Saturday, April 30, 2016

Who Makes the Decisions for Public Education?

Who makes the decisions for public education?

Does anyone profit financially from these decisions?

What do we value with regard to public education?

Whose money supports public education?

What promise does public education hold for individuals' lives, the life of communities, our nation and our world?

What is the "right way" in public education?

What procedures lead to a high quality education for every child?

How does the good use of communication, time, funds, and process lead to that high quality education for every child?

Who are the friends of public education?

What does "Everyone In" education look like?

How are education dollars spent?

What does the public/private line look like in education? What should it look like? Why does this matter?

What procedures allow more to have a voice in education than less?

Who typically has a voice in education?

Do school budgets reflect school values?

How do educators/leaders spend their time? If we audit our time, do we find that our time best represents our values and what we can do for students?

What creates obstacles to good learning?

If communication is lacking, legal language too difficult to understand, and information inaccessible does that create obstacles to the good work possible?

Are there private organizations in the United States profiting greatly from education systems? If so, how can we look deeply at the affect this may be having on our schools, students, and nation?

Traveling the Teaching/Learning Road: Next Steps

Every day the teaching/learning road presents new challenges and opportunities. The key is to keep your vision up front, and to check and revise that vision often with the consult and collaboration of others.

An in-house challenge, a wonderful parent meeting, students' responses to test taking, a leadership weekend, collegial support, an approved proposal, and a letter from DESE have all impacted this week's path and made me think about next steps.

It's more of the same, yet with greater depth and awareness I'd say at this juncture. Here's the latest map.

I've reached out to the Union Board and system leadership for greater understanding. The Union Board plans to talk about it at this week's meeting. There's more to learn in this regard. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reached back about this issue and offered to meet with me to discuss it. I plan to take them up on their offer as I'll have an opportunity to learn more about this. I appreciate this outreach. I'll also learn more at this weekend's MTA meeting that I'm attending and the MTA Annual Meeting too.

Math Education
Students took a systemwide assessment. Now it's time to review that assessment and make recommendations for Middle School math groups. I've been reading a lot about equity in education and the impact of tracking, so I will tread gently as I make groups and enlist the support of parents when I'm not exactly sure what the best fit is for every child. I've reached out to leadership with some new ideas that put choice ahead of tracking. I think this might be one way to get rid of tracking while also offering students a learning/teaching environment that fits their needs well. In the meantime, I'll keep the message alive to students that learning is a progression and it doesn't matter where you sit at the moment; instead what matters is that you make steady progress with perseverance and the proper supports, resources, and opportunities. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't learn well or that you don't deserve that opportunity.

This week's math will focus on computation review matched with science facts and figures to prepare for upcoming math PARCC tests.

This week students will take three PARCC tests with an ELA focus. The key is to give each child the space they need and to follow the test directions well. I'll need to review those Monday and arrive early at school Tuesday to make sure that the computers are ready, related signage taken down, and room set up well for comfortable test taking.

Gates Grant Supports an ECET2 Equity Event in Massachusetts
I've been working with a team of Massachusetts teachers with regard to a proposal to the Bill and Melinda Gates Education Foundation. Last night we heard that we were awarded a grant to run an ECET2 equity event in Massachusetts. We are delighted by this opportunity. Highly regarded mentors, educators, activists, and writers, Jose Vilson and Meenoo Rami, have agreed to speak as well as a number of talented Massachusetts educators. Soon our team will send out an RFP for presenters for this event. Sally Sampson from Chop Chop Magazine has agreed to manage the healthy food breakfast/lunch and some healthy eating/learning education at the event too.

STEAM/Nature Studies
I continue to have a lot of organization and sorting to do to prep the STEAM Center for upcoming projects. I reached out to leadership to learn about potential funding to update the center and was told that I may have some answers about that at the end of the school year. In the meantime, the PTO has generously given me some dollars to spend to work on this and our local foundation supported the purchase of many related nature study materials. I'm really excited about all of this upcoming, hands-on science study. I know that the students will LOVE it!

Play, Field Studies, and Special Events
The calendar is full of all kinds of wonderful learning events. The key is staying on track, making sure the planning details are in place, and leading and learning with the students.

Presentations and Professional Learning
I plan to make quite a few presentations this summer, all presentations related to my daily work. In that regard, prepping for these presentations will also help me to prepare for next year's teaching. I'm looking forward to this work as part of the MTA Summer Conference and Wayland Institutes.

Union Building Representative
As the Union Representative, I'm working on analyzing all the current Union documents and working with colleagues to update where needed. As I listen and learn during the leadership weekend, I'm hearing all kinds of great ideas about the potential our Union holds for building a great teaching/learning community that serves students well. I really loved the stories people told about looking through their Union archives and finding language that gave teachers better working conditions. For example one story relayed the fact that in days of old some woman teachers who were pregnant had to circle in front of their administrators who checked them out to see if their pregnancy was showing--unbelievable, but true!  There were other stories too about how contract language has enabled educators to have a reasonable lunch period and planning time.

I also listened with interest as educators shared stories of respectful leadership and collaborative work. I found the work of Education Support Personnel (ESP's) to be very interesting and thought provoking. I was excited to learn about the ways that the MTA is supporting this dedicated group of education professionals since their work is so integral to teaching every child well.  Further I really liked the discussion about the union contract and what it means to create and use a document like this, and its relationship to democratic principles, efforts, and organization.

In summary all of these efforts are about charting a path of positive effort and collaboration to teach children well. Our paths will not look the same as we all have different gifts and interests to bring to the table, but the goal of doing the job well will be the same. Onward.

Start with a Conversation

After writing about the DDMs, the State's education department reached out to me with lots of great questions and the willingness to sit down and talk about my experience. It felt great that someone took the time to listen, and then to respond. I will say yes to this opportunity.

This open door to conversation with a willingness to listen is well received, and made me realize that being open to conversation, new ideas, and working together to build and develop good ideas is, perhaps, the most important step when it comes to positive, proactive system work.

Last night I also learned about the open negotiation process. Unlike the ultra-private, behind closed door process, this is a process that's open to all--everyone has a voice. It's transparent! What I liked about that is the lack of secrecy, but what I worry about is the amount of time. Yet, I'm sure the first time it takes lots and lots of extra time, but after that, it seems like it might be a more efficient, focused process.

Open, honest, regular, and proactive communication leads us forward. With the awesome new tools today, tools that can videotape, photograph, scribe, record, and more, we have endless great communication vehicles. The process that we bring to those vehicles is essential, and we can't forget the power of sitting down at a table with others to have a conversation. This round table conversation is the process that's leading the weekend of study that I'm on and I must say, I'm learning a lot!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Union Leadership Weekend

I signed on to attend a Union Leadership weekend which started this evening. Now in the last hours of the day, I have a few minutes to reflect, and my initial reaction is WOW!

How often do you get to sit down and really talk and listen to a dynamic group of individuals who are committed to the good work possible with unions? Not too often is my guess, and tonight I had the chance to do that. In a few short hours, I learned so much about the potential and possibility the Union holds for good work with regard to the children we teach. There's so much opportunity out there, and the key is to become involved and informed.

To empower this weekend more, I just found out that a team of educators I work with in regard to equity in education just received a nice grant to support a Massachusetts' educational event. That translates to an awesome challenge and opportunity to increase what we can do to serve children well. There will be more to come about that in later posts.

There's Always Going to Be Good Challenges

There's always going to be good challenges. That is what keeps us reaching for better, deeper, and potentially more or different.

The recent DDM challenge fired me up, and what I realized was that it had been a sleeping lion--and, with evaluations around the corner, the lion woke up and roared.

Now what?

Well now we'll look systematically at the issue and move forward from there.

There will always be great challenges to meet. That's part of life. It's never going to be a continuous, smooth road with no disruption. And if it were, that would be quite dull.

How have the greatest leaders in our midst handled challenge?

Who do you look to when it comes to facing challenge with humility, humanity, care, compassion, and competence?

Some important messages I've learned to date as I think of this are the following:
  • It's typically not one person who has the solution, but instead the result of "collective genius" or the best of what we have to offer together.
  • Good process and systematic think mostly leads to good resolve and results.
  • It's not an individual who is oppressive or cruel, but instead, oppressive and cruel behavior that demeans and oppresses.
  • Sometimes we may not be aware that one's behavior is not positive; that's why collaboration can help everyone achieve more.
  • Yet, sometimes an individual has to stand up and it's better to stand up and speak up sooner than later. So many sad events in history started because people did not speak up when small matters began to take hold. For example, just think what might happen if we elect a leader that demeans and insults multiple groups in our country and world--could that person ever be trusted to lead all?
  • Love dominates.
  • We err, make mistakes, and are never perfect. We have limited vision when it comes to what we know and see, that's why we need to work with others well.
  • Good ethics, manners, respect, and listening are key components to leading and living well.
  • Positive and proactive communication matters, and transparency saves time and leads to good work.
  • The more challenges you face, the more resilience you develop, and the better you become at facing challenges. 
There's much more I'd like to learn about facing challenges. Here are some quotes that will begin he journey for me:

"To be a champion, I think you have to see the big picture. It's not about winning and losing; it's about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge. It's about embracing the pain that you'll experience at the end of a race and not being afraid. I think people think too hard and get afraid of a certain challenge. - Summer Sanders, American Athlete

"Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others." - Amelia Earhart

"The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it." - Moliere

"It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a specific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties." - Abigail Adams

"Everything negative - pressure, challenges --is all an opportunity for me to rise." - Kobe Bryant

"Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition - such as lifting weights - we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity." - Stephen Covey

Most of all we have to bring our challenges respect, humanity, dignity, and care. This is not always easy to do when faced with a challenge, but it's the right thing to do. More learning to come :)

Teacher Leadership Weekend

The MTA has invited a colleague and me to a Leadership Weekend.

I'm looking forward to learning more about our Union and how it can help teachers do their jobs well.

Since I got involved in the Union a few years ago thanks mainly to Dan Callahan @dancallahan  and Meg Secatore +Megan Secatore via the MTA's Summer Conference, I've gained significant professional learning and development.

For too many years, I didn't realize what the Union had to offer with regard to supporting educators' good work, and now I'm about to learn more.

As I listen and participate this weekend, I'll have my eyes on the focal point of teaching children well, and I'll be thinking of that critical question, What can educators do together to support the best possible schools and educational organizations/efforts for children?  I am committed to this because I believe that a well educated populous holds the promise of a future that allows people to reach for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This is what I want for my own children and the children I teach.

I really want to look for ways to streamline systems, increase communication, and develop greater support for educators in Massachusetts so they can do their jobs well. Too often what's possible is mired in outdated systems, process, communication patterns, outlook, and protocols. And too often, we don't enlist the voices of many to move education forward. The more I read about our Knowledge Age (resourceand what's required, the more I recognize what we need to do together to inspire and create positive change and growth in our education systems.

There's much to learn and know, and I look forward to the continued journey in this regard.

Would This Leadership Letter Inspire You?

An inspiring leadership letter might sound like this.

Dear __________Team,

I want to update you on what we've done, what we are currently doing, and what's to come. I welcome your feedback and ideas with regard to any and all of the information below.

It was amazing to take a look at the systemwide results of the __________, I noticed that so many more students in the ________ range improved substantially. I know this is due to all the special efforts educators have made to lead to this improvement. Some efforts I am aware of include the following:

  • Extra attention to vocabulary work
  • Integration with the art specialist to develop concept models and maps
  • Parent-Teacher-Student Coaching Session
  • Attendance at the ______ Professional Learning event.
What other efforts did you use or notice that contributed to this growth? Let's keep a list that we can refer to next year when we embark on this effort again.

I also noticed that there were a few students in the ________ group that did not show improvement. I'm stumped by this. What do you think we can do better for these students? What do you need? What do they need? What common characteristics does this group share that might affect their performance? Let's make these students a focus of our next PLC Meetings.

Current Efforts
I know that everyone is busy getting ready for the end-of-year all-school Open House. What can I do to help? What do you need? Let me know.

I think it's awesome that everyone agreed to try out this new idea, an idea we all viewed in the movie, Most Likely to Succeed. I hope that everyone will jot down a few notes about what works well with this effort and what we can do next year to improve it if we decide to do it again.

Future Thoughts
As you know the State is moving to MCAS 2.0 next year. Let's not wait for this effort to arrive, and instead do what we can to prepare.

I was thinking that it might be best to form a committee that's willing to read the information and send out updates to system leaders, educators, and parents. I also thought that this committee could do some end-to-start planning to help everyone prepare for the tests.

I've spoken to the administration and they've agreed to pay committee members $1,000 dollars for working on this committee which could possibly start the first week of school. The committee size will be six--two from each school. Do you think this is a good idea or do you have a better idea?

Add your thoughts to this Google doc so that everyone can see what you think, and also add your name if you will be interested in serving on this committee. If we get too many people, we can think of a fair way to either split the work or choose who will serve. It's probably best to get a good mix of grade levels, experience levels, and responsibilities.

Questions, Comments, or Further Ideas
I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Please feel free to add any comments in the comments section below. I'll make every effort to respond asap. It's in our collective, collaborative, and inclusive work that we serve children well. I appreciate the fact that you're willing to team with me to teach well. Thank you. 

Leadership Protocols

What leadership protocols inspire?

What leadership protocols help students and educators do their best work?

As I think of this, I think of the following protocols:

Kind leadership is important. We can't be kind enough to our students. This can be challenging at times, but it's imperative.

It's imperative that we're honest with our students. Tell the truth.

Inclusive, Easy to Access Communication
Keep the team informed about where we've been, we're we are, and we're we are going. The more everyone knows, the better they're able to grow individually and collectively.

Shared Leadership and Team
Work collaboratively to solve problems, create, and improve. When everyone feels like part of the team, everyone works with greater satisfaction.

"The Politics of Difference"
Accept, recognize, and maximize the potential of differences rather than seek "one size fits all" solutions and think.

Look for ways to revise and create the learning environment together. Use knowledge as "energy" to make things better, synthesize, and create.

Understand the unique positions every individual is in. Show care and compassion. Listen to people's stories and support each person's individual path.

Respect and Empathy
Understand that no one has all the answers. Be open to new ideas. Be ready to admit you're wrong or that you erred. Try to see situations from others viewpoints.

Mission and Vision
Keep the mission and vision of your work center stage in all things you do. For elementary educators that's the kind, thoughtful, and proactive care and coaching of young children.

Lead Learner
Rather than manager, be the lead learner. Share what you know and work with others to develop your craft and learn and know more.

What other protocols would you add to this list?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rated Moderate?

I am rated on multiple factors during the year including the following:
  • Classrooom Observations
  • Narrative and evidence that proves I've done well with student learning, professional learning, curriculum and assessment, teaching all students, family and community engagement, and professional culture.
  • District determined measures that rate my work.
  • Standardized tests. 
This is not only the time of year when we give students lot of standardized tests, it's also the time of year when we are rated as educators.

I work a lot (probably too much). One reason I work a lot is so that I can try out new ideas. If I just worked the regular hours, I couldn't meet all the expectations of the system and develop my craft too. The only way I can grow is to do more, so I do because I believe greatly in developing what we can do in schools in very positive, proactive ways.

So today when I learned that I've been rated "moderate" on one of our District Determined Measures (DDMs), I became deflated. I knew I was going to be rated on this assessment. I also knew that many of the questions on the assessment are not a part of the current Common Core Standards for our grade-level so that for students to do well on this test meant moving from the expected curriculum down a large number of other content paths. I thought of clever ways that I could teach the expected subject matter and weave in the new content too. I worked really hard at this and coached students. Most students scored way above the grade level and all but a couple out of 68 students demonstrated growth, growth that was greater than the national mean. I was delighted with this result and so were parents when they looked over the scores. I felt like I could then go back and work on the expected curriculum with greater depth.

Then I got the rating scale, a scale that is based on how teachers and students do in our system, not a scale based on national means. It turns out that the growth I was so happy with and the work I, and others, put into this was "moderate" - that's all. No thanks for your extra effort or good job in helping every child grow, just "moderate." 

Now this didn't come from the building leader, but from other sources, and like most teachers, I'm not super teacher. I go to work every day and do my best. I engage in substantial professional development, and I continually develop my program with the best interests of students in mind.

However, this "moderate" makes me wonder a lot about how we use rating scales. First, it makes me realize how demeaning these scales can be. Second, it makes me feel "small" as while I know how my students did, I don't know how anyone else did. I have no idea where I fit into the system achievement except for the fact that I'm "moderate." Yet my leaders know well where I fit in, and that feels uncomfortable not knowing, while those that lead me do. And, it makes me realize how my hard working, persevering students feel when they've been rated "moderate" even though they did their best and gave it their all every day. I'm also curious about the validity of my measure. For example one child who showed no growth, got 3 wrong on the first test and 3 wrong on the second test--just three problems wrong and he rated towards the top of the test scale both times. Another child scored 100% and showed good growth, but just think if the test had a further reach with more problems he may have shown even more growth.

Last year, my math colleague and I scored similarly to the way I scored this year. We were delighted in how well the students did, and both somewhat deflated when we learned of our "moderate" rating.

I guess one high point is that since this rating system was put in place our systemwide average for the test has steadily risen. Teachers know they'll be rated and they do what they can to get good scores because they don't want to suffer the consequences of bad scores. Yet, I worry about what this kind of rating does for students, classrooms, and teachers--does it uplift us or hinder the fine, creative work possible.

I believe our focus should be on progression rather than rating performance and judging one teacher against another. As we coach growth mindsets and an attitude towards positive progression in children, it should be the same for teachers. Instead of rating me "moderate" what I would do instead of a rating would be to look closely at the data. To tease out which individuals and groups that I teach are making substantial progress and which groups that I and others lead are making less progress. Rather than "moderate" I'd like to focus in on those groups with our best collective analysis, skill, and ability to help those students achieve more. That would be a meaningful result--a point to develop whereas moderate just puts you in the teacher line, and is it stands now I'm in the middle--I wonder how many people are on either side of the line?

Time to Imagine: STEAM Center Development

Ready for the next steps!
As students complete a systemwide test, I have the luxury of looking around the classroom. Several are working carefully on the math problems, facts, and figures. Others, who are done, are reading a variety of books including lots of the science picture books I have in the room. One boy is studying the empty aquariums which are ready for our spadefoot tadpoles, and still one more, is writing as he reads.

It was a similar moment to this that I read my first book all by myself in third grade. Yes, I was a late reader. I sat next to the six foot window in my beautiful, old elementary school, and picked up the book, Mike's House by Julia Sauer. That was a great moment in my life.

Quiet moments like these are very special in a classroom. I have the time to observe my learners with depth, and they have the time to observe each other and make a choice that fits their learning interests, needs, and style. There's often little time for this kind of quiet in our teaching/learning lives.

The quiet observation has also prompted me to think deeply about my rag-tag STEAM Center that I've been developing for many years now. Just as those experts from The Intersection Event advised me years ago, this effort had to evolve. It couldn't be a bought system, but instead it had to be born out of a living system--organic efforts.

So as I turn the corner again in this effort, I recognize the need for greater organization, new storage shelves, and signage. The shared teaching model has made room for this growth, and the seeds planted so long ago when I made the film below are beginning to grow stronger roots. Onward.

Salary and Working Conditions in the Knowledge Age

As we move from old time factory models of schools to new "knowledge age" models, what does that mean for optimal teaching/learning working conditions.

What do teachers and leaders need to do good work in the knowledge age?

The knowledge age is defined as "a new, advanced form of capitalism in which knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth (more important than land, labour, money, or other 'tangible resources.' (definition resource)

For starters, all workers in the knowledge age, should have a high quality tech device. That's a working condition that educators in my system enjoy.

I also believe that communication patterns, lead time, and accessibility of information, resources, and tools are essential during the knowledge age. If you don't know, it's difficult to grow--grow ideas, efforts, collaboration, or good service to children.

Further, with regard to learning organizations, knowledge age workers need that right balance of online/offline work, and our environments need to reflect what we need to be healthy, collaborative, thoughtful learners and teachers.

In this knowledge age, rules and protocols need to change too so that knowledge streams are efficient, uncluttered, and open to the best possible knowledge share within and outside of the school organization. The best resources should be available to all teachers and learners. Leadership changes too in this regard, instead of old time managers, new age leaders seek to develop "autonomy, purpose, and mastery" as Pink's book, Drive, suggests. They work with greater shared leadership models that include greater collaboration and flexible roles rather than the old time factory hierarchy of thinkers and doers.

I want to think about the impact the knowledge age has on working conditions in our schools today. Have knowledge age expectations also affected our roles, hours, and use of time in schools? Reading more about successful knowledge age institutions will help me to understand what knowledge workers need to succeed and teach children well.

As I develop this body of research, what ideas do you have to offer?

Creating Next Year's Timeline

How do you create your curriculum timeline?

Are you apart of that effort or is the timeline given to you?

I think that in the best of circumstances creating the curriculum timeline is an inclusive process, a process where the teaching team works together to create a loose-tight map of learning goals and efforts. This map would be loose-tight so that it leaves room to teach students first and content second.

As I think over the past year, I realize that I want to build in even more curriculum related social competency work at the start of the year next year to develop as strong as possible sense of team and community for our teaching/learning team.

That work begins soon as we prepare the materials for the transition day, a day when we introduce students to our TeamFive program. That introduction will include creating a folder with our TeamFive symbol on top, a welcome letter, supply list, and perhaps other materials inside. The event will also include time for all the teachers to talk with the upcoming fifth graders and time for next year's fifth graders to visit their homerooms, and perhaps the other classrooms too.

Smooth Systems

Is your teaching/learning work a smooth system or a bumpy road.

I'd have to say that my work is a bit of both. Everytime we embrace new learning, there's lots of unexpected events that occur. For example, the introduction of a number of small aquariums in our room has increased the expectations for no horsing around inside. Luckily, since the classroom is right on the playground, I can give the students a bit more time outside to run around so they get that movement. So there will be moments of challenge in any system that's dedicated to growth and development.

Yet, for the most part, systems that are well organized and thoughtful will have less upheaval and unexpected challenge. Instead these systems will run smoothly. Of course good communication, lead time, planning ahead, and efficient processes support this kind of work.

In looking ahead, I'm wondering how I can continue to work towards a smooth routine at work. The following efforts will help:
  • Spending good time at the start of the year establishing expectations and protocols with students
  • Explicitly displaying classroom goals and expectations for all to see
  • Regular communication patterns and places via the use of the website, newsletters, twitters, and in-house meetings
  • Keeping the calendar up to date and easily accessible by all in the teaching/learning community
  • Planning ahead and communicating new ideas and change so that the entire learning team, family members, students, educators, and leaders, can support the change with lead time.
  • Effective classroom organization
I can also work with colleagues to support this kind of work in our whole school or system work and effort. Systemwide efforts that support smooth, effective work include many of these same attributes as the classroom:
  • Regular, effective patterns of accessible information and communication share
  • Lead time and information with regard to new ideas and change
  • Easy to access tools, resources, and supplies
  • A sense of team and inclusion for all efforts and goals
  • Ready and accessible share of systemwide analysis, progress, goals, and vision
Smooth systems that are effective will have disruption and times of challenge and times of change, yet if these systems are run with a sense of community and positive connections, then, in general, these systems will promote the good work possible with regard to teaching children well. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Simplify and Improve the MA Teachers' Evaluation System

I am a fan of the research and elements that underlie the Massachusetts' Educator Evaluation system. I am also a fan of the framework process that exists. However, now that we've had the system for a while, I believe it's time to simplify the approach. I believe this is true because the evaluation process is taking up more time than it's worth.

Here's what I propose.

Continue to Foster Self Reflection
First, let's keep the self evaluation process. I think it's great for teachers to analyze their teaching and learning against the 33 elements. There are many ways to do that, and I offer two websites I've created as vehicles in this regard: TeachFocus and Reflect for Success.

Continue to Set Goals
Next, I also think it's great that teachers have to make a student learning goal and a professional learning goal for the year. This directs our work in ways that matter. Creating these goals based on self reflection, a review of school and systemwide goals, and a discussion with your evaluator and/or teaching team is a terrific way to start the year.

Regularly Reflect and Keep A Professional File
After that, I think it's a good idea for teachers to regularly reflect, assess, create, and teach with their professional learning goal, student learning goal, and the evaluation elements in mind. It's advantageous for educators to keep some kind of online or offline reflective vehicle such as a journal, notebook, online eportfolio, or binder of their efforts. When educators do this, they essentially create a collection of evidence that they can use to discuss, better, or share their work in ways that matter.

Educator Observations, Feedback, and Response
I also think it's great that evaluators make the time to view an educator's work a couple of times a year for tenured staff and perhaps a few more times for nontenured or new staff. I think it's great that they offer feedback after those observations and that they inspire growth with questions. I also think it's great that educators respond to this feedback with a few comments. This is positive. The challenge here, at times, is that evaluators have too many teachers to evaluate. Yet, I've noticed that many evaluators are taking advantage of collaborative time for evaluations so that they can evaluate more than one educator at a time. That's often timely and worthwhile.

Eliminate District Determined Measures
I think the District Determined Measures are a less valid or valuable source of information. In many cases these measures are not valid and don't reveal any new information. They are very cumbersome, time consuming, and in my opinion, a waste of time. I think this part of the evaluation system that should be eliminated.

Eliminate Scores as Indicators of Individual Educator Success
As far as standardized state scores, I think that they could be used to evaluate the work of a whole school, not individual teachers. If schools struggle with scores, then systems could look deeper as to why and possibly for ways to improve the school as a whole.

Simplify the Final Evaluation Piece: Write a Letter that Includes Evidence Links
At the end of the year, I believe that each educator should write his or her own evaluation letter. The letter should include a paragraph for each of the categories listed below. In each paragraph, an educator would describe how he/she met that area of teaching and learning and include a link to one piece of evidence.

The categories include:
  • Student Learning Goal
  • Professional Learning Goal
  • Curriculum Planning and Assessment
  • Teaching All Students
  • Family and Community Engagement
  • Professional Culture
Synthesize Goals, Observations, Reflection Letter for Final Evaluation
The letter would be submitted to the evaluator who reads, responds, and synthesizes with the observations notes and responses for an overall evaluation of needs improvement, proficient, or exceeds expectations. The teachers' letters and responses are filed in a simple data system that's easy to manage and review if needed with no need for costly software packages, but instead simple to use and access online files.

The foundation of the new Massachusetts Educator Evaluation system is good, but meeting the current expectations costs too much money in time and personnel--time and people that could be used to teach children well. 

Classroom Environment Plans for 2016-2017

Today as students take a systemwide assessment, I'm do an analysis of my classroom environment. I've been working in a new shared teaching model this year and my classroom is mainly used for math and STEAM teaching.The fact that I no longer have to host the supplies for all subjects has given me greater flexibility with regard to the room set up including many more subject-specific supplies. This has enabled the teaching to be more flexible, responsive, and multi-modal.

All year I've been shifting and changing the room as I try to make it match teaching intent, philosophy, and expectations. I think I finally have a model that I like, and now as I order supplies for the end of this year and next year, it's time for finesse. While we have many traditional supplies in the classroom including desks and chairs, we move them around as needed to make the classroom more versatile.

In general what I need to improve the classroom organization and environment is the following:
  • More beautiful, inspiring, inclusive signage (Students can create some of this at start of year and I'll purchase some)
  • More good shelving and containers for the STEAM area. I really like the metal shelves and will likely get more of those. The plastic files work quite well too. 
  • Better organization of math supplies.
  • Repair of some of the existing organizational shelves and drawers.
  • Replacements for electric pencil sharpeners, colored pencils, math templates, 
  • Shelving for showcase portfolios and supplies. 

Model for classroom organization:

Current items and related ideas.

You Can't Do It All: End of Year Events

Spring is a very busy time of year in the community where I teach. There are sports events, concerts, plays, picnics, open houses, and lots of special family and community events too. It's also a time of lots of transition, and for educators, it's when we have one foot in this year and another foot in the planning and preparation for next year.

Last night when my son came to me with a question, I realized that the end-of-year business had begun, and it's time to make those decisions about what events you'll attend and which events you'll skip.

This morning, I took some time organizing the events for our learning team newsletter, and later today, I'll meet with my teammates to review the many events planned for the days ahead.

Most importantly, you don't want to become overwhelmed by it all. One way to avoid this is to make the time to sit down with family members and colleagues to make those important decisions and plan for the special events you don't want to miss. You can't do it all, but you want to do what's most important to you, your team, and the children.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Homework 1 2 3

For as long as I've been teaching, I've been changing homework patterns and expectations. That's 30 years of homework flux. Why the variability? Mostly this is true because teaching and learning changes all the time and student groups vary from one group to another.

In light of new research and what I've observed this year with regard to math learning and teaching, I think I'll try homework 1 2 3 next year. One will be a problem that relates to the days learning--a problem I expect students to answer in about 10 minutes. Two will be a short reflection about the day's learning, and 3 will include suggestions for possible further study and practice if a child desires it.

I think this 1 2 3 homework will work well for today's culture for the following reason. First it will inspire students to take a few minutes each day to reflect about their math learning and to practice what we're learning at that time. Next it will be simple work to review and provide some feedback to, and finally the work won't create a lot of home-school challenge since it won't rely solely on computers, family help, or lots and lots of extra time. I'll try to make the daily problem meaningful, interesting, and relevant too.

It's true that in the past I've given homework that's overbearing and unaccessible to some. I don't want to do this anymore particularly in light of the latest research I've read with regard to homework and equity Yet, I want to still promote some daily practice and reflection as it's so important and we simply run out of time in school for that kind of quiet, regular, try it yourself work.

Inspiring School Assembly

Every so often our weekly school assembly touches me in a deeper than usual way. Today the art teacher and music teacher worked together to teach the school about Grandma Moses and her art with this video:

First graders explained how they learned about landscapes and the seasons with Grandma Moses art. Then the music teacher led all of our K-5 students with a sing-a-long as we all watched the video. It was wonderful.

The principal helped fifth graders share their math problem solving story, and then a trio of first graders shared their original Puppet Pals digital story. Finally service learning teams received awards and we sang the school song. 

The school assembly allows students and educators to share their good learning and efforts weekly. It's a great vehicle for establishing and nurturing a positive culture and teaching each other about new ways to learn.

Good work in schools makes the job meaningful and the students happy and successful. It's worth the time it takes to collaborate, try out new ideas, revise/create wonderful units, and reach beyond our school building to experts and organizations in the field to develop our potential as educators and learners.

With that in mind, we'll continue our steady efforts to review the math for upcoming tests, learn all we can about raising and caring for spadefoot toad tadpoles, prepping for upcoming STEAM projects and biography project presentations, and continuing our strong focus on reading and writing. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Naturalist Math

We're heading into our naturalist weeks of study and I'm wondering how we'll combine that with math teaching/learning. I'll think more on this in the days ahead, but for starters I have a few thoughts. Let me know what you would add.

First of all to prepare for raising our Eastern spadefoot toad tadpoles, we'll learn the material as we study and practice problem solving steps and information related to the 5th grade math curriculum. When we practice computation, we'll use data and facts from science MCAS practice. That's a good start.

Further as we watch the spadefoots develop, we'll measure and weigh them which will help us to practice measurement skill and estimation.

Later we'll study maps as we get ready for our exploration in our local habitat and Great Meadows. We'll likely use math to calculate miles and plan time well. We may measure what we find too.

To become naturalists we'll study animal scat models. We may measure and make some proportional connections between scat size/shape and animal size. Then when we're out in the "wild" we'll look for evidence including scat of animals that live in the region.

The new magnifying lenses will give us a chance to discuss the proportion with which an object is magnified and will give us a chance to study the details of objects well too.

I'm sure we'll come up with more ways to integrate math and nature study. Again, if you have ideas, let me know.

Focus on a Small Number of Big Questions and Problems in Math

As I think ahead to how I'll tackle the math teaching and learning next year, I want to center on about 10 big questions or problems--one for each unit of study.

As I think about this, I'm beginning to brainstorm a number of questions/problems, then I'll choose the best questions/problems to lead the learning.

Some of the questions I have come up with so far are the following:

Who are We?
As we discuss who we are as a learning team of students, teachers, and family members, we'll think about the ways that we can collect and analyze data to create an infographic of who are learning team is. Then we'll draw from that data all year.

What are the digits? What do we know about the digits and what can we do with them?
As we review basic computation, multiple algorithms, math facts, and order of operations, we'll explore the world of the digits 0-9. We did that this year and it laid a nice foundation for the work ahead. This study also provides a terrific way to introduce multiple math tools including rulers, calculators, and coordinate grids.

How does the base ten system behave?
We'll explore the "behavior" of the base ten system in multiple ways, and hopefully work to make models and code animations that demonstrate this behavior.

What's the difference between whole numbers and fraction/decimal parts?
We'll look at the relationships between and amongst whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. We'll explore where and why we use the various number types and how we manipulate these numbers using many operations and algorithms?

I am just starting to explore the use of big questions to lead each math unit. I am not satisfied with these questions, but will continue to brainstorm more about this as I consider the strength and areas for growth with regard to this year's teaching and learning in math.

Are Typical Classrooms Too Small for Today's Learning?

As I once again do an overhaul of the classroom to get ready for a new leg of the teaching/learning year, I do wonder if classrooms are too small for today's learning.

The materials for hands-on, real world learning take up lots of space. Student movement requires space too. So as I sort and re-sort once again to find room for STEAM projects and supplies, raising Eastern spadefoot toads, and taking PARCC tests, I'm wondering about this question.

Luckily my room is right next to the playground so we'll likely bring some of those STEAM projects out into the playground. Also thanks to the shared model of teaching, I don't have too host as many ELA or social studies supplies as I did in the past.

So for now, I'll make the space work. Onward.

Couple Change and Challenge with New Learning

Several years ago I had a grade/school change within my system. That was a mighty change considering I had three young children at home. I was worried. Yet, I always liked that line, "When a door closes, a window opens," so I decided to use the change as a chance to embark on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification. That gave all the work that goes with change a good, positive focus as well as a supportive team of NBPTS educators to support me.

I also used this approach when the Common Core standards were introduced. I knew that it was going to include lots of work to embed all those standards into my work so I chose to sign up for a university course related to the standards. The university course not only guided my new standards learning and embedding, but it also gave me a credential that contributed towards a welcome pay raise.

Right now I have a similar big challenge which is to complete my Teacher Leadership Initiative capstone. I know it's going to take some time to summarize a year's work and growth. I want to invest all that time into a skill that's challenging and forward moving like the NBPTS endeavor. Hence, I've decided to couple my efforts with my desire to improve my speaking skills. Hence a large part of my capstone will be much like a Ted Talk

Think about the teaching/learning expectations and challenges that you have ahead. How might you couple those challenges and expectations with gaining a new skill, connecting to a new group, or earning a new degree or certification. For example one of my sons has a job at a national park this summer. He loves the outdoors and is very curious about the wildlife so I suggested that while he work at the park that he also become an expert on the wildlife there. That's a skill he can use later as he grows his ability to work and lead in nature. 

Coupling new learning with change and challenge is a promising way to travel the road to better teaching and learning. Let me know if you have any other thoughts related to this travel guide. 

Today's Focus: Math, Math, and More Math

Soon the vacation will be over and I'll be back at school. It's going to be a big math day today.

First Sarah and Avery will present their "Math at the Movies" multi-tiered story problem at school assembly. This post explains the process we used for the project. They're very excited about this. Take a look at their fine work below:

After that each class will practice a large number of math problems as they get ready for tomorrow's systemwide Middle School Transition Math test.

There will be a bit of time for reading Harry Potter too.

To get everyone psyched to be back and learning math we'll talk a bit about what it means to give the learning good energy, ask questions, and show what you know. Further I'll remind them that after all these tests we have lots of great explorations, field studies, and special events planned--that will  help.

NCTM Innovate8: Consider Voting for our Presentation

Note: Our team's proposal was accepted, but we were unable to get funding for the presentation. I'm sure we'll try again in the future.

Our teaching team submitted a proposal to present at NCTM's Innovate8. We're excited about telling our story about the strength of a shared teaching model, RTI, and PLCs with regard to math teaching/learning success, and we're even more excited about the prospect of learning from NCTM math enthusiasts next November.

The NCTM Innovate8 Conference is focused on "Engaging the Struggling Learner" which is a topic we are very interested in as a teaching team. We want to share what we do, and we want to learn what others are doing in this regard.

If you're inclined, you may help us reach our goal of presenting by voting for our presentation described below on this page:

Shared Teaching: Response for Intervention (RTI) Math for ALL Students
This is the story of how a shared teaching approach including classroom teachers, special educators, and teaching assistants utilizes Math Response to Intervention (RTI) Model for all students with a combination of observations, assessments, conversation, professional learning, a professional learning community (PLC), and strategic process to lead student success in flexible, responsive ways.

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Reflection Path: Reaching Your Dreams

"We do not learn from experience. . .we learn from reflecting on experience." - John Dewey

"If you can dream it, you can do it." - Walt Disney

"I believe in a visual language that should be as strong as the written word." -David LaChapelle

Start by taking a giant piece of wonderful paper and sketch your dream when it comes to teaching and learning well. Don't worry about your drawing, instead think deeply about what it is you dream of. Don't be pragmatic and work as if there are no obstacles.

Next, name the parts of your dream with a one or a few words.

"On my team, we prioritize merits over politics." - Ron Barber

After that prioritize all that you dream. Think about how you are prioritizing. What do you hope for most, next, and after that.

Take your number one priority and write a headline about it. Exhibit your drawing and priority headline. Look at it, think about it, and then when you're ready to move on do the following

Take your number one priority and make an idea web. Put your number one priority in the middle and write as many ideas as you can about that priority.

List all the reasons why your priority might not become a reality. Crunch that list up for the time being and throw it to the side. Don't throw it away as you will revisit it later.

Now craft a message about why your idea is very, very important and must become a reality. Find at least 10 reasons why this is true. Seek facts and figures from the Internet to support your claim.

Go back to your big idea and all the details you've listed. Now begin to think systematically about your idea. Start with the end, what will be the result of your big idea. Next work backwards what are the many actions needed to lead up to your big idea. Create a path to your idea's result. It could be a visual path or written list. Do you have another idea for creating this path?

"Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works." -Steve Jobs

Focus on the verbs and describe how your idea works. Think about its impact on existing systems. Complete a chart that shows who and what your idea impacts.

You've played a lot with your idea. How else might you play with your idea before you begin to make it a reality. Spend some more time playing with the idea. If your first priority loses steam or energy, go to your next priority.

Now that you've really thought deeply about the idea, it's time to make a plan. Plan how you're going to make your idea a reality. When you're unsure, write a question.

Share your plan with a friend. Find the answers to your questions.

Begin making your idea a reality. Make a timeline. Use the "if, then, or else" process--when you reach one dead end, find another path. Revisit your "Why this idea is important speech." and continue.

There are many, many ways to reflect. Reflection leads to better work. Play with your ideas on paper and via the Internet. Talk about your ideas, and make prototypes. What you imagine can become a reality when you use good process and seek out the help of others. Onward.

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. Steve Jobs
Read more at:

Design Learning Path

No learning is the right learning for everyone; right learning is tailored or designed for the context and learners. How do we tailor or design learning?

First, as you read this post, think about a lesson, unit, or program you'd like to refine or revise to meet your learners' needs.

Next, think about what's required and/or expected such as the standards, school rules/protocols, and general learning/teaching expectations. Make a list of those.

After that, think about your learners. Who are they? What do they like? How do they learn best? What do they need?

Then think about the context? What do you have that will support this learning? What do you need? What is required to make this learning come alive in your context? Who is able to help out?

Then be the naysayer, why will this redesign or revision be difficult? What are the obstacles? Why won't this work? What makes you fearful or passive with regard to this need?

Now think beyond the obstacles (we'll return to those later), envision the end point--what does it look like, what do students' know, how do they feel, what change in the learning/teaching environment has occurred?

Lay a path to the end point, step by step create your project's storyboard. As you lay the path think about what each focus is, the materials/space needs, time and support.

Walk the path yourself by investing yourself in the learning process from start to finish alone or, even better, with colleagues and or a few students. Create exemplars online or offline with images, video, and/or print.

Organize the plan ideally online using a website--this website will serve as the 24-7 guide to the learning path.

Embark on the path with your students. Be prepared to revise along the way as you have to remember you're teaching the students first, and the content second.

Once you and the students reach the end point, take time out to reflect, revise, and make changes so that when you journey this path with the next group you'll be able to start with even greater knowledge and preparation for the learning ahead.

Thinking of Next Year: Building a Strong Teaching/Learning Community

The discussion yesterday at edcampworcester about cultural competency and community continues to play in my mind. This year I made some new decisions about this. Some worked and some did not. That's why I want to think about this now. New ideas take time.

Last year I hoped to have lunch with every child during the start of the year. Time did not permit this. I also hoped to make a special effort to spend time with families and students that I might not get to see as often, and that idea didn't work either. Both of these ideas didn't work because I didn't have the time or plan with enough lead time. Once the school year gets rolling it's difficult to implement new ideas that fall outside the typical schedule and expectations.

How can I do this better next year?

Knowing Students and Their Families
I'd like to find a way to work with colleagues to meet and greet families and students in ways that set the stage for a successful year. We already do this, but I think we can deepen what we do. I listed a number of ideas on a Google doc and shared the ideas with teammates. I wonder which ideas might turn into a reality. This is work I can't do on my own, but work that requires collective effort and energy.

Student-to-Student Relationships
Kickball is proving to be a great way to build class community. I want to think of other ways that we can build strong student-to-student relationships. In fact, I wrote an NEA grant today to support a program that will help with this goal.

Updating Math Units with Greater Cultural Proficiency
I want to add more relevant, inclusive facts, topics, and projects to the math curriculum. We can easily direct the concept learning towards content that creates community in meaningful ways. I will begin the year with a survey/infographic project that supports this effort.

Evaluate Structure, Role, and Routines
I want to give the schedule careful consideration. I want to eliminate efforts that don't result in deep, meaningful learning and community, and enrich the areas that do build a strong learning team and community. I want to advocate for early, proactive, and inclusive scheduling. Often the schedule is the root of promise as well as obstacles. The schedule is very important in school life.

Open Circle
Finding a good place for Open Circle has helped. Next year I want to sign out that space for regular open circle meetings and projects throughout the year.

Prepping STEAM/Naturalist Study

Image Resource
Our students are about to embark on a large number of naturalist study efforts. This morning I've been making lists of a few supplies we need as well as local experts to support our study.

What will this naturalist study include?

First, we have three naturalist-related STEAM investigations that focus on clean water, composting, and plants.

We are also working to help save the local endangered eastern spadefoot toad.

Further, we'll be hiking along our local Dudley Brook and Concord's Great Meadows to learn about our natural environment.

And, I've invited experts from TransitionWayland and TransitionFramingham to come and talk to us and lead us in activities related to sustainability.

Lastly, I'll embed lots of the factual information related to these efforts into our upcoming math problem solving and computation test review. That will help students practice math for the PARCC test and learn lots of science facts too.

I'm sure that these investigations will lead to more naturalist study and investigation as well. This is a great match for the end of the school year and great spring weather.

Terrific Learning and Collegiality at #EdcampWorcester

Worcester Academy was a beautiful, welcoming location for an edcamp.
Yesterday I attended EdcampWorcester. It's been a while since I've attended an edcamp, and after yesterday's terrific day, I've made a commitment to attend at least two edcamps a year as the learning and collegiality can't be beat. Attending an edcamp is a great way to inspire and bolster what you bring to the classroom each day.

EdcampWorcester had many terrific attributes. First of all the beautiful blend of old and new at the Worceser Academy campus made it a terrific location for an edcamp. While the buildings had the inspiring beauty and detail that a historic campus brings, the furniture, signs on the wall, edcamp model, and welcome from the edcamp leaders, Wendi Espinoza Cotta @edtech2innovat and Kevin Crowthers, were modern and timely for today's teaching and learning.

In addition, attending an edcamp is also a great way to meet members of your PLN in person. For example, Maureen Tumenas @bcdtech and I have been following each other for a long time, but we never had the chance to meet. Meeting Maureen made me realize that she's a true go-to person in the tech ed world as she has a wealth of knowledge with regard to teaching and terrific tech tools, many of which I capture in the tweets below. I also had the chance to talk with Rik Rowe who is the co-moderator of #edchatma, the Massachusetts Twitter chat that happens once a month. Recently Rik Rowe and his #edchatma co-moderator, David Hochhesier @davidhochheiser were kind enough to let me lead a chat about Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets. Jo Boaler joined us for the chat. Also, an edcamp is a good chance to get together with your education friends and relatives since it seems like there's never enough time to catch up. Yesterday my cousin, Christine Lucey, who is an educator and artist, also joined me at the event and that gave us some time to see each other and chare our interest in education and creativity.

Many notes from the day were tweeted out by me and others, and I made a Storify of those notes below to revist in the days to come.

Essentially, I had the following takeaways that I'll continue to consider and develop. A warm welcome and openness to new ideas is essential to learning well. Wendi, Kevin, and the Worcester Academy Academic Dean, Cindy Sabik, definitely translated that message early in the day with inspiring words, a wonderful breakfast, and an inviting location at the school for learning and share. That sense of community was further exemplified in the open, positive attitude displayed by the educators, students, and leaders who attended the event.

The first break out session I attended focused on math teaching and learning. In essence the notion that deeper, more engaging, collaborative, and hands-on math projects and practice is a good way to inspire terrific math learning and discussion. I learned about the professional math circles that meet regularly and may attend one of those events in the days to come. All the educators in the room want to deepen and make more relevant what they do with regard to math teaching and many tools, projects, structures, and routines were shared in this regard. I want to use this discussion as a catalyst for work I'll do this summer with regard to math learning design.

The next session centered on cultural competency. Several Worcester Academy students led the conversation. My big take away there was that we have to revisit how we begin the school year so that we make the time to truly welcome all students and families as well as to get to know them in purposeful, meaningful ways. Similar to the ideas at our recent faculty meeting, the idea of creating opportunity for more "casual conversation," sharing of favorite foods, and exchanging stories at the start of the year are ways that we can create a strong, respectful, and culturally competent community of teachers and learners.

As the day continued we discussed the many paths to teacher leadership including social media, professional events, the willingness to get involved in our schools and systems, blogging, and reaching out to the many, many opportunities that exist for collegiality and professional learning today. There was dismay during several discussions too about the challenges many teachers and students face today and the bureaucracies that sometimes distance us from what we need and can do for students. A call for greater teacher voice with regard to school wide decisions was also mentioned, and the question, "Do teachers have to be activists today?" discussed.

The inaugural EdcampWorcester was a generous event, one I'd like to return to next year, and one that the teaching community in and around Worcester should consider with regard to their professional learning to come. Thanks to Kevin and Wendi for all the time and care they put into this terrific event. I'll definitely pay it forward in the days to come.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Maker Math: Playdough

Is making playdough a good way to teach proportional reasoning?
As I thought about the metaphor that numbers are playdough, I realized that making playdough could be a good example of Maker Math. How so?

First, students could make a number a playdough batches that are proportionally related. For example they could start with yellow as the unit of 1, then make a number of colors that are proportionally greater than yellow. For example blue could be two times yellow, green three times yellow, and red four times yellow.

Students could chart the original ingredients on a table and then multiply those ingredients on the same table for each color. Teachers at the younger grades could use whole number ingredients while intermediate teachers may want to use fractional amounts.

Once the proportional batches are created, students could take a close look in many ways. For example, they could roll balls of each color and discuss the proportional sizes of each color. They could write mathematical sentences describing the sizes of each playdough ball. Similarly they could roll each color into strips and look at the lengths too. You could even grow this project out to relate the proportions to the make-up of Planet Earth and have students use the playdough colors to make a model of the Earth's crust and core with correct proportions.

Once you've created your playdough batches, you could then discuss the metaphor that numbers are playdough using the lesson outlined via this link.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Professional Learning: Where are You Headed?

As I think of professional learning today, a colleague's name and work keeps coming to mind. I've watched this colleague improve steadily over the years. She's moved from a quiet, dedicated teacher to a leader in our school system, and her work is very, very good with regard to student growth and collegial efforts.

What makes this teacher so good?

First, she does the job. Day in day out, she's there doing a good job as an educator.

She's always respectful of all colleagues and kind and caring towards students.

Her professional demeanor is just right for the elementary school setting.

With this model in mind, I am prompted to think about my own professional learning and work in the days ahead.

Where will I put my energy and attention?

Fair Work Conditions
As a Union representative, I want to work with colleagues to make sure that all employees have fair work conditions. I want to understand our rights and benefits well and ensure that no one is left out in this regard. When educators are treated fairly and have what they need to do a good job, then there's a much greater chance that all educators will be able to do the good work possible.

Math Learning/Teaching
I want to continue to develop my skill and knowledge in this area to teach children well.

Quality Share and Presentations
I will give many presentations this summer, and I want to improve the quality of the presentations I give.

Shared Teaching Model
Our team has a successful shared teaching model in place, and I want to think about ways in which we can continue to develop this model in order to serve students well.

Nature Stewards and STEAM Education
I want to read and understand the MA science standards well and employ that knowledge as I build my ability to lead and teach units related to STEAM and nature.

Classroom Organization and Routines
I want to continue to revisit this area of school life to make sure that the organization and routines best support student learning, engagement, and empowerment.

Culturally Proficient Teaching
The more we know about our students' individual cultures, interests, values, and beliefs, the better we can teach those students. I want to look for ways to embed the attributes of culturally proficient teaching into my work regularly.

The goals haven't changed much in the past many days, and looking forward the goal is to organize time well to meet those goals.

Professional Ethics

As I read a number of education related articles this morning, I was prompted to think about professional ethics.

If you read my blog, you know that my professional ethics were challenged a few years ago when I raised my voice in a heated discussion with a colleague. Since that time I have done a lot of professional work to understand what caused me to feel the level of frustration I felt--a level of frustration that resulted in a raised voice. In the end what created that frustration was the fact that there were many issues leading up to the event for which I had no voice or choice. As one coach explained, I felt "invisible" with regard to the issues of concern. Yet, it is never respectful to raise your voice in the schoolhouse unless it has to do with an emergency response.

With the vacation nearing its end and return to school life around the corner, it's a good time to consider professional ethics.

I looked for a list to use online as a guide and found this list from the University of Maryland. I shortlist the topics below as I think of my own work.

Intellectual Property
Essentially give credit where credit is due for any ideas, words, or images you use within fair share protocols and policies. I went to a good workshop about this and have listed those rules here. In some ways this is a moving target with respect to school life in this tech age, so it's good to help one another stay within the acceptable use realm as we move forward. Also with regard to your own work, it's good to sign your work and post it before sharing it with others if you want to retain some credit for what you do. Again, it's very difficult in this day and age to determine who came up with an idea, phrase, or concept first since share happens all the time and we are so affected by one another's words and work.

Academic Integrity
Be honest with one another. Use your words and work to best support students and the expectations of your position.

Computer Use
Essentially use the same polite behavior that you would use offline, online. Use school computers for work related to your professional expectations, efforts, and development.

Human Relations
Treat all members of the learning team with respect, honesty, care, and kindness.

Professional Integrity
Do your work with best intent, honesty, and dignity. Keep the focus of your work, serving students and families well, as the center of all that you do.

Nurture good values and bring them to work with you each day. Your time at work should serve the work you do and people you serve.

As I read more about this, I really liked this article, 10 Golden Rules to Professional Ethics in the Workplace by Leandro Valente. As I read these, I recognized that every teacher candidate course should begin with these ethics:
  • Strive for excellence: What does excellence mean with regard to your professional role and expectations? This might be a good topic for your teaching/learning team to discuss. 
  • Be trustworthy. Live up to the expectations set on a consistent basis, and speak/act with truth.
  • Be courteous and respectful. This isn't always easy in the fast paced school life, but it's imperative and most important.
  • Be open, honest, and transparent. Regular patterns of share and communication can serve you well in this regard. 
  • Be competent and improve continually. There so many inexpensive and readily available ways to continually improve your practice today. A regular pattern of professional learning will serve you well in this regard. 
  • Always be ethical. "Live by the rules," and if the rules seem unethical, speak up and act respectfully for change. Know the rules well and work with colleagues to interpret the rules correctly as you do your work. 
  • Be honorable and act with integrity. Be thoughtful with regard to all actions and speak.
  • Be respectful of confidentiality. 
  • Set good examples.
As I read this, I realize that there is little that challenges good ethics in school. After all we work for children who are typically fair minded, honest, and wanting the best of people and places. And, in general, our colleagues are in the business to make life better for people so there's not a lot of ethical challenge in that regard. 

I think the greatest challenge to ethics in the school setting lies in the pace of our work. We are on task almost every minute of the day leaving little time for good communication and collaboration. Also, the persistent factory model can be challenging in that roles, structure, schedules, and communication patterns can challenge ethical behavior simply because sometimes these old-time structures create oppressive environments with little voice, choice, or clear expectations for some employees. 

With this in mind, I think that ethics for all in the school environment can be better fostered and improved with the following actions:
  • Consistent recognition and share of the organization's ethical values and expectations. It's best when this is streamlined and made explicit to all in the organization. If there are too many wordy, too-tight rules and expectations, it will be difficult to follow, however, if the rules and expectations are clear and "loose-tight," they will serve the community better. 
  • Creation of open forums for discussion, questions, and revision of systemwide expectations and efforts with regard to ethics. Rather than shunned or disregarded, questions should be openly discussed and entertained. Tough questions are few when an open attitude towards discussion and transparency exists. It's easy to be the good employee when you are not advocating or promoting change. However, if you're the kind of employee who sees room for growth and change, then it can be difficult to continually meet the existing expectations. Good systems of share and development will support ethical work in this regard. 
  • A willingness to coach each other with regard to good work and ethics. Many of the greatest problems and struggles in society occur because people stand by and watch others do the wrong thing. It's good to speak up when you see problems and help one another do the right thing. We need to bring our best professional selves to the job each day. 
  • Regular systems of share, improvement, and revision. Rather than wait until problems occur, if systems embrace regular, inclusive systems of improvement and development, there isn't as much space for trouble to arise. Yet we all know that a system can't anticipate all problems.
  • Revision of old time factory models of school with new age knowledge worker, shared leadership models. New age teaching and learning models will increase checks and balances in school and create a more work friendly, ethical environment where all members have choice and voice over their work leading to the "autonomy, purpose, and mastery" that Pink outlines in his book, Drive, as attributes of successful, dynamic work environments. 
Ethical behavior is essential to the good work possible in schools. If we as educators are ethical then we will model this behavior for our students too.

As I think about these many points, I recognize that it's good to shore up one's practice in this regard at regular intervals too. It's both the joy and challenge of our jobs that we're never there when it comes to the good work possible as there's always room to better that which we do for and with students and each other. Onward.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Varied Learning: Post Vacation Plans

Photo Link and Information
Students will likely arrive back to school on Monday happy and relaxed after the wonderful weather vacation week we've had. They'll also likely have a full blown case of spring fever after all of this good weather and play. What's on the agenda for the final weeks of school?

PARCC/Systemwide Prep and Test
On the first day back, students and I will review a host of problem and topic types in math as the next day students will take the systemwide middle school transition test. This is a test of all the material we've covered in the math curriculum to date, and it's a test meant to give us an idea of students' overall knowledge level with regard to our K-5 math curriculum. The results are informative and used, in part, to inform middle school teachers about students' math knowledge levels and needs.

Once that test is complete, we'll practice math problem solving as we prepare for the PARCC test using facts and figures related to the local endangered species, spadefoot toad. I'll revise PARCC practice problem types to include spade foot toad related numbers and information. Later, and just before the PARCC tests, students will review all computation learned in the past year. I plan to include lots of science facts and figures in the computation review so that students are also rehearsing science information for the MCAS test as they computer.

Local Endangered Species--The Spadefoot Toad
Our work with Drumlin Farm, Mass Audubon, and the Nyanza SUASCO Grant, will find us raising a local endangered species, the spadefoot toad. Students raised tadpoles when they were in first grade and studied endangered species in fourth grade so they have some experience with this, however, this time we'll deepen that work by connecting it with the responsibility to raise and care for local endangered species. As part of this study, Dr. Bryan Windmiller from Grassroots Wildlife Conservation will speak to the fifth grade about this work in mid May. Later we'll work with Drumlin Farm to re-enter the spadefoot toads we raise into their natural habitat. Students will study about the spadefoot toad in reading/science research class too.

River Habitat Study
We'll also use river facts and figures as we prep for PARCC problem solving since part of our study this spring will involve learning about the river habitat. To do this we'll welcome Drumlin Farm naturalists who will come to the classrooms to teach students about river habitats. Later we'll explore our own habitat near the narrow Dudley Brook and Concord's Great Meadows which lies along the Sudbury River, a river that also meanders through our school's local environment. Students will learn to study the river habitat with a number of activities and tools that parents, high school students, and teachers will learn about during a guided naturalist training by Drumlin Farm's Education Director, Robin Stuart in May. This naturalist training has been planned as one way to help our student leaders lead students' study of their local habitat.

Biography Research and Presentations
Students will continue to research and write their biography presentations. These presentations had a great jumpstart just before vacation with the help of many high school students who joined us as part of their high school service day. The teacher who takes charge of writing will lead our efforts in this area as we prepare for the early June presentation.

Science Week
The days leading up to the Science MCAS tests will find us reviewing science facts and concepts studied since kindergarten with video and targeted review lessons and study.

Play Practice
Our fifth graders will also prepare for the fifth grade play during this time so there will be a lot of rehearsals and practice for this signature learning event that the whole school community looks forward to.

Field Studies and Special Events
We'll travel to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail and hear many wonderful stories of America's past. We'll also have Field Day at the High School and as mentioned before our "Amazing Adventure" tour of Great Meadows. In addition, parents have planned a number of celebratory events since this is the students' last year of elementary school.

The year will also include a number of great special events including the school concerts, picnic, book fair, service learning events, and more.

Students will engage in a number of STEAM explorations once the PARCC and MCAS tests are complete. I know that I'm very excited about this hands-on learning part of the year.

It's going to be a very busy eight weeks of school ahead! Time to prepare the teaching/learning ship for the next leg of the journey :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


"I think the only choice that will enable us to hold to our vision... is one that abandons the concept of naming enemies and adopts a concept familiar to the nonviolent tradition: naming behavior that is oppressive. "- Barbara Deming

Sometimes we can choose one or a few as the target(s) of all that's not been good or all that's challenging, but rarely to never is one the reason for all life's woes. Typically that "one" represents a series of events and actions or systematic snags and challenges.

Take your eyes off the "one" and look carefully at the systems that affect your work, effort, and life--where can those systems improve to support the good work and life possible.

This is a step in the right direction.