Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Curriculum Development: A Model for Elementary School Distributive Leadership

I believe that curriculum development profits from an organic process that continually develops and grows curricula efforts by maximizing the best of our efforts/experiences, retiring outdated work, and integrating new learning and teaching. For example over the years the fifth grade has grown a biography project to become richer, deeper, and more modern--it's an incredible learning project that engages and empowers the learning community. 

Research, ESSA legislation, and efforts on dynamic teams such as DESE's Teacher Advisory Council point me to this direction for curriculum growth and leadership. 
  • Distributed Leadership: Give Every Teacher the Opportunity to Lead: Give every teacher a leadership role on one or more curriculum teams. Create STEAM/science, math, writing, and reading teams. Each grade-level/specialist area would determine who would represent their team on these curriculum teams and use professional time including some release time for these teams to champion, develop, and grow the efforts in the curriculum areas. At this point in the learning/teaching world, it's important to differentiate because there is so much to know--it's almost impossible for any teacher to bring the depth possible and positive to grade levels today given the potential that exists.
  • Teamwork: Work with those teams to grow the efforts in the main curriculum areas. This kind of effort translates to better communication, depth, and reach with regard to teaching well. These efforts also empower autonomy, teacher leadership, collaboration, and an overall greater sense of team. The teacher leaders in each area bring back the knowledge to their grade-level/specialist teams who would then work to grow the ideas/efforts further and embed that work into the daily efforts. 
  • Knowledge Age Blended Learning: Rather than focus on solely buying kits or text books which are often created by people who do not work in classrooms, I think it's important to identify what rich brain-friendly science teaching looks like and includes. This kind of teaching benefits from a blended approach that includes online/real time models, rich text, hands-on activities, field studies, visiting experts, professional learning events, partnerships with local related organizations and more. Teacher-driven, creative efforts in this regard grow the kind of work that was recently featured at a local school committee meeting, work that included a school-wide rocket launch and the Global Read Aloud work. This work began with standards-based goals, but grew out of educators deep commitment to engaging, empowering, creative and modern student-centered teaching/learning
I am influenced, in this post, by many factors including the following:
  • Research related to energy management--using our personal and collective energy well matters with regard to rich curriculum development and implementation.
  • The strength in  building strong teams over time that are empowered to do good work with and for others. 
  • Research from HBS related to elevating the "collective genius" of an organization. To do this well, the curriculum process needs to be an ongoing effort that includes the consistent work of dedicated, collaborative teams. The frequency, depth, and process of meetings and effort matter here.
  • Hattie's research related to the learning pathways or process that starts with identifying success criteria, collectively creating the learning/research path, reflecting, reviewing, and revising as the path takes shape, and then assessing at specific points and making decisions about future growth.
  • Teacher leadership, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When teachers lead, the teaching is more effective and successful, plus teachers who are empowered translate that empowerment to their students. Distributive leadership "teams within teams" grows this kind of empowered, autonomous, teacher leader teams which are great models for student teamwork too.
  • The book, Intentional Interruption, reminds us that we often don't make the time for good problem analysis in schools. This kind of multi-year curriculum development/teamwork approach would provide the time, staff, and process to problem solve, critically think, and create well. 
  • Further Willingham's work in Why Don't Students Like School point us in the direction of explicitly looking at the latest research to make our teaching/learning programs brain-friendly and aligned with the latest cognitive research. 
  • Lehmann and Chase in their book, Building School 2.0, also affirm the notion of building greater team to do better work with these quotes, "Teaching is not an individual affair. . .Teachers are better when they work collaboratively, but even more than that, teachers teach better and students learn more when the school has a vision that actually means something and a plan to make that vision a reality." "We need to figure out how to build systems and structures that allow good people of honest intent to do great things together." "People work best in service of something that they can believe in, when there is a pathway toward excellence and they can collaborate."
Too often schools create small committees that meet once in a while to complete a task. Often the tasks and work are not met with successful depth, impact, or communication because the process was not deep enough and did not go full circle or even better, spiral, over several years.  By developing invested teams with time-on-task for effective, knowledge age work we will grow more confident, contributing, and successful teaching/learning organizations at the elementary level. High schools and middle schools already have these kinds of teams and the effect is often demonstrated in their sense of pride, ownership, and effect. I believe we can do the same for the elementary school in ways that truly impact our ability to teach in more modern, targeted, and successful ways. Elementary schools today differ substantially from the factory models of old as there is so much we can do to empower young children at this fertile time in their social-emotional/academic lives. 

If a school was to embrace a model like this, I believe that school would need a timeline similar to this one:
  1. Introduce Model: Expectation that each grade-level and specialist teacher sign on to one or two committees as representatives for their grade level teams.
  2. Focus on Team Building and Protocols: New age strategic processes would be used to develop a strong sense of team, a team that will be dedicated to doing good work to impact teaching with depth and success.
  3. Set Goals: Time spent on developing overarching goals, focus. Then time spent on more specfic goals.
  4. Identify Success Criteria: Identify the success criteria--what will be the result of our work in, say, a year's time.
  5. Design the Learning Path: Who will do what, when, and why. 
  6. The Project Path: Team members do the work.
  7. Reflection/Review: Team members share updates in effective, strategic online/offline ways.
  8. Conversation/Revision: Team members share the effect of the efforts.
  9. Assessment: Team members assess efforts to date and create next steps. 
To successfully do this work requires consistency of staffing and teams as well as the use of strategic process that invites teacher voice and choice in order to maximize that "collective genius." This model also profits from good leaders who embrace the belief that when teachers lead their work, their work is better. 

Do you embed distributive leadership models for curriculum development in your system at the elementary level? If you do, what is the benefit of these models and how are they structured? Where do you see room for revision, enrichment, or greater detail in this post? I believe that work like this holds potential for more successful, valuable teaching/learning communities at the elementary level. Do you agree? 

Questions Lead the 2016-2017 Teaching/Learning Year

Who is Frederick Douglass? How can he serve as a historical
mentor that leads your work? 
"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." -  Frederick Douglass

What questions lead your learning year efforts? How will you let the questions lead your teaching/learning efforts? How often will you revisit and revise your questions.
  • Who is Frederick Douglass and how does he serve as a valuable historical mentor?
    • Visit African American History Museum Exhibit
    • Read About Frederick Douglass
    • Work with team to decide how we are going to integrate this learning into the curriculum--what standards/units will we match the unit to
    • Introduce Frederick Douglass to class with standards-based efforts and SEL focus on character.
    • Use Frederick Douglass as a model for the biography project
    • Watch a living history presentation of Frederick Douglass
    • Visit the African American history museum with students. See a living history presentation there too and learn more about Frederick Douglass.
  • What protocols, policies, structures, roles, salaries, and other working conditions support educators well?
    • Consider, organize, and prioritize the many ideas shared by teachers with the union team
    • Conduct related research
    • Support the process in ways that I can
  • How can we best develop and support strong, positive, creative, and collaborative learning communities?
    • Make sure the room is well organized for student comfort and learning
    • Have a number of lunch meetings to support team building and student engagement and empowerment
    • Have regular student team meetings
    • Begin classroom lessons with SEL/cognition focused mini lessons that empower positive learning
    • Work with education team to develop these efforts including our efforts to develop a more culturally proficient teaching/learning program. 
    • Spend time observing the way that the teaching/learning communities I work with work--what processes are effective and what processes can be improved to enrich and enhance the teaching/learning we do in these communities? How can I develop my contribution to these communities in ways that matter. 
    • Plan special Boston team event with colleagues at 1/13 PLC.
  • What are the best ways to teach the math standards well? How can we enrich these strategies and efforts so that every learner is engaged, empowered, and well educated?
    • Carefully look at assessments, online data, and other formal and informal data points to note who is learning the standards well and who needs more or better to learn.
    • Continue to work towards providing at-home tech access for all students.
    • Organize standards-based website with all related exercises and supportive resources and continue to build the website to support teaching and learning.
    • Work with colleagues, students, and family members to hear ideas and develop our collective approach in this area.
    • Continue to develop students' ability to access, learn, and gain support from online math teaching/learning resources. 
  • How can we embed STEAM teaching in hands-on, real world ways that inspire positive and proactive planetary citizens?
    • Attend to the directives from leadership in this regard.
    • Focus on this teaching/learning mostly at the end of the school year when time permits.
  • What professional learning opportunities will empower your efforts to teach well?
    • Continue to focus on SEL study/writing group efforts--there's a lot of work to do here.
    • Complete ESE's TAC study work.
    • Work on MTA's Professional Learning Committee work.
    • Study alone and with team our culturally proficient teaching text, notes, and efforts in order to continue to grow this effort with our students. 

Consulting the Bylaws

Our local union has bylaws. It's helpful to understand the bylaws as you work as part of your union in order to represent the members well. I highlighted a number of bylaw lines, I want to focus on in the days ahead. For the most part, the bylaws outline the specific tasks and expectations of union roles, responsibilities, meetings, decision making, and communication.

"Develop and promote the adoption of such ethical practices, personnel policies, and standards of preparation and participation as distinguish a profession."
This is a good focus as we think ahead to our salary and working conditions work. What are the ethical practices, personnel policies, and standards of preparation and participation that distinguish our profession?

"Unify and strengthen the teaching profession and secure and maintain the salaries, the retirement, the tenure, the professional and the sick leave, and the other working conditions necessary to support teaching as a profession.*
In some ways, this serves to prioritize the contract efforts.

"It goes without saying that both parties should be firmly resolved to live up to the provisions of the agreement. To this end, all of those responsible for administration of the agreement, either on the employee or on the employer side, should be carefully and thoroughly instructed in the terms of the agreement and in their respective duties and responsibilities."
It's important that our contract language is updated and in some cases, revised, since some aspects of the contract are now outdated and other areas are not carried out for many reasons. When the contract is clear there will be less issues for debate.

"To enable members to speak with a common voice concerning matters pertinent to the teaching profession."
To speak with a "common voice" requires sustenance, communication, and good strategic process. Together we are better, and coming together takes both time and skill.

Our bylaws have many more important words and phrases, but the ones above are those I'll focus on in the weeks ahead.

The Good Meeting: Part Two

Weeks ago I prepped for a meeting. I knew it was going to be tough and I did what I could to ready myself for good collaboration. My preparation didn't work and the meeting wasn't positive.

What went wrong? What more could I have done?

Essentially, I didn't understand my place at the meeting. What I thought to be true wasn't.

I have another chance to do better at a similar upcoming meeting. I have a better sense of my place at the meeting. I have a greater idea of what's expected. I have thought a lot about this and will follow the research and reading I have done.

There's much to know about good collaboration and efforts as schools continue to change and develop. Learning matters in this regard.

Collegiality: Growing Your Work

My work intersects with many.

Young students typically want to do well. They're also playful, friendly, and creative. The key is to maximize their will to succeed with their playful, spirited nature. I enjoy this positive challenge as I seek to teach each child well.

Family Members
Typically family members are a child's greatest coach and supporter--family members know their children well and want the best for them. I think of family members as valuable members of the teaching team and try to inform them with useful information, provide choice, and respond to their questions and suggestions regularly.

Colleagues work side-by-side with me. I learn a lot from them, and seek their advice regularly as I navigate new issues related to teaching well. We do better together.

Professional Learning Network (PLN)
My professional learning network essentially keeps me up to date with all that is happening in the broader education community. Their words, links, and share teach me and challenge me. They are always a valuable resource.

Curriculum Leaders, Coaches, and Specialists
I work with many whose job is to lead the curriculum efforts. They bring to teachers' their priorities, interpretation of curriculum expectations, standards, and goals, and ideas/efforts for change. It is my responsibility to follow their direction.

Similar to curriculum leaders, coaches, and specialists, they lead the work I do and similarly it is my responsibility to follow their direction.

As a member of the union, I h ave a responsibility to contribute and I also have the ability to utilize their resources which serve to empower and elevate the work I can do to teach well.

Professional Affiliations
Similar to my PLN, these affiliations serve to forward the work I can do to teach well.

Understanding the potential that exists with those you work with and for is essential to the good work possible.

The Value in Knowing

A colleague presented a challenge to me. I listened and responded that there was so much to know about the situation and that the more knowledge and experience that we have in this area, the better we will be able to navigate the challenge's potential.

There is value in knowing.

How do we collect, embed, and apply the knowledge that we need?

With this challenge, time is critical because reading, studying, trying out, and understanding the new knowledge takes time. There will be missteps since the knowing is new.

Are there experts in our midst that can mentor us in this regard? I suspect that these mentors do exist, but they are not readily available. It will take a bit of work to identify these masters, and then it might even cost money to access their knowledge and skill?

All around us are people who have grasped parts of this knowledge, and how do we bring all of these people together to maximize our "collective genius" in this respect.

Is knowing in this situation worth the time and effort it will take? Is this a challenge worth pursuing?

Like most challenges in school, it's a challenge related to potential, promise, and betterment. If we successfully navigate this challenge, we will be able to teach better and serve more students well. This is a good goal.

Breaking down the challenge work, the knowing, includes the following steps:
  • Read and research.
  • Organize the work into manageable, accessible parts.
  • Listen to the knowledge of those around you.
  • Collaborate.
  • Strategize the application steps--how will you apply the knowledge to meet the challenge.
  • As the knowing is applied reflect, review, and revise. 
  • Be open about the novelty this knowledge brings. It's okay for others to understand that this learning is new. 
  • Keep the mission of what's important up front throughout the process. There's always the worry that with all the work that a new challenge takes, the mission will be lost. Turning a mission into a catchy phrase or sound bite is one way to keep the challenge's goal up front.
Good work takes time. Good knowing takes time. Meeting meaningful challenge takes time. 

There is value in knowing, and when we work together to know well and apply that knowledge with direction and care, we do the good work possible. 

Write into the Night

I didn't expect to write into the night, but one comment ignited the chain reaction as I sought greater truth and understanding.

I first I wondered, "How could that be," and then, "What happens next?" In some ways it's like a story without an ending or at least the ending I was hoping for.

Now late at night, a resolve has emerged--a good, go forward resolve that leads me back once again to the young and wonderful children I teach.

Looking Forward

Many have wandered these waters to the distant ocean over time.

There are many stories to tell. Some are brave, courageous tales, and others are tales of misfortune. Still some are happy vignettes and then there are those which make us shiver and shake.

It's of little worth to look back at this time as that retrospective will lead us astray from the promise that awaits.

Better to look ahead with as clear a view and steady gaze as possible.

Stand forth with the good sailers that lead you.

Reach out for their wisdom and experience.

They've sailed these seas many times and know its wavy course.

Yet they've retained their inspiring chants and songs.

Come with us.

Bring your cheer.

Good awaits us there.

Don't tally or look back, but ahead instead

To the place that we are going, a better place ahead.

Steady or Shiny

Shiny is alluring.

Steady is reliable.

We need a little of both, but before choosing one or another, we have to decide what is right for the time and the place.

The Team Player

He sat down and asked, "What can I do to help?"

The educator responded by telling a story of a missing resource.

Rather than disregard or condemn the educator's words, the team player listened attentively. "I can see why that resource is such a valuable tool for you. Let's think about how we might obtain it."

He sought the advice of others on his team and identified a funding source. Later he worked with an implementer that was able to put the resource together.

In short time, the educator had what she needed.

"I can't thank you enough," she said.

He replied, "My job is to serve you and your job is to serve the children. With this cycle of support we create an environment where our students thrive."

His commitment to his employee and the students she teaches every day was evident in real time. She didn't have to beg or cajole or seek outside sources, but instead right there in her midst was a supporter--someone who helped her do her job and that made a tremendous difference with regard to what she could do for her students.

Team players seek ways to support. They don't obstruct or challenge progress, but instead serve change and development. They trust in those that are on their team and work with them to do the best possible job.

The story begs the question, How are you a team player? How do you support those around you so that they can do their best possible work? Are there times when you obstruct what's possible and how can you change that?

I do believe we do better together and that good work depends on inclusive, transparent, open minded, and collaborative effort--the kind of work that makes a positive difference.

Changes that Matter

As I listen to the desires of those around me, I hear words that reflect changes that matter.

I live with, work with, and know many dedicated people. Typically these people share ideas for optimal change--ways to make things better.

I know it's important to listen, really listen to what matters. It's so easy to overlook the voices of some or demean their work and effort, but to elevate one is to elevate all--no one should go unheard.

As I think about this, I wonder what is the best way to elevate the voices of those around me.

With my children, it's typically been the question, "What do you need, want, and desire," as that question lends itself to immediate needs, current wants, and future desires. That helps me help them.

At school, I try to encourage students to be the learners that they are capable of being. I tell them that I'm there to help them in any way I can and I encourage them to "teach me how I can best teach them" by advocating for their needs, asking questions, and seeking support when needed.

With colleagues, I want to work with them to empower the best of what we can do? What can we create, seek, and do together to create the best possible learning community? What supports us in this regard and what stands in our way? Today at a meeting many noted structures, roles, and routines that were supportive and others that could be better. We all see it from a slightly different angle, yet many of our thoughts, desires, and needs were similar with regard to what we need to do the jobs well.

Better is a moving target. We're never there and there's always more we can do to elevate and empower our efforts to teach and learn well. The key is to continue to strive for the betterment we desire and the betterment that we know will make a difference for children. Doing well by children is why we chose to teach in the first place, we were drawn to support and help understanding that education is a "super power" when it comes to living a good life.

I don't have all the answers, and I'm only one voice. I look forward to working with my colleagues to think deeply about how we can best effect our work environment to empower our efforts to teach well. We're starting at a strong place and with some thoughtful tweaking and revision, we'll get to an even better place with regard to doing our jobs well. That's a good focus to have.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Daily Teaching Focus

After spending considerable time watching school committee meetings tonight, I find myself desiring greater distributive models of leadership as well as greater transparent, regular communication more than ever.

Timely share and inclusion of multiple perspectives, ideas, and decision makers has the potential to elevate the work we do together to serve families and children well.

When I hear of new initiatives that are unknown to educators, I worry. In the past when initiatives like this have been dropped on our door step, they typically don't take off or become successful. Instead they become one more box, binder, or folder that sits unused because the initiative didn't enlist educators voice and choice in effective ways thus resulting in a curriculum effort that doesn't fit the time available, resources we have, or focus needed.

The most successful curriculum initiatives are those that profit from considerable collaboration, preparation, reflection, and revision--they are units of teaching and strategies that many have invested in. These efforts profit from authentic evaluation, share, troubleshooting, and development. I'm a fan of a broader, more inclusive, and transparent process of curriculum development, a kind of process that enlists the voice and choice of all stakeholders.

Yet, I am one voice of many in a school system, and while I enjoy discussing, thinking about, and debating the big ideas in education, my main focus is teaching 74 fifth graders each day.

As I think of those students, I'm focused on building their mathematical foundation via the fifth grade standards as well as supporting/enriching skills, concepts, and knowledge. We have some great online and offline tools and resources for this teaching, and I have an eager group of fifth graders. The key here is to stay responsive to each student so I can coach them with as much skill as possible.

In addition to the math, I am focused on supporting my RTI reading group, my homeroom's social competency learning and work, and our TeamFive grade level efforts which include our shared goal to boost our team effort to present a culturally proficient program, foster good STEAM teaching, conduct curriculum-related field studies, and nurture each child to the best of our ability.

No one teacher can do all or be all, but we do profit from ethical, inclusive, forward-thinking, and empowering educational communities--the kinds of communities that bring people together with respect and dignity to teach all children well. Onward.

School Committee Meetings: What's on the Agenda?

Listening to all of one and part of another school committee meeting tonight made me reflect on a number of items. I wonder how all staff could be privy to this valuable information without the add-on of watching a multi-hour school committee meeting each week.

Is it important to know all of this information? I think it is important for our teaching/learning community to be well aware of what is happening around the system. When we're informed, we can maximize that information to teach, learn, and collaborate well as a learning community to serve students and families well.

No one educator can focus on or be apart of all decisions in this regard. Yet, when educators are involved in the decisions that affect their work, I believe the work of all is elevated. Also when money is short or limited, enlisting the ideas and thoughts of the educators about priorities can also increase investment and good decision making.

Teacher-Driven, Engaging Study
First, I was so impressed with the curriculum share related to the Global Read Aloud. I was very proud of my colleagues who put so much time, effort, research, and creativity into this terrific project. It's great to see projects like these shared with the greater community. This is an example of wonderful teacher-driven creativity and effort with regard to timely, high-interest, integrated teaching and learning. The superintendent also mentioned the terrific rocket launch at another school. This is another home-grown teacher-driven project that's a big success.

Strategic Process for Curriculum Development and Change
Next as I listened to news of curriculum changes and purchases, it made me reflect about the curriculum choice process. I wondered about the best ways to choose new curriculum in this modern age, and I wondered how we work to make inclusive decisions that lead to brain-friendly, creative, engaging, student-centered, and timely curriculum choices. Too often, in the past, programs have been created and/or purchased that have not been used well or haven't kept up with the learning potential that exists today. Typically when educators are deeply involved in an inclusive meaningful and thoughtful strategic process, the materials are well chosen, used, developed, and personalized to meet the teaching/learning needs of all. It would be interesting to hear what educators think of this issue. What curriculum efforts have been most successful? Where did those efforts originate and how did those efforts develop? Were the efforts more top-down, grass roots, or a good mix of both? How do we measure the impact of curriculum? How do we identify curriculum strategies that work best? What is a good example of this? This would be a great topic for teacher discussion as there are so many options today when it comes to good teaching and learning. I have heard many various opinions and experiences expressed related to this topic.

Distributive Leadership Empowers Teacher/Student Voice and Choice
I would like to see greater distributive leadership or a "teams within teams" model emerge. With this kind of model, every teacher would serve on an authentic, curriculum committee. The committees would represent system-wide teams with teachers from multiple levels who make decisions related to those curriculum areas. The leaders would return to their grade-level or subject-area teams to discuss changes and enlist teacher voice. At the elementary level I could imagine curriculum teams in math, STEAM/science, writing, and reading. Meetings would be held regularly during the school day. I believe a model like this would engender greater teacher voice and choice that would result in rich teaching and greater student choice and voice.

App Approval Process
App approval and a new student information system were discussed. It was interesting to note the substantial research, administrative, and legal efforts that accompany this effort as the system works toward online safety. It appears to take a fair number of professional hours to complete this kind of work. I'm sure there will be countless changes in this regard over the years as technology and cognitive science continue to develop at a rapid pace.

Athletic Programs Review and Development
I listened carefully to the athletic report too. The athletic director discussed a large number of points related to a recent Northeastern study and follow-up efforts. As the mom of three boys who have profited greatly from the sports teams, coaches, and efforts in the town where I teach, I am grateful to the wonderful impact these efforts have had on my children. It sounds like sports are continuing to develop and change in positive ways too.

Mentors for Violence Prevention Programs
A wonderful review of a powerful high school program was reviewed. I'm so glad that my son has a chance to learn from this empowering and sensitive programming.

STEAM Supplies/Extended School Day/Summer Programs
I learned of new STEAM supplies that will be added to the schools, but I'm not sure if those are just for after school programming or for the classroom programs. I continue to be impressed by the system's extended day programming. I know this serves students and families well. I think it's great that they are offering jobs and internships to high school students too. It's a win-win for both the high school students and young students.

The school committee has a big responsibility to figure out the budget. There are so many questions to answer. How much money should a community spend on education? What are the priorities with regard to spending this money? Who prioritizes and how? As I've watched school committee meetings in the past year or so, I've realized how much time is spent at school committee meetings and elsewhere with regard to the budget. Lots of time and thought goes into this process.

Of course, as an educator, I believe that a high quality education system is a wonderful investment for a community. Well educated, invested children contribute well to communities and respect those communities too. The schools provide a positive centerpiece to communities--they are one organization that brings people together in positive endeavor.

There was a lot of discussion as to how to share information about budgets with the citizens. Communication of any information is always a source of discussion as it's important to think deeply about who you are communicating to and what you want them to hear, understand, know, and discuss. In the public domain, it's great to be as transparent and inclusive as possible as that saves time, money, and energy in the long run.

A "Building the Budget" presentation was given which demonstrates all the factors that are included in a small town's school system budget. It is a complex mathematical problem, one that the public has an opportunity to discuss and vote on. The budget guidelines suggest that there is no more than a 2.5% increase (about $950,000). That's not much given the changing landscape of education and the potential/possibility that exists in education today. What's included in a budget: salaries, athletics, transportation, retirements, wage adjustment (contract negotiations), enrollment (how many students), facilities operations/maintenance.

There were also a lot of priorities shared including the following:
  • World language coordinator for language immersion program. I'd rather see a program that serves all children, not just some, but again, I haven't done extensive research on this. This will also change the community school notion to a degree and add transportation costs which may or may not be an issue.We already have quite a few bilingual students in our system. As a parent, I would have been very interested in this program, however. So it is a high interest option. This seems to be a big priority for the leadership.
  • More Guidance: I think this is important.
  • Extracurricular Stipends: I'd like to see how this fits with the overall K-12 system expenditures and priorities in this area before commenting as I believe the stipend money should be well directed across K-12.
  • High School Interdisciplinary Teacher: This is outside of my area of knowledge/focus.
  • High School Tech Assistant Again, I'm unfamiliar with their staffing.
  • Elementary Tech Chromebooks: I wonder if we could ask parents to buy these and then just pay for the few students who could not afford them. Chromebooks are not that expensive and students could use these throughout Middle School.
  • Middle School Writing Lab: Not in my knowledge/focus area
  • Elementary Assistant Principal: I'd prefer to see curriculum directors play an assistant principal/curriculum role. I think that would bring the directors into the school and then the principal/curriculum director could share the role of school leadership and curriculum leadership. Greater use of distributive leadership models and hybrid roles would eliminate the need for more administrators. Further, a streamlined evaluation process would also reduce the need for more administrators.
  • Ordering Efforts: I believe this effort could begin earlier and with better use of professional/administrative time, this could be done. We could order earlier, order more online, and then have custodial staff and possibly others help with delivery. I've always felt that one purchasing individual for the system could potentially organize orders and save money. I worked in a place that did this, and it was very successful. 
  • Docusign: I wonder if there are cost-free ways to do this. I do this for free with Google's app dochub.
  • High school/Facilities Issues: I don't know a lot about this as it's not my area and there were a number of related priorities in this area. 
Language Immersion Program
Our school system is considering adding a language immersion program to next year's projected budget. The program, as described, would begin in kindergarten and then a grade would be added each year. I love the idea of language immersion, but have many questions. I wonder how students would be selected. Would it be first come first serve? Would native Spanish speakers get first dibs on the program? Where would the program be housed? How would the program be integrated with other grade-level programs? Is it fair to offer this enrichment program to some rather than others? Could this program be offered to all as a twice-weekly special including one language tech class and one language hands-on class which would provide educators with additional collaborative/planning time, and provide all students with language immersion opportunity. I know there's been a lot of discussion and meeting about this, and I have not read all the related research, so my thoughts are from what I know to date about this topic.

School committee members cautioned each other about how they talk about it. They mentioned that it will have an impact and that the FinCom guidelines have only a 2.5% increase for the total town budget. They noted that collective bargaining is an executive session issue. It was mentioned that principals noted that they can't make software purchases and that they have to make hard choices in this area. I had not heard this in my school, and found that interesting to hear. It was mentioned that it was difficult to say no to teachers, and I had not experienced this either, but I am only one in a system of many.

Budget Saving Considerations
  • Could families buy students their own computers? And then could the system support the families who were unable to purchase the computers?
  • Could we use more free software? For example Khan Academy has a lot to offer and is still free to use. 
  • Could we institute a more strategic approach to software purchases? Would a better process save money?
  • Could software purchases be combined with the general resource funds?
  • Are there ways to streamline efforts to create greater savings and more efficient, effective work? 
  • Are some software programs that we currently use not worth the price?
  • Transportation savings and innovative ideas were discussed. A Concord Public Schools electric bus grant was mentioned. 
Security Cameras
This was brought up. I do think that in this day and age, security cameras are a good idea for schools. It's a good safety decision. I actually thought we already had security cameras at our school, but perhaps I'm wrong. I think it's important for the public and staff to know where the cameras are. 

Transportation is a costly item, and there was much discussion about how to lower those prices. There must be a better way to transport children in a small town, but I haven't thought of it. Safety is a big concern here. 

Superintendent Search
This is an ongoing effort. Ads in process. Focus groups are in process. Not advertised yet. They will include 25-30 at most. They mentioned dates and groups, but I haven't seen it published anywhere at this time. It seems they will start in early January. They discussed the survey and felt it should be opened for about two weeks. It will open after the holiday break. A screening committee will be created too. It was noted that the PTO choose parent representatives through a broad manner; the WTA will select the teachers; Finance committee (and other board reps) would choose a member from their staff, and the school committee will select the community representatives via an application process. It was mentioned that they didn't want to "stack" the selection committee and that school committees promote these searches in different ways. They discussed if there should be a school committee member on the screening committee and highlighted that it is the school committee's responsibility to hire the superintendent. 

Note that these notes reflect the 11/28 and 11/14 SC meetings. 

Watching the School Committee Meeting

I wish I didn't have to watch the multi-hour school committee meetings to find out what's happening in the district where I teach. It would be so much better and easier to learn this via a weekly newsletter that included information about what happened, what's happening, and what's planned. Yet seeing the discussions myself gives me the chance to think about how I feel, what I'd do, and what's to come, so perhaps it's worth the time.

Time Matters

How do you use time?

Does the way you use time contribute to the greater good or does your use of time take away from the promise and potential possible?

In this age of what sometimes seems like boundless opportunity and possibility, our use of time matters.

As much as possible we should help one another to use time in ways that matter and support both the personal and greater good.

The Ethical Leader

"Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do."
 - Potter Stewart

"Apart from values and ethics which I have tried to live by, the legacy I would like to leave behind is a very simple one - that I have always stood up for what I consider to be the right thing, and I have tried to be as fair and equitable as I could be." Ratan Tata

Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.-  Albert Schweitzer

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings. 
- Albert Schweitzer

Corporate executives and business owners need to realize that there can be no compromise when it comes to ethics, and there are no easy shortcuts to success. Ethics need to be carefully sown into the fabric of their companies. - Vivek Wadhwa

We all look forward to the leadership of an ethical leader.

What are the characteristics of this leader?

These leaders are just.

They respect others.

They are known for their honesty.

They are humane.

They're team builders and driven by value-focused decision making.

These leaders encourage initiative and invite all to participate in these initiatives.

These leaders walk the walk and model what they preach.

These ethical leaders are communicators who value awareness.

Ethical leaders have no tolerance for ethical violations.

Who are the ethical leaders in your midst? How do they inspire your own ethical behavior and elevate the ethics of those around them and the organizations they lead?

Ethics matter and it's important that we all work to be ethical contributors and members of the many professional and personal groups we belong to.

When organizations are ethical they allow the members to focus on the good work at hand instead of multiple digressions and investigations that take them away from the good work possible.

As a culture, we need to support one another in order to be ethical and develop ethical groups and organizations. There will always be temptation to be unethical, but this serves no one well as the quotes at the top of the page infer.

Reference: I culled these characteristics from this article. Over time I've done some reading about ethics too.

Divide and Conquer

To "divide and conquer" can be both a positive and negative strategy.

To "divide and conquer" when you have many to teach and a number of qualified educators can be very positive as the strategy may provide students with more targeted and tailored support.

To "divide and conquer" so that one team doesn't know what another team is doing or talking about, however, can be a negative strategy as it can serve to weaken solidarity, a sense of team, and collaborative effort.

To "divide and conquer" comes in handy when cleaning the house and getting ready for a party. You do this and I'll do that means that lots of jobs get done.

To "divide and conquer" in order to give some one privilege and not to give others the same privilege creates a troubling culture of "haves and have-nots."

It's never perfect, and it's most likely that every strategy can be used in positive and not so positive ways. When you use "divide and conquer" positively that's great, but there may be times when you want to reconsider the use of this popular strategy in order to create more ethical, positive, and promising communities and culture.

What People Forget When They Leave the Classroom

It doesn't take long for educators that leave the classroom to forget classroom realities such as the following:
  • There are few to no restroom breaks--you have to find coverage if you need to use the restroom.
  • There's little time without children--most teachers have at best an hour a day to do work that's not directly with students.
  • It's difficult to get to a phone, make a copy, or visit your mailbox at any time but before and after school or during your break--you can't leave young children alone.
  • There's little time to lesson plan, correct, read instructions, or follow up on classroom efforts--most of that work is done before and after school.
Sometimes the expectations for classroom educators, the people who spend most of the school day with children, are unrealistic and that's often due to the fact that those creating the expectations have forgotten the reality of classroom teaching.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Welcome Back After the Thanksgiving Holiday

Hi Team,
Welcome back. I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I know it's difficult to get back on track after an extended break and doing whatever it is you wanted to do. Don't forget it's going to be the same for our students so give them a good reason to come together and learn today. Let them know that you feel much like them, but it's worth it to gather, learn, and create today. Tell them that they're building a strong foundation for their future with this study, and that's worth it.

Give them some time to tell their stories, ask questions, and play with/greet friends too. You might want to toss a ball around and let anyone who wants to share, share a memory from the holiday. Whatever you decide, bring a positive attitude and a smile.

It's likely that the next month will bring with it a lot of emotion. Whenever there are numerous holidays outside of school, school feels the affect, an affect that ranges from elation to exhaustion, happiness to sadness. Don't forget students, like us, experience a range of holiday emotion. It's great to celebrate with family and friends, but it's not so great to miss loved ones who have passed, deal with family changes, and experience increased struggle due to financial constraint, addiction issues, and differences of opinion as it relates to holiday events.

Before you begin your day, I want to thank you for all the time in school and outside of it that you devote to the welfare of children. We're so lucky to work with a dedicated team of child advocates, educators, health professionals, coaches, counselors, and mentors. Keep reaching, but keep your expectations realistic too. Especially at this time of year, it's important to provide students with a safe, loving, and engaging routine. They find solace with routine and the fact that they can rely on you.

Let me know if you need me, and in the meantime, I wish you a positive day back. We can do this!

Education: We're All In This Together

Education at its best is not one or another, but instead a complex collaborative effort to teach all students well. How do you maximize the potential of countless people, funds, materials, research, and approaches to teach all of our students with strength, positivity, and success.

First, define a successful education. I would say that a successful education is an ongoing process that engages and empowers students while developing a strong cognitive foundation of skill, knowledge, and concept as well as the dynamic ability to be successful lifelong learners, contributors, and happy people.

Then think about what you are already doing well in your teaching/learning environment. What's working? Where I teach there are a lot of positive efforts at play. There's a strong personal approach in place that leads to helping each and every student succeed. There are great sports programs, talented educators, bountiful tools and resources, substantial funding, good to great environments for learning, and more.

After that, inclusively and broadly identify your areas of concern. Where can you and your system do better? Areas where we can improve include revising roles, structure, routines, and opportunity to teach all students well. I think we can also elevate our research and development efforts to timely align our efforts in more modern ways. I'd like to see better use of authentic distributive leadership models (teams within teams) as well.

Then prioritize. What's most important? In my opinion, I believe that we can better our work by our most challenged learners as well as elevate and deepen our strategic use of technology to better teach. These are two important priorities. I'd also like to see our system efforts streamlined by greater use of distributive leadership models that put much of the decision making into the hands of all stakeholders in effective ways.

Assess, Reflect, Review, and Revise
Implement effective, timely systems of individual and collective reflection, review, and revision. Embrace an attitude of ongoing growth and development, growth and development that depends on inclusive efforts and lots of transparent share.

There's lots we can do to better our individual and collective efforts in education. First we must address the "elephants in the room" - the issues that people often ignore or avoid. Then we must take a strategic approach to an ongoing effort to improve our work. As we do this we have to re-look at structures, roles, and routines that have been in place for a long time and ask the question, "Do these roles, structures, and routines serve our students, families, and the community well?" If not, it's time to revise for betterment.

More of the same is sometimes the right way to go, but it's also often not the right direction.

Teaching Math: A Progressive Approach

The department recognized that a grade-level approach to mastering the foundation skills, concepts, and knowledge for math did not work. The range of student development did not fit nicely into a grade-level box as standardized tests and expected standards suggested. Instead due to a range of circumstances, students learned the math foundation skills in a variety of ways.

Smartly, the department decided to broaden the way math was taught including the expected standards and this is what they did.

First, they created a continuum of skill from K-5 in each of the main math learning/teaching categories. These continuums were created using educators' research, experience, and observation. The goal was to move as many students as far as they could go on the continuum so by fifth grade most students would meet most standards with mastery.

Next they looked carefully how math was taught and by whom. The department maximized their resources so that children were taught well in well-sized groups with a variety of targeted, meaningful, and enriching learning experiences. Math time was divided into two strands. The first strand was number sense development. During this strand, multiple educators worked with strategically sized groups to advance each student's foundation in number sense. These groups met for 45 minutes each day to offer consistency and targeted instruction--instruction that met students developmental math needs.

The second strand was the "Jo Boaler" strand which represented meaningful, collaborative math investigations. This strand was provided to help students learn with mixed ability groups to solve meaningful, hands-on,  multi-disciplinary math problems. This math time mirrored the way math is used in the real world and was targeted on developing a brain-friendly, dynamic math experience for all children. This strand also met each day for 45 minutes to provide consistency to the approach. While still well staffed, the groups during this time of the day were a bit larger with less staff than the targeted, developmental number sense time of the day.

The state department of education responded well to this approach and actually changed their standardized test expectations to progressive tests rather than grade-level tests. This allowed students at all levels to continually test-up. This approach was particularly wonderful for students who traditionally fell below or above grade level expectations because it provided "just right" reach for everyone and reflected the reality of learning which is that no one is ever there, but instead every learner is always reaching for more and better. This served all students well.

Our old fashion, factory-like grade levels are less important in today's world. Yes, there remains some good social developmental reasons for grouping students according to grade, but with regard to good learning, self esteem, and community, it's not the only way. Instead we should look at multiple ways to group students to lead to best possible academic progression, self esteem, and collaborative communities of learners. Too often our grade-level groups give students false notions of "better," "smarter," "incapable," and more--the reality is that all students are capable of learning and that progression looks a bit different with every learner dependent on multiple reasons.

These ideas are rough now, but I will continue to work on them. Do you have a model like this in your school? If so, please direct me to it as I'd like to learn more and/or visit to see your model in action.

Why Public Schools?

The world of information is dense and complex. People, in general, have trouble holding on to essential facts and information that don't impact their lives in explicit ways.

I believe that for many the value of public schools falls into this category. For those of us that believe in public schools, we have to make the message clear. It's integral that people understand the connection between strong, high quality public schools and strong communities, states, and nations.

As you translate this message to others, what are your best facts, vignettes, and explanations. To truly bolster public school support, funding, and progression, the message needs to be strong, clear, and convincing.

I welcome your responses to this need. Please add the most convincing information to the comments space below. For me, the quote at the top of the page by Lehmann and Chase is convincing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Chart the Course 2017-2018 School Year

Note that this post has been moved to this page

Developing Skill and Focus: Multiple Learning Paths

I explained to students that we're all on multiple learning paths and for each path we're likely at different places. I used the image to the right to explain this notion. We are never "there" when it comes to learning as there's always more to learn. What's important is to recognize that there are multiple learning paths, we are at different places on each path, and we make important decisions with regard to forwarding our learning on each path. For example in the image on the right you can see that my "skiing" path has stopped for now, but the other paths I illustrate continue for the most part. This is a rough sketch, and if any of us were to truly draw all the details related to our many, many learning paths, the image would be far more complex. In fact, it might be informative and helpful to have students draw their own learning path map as that would help students to think deeply about what they are learning and how they feel about those paths, and it would also help teachers to know and teach students better.

As I consider my many paths, the one that I wish to enrich the most right now is the path related to collaborative efforts. I believe in team, and I believe that team is at the center of potential when it comes to building dynamic teaching/learning communities.

I've taken up a lot of air time when it comes to teaching/learning, and now I want to listen more, think, and elevate those around me. I will add when I think it's important, but I'll listen a lot more to understand better how we might maximize each others' contribution to support children and their families well.

How will I make this visible in the days ahead.

Salary and Working Conditions Meeting/Union Board
Educators will meet several times in the days ahead to discuss what they need to teach as well as they can. I have thought a lot about this. I want to listen carefully to what my colleagues have to say in this regard. I'll take good notes, listen, and add if I think it's very important to add as I've already shared many thoughts and ideas online and in real time.

Math Education
Similarly I've shared a lot of ideas related to teaching fifth grade math. Now it's time to listen to what others have to say.

Team Goals
Similarly I've had a lot to say and do with regard to our grade level team goals and efforts. It's time to listen, think, and decide how I might contribute more and better.

Same as above.

As I listen, I'll think deeply about how we might elevate process so that we enlist the voices and knowledge of many to make best possible decisions to serve students and families well. I'm looking forward to this learning goal, a goal empowered by the Dalai Lama's three words: tolerance, patience, and compassion. Onward!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Focus on Frederick Douglass

Our collective grade-level professional learning goal is to develop greater cultural proficiency in our fifth grade program. As part of the work to reach that goal we are conducting an in-depth study of Frederick Douglass.

What will that study include?

First we wrote a grant to the local grant source, WPSF, to host Guy Peartree who does a living history presentation of Frederick Douglass. He will visit our school sometime in January to present his work.

We'll prepare for his performance by introducing students to Frederick Douglass' life through read aloud and videos. We'll likely target the books and videos we'll use in the next few weeks and if you have recommendations, please send them our way.

Further each class will visit the Museum of African American History in Boston to learn more about Frederick Douglass as well as the African American history in Boston, Massachusetts, and the United States. We conducted a similar field study last year.

Later we'll use Douglass' life as a model for the Global Changemakers Biography Project that students embark on in the spring.

Quite a few years ago we had an expert on multicultural literature come to our school. She emphasized that the world is filled with the stories of European Americans and that it's our job as educators to help students see the "rainbow" of stories that belong to America including the stories of all cultures, people, races, and interests that are underrepresented. In part, that's why we are focusing on Frederick Douglass story--a story that many still don't know well in America.

A World of Opportunity: Checklist

There's a world of opportunity out there when it comes to contribution and betterment. It's our world and if we contribute, we can help to craft a world that is good for all. Sounds pollyanna-ish, yes, but without that kind of positive, open minded, and energized outlook, we won't make the strides possible.

So with your future and the future of our world in mind, what's on your checklist? Where will you put your energy, time, and resources to contribute to the good life for yourself and others?

The checklist for betterment will not be one of pure pleasure, but instead a mix of pleasure, hard work, and sacrifice too. Let's face it, "You don't always get what you want," and that's a reality of life, and sometimes if you really want it, you have to sacrifice your way to that destination, opportunity, or reality.

I repeat my checklist again and again in numerous ways as it's not necessarily a natural journey. Instead it's a journey forwarded by vision rather than comfort and inclination. Truly if it were just comfort and inclination, I'd be less likely to work, simplify, or sacrifice--instead I'd just do whatever I want when I want. I know, however, that the result of good work, sacrifice, and vision is a satisfying result--one I want to repeat again and again including the following actions:

Student Response
As always I have countless student papers and projects to review, comment on, and use as a resource with regard to teaching more and better.

Classroom Community
Our community depends on organization, right supplies, time to talk and plan, inspiration, and lots of love. This takes time, planning, and energy.

Lesson Planning
Planning the lessons with and for students takes lots of time too. Good teaching is not a matter of following a curriculum "cookbook," but instead it's a craft that benefits from both the artistic and scientific individual and collective lens.

Teamwork and Collaboration
The best schools work with distributive, "teams within teams," models--I participate in many of those teams and each of them demands good research, attention, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving. This takes time, attention, and energy too.

Emerging Leaders 
I am surrounded by good people who are just starting their lives. This includes the young children I teach, the children I parent, and the many neighbors, relatives, and friends that I encounter throughout my days. These emerging leaders profit from our best attention, care, love, and support. There are so many opportunities to do what is right in this regard. It starts with listening, then noticing, and after that mentoring, coaching, and guiding. When we do well by these young people, we do well by our world and our future. At my stage of life, a big part of my responsibility is to empower, inspire, and support our emerging leaders.

Sharing Expertise
One way to support emerging leaders is to share expertise in explicit ways such as writing this blog, writing books, presenting at conferences, and helping out in small group or individual ways.

Life Long Learning
Learning is a moving target. As our world moves and changes, so does knowledge, concept, and skill. In order to do all that I've listed above well, you must have a steady diet of learning and in today's world there's endless opportunity to learn in real time and online.

Happiness and Health
If you're happy and healthy, you can give more and better. Happiness and health depend a lot on the basics including good food and water, good health care, rest, a welcoming home, friends and family, exercise and enjoyment. It's important to get rid of as much stress as possible and simplify so that you have the time and space for happiness. The more useless things you have, the more time it takes to care for them. The less things you have, the more time you have.

You Can't Do it All, Yet, Contribute
You have to choose and prioritize because you can't do it all. Yet, you have to stretch a bit so that you do what's important. Particularly with our current world/national political climate, you have to stay informed and active in some way or else the democracy that we've grown to expect will no longer exist.

Since you can't do it all, it's best to create a strong network online and in realtime that relies on each other to do as much as possible. For example, I've chosen some wise educators to follow, and I mostly do follow their lead when it comes to education choice and voice. Their collected contribution, experience, knowledge, and intellect make them excellent go-to people when it comes to making and contributing to important work in education. I will do the same for social programming, political efforts, and decisions regarding the environment. This is why share is so important. There's no way we can know all we need to know in this complex world, and it will be our networks, collective action, and inspiration that make us strong and better.

Time for great movies, art, nature, good food with friends, adventure, travel, reading, and more will bring us the inspiration and wisdom of the ages. We need to join our friends and family in these life enriching events that help us to make life meaningful and positive.

It's a long checklist, one I will prioritize even more as I look at the calendar for the days ahead. What's on your checklist as you consider the bountiful opportunities around you?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Learning: It's Not a Race

The educators proudly exclaimed that they were ahead of everyone on the expected scope and sequence.Yet does being "ahead" infer being "better" or "worse." I believe it's neither one or the other when education is concerned.

Learning is not a race. What's important here is the following:
  • Helping each child progress with strength, engagement, and empowerment from one expectation to another. 
  • Teaching all expected standards in student-centered, brain-friendly ways.
  • Making time to integrate important concepts with other rich learning goals to make it timely and meaningful
  • Creating learning/teaching pathways that respond well to the context in which you teach.
  • Making sure that students have mastered foundation skills, concept, and knowledge so that they can move forward with rich and meaningful math learning (see Khan's mastery TedTalk)
It's important to share a loose-tight guide, path, or standards with those you team with, but it's not always important to be at the same place at the same time or to be "ahead" of others. What's important is that you are teaching each and every child in sensitive, targeted, and loving ways.

For example this year my teaching team responded to research by spending several days at the start of the year with team building activity and focus. The research points to the value of creating strong classroom community before reaching into mostly academic teaching goals and activities. We did that with a focus on the Global Cardboard Challenge and a number of other teamwork activities building notecard towers, the spaghetti-marshmallow challenge, and the Three Words video--all rich and meaningful ways to build a culturally proficient, collaborative grade-level team. Further I employed the coordinate grid unit to further build team since it was new learning for everyone and learning that everyone could access--this builds confidence and strength at the start of the math year, and as noted on state standards, fits nicely into the expected development of the student goals and standards.

That put us a bit behind the other grade-level teams with regard to the system-created scope and sequence. There's an unspoken subtle pressure to be at the same place at the same time, however, last year's efforts demonstrate that even though I taught the standards in a somewhat different path, my students achieved similarly on the district-wide assessment in May. I don't think educators have to be lock-step when it comes to teaching/learning, in fact research supports this. Teaching is not a robotic act--there's important variation to consider. I do believe we have to teach the standards, but also make sure that all students have the foundation skills for those standards first. Essentially we have to teach students first, content second, and we have to take a deep, personal/contextual view of the teaching expectations and our students to lay out a formidable, meaningful, engaging, and empowering learning path.

I'll resist the subtle competition to be "ahead" and instead continue the path of teaching the students well while also listening carefully to my district-wide colleagues to gain inspiration, knowledge, and collaboration to teach all of our students well. Onward. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Good Questions: Problem Solving

  • What happened? Let's look at the facts?
  • Where was there a misturn and why did that happen?
  • What was lost due to the erroneous path? Are reparations in order?
  • How can we work against this kind of event in the future? New protocols, policies, efforts, rules?
  • Were there underlying issues that led to this error? If so, how can we bring those to light in order to remedy the situation now and for the future?
In life problems and error occur. Sometimes it is our own mistakes, sometimes the mistakes belong to others, and more often than not, there is a collective cause of error--a series of erroneous events. 

What's most important when this happens is to backtrack, analyze, and then move forward with better resolve.

Good problem solvers understand that error and mistakes will happen, and those same problem solvers have no problem analyzing situations, owning error, and then moving forward. 

We will all face problems in life. Some problems will be really big. A friend told me about a past problem like that which made me wonder how he even lived through such an ordeal. His positivity and the way he embraces life is testament to his strength and ability to move beyond tragedy and trouble.

When problems occur, we need to ask the questions above with respect and care. First, we have to find out what happened and gather the facts in as honest and truthful a way as possible.

Next we have to analyze what led to the issue. Figure it out, and then with the best of our ability, chart future steps and protocols to remedy the current situation and set the stage for greater success later on.

Too often when we bury and/or ignore mistakes and error, we don't move on. Yet, if we perseverate too much about error, we similarly won't move forward. Like all things, there's a good balance. 

In the days ahead, I'll apply this approach to a number of small and not so small dilemmas I'm focused on--dilemmas that will lead to better teaching and learning for me and others. 

Contract Ideas: What's Important to You?

I continue to work as part of our local union. I'm one voice among many as educators come together to share ideas for betterment. In what ways can our contract craft the kind of teaching/learning culture and environment that supports our best collective efforts to teach students well?

I have lots of ideas, and I realize that some will come to fruition and others will be left for another day.

As I think aloud, here are some of my ideas:
  • Better Communication Systems: As it stands now there are too many surprises and not enough timely communication to lead our work well. At the building level, communication patterns are very good and I'd like to see this extended to the system and curriculum levels too.I continue to believe that the more people are in the know, the better work will be done. Lack of accessible, regular, and accurate information costs time and money, while transparent, well-shared, and timely information creates greater efficiency, focus, depth, and success. In real time, this might look like regularly published minutes from curriculum meetings, administrative meetings, school committee meetings, and departmental meetings. 
  • Greater Use of Strategic Process: There's too many initiatives that don't go full circle or that are not done in a timely manner. These events result in lost potential and dollars. Greater strategic, inclusive process will result in better work for all. When strategic process has been used, it has been terrific. I believe Hattie's strategic process of identifying success criteria, charting the path, and reflecting, reviewing, and revising along the way is a good process. I also believe that good process benefits from the voices of many with distributive leadership rather than decisions made by only a few who may be distanced from the daily work of teaching and learning. In real time, this might look like curriculum/change protocols that are created and followed to support the best possible learning/teaching work. 
  • Greater Transparency and Inclusivity. Too often the voices of stakeholders are not considered in timely, authentic, and inclusive ways when it comes to decision making. This results in a lack of transparency and potential. With better use of strategic process, there's the likelihood that there will be greater transparency and inclusion of the voice and choice of all stakeholders. This change would align well with the new Every Student Succeeds Act Legislation (ESSA) and the existing ESE protocols for school councils and the evaluation system. In real time protocols may be created that forward greater transparency and inclusivity for decisions that impact stakeholders.
  • Streamlined, simplified language, budgets, and communication. Too often the correspondence and systems are compromised by excessive detail and cumbersome language. The more streamlined and simplified language and communication is, the better everyone will be able to understand and participate. In real time, this may include revised evaluation system language to streamline this effort as well as a more accessible and easily readable contract.
  • Role, Structure, and Routine Audits and Change: There are some role definitions that are outdated. Structure can be updated and routines revised to better what we can do. It's important that the roles, structures, and routines support the best possible education for every child, and this means that there is time for all stakeholders to participate in collaborative decision making and teaching. Creating a landscape of greater distributive leadership or "teams within teams" will support a stronger school system culture and community.  In real time, this may look like recommendations for role, structure, and routine changes that help us to teach all students better. I can imagine some discussion points in this realm to include the following:
    • Is it better to offer some language immersion or to provide all with this experience? Is this the best time for an investment in a language immersion programming?
    • Is there an opportunity to revise roles, structure, and routines in order to provide greater service to students in identified target areas? Where is there extra time? Where is there time that could potentially be used in more effective ways?
    • Could better use of technology streamline efforts so that people are freed up to support students in new and beneficial ways?
  • Fair Pay and Benefits: There's lots to analyze here, and it's important that all educational staff receive a fair pay and benefits. 
    • It will be important to consider many statistics in this realm. There are some who are experts at this information. 
  • Professional Culture: I'm looking forward to working with colleagues to think about the protocols that would contribute to a more professional culture. 
    • What real time changes and additions can enrich professional culture. Our educators are well educated and committed. Many work well into the night and throughout weekends to serve children well. They have a good sense of what will enrich their ability to do their jobs well. 
  • Reasonable Work Schedule and Holidays: Since the school year lasts 180 days for students and a few more for staff, I'd like to think with colleagues about how we might schedule those days with greater sensitivity to family life, diversity, and health. For example, I'd like our system to give everyone the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off. Many families and educators in our school system have relatives that live in different places so this would give everyone an extra day for travel. I'd also like to see the December holiday extended to two weeks to give people more time for travel and celebration. Further, I'd like to see us consider Muslim and possibly other religious days as days off for all since we already have days off for Jewish and Christian holidays. To do this would possibly create a more inclusive culture that honors all religions. 
  • Working Families: It's really challenging to teach and raise a family due to the extensive day care costs, child care needs, and time-on-task with children. I wonder how we might add language to better support working families. Already we have some good language which supports family leave when children are ill or new babies are born. We also negotiated good language for personal days too which has helped families. 
  • Professional Learning: Dollars are set aside to support educators' professional learning needs. I wonder how we might make these dollars more accessible to educators who may not be able to pay out of pocket up front for this professional learning and development. That was a big problem for me early in my career and it slowed down my advancement at that time. An educator's will to professional advance should not be limited by his/her financial foundation. 
As I continue to think about our current contract and future possibly revision, I will continue to talk amongst colleagues and share ideas. We all see it a bit differently given our experiences, personal financial matters, families, goals, and more, and that's why it's important for all educators to get involved and think about what they need to do the job well.

I'm sure that the contract leadership team will work to bring all of our ideas together to forward promising language to create the best possible conditions for teaching and serving students, families, and the community with strength and care. The common theme for all in this negotiation is serving students, families, and the community well. Onward. 

Gratitude and Reach

There is much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Mostly I'm grateful for the loving people in my midst--family members, friends, colleagues, and the children I teach who grace my days. These good people do so much for me and others all the time and for that I'm grateful and only hope that I can pay it back or forward to keep the good alive.

I'm also grateful for the quiet and peace my home provides. It's a welcoming home tucked away at the end of a street and cushioned by a backdrop of wetlands, a river, and forest. There is great peace here.

Further I'm grateful for technology which has given me a window to the world of music, art, ideas, people, and places. It's amazing.

And of course wonderful books, poetry, games, foods, celebrations, and travel.

It's easy to stretch forward for more and different only to forget what lies at our center--the very people, objects, and events we are most grateful for.

Finding that right balance of gratitude and inspiration is a good aim. Creating a rhythm of reflection and living, a weave of quiet and activity, propels us forward.

In the days ahead, much like the days past, this fabric of life will include lots of writing, reading, and reflection as well as spending time with children, my family, and others to live well for self and others.

Specifically I'll continue to work at my craft as an educator and advocate for continued development related to what's possible in education including streamlined systems and activity that support a quality education for every child. These systems and activity include the following:
  • Targeted, thoughtful use of time--less wasted time when it comes to serving children well.
  • Targeted, deep, and creative use of technology to forward the learning possible.
  • Greater distributed leadership that elevates the voices and choice of all stakeholders including citizens, family members, children, educators, school staffs, and administrators.
  • Positive laws and action that bridge the opportunity gap making it possible for all people to have a chance to succeed and do well. 
  • The use of dynamic strategic process that elevates collaboration and the "collective genius" of an organization.
  • The move from old time "school" to new age learning communities that welcome all students with culturally proficient practice that mirrors new research and brain-friendly teaching/learning.
The opportunity to teach daily gives me the chance to make the goals above visible in the classroom community and via my professional learning and share. My homeroom, the shared TeamFive teaching model, math/STEAM focus, SEL study/writing group, and ESE/MTA committee work gives me a chance to develop these goals with depth.

At home, it's all about supporting my family in ways that I can with a welcoming home, good times, and shared interests. Simple and loving.

There's tremendous opportunity in this world we live in--opportunity to enjoy life, work for betterment, and support one another. It's an endless quest and one that I hope we'll hold on to and deepen as our country and world continues. As a people there's much to do and much to be grateful for during this Thanksgiving holiday. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Teaching During the Holidays

I typically meet the holiday season with a gentler, more routine response in the classroom. In our teaching/learning community the holidays bring lots of special events and excitement outside of school, so inside the school it's good to keep things calm. We will have a few special concerts, a field study, and some special team events, but in general we'll keep it gentle and calm.

I spoke to the students about the holidays yesterday as I could tell they were starting to feel the holiday buzz that hits children and families in all kinds of ways. I told them the story about a Christmas Eve that was anything but happy in my house. We were all so excited and then one broken window turned the excitement to frustration. I noted that my dad told us that day that sometimes we will get upset at each other, but that doesn't have to ruin a holiday and after the broken window incident, our family got back on track and enjoyed each other's company and joy during the rest of the holiday.

Further, I mentioned that holidays bring with them great joy but sometimes some sadness too. I mentioned that the holidays can make people think about loved ones they've lost. The holidays can increase addictions if people have family members with addiction issues, issues that are illnesses people struggle with. We talked about the fact that sometimes families struggle with financial issues, lack of time, family changes, or different ideas about what makes a good holiday. We discussed the fact that it's good to think about the holidays and what we expect. Keeping our expectations realistic and special help us to find ways to care for one another and create happy celebrations that we can afford and do with the time and resources we have. Students listened.

As educators, we'll bring lots of extra love and attention to our classrooms during the holidays. We'll be there to listen to children's stories and help out if problems arise. We'll embrace students' differences with regard to the holidays they celebrate and not show preference to one holiday or tradition over another. It's important to start the season with this outlook, and if you have anything to add, I'm interested.

Non Supporters

There are those in our midst that serve as obstacles to our professional growth, learning, and development. With an empathetic eye, you may see those individuals as the ones that make you better, but in truth, many of these individuals only serve to diminish your ability to teach and learn well.

As I read several articles about social emotional learning today, I realized that there is a real need in schools to support educators with positive social emotional endeavor. Too often educators are led in ways that are divisive and unsupportive. Also many school roles, structures, and routines do not support positive social emotional learning communities.

Yesterday, in opposition to this, I met with a team that consisted of the school nurse, guidance counselor, and principal. We worked together to solve a problem of practice. It was a rich, thoughtful, and strong social/emotional effort--one I believe will positively impact the problem we were working together to solve. This kind of collaboration is the kind of effort we need to make time for more often in schools.

Too often, rather than the event described above, top-down, authoritarian initiatives and activity are imposed on educational staff. Efforts like this that don't honor or enlist the voice and choice of educators and serve to demean and diminish what's possible. Efforts like these waste a lot of emotional time and potential with regard to what's possible in schools.

As I think about this, I recognize that we have to hitch our wagons to the supporters in our midst and stay clear of those that serve continuously to obstruct the good work possible. Yes, it's good to listen to the naysayers now and then and learn from their critique, but in general, you'll go a lot further if you align yourself to the positive influencers and contributors in your teaching/learning environment.