Monday, October 31, 2016

Top Down or Ground Up

The investment is rarely as good when it it's a top down directive, yet there are times when people desire being told what to do. Typically in those situations, the individuals have chosen the course, club, or event because they want direct and explicit instruction.

However, in most organizations, it's good to enlist the voices of many. In this regard, it's better to ask than project. This is true for the classroom community too.

Today a young child was off task. I pulled him aside and said, I really want to work with you to help you learn as much as you can. I know you have other interests and may want to learn in different ways. I'll work to figure that out with you; we can make this work. As soon as we spoke, his shoulders went down and he returned to his task much calmer. Later when I reviewed his efforts, I understood more about what was going on. It will be a step-by-step effort here as there's confidence building to do as well as the need to acknowledge the strengths this child has.

Like us, children want to be known. They want you to look them in the eye, hear their stories, and respond in kind. They, like most people, are yearning to be who they are, to bring their gifts forward into the world.

There are so many wonderful ways to teach and learn, and when we are teaching well we are helping students become the good people they want to be--good people who will serve our world well with their gifts and vision.

To Teach Well Is To Lead Well

How often do you take the time to acknowledge the good work of the people around you? Too often we're remiss in that regard.

There are some that are forthcoming about acknowledging the efforts of others, and there are others who are quick to take ownership of others' work and ideas.

Some who lead, make their constituents invisible by not responding to their efforts, acknowledging their hard work, and listening to their ideas. These leaders often humiliate, demean, and disregard those around them. And there are leaders who truly empower those around them. These leaders truly work with their teams to make things better. Those are the inspirational leaders in our midst.

It's rare to find a leader who is at one end of the spectrum or the other. It's almost impossible to be the selfless, inspirational leader who truly cares about each and every person they lead, and it is similarly almost impossible to find a leader without any merit or positive attributes.

As we lead our students in school, we have to make sure that we are making good time to empower those students. We need to talk to them with respect and listen to their ideas. We have to acknowledge their good work and help them when they struggle. To teach well is to lead well, and while that's not easy, it's possible and a it is also a goal worth reaching for.

When Discouraged, Spend Time with Children

There's a lot I could say about the discouraging factors of teaching, but instead of going on and on about those factors--factors most teachers experience, I'll instead focus on the joy and happiness children bring to life.

The reason so many of us teach is because we enjoy working with children, and we all know there is wonderful magic that happens in that sphere.

So if you're ever discouraged, make time to spend time with children in positive endeavor. It will definitely bring a smile to your face.

The Kind Servant

I truly aspire to utilize the servant leadership model in the work I do.

It's an empowering model that serves education well.

Whatever your role in the education world, I suggest you look into this model. What a difference it makes.

The Words You Choose

We have significant power over words.

Initially, we may choose to speak or not. Each can be the right choice dependent on circumstances, but it's not such a bad idea to think, Shall I speak or not.

Then we can choose the words we use. Word choice makes a difference.

We may choose to complain or critique, compliment or cheer up, empathize, wonder aloud, shout, or whisper.

We all know words are powerful.

A few simple words can change the course of history and make a significant impact on individuals and communities.

Some err when they use words. This makes us wonder if it's worth it to use the words. Some choose to rarely use words at all, and others overuse. Is it better to take a risk and speak or stay silent. Depends.

The words we use are such an important consideration, and such a powerful opportunity to make a difference, impact a life, and impart new ideas, warning, and inspiration.

I will be thinking more about this in the days to come.

Lifeline: Direction

The week is so busy that it feels like I'm in a work flood and when it gets busy like this the long term vision serves as a lifeline, a thick rope tied to a tree, that will help me move through the week and get to the other side.

What is woven into this lifeline?

Math Program Development
I'll focus in on math program development by reviewing upcoming units, organizing web pages, sorting and organizing tools, revisiting the math learning schedule and reading the research that supports this work. For November and December, this is the main learning/teaching focus for my work.

Cultural Proficiency
Our team is focused on lifting the levels of cultural proficiency in our team program. As part of this we'll focus on the life of Frederick Douglas and how we can use his life and story to teach biography, reading skills, history, and character. We'll use his life as a model for the spring biography project, and we'll visit a local museum and welcome a living history artist to make this unit come alive. Further we have a host of materials to support greater cultural proficient teaching that we'll use as well as we develop this effort.

I'll listen carefully to parents' thoughts on homework as I continue to work to personalize the homework approach in ways that meet the needs of each student. I am aware of the research related to the impact of homework and will factor that in as parents and I talk about this.

I want to study the new ESSA law with greater depth and think about ways that school structure, roles, and routines can change to empower greater teacher/student voice and choice. My reading and research points to the value of voice and choice when it comes to creating dynamic teaching/learning environments.

Idea Exchange and Effort
When I'm called to speak up, advocate, or share information, I get that knot in my stomach as it's still somewhat daunting to notice opportunities for positive change and to express what you see. Our idea share systems are still somewhat undeveloped and therefore lack clarity or focus with regard to how to share for best effect. I've been schooled in advocacy efforts, but I will still benefit from greater practice in this arena. I see ways that we can continue to think about and possibly effect greater change to make learning more meaningful and successful for all students. These ideas are from my perspective and will benefit from the opportunity to work and think with others. I've written a lot about this since I first heard about the impact of quality idea share systems at a University of Massachusetts' conference years ago.

Balance and The Good Life
It's critical to create balance in life and I'll continue to think and act on that too in the days ahead. For each of us, balance will look differently, but for all of us, striking that balance is essential.

Teach Well: What's on the Agenda - First Week in November 2016

Today's Halloween and then tomorrow November begins.

It's going to be a busy week of teaching learning including the following events.

Parent Conferences
Teachers on my team will meet with family members all week to discuss students' efforts to date. We have a host of data, study samples, and reflections to share with family members. Overall it's been a great teaching start to the year and as a teaching team we're very proud of each and every student. The conferences always provide added direction and insight with regard to our efforts to teach each child well.

Place Value Assessment
A couple of days will be devoted to the place value assessment test, and then I'll spend an evening or two correcting those assessments. The data related to these assessments will be used, in part, to create math RTI groups at the end of the week during our PLC.

Reading RTI and Progress Monitoring
We periodically progress monitor our reading students. I'll do that with my small group at the later part of the week. I have such a nice small group to work with. Last year the students coached me in how to use the "One Minute Reader" app which will continue to use this week in addition to beginning a new story.

Number Study, Powers of Ten Patterns, Order of Operations, and Multiples/Factors
Once the place value assessment is complete, students will begin studying powers of ten patterns, order of operations with a focus on powers of ten, and multiples and factors. Next week we'll look at the many ways to multiply and move towards solidifying multiplication skill with the U. S. Traditional algorithm. We'll weave that study into math problem solving as well.

Local Union Meeting
It's our local union's monthly meeting this week. Since it's a negotiation year, there's lots to talk about. The meeting always adds clarification to current events as well as some long term planning and efforts too.'

Faculty Meeting
It's our monthly faculty meeting too. A meeting focused on the school election, visiting each others' classrooms, and more.

It's one of those "keep the pace" weekends, beginning with a few final steps related to adding to students' showcase portfolios early this morning. Onward.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fostering Educational Leadership

This image comes from Dan Rockwell's  (Leadership Freak) Blog Post, 10 Ways to be a Leader That People Want to Follow

It's not simple to be a leader. To be a leader, takes skill. Often good leaders were well mentored by family members when they were young.

As educators, it's important to both hone our own leadership skills as well as to support the leadership skills of our students.

I really like Rockwell's list which I embedded above, and I'm wondering how that would translate into a school setting. Here are my thoughts:

He saw things in me that I didn't see in myself. 
Take time to notice and acknowledge with sincerity the special qualities, gifts, and contribution of the colleagues and students around you.

She cared about people and ran a tight ship.
Put people first. Stop and spend time on the personal issues. Be prepared, organized, and targeted about your work.

I was confident she had my back.
Be trustworthy and honest. Support those you work with.

He had competencies I aspired to gain.
Keep developing your skill and expertise so you have something of value to offer others.

She's always pressing forward.
Continue to learn, update, develop your craft and skill.

She was humble.
Don't forget that you're one small piece in the incredible puzzle of your profession and life.

He expected a lot out of me and himself. He walked the talk.
Exemplify what you believe in and discuss. Have high expectations for those you work with and for.

He's passionate to learn.
Make learning part of your professional pattern. Share your learning in positive (not "know it all" ways)

They have good character.
Pay attention to the attributes of good character. Work to develop those attributes in yourself and those you teach.

Focus on adding value, not gaining followers.
How can you add value to the organization, and people for whom you work, live with, and serve?

Become the person you would choose to follow. Would you follow you?
One education leader I truly look up to has so many great qualities including perseverance, life long learner, loving family man, sense of humor, willingness to risk and reach out to make things better for students, willingness to speak out, continual positive and challenging share, lots of hard work, and humility. He's truly an example for me.

Honor people. People choose leaders who make them feel they matter.
It's not all about you, but instead it's all about all of you. Make the time to honor, elevate, and celebrate those around you.

This really is a terrific list to use as you develop your skill and craft as an educator, and as mentioned above, it's also a terrific list to use with students as you help them to develop their own leadership skills and strengths.

Thanks for the inspiration Dan Rockwell!

Share "ALL"

I think a big question in today's organizational culture is "Who to share the information with."

I've been chided for sharing with too many, yet when people share with only a few, often share becomes similar to a game of "telephone" with information morphing and changing all along the way.

Yet who wants their email boxes filled with detailed writing about big issues?

What makes up good share protocols and venues? Why does this matter?

In old time factory model organizations, this was not a big problem. The leaders made all the decisions and workers followed them, but today many organizations follow new research about organization vitality and strength, and use distributive models of leadership. Similar to our democracy, distributive models of leadership broaden voice and choice to all stakeholders. This has potential to complicate matters first, but in the end result in better effort and result.

Yet how do you orchestrate a conversation with many?

What does that conversation look like?

I think conversations like these profit from regular, transparent share.

For example an administrator in my school system sends out a collaborative newsletter every Friday. He states the news and invites others to add relevant news as well. This shared newsletter is a powerful model for share since it invites voice and occurs at timely intervals for information exchange.

As I think about recent math debates that have occurred via documents and emails, I'm wondering if a weekly math letter shared by all stakeholders would be helpful. At first, I imagine the letter would be thick, but in time I believe it would gain a good regularity.

The letter could include the following items:
  • Updates from administrators/coaches
  • Dates and learning opportunities
  • "Lighthouse" and "Lightbulb" share--share of noteworthy events, practice, tools, and programs - this could be a collaborative piece.
  • Questions on the table - this could be a section to enlist thoughts, ideas, and input related to current questioning.
Regular share like this has the potential to elevate a teaching/learning team with timely, targeted share and response. Perhaps this would take the place of irregular and cumbersome email "share all." Just thinking. Let me know if you have thoughts, examples, or ideas related to this. 


What makes a trustworthy friend, family member, colleague, or leader?

This is an important issue to consider no matter where you stand in any group or organization.

Trustworthy means you can count on someone. You typically don't question their motives, actions, or response. You feel free to ask these people questions and debate responses. You trust that their intent, motives, and actions are well directed.

In general, I believe trustworthy people do the following:
  • Speak with respect
  • Share factual information (not hearsay or conjecture)
  • Listen actively
  • Provide rationale
  • Remain open to questions
  • Recognize that it's typically not one or the other who is right, but instead the combination of all.
  • Work transparently
  • Share regularly
  • Have the best interests of all in mind
The topic begs the question, Are you trustworthy? 

This is a challenging question because I bet that most of us will answer this with a yes and no since trustworthiness is challenged greatly throughout our development. We are born mostly trustworthy, but often the world around us may teach us ways that work in opposition to trustworthiness.

I can think of a few examples. 

First, if you fear asking questions or using your voice, you may discuss issues and make conjecture amongst colleagues or friends. That's not because you want to be untrustworthy, but you fear the consequences of honest questioning or share. Yet when this habit occurs, you become less trustworthy.

Next, the world changes quickly and so might your opinions. For example this morning as I listened to one politician after another speak about a political matter, I kept changing my mind about what I thought of the situation. As facts were revealed, my stance changed. If you're always changing your mind, you may be seen as untrustworthy, but if you're not open to changing your mind, you could be seen as untrustworthy too. There's a good balance here. One I'll think more about.

Sometimes children don't tell the truth and they do this to protect themselves or their family. A child may know that to reveal the truth would cause the child or family harm. This happens. Does this make a chid untrustworthy? I think not--it's much more complex than that. And when a child rarely tells the truth, there's usually a big story or need behind that, not a will to be untrustworthy. 

In general it's good to be open, honest, humble, transparent, and empathetic in your share and dealings with others. It's also good to provide the back story and rationale when you can too. This all leads to the reputation for being trustworthy, and the more that you can develop that in yourself and those you teach, the better off you and they will be. Onward. 

Math Obsessed: The Debate Continues

I'm in charge of teaching math for my grade level. I LOVE teaching and learning about math. There are countless ways to teach the subject, and the challenge is how best to teach the subject to large numbers of students who come to us with varying learning dispositions, styles, interests, and experiences.

Teachers all over the country are discussing and debating how to teach math best. The new Common Core Standards provide a framework. Cognitive research is growing at a quick pace, and math leaders such as Saul Khan, Jo Boaler, Keith Devlin, and more are leading us forward.

Therefore, how do we best promote math teaching and learning in schools with all of this activity surrounding and impacting math instruction. What are you doing?

First, I believe the Common Core Standards provide a good framework to work with. I think the strict grade-level guidelines in this respect are problematic because students at a same grade level are not all at that learning point. I'd rather see a more fluid progression of skill where every student no matter how old they are progresses along a somewhat developmental path within each math content area. It could be that 10-year-old Johnny is at grade two standards with number sense, but grade six standards with geometry. This kind of sophisticated progression and evaluation could really energize and personalize math teaching and learning.

Yet standardized teaching often leads to leveling of math students, and this is not always positive. Math instruction and learning depends on personalization AND collaboration. I think math learning should be a mix of both personalization and collaboration. With collaboration we should look at Jo Boaler's work with "floor to ceiling" project base learning which brings learners of all "levels" together to share their strengths and grow their knowledge, concept, and skill. With personalization we should look at the building blocks of math learning and understanding. What has each child mastered, and where does each child need to learn and practice more.

In the meantime, how do we promote steady programs in this quickly changing landscape of math education.

I believe we need to do the following.
  1. Right now, follow the standards. Learn them and deeply embed those standards into meaningful pedagogy.
  2. Read and understand latest cognitive research and embed that research into the pedagogy you use to teach math.
  3. Work as supportive and collaborative teams to help each other navigate this ever changing and vigorous math teaching path of new tools, programs, pedagogy, and possibility. Work with "loose-tight" protocols that help everyone focus on similar questions with good research and share and still respect individual style and room for risk taking and innovation. 
  4. Work with family members and students to engage, empower, and educate students to develop strong math concept, skill, and knowledge. 
  5. Utilize new tools to promote math learning--try out more tools than less and leverage today's technology to engage learners and help each child reach success. 
Our team has had a vigorous conversation about math education in the past couple of months. I'm sure the debate will continue, and I hope it serves to help all of us teach and learn math more and better. Onward. 

There's Rarely a Quick Fix: Election and More

Humans by nature seek the quick fix, but rarely is there a quick fix to complex problems and issues.

As campaign rhetoric fills the air waves, it seems to me that Trump's sound bites simply want to relay the quick fix without any real plans or depth whereas Clinton's experience demonstrates the depth needed to solve real problems. Those who have truly made the time to serve are more clearly imperfect than those in the private sector who have mostly served themselves--it's easier to hide behind private sector activity than it is to do your work in the public light. Public work is mostly transparent whereas private work is often hidden.

It's not a simple world, and most good work depends on deep, thoughtful strategic process, not the quick fix. We fool ourselves when we trust words that sound good but have little to no depth behind them.

We waste time in matters big and small when we rely on the quick fix. We do better to recognize that problems, issues, and ideas take time and good process. When we deny taking the time to inclusively and transparently look at process upfront, and then determine good process to solve problems and make things better, we waste lots of valuable time and potential.

We also waste time when we stand on the sidelines criticizing or staying silent. Good critique helps process, but constant negativity does not. Silence also does nothing to make good change.

Good change comes when people come together with their best intent and energy to make change happen. We all  have to be part of the solutions to the problems big and small that we face in our personal and professional lives. We also have to come together as a country with every citizen doing their part to the best of their ability to forward a strong union and democracy.

There's rarely a quick fix, but there's often a strong, positive fix if we give problems our best energy, collaboration, honesty, and positivity. Onward.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Learning Program: Student Stats

As I prepare for parent conferences next week, I'm considering a host of student stats including the following:
  • Online learning data
  • Assessment data
  • Student portfolio comments and reflections
  • Program efforts to date
  • Home study and class efforts
  • My own reflections of each students' efforts and performance
  • An overall analysis of the program
It's good work to analyze all of the points above, and in general, I'm finding that most students are getting the learning and support they need while we can better target our collective efforts with regard to a few.

Thankfully we have substantial support this year, terrific tools, and a good schedule. The key is to maximize the time, support, and tools to help every child reach as much mastery in the most positive and engaging ways possible.

As we share these statistics with family members, we'll listen to their thoughts too about how we can continue to coach and lead their children forward. 

This is positive work, work that benefits from our collective effort, investment, and collaboration. 

Strategic Process Preferred

There's a lot to know about strategic process, and doing it well takes practice.

How would you use strategic process to support inclusive process for a large number of stakeholders who have little relationship and less time working and thinking together?

First, I would propose a number of significant questions related to the topic at hand.

Next, I would send out the questions to all involved and have them look them over and add any that they think are missing.

After that, I would have the stakeholders rate the questions.

Then, I'd transparently share the rating and focus on the question chosen by most as number one.

To focus on the question, I'd begin with a collaborative Google doc where everyone gets to "voice" their interpretation, related ideas, and questions related to the question.

Then I would bring the team together and let everyone have 2-3 minutes to discuss their point of view.

After that I'd work with the group to idealize the end point, what's important about the result. We would create a result/vision statement--where we want to go.

Then we'd work together with sticky notes to chart the path from the meeting to the result. We would visually make the path on the wall. The team would talk about the path moving, coupling, and switching sticky notes until all were satisfied with the path.

The path would also be placed on a collaborative Google doc. As people traveled the path, they would be encouraged to add thoughts, ideas in writing.

Mid-stream the team would meet again to see how it is going. At the end, the team would evaluate the effort in terms of the final result. Then they would begin again.

This is a process that would be cumbersome to start, but effective and more streamlined as people got used to it. It's a process that Hattie supports well with his research.

Teacher Advocacy

I spent last year studying aspects of teacher leadership and advocacy, and as I try to use what I learn, I realize how difficult it can be.

For example, I am advocating for greater teamwork, inclusivity, transparency, and strategic process with regard to the work we do together to teach children well. My advocacy is based on the following beliefs and research:

  • We do better together: When teachers have the opportunity to utilize strategic process to learn with each other, coach one another, and make important decisions, we teach better. 
  • Teacher Voice and Choice Matter: There's a unique synergy of science and art when it comes to teaching well. The science depends on observation, data, reading, and research while the art depends on vision, passion, style, and relationships. It takes both to teach well. So while we use science to push each other forward, we also have to use art to respect each others' unique and important styles, experience, interests, gifts, and passion.
  • Strategic Process is Critical: Too often time for collaboration is wasted because we don't use strategic process to forward the best of what we can do together. Good strategic process relies on leveraging modern tools to support that process as well as clearly outlining process steps, roles, and expected outcomes. Typically these processes use backwards design, sensitive protocols, timelines, and more to effect good result.
  • Inclusion rather than Exclusion: A lot of time is wasted when information share is not inclusive. When information is shared via hearsay and conjecture rather than regular, thoughtful, inclusive share, problems often arise.
  • Transparency and Honesty: Most information related to teaching and learning well can be shared with transparency and honesty. It is often not complex information that demands secrecy, but instead important information that profits from honest, transparent share. 
  • Rationale is Required: When good rationale is included it helps everyone to sign on to and respond to information with greater care. Mandates without rationale often inspire worry, frustration, and struggle whereas decisions made in inclusive ways with good rationale support the best work we can do.
I am learning how to advocate. It's not easy to advocate from a teacher's perspective when there are many charged with leading the efforts and making decisions. Many educators say, "Keep quiet, don't speak up," but it's difficult for me to sit still when I see a better way as well as long for deep, professional, meaningful share, decision making, and discussion.

The move to greater educator leadership is supported by research, the new ESSA legislation, ECET2, and other agencies of teaching/learning empowerment. I will continue to seek ways to do this better. I will also work to actively listen to the naysayers and cull the learning that comes from their thoughts and ideas. As an educator, I don't have all the answers--no one does, but I do have some experience, knowledge, and understanding to bring to the table, and I think it's important that I do that in the best ways that I know how. Onward. 

Living and Learning Patterns Rethink

It's time to rethink the living and learning patterns.

There's been a lot of positive and not so positive challenge in the past few weeks.

First of all there's been substantial professional learning which has been mostly a positive challenge including MassCUE attendance/presentation and ECET2-MA2016. I learned a lot!

Then there's been a fair amount of curriculum debate and discussion, some positive and some not so positive.

With all that behind me, how shall I move forward?

First, I want to be mindful of the word joy, and seek that experience in the choices I make and professional/personal decisions I make. Deep learning, caring collegiality/friendship, authentic problem solving, creativity, nature, friends and family bring me joy. I want to make that part of my pattern every day.

Next, I want to be mindful of service. My favorite part of my job is serving children well. I want to make sure that I make plenty of time for that as well as the learning and collegiality that feeds that aim.

After that, personal health and living. There's lots in the personal sphere that brings joy and I want to make sure I make time for that.

Sometimes I steer into the storm of controversy, debate, and innovation, but in the near future I'll steer my teaching/learning ship towards greater joy.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday Musings: Last Friday in October 2016

Two very busy weeks melded into one, and now the weekend is here. I'm ready to have some quiet time after the very inspiring, challenging, and busy, busy weeks.

Fortunately the students are full of positive energy. They worked carefully on their showcase portfolios today, and have given recent studies good energy and practice.

I'm looking forward to focusing in on the classroom and students in the next few weeks without the added professional learning events. The next event doesn't occur until January and by then I'll be ready for another round.

Next week the attention will be directed to parent conferences too. Our team will meet with almost all of the parents of our fifth graders. We'll discuss students' strengths, needs, and goals. We'll also set goals as we look ahead.

I'm also looking forward to supporting my colleagues in ways that I can. Onward.

Homeroom Day: Showcase Portfolios

Today students will start the day with a bit of math practice and then they'll work on their showcase portfolios. We'll share the portfolios with family members at next week's fall conferences.

Our portfolios start with a "Happiness Survey" which basically gives students the chance to introduce themselves and what makes them happy. After that they have lots of opportunity to include photos, reflections, examples of study, and more to provide a full picture of themselves as a learner at this point in the school year.

Teachers will also place test results and other data that we've collected since the beginning of the year that informs our instruction and goals for each child.

Essentially it's a day of reflection and creativity--an important day since reflection drives direction.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why I am Voting No on Question Two

I like our Governor, but I don't agree with his argument with regard to Question Two.

Too much privatization of our public institutions and money does not promote long term welfare for the citizens of Massachusetts.

We are tops in the nation when it comes to public schools, and there's no reason why we can't continue that trend by focussing on creative ways to continue to build all of our public schools into the best possible schools.

There's no need to sell out to the private sector when we're already doing a good job, and we can use that money to do an even better job.

Many who support students who live in neighborhoods that most charter schools target are saying no to question two. They see the long term problems with giving the private sector our public school dollars to invest in their own private schools.

If the private sector wants to create schools, they can do that with their own money, but the public should not have to fund this venture.

Further, I'm all for public entities purchasing innovations from the private sector, but it's up to the public to make that decision. We don't need to give our public money away to privateers to use at their discretion.

Massachusetts has what it takes to continue the trend of creating the best possible schools in the country. We know what needs to be done to make schools better, and we have what it takes in the public sector to do that.

Vote No on Question 2. We don't need to give our money away to private enterprise. (Most of them have enough of their own to fund charter schools as private schools if that's what they really want to do.)

Note: With this new law, privateers could also create boutique charters in small towns, and those towns would have to hand over the dollars for those schools. There's no need for that at this juncture in the road.

Teaching Well: Next Chapters

We put the closing touches on ECET2-MA2016. I learned a lot and what I enjoyed most was working and learning with so many open minded, dedicated educators. I also continue to focus on the ECET2 ingredients, ingredients I want to promote at my school and in my own work:
  • Nurture Trust Among Teachers: How can we help build trust in our schools. For starters I will continue to advocate for greater transparency, information share, inclusion, and distributive leadership models. 
  • Focus on Each Teacher's Potential for Growth: This ingredient is tied to the need for schools to foster worthy, differentiated professional learning. The word "each" is essential here because too many educational organizations still promote "one size fits all" professional learning and expectations.
  • Inspire both the Intellect and the Passion that Drives Teachers in Their Work: Too often teachers' passion and intellect is disregarded in schools, and seldom do schools truly empower teachers to be the leaders that they need to be in order to teach well and model well for their students. I hope that agencies outside of school systems will continue to drive this ingredient with regard to support, policy, and expectation.
  • Provide Time for Collaboration and Learning: When teachers do not have time to collaborate and learn, they are unable to develop their craft and service in meaningful ways. It is essential for schools to re-look at roles, structure, and routines in order to build in time for greater collaboration and learning. In addition to time, collaboration and learning has to be respected, supported, and carried out by all in the learning community for best result.
  • Put Teachers in the Lead: Too often in schools, the educators who are teaching every day do not have the leadership opportunities to effect the work they do. This is a mismatch that dilutes the great teaching and learning possible. Teachers need to come together to seek the leadership they need to do the good work they're able to do.
  • Recognize Teachers as Talented Professionals: Again the role of teacher is often belittled. I often refer to a remark I heard repeated, a remark an adminstrator said which essentially stated that elementary teachers don't have to know much to do their job. This remark came from a leader of curriculum and teaching. Sadly, I don't think this comment is uncommon, and I do think comments like this lie at center of the struggles many educators face when it comes to being the professionals they want and deserve to be.
In the days ahead, I'll continue to look back on these ECET2 ingredients and our ECET2-MA2016 event for leadership and inspiration. I will weave the language above into my advocacy and work with children. Essentially as good teachers we can use the same language to empower our students:
  • Nurture Trust Amongst Students
  • Focus on Each Student's Potential for Growth
  • Inspire both the Intellect and the Passion that Drives Students in their Learning
  • Provide Students with Time for Collaboration and Learning
  • Put Students in the Lead
  • Recognize Students as the Talented Individuals that They Are
Respect is a circular notion. When educators feel respected, they act respectful towards students and visa versa. 

In the days ahead, I'll be focusing in on my wonderful fifth grade students and terrific grade-level team with these words in mind. Onward. 

Writing Windstorm: Pushing Me Forward

I know, it's been a windstorm of writing in the past few days.

This is not uncommon after I attend a dynamic teaching/learning event and then return to the reality of school. There's always great disruption, and just think, last week I attended four days in a row of steady, dynamic, positively challenging professional learning. I suspect I'll engage in a similar writing windstorm after I attend Educon in January so beware.

Perhaps in other environments, there's time on task to digest the learning and discuss it with colleagues, but in busy schools, there's little time to even acknowledge that you were gone. Also when a teacher is gone, others have more work to do which doesn't always result in the most positive feelings with respect to the new learning. Yet, many welcomed me back with positivity and interest.

I can't move through the disruption without thinking deeply and writing. I feel a strong need to tell my story and reason through the many challenges I face each day when it comes to doing a good job. For example, I had what I thought was a great idea yesterday. I put a significant amount of energy into it only to be told that, at this time, it's unacceptable. That was discouraging, but as some would say, I work with a team and I can't make all the decisions myself.

Throughout last year's Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI), I learned a lot about process and advocacy. It was great learning and training, but also learning and training that takes practice in the field, practice I'm working on now.

The challenge right now is to do the following:
  • Focus on being a positive, contributing member of the great teaching team I work with every day.
  • Focus in on a few areas of positive change and advocacy. There are so many aspects of school I'd like to change, but if I try to change them all, I probably won't change any so I have to be thoughtful about what changes will have the best impact on what I can do with and for students and families. With this in mind, I'll focus in on math, cultural proficiency, and SEL teaching/learning goals.
  • I'll also continue to advocate for greater system-wide communication, transparency, lead time, and inclusion. I think we can make time by creating more dynamic systems of share. Systems like this will lessen the questions, confusion, and delay we sometimes face when it comes to good teaching and learning. Of course this effort will include the work and efforts of many. I hope that my work with the union can support these changes.
  • Seek balance with regard to time and energy--good balance leads to successful work and service. 
Not surprisingly, I'm home with a chest cold after all this disruption, but tomorrow I'll be back with my wonderful students ready to meet the challenges and positivity the teaching/learning path holds. 

Embrace or Steer Clear of Drama

Yes, I'm dramatic.

I feel deeply, like to create, and do a lot of my work based on the signals I get from the people and places around me.

This energy is often positive and sometimes not so positive. Mostly, it works well when teaching large groups of young children. Like me, they're energetic, expressive, and creative too.

This drama isn't always the best when working with adults. Many adults like it to be calmer, slower, and less intense. They seem to prefer order, logic, and less rather than more.

These are gross generalizations, but I have a sense that these generalizations, in some ways, point to the struggle that some teachers face as they navigate the classroom-management connection. The classroom calls us to be flexible, responsive, creative, and curious, while management desires that we follow the directives set and complete the tasks expected. I will think more on that.

Drama has its place, and that's an important consideration as I continue down the teaching/learning road.

Promoting and Advocating for Change

A few years ago my team advocated for a change to a three-teacher shared teaching/learning model. We spent hours creating our proposal, responding to critique, and promoting this change. We had to endure a very long waiting period until we received approval, and when we received the approval it was a cautious and less than enthusiastic yes from some administrators (others championed the idea).

I was very upset during the waiting period. I couldn't understand why some would make us wait so long for a yes or no, and why the waiting period was marked with little communication at best. Also while we waited for yes or no, we missed out on other important opportunities that could have supported the model. Nevertheless, the model was approved, and we feel it is a very successful model for many reasons. We've still, to this day, received little feedback or commentary from the naysayers, yet the champions are in agreement with us about the model's success.

It's difficult to promote change.

For example, I was recently involved in a meeting of educators who were promoting change, and the change was met with little support. There is good rationale for this change, but clearly some hurdles too--hurdles we've come to understand some time after the change was first discussed. Yesterday, upon advocating for that change again and offering another suggestion, I was given guidelines about how to advocate for change and the accepted process. This morning I followed that process to the best of my understanding.

I would like making change to be a natural and welcome part of school life. I would like change ideas and change agents to be embraced with dynamic, strategic process, however, this clearly depends upon the change. There are changes I don't believe in or welcome too. Usually I have little voice or choice related to these changes. When changes come with good rationale, choice, and voice, it's much easier to embrace change, but when voice, choice, and the rationale don't exist or don't match the research, then it's more difficult to embrace that change.

The new process for change prompted me to take a strategic approach to advocating for this change. If our first meeting was led with greater attention to strategic process, we may not have reached this point, but now that we have, I can see opportunity for greater share and valued change and development of our system-wide grade-level program. Of course, I'd like to see a broader, more vigorous path to uplifting our program including the tools, programs, content, and pedagogy we use, but for now I'll embrace the process that exists and move forward.

Change is never easy. It takes time and collaboration. Good process, transparency, and inclusion helps. Let's see where the next step takes the team.

Math Forward

The math program parameters have been set:
  • Follow the established scope and sequence
  • Use the paper/pencil assessments (no computer assessments yet)
  • Complete the assessment chart
  • Share data with the team
  • Send all ideas for change through the math coach
  • Do not make any changes to assessments without approval by the coach
  • Make sure students are using the prioritized math tech several times a week
It's my job to work within those parameters. How will I best do that?

As I conclude Unit One, I plan to do the following:
  • Review the unit in light of the standards and make notes about where the unit does not match current standards.
  • Give the assessment, chart all the results as directed.
Then I'll read through unit two and look over the standards. Again, I will send the math coach notes about where the unit does not match the standards and wait for the coach's response before making any changes.

I wish that we could move the math in the following direction, a direction, in part, celebrated in a recent school committee meeting related to middle school math work:
  • More dynamic project/research based math learning opportunities, the kind of growth mindset and  "floor to ceiling" student-centered learning that Boaler discusses in her research.
  • Use of a more broad and playful menu of math apps and programs--the kind that students want to use beyond the school day, and the kind that foster a love and appreciation for mathematics.
  • Inclusion of a computer programming thread where students are creating with computer programming.
  • Greater tech integration into the math program where students are constructing animated models, math presentations, and more.
  • Greater use of multi-modal math learning lessons and activities, not as much paper/pencil practice (yet I know we need some).
  • Vigorous, open share threads for math teachers to share ideas and help one another learn. 
  • Openness to teachers' experience and expertise and less of a need for a "one size fits all" teacher approach for math instruction. For example, I'd like to be able to teach the standards in ways that I've found successful and motivating over the years rather than one way constructed by others and used by all with no regard to years of experience, study, or credential.
  • Good, positive, respectful, and inspiring strategic process for collective math program growth and development.
  • The ability to collectively re-look at all parts of the math program with an honest, comprehensive, inclusive look at the data. 
  • Opportunities to take risks, try out new ideas, and embed new research and learning into the math teaching program.
This latest challenge will prompt me to look deeper at what I wish for and what is, and think about how the two may possibly come together. When challenge strikes, it's an opportunity to look for more and better ideas. 

In the meantime, I'll do as directed to the best of my ability. Onward. 

Working Up Within the Parameters

Down with a chest cold today, I have a bit of time to think.

I will work up within the parameters and make the teaching/learning as dynamic and student-centered as I can.

How will that happen?

I'll go deep with each standard, and as Jose Vilson suggested on Saturday, I'll think carefully about the pedagogy.

As always when windows close, doors open.

I'll look for the opportunity in the greater directives, control, and mandates--I'll find the silver lining.

I will use my typical point of decision making which is "At the end of my life will I be happy if I > . . . ." It's a good phrase to lead decision making.

In all, I continue to believe that schools hold potential to be dynamic, positive places of collaborative share and teaching. I will continue to advocate for the learning communities I've read about and imagine as I know that those kinds of communities will contribute to a better future and better world.

In the meantime, I'll figure out a way to be successful in the environment where I teach now. Onward.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Charting the Course Ahead

Picking myself up after a discouraging day, it's time to chart the course for the days ahead. It's all laid out for me day-by-day in a document online. My job is to go in, make the copies, and teach as detailed on each page.

I can make up my own questions for the book group I'm running twice a week.

With regard to professional learning, I have a project I'm involved in.

That's the plan.

Blocked from Doing a Good Job

I am blocked from doing a good job.

I am not allowed to do so much of what I read about and understand to be good teaching.

For a teacher like me who desires to teach well, this is like cutting my legs off.

The mandates, surprises, and unexplained events continue to mount.

I feel like the breath is being taken from me.

This is a very discouraging and dehumanizing event.

I have tried every avenue to make it work. I've participated in numerous courses, got involved in multiple reputable outside agencies, shared my ideas, questions, and thoughts transparently, stood up for what I believe is right and good, and opened myself up for debate and discussion.

None of this matters; the direction in which I am being pushed is clear.

Is it my age?

Is it the outside work I do?

Is it the questions I ask?

Is it my desire for greater creativity and innovation?

Is it the salary I make?

Is it that I work too much?

I know the children are happy and the families well served, but clearly what I do is not respected or valued by some. It is disheartening and ever so trying.

I will find the next step, and I will not give up my values or vision as I move forward. Onward.

6/17 Update: Note that a new shared teaching model at the grade level, one-to-one computers for every child, computers for children who don't have them at home, creative RTI, team activities, field studies, good decisions by the State and local/state union have uplifted my ability to teach well in the past year and a half. There are still a few onerous obstacles which hinder educator choice and voice, good communication, and effective collaboration, but at least we're moving in a good direction. May it continue.

Teacher Wanted: Leave Creativity at the Door

In many educational spheres creativity is not wanted or welcome.

Teachers are seen as robots who carry out orders--the good soldiers in the field.

For many this is probably exactly what they expected when they signed on to teach. They are the good soldiers--the educators who carry out the orders sent.

I must say that I enjoy learning and creating as much as I enjoy teaching. I find that the two go hand in hand, and when I'm able to tailor the learning to the students I teach, I gain tremendous joy from the success and result of those lessons.

Without the freedom to create and collaborate, the job is quite dull--a list of duties rather than a profession, work instead of craft.

It's so very discouraging, but as noted earlier, it's often the way it is.

I guess I was a fool to think that learning, creating, and collaborating were welcome parts of the teaching/learning path. For too long I've struggled with the desire to teach in a vigorous, creative way when what's welcome is more dutiful and routine--follow the path directed.

When I arrived at the teaching/learning door thirty-one years ago, it was a vibrant place to be. Even up until the recent past, it held room for creativity, innovation, and collaboration, but now that's going away.

So many wonder why there is a teacher shortage. I believe this is one reason. Without much choice or voice, teaching does not hold interest or opportunity. There's nowhere to put the learning and investment you bring to the career path.

In time I'll figure out what to do with this dilemma, and in the meantime, I'll do as I'm directed since I need my job to support my family. It's just so difficult to do a job directed when you know you could do a much better job if you were allowed to use your creativity, experience, and knowledge. This is a very, very difficult turn in the road, one I never expected in teaching year 31.

A Discouraging Chapter in the Teaching Path

I have wonderful students, supportive parents, and an awesome grade level team, but I must say that I'm experiencing a discouraging downturn in the teaching path.

The last time this happened was when I was working with colleagues to champion the shared teaching model. The model met tremendous resistance and there was a very long waiting period between proposing the model and having the model approved.

Again, I face a similar downturn when it's essentially been inferred that it's not my place to think, create, or innovate, but instead to follow the directives in place for teaching the program. It would be easy to follow the directives if my research, reading, and experience demonstrated the directives to be state-of-the-art, timely, and modern, but that's not the case. Yet perhaps I'm wrong, and as I've mentioned before, I want to keep my job and will do as I'm directed.

Colleagues advise me to do what I will and say less. Others tell me to simply follow the directives and not speak up or ask questions. I understand that in some cases that's a more peaceful route, yet when everyone does that, good change doesn't happen.

I'm sure many are tired of my words and advocacy--just do your job, they probably think. Believe me I wish this job didn't pose so many challenges when it came to the desire to create and apply new ideas, reading, and research. I wish I worked in a more innovative setting where creativity, research, risk taking, and new ideas were welcome, but that's not the case for me, and at this point, there's probably a zillion reasons why this is true.

So what's a teacher to do?

For now, I'll do as I'm directed. That's the course of action that I'll take at this point.

In time, I'll figure out next steps that match my spirit and desire to teach in creative and innovative ways. It's not surprising that the job has come to this, but it is discouraging. Onward.

Avoid Hallway Discussions

I started a hallway conversation with a controversial question the other day. There wasn't good time to truly discuss the topic hence the discussion was marked by a few words that left room for many, many more questions and lots of conjecture. Throughout my tenure, hallway conversations have never resulted in positive resolve, share, or effort. Hence, avoid those conversations in busy schools and learning organizations. Learn from me. :)

Manager or Leader?

What is the difference between a manager and leader?

When is it important to hire a manager and when is it important to hire a leader?

What can a leader do for a community?

What does a manager do for a community?

I believe the greatest differences between managers and leaders are the following attributes:
  • Leaders use an intellectual lens--they think about the landscape with the lens of research, experience, and understanding. They are often well schooled.
  • Leaders are empathetic, compassionate, and caring individuals who lead with the welfare of the whole team in mind. 
  • Leaders inspire the best of what people can be.
  • Leaders are vulnerable and willing to share their mistakes and take risks too.
  • Leaders model what they expect of others.
  • Leaders are transparent and forthcoming with information and news so that everyone knows what's going on.
  • Leaders use ambition to serve mission and not the other way around.
  • Leaders are courageous, loving, kind people. 
Finding good leaders is not easy work as I bet if you think about those that have truly led you with strength in your life, you will not be able to name that many people. True leaders do exist and are worth seeking. 

As educators, it's important that we nurture those skills in each other and in our students. It's important to our world that we develop good leaders and leadership as it's needed to move our communities, schools, and organizations forward. 

There can be many levels of leadership, and the attributes that define those levels are attributes very different from those of managers. This is an important distinction and one we need to think about as we seek the leaders we'll follow as we develop our craft and careers. 

What Can One Teacher Do?

Often teachers work in isolation which I mostly don't support, but sometimes it's the best way. There's no "one size fits all" or "best practice" since context, communities, and needs differ dramatically from school to school, classroom to classroom, and subject to subject.

Yet, no matter what our situation is, we have to ask the question, "What can one teacher do?"

In my setting, the first requirement is to establish good relationships with all children. I find that to be quite easy once you adopt a "servant leadership" attitude towards students and families. This attitude puts the teacher in the role of serving children, families, and colleagues as well as one can in an effort to teach children well.

Last night's #edchatma Twitter chat and Saturday's keynote by Jose Vilson focused on pedagogy--what can we do to inspire children and teach well. Every teacher can continually hone their pedagogical skill to teach well.

Content Knowledge
There are incredible resources out there online and off that help educators develop content knowledge. Good knowledge of the content helps us to teach well.

When Audrey Jackson and Victor Joyner presented this Saturday they commented that "Consistency is Calming." Educators can work towards optimal, simple, and streamlined consistent routines that bring students that sense of calm. Of course, at times, it's good to shake it up a bit too as that supports creativity and flexibility which are important too.

Planning and Preparation
Teaching well relies on good planning and preparation.

There are multiple ways to respond well to students in order to coach them forward. This kind of response is essential.

Coach, Mentor, Friend, and Education Partner
Yes, the good teacher works to be a positive coach, mentor, friend, and educational partner with students--we are there for the children we teach.

Where Are Schools Going?

As our district considers attributes of a new superintendent, it makes me think about the question, "Where are schools going?" How would you answer that question, and what kind of leaders will take schools there?

As I consider the question, I am thinking about the changing landscape of schools and school leadership.

My reading demonstrates a movement towards greater attention to distributive leadership models in schools. These models include hybrid models where teachers serve in the classroom and lead too. These models encourage greater voice and choice from all stakeholders and often refer to schools as learning communities. New schools make space for greater collaboration too. When teachers successfully and authentically collaborate and lead, they serve as good models to students with regard to leadership and collaboration, and this is modeling that's important for the future welfare of our students. 

In these communities there is a great push towards transparent, inclusive communication where technology is used to leverage information/idea share and exchange and promote dynamic student learning. Also these communities have their eyes on quality, and sometimes they look beyond a primary focus on budget to pave the way for that kind of quality. 

Modern school environments are environments that take the research carefully and innovate regularly with an eye on current cognitive research, new tools, and updated technology. Professional learning in these communities is teacher-driven always with a focus on how we may serve students better. There is always respect for all stakeholders and information is forthcoming at all times to serve the students and system better. Risk taking is embraced.

New schools are trusting environments marked by respect for one another no matter what an individual's position or role is in the system. Rather than driven by political connections and individual ambition, these schools invite diverse, skilled, and dedicated voices to the table to teach all children well. 

Where do you think schools are headed? What are the optimal attributes of educators and leaders in these schools? I'm curious. 

Reach In for Inspiration: Nurture Trust Amongst Teachers

Teachers often have to reach in for inspiration to do a good job each day. As I reach in, I plan to focus with depth each day on one of ECET2's Six Key Ingredients that "seek to fully realize a teacher's potential by ensuring each ECET2 convening includes the six ingredients." Today, I'll focus on the first ingredient:

Nurture Trust Among Teachers: ECET2 provides a safe and supportive space to build trust among teachers and other educators. Teachers return to their schools and communities eager and equipped to build and nurture trusting relationships among their peers.

How do we best nurture trust among teachers? This is a question, I'd like to discuss with peers, but initially, I have the following thoughts:

Collaboration over Competition and Compliance
In environments that focus solely on test scores, competition, and compliance, there is little room to build trust. Environments that foster collaboration amongst teams build trust. I am fortunate to work with an extended grade-level team that works well together and collaborates regularly with student service as our focal point. Contributing to worthy collaboration within this group is one way to nurture trust.

Transparent, Inclusive Information Share versus Selective Share
When information is selectively shared rather than inclusively shared, trust wanes and conjecture and hearsay reign. This is true because no one knows the truth of what's going on. By supporting inclusive, transparent share, educators nurture trust among teachers.

Active Listening
It's essential that we hear each other's stories with active listening. That can be difficult in busy schools and educational environments, but we have to listen carefully to one another as that will nurture trust among teachers.

Honesty, Humility, and Vulnerability
Educators will not develop if they are not willing to speak with honesty, act with humility, and innovate with vulnerability. Growing together in collaboration with empathy, compassion, and support for one another will help us to nurture trust amongst teachers.

What other acts helps us to develop trust amongst teachers? Why is this important?

When is trust amongst teachers challenged? How can teachers work together to ensure that teaching/learning environments nurture trust amongst teachers in order to further the good work we can do for students and families.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What Does the Research Say: Single-Focus or Multi-Focus?

A debate about single-focus instruction versus multi-focus instruction arises now and then at the elementary school.

For example, I was never a fan of the Every Day Math Program, because students had to switch their focus too often. One chapter typically had a multi-focus and not enough depth, in my opinion, for mastery.

Now with program attention, teachers are discussing whether same students can learn three different math concepts, skills, or knowledge points in a singular day or is it better to focus on one skill, concept, or knowledge point with depth. I know as a learner, I like to reach greater depth with a singular concept before I try to learn the next concept. As a teacher I prefer to teach concept, skill, and/or knowledge point with depth and then at the end of the unit integrate past concepts, knowledge points, and skills for a rich synergy of content taught.

Last night a colleague confirmed my approach when she told me the story of how their RTI approach focused on the same concept and learning as the core teaching time. She said that the progress for individual students was terrific.

This is a topic I'd like to research more with regard to cognitive science and research. What do cognitive scientists and the research have to say about this. I want to know.

I think this Saul Khan video may shed some light on the topic so I plan to watch it in the morning when I have a fresh brain.

ECET2-MA2016: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

I keep thinking back to ECET2-MA2016, and despite the somewhat discouraging political/organizational realities of school life, what I learned that day is positively impacting my teaching.

I had so much fun using GoNoodle with the students. I started with the same pattern dance/song that Audrey and Victor shared on Saturday.

I also did a lot of coaching in math and really thought about Jose's inspirational talk and message as I coached each child. It's so rewarding to be able to help children grow with confidence and care. And as Jose reminded us, when we treat them well, they respond in like.

Further, I reached out to family members for a bit of support with regard to current learning goals, and since we work as a team, they were quick to write back a few responses and a correction to help the whole team of family members, students, and teachers.

Though feeling somewhat "shackled" by mandates, when I'm in the classroom working with my grade-level colleagues, children, and family members, that ECET2-MA2016 spirit reigns and that's valuable.
These respectful and inspiring ECET2 values definitely empower what we can do to serve and teach children well. 

Direction: Freedom and Happiness

In light of recent events, I'll move towards freedom.

ECET2-MA2016 was a move towards freedom as the event brought earnest, dedicated educators together and elevated and celebrated what we can do for children.

Reading, research, creating, writing, and collaborating are all freeing activities--activities that serve to better what we can do individually and collectively.

Too tight, managed protocols may limit freedom, but might be necessary. I will complete those as necessary, but not choose those when I have choice. Instead I'll choose avenues towards greater freedom, understanding, working together, and learning.

How does this impact my path?

Scope and Sequence
I will follow this as I have been told to do this. I want to keep my job and I will not be insubordinate, so I will follow the plan as directed.

Professional Learning
I will respectfully take part in mandated professional learning. I will also continue to choose wonderful professional learning events that inspire my teaching craft and potential.

I will seek to work with collaborative groups that help all of us do a better job and serve children well. Currently those groups include my specific and broad grade-level teams, local union work, DESE's Teacher Advisory Cabinet, MTA's Professional Learning Committee, ECET2 activity, SEL Research Project, and affiliations with curriculum groups and associations.

Healthy, Joyful Activity
I always say it, but I don't always do it but "All work and no play makes dull teachers," so I'll look to build up the joy and healthy activity in my life.

I'll seek ways to contribute and build community at home and at school. Every day I teach with a wonderful group of students and colleagues, so I'll work with them to empower what we can do together to teach and learn well.

I want to be a positive member of the learning/teaching community. The "shackles" I feel are there, but I will work to remove those through greater direction towards freedom and happiness. Onward.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Stay Safe

There are those whose actions are not in your best interest. It's important to ensure safety in cases like this. It's critical to think carefully about what you need to do what it is that's important to safety as well as good work and effort.

This can happen in any environment.

To support safety, one has to think about time, focus, and action--what you do, when you do it, and why you do it.

Be conscious with regard to your actions, and be open about your choices.

Path Ahead

The first school day after ECET2-MA2016 was great with respect to the children, but somewhat disheartening with respect to some of the bigger issues and events that affect me as an educator.

I just wish administration would say, "Hey, you've taught for 31 years. You've completed considerable study. You're involved in numerous education organizations. Just do what you know how to do well, and work with us as a team to maximize our collective efforts to teach children well. We trust you. We believe in you." I'd be so happy to hear those words, but instead there are so many "have-to's," requirements that in many ways don't support the dynamic teaching and learning I believe in. Yet, I don't know it all and there are many aspects of my job that I like and need, so be it--I'll go along.

Anyways, I'll do the job required as well as I can with great love and compassion for the students I teach.

Then I'll focus in on a few other areas of study and living. . .areas that bring positive challenge, joy, trust, belief, and good living. Onward.

The Teacher Contract

The teacher contract protects a safe, reasonable work environment. In the best of circumstances, the teacher contract provides educators with what they need to do the job well. It would be great if the teacher contract also supported autonomy, mastery, and purpose--three positive criteria Pink describes in his book Drive.

Tomorrow: Place Value Study Continues

Students will continue their place value study tomorrow. I'll work with a number of individuals to support their work in this regard. The students will access study software during the lesson.

Conjecture and Hearsay is Damaging

It's damaging to conjecture and pass on hearsay without any details. It's best to share honest information and evidence. So much damage happens when people just pass on rumors or bits of stories that damage reputations and hurt people.

Often when there are no good avenues, patterns, or support for transparency and communication, this happens in organizations and it's not positive.

Writing My Way to Freedom and Betterment

The only way I can get past the struggles that I face as an educator is to write my way to a better place.

Writing helps me to acknowledge the mountains I have to climb to teach well.

Writing helps me to affirm the good people, places, and events that energize those mountain climbs.

Writing helps me to prioritize where to go and what steps to take next.

Through writing I identify whom I can trust, and who doesn't have my best interests in mind.

So as I write myself through the latest challenging event in the school year, an event where there's been many unanswered questions and little support, I realize that some places only offer a fraction of what you need or what you can do. No place will be all things to you, and it's important to seek the environment and mentoring you need to do the good work possible.

The result of this writing is to follow a new path--one that I've outlined for myself, and one that I'll stick to in the days ahead. As usual, children will be the driving force as I continue to aim to teach them well and enjoy that task thoroughly. I'll continue my research and outreach too as I love to learn as much as I love to teach. I'll try to stay as far away as I can from the sources that serve to continually discourage and demean my efforts, questions, thoughts, and ideas--like a heavy weight, I will have to find places to put that aside so I can do my work well.

So many realize that educators require inspiring, vital, and inclusive environments to do their work well, but others don't understand that, and thus pain.

But I'll write myself through the pain and continue the good work I know is possible. Onward.

The Good Leader

Who is the good leader, and how does he/she act?

The good leader like the good teacher takes an interest in his/her team. He/she knows the team well and works with the team in authentic, honest, forthcoming ways.

The good leader maximizes team members' strengths, interests, and talents. He/she leads with positivity in mind and uses a strengths-based model to forward good work.

The good leader is a communicator. He/she responds regularly to the questions of his/her team. He/she is an open minded, thoughtful, active listener who makes the time to lead with a servant leadership approach as he/she knows that when the team is well cared for, everyone does better.

The good leader focuses on collaboration over competition or compliance. He/she knows we do better together.

The good leader stays ahead of the curve. He/she understands the value of lead time, analysis, research, and readiness for the decisions and issues to come.

The good leader is a loving and courageous individual. He/she is more interested in others than himself/herself and courageously advocates for what is good.

The good leader is unafraid to respectfully make the time to discuss controversial issues utilizing strategic process to find good solutions, pathways, and resolve for issues that occur.

The good leader prioritizes and continually revisits his/her task list to make sure what's most important takes precedence on that list.

With a distributive leadership model in schools, all educators are perceived as leaders, and all will work together to mentor one another and promote the best of what each other can do.

Leadership skills are essential in our world today, and we all crave the opportunity to work with the good leader wherever he or she may be.

ECET2-MA2016 Reflection One

I'm curious to know where the @teacher2teacher movement
came up with these "ingredients" - powerful ingredients for the
kind of teaching/learning environment I crave. 
I'm sure that I'll have many, many reflections from ECET2-MA2016. It was so difficult to return to school today since at ECET2-MA2016, the educators were so forthcoming with ideas, positivity, reflection, and openness, and upon returning to school the main theme was "compliance." How discouraging!

Yet I don't want to lose the good vibes, inspiration, intellect, and tremendous energy that was alive at ECET2-MA2016. There were so many moments of terrific inspiration and forward thinking. I love dynamic, inspirational environments like that.

My work outside of the school is not respected or valued by some at school. My teacher colleagues are respectful, a few administrators pay attention, and parents have been my best support, but in general it is not deemed valuable which is discouraging.

Yet I didn't get involved in ECET2-MA2016 for school kudos, recognition, or praise, I got involved because I believe in the tenets of the event, the ingredients that lead to teacher empowerment and better service to children. I truly enjoy working with dedicated, forward thinking teachers and leaders, and that's what happened at ECET2-MA2016. That also happens at edcamps, MTA conferences, Educon, NBPTS, CTQ, and other noteworthy educator events. It happens too in my classroom when it's the children and me--I can really work with the children to get to a place of dynamic teaching and learning, and thankfully I enjoy the support of family members and close colleagues in this regard too.

My quest for dynamic schools has been noted as "overwhelming" in the system where I teach. Years ago when I attended a terrific conference at Google, I was told not to take what I heard seriously because it only represented "a few people." There's few that value my vision or support my quest to teach well, and I have so many administrators in charge of my work that it's challenging to keep track of all the rules and protocols I receive.

So what's a teacher to do?

Here, I have to comply whether I agree or not. I will continue to ask questions, but I will need to be satisfied with few to no answers and less interest. I'll continue to seek outside agencies and groups to energize the work I can do for children. I must say that I'm ending today in tears, tears of discouragement. I've had so much hope that all of the reading, research, and work I do would promote positive change in the place where I teach, but on days like this it's difficult to see anything but the need to comply and do as I'm told. It's ever so discouraging.

I'll take some time to think, follow the rules at hand, and do what I can to teach well within the parameters I'm expected to follow at this time. Onward.

The Five Year Rule

Sometimes I get discouraged that new ideas don't take hold and/or are met with harsh response. Yet, then in five years, most of those new years begin to be embraced.

Right now I'm smarting from the following ideas that I believe in
  • more creative, ready, and dynamic tech integration
  • distributive leadership
  • teacher leaders and hybrid teaching models
  • greater voice and choice for all stakeholders in learning communities
  • "learning community" rather than "school"
  • collaboration over compliance
  • more dynamic, holistic, and meaningful math teaching and learning
  • the use of more strategic process to solve problems
  • greater transparency and share
  • more differentiated, teacher-centered professional learning
The world around schools are talking about these issues a lot. Major educational organizations are promoting these attributes as I've learned from my reading, study, and interaction with those organizations. But many schools are not ready to embrace these ideas.

Though in five years, the ideas will probably take hold. About five years ago (or more) I was advocating for one-to-one and now we have it and it looks like it may even get better. In the past few years, I've been advocating for a standards-based measure to get a good overview of math and now the system is beginning to try out one. I've been an advocate for Twitter for a bit more than five years and now my school has an official Twitter account. 

Change does happen, and it takes about five years or more. I just wish we didn't have to suffer so much in the early stages of new ideas. Onward. 

Compliance and Thirty-One Years of Teaching

It would make me so happy to see ECET2 ingredients
a part of every professional learning effort.

Over the the past thirty-one years like most veteran teachers, I have devoted multiple hours to reading and studying about good teaching. I truly enjoy the challenge to think about this, employ strategies, synthesize what I learn, and teach well.

Recently the topic of "compliance" has come up. In many areas of teaching there are tight protocols for the time, order, and topics to teach. Unlike the standards that serve as meaningful goals and are meant to be used by experienced teachers to teach in student-centered ways, some of the protocols I'm ordered to follow are extremely tight and don't always represent the research and reading I've done and the experiences I've had over the past thirty-one years. This situation puts a veteran teacher in a tough spot. While I want to be compliant to school/system rules and protocols, I also want to teach well.

I often reach out with questions that go unanswered, and I seek dialogue about the issues I face--issues of rules that don't match up with the study I've done. It's truly a situation of being put "between a rock and a hard place." Several years ago when I came up against an issue like this I got so frustrated that I raised my voice in advocacy for programs and protocols that I had read about to serve children well. That led to severe consequences that cost me extra dollars and considerable years of stress. I know it's wrong to raise your voice in the work place, but I also know that it's necessary to have dialogue, advocate, ask questions, and collaborate to do good work. Again that space "between a rock and a hard place."

So what's a teacher to do. I don't want to lose my job and I want to teach well. If I don't comply, I'll lose my job as I have been told to follow the tight protocols set--protocols that don't match up with research I've done, but protocols that I can follow without any great personal harm to children so I can do it and it's worth it to my family to do this.

It's discouraging to be in this place as I truly believe in the strength of collaborative teams, distributive leadership, and voice and choice in educational settings. I am a strong advocate for teacher leadership too. I am a fan  of collaboration over compliance, but to keep my job, compliance comes first.

I will continue to think about ways to make this work well. This always happens after great professional learning experiences. I go out and learn a lot about how to teach well, and then I come back where the new ideas are often not embraced. That's true for many educators. It's the landscape many of us work in, a landscape unlike what this week's ECET2-MA2016 is based on.

If you've got advice for a discouraged teacher like me, please send it my way. In the meantime, I'll try to figure out a way to make space "between that rock and a hard place" for promising collaboration that helps every educator to work together with respect and honor to teach well. Onward.

Back to School After Professional Learning Days

It's been a four-day classroom hiatus for professional learning including MassCUE, a system-wide math learning event, and ECET2-MA2016. During this time teaching assistants, substitute teachers, and special educators ran my class. I know that today when I return there will be a bit of catching up to do.

I remember when my parents took their first extended trip away from the children. They went to a wedding in New Jersey and relatives took care of us. While they were away, we were fine, but when they first returned, all we did was whine and cry--we let them know that we needed and wanted them, and weren't too happy that they left us for a few days.

I'm sure I'll face a bit of the same today as when the students arrive they'll likely want to tell me about what happened when I was away especially the "unfair" events that occurred--that's a typical response. I'll listen and respond. Then we'll get back to the learning.

It's important for educators to spend time outside of the classroom taking part in professional learning events. Those events, when well chosen and worthy, enrich our repertoire and make us better teachers. It's also important that we spend substantial time in the classroom too. Students need that kind of consistency when it comes to good learning. That's why I carefully choose my professional learning. I won't be out of the classroom again until January when I attend Educon 2.9 and also spend a day planning and preparing for a wonderful student learning event with my grade-level team.  Then in March, I'd like to attend the Massachusetts Teachers of Mathematics conference in Worcester, MA. I want to work and study more with that association as I develop my math teaching craft.

Now it's time to ready for the day. I'm happy to return to my muse, the students.

Teaching Well: Difficult Conversations and Pedagogical Challenges

Note that this post was updated on 7/13/2018

After a series of events and exchanges, an administrator posed the following question, "How do you as the teacher do the scaffolding necessary so that the student grasps the concepts so that you may recommend  him/her for a higher level math class at the end of the year?" This is a good pedagogical question. It is a question that sits at the center of my practice, and one for which I have desired focused discussion about with the greater math teaching/learning team. Though rather than teach for "a higher level math class at the end of the year," I would like to say teach for successful math growth, engagement, and empowerment. I'm really on the fence with regard to leveling as I've heard some good support for leveling, but I've also read about research that demonstrates leveling to be destructive with regard to student learning. 

Then at ECET2-MA2016, one keynote speaker, Jose Vilson, urged us to think more about pedagogy, the method and practice of teaching. His call and the administrator's question go hand in hand.

Overall, with students who score and perform within the grade level standards' expectations, this is not a tough question. Those students grasp the concepts for "a higher level math class" at the end of the year. Those students bring to the fifth grade the background, study skills, home support, and learning-to-learn behaviors and mindsets that enable them to grasp the concepts with ease. The current teaching program which includes a multi-modal, standards-based approach responds well to these students.

The challenge with the question above lies with the students who come to fifth grade one or more grade levels behind with regard to the grade-level expectations. These are the students that have a difficult time grasping the grade-level concepts, knowledge, and skill standards. These are the students that the administrator's question refers to.

Currently we have the following supports in place:

  • Differentiated Math Instruction. There is a fair amount of differentiation that happens during the core math program. That differentiation develops as the year goes on and our relationships with students get deeper and stronger. There's always room for growth here, and this approach could profit from looping when a teacher teaches the same students for two years in a row. I was able to do this a few years ago and I noticed good growth in this regard.
  • Math Preview Program: We currently have a math preview program that has been connected to greater success. I have asked to see this analysis, but it hasn't been shared so I cannot comment about how this program leads to greater success. This program has been changed to a two-week summer program this year. 
  • Response to Intervention (RTI): We also employ a strategic approach to RTI where every six weeks students learn in two 30-minute focused math groups. The groups which vary in size and students each six-week period are made to meet targeted instructional needs. Our RTI efforts have demonstrated successful academic growth. The year when this was most successful was a year when we employed a five-day-a-week RTI program run by a qualified special educator with a focus on developing number sense. This program was developmental, consistent, and focused. We tried to get traction for instituting a five-day a week number sense RTI program this year, but were unsuccessful. As we embed RTI more, I think we have to be more targeted about how we do this with a focus on the importance of teacher-student relationships, ways of learning, good scheduling and fidelity to scheduling, adequate time and using RTI to focus on building number sense rather than in response to specific standards or topics. 
  • Project Base Learning: We employ scaffolded projects similar to the "floor-to-ceiling" approach that Jo Boaler suggests. I'd like to do more of this as I believe it could create greater enthusiasm and leaps in math learning and engagement. I am currently reading Boaler's fifth grade Mindset Mathematics book which lends many ideas as to how to build in more floor-to-ceiling meaningful project/problem based learning in math. 
  • Learning-to-Learn Behaviors and Mindsets: We spend time working with all students to demonstrate brain-friendly behaviors, research, and mindsets that promote optimal learning. This dispels myths that students hold and empowers what they can do to support their own learning. This year I will build this more by including a number of SEL activities during math class and other times during the day--this will further develop students' ability to learn with depth and success. 
  • Tech Integration: Currently we use Symphony Math and a few other tech programs to support student learning. We work to teach students how to use these programs to assist their math learning. Typically struggling students do not find this program to be inviting, and further many of those students do not have tech access at home therefore their skills are less fluid and frequent when compared to their classmates who do not struggle with math as much. I would like to employ more engaging apps and programs, but our access to these programs is limited by a very lengthy and detailed curation, application, and approval process--a process that doesn't match the need to regularly try out, change, and implement good tech programming for these students. We have bettered our ability to embed Symphony Math into the learning program and Symphony Math has improved in ways that matter too--this is positive. I continue to want to embed other programs into the math teaching and learning program. One program we have access to is, and I will study that this summer to learn how I might use that to as a viable intelligent assistant in the math class. Unfortunately SCRATCH and Khan Academy have been banned by my system, but perhaps now that Khan has a student-app, they will reconsider. I've written countless emails to advocate for these supports with no success. The year I used Khan Academy faithfully was the year that we were on the top list in Massachusetts for having many students who scored advanced on MCAS--I know this was due to our use of Khan Academy and it puzzles me why they have taken that use away from me. 
  • Professional Learning Community (PLC): We work together as a grade-level team of educators, coaches, special educators, ELL teachers, assistants, and administrators to support this teaching and learning. The PLC gives us a good platform with which to develop our collective approach to supporting these students, however I believe that the hierarchical approaches to leading the PLC in the past few years has diminished our PLC efforts somewhat. I believe a move to greater distributive leadership where educators have greater voice, choice, and leadership will uplift our PLC efforts in ways that matter. 
  • Assessment and Data Analysis: We regularly assess, collect ,and analyze data, however, some of our measures do not match the curriculum expectations. This is an issue we need to address as a team. We have done away with measures that did not match the curriculum, however I believe we've become a bit stagnant when it comes to how we measure and how and when we interpret data. As our superintendent suggests in his latest systemwide goals, we have to make our data and analysis a more fluid and targeted process. I look forward to this work. 
  • Homework Club: This year a homework club started. We have several students who fall into the challenge area, but only one of these students is included in the homework club. I do think that this club, however, will support greater growth since it is staffed by talented math teachers. The numbers of students in the club, however, challenge the support possible. The homework club this year was run by a talented teaching assistant and many high school students--the club's efforts were well supported and very successful. There is still room for support for this club and other at-school extra academic supports. Last year I ran a before school math club for several months that was very successful. I hope to do the same this year. 
  • Title One Support: Our school is a title one support. It's possible that this money could be used to support our efforts. It might already be used in this regard, but I'm unaware of that. I would like to see this money used earlier in the year with more targeted effort--I think this money can really help us to build more fruitful RTI efforts. 
I think that we can better our approach as a team by having more transparent, detailed, timely, organized, research-based conversations about what works best to teach all students. Good process is essential to the success of these conversations, and I believe that the colleague circle approach may be the best approach for starting these conversations.Too often educators are left out of these conversations and efforts are employed without educator voice. 

We also need to make sure that all students have access to technology at the start of the year. I wrote a lot about that this summer, and some administrators are currently working to try to make sure our students without at-home technology do have timely, updated tech access. This is currently a wonderful reality that has helped students greatly. 

Further some students who were approved for special education assessment and review, have not had that process started yet or the process was not approved by family members--that could help some of these students so we might think about how we would begin and/or advocate for those processes with greater timeliness. This was not a problem in the past year. 

As for me personally, I want to think deeply about this question and what I can do within the core math and RTI periods that I teach to help each of these students succeed. I also want to think about my relationship with the students that struggle in math and the way I team with families to promote greater math growth. In the days ahead, I'll explore this question more as I teach, work with students/colleagues, and reach for substantial student engagement, empowerment, and growth. If you have ideas for me, please let me know.