those effortsContinues
TLI Initiative Completion Completed
Gates Foundation IECET2 nitiative Efforts-Review, UpdateCompleted
SRSD Math Problem Solving - Update/ReviewOngoing
Educon - Plan to possibly attend in JanuaryPlanned
McAuliffe Center STEAM Workshop - 8/11Completed
BLC Conference - mid JulyCompleted in July, proposal for next summer sent
INNOV8 Conference prep for November cancelled due to financial support lacking for this

This poster will continue to lead my work in the year ahead.