Friday, September 30, 2016

Scores and More: Last Friday in September 2016

Students used this template for making charts, plotting points, and explaining relationships.

This morning the team talked a lot about scores and what those scores revealed about our teaching/learning efforts. It was a rich conversation. One that I put to work right away as I taught the day's math lessons related to plotting number stories on coordinate grids and looking for patterns.

It's been a bit of a painful few days as I tore into the scores looking for truthful trends and advocating for honest analyses, trust, and a deep look at our collective and individual work. During this morning's conversation so many good points were shared including discussion about the relationship of language learning and math skills, lesson pace, need for repetition, and organizational matters.

As I engaged in this discussion, I was able to profit from the trusting, rich conversation, one without finger pointing and conjecture, but instead a conversation that acknowledged our collective dedication to good work and service to children.

In the future, I'll use the model that was developed for this analysis prior to the start of school so that I'm ready for discussions like this at the start of the year. I also hope to develop this model of analysis for future work.

I continue to be a fan of streamlined standardized tests and scores as it's potentially one rich way to assess our programs and develop our collective and individual work if the scores are used with good intent, collaborative discussion, reflection, planning, and goal setting. I'm not in favor of using these scores to rate, punish, or conjecture about programming as this only serves to diminish a sense of team, silence educators, and obstruct progress.

I was really excited about today's math lessons. Most students really enjoy learning something new, and this was evident as they created math stories, charted data, plotted points, looked for relationships, and in some cases, presented their work to the class. The presentations were terrific. In fact, I ended up changing the math lesson from group one to group two as I really liked one of the problems group one created and used that problem instead of the original problem I shared. We'll continue this lesson on Monday, and then we'll start our place value unit on Tuesday by making base ten place value models. During the rest of the week and the week after that we'll study place value in many ways.

Next week includes greater focus on our math tech integration, read aloud, and a field study too. It's time now to start the long weekend. I'm ready after this busy, but profitable week of learning and teaching.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What's Next?

Our ECET2-MA2016 Twitter buttons are in!
Today's DESE Teachers' Cabinet Meeting made me realize once again that alining yourself with positive people who utilize good process with uplifting, promising goals and vision is the way to go. One has to steer clear of those that continuously bring us down, make us invisible, and frown on new ideas.

So, with that in mind, what's next on the agenda?

There was great enthusiasm for ECET2-MA2016 at today's meeting. Two members of the planning team, Kevin Cormier and Lisa Simon, were there with me and another, Audrey Jackson, was conferring via Twitter as she traveled to another professional event. We're really looking forward to a terrific day of Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. When positive, forward people get together the energy in the room is awesome. That was palpable today and I'm sure it will be evident at ECET2-MA2016.

In the room today there was lots of talk about edcamps, the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI), National Board for Professional Teaching (NPBTS), MTA's Summer Conference, Hosting Conversations, and TeachPlus's Policy Online course. There's certainly a lot of opportunity out there to get involved in the profession and develop your craft. Abby Dick as there today and she's leading #edcampmalden on October 15th. It's a morning only #edcamp and a terrific opportunity to learn with colleagues outside of your school. I plan to go.

We also exchanged many stories about school life. Those stories will serve me well in the days to come as I invest in lots of great math teaching and learning with our wonderful fifth grade students. Our TeamFive collegial and student team is off to a great start. Soon my colleagues and I will present at MassCUE. We've planned a presentation to demonstrate the many ways we use technology to boost collaboration, communication, and learning with shared learning community of students, colleagues, family members, administrators and other interested individuals.
If you go to MassCUE, join us at our presentation Wednesday!

I suspect our next few weeks of teaching will focus on solidifying routines, targeting and elevating learning experiences, and continuing to build a strong grade level community.

Uplifting DESE Teachers/Principal Advisory Cabinet Meeting

Today's Teachers Advisory and Principal Advisory Cabinet (TAC/PAC) meeting was positive, uplifting, and forward moving.

The introductions, process, and meeting organizations was well planned, innovative and timely. The teachers and principals in the room were invested and dedicated to teaching well. I can't wait to bring the good ideas and processes I learned of and interacted with back to school. I feel fortunate to work with this dedicated group.

Do You Need to be Perfect to Have Voice?

The educators met to discuss curriculum. There were a number of similar and differing opinions. I was at a tough spot since it was a year when particular results were not as strong as years past. There were many, many reasons for this--reasons that extend far beyond me or my work. Yet, there's always more to learn, and I'm the first one to use good analyses to cull strategies to improve and move forward.

The general opinion by some was that if the results are not the best, you have little voice about your efforts, and it may be because you didn't follow the orders to perfection. Yet, my experience, reading, and research points me to a place where I have to dig deep and respect the work and research I've done despite the conjecture and finger pointing. It's rarely one or the other, and typically our best work is the work we derive from honest collaboration, transparent communication, and working as a community of teachers and learners.

When the fear factor and unyielding directives are thrown into the mix, it typically quiets the team and halts good collaboration and share. However, when the discussion turns to meaningful discourse supported by good process and honest facts and figures, the direction moves in beneficial ways.

No two teachers are the same--we all bring different talents, challenges, perspectives, and vision to the table. I believe it's our differences that make us strong and that maximizing the integration of that variety leads to a strong, dynamic team.

Team takes time, good process, collective goals, and loose-tight direction--a direction that's loose enough to respond to the large variety of students' interests, skills, and efforts, and tight enough to bring the team together and achieve good results.

It's good for process to focus on result first. What happened? What went well? Where were the challenges? Why did they occur? How can we make that better? Moving from big picture and vision backwards to the details typically results in good teamwork, direction, and result.

So I took the information we discussed. I looked at what I knew. I've made some decisions for myself and reached out with some questions to others with regard to their results. Too often we all jump to conjecture and conclusions without taking the time to use good process to unveil the truth of a matter, but when we do reach those truthful realities, we better prepare ourselves to move in fortuitous ways to betterment and strong teams. Onward.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Math Talk

The teachers met to discuss the math curriculum.

Not unlike most curriculum discussions, there was a range of viewpoints.

I'm a fan of having a loose-tight curriculum where educators agree to teach a similar program, but have the freedom to teach the students in ways that make the curriculum engaging, meaningful, and successful.

As we talked I noted that some like a very tight program, while others like me prefer a more loose-tight program.

Assessments were brought up. Many desire to use online assessment platforms most of the time. I agree that for the reason we were discussing, I'd like to use the online assessments too.

After the meeting, I was inspired to look deeply at a host of math performance data that we have. Ist a few goals for the year ahead.

You Can Learn Anything You Want to Learn!

Khan Academy is one of many tools that
students will use this year.
"Yes," I'll say to students, "You can learn anything you want to learn in this day of the Internet and information everywhere."

I'll then tell the quick story of how I was a curious child with regular school year access to a very small school library. I also visited the public library once in a while and the bookmobile came to my neighborhood during the summer. Television had about ten channels and there was radio access too. Our family had newspaper and National Geographic subscriptions and we often read the news, captions, and articles and looked at the photographs. That information access is minuscule compared to what's available with a keystroke today. Today, almost anything you want to know can be found on the Internet.

Then, I'll say that there are many ways to use that information to learn well, and today we're going to practice that using Khan Academy. After that I'll model what a student might do to learn well with Khan Academy including:
  • Finding the site
  • Choosing the topic you want to learn about
  • Having paper, pencil, and headphones ready
  • Listening, taking notes, pausing and reviewing when needed, and taking the tests
After that I'll give students some time to practice. As they practice I'll walk around and match their online names to their real names.

At the end, as their coach, I'll show them the ways that I can see what they've done online and how that is organized and reported.

Throughout the year, I'll continue to give students lots of opportunities to learn to learn using multiple online and offline tools. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Teaching Content and The Brain at the Same Time

I find that when I teach,  I teach content and the brain at the same time.

We've talked about brain paths and how new learning has much less strong paths than learning that has had plenty of practice and time.

We've talked about the difference between long term and short term memory and how that affects learning.

We've discussed the way that color coding benefits the way the brain interprets information.

I've mentioned that the brain looks to connect new information with information already known.

I'm not a brain expert, but I've read some information.

I want to read more.

Teaching today is helping students become cognizant of how their brains work, and the ways that they can use that knowledge to maximize learning.

Do you combine learning content and learning about the brain. If so, what does that look like. I want to learn more.

Addition: Maximizing Brain Potential

Teaching Children Well: September Tuesday Musings

The tasks looked like a mountain on Sunday, and now for a moment I'm standing on a peak. It was a great day of teaching, one that found TeamFive, our amazing grade level of fifth graders, beginning to follow the many routines of our shared teaching/learning program with ease.

Ideas for Students Who Struggle with the Standards
The day also prompted me to reach out to colleagues to begin a discussion about possibly changing some of our programing related to students who struggle with grade-level standards. I made a proposition which was met with substantial feedback and all kinds of related ideas as well as cautionary comments. I'll continue to think about this in the days ahead as I'd love to see us make a few changes for the 2017-2018 school year. Usually big ideas for schools take at least a year to develop so starting in the fall is a good idea.

Further ECET2-MA2016 is catching fire--the RSVPs are coming in and we're wondering what the final count will be. I'm hoping that most of our invitees RSVP by October 1. After that we'll likely have to make a few calls to find out who else is coming and whether there might be room for a few more invites since some educators have demonstrated interest recently.

Field Study Postponed
We had to postpone our field study since the prediction for rain makes the trip more difficult than it needs to be. We'll reschedule for a spring day.

The Days Ahead
Tomorrow students will look closely at some of the technology that supports their math study and give it a try. We'll also meet with grade-level teachers from across the system for a newly designed professional learning event. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

As the routine takes shape, the team is really beginning to look at the many ways that we can differentiate the teaching and learning to meet every child's interests and needs.

Classroom Housekeeper

Today I'll do the big clean-up after the Global Cardboard Challenge. It's a big job, but one that has to be done.

Differentiation Begins

The time of getting to know students has taken place, and now the focus is on a designing the program so that every child gets what he/she needs to develop academic skills with strength and focus. That takes lots of coordination, thought, and time-on-task. Onward.

Score Analysis

Last night I reviewed a host of student scores from standardized tests.

I found that most students scored within the grade level or above areas of the test, but some did not score in that range.

As you might suspect, I'm okay with the scores of those that landed in the grade level or above categories, but I'm thinking more deeply about those students who score in the range below grade level, What can we do?

First, many students who scored below grade level came to the grade level a number of grades-levels below in knowledge, concept, and skill as determined by standardized test scores and ranking. Many of these students get substantial support, and the teachers all coordinate their efforts to provide a good program to students.

As I look at the scores, however, I'm wondering if we should change the way we do this programming.

I have always thought it would be good to provide these students with a five-day-a-week number sense program in addition to the core program. The number sense program would be run by a skilled math educator and include additional support. The core program would focus on concepts and Boaler's "floor-to-ceiling" differentiated project work approach.

While we have an after school program and RTI, I don't think these programs provide enough consistent number sense support for children who truly have a weak number sense foundation. I think our supports could be better used by providing this additional consistent program. Ingredients to good learning including the following:
  • consistency
  • developmental approach with one skill building on the other
  • relationship with the teacher
  • time-on-task
  • meaningful, engaging multi-modal learning experiences
  • low teacher-student ratios
  • use of helpful math tools
  • student advocacy and learning-to-learn behaviors and advocacy
I'm going to explore this idea more in the days ahead. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Apres Global Cardboard Challenge

Image taken by my colleague, Ms. Leo
The Challenge is over, and now it's time to put away all the supplies and give students time to reflect on the learning.

They'll type reflections and add images from our website student photo albums. Later their reflections will be added to students' showcase portfolios.

This week we'll work on a finishing last week's assessments, getting a baseline on fact skills, prepping for the Great Meadows field study, learning about coordinate grids, reading Pax, hosting a visiting naturalist educator, and attending specialist classes in music, art, technology, physical education, and library.

It's a full week, and now my attention is focused on the student-centered efforts that support that agenda. Onward :)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

ECET2-MA2016: Only One Month Away

It has been almost nine months since we met in San Diego at the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) National Event and began planning ECET2-MA2016.

The planning has been much like walking the Presidential ridge in New Hampshire. The vision is awesome, and the ridge trail is a mix of some steep climbs, comfortable plateaus, and even a few down hills.

The invitations were sent out on Friday. Fortunately we had room to invite everyone that was nominated. So far the response has been very positive and I've been most inspired by the many invitees and presenters who have reached out with questions and suggestions which demonstrates that our small team of five is growing steadily to a march larger team of invested and dedicated educators who are excited about coming together to spend a day to inspire one another to Teach ALL Children that we serve.

There's lots to look forward to as we get closer to the event.

On Friday night anyone who is attending the event is welcome to join us for a pre-event reception. Details of this early evening event will be sent out closer to the date.

Then on Saturday we urge everyone to plan so that they can be there for our 8 a.m. start so they don't miss Chop Chop's well-designed healthy and delicious breakfast bar as well as the chance to meet those who support educators and colleagues who are attending the even from throughout the state.

While the agenda keeps changing (sadly Meenoo Rami is unable to attend the event, but happily we have a number of awesome Massachusetts educators who have volunteered to speak in her place), the following main events will occur:
  • Jose Vilson will keynote. I can't wait to hear Jose once again in person. We're lucky he's able to join us.
  • At Colleague Circles we'll use good process with small teams to discuss a problem of practice--one that's related to our desire to Teach ALL Children.
  • We have many dynamic presenters and presentation.
  • Chop Chop will put on a terrific lunch.
  • There will be Tokens of Appreciation to bring back to school.
  • More keynotes from inspiring Massachusetts educators to be named soon.
  • A follow-up reception at a nearby restaurant (details will follow).
To keep up to date with this event, please visit our website regularly. And a BIG thanks to the many who have supported us financially and with the planning and preparation for the event. 

Lost in Email

I've been working with a team of teachers to plan ECET2-MA2016. We've made great use of Google forms and spreadsheets to help us organize the event.

The one change I'd make from the start, however, is to create a Google Doc conversation thread, website, or even a Google+ private community for all of our exchange rather than lots and lots of emails. I'm writing this down as I believe it's good advice for any group that is working together and wants to keep track of the work they are doing.

For example I'm also working with other groups who are sharing information, building community, and making decisions together. The emails have started, and I know we'll soon loose track of all these emails thus diluting the potential that exists for share, synergy, and collaboration.

What is your best tech vehicle for community building and share? How do you use it and why?

I'm thinking more about this at this turn in the education path. Thanks!

Friday, September 23, 2016

An Ideal PD Event

Rob Stephenson, Founder of Curious Crew.
I've been thinking about differentiated professional development, and then this afternoon I experienced a top-notch example.

The event was led by Rob Stephenson, STEAM specialist and founder of Curious Crew. He orchestrated a targeted professional learning hour and a half for fifth grade teachers, the art teacher, the high school STEAM teacher, and special educators.

The event included a number of hands-on events, discussion, literary connections, and pedagogical ideas and examples. It was awesome.

What made this event awesome included the following elements:
  • A good number of people
  • Meaningful discussion and exploration
  • Modeling
  • A blend of explanation, small group exploration, and whole group share/process
  • Information and project work that we can replicate in our classroom right away.
  • Presented on school time.
The only suggestion I have for the event would be to give the teachers a box of supplies so that we could replicate the activity right away with the proper supplies, but other than that, it was a good example of meaningful professional learning. 

While I'm generally a fan of teacher choice and voice with regard to professional learning choices, this event was well chosen and funded for us. I can't wait to process the experience with my team and plan a time when we'll replicate the learning with students. 

Global Cardboard Challenge: 2016 Playground Arcade Fun

The students really enjoyed watching the school principal
play cardboard mini golf. 
Today's Third Annual Happy Hollow School Global Cardboard Arcade was a big success. Fifth graders once again hosted the entire school during their lunch recesses to an array of homemade cardboard games.

Thanks to the tremendous support of family members, school staff, and all the students of the school, everyone had a lot of fun.

As one of the teachers in charge, I like to reflect right away so I don't forget what went well and what we can continue to develop for next year.

The positives included the following:
  • Early year focus and activities to develop teamwork
  • Lots of preparation including collecting cardboard, asking each student to bring in a roll of duct tape, ordering paint and paint brushes, organizing the STEAM materials, having a Team Build Day, and introducing students to the preparation videos, plans, and ideas
  • Planning the date with lead time.
  • Introducing the event to the whole school a week ahead of time.
  • Asking a student to make the Fun Pass and asking a student to sell the Fun Passes.
  • Asking a local moving company to donate cardboard.
The games were colorful and fun to play.
These are elements our team would like to include or increase next year:
  • More paint, brushes, and lessons on successful painting, use of materials, and clean-up.
  • Have students collect prizes over the summer by cleaning out their toy cabinets and book shelves.
  • Even more efforts to increase teamwork.
  • Assign a teaching assistant to teams that struggle with the project (there were only a few students who fell into this category)
  • Collect a bit more string.
  • Order better box cutters that are safe and easy for cutters to use--generally teachers did the cutting.
  • Collect more fabric--old clothes, sheets, and towels are good for this.
  • Perhaps buying some rolls of tickets and some inexpensive prizes to add to students' prize collections.

Students could donate $1 to buy a Fun Pass if they wanted.
They didn't need to buy a pass to play. The donations will
be sent to The Imagination Foundation to support creativity
in schools throughout the world. 
This is a BIG project. And in the one week time between the Team Build Day and The Playground Arcade, you have to be willing to live with the messiness that goes with the project. This year, however, like the two years before demonstrated that the project results in lots of fun, terrific teamwork, and super learning too. It's a keeper thanks to the many who gave it dedicated energy and a wonderful attitude. 

Responsibility Engenders Respect

When you give students meaningful responsibility, respect grows.

For example a student had a lot of critique of a lesson recently, and I asked him to create a list of ways to make the lesson better to help me. He did that right away and we have a meeting planned to review the list.

I honored the child's critique and he honored my interest in knowing and understanding his perspective.

The more that we can put our learners in the driver's seat of their individual and collective learning, the more respect we'll nurture.

This is an important teaching and learning perspective, one we all have to remind ourselves of as we lead and teach large groups of students every day.

Vehicles and Process for Voice and Choice

We live in the knowledge age. It's a new age for voice and choice given the tremendous technological tools and research we have to lead our work. This leads to the question, What are the best vehicles for employing voice and choice in teaching/learning organizations?

As I think about this, I certainly don't have all the answers. It's a big questions knowledge age learning/teaching organizations are grappling with as they move away from old time factory models to models of distributed leadership and effort.  I do have some thoughts however that relate to this quandary.

Share Facts, Articles, and Background Information Via Online Threads
There's no need for large groups of people to meet to read an article or review a page of facts together. That work can be done on an educator's own time via the Internet. That's how our mandated trainings are done, and it's a great replacement for the days of old when we would sit in a large auditorium to listen to a laundry list of rules and regulations. It is important, however, that time is set aside for online reading and review when assigned.

Use Collaborative Time for Meaningful Efforts
By placing all simple and surface information online, we make time for meaningful collaborative efforts. Time together needs to be well orchestrated using good process and focused on a question of mutual interest and need. How we design these collaborative meetings is important. We need to think about who will be there, what their experience is, and the processes that can best engender meaningful conversation and result. As I've spoken about many times Callahan and Ritzius's work on "Hosting Conversations" leads the way in this regard. Numbers need to be considered carefully here too. When I attended a meeting at Google years ago, venture capitalist, Steve Jurvetson, mentioned the power of groups sized with five plus one more or less. When groups get too big, meaningful dialogue is often diluted.

Bottom-Up Goal Setting
Goal setting plays an important role in knowledge-age organizations. I believe that bottom-up goal setting can be a very powerful effort. For example, at our school now, educators had the chance to share their ideas related to school goals. Then using a prioritizing process, educators have been asked to vote on those ideas. It's very interesting to read the ideas of many and then to have the choice to vote on school goals. Using a process like this invites voice, and the more processes like this are used the more educators will begin to use voice in ways that matter. As educators use their voices more, they will likely model and invite student voice more too.

With regard to system-wide goals, goal processes could be started with an effort like the one I explain above and move it's way all the way up the teaching/learning leadership ladder resulting in goals that reflect an entire organization by the end. Of course, it can't be a process of voting only snce it's important for their to be time to discuss and debate the goals too.

Good Process
Good process is essential with regard to knowledge age collaborative work. Good process takes time to create, learn, and use. It needs to be revisited regularly and relies on trusting relationships and development over time.

Transparent, Inclusive Communication
If the news can be shared, it should be shared. Of course, it's great if the share is concise too. Also it's terrific to host well organized share vehicles such as websites that can be easily accessed, read, and revisited again and again if needed. The best communication includes what's happened, what is happening now, and what may happen. This communication invites reflection, knowledge, and vision building with the whole community. It's also important to create good communication patterns that people can rely on.

Openness to New Ideas
To invite voice and choice is also to be open to new ideas and differentiation of experience, perspective, and need. Openness leads to greater community and creativity.

I will continue to think about this topic as it is one that interests me with regard to building the best possible schools possible--schools that truly teach every child well.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Day by Day

Now that I've mused about a number of bigger issues in life and education, it's time to set the pace for tomorrow and the week ahead.

Tomorrow will find educators attending a STEAM professional learning event, discussing students' at-home technology needs, organizing logistics, finalizing and sending out the newsletter, spending time with our kindergarten buddies, and hosting the Global Cardboard Challenge Arcade on the playground. Yes, a busy and fun day.

Next week students will learn about coordinate grids as they prepare for their nature adventure at the end of the week. We'll also continue reading our wonderful read aloud, Pax. There will be reflections about the Global Cardboard Challenge, fact assessments, homework meetings with a few individual students, and perhaps the start of showcase portfolios too.

It will be a good week to focus in on ECET2-MA2016 and write a grant to support a grade-level event. Onward.

Thoughts about Differentiated Professional Learning

There's lots of talk about differentiated professional learning. I'm a big fan of the concept and have been advocating for it for a long time.

One rationale for differentiated professional learning is that if teachers are expected to teach with differentiation, then they should experience it as part of their professional learning experiences.

Another reason for this professional learning approach is simply that all teachers have different learning needs. For example if a teacher just got his/her master's degree in reading education, that teacher would not need a beginning "How to Teach Reading" seminar.

And, of course, today's awesome technology means that good learning is only a click of a key or touch of a screen away. We can learn anywhere at anytime.

So how would you promote differentiated learning for adult learners?

I think the first step is to know your learners well? Who are they? What do they want? What do they need? If you have a trusting relationship, that information would be easy to cull. If trust is an issue, that might be more difficult to discern. If that's the case, then, perhaps, you provide a menu approach. And the menu should always include, "Do you have a better idea?" That gives adults who already have a good idea about what they want to learn, an avenue to continue the learning.

Yet, what if you work in an organization that has a problem to solve. For example, let's say you work in a school where a big problem is truancy. If you're an administrator in that system, you would want to solve that problem. So rather than invite all the educators to hear a lecture about truancy, you could use the professional learning time to provide a menu of truancy related learning and action events. And perhaps, part of the learning time would be spent on actually carrying out a significant point learned to work at changing the truancy problem in a class, school, or system.

This summer, Mike Ritzius and Dan Callahan, presented the "Hosting Conversations" workshop at the MTA Summer Conference. Their work signaled the next step for learners everywhere which is greater discernment about professional learning choices and how we work together with good process to learn together.

Now that we know that facts and figures are not that difficult to attain, the question lies at what is most important to study, and how do we take the study and collaboratively turn it into meaningful, endeavor--the kind of endeavor that truly makes our places of learning and teaching better for each and every child.

There is tremendous potential with differentiated professional learning, and how we tackle this kind of work on our own and with others matters a lot. Good process that includes substantial voice and choice of all stakeholders and results in meaningful action is the way to go, and that way will look a bit different in every educational context since schools and the people in them differ in ways that matter from place to place.

Moving up the Teaching Hill

I must say I enjoy the teaching now more than ever. Students are eager to learn and the parents are teaming with us to support program efforts. There's so much that we're able to do with this three-teacher team model.

The systems that are school, however, are often challenging. I am such a big fan of changing schools as we have always known them. There has been some good progress such as tech integration, a computer for every child, good tech hardware, awesome field trips, more collaboration time, a wonderful schedule, great books, and the way we often differentiate to teach all children well in our classrooms and as a whole team.

I am so hungry now for the use of distributive leadership in schools--models where teachers actually have substantial voice and choice over how they teach and learn. Too often it becomes a challenge to teach a child well because there so many rules and mandates for doing otherwise--cumbersome efforts that often don't relate well to the day to day ongoings and children in a classroom, efforts decided by people far from the children and the teacher.

This is not to say that I have all the answers. In fact there's nothing I like more than to work with a small group of invested educators with same goals. I love that. What we can do when that happens is incredible. I also like to reach out to experts online, through books, and in real time to develop my practice. I don't mind challenges too as I know those challenges help me to learn and stay fresh.

I guess the challenging part is the many decisions made for me without my input, decisions that might not even reflect current research or even the best interests of a child.

Distributive leadership provides educators with voice, choice, and autonomy, mastery, and purpose--it allows us to work together to develop our craft well in streamlined, focused ways. Teachers, in general, are good people who chose the job because they care about children and know that education has the potential to make a difference in people's lives. We have what it takes to lead our work well, and most of us want the chance to do this.

When in Doubt, Ask the Child

So often in schools educators will deliberate for long hours about a child without ever asking the child what he or she thinks.

Most often if there's an issue and you turn to a child and say, "What do you think we should do?" The child has the answer.

This is true in most organizations and with most people. It's not uncommon for people to know what they need, and when people are truly at a loss in that regard, they're typically open to consult or seek support themselves.

Definition and Precision

Definition and precision play a role in school systems.

Often there is a range of definition and precision. The way one may define a word, practice, or event may be different than how another would define the same word, practice, or event. The same is true for precision. For some events and efforts what one may think of as precise another may feel is too loose.

That's why time to talk and think together is important. That's also why delegation and differentiation is important. It's essential to find that right balance of what we'll do together and what we trust each other to do on their own.

Teach Well: Goal Setting

Massachusetts educators undergo a yearly goal setting process as part of the evaluation system.

In our school district educators are asked to tie their goals to systemwide goals. Our systemwide goals this year are noted to the right.

As I worked on my goals this morning to prepare for my evaluation meeting. I determined that I'll propose the following goals:

Student Learning Goal
I will employ multiple teaching/learning strategies and experiences related to STEAM and math systemwide and state standards, grade-level integrated units, and student interest to elevate student achievement. The success criteria for this goal will be elevated student knowledge, skill, concept, performance, engagement, and desire to learn. Evidence of this will include student scores, project work, and parent, student, teacher reflections.

Professional Learning Goal
I will work with my grade-level colleagues to promote a culturally proficient teaching/learning that fosters wellness, global citizenship, and student achievement. The success criteria for this goal will be curriculum changes related to signage, pedagogy, language, and programming to reflect greater wellness, global citizenship, achievement, and cultural proficiency. Evidence will include details of specific curriculum program changes.

I like the way the yearly goal creation process centers one's work while also connecting that work to teammates and the collective school district's efforts.

Collaboration Takes Time

As I continue to think about a detour on the learning/teaching road yesterday, it makes me realize once again that good collaboration takes time.

Our grade-level team collaboration works very well because we meet almost daily to check-in with one another and plan together. We keep running online lists and charts to support our communication and spent substantial time during the end of the summer preparing together for the year ahead.

Our collaboration, however, extends beyond the grade level team to many more teachers and administrators, all who have voice and time when it comes to the classroom program. How do we best implement their plans, protocols, and procedures when there is little time to meet and discuss all of these efforts and directions?

After yesterday's events, I reorganized the information related to these efforts into a website that's easy for everyone to reference when needed. Part of yesterday's issue was due to the fact that the information was buried amidst a large number of emails. I also became cognizant yesterday of education philosophy, policy, and practice that differ from mine and/or are new to me. I am actually a fan of debate and like to grow from differing views, but I also recognize that differing views, beliefs, and perspectives require good time when people are collaborating together, and I'm thinking about where and how the team and/or I will make that time. Since there are many people and little time, I'm not quite sure how to navigate this path. I think for starters, it's best to maximize the collaborative time that we have by making time to listen, focus on the issues that matter, debate, and make good decisions related to student learning.

As I focus on this outer ring of collaborative effort, I am also asking myself, What matters?

What matters is teaching every child well. With regard to students who are currently meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations, this is not an issue as parents, the grade-level team, and I will work together to offer a strong program of support and learning. Over time I have met the needs of these students well.

The complexity occurs with regard to students who are challenged with regard to the grade-level expectations. This is where the greatest debate occurs because there are many differing viewpoints on how to best serve these children. I always say that these are the children that teach us and make us better educators because they call us to think differently, work together, and read and research.

As I think of these students, I have some strong philosophical beliefs including the following:
  • All children have great value and performance at school at any time does not define a child's value, potential, or whole self. Many children who don't meet elementary school expectations, grow up to be successful, happy people. Learning is a progression and that progression takes many paths--there is no one pace or path when it comes to successful learning.
  • Foundation skills of reading, writing, numeracy, thinking, speaking, and a substantial knowledge base are essential to good learning. To learn those skills well challenged students need consistent, steady, engaging programming with significant support. Too often these students receive choppy programming due to the fact that they have many, many supports, but few of those supports are as consistent and steady as needed to support substantial growth and development. 
  • A student's experience of school has to engage their passions and highlight their strengths. We need to find ways to make school inspiring and inviting to all students. We have to be mindful of their sense of confidence and belonging, and we need to include students' voice and choice in almost all decisions that involve them. Rather than two educators arguing over what's best for a child, we should start with the child with questions such as "What do you think you can do? What do you want to do? How can I help you best? What do you know and what do you want to know? 
  • Collaboration matters and we all have to work towards optimal collaboration even when this is challenging.
  • Contribution matters too. Everyone has a responsibility to do their part and contribute to the team in ways that make a difference.
As the math/STEAM lead teacher at the grade level my primary responsibility is to help every child develop their interest, skill, knowledge, and experience in these areas of study. A new start to the Global Cardboard Challenge helped to build successful teams. The project is a good way to introduce STEAM including teamwork. Starting the year with many math assessments including students' own math autobiographies will provide me with a good overview of the class as well as individual profiles. I will use this information as I teach the grade-level program in multiple ways that appeal to students' interests, curiosity, and need. 

There's much to think about as we continue the year's program. It's important to make the time to collaborate well and I'll be thinking more about how to make that happen with the many, many administrators and teachers that affect the program I teach in the days ahead. 

Knowing Students Well Leads the Path Now

It's been about 15 days of school and I'm starting to know the students well. I'm beginning to see their needs and interests, needs and interests which impact teaching and learning well.

I'm noticing when children are smiling, when they are unhappy, and why that happens.

Our team has transitioned from lots of talk about starting days to talk about students needs and how we might meet those needs.

The early start with the cardboard challenge is messy, but mostly inviting as it gives students a chance to create, work together, and do something big and exciting. There's still a few that are less interested in this activity. I have thoughts about how to change this, but at this point, I don't have the supports to make it happen. I'll think more about this before we promote the project again next year.

Going forward we have many field experiences in the first weeks of school. These experiences will provide learning that is inspiring as well as a chance to build team and get to know students more. I'll take lots of pictures which helps me to focus in on students, I'll observe, and I'll have many conversations.

As far as the learning goes it's the time to introduce units with intriguing facts and figures. For example the school playground and a field study site will be the subject of the coordinate grid introduction and our virtual trip to Mars will be the subject of the place value introduction. I find that when you pair concept and skill with  fascinating content and knowledge more students are invested in the learning and there are more ways to draw the study out in meaningful and challenging ways for students.

Then when the practice starts, I'll use Boaler's floor-to-ceiling project approach and learning menus to differentiate and make space for the many educators who visit the room to coach small groups and individuals with these projects and practice.

As far as the professional pursuits go. I am really leaning in the directions where there is substantial support, and moving away from areas filled with obstacles. For example next week I'll attend the State's Teacher Advisory Cabinet meeting. The state has been supportive of my efforts to develop teaching and learning. I'll also partake in a state-sponsored course on special education. The ECET2 efforts continue as we get closer to the October 22nd event. Invitations go out on Friday so there's still two days to sign up if you're interested. The grade-level team has planned a good number of learning experiences I'll focus on, and we're presenting how technology supports our team approach at the MassCUE conference in October. While not fully supported by school funds, I'm paying my way to attend Educon 2.9 in Philadelphia as that's always been a great source of support and new ideas. Further, I am active with a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) effort and I still want to complete the TeachPlus policy course when there's time and read and complete many books including Emdin's great book about culturally proficient teaching.

The learning/teaching path is set but will likely continue to change somewhat as I move forward with  my pursuit to teach and learn well. Onward.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tough Day

It was the first tough day of the year. It wasn't a tough day with students, but it was a tough day related to procedures, patterns, and protocols. There's no reason to go into detail, but it was one of those days that's difficult not to bring home.

Yet, if I look closely at the many events that occurred, I realized I learned a lot--a lot about time, focus, effort, and goals.

Sometimes we simply put our time and energy into less than ideal places. And when we do that, it doesn't take long to know that we've taken a wrong direction. There's lots of details with regard to teaching well--details that can pave the way to super teaching or details that can present like a fishing net.

Tomorrow's a new day. Hopefully the many questions related to today's events will be answered soon and the new routines identified will take effect and serve us well. Everyday is not going to be the best day of school. Onward.

Another bite of Humble Pie

Yes, I ate another piece of humble pie today. It's been a while since I had a slice of that acrid dessert. I approached a situation with much less seriousness than expected, and that resulted in the bitter bite.

The decisions were rushed, the emails skimmed, and the plans rearranged a bit without notice to others involved. A lesson learned.

In the future, we'll have to make the time to sit down and plan it all out carefully step-by-step, minute-by-minute, person-by-person. In the past, the event was much more relaxed, but now it seems to carry more weight, care, and caution.

So as I ate the bitter sweet, I owned my part and offered to re-do the task. A lesson learned and if you want to find the light in the event, it's that I'm glad it happened early in the year rather than later. Onward.

Teach Well: The Emerging Schedule

Every year the school routine is a bit different from the past year, and that's mainly because there's new students and an educator's expectations and repertoire has changed.

As I settle into this year's schedule, I'm realizing what works best for the students and what works best for me too. For example, the best time of day for reviewing student work is the morning. I can do twice or more times the work in the morning than I can do after a day of teaching. That might be true for children too. For many early risers, it might be easier to finish that home study in the morning rather than after school.

Our team has carved out meeting times throughout the week and the teaching assistant and I are falling into a good rhythm of serving all students well.

So at the start of the year, we create a schedule framework, but it isn't until the year begins to root that the true teaching/learning schedule emerges.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Give Into The Low Days

Yesterday I was zapped. It had been an unexpectedly busy weekend, and a very rainy, muggy Monday. I wasn't alone as the students and several colleagues looked like they were experiencing a similar kind of day. As a new teacher, a day like that would worry me as I simply didn't have the energy or zest for the more challenging teaching tasks. Instead of pushing myself through it, I chose to teach a number of activities that were less energy intensive and move through the day peacefully. That was the right thing to do as today I'm back filled with my usual quotient of energy and enthusiasm.

Teaching is intensive work. There's lots of one-to-one and one-to-many time on task activity. There are also lots of emotions. For example if a child comes to school sad or upset, that weighs on a teacher's heart and mind too. Further some teaching tasks are simply more intense than others. That's why I like to think of good teaching as harmonious choreography. You choreograph the day to match your mood, the students' disposition, the weather, the schedule, and multiple other factors. If you keep all the lessons and experiences you've planned to lead right by your side, you can pick and choose the best fit for each day and each section of the day. That lends itself to a positive routine and happy, successful students too.

So rather than fight the low days, simply give in to them and teach the lighter, simpler lessons, and save those intense, energetic lessons for the days when your energy is high and enthusiasm full. Onward.

Keeping Up with Paperwork

It's difficult to keep up with the paperwork required to teach, work that you are expected to do after the teaching/learning day.

The challenge lies in the fact that an educator's after school work often includes the following:
  • paperwork related to field studies
  • paperwork related to student study response
  • paper/online work related to parent/student response
  • research and lesson planning
  • classroom clean-up, set-up, and organization
I'm trying a Wednesday-to-Wednesday system this year, showcase portfolios, and a student response slip. Today I'll make an effort to complete that work so I can hand out the responses tomorrow. 

I write this post simply to acknowledge the challenge that paper/online work presents to educators who spend most of their work days with time-on-task efforts with students and colleagues. Still thinking. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Teaching Well: What's on the Agenda This Week

This is a picture of Rob Stephenson with his Curious
Crew. Rob visited Wayland this summer and now he's
returning to present to the entire elementary staff--he's
a terrific STEAM expert and teacher.
Last week found students taking a standardized reading test, engaging in a large number of team building activities, and beginning writer's workshop in addition to art, music, physical education, technology, picture day, and library events. It was a busy, positive week.

This week students will work on their Global Cardboard Challenge Projects at home, during recess and free time, spend time taking a standardized math test, continue reading and writing workshop efforts, and focus on routines and organizational efforts. As their teacher, the standardized test allows me time to follow up on organizational matters and daily routines too.

The end of the week will include a class field study and The Global Cardboard Challenge Arcade on the playground. Teachers will also be involved in a STEAM event with the visiting expert, Rob Stephenson, founder of Curious Crew.

As the teacher, my focus, in addition to organization and response, will be to successfully co-lead the field studies, Global Cardboard Challenge Arcade, and standardized math tests. I also have some tasks to complete related to the ECET2-MA2016 event, Connected Educator Month, MassCUE, and few more professional learning efforts and presentations.

It's clear that the school year is off and running, and the path so far has been very positive!

Factors that Affect A Positive Start to the School Year

Overall it has been a positive start to the school year. There have been many factors which have contributed to this positivity, factors that I believe will support any school year start.

Team Teaching
Our shared teaching model gives us the opportunity to work closely with one another to teach approximately 75 students. This collaboration definitely enriches and extends what we are able to do for every child.

Planning and Collaboration Time
We have significant collaboration time each week including shared planning periods, the Professional Learning Community (PLC) hour, and a shared student planning time where we focus on specific children. This is a good amount of time in school to work together with the grade-level educators, special educators, paraeducators, and others who impact our team and the students on a regular basis.

Technology Integration
We have a computer for every child, additional iPads, and good hardware to use when it comes to teaching well. This truly enriches our ability to differentiate and target teaching in meaningful ways.

Super Schedule
Our schedule this year is near to perfect. There is a great flow from class to class and lesson to lesson. There's little lag time, the kind of small bits of time where children are likely to create mischief, and instead nice blocks of time where children can learn,play, have lunch, and work together.

Field Studies and the Curriculum Map
We made the time this summer to map out the curriculum, and this map is leading us well including multiple engaging field studies--the kind of events that students look forward to and that build a strong, flexible learning community.

Useful Calendar and Building Communication Patterns
Our principal sends out a weekly collaborative bulletin with system-wide and school updates. He uses a collaborative document so that others can add to it. Further our school uses a Google calendar and that too is very helpful when it comes to knowing what's going on.

Our TeamFive weekly newsletter and grade-level website also helps to keep the learning team including students, family members, colleagues, administrators, and citizens in the loop of what has happened, is happening, and will happen with regard to the curriculum program.

Lead Time
It seems like there is greater lead time for events beginning to happen. I hope that this continues with a policy that almost all events will have a minimum of a two-week lead time with regard to announcements. Three-four week or more lead time will even be better. This helps educators balance all the at-home work we're expected to do to run a classroom with preparation and planning expectations for school events.

Adequate Staffing
Thanks to our inclusion model, every classroom has a paraeducator and a classroom teacher. That makes six full time educators for the 75 students. We also have significant support staff including a reading specialist, special educators, specialists, building substitutes and assistants, and an English Language Learning (ELL) teacher. So typically when we need extra hands and expertise to serve an individual students or small group, that support is available.

Materials and Supplies
Lead time, curriculum maps, and shared planning all help us to know what we need and also gives us time to get those supplies. This year we initiated a better purchasing system too which helped all educators to have what we needed at the start of the school year. I can imagine backing that system up even a little more and giving teachers collaborative time so that the ordering is not as rushed at the end of the year. Yet this year was MUCH better than years passed due to new online systems, an earlier start, and an in-house leader who had time to manage the system.

Teaming with Family Members
I believe that family members know that we want to team with them to teach their children well. This is evident with regard to the ease that families have with reaching out to us with questions and suggestions. This is also evident with regard to the number of parents who showed up at Curriculum Night and the numbers who have volunteered to help out at upcoming field trips.

It seems like our systems are becoming more streamlined and targeted towards providing teachers, family members, and students with what they need to do our jobs well. I hope that this movement continues with the addition of greater communication, inclusion, lead time, and timelines from all curriculum leadership teams, committee work, and other groups that impact our daily work and long term planning and implementation since transparent, inclusive, and timely share, planning, and efforts truly impact what we can do to teach well with strength, care, and skill.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Professional Efforts: What's Important?

The busy nature of schools and little time for coordination and face-to-face communication can sometimes lead you away from the best professional decisions. This week a chain reaction of events related to a number of decisions illustrated this for me. In bus, complex systems like schools, it's integral to keep your professional priorities up front in order to teach and collaborate well.

As I think about this and ready for a large number of upcoming professional decisions and events, I want to be cognizant of the following professional priorities.

Positive Teamwork: Listening and Sensitivity
Google's study recognizes attributes of positive teamwork: listening to one another and sensitivity to feelings and needs. These characteristics were clearly evident this week in a sensitive note a colleague wrote to a parent. She shared that note with me. For some, listening and sensitivity come easy, and for others these traits are challenging. Whatever the case, it's in our best interests to put these qualities up front when it comes to learning and leading with students, family members, colleagues, administrators, and citizens.

No educator can do all things and that's why it's important to understand each others' goals and work together to get the job done well. An example of this was yesterday's Open Circle meeting. Our highly qualified school psychologist led the meeting with tremendous respect and knowledge. I had the chance to participate quietly while observing my students' investment in the shared conversation about teamwork and share. It was wonderful.

Planning Together
Our grade-level teaching team meets three or more times a week to discuss the teaching/learning program and students' needs and interests. Together we plan the program to teach students as well as we can. We profit from each others' expertise. This is a successful, positive approach.

Good Communication
We make it a priority to regularly share information related to what happened, what's happening, and what will happen with the entire learning community including families, students, colleagues, and administrators. This helps everyone in the learning community to stay on the same page and work together. By communicating plans ahead of time, it also give the community time to ask questions, make corrections, enrich, and update programming to come before it happens. This lessens the chance of errors that can confound our good work.

Focused, Targeted Individual and Whole Team Efforts
We carefully use both informal and formal data, observation, and information to plan thoughtful learning experiences for all students. We work to teach all students identified system-wide and state standards as well as learning points that match students' and the community's interests and needs.

Children First
When we make decisions, we think "children first" to guide our decision making. At times this can be tough especially when politics or system snags, sensitivities, budgets, and old think hinder "children first" actions. Issues such as free breakfast, vouchers for services/equipment, equitable access to technology, service delivery, parent contact/collaboration, language used, and role definition may create difficult discussions and change for all of us as we work to bridge opportunity gaps and work to teach every child well. It's integral to keep in mind that it's always okay to advocate for what a child needs, but that advocacy starts best with questioning and always demands respectful language and action. This is not always easy when time is rushed, investment is deep, and perspectives differ, but nevertheless, it's vital when it comes to successful professional efforts.

Growth Mindset
We all have to embrace a growth mindset and be willing to grow together in our service to each other and the children we teach. Having an open mind and willingness to learn will maximize what we're able to do for every child.

Thinking about the Opportunity Gap

What opportunities bridge the distance for students between difficulties with learning and learning success?

There are probably many lists that answer this question, but this morning as I think about student success, I want to make my own list.

Basic Needs: Food, Shelter, Clothing, Health Care (including dental), Sleep
This is the first area of concern. Are students hungry? Do they have a safe place to live? Are they receiving the health care they need? Do they get adequate sleep? Most schools have guidance departments that teachers can consult when they notice that students are not getting their basic needs, and those departments, in most schools, are responsible for helping students get their basic needs met.

At Home Academic Support
In many loving homes, there is not at-home academic support for many reasons. In these cases, schools may want to look for ways to bridge this gap with after school programming, sensitive homework policies, volunteer tutors, mentors, and coaches.

Inspiring Learning Experiences
Some students don't have access to the kinds of learning experiences that inspire a love of learning, curiosity, and quest. Schools can create opportunities to embed these kinds of experiences into their school programming, after school events, and access to clubs, summer camp, and membership to other organizations that offer these kind of learning experiences, experiences such as climbing a mountain, visiting a museum, taking a boat ride, visiting a national park, helping out at a nature preserve, and more.

At-Home Technology and WIFI
Systems can look for ways to help students access at-home technology and WIFI when that's not available. Recent studies are showing a narrowing opportunity gap for students entering kindergarten. In a large part I believe this is due to quality early childhood care and access to technology for many young children. As children move on in schools there is learning access and success distances between those who have access to technology and those that don't. (One exception here is students whose families have made a decision not to use technology early, but provide their children with substantial care and attention in a number of other ways. Often families that choose schools like the Waldorf Schools or home schooling fall into this category.)

Materials and Supplies
Some students don't have the supplies they need to keep learning. It's often a low cost and helpful solution to provide those students with the supplies they need.

This is my initial list. I will continue to add to this list as I think about the opportunity gap. What would you add?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

School Year 2016-2017 Moves Forward

Tomorrow starts our first PLC and our second shared student planning meeting. These meetings give the teaching team an opportunity to come together to think deeply, design, and plan for responsive teaching.

Students will be very busy creating their Global Cardboard Challenge arcade games today as well as some math practice work and reading.

Next week will find students continuing their reading, writing, science, and social studies. They will also complete a number of standardized systemwide math assessments. At the end of next week we have a couple of special events planned too.

It will be a good week to catch up on review of individual students' efforts as well as completing a large number of professional tasks.

Communication, Transparency, and Inclusion: Key Ingredients to Successful Education Programs

To develop teaching/learning programs, it's integral to have apt collaboration, inclusion, communication, and transparency.

It's best to redesign teaching/learning organizations so that there is the opportunity for lots of beneficial collaboration. Our current shared teaching/learning model is a terrific way to build better collaboration--together a number of educators teach 75 students. What we can do together is far better and more satisfying than any one of us could do alone. Systems have to look for ways to develop similar collaborative teams in schools to grow distributive leadership.

Too often programs in schools are mandated and created by people not in the classroom. This often results in disruption because the realities of the daily teaching and learning are not represented. Inclusion of all stakeholders in decision making and program development is vital to successful teaching/learning programs.

Missing communication creates havoc in schools. When educators, families, students, administrators, and citizens don't know what's going on, problems occur. It's best to develop streamlined, timely ways to inform all members of the learning community including students, families, educators, staff members, administrators, and citizens.

When the important information of an organization is hidden, trouble ensues. There's little to no reason for secrets in education except for the most personal information related to students or personnel. Transparency paves the way to optimal collaboration and teamwork.

Holistic Teaching and Learning

More and more education programs are moving towards a holistic lens and practice with regard to teaching children well. We know that it's not one skill or another that creates a strong program, but instead it is important to employ a holistic approach that helps educators to connect to students and help them become the successful learners that they can be. It is most important that every child continues to develop his/her repertoire for living and learning well.

With respect to this, how do we continue to develop our own teaching/learning repertoire as educators and how do we continue to develop our curriculum programs and teaching pedagogy to serve every child well.

In light of the fact that the science of learning and learning supports and programs continue to change, how do we keep up with grade-level, school, and system changes?

Our system begins by highlighting a number of system-wide goals. Then each school and educator matches their goals to the system-wide goals. That's a good process overall. The only part I'd change is to look a bit more deeply at the goal setting process so that it's as inclusive as possible. There are many tech strategies we can use to both deepen and broaden the approach.

As I think about our system-wide goals, highlighted to the right, I'm thinking about how the grade-level, school, and I can match our goals to these overarching goals.

Use Data Wisely
Data collection, both informal and formal, provides us with a terrific opportunity to look deeply at our students and programs. Already I've done a lot of deep data analysis with regard to my students. I've identified a number of questions about success and achievement that I'd like to pursue alone and with colleagues. Those questions include the following:
  • How do we best serve students who are one or more years behind in the curriculum? 
  • How do we maximize staffing expertise and time to serve all students well?
  • How do we make our curriculum programs more culturally proficient?
  • How do we give every child a challenge and a vision, plan, and activity for development--even children who are already meeting grade-level standards and beyond.
Nurture Early Child Development
How can fifth graders work closely with their early grade buddies to support optimal development, growth, and happiness at school? We can do this by establishing a weekly schedule of buddy time that includes teaching our kindergarten buddies and also developing fifth graders skills in multiple areas including reading aloud, basic math skills, and science and social studies knowledge.

Infuse Technology and Design
In what ways will we continue to design and redesign the curriculum program to teach well? How will we infuse technology into that design process to both appeal to and teach every child with depth? We already use technology a lot. This year we'll begin using Google classroom as we infuse technology into almost all project work and learning efforts. 

Train Global Citizens
What opportunities will we develop to help students broaden their awareness of the world around them and how will we support global and planetary citizenship? Our science curriculum develops students' awareness of our planet and how to take care of it. Our social studies curriculum helps students to develop the social skills to live peacefully and productively in the world. Further our Global Changemakers project helps students to look closely at how the world's most courageous and innovative people fostered positive change and development--this provides mentors for students as they live their lives.

Elevate Achievement
One big push in this realm is teaching students how to learn. We are explicitly helping students to understand the attitudes and behaviors that make learning more accessible and brain friendly. Through models, videos, conversation, and project work, we are developing students ability to pursue their passions and interests and develop as successful life-long learners.

Deepen Wellness Skills and Insights
Together with the physical education teacher, we are looking at ways to foster healthy snacks at school. We are also working closely with the guidance counselor to develop healthy social/emotional skills and advocacy with students on a regular basis. Further we are working to make our teaching and learning routines active including lots of outside nature play and study.

As I write throughout the year, I'll provide more details related to the goals. At present the teachers in my school work together to create school goals, it's important that we work together to support each other's individual teaching, grade-level programs, and whole school approach so that by the time our students leave our school they've developed a strong skill, concept, and knowledge foundation and have had a broad range of meaningful experiences with which to move forward with as they continue to learn.

Looking for the Strengths: Teaching Students Well

As educators of young children we can't predict what the future holds for each child. Students bring to us their myriad of interests, experiences, perspectives, lifestyles, and learning dispositions. The key is to stay focused on student strengths and the way they'll use those strengths to develop their more challenging areas of living and learning and to impact their own lives and the lives of others.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

First Days of School: Tangents

I had the lesson well planned for today, but when I arrived, I noticed a number of issues that we had to attend to first. Issues such as the following:
  • Tracking down missing/lost field trip slips and checks.
  • Helping students who don't attend to independent reading find good books or use tech to access reading in a better way.
  • Having a discussion about what makes a healthy snack--the kind of snack that feeds the brain and supports good learning.
While teachers almost everywhere have tight curriculum guides, the truth is that if we're going to bridge the opportunity gap in schools we need to spend time providing students with access to the learning experiences, access that includes helping a child organize his/her desk, contacting families to help out with field trip and other form processes, teaching about healthy snacks, finding just right books, and more. 

Often the curriculum efforts that matter most are not written in any guide, but are instead the tangental and responsive actions and words that support students' opportunity to learn. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Teaching Well: Steering Clear of Discouragement

Yesterday I arrived home discouraged. That happens to educators for a large number of reasons. Mostly I get discouraged when I have little voice and choice over the mandates I'm asked to carry out. When the mandates don't match my reading and research, I am left with a tough dilemma--do I follow the mandate because I'm told to do this or do I follow the research out there that points education in another direction? Teachers everywhere face dilemmas like this.

This is why I continue to be such a fan of distributive leadership, co-coaching, and collaborative teaching teams in schools.

But getting back to my title, Steering Clear of Discouragement.

There are clearly people and priorities that fill one with enthusiasm, excitement, and investment for teaching well. To steer clear of discouragement, it's important to steer in the direction of positivity, motivation, and inspiration.

Last night I thought a lot about that. I took a number of discouraging elements off my list and highlighted a number of inspirational efforts and colleagues.

For a long time I've advocated for many efforts. Some fortunately have come to fruition and others remain a struggle. For now though I'm headed in the direction of positivity and encouragement rather than discouragement for a while.

I don't want to come home after a long day of school discouraged if I can help it. Onward.

Monday, September 12, 2016


Uplifting experiences in school inspire and energize.

Uplifting experiences include enthusiasm, commitment, dedication, care, and interest. When invested educators get together to create and serve students well with similar drive and mission, that's uplifting too.

On the other hand, those times you feel like a robot, a chess piece, or a cog are not uplifting. I believe that schools too often provide experiences that are un-inspiring and even demeaning at times.

I truly believe that greater choice, voice, collaboration, and distributive leadership have the chance to make schools more uplifting than off-putting.

I want to think about this as I teach my students too--how will I uplift as much as possible as I know that's what energizes learning.

The Education Year: Teaching, Learning, Collaborating

This morning while I ponder, I'm thinking about the teaching/learning year and mapping my efforts in a "loose-tight" way to ensure that I teach well, learn, and collaborate with colleagues both within and outside of the system where I teach. The "loose-tight" aspect of the list means that there will always be room for additions, deletions, and change as needed and prompted by the overall focus which is to teach children well.

Primary Focus
The primary foci of this year is math/STEAM teaching, successful grade-level teaming, and regular, positive student feedback, response, and coaching including the following actions:
  • "Floor-to-Ceiling" Project Based Learning Approach in Math: Attention to differentiation and scaffolding learning experiences.
  • Teamwork and Design Process Focus for STEAM and Math teaching/learning.
  • Teach All Standards/Identified Curriculum Programs in Math/STEAM
  • Implementing a Regular Feedback Loop to Motivate, Inspire, and Coach Students Forward.

It's integral to stay up to date and continue to develop your practice each year that you teach. This year I'll do that with the following activities:
  • Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Teachers Advisory Cabinet TAC): Contribute/Learn with a team of educators throughout Massachusetts
  • Malden EdCamp: Share/learn with colleagues throughout State
  • ECET2-MA2016: Facilitate and Participate with a Focus on "Teaching ALL Students" with educators throughout Massachusetts
  • MassCUE: Presentation and Focus on tech integration
  • Educon 2.9: New Ideas, Deeper Teaching/Learning Focus
  • MTA Professional Development/Learning Committee: Focus on MTA's efforts related to professional development and learning
  • Wayland Institutes: Present and Participate
  • MTA Summer Conference: Present and Learn
  • Regular Reading, Research, and Writing
It's always great to do what you can to contribute to the greater organization. In addition to the efforts above, I'll also participate in a number of system-wide efforts including the following:
  • School Child Study Committee
  • WTA Board: School Representative and Secretary
  • WTA Salary and Working Conditions Committee
It's important to identify your professional road map now and then so that you keep it reasonable, focused, and in line with your overall goal to teach and learn well. 

The next step is to create a good pattern so that it becomes a natural effort to meet the goals and foci set. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why Charters? Data Dispels the Myth

There is lots of talk about charters in Massachusetts. I've been convinced that raising the cap is not a good idea so vote NO on #2 this fall.

  • Less money for public schools.
  • Less equal opportunity for all learners.
  • Less choice and voice over how our public dollars are spent.
  • No local control over local money spent for charter schools.
  • Giving up on public schools when Massachusetts is ranked #1 because we're already doing a GREAT job with few to no charters!
And, look what the data has to say. More charters equals less success. 

Data demonstrates that the states ranked in the bottom 11 had about 50% more charters than states ranked in top 11. 8/11 of the top 11 ranked school systems have 5% or less charter schools in the rankings below. 

We don't need to give away our public school systems to do a good job. Massachusetts is already doing a GREAT job and we can do an even better job if we don't give away our dollars to charter schools for a few--let's keep the ball rolling up hill in MA to better and better schools by continuing to move in the right direction and setting an example for the entire country that quality, well supported, citizen-driven public schools can provide a top notch education for every child which in turn has the potential of supporting a strong, vital democratic populous.

Teaching Well: Feedback Loops

Creating an optimal feedback loop for students and families is always a challenge. Every year I try something new.

This year, I'm hoping to institute the following loop:
  1. Students receive homework once a week for math. The homework includes a paper copy and an online copy.
  2. The homework is scaffolded from easy-to-complete to more challenging. Students can choose the level of work they want to do dependent on their interest, schedule, and more. 
  3. Students will receive feedback once a week too beginning this week. I'll use the feedback form below via hard copy and/or online.
  4. I'll keep track of the feedback response using a code on a spreadsheet as well to inform teaching efforts as well.

Implications of "Hosting Conversations" on PLC and Collaborative Teaching/Learning Efforts

I want to revisit the "Hosting Conversations" research and efforts as I think ahead about the work we will do as educators during PLCs and other collaborative endeavor to teach students well.

I am thinking that this topic may arise at the Malden EdCamp since Abby Dick was part of the summer learning related to this.

I am also thinking that I may be able to revisit this at Educon too.

In the meantime, I'll review my notes and handouts soon to begin to implement this valuable learning and research into real time efforts to teach children well. I welcome your thoughts.

Standards-Based World: How Do We Teach Students One or More Years "Behind"?

A super guide for teaching math well!
After reviewing a host of student data, I'm left with the question, What is the best way to teach students who are one or more years "behind" with regard to the math curriculum? I used quotation marks for the word, behind, as it suggests a negative label. We all learn in different ways and time frames, so I want to be careful with that term, yet I also know that when students come in far from the grade-level knowledge expectations, the learning community often thinks of those children as "behind" the others.

To answer my own question, I will create Boaler's "floor to ceiling" learning experiences that have what I've always called the 1-2-3 approach where 1 is review, 2 is grade level, and 3 is enrichment. I always open all levels to all students. Willingham in his book, Why Don't Students Like School, affirms the opportunity that exists when students review material that they "know" since there's always more depth to be gained by that review. I know that to be true because I've taught similar standards for years and each time I teach the standards anew I make more connections and learn more.

So with this 1-2-3 or "floor-to-ceiling" approach what's important and how does it work?

It works like this. Students enter the experience at level 1 with a review. For some the review will be quick and pointed, and for others the review stage will represent new learning. Level two is the grade-level norm or standard, and the place that we hope most students will master with the support of educators, classmates, and family members. The third level is enrichment and it's open to all. I find that when I open the enrichment level to all, it's amazing to see who reaches since it's never just those students you'd expect to reach. Often a child who struggles in one area of math may reach in another. That's why I'm not a fan of permanent grouping especially in the early years. I like the flexible grouping we use during RTI related to specific skills, knowledge, and concept goals.

Another great book when it comes
to matching learning with how the
brain works.
With the "floor-to-ceiling" or 1-2-3 approach, what's important are the following notes (and probably more):
  • Introduce everyone to the big idea in an intriguing way. 
  • Scaffold the experience so there are levels 1-2-3 and all levels are open to all.
  • Leave the experience "loose-tight" with plenty of room for student choice and voice.
  • Make time and space for discussion, share, and response.
  • Use teamwork when possible and be strategic about how you create groups. Use a variety of group types so that students are working with like-partners, unlike-partners, mixed-ability groups, like-ability groups, interest-based groups, and more. As you employ various types of grouping, observe which groups inspire, engage, motivate, and forward student learning. 
  • Use strengths/interest-based content and approaches as much as possibly and introduce many ways to learn and let students try out all the various ways to learn too. 
We can't predict how a child one or more years away from the curriculum grade-level standards will learn and grow. Sometimes when a learning experience is truly engaging, a child will leap ahead and demonstrate significant growth. Sometimes students will do this even if the experience isn't engaging as they reach a point of cognitive shift that helps them to merge and consolidate ideas with greater ease and strength. 

There are also times when a student remains stuck with a concept, knowledge, or skill. Give it the good try in multiple ways, and then take a break and return to that learning point later. 

Learning is not linear.
When teaching students who are behind when it comes to standards, think broadly and not narrowly. Make engagement the number one goal. Challenge yourself to work with that child in ways that helps him/her LOVE learning math. Next talk with the child and find out how he/she likes to learn. Work as the child's "servant" in learning. Tell them you are there to help them learn and you need their help in that regard. Assess regularly with the child and reflect too. Ask with the child, "What's working? and What's not working?" Work together to make optimal change. Teach the child how to be their own best advocate and learning manager. Explicitly let all children know that we're all on our own learning paths and those paths wiggle and waver as we learn more. 

How do you teach students who are behind when it comes to standards learning? Please share as I want to broaden my understanding of this as much as possible as I now we can grow our expertise in this area.