Sunday, July 31, 2016

Should We Start the School Year by Talking about Race?

At the start of the school year, I generally make the time to talk about the history of people. I find that this talk serves to dismiss myths that might hinder our teaching/learning year.

How do I tell this story to fifth graders?

Taking the lead from work I did as a fourth grade teacher who taught a culture unit, I begin by asking, "Where do you think people come from?"

Students typically giggle a bit and then offer a variety of answers. When they refer to reproduction, I smile and say, that's a topic we'll learn about at the end of the year, but if you're curious now, you can talk to your family members about it. Then when they tell religious stories, I say, "We're a public school, therefore we respect all religions. Most religions have origin stories, and it's best to talk to your family members about that. Then I tell the scientific story of human origin, the story that uses our DNA to trace our roots all the way back to Africa.

As I tell the story of evolution, I also tell the story of skin and provide the scientific reasons why we have the skin shades that we have. I make a point of emphasizing that the biology that makes up our skin is a minuscule fraction of our overall genetic make-up, and like all parts of our body our skin has adapted over time for one reason and one reason only, survival. (I may add the news that Americans are getting shorter and ask them why that evolution might be true this year too).

When I tell the story, I use the map. I say that our appearance gives us clues about where our ancestors came from, and that we continue to evolve as all animals do for survival.

I find that this conversation early in the year empowers all of my learners by dispelling racial myths they may have heard or developed.

Recently, I wrote to school system administration asking that we create a thread of teaching throughout the years that explicitly focuses on racism to dispel myths and empower all students to learn well on their own and with others.

It's important that this thread is developmental, and I can imagine a K-12 team of educators, family members, paraeducators, administrators, and community members meeting together to make recommendations for this learning thread.

I would imagine the thread to include the following types of units:

K-2: We are the same, and we are different: A focus on self, our communities, and communities far away. There's lots of great literature and activities that support this kind of community building and awareness for young children.

3-4: Culture and Immigration. This is a great age to make children aware of the history of our multicultural nature.

5-6: History, Geography, and the Impact on Our Lives and the Lives of Others, Global Changemakers, and Current Events. Students at this age are looking for mentors, curious about one another, and very interested in the world around them.

7-12: Since this is not my area of expertise, I would defer this decision making to teachers at this level, but I think it's important that issues of advocacy, current events, racial/cultural understanding, opportunity/attitudina assessment and opportunity, history, world religions, and more.

In the year ahead, I plan to address racism in the following ways with my grade-level teaching team:
  • Telling the story of the history of people and the history of skin.
  • Regular attention to current events.
  • Teaching cognitive science and how our brains work, emphasizing the fact that we're all capable of learning and dispelling myths that obstruct that opportunity.
  • Focusing on the life of Frederick Douglas as part of our Global Changemakers Project, a project that introduces students to famous people throughout time who have made significant change, change that positively impacted lives.
  • Visiting and working with The Museum of African American History in Boston.
  • Regular discussion and education that responds to issues as they arise. 
  • Regular work with the greater teaching team including students, families, educators, paraeducators, administrators, and community members to thoughtfully develop our good work in this regard.
Will you talk about race with students at the start of the year? If so, how will you do that with sensitivity and understanding? How will your system address this issue in order to empower all students. I'm open to your suggestions and thoughts.

Note: I work in a school that enjoys lots of diversity of religion, lifestyle, race, gender, culture, language, and more. 

Teacher Camp: MTA Summer Conference

MTA Summer Conference gives us a chance to learn at the wonderful
University of Massachusetts in beautiful Amherst, Massachusetts.
Today I'll join educators from all over the state at the annual MTA Summer Conference. The Massachusetts Teachers Association puts lots of time and effort into this annual event--there's hardly a professional event that's more sensitively or carefully executed. When you're there, it's clear that teachers matter.

While it can be difficult to leave family behind for a number of days, attending the event always results in good learning and professional growth. As with any professional event, it's good to create a list of learning objectives before you go so that you get the most out of the event. I hope to attain the following information and inspiration.

Union Organizing
Our union has put a lot of effort into organizing and making change in the past few years. There's been a dedicated approach in that regard. I will attend a couple of events related to this and I want to continue to learn about and listen to those who lead these efforts. I am very interested in the positive power that organizing holds for our work as educators and our role as citizens. Noam Chomsky illustrates this in his film, Requiem for the American Dream, which I watched this week. I continue to believe that there is room for every American and citizen of the world to succeed and live a good life. I believe that education plays a large role in that vision since education gives people positive power over their lives and the lives of their communities. I also recognize that in a sense, it's time to renew our democracy in ways that open doors for more in this knowledge age we live in. I'll be interested in hearing what organizers have to say about education, opportunity, and the work we need to do to forward a positive vision in that regard.

Collaborative Teams
I'll spend two days working with edcamp founders Mike Ritzius and Dan Callahan as they work with educators to deepen the way the we collaborate around issues that matter when it comes to teaching and learning. I am very interested in this workshop since I feel that the next steps in education involve identifying and employing better processes of collaboration, innovation, and change. If we want to move schools forward, we will need to employ successful processes of collaboration and exchange. In my own teaching/learning organization, better process will help us to better bridge the opportunity gap, deepen humanities education, strengthen STEAM teaching, create more distribute leadership models, and inspire meaningful idea share and implementation.

Maker Math
I will work with a small group of educators to discuss ideas and practices related to Maker Math. Maker Math essentially moves math learning and teaching from old time "sit in your seats, listen, and complete a worksheet" math lessons to hands-on, collaborative math explorations and investigations. The Investigations math program introduced me to Maker Math years ago, and that's when math came alive for my students and me. I noticed that when students are fully engaged in creating real world solutions and models in math, they learn more. Maker Math takes Investigations and brings it into the Maker/STEAM education movements by making use of classroom maker stations, emphasizing teamwork, and teaching math in interdisciplinary ways. Further this Maker Math matches cognitive research which tells us that visual models, real-world problems, and collaboration create more dynamic, memorable, and successful math teaching/learning efforts.

I'll also work with a group of educators to focus in on the power of reflection. We'll discuss reflection routines, vehicles, and places. We'll share how reflection propels our professional work forward. We'll look closely at the thirty-three elements of effective education outlined in the Massachusetts Educator Evaluation System, and use to reflection to come up with a draft of our 2016-2017 reflection goals.

Social Media
At another session, educators and I will discuss the impact of social media on our professional learning and share. We'll discuss and interact with platforms such as Twitter, eBlogger, Pinterest, Google+ and more as we think about our social media presence and how that presence can work to maximize our professional path when it comes to teaching children well.

Making Apps
I'll join other educators to learn how to make apps. I hope I'll be able to make one that will support my students' learning this year.

Solidarity: Learning from Colleagues
I'm looking forward to the EdTalks, a time when educational colleagues will share important stories related to their teaching/learning paths. Similarly, I'm looking forward to the many informal conversations that will occur throughout the week with educators I know well and those I'll meet for the first time. These conversations alway serve to broaden my perspective when it comes to the work I do.

It will be a full week of solidarity and share, a week that will positively set the stage for the 2016-2017 school year. If you're curious and haven't signed up yet, you may decide to look over the schedule and drive out to Amherst to attend one or more of the events offered.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Building Communities of Compassion and Care

I read the notice of a life lost this morning. Several members of the extended school community died in the past few months.

When you teach, you come in contact with many families and many stories. Each time I read the news of a life lost by illness or accident, I remember back to the moments when my life touched that life at a parent conference, in the hallway at school, during a sports meet, or while attending a special event. I ache for the family members left and the anguish they faced throughout an illness or at the news of the accident. I am continually struck by the fleeting nature of life.

As educators we can't follow every life, but we do follow some and continue to keep in contact and perhaps offer support long after we are the child's teacher. Most importantly is the love and care we provide when we are a child's teacher--the nurturing and love we can give when we teach that child each and every day. Hopefully that care contributes to a life of love and strength, a life that's ready to navigate tough challenges and loss as well as the love and grace life offers.

The older I get, the more I recognize the strength in creating communities of compassion and care in school, at home, and in the greater community. Truly there's never a limit to what you can do when it comes to compassion and care--there is always more that's possible, and that fact can be overwhelming at times.

In general, it's best to give what you can when you can, and to stretch a little more each day to strengthen that ability to love well in ways that matter.

Life isn't often easy, and when we can be there for those who suffer, we do well. Just as important, we have to embrace the grace, fullness, and joy life brings too. Onward.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Learn Well: Tackle a Tough Task

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself." - Isak Dinesen

One recent summer afternoon, I had the time to talk to a relative I rarely see about her life and interests. She told me about her passion for crafts including her latest focus, soap making. Her story included her learning path. She watched many videos about soap making, used trial and error, talked to soap makers, and visited stores that sold homemade soap. As she spoke, she lit up with enthusiasm and a bit of frustration too as she relayed the challenge of squeezing her pastime into her already busy schedule of work and family life.

In all the years I've known this relative, I never had the chance to really listen to her tell a story about her deep affection for crafts and the passion she has for making. I could easily understand her emotions as I feel quite similarly when it comes to teaching and learning and all the creativity involved in our work as educators.

Then today, I sat down and started writing a book. I've tried that before, but this time, I have a specific audience in mind which has deepened my desire to get the job done. Like my cousin, I found myself searching the net for just right advice and the best book writing and publishing program. I decided to use Pages and then I got started with the book, a book I've actually drafted before, and one I want to better in order to share at an upcoming conference and possibly beyond that. I know that the book has merit as I return to the words and content area often to inspire my own work, and I know that many others consult the book's content areas often as they teach and learn.

Writing a book is a tough task. There's lots to think about, and as soon as I started creating this book, I gained admiration and respect for the many authors I know and admire. Sitting down to create with care made me realize just how much time, attention, and focus authors invest in their work. This attempt to write a book has sensitized me to authorship. In fact, I'll never truly look at a book in the same way now that I'm trying to write one myself.

This experience has once again made me realize how we have to give students the experience to create real world, deep structures and results of learning. We have to challenge students to tackle the tough tasks because with those tough tasks comes deep knowledge, process, and respect for learning and teaching well.

In fact, as I write this book, I think that every high school student should be responsible for a significant, published or produced result of learning, exploration, investigation, and creativity by the time they graduate. They should have to go the full process from inspiration to research to creation and publication or production. Last year I visited our high school's STEAM Center and had the chance to see students' inventions--they had that experience of going from inspiration to prototype. Next steps would include greater advertising, new iterations, funding, and production. It was amazing to see their learning, and in fact I tried to gain support to import one of their designs to our school. Unfortunately i was not successful due to a number of reasons, but I may try again.

It doesn't really matter what students create, publish, or produce, but instead, it's that process that matters as that process builds deep knowledge, confidence, and connections that motivate and empower continued successful efforts in a students' area of exploration, passion, interest, and need.

To learn well, we need to tackle tough tasks. In the best of circumstances we'll be able to tackle the challenge and find support.  Nevertheless, it's never too soon to identify the challenge and begin the journey. As so many have said, you'll never regret it.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Public Education: Opportunity for All

I remember my first day of school.

Dressed in a crisp plaid dress with a matching kerchief and brown leather shoes, I proudly marched up the wide, shiny wooden steps of my large, brick city elementary school. A small group of teachers looked down at us with welcoming smiles. I was so happy and excited.

My parents were also happy. Two loving, working class parents who had big dreams for me--dreams that I'd be the first one in the family to go to college. They reminded me of those dreams regularly, and I did go to college and graduate school after that.

School for me was an open door to the world. My enthusiastic and dedicated teachers taught me to read, write, and study in every subject area. They and my parents brought me to museums, parks, and nature preserves. Those teachers listened to my ideas, answered my questions, told stories, and awakened me to interests, investigations, and information that inspired future study and endeavor.

While I was an eager and ready student, my bright brother found school to be a laborious, unwelcoming place. As I skipped down the hall, he was relegated to standing against the wall because of "bad behavior." While I quickly learned to read and write, dyslexia hindered his ability to learn in the ways expected in those days. While school lifted my confidence and sense of self, it served to demean my brother.

My parents' enthusiasm for my schooling turned to frustration when it came to my brother's experience. He struggled so much with the expected learning yet his mind and ideas were bright, capable, and trapped by the fact that no one really understood how a boy like him learned and what they needed to do to build his confidence, inspire his love of learning, and help him attain the skill, concept, and knowledge he was so capable of developing.

This troubled me, and I was not alone. In the neighborhood it was clear to see who found school easy and welcoming, and who found it to be troubling and uninviting. The children who struggled generally turned to other activities to engage their curiosity and build camaraderie. They mostly hung out on the train trestle by the edge of the school playground. As my parents would tell it later, drugs were introduced to the neighborhood and so many of those teenagers and even preteens and younger children would get involved. You could hear the loud music and raucous play from the tracks late into the day and night. The gang, involved in drugs, were harmless to others, but often destructive to themselves with addiction and risky behavior. Thankfully it was a time before the ready availability or acceptance of guns, knives, and neighborhood violence. Though there was the occasional brawl.

For me school continued to be a haven. I did well. I enjoyed learning. I was headed for college. But for my brother, school continued to be a disastrous path of overwhelming challenge, little support, and struggle. He turned more and more away from school towards his comrades and their collective risky behavior. His actions created struggle at home as well and my parents were split between one child for whom school was a successful path towards achievement and one child for whom school was anything but successful. They had four more children who all fell somewhere on the continuum between my experience and my brother's experience of school.

My brother's struggle led me, in part, to teach. I chose teaching because I want every child to experience what I had--a positive, supportive path towards a good life. My brother was treated unfairly. He wasn't given a chance to experience school as a welcoming, supportive, and successful path. I don't blame his teachers as, to a large degree, what happened to him was due to the ignorance of the times. People didn't understand dyslexia, active boys, learning dispositions, or how the brain works. They had no idea that every child can learn when given the right supports and encouragement. Instead, he was relegated to descriptors such as "behavior problem," "unable to learn," "low skilled," or "uninvested." Teachers and others back then didn't know what we know today.

I watched my family and teachers struggle with my brother, and then I watched my brother struggle too. I watched his own children struggle as well. The ignorance of the past propelled itself into the future with injured self concept, mistrust, and disengagement.

I know, in my heart of hearts, that there's a good place for every child in this world. I know that every child is capable of success and that learning has its own path and pace for every single child. I understand that what's most important when it comes to teaching well is that relationship you build with a child--a relationship that says, "I believe in you and you have what it takes to live a good life for yourself and others." My brother's great struggle has been a teacher to me. I've learned that what we do for and to children carries forth throughout their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren. Every time we reach out to do what's right for a child, we positively impact the world for generations to come. In contrast, when we neglect, hurt, or injure a child in any way, we hurt and injure the community that surrounds that child and that child's family to come.

It's not a perfect world and no parent or teacher will be the perfect coach, educator, or mentor--but we can work together to build the best possible schools and education system. We can support the terrific opportunity that public schools hold for the lives of individuals, communities, and our nation, and not give up on public schools and continue to use our collective voice and dollars to build schools that serve all children.

My choice to teach is based on the promise and potential education holds for positive lives today and into the future. My parents' pride and dreams for me are embedded in my choice, and my parents struggles and frustration with my brother's experience of school is similarly embedded since it has propelled me forward to envision schools that do not harm, but instead elevate and celebrate every child.

Too many today want to give up on the notion of public schools. They want to use our public funds, the hard-earned tax dollars from all citizens, to support schools for some, but not for others. They want to give our tax dollars to private charter schools who see school as a "corporation" for financial gain and a way to create workers for their industry rather than to invest our public dollars into a high quality, holistic, and inclusive education for all, the kind of education that teaches well and allows students to find promising paths to good lives.

Yes, our public schools are not perfect, but they do hold tremendous potential for what is right and good. Giving away needed dollars will not better public schools, but instead dismantle public school, tearing apart the great institution of democracy that we have assembled. It is vital that the public decide how their collective funds are spent and it's critical when spending those dollars that the investment is made to support all of our children, especially our children most in need as they will be the backbone of our future society. A good education for all will translate into a strong, prosperous country of equality and opportunity.

As a little girl in a plaid dress and kerchief with shiny brown leather shoes, I remember taking the big steps up those elementary school stairs. It was a climb well worth it. Now as an educator, I urge you to take the big steps that we need to take to support our public schools, the foundation of our democracy, so that every child gets a quality education, a chance to succeed, the confidence to live a good life, and the model of your generous commitment and contribution that they'll replicate in their own lives.

As a people we hold great promise for our lives today and the lives of our children and grandchildren tomorrow. This promise is a great challenge and opportunity to live and do well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Professional Priorities

I'm moved by impressive effort.

I'm inspired by good work.

I like to know what other people are doing in schools so that I can learn, get better.

I recognize that I am but one of many moving down this teaching/learning path.

Probably better than anyone, I know the many ways that I can improve my craft and better my teaching--there's always lots to do in this regard, and new challenges arrive daily.

The errors of the past were not intentional, but clearly part of the learning curve that comes with teaching and learning well. It's a mighty adventure as we aim to do better, learn more, and work with others to forward what we can do.

I'm making time this summer to think and rethink the path as schools change--to look deeply at my role--where it's working and where it can be better.

I love the challenge that teaching holds, and yes, I get frustrated at the pace and depth of change at times.

In the days that follow, the work will include the following:

Community Building
Working with colleagues, students, families, administrators, and community members to build a dynamic teaching/learning team. Specifically employing quality conversation, strategic planning and analysis, learning-to-learn behaviors and mindsets, and lots of love and compassion in this regard.

Teaching Math, STEAM, and ELA 
A primary focus on math and STEAM study utilizing meaningful interdisciplinary learning experiences. An English Language Arts focus with regard to interdisciplinary study and Response to Intervention (RTI)

Teacher Advisory Cabinet Member
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) 
I'll serve as a Central-West Representative on this Committee

Salary and Working Conditions Committee
I'll study our contract and work with this committee to think about ways that this document can better situate us for the good teaching and learning possible.

Professional Learning
I'll regularly engage in a professional learning events. Upcoming events include McAuliffe Science Center STEAM Workshop, MassCUE, and ECET2-MA2016.

Shared Teaching Model: Curriculum Map, Schedules, and Goal Setting
I'll work with my professional team to goal set, map the curriculum, and solidify the schedule in the weeks ahead as we plan for the 2016-2017 school year.

Learning Environment
I'll devote the time necessary to update the learning environment to make it inviting for every student.

Teacher Leadership, Policy, Communication, and Vision
I'll continue to embark on learning more about teacher leadership, policy work, vision, and communication. As schools and structures change, there's much to learn in this sphere. Currently this work involves the TLI Capstone and TeachPlus online policy/advocacy course.

I'll simplify routines and objects to make more time for meaningful work and endeavor.

Union Representative
I'll continue to update our website, listen to, and read related information, and work with the union team to support educators in my system and elsewhere.

I'll stop procrastinating and get the mounds of paperwork related to family and professional life done--a painful necessity :)

Friends and Family
I'll make time for those I love.

Getting the goals down to this simplicity is awesome as it clears the path for the good work to come.

Know Your Contract

Not unlike many an average fifth grader, I've often shied away from complex informational text. The text density, content specific vocabulary, and dryness of these documents are not inviting. Yet when one shies away from or avoids a document such as a contract that outlines the policies, protocols, and opportunity inherent in the profession, there's the risk that you won't benefit from the potential that contract holds.

With this in mind and also the fact that our local union will soon renegotiate our contract, I created an easy-to-edit copy that colleagues can copy and "play with" as they think about language they want to keep and language they want to change in the upcoming year. I posted the document on our local union website for easy access.

As you read through your contract and "play with" the language, I suggest using the following perspectives:
  • How does the contract help you to do your job well? What language supports good teaching and learning?
  • How can the contract better support what you can do to teach well? What supports would better the contract, salary, and working conditions that allow you to invest good time and energy into your professional work?
  • How does the contract represent the new knowledge age of education we live and work in rather than old time factory models? Will language changes help us to update and improve the teaching/learning environment leading to greater success and satisfaction for all?
  • What opportunity lies within the contract process and how can language change maximize that opportunity?
I am a member of my system' salary and working conditions committee. I am not a member of the negotiations committee. My role is to look carefully at the contract and think about how I will work with my colleagues and the Negotiations' chair to make the contract accessible, process inclusive, and support the good work possible so that our contract represents the top-notch system that we currently are and the terrific teaching and learning that's possible. 

Summer days are great days to think deeply about teaching and learning. Summer days allow us the luxury to think about the big picture related to our everyday work and teaching/learning communities. Hence I recommend taking a few hours to make a copy of your current contract and look over the language. If it's time for renegotiation, you may want to make a copy and mark up the text with ideas for betterment. If it's not renegotiation time, you may want to simply think about how the contract serves you and what opportunities lie within the contract language to support your good work.

How do you get to know your contract well? What process do you use to analyze and come up with new ideas when contracts are renegotiated? How does this process maximize what's possible in your teaching/learning organization? What opportunity awaits? 

Breaking and Obstructing

What actions break and obstruct rather than build and develop?

How can we look carefully at what we do individually and collectively to create, imagine, and make better?

What have we done to thwart the good work, ideas, care, and compassion contributing to disharmony, hurt, and harm?

I heard a broken man cry.

I listened to a truthsayer speak out for betterment.

I watched an onlooker wince.

I wondered what I could do.

Mirrors reflect the work of one, many, and more.

Good reflects good and grows, and the same is true for bad.

We become what we do, we reap what we sow.

How can we mirror good in our individual and collective work?

What impedes this? What contributes to it?

If we have the opportunity to better, we must take advantage of that opportunity to make positive change.

Like a baby learning to walk, our steps toward positive advocacy will often be shaky, unknowing, wobbly.

We'll fall down, get up, fall down again.

We will unknowingly break and obstruct rather than build and develop at times, but together in earnest it's more likely that we'll forge a positive path.

When obstruction, injustice, and hurt prevail.

I wince too.

I try to find the meaning, figure it out, and know what to do.

I speak up when I have something of import to say, and stay quiet or ask questions when the situation is confusing, troubling, or hurtful.

There's much to consider as we walk this path of life, and in the best of circumstances we will surround ourselves by all that is good and forward moving walking the road to do the best we can with grace and care.

It's a long, windy, and uncertain journey that we travel.

Now and Future


Today many systems are not as fluid, seamless, streamlined, or successful as possible.


I think our best forward movement is to develop seamless systems that radiate the best of what we can do.

What takes us from one to the other?
  • Transparency
  • Good Process
  • Shared goals, efforts
  • Collective Vision Setting
  • Synthesis
  • Respect
  • Openness to the Unknown
  • Listening, Hearing
  • Investment in One Another
  • Removing the Obstacles to Best Effort, Care, and Creativity
  • Observation, Awareness
  • Peace
  • Worthy Adventure, Exploration, Innovation, and Investigation
  • Compassion, Empathy

Meeting the Needs of Our Most Challenged Learners: Teaching is a Team Sport

How would you describe your most challenged learners? What creates the challenge?

I would describe my most challenged learners as those who are unable to learn successfully in the school setting. These are the students that don't make steady gains, demonstrate interest or investment, and who disrupt the overall classroom program.

These students come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. There is not a one size fits all descriptor of these students as each of them is quite different from the other.

There is much we can do to teach these students well, and it's important to think about what it takes prior to the start of the school year so you are ready.

Ideally our most challenged students and their family members would be invited to a welcoming orientation each year. That orientation would include good food, enjoyable activities, and time to prepare for the school year ahead with regard to supplies, mindset, expectations, and needs. I have written about this a lot, and I do feel a big missing piece with regard to setting the stage for success for our most challenged students is the lack of meaningful, welcoming, and targeted orientations for these students. At my son's college, they do have an orientation like this in place and I have noticed that it helps to welcome students in ways that matter.

Know the Child
Typically exchanges occur between one year's teachers and the next. These exchanges are very important with regard to meeting the needs of challenged students. When you meet with last year's teachers, it's important to ask these questions:
  • Where did the child experience success?
  • What does the child enjoy?
  • What did the child need for greater success?
  • Where did the child experience the greatest challenge?
  • Who helped the child and how?
Once you've identified the children who have been most challenging, it's important to make time to sit down and have lunch with those children. Take the time to talk with them and ask those students, "What can I do to help you have a successful year?" Generally children know what they need to succeed.

Opportunity Gap
Often an opportunity gap exists for children who are challenged. For example, some may not have an adult at home that's able to read English. Others may not have the organization and/or financial resources at home to get needed supplies or computer access. Still more may have so many after school responsibilities and/or stressors that they are exhausted by the time they get to school and also have little time after school for anything to do with school success. Once you know where the opportunity gaps exist, try to fill those gaps with the support of students, colleagues, and the general school community.

Explicit Coaching
It's essential to carefully, thoughtfully, and strategically coach students who are challenged ahead. Make the time to know the child and assess his/her skills, knowledge, and concept in friendly, nonthreatening ways. Then sit down with the child and establish learning/community goals together. Check in regularly to reflect on the goals and revise as necessary. Find ways to inspire these children and provide them with vision for what their life could be. To inspire vision you may want to plan field studies, expert visitors, engaging meaningful projects, leadership opportunities, service learning, relevant content, and special jobs or opportunities. At all times work to establish a strong caring relationship with these children.

Family Support
It's vital to enlist the support of families with regard to all children and especially children who are challenged. Oftentimes, the families of these children are challenged too. Family challenges might include illness, addiction, poverty, joblessness, mental illness, job stress, and a lack of understanding with regard to what it takes to support young children well. If families have experienced trauma or challenge themselves, it's often difficult for those families to support their children.

Before jumping to conclusions, however, it's best to invite families in to talk about the child's year. Questions such as the following can foster a positive home-school connection:
  • What are your goals for your child's school experience this year?
  • How can I help you to help your child? What can I do?
  • Is there any area of school life that you want to know more about?
  • What resources do you need to support your child well?
When families struggle a lot, it's important to enlist the support of the school nurse, guidance counselor, social worker, and other local agencies. In general I find that families love their children deeply and want them to succeed, but at times families don't know what's available with regard to support, and it's our job to help fill in the gaps and support families as much as we can in this regard.

Explicit, Responsive Goals
It's critical to think carefully with colleagues, students, and family members when it comes to a child's goals. The goals should begin with the areas that distance a child the most from success at school. For example if a child is angry, the first goal is to find ways to diffuse that anger since angry children have difficulty learning. Simply finding a moment to dissect that anger by asking, "Why are you angry?" or "What's bothering you?" can begin that conversation. Then once a child shares his/her rationale for the anger, it's important that you value what he/she says and find a way to work together to make the situation better. Too often children will share their rationale only to be met with comments such as "That's not true," "You're imagining that," or "Count your blessings. . ." None of those comments or similar words help--what helps is to take a child seriously and begin to help him/her move forward by acknowledging their feelings and creating a path to betterment one step at a time.

Teamwork and Time Up Front To Plan and Strategize
Generally children who struggle work with many educators in a school. This is often part of the problem since typically educators have little time to goal set, talk, and make plans around the need of our most challenged students. Some systems, like the one I work in, have set aside time for these kinds of meetings and that's important. 

Educators, to be successful with challenged students, have to make the time to strategically set goals and discuss common practices and supports for the child. Time up front in this regard will support a child well. It's crazy to think that schools often don't make the time up front for these situations as when time is not made up front, the same amount of time or more is spent trying to mitigate the child's issues throughout the year. 

Consistent, Reliable, and Regular Support and Schedules
Students who are challenged thrive with consistent, reliable, and regular support. Too often in schools, schedules are not taken seriously. For example, a therapist who is supposed to show up every Monday at 12:00 to provide a service may rarely show up. When this kind of inconsistency occurs, the challenged child's program and the program for all other children erode. It's imperative that scheduling and supports are taken seriously and occur at regular intervals with as little disruption as possible. In the same regard, it's important that all service providers are covered by a substitute when they are ill or unable to provide the service. Too often special educators, therapists, English Language educators, and others are not covered when ill or out which serves to diminish the support and development possible for children.

Cultural Proficiency
Many of our students who struggle do not see themselves in the curriculum. I remember when I was in high school and I could rarely understand the books we were asked to read. Almost all of the books had male main characters and the experiences written about were significantly bent in the direction of male psychology and experience. I had little interest and less understanding. The same is true for all of our students when it comes to seeing themselves in the curriculum. It's vital that we bring the voices of multiple cultures, races, gender, sexual orientation, lifestyles, interests, and geography into our classrooms so students can find themselves, their interests, their dreams, and mentors in the curriculum.

So long ago when I taught first grade, we discussed what it takes to be a strong community. One little first grader, Steven, remarked that people had to have fun first if they wanted to work well together later. It's essential that school is fun for students. If it's all drudgery, reprimands, and failure, they're going to turn off.

Too often the goals we make for our classes are unapproachable for our most challenged students. As we think deeply about who these children are, it's imperative that we look for ways to scaffold the goals so that each step is within their grasp for success.

Believe in Them
We can never judge who our students are or what they will become. Over the years, I have worked with many struggling students, and I am always amazed at the success they attain as they move on in life. The children that don't succeed generally have lost support along the way with little to no positive parent or teacher coaching. However, in general, when family members and educators truly make the time to think about a child and support his/her positive, interest-based, and academic growth, those children do well. It's often when we give up on children and not gently and lovingly push them forward with our coaching, support, inspiration, and action do children fail. Yet, there's much about life we don't know, and sometimes unfortunate circumstances strike that are out of everyone's control--events the culture tries to make sense of, learn from, and better.

If every school system in the country made it their goal to reshape schools to teach the most challenged students well, they'd find that all students would do better. Taking care of our most needy school citizens first lays a path to success for all. 

These are some strategies to use in this regard. What would you add to the mix? 

Doing the Good Work Possible: Vision/Reality Gaps

What you dream of and what exists often don't match, but that doesn't always means there's something wrong with that.

It's true that many of us envision worlds that don't yet exist--worlds of different opportunities, structure, roles, and use of time.

In some cases the vision/reality gap is huge and other areas it's not so wide or deep, but nevertheless, the nature of vision versus reality means there will be gaps big and small.

As you recognize the distance between reality and vision, you have decisions to make.

How satisfied should you be with reality, and how will you live and work well within that reality?

For example I read a story of a prominent African American woman's life last night. I was struck by her experience of moving from the then segregated South to the nonsegregated North, and how that experienced served, in a sense, to widen the gap between vision and reality. Once she experienced the freedom the North offered her back then, her vision for what she wanted the South to become grew. And when she returned to the South, she worked for that vision to become a reality.

In your own life where do the most prominent vision/reality gaps exist?

Where do you envision and desire potential for change most, and what are you going to do to support change and growth in those areas? On the other hand, where do gaps exist that don't matter as much to you--gaps that you're willing to live with as you focus on other areas of life?

And with regard to the gaps--who supports that, is it purposeful, and are there reasons why the gap should continue, do the gaps serve a good purpose? If not, what forces continue to support the gaps and how can that energy be redirected?

Cognizance about the vision/reality gaps in your life is essential. Taking time to think deeply about why those gaps exist and if you want to shorten or eliminate the distance matters too. As a cliff jumper might do, you have to be strategic about bridging the distance. In this regard, it's advantageous to seek the expertise and skill of others who have bridged these gaps in meaningful and successful ways.

What reality/vision gaps will you bridge? Why? How? When? And with whom?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Using a Song to Promote the Classroom Community

I can imagine using this song at the start of the year to begin a discussion with colleagues and students about the kind of learning/teaching community we want to create and maintain. 

We could look over the lyrics and then talk about how this might be representative of our learning/teaching community. 

What do you think? We could even rewrite the lyrics to match our class community. 

"Humble And Kind"
You know there's a light that glows by the front door
Don't forget the key's under the mat
Childhood stars shine, always stay humble and kind
Go to church 'cause your momma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won't be wasted time
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

Don't expect a free ride from no one
Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why
Bitterness keeps you from flyin'
Always stay humble and kind
Know the difference between sleeping with someone
And sleeping with someone you love
"I love you" ain't no pick up line so
Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When those dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind

When it's hot, eat a root beer popsicle
Shut off the AC and roll the windows down
Let that summer sun shine
Always stay humble and kind
Don't take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you're goin
Don't forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind

Monday, July 25, 2016

Strategize for the School Year Ahead

Once the school year starts, there's hardly a moment to breathe. The pace of school life, particularly at the early-childhood and elementary levels, is marked by significant time-on-task with large numbers of children and tremendous responsibility for coaching, leading, and responding to students', families', and system-wide needs, expectations, questions, and requirements.

Summer gives you the time to strategize for the year ahead, and as you strategize it's good to think about the new and existing initiatives, opportunities, and expectations that exist. In the best of circumstances, I think it serves educators well to stay ahead of these new efforts and endeavors so that you don't have to back track, do it over, or repeat work. Plus to plan with the future in mind means that you're ready for this new work.

To break down this strategizing, I recommend the following actions:

Read and Watch System-Wide News
I've started watching our system-wide school board meetings to stay on top of what's expected and what's to come. It helps me to be aware of what the community and administration are talking about so that I can reflect that in my questions and teaching efforts. Similarly I read the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education update each week. That too keeps me in the loop of what to expect. I visit our Union website regularly too in order to read the details and find out more about initiatives, opportunities, and efforts I have questions about. It's good to make knowledge routines like this a regular part of the teaching/learning routine you do or that you share with colleagues.

Evaluation System Requirements
It's good to be well aware of the expectations of your evaluation system. In Massachusetts we have thirty-three elements of effective teaching and learning that we're responsible for. I've outlined those elements in the TeachFocus website, and there's a simpler, more general outline in the Reflect for Success website--an outline that can provide an effective teaching reflection practice for teachers in any state.

I suggest choosing your student and professional learning goals during the summer when you have ample time to think about who you are and where you want grow as an educator. I outline my goals and efforts on an ePortfolio that I publicly share as a model for others. I don't think it's necessary to publicly share your ePortfolio, however, a published ePortfolio can serve you well as you submit proposals to present or attain grants if interested.

Curriculum Map
The summer is also a good time to sit down with colleagues to create a loose-tight map of the teaching year to come. It's important that the map is "loose-tight" so that it leaves room to respond to the students' needs and interests as well as new goals and expectations set by system and state administrators. The leisure of a summer day lends itself to good thought and collaboration in this regard. This is an example of our team's curriculum map draft--a draft we'll likely update in the weeks to come before school starts.

Schedule and Routine
Similar to the curriculum map, it's important that teaching teams take a close look at schedules and routines and use time as effectively as possible to teach well. The use of time is paramount in schools, and making the time upfront to create a schedule that maximizes teaching/learning time is worth it when it comes to teaching every child well. In most school systems, the schedule is published in advance of the school year leaving time for educators to do this valuable work.

Field Studies and Special Events
Working with your team to identify field studies and special events during the summer means that you have the time to call and schedule those events. Typically classroom teachers have little to no time to make phone calls during school days, hence it's advantageous to schedule special events during the summer months.

School Calendar
Our system has turned to Google calendar for scheduling and that's almost always terrific. We can quickly look up a date to see if it is open for scheduling an event. Similarly we can list our events so that family members and others know what's going on and when. Looking over the calendar and adding important events during summer months is also advantageous since you have the time to do this.

Professional Learning Plans and Forms
Most systems will provide some funding for professional learning, but this requires filling out forms. Summer is a good time to catch up on those forms (I have to do this!). It's also a good time to research and plan for professional learning events to come. Typically if you get your requests in early you may be able to attend an event at no cost since your system will support the event. For events you have to pay for, it's good to look around and see what's available. There's often many low cost or free professional learning events available that are worthwhile. Events like local Union conferences, edcamps, ECET2s, and museum/nature preserve events are often free of cost and sometimes result in additional credits for a low cost too. Spending some time searching the web and talking to friends and colleagues about these opportunities over the summer helps you to chart your professional path well.

Long Term Plans
It's important to have a professional long term view. If you only move from one event to the next, it's unlikely that your professional path will be as meaningful as you'd like it to be. Yet, that being said, some people do move serendipitously from one event to another and exceed all expectations. So there's no one way. However, I believe that a well thought out, long term plan, one that you're willing to revise as you go along as needed, is advantageous.

Summer gives you a chance to think about the big picture. Where do you want to be in a year, five years, ten years? What do you want to do? Who can you contact to help you on your journey and what learning/living experiences will help you travel that road?

The Teaching/Learning Environment
The way you set up your teaching/learning physical environment matters too. As schools transform many of us are finding ourselves in outdated environments with new ideas for teaching and learning. This leads to the need to transform our environments as best we can with painting, signage, carpets, good furniture, and storage vehicles. Depending on what and whom you teach this can be a small job or a very big one. Nevertheless, it's important to make some summer time to create a space that's conducive to the learning/teaching goals you aspire too.

Fun, Family, and Friends
The best teachers enjoy life. We all know them. They have rich personal lives, many interests, and a love of working with children to teach and learn well. If you're all work and no play, you're going to be a dull teacher. It's imperative that we have lives outside of the day-to-day work we do. For some of us that's more challenging than others, but wherever you fall, it's an important consideration.

There are many ways to strategize for the school year ahead. This time to think, plan, read, research, play, and wonder is essential to the good work we can do with and for students. The key is to set aside the time to work alone and with others to strategize for a successful year ahead. How will you do that?

Teaching Better: Real Time Systematic Ideas for Betterment

There are so many ways to better our teaching/learning systems--ways that don't necessarily have to cost a lot of money, but can result in a more vigorous, dynamic, and forward moving education organizations.

Timely, Inclusive, Transparent Share
A weekly newsletter that shares the main points of an organization's efforts and growth keeps everyone informed and prevents unnecessary and time consuming conjecture and confusion. This kind of a newsletter may also serve to positively coach the teaching/learning team including family members, students, educators, paraeducators, administrators, and community members forward in ways that matter.

Inclusive, Honest, Transparent, Full-Circle Committee Work
The new ESSA legislation points to the need for decision making and committee work to include representation from all stakeholders including students, family members, educators, paraeducators, administrators, and community members. This kind of inclusion leads to better, more targeted, and responsive decision making. It's also important that committee work serve a true purpose and represent honest voice and choice. Too many old committees have stayed around, but don't serve a purpose. Hence it's important that committees truly play an integral role when it comes to the positive, full-circle work that can be done to serve a teaching/learning organization well.

Holistic, Visionary Decision Making Rather than Short Term Fixes
Rather than lots of low cost, short term fixes, it's important that systems do the deep, inclusive thinking to make thoughtful long range plans that include multiple steps along the way. For example, when it comes to infrastructure change and improvement, it's important that one decision lead to another so that money is not wasted and decisions represent the best possible solutions. As noted above, when these decisions are made in inclusive ways representing the voice and choice of all stakeholders, it's likely that the decisions will be better.

Of course, information and times change which can alter decisions readily. I faced this with Smart Board technology. At first Smart Boards seemed wonderful, but right after the first inclusion of the boards, the research and technology changed making the Smart Board outdated due to its limited 24-7 use and share. When that happened, it was time to change directions quickly so as not to lose out by spending money on outdated tech. Rather than a Smart Board, it's best to have a giant surface computer in every classroom or simply a white board that a computer can be hooked up to with document cameras.

Deep, Holistic, Inclusive Vision and Goal Setting Processes, Tracking, and Evaluation.
The goal setting process is integral to successful individual and collective work. It's important, however, that the process is honest and inclusive. Too often goals are set, but the work behind the goals is not deep, inclusive, or holistic, and when that happens the goals are less potent, honest, or forward moving.

Of course, goal setting processes need to be loose-tight since the world of education is evolving at a very fast clip. What's true one day may be debunked the next. Yet, when goal setting processes are deep, thoughtful, and inclusive, it's likely that the goals set will well represent the needs, interests, and potential of all stakeholders.

Similar to a deep process of setting goals, there needs to be a deep process of tracking and evaluating those goals. Too often we set goals, but don't institute a success criteria or tracking process upfront. Hence, no one really knows for sure if a goal is met or not. That's why it's important that success criteria and tracking processes are set when making the goal. John Hattie discusses this a lot in his book, Making Learning Visible for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Teachers. This is a fact I have to keep in mind with respect to my individual work as well.

Money Well Spent, Resources and Supports Well Identified and Utilized
It's also important to track and evaluate how money is spent and resources are identified and utilized in any teaching/learning organization. What money is well spent and what resources are well used when it comes to effective teaching and learning? Of course, once again, the evaluation process used to determine success has to be inclusive, transparent, and honest to be valuable. This kind of evaluation is integral to the good work possible for individual educators and for entire organization.

Professional Learning Decisions and Efforts
Well organized, targeted, and communicated professional learning efforts and outcomes also serve an organization well. How are professional learning events chosen, organized, advertised, and shared with the teaching/learning community? How is the potential of professional learning dollars and time maximized and evaluated with regard to moving systems forward in ways that truly impact success for every child?

Inclusive, Thoughtful Time, Role, Routine, and Structure Audits
How are time, roles, and structures used well to forward the best possible learning and teaching? How are these elements audited with an inclusive lens focused on an organization's overarching vision and goals? What changes can be made to affect better learning and teaching? How can these audits become a regular part of school culture so that systems continually evolve to do better and more targeted work with regard to teaching children well?

Macro to Micro Think and Action
It's important to take ideas for the broader system and apply that thinking to our individual work too. If we look at the ideas above, we can ask ourselves these questions to impact our own work as well:
  • How do you share your teaching and learning in respectful, accessible, pointed ways so that those who are interested in, or can benefit from, the information are able to find, read, and use the information in helpful ways?
  • How do you set vision and goals for your individual and committee work? Do you identify the success criteria and tracking systems up front so that that your work goes full circle and results in better teaching and learning?
  • How do you spend your teaching dollars? Do your purchases impact positive teaching and learning? How do you track and evaluate this?
  • What professional learning will you engage in to better your teaching and learning in the year ahead? How will you embed your learning into the teaching and learning program to better teach students?
  • How do you use time as an educator? Can you better use time to affect your teaching and learning efforts?
  • How do you define your role? What changes can you make in that definition and related work to better affect student learning?
  • What does your teaching/learning schedule and routine look like? How does this schedule and routine maximize what you can do with and for students?
  • What does your learning environment look like? How can you improve the learning environment to better promote optimal teaching and learning in your classroom or learning/teaching space?
As I've noted so often, I believe the next step of school reform lies at the system level as we move schools from old time industrial/corporate models to new age, living system, knowledge-age models. This is an exciting transition to come--one that I believe will not only impact teaching and learning, but one that will impact humanity, culture, and communities too. What do you think?

Fifth Grade: What Can You Expect?

I've done a lot of thinking about the fifth grade year, and how to teach well.

There's so many details when it comes to the teaching/learning year. And amongst all these details, you have to stay flexible and keep an open mind to who your student are and what interests, needs, and contributions they'll bring to school.

Essentially, as the year takes shape, and according to what I know now. This is what one can expect at fifth grade this year.

This is your classroom.

Who Are You? What Are Your Expectations, Interests, and Needs for the Year Ahead?
Introductions, assessments, conversations, and share. 

We Are a Team!
Learning about team with the Global Cardboard Challenge and a visit to Gillette Stadium to engage in a real world STEAM study activity. Teamwork and study throughout the year with our Open Circle/Social Competency programs and efforts. 

Everyone Can Learn. We are All Learners
Studying and embracing to learn behaviors and mindsets.

Independent/Collaborative Reading, Writing, and Composing Throughout Multiple Genres
A steady diet of reading, writing, and composing throughout the curriculum.

Social Studies Lens
Learning about and engaging with the world through geography, history, current events, and social competency.

Learning the science standards through reading, research, writing, expert visitors, field studies, and lots of hands-on exploration and experiments.

Data Tells a Story
Mathematics is used in many ways to tell a story, make sense of situations, and support critical thinking and decision making. Graph literacy is integral to using math data to tell and interpret facts and figures. 

Numbers: Math Ingredients
Exploring, investigating, creating with, and manipulating numbers as a primary ingredient of all mathematical study and application.

Math Systems
Learning about the definition of systems and applying that knowledge to the study of the base-ten place value system.

Virtual Space Exploration
A visit to the McAuliffe Science Center to learn about space in hands-on way. 

Area, Perimeter, and Volume
How and why do we measure area, perimeter, and volume, and why do we do this?

Math Operations
Analyzing, practicing, and applying the many ways one may "operate" on and with numbers to solve problems and demonstrate relationships.

Measurement Conversions
Review and application of common measurements and measurement conversions.

Parts and Wholes
A thoughtful study of fractions and decimals with real world application. A potential related study of States of Matter with a lens on proportional thinking.

Studying two-dimensional and three-dimensional figures. Looking at where those figures exist and how we describe these shapes with mathematical terms, size, and relationships. 

Water Study and Conservation related to the Local Environment
Students will utilize STEAM to study and apply identified standards as they learn about our local wetlands habitat.

Teamwork and the Arts
The Fifth Grade Play and a potential trip to see a musical performance too. 

Global Changemakers
Modeling the study with a focus on Frederick Douglas and a visit to the African American History Museum in Boston. Then independent research, writing, creativity, and presentation related to notable global changemakers throughout time.

Assessment Leads Instruction
Focus on informal and formal formative and summative assessments at the classroom, school, system, and State levels to inform instruction. We will embark on the Next Generation MCAS for the first time this year. 

In the days ahead, we'll firm up the loose-tight curriculum schedule to create a map for daily, weekly, and yearly plan to support this study.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Why Are People Voting for Donald Trump?

I've thought a lot about the question, Why are people voting for Donald Trump?

Name Calling and Negativity
I wonder how people can support a candidate whose rhetoric likens that of an elementary school student who is learning to use words well rather than name call or demean others to get what he/she wants.

Yet, I know that his background as a media star has taught him that catchy, negative, repetitive sound bites and alliteration are memorable and evoke strong emotions, and when strong emotions match people's needs, desires, or frustration, there can be very powerful response. Thus the name calling and exaggerated ideas.

Simple Narrow Solutions for Complex Problems and Issues
Name calling and exaggerated ideas infer simple solutions to complex problems, and one challenge of today's world is the amazing complexity we face--it's not a simple world as we learn about issues and events far and wide on a second-by-second basis via social media and other resources. The complexity we observe, experience, and hear about in every area of life is overwhelming at best now that information and expertise is everywhere, and for many, to listen to Trump's simple solutions and quick judgement is attractive--he's taking the great complexity of the world and blaming it on a few while providing a number of simple, ready solutions.

Nostalgia Over Reality
He's also siding with the many that feel disenfranchised and who are angry about this complex world. He's basically telling them, "We can make it simple again, " and "We can return to days of old." It's a comforting solution for many, but not a realistic solution.

Do As I Say, Not as I Do
Donald Trump himself does not follow the dictates he supports. For example, while he demeans educators and education, it's clear that he and his own children have had the benefit of an education.

He also sides with the average and working class, while he lives a lifestyle that most of us can only dream of--one of tremendous wealth.

While many of us who make a decent wage pay a good share in taxes, he won't share his tax statements which infers that he paid less taxes than most of us if any at all. His lack of transparency in this issue demonstrates his lack of willingness to be true about who he is and what he does. Do we want a leader like that?

Ignore Experience, Tenacity, Time, and Commitment
He has chosen a couple dramatic issues in Hillary Clinton's tenure to focus on--issues that are complex, and issues he has chosen to illustrate with negative sound bites and name calling. It's remiss of any American to judge a person by a few issues, when her experience, perseverance, and willingness to face adversity has been amazing. She's a mom, wife, and grandmother who has served our country as First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and two-time candidate for President. She knows what's going on and can start serving our country on day one with strength and ability.

Hate is the Answer
I think people want to vote for Donald Trump because he makes it seem easy--he has used media manipulation to get people going and to believe his "fairy tale" about who he is and what he'll do for our country. He's given people permission to name call, demean, and think that complex issues can be solved with simple solutions rather than the deep, thoughtful, inclusive and sensitive diplomacy, collaboration, policy, and laws it takes to build a good government, make good decisions, and support all of America's people, not just a few.

As I talked about this with an acquaintance, I knew he craved the simple solutions, hateful rhetoric, and narrow mindedness of Donald Trump. This acquaintance is disheartened by our changing world--he desires an old time, simpler America--one with less people, less complexity, and more opportunity for people like him.

Success for A Selected Few, Not All
Yes, we would all like it to be easier, but frankly there's no going back in time to a less densely populated, interrelated, and knowing world. It is a new age--an age where we readily know about inequity and can't deny unfair practice and unjust treatment. In years past this same injustice occurred, and many profited from it, but it was unknown to so many that no one talked much about it and only some worried about it. Now we can't deny unjust practices because we can so clearly see those practices via social media and what they do to people. This undeniable recognition of injustice across the globe cries out for thoughtful, inclusive, and collaborative action, not simple, exclusive, and inhuman response--the kind that Trump declares.

Also, in times past, there were "winners" in our society, and those "winners" were generally white men. Still 3/4 of the Presidential/Vice Presidential nominees are white men--but today, we are in a world where all people, women and men, all races, cultures, economic classes, and sexual orientations want and rightly deserve a place at the table, a table only reserved for some in the past. This is a critical issue we have to sensitively deal with. How do we create opportunity for all? How can we shift culture so that people believe there's room for everyone to have success, not just some? If we don't deal with this issue and think creatively about it, anger will grow, and that anger will result in unfortunate events. I believe that we can create more vital, dynamic communities that maximize the potential of the digital world to create opportunities for deeper, better living in naturally beautiful and caring communities. We can make more jobs by doubling staffs in schools, health care facilities, nature preserves, and child care centers to create a higher quality of life for people throughout the Globe. Rather than competing against one another for limited resources, we can turn our attention to the careful and targeted use of resources, energy, time, and human passion to serve one another.

Exaggerate, Avoid Honest Conversation
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ". . .hate begets hate," and the hateful rhetoric that Donald Trump has used has inflamed our country and resulted in growing acts of violence. We don't need more hate. Instead we need intelligent, thoughtful, collaborative decision making. We need decision making that acknowledges that the world has changed, but that doesn't mean a change for the worse. In fact many facts and figures that truly portray our world in ways beyond sound bites demonstrate tremendous positive growth in many realms. Just think about the medical inventions and how lives have become better for so many because of this. Think about the tremendous potential new technologies have provided for living and learning. There's much to be grateful for and excited about.

Don't Think Too Much or With Depth
As humans, we tend to like easy answers and quick solutions. We want to get on with life and typically not have to think too hard. So a Donald Trump appeals to many for just that reason--he's taken our complexity and simplified it to a small number of sound bites that appeal to many because he infers that he can solve our problems quickly with easy solutions. He's going to get rid of the "bad guys" and make life better.

Deny the Collective Potential for Good
If we truly take the time to think deeply, we know it's a changing time for our world, and we know we live in a diverse, interconnected, complex society that has to come together to think deeply about how we're going to live as a people together on Earth. There's no simple solutions, but there's tremendous potential for good if we make the time to elect competent, inclusive, and thoughtful leaders. I'm voting for Hillary Clinton. Like all of us, she's not perfect, but she's done the hard work, faced adversity, continued on and she will make a strong, collaborative leader who doesn't value a solution because it's easy, but instead works for the solutions that are right and good for all people in our country. I hope you'll join me in voting for Hillary too.

ESSA Shortlist - July 2016

I don't want to lose sight of ESSA, but it will be easy to do given the number of new initiatives that continue to emerge and fill our to-do lists as Massachusetts' educators. Hence, I've created an ESSA shortlist or items to focus on.
  • What will your system's ESSA implementation team look like? Who will serve on the team? Will they be compensated? When will the team be created and implemented? 
  • How will ESSA affect process revision so that the voices of all stakeholders are included in all decision making?
  • What will the State's new accountability systems as required by ESSA look like in addition to upcoming Next Generation MCAS?
  • What opportunities related to ESSA's community school legislation connect to the work done in the system where I teach? Will these supports be advantageous to the work we do?
  • Will we add paraeducators to our school council this year since ESSA includes greater inclusion of paraeducator (paraprofessionals) in all decision making?
  • Will our local union use ESSA cards to note membership interest in ESSA-related issues? I think it would be better to use a Google form than a card for easy data management however.
  • Will our local union bring the ESSA Resolution to our school board like so many other local unions have done in our area including Burlington and Lexington?
  • Will our system utilize an assessment audit to look deeply at how we use assessments? 
  • How will our system include all stakeholders in Title 1 Decision making as required via ESSA?
  • Will the use of Title 1 money make it possible for paraeducators to attend PLC meetings?
  • Will more paraeducators take advantage of our local foundations invitation to write grants?
  • How will we ensure that we are putting into place all of the elements listed on the NEA's Opportunity Dashboard? Fortunately many of these elements are currently in place where I teach.
  • How will we change data collection to reflect ESSA requirements to report on who exceeds, meets, and does not meet standards, and how students in each of these categories do: 1) economically disadvantaged students; 2) students from major racial and ethnic groups; 3) children with disabilities; and 4) English Learners?
  • As more and more information comes out and we learn more about ESSA and Next Generation MCAS, how will we incorporate that knowledge into our current programs and efforts?

Change Takes Time

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." - Barack Obama

I admit I'm impatient for change. Why?

I see the potential that change will bring. I understand how old systems of education impede the promise to teach every child well. I know that old systems are too slow and cumbersome for new think and work in this knowledge age.

Yet, I also know that change takes time, and sometimes impatience for change can also serve to impede and hinder optimal change.

So what's a teacher to do?

I think teachers need to outline their goals, and follow their individual path when it comes to change within their grasp--the work they can do on their own to make better their service to children.

I also believe that educators have to work collectively for greater change, and that collective change takes solidarity and skill.

There are many ways that we can reach for that collective change and there are a number of supports as well.

First, educators can join their local union. Unions, at their best, are advocates and supporters of positive change.

Next, educators can hone their advocacy and leadership skills. Programs like the Teacher Leadership Initiative and TeachPlus's Online Policy course lead in this direction.

Also educators need to respectfully and regularly speak up when they have questions or see room for improvement and change. Too often we may stay mired in confusion or in old ways that we know can be better for fear of speaking up--that has to change if we want to better schools for students.

The new ESSA law provides an open door for greater teacher advocacy, voice, and choice. It's imperative that educators everywhere learn about this law and use it to their advantage when it comes to having what they need to teach every child well.

The more I look around at the world today, the more promise and potential I see for education--a good education does have the potential to better our lives, communities, nations, and world. In this amazing time of change when it comes to teaching and learning, it's imperative that we take advantage of all the opportunity that exists to reshape our education systems to engage, empower, and promote the best learning and teaching for each and every student.

So it's okay to be impatient for change, but it's not okay to let that impatience deter you from a strategic, thoughtful path of individual and collective effort and change. It takes skill to use impatience as the fuel, but then patience as the path when it comes to good growth and change.

Strong Schools: Essential Ingredients

As I think about ESSA and the greater inclusion of educator voice and choice the new law embodies, I am wondering about the essential ingredients that underly strong schools and learning communities.

What is it that we create together that supports everyone in a teaching/learning community? What makes the difference between good and great as we work to teach every child well?

I'm sure that there's been much written about this over the years, but as I think ahead to my own work as an educator and advocate, I identify the following areas:

Collective Vision and Mission
I believe the strongest education organizations institute a collective vision and mission making process. Rather than vision and mission set by one or a few, organizations like this crowdsource the effort and include the voices of all in a strategic, streamlined, and logical way.

Optimal Work Conditions
Optimal organizations take seriously the work conditions that all employees face. They care about the quality of the environment and pay attention to factors such as health, cleanliness, inspiring, safe, and conducive to best possible work. They institute processes of inclusive growth, change, and betterment in this regard so that employees have a say in what their environments look like with regard to meeting their best potential to do their work.

Fair Salaries
Good organizations take the time to look carefully at salaries to ensure that all employees earn a fair rate in return for their efforts--a rate that first and foremost allows employees to focus on their work rather than a multitude of extra jobs and a rate that allows employees to live a good life. Salary decisions are made explicit so that people know what they can do to earn more if desired.

Transparent, Inclusive Communication
I've noted so many times how the my husband's former boss and the now Governor of Massachusetts was an exceptional communicator, and that his communication was one reason why my husband's workplace was marked by such commitment and success. People felt like they were part of the team. Similarly our Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts writes a weekly newsletter and this helps all educators in Massachusetts know what's going on and to meet the expectations in a timely manner as well as take advantage of the opportunities that exist.

It's imperative that organizations embed open, transparent, inclusive systems of idea share and communication. When communication channels are closed leaving some in the know and others not, an impasse to good work is created and the potential that exists for dynamic teams and good work diminishes. Secrets typically don't serve organizations or individuals well.

Fair, Transparent Policies
Similar to transparent, inclusive communication, fair, transparent policies are also advantageous. When policies are muddy and unclear, conjecture reigns, and conjecture does not serve organizations well. It's imperative that policies are dated, and that when policies are updated all in the organization are readily involved. Policies should be easy to access, read, and understand as well. Consistent format and updating practices are advantageous in this regard.

Fair Hiring Practices
When hiring practices take an unfair route, often times people who are not qualified for positions get hired. To hire an unqualified individual is not advantageous for an organization or for the individual. It's best to outline the qualifications for a position with care and then stick to those qualifications since they were identified and put together for a reason. Our State ethics carefully outline fair hiring policies that help in this regard, and I would also advocate for taking the time to think carefully about the qualifications and process that identify the best possible candidates before the hiring process begins. When an individual without the appropriate qualification is hired, it's more work for everyone in the organization. On the other hand, when an exceptional candidate is hired, everyone in the organization benefits. In the organization I work for, new jobs are readily listed. This was not always true, and now that it does happen, it is very positive because it provides everyone with an opportunity to go for the job if they are interested.

Careful Attention to Time and Appropriate Lead Time for Efforts
Time can be used to empower or disempower individuals. I often say that a good way to audit educational systems is to ask, "Who has the time and what do they do with that time?" It's important that time is carefully considered with regard to all decisions and expectations. For example, when lead time for initiatives, opportunities, information, and effort does not exist, many are immediately left out simply because they didn't have the time to read the request, respond, or ask questions. When initiatives are advertised at the last minute, it may be to limit access simply because there is not time for most people to get involved. In the best organizations, the time line for the year, events, goal setting, and other initiatives is thoughtful so that everyone can be involved and considered for most efforts.

Accurate, Accessible Reporting
Recently I read an organization's report. It was amazing. There was so much good detail. The way we report and make available the reports is important to any organization. It's vital that reports are dated, signed, and made available for all to consider and read. The report I read was well written with many, many details. When transparency like that exists there is little need for everyone to go hunting for the details, and instead they can quickly access the information, use as needed, and return to the important work at hand.

Transparent Research and Development Plans and Opportunities
Good organizations always have their eye on today and tomorrow at the same time. While these organizations maintain good effort daily, they also seek to develop and better the work they do. In the best of circumstances the dollars spent and related actions are visibly matched to the organization's overall goals, tracked, communicated, and synthesized to promote best possible growth and development. For example if efforts are being made in one area at one level and similar efforts are made at another level, those efforts are reported, shared, and synthesized to maximize the effect of the dollars and time spent. Further to track efforts means that efforts typically go full circle rather than just start and go nowhere. Good research and development generally follows a plan and leaves room for relevance, serendipity, and surprise too. As I've learned, these efforts generally employ optimal idea exchange systems that value ideas from all corners of an organization as it's often the people who are working on the front lines who come up with the best ideas for change and growth.

All of the elements above help to streamline and make more efficient an organization's detailed work. When organizations run in smooth, open, and transparent ways, then lots of time opens up for everyone to do the important work of the organization. It's the same with family life too. The better we can openly and care-fully manage and execute the necessary details of our work, the more time we have for the rich, rewarding aspects of living and working.

This fall I'm working with my local union to analyze our contract carefully. If you read our old contract, in many ways, it reads like an old-time school document, not a modern day learning organization document. I'd like to see the contract focus in more on the aspects of organizational effort that truly empower educators to do their work well. Some of that exists now, but other vital details of running good schools, don't exist.

It will be interesting to see how this effort moves forward. I play a role as one of many who will look carefully at the details and discuss them with other members of my union. Others in my organization play bigger roles in this regard.

Underlying all of this is the desire to create dynamic, forward moving organizations--the kind of organizations that empower educators, students, families, and community members to develop strong schools and well educated students--the kind of students who are confident, optimistic, creative, energetic, communicative, and committed about their own future and the future of vital, prosperous, and happy communities.

I see so much potential for what's possible. I don't want to see systems of learning bogged down by elements that slow down the good work possible. Instead I'm an advocate for streamlined, inclusive, forward thinking, and kind organizations that work to support the positive development of all.