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Monday, October 23, 2017

Working for the Same Goals

Is the team working for the same goals?

First, how do we determine our goals? Is it an inclusive, transparent, data-informed, meaningful process?

Next, are the goals visible? What is most important to the team? How do we use signage as a way to remember and work towards the goals? What language is most important to our collective goals?

Then, what processes including communication are we using to reach those goals? Are the processes visible with the end-goals in sight?

And, do we stop now and then to reflect, revise, and redirect together? How do we assess our efforts towards meeting our goals, and how do we help each other in this effort?

Without a good, transparent, and inclusive goal setting process, it's unlikely that rich, deep goals will be met by teams of teachers, administrators, family members, students, and the community.

What are you doing now that meets this call, and what else can you do to better effect this process? I'm interested.

How Do We Best Coordinate Our Services for Students?

When multiple educators work with students, how do we best coordinate our efforts? This week our team will discuss this, and in the meantime, I'll be thinking about it.

First, obviously, we have to meet to discuss objectives, efforts, and next steps. This begs the questions: How often do we meet? When? Where? How many? And, what's the process? Many years ago, I attended a meeting at Google where it was discussed that good decision making requires about 4-5 people. This makes me wonder if some of our decision making groups are too large for good process--something to think about.

Next, we have to think about how we maximize our efforts? When is it best to "divide and conquer" and when is it best to teach together?

Further, we have to decide who does what? It's important that everyone contribute in ways that matter so what will that contribution look like with regard to communication, time-on-task with students, timeliness, planning, assessment, analysis, and more.

In busy schools, it's best if we can create patterns of service as patterns are easier to follow and assure that we hit the marks we've targeted for effective teaching and learning.

I wonder where our meeting will take us.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Teaching: The Long Road

It is a morning for good reflection. The autumn air and beauty is inspiring me. As I reflect on the learning this year and in the future, I am recognizing that my specialty will be math/STEAM teaching and learning. I really enjoy this area of teaching and learning and can see multiple ways to develop my knowledge and students' skills and abilities in this area. This work will bring me joy and help me to stay fresh and up-to-date with the work I do this year and into the future.

This year and in the years to come, I'll finish up my commitments to a number of other professional efforts, and then zero in on this area with good professional learning events, reading, research, reflection, and lots and lots of application. I've been thinking a lot about the path forward and today this path has emerged with strength--it's good to have a destination :)

Using Google Forms for Unit Assessments

There are many advantages to using Google Forms in conjunction with paper tests for unit assessments.

Originally a year or so ago, I thought of replacing the paper tests with Google forms, but the drawback of that is that you can't really see students' work effectively. The paper copy allows you the opportunity to really look at how a child solved a problem or completed a calculation. On the other hand the Google form allows you to look at the data from the tests with greater scrutiny in the following ways:
  • The form grades the test so you can quickly see how students scored.
  • The form translates into a Google spreadsheet so you can quickly sort each question to discover common errors, trends related to the teaching, and areas for change in instruction, practice, or review.
  • The results are easy to share with colleagues and others.
  • It saves time.
  • When used for student practice and review, the Google form can be set to provide quick feedback and also provide the teacher with ready homework results.
Essentially using a Google form with a paper copy of an assessment is a good way to get more efficient and deeper data results related to unit assessments. This is one way for teachers to use their time more effectively.

I tried Google form in this capacity years ago and it was very elementary and clunky. Google forms have improved a lot, and it's a great time-saving, depth-producing, instruction-informing, test-friendly tool for teachers today. I recommend you play with it. 

Building a Math Program: What Works?

As a critical thinker, I am always looking for better. As our math program continues to develop over time, I have found myself critical of many of the directions chosen. Yet when things go right, I often don't take the time to write about it. So in this post, I'll list a number of efforts that are positive with our collaborative math program development:
  • There is ongoing dialogue about what we teach and how we teach as we assess each assessment and list of activities.
  • There is ongoing dialogue as we create RTI groups and review unit assessments.
  • There is continued debate and discussion.
  • There is a shared Google document of lesson ideas, assessments, standards, vocabulary, and other information that helps all of us to teach the grade-level standards. 
This ongoing dialogue whether it be in person or online is positive as it grows everyone's ability to teach the content well. Also the shared resource is helpful as everyone has access to materials that help us to teach the unit.

These are positives with regard to our current teaching/learning approach in math. 

Reflection is not about proving you are right

I think some may become confused when it comes to a positive reflective practice and think that good reflection is about proving you are right. Instead good reflection is about taking an honest look at the work you do to decide how you might improve.

How does one do this?

First, it's important to zero in on the topic that you are reflecting on. For example, a topic I am reflecting a lot on is how to teach our most challenged students better.

Then, it's important to look at what's happening related to this topic with questions such as these:
  • Where are we seeing success?
  • Where are we seeing a lack of success?
  • What are the attributes of success we notice?
  • What are the attributes of lack of success we see?
  • What time, staffing, environment, pedagogy, and resources lead to greater success?
  • How can we effectively maximize the use of those positive contributors more?
  • Where does research and development play a role here? How are we maximizing the use of collaboration too to develop this effort?
Good reflection looks at the big picture independently and with others. They create a discovery path, and then act upon its findings. Information is shared readily and inclusively--it's not a competition, but instead a collegial effort towards betterment. 

Teaching Self Advocacy: Speak Up

At most family-student-teacher conferences this year, I encouraged students to speak up or email me if they needed more information or had ideas for the classroom. I mentioned the positivity of such self advocacy. I also recommended that families create family GMail accounts so that if they allow a young child to email his/her teacher, it comes from the family account so there's good oversight and collaboration with the effort. The more students learn to self advocate from an early age, the better they will do. A big focus of the work I do to teach well is to teach students how to be responsible, independent learners and decision makers, and self advocacy is a big part of that. What would you add to this conversation?

Research and Development: A Collaborative Approach

Good goal setting and visible long term vision helps everyone in an organization to contribute and learn in ways that matter.

Updating the Professional Learning Path

This picture depicts my main teaching/learning focus this year, a focus empowered by my professional learning path priorities.
This year's professional learning path is mainly focused on deep, detailed professional research and development close to the classroom. While I enjoy taking part in broader, more diverse workshops and learning opportunities, it seems that this is the year to mostly focus in, synthesize, and apply the learning of the past many years into my daily practice. What will this look like?

Reflective Practice
Over the years I've developed a deep and steady reflective practice of reading, research, thought, writing, sharing, and application. The reflective cycle has empowered my practice considerably, and more I adhere to that cycle, the better the teaching and learning become. I will present this work and strategy with new teachers at the MTA's Just for New Teacher Conference on November 4th. At the conference I'll specifically show how teachers can use reflective practice to meet and deepen their work related to the Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation System as well as their overall goals and objectives with regard to their teaching careers.

Learning Design
My research and reading related to brain-friendly, student-centered, culturally proficient learning design has also strengthened my ability to teach well. I want to use this learning to deepen teaching in the areas of STEAM and math this year. I also want to advocate for practices at the local level which will empower our ability to teach, research, and develop our work.

Student Advocacy, Independence, and Successful Learning
There's much we can do in schools to develop greater student advocacy, independence, and successful learning. My colleagues and I are exploring this via the use of multiple learning strategies including revised orientation efforts, updated student-teacher-family conferences/showcase portfolios, greater use of online learning menus and personalized learning sites, drop-in learning opportunities, online tests, quality field experiences and expert visitors, and more. To empower students and their learning in modern ways that matter increases success, happiness, and contribution.

Collaboration and Good Process
I find that so many good ideas are hindered by a lack of good time and process for apt collaboration. Through advocacy, analysis, outreach, and reflection, I am looking for ways to build greater time and process for the kind of collaboration that empowers educators, students, and the rest of the learning community to better what we do.

I need to take a special education course to meet the requirements for recertification next year. I'd like to take one of Mahesh Sharma's classes related to math and special education needs and practice. My sister took one of those courses last summer which she said was amazing.

Committee Work
I'll continue my committee work and related networking too to both learn and contribute at the local, state, and national levels of education via the MTA, NEA. NBPTS, The Teacher Collaborative, ECET2, WTA, DESE TAC, and more.

There's so much opportunity to get involved in professional learning events today. That professional learning work truly empowers what you can do with and for the students and families you lead and serve. The important point is to figure out where your priorities lie in this realm each year and let those priorities lead your practice ahead.

Potential/Planned Professional Learning Events
  • Just for New Teachers MTA Conference Presenter 11/4
  • NBPTS Jumpstart (potential w/focus on math/STEAM)
  • Teacher Leadership Conference (December)
  • Mahesh Sharma Special Education/Math Conference (TBD)
  • The Teacher Collaborative Open House (November)
  • SEL Book Events (potential)
  • MTA Summer Conference - STEAM, Math, Union focus 
  • ECET2 - potential w/Math/STEAM focus

2018-2019 Learning/Teaching Prep

As I embark on the 2017-2018 learning/teaching path, I find myself already thinking about 2018-2019 since there are efforts I want to update, improve, and change, and all these efforts demand lead time. Hence, I'm beginning my 2018-2019 learning/teaching chart earlier than ever. I will continue to add to this throughout the year.

School Year Prep and Planning Chart 
Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer School Prep for 2018-2019
  • Write/Print move-up letter/supply list, place on TeamFive Website
  • Keep a supply list throughout the year and Order supplies
  • Plan a student orientation - work with leadership to make sure this happens without the bus problems we experienced this year
  • Summer reading/study Review, add to.
  • Review and re-organize math website - ongoing
  • Meet with team to plan year ahead
  • Plan Selfie Project/create exemplar - complete
  • Attend NB Academy - July
  • Attend Summer MTA Conference (date?) Focus on Union Efforts.
  • Continue to Update local union website. Ongoing
  • Review and update curriculum map
  • Prep Start of Year Bulletin Board:
Teacher Prep Days at end of August:
First Six Weeks of School Year
  • Begin embedding positive learning attitude/behavior: Learning-to-Learn Website
  • Have students set up showcase portfolios and complete Happiness Surveys at start of year.
  • Complete Mandated Online Trainings: This takes about a half day. Make sure that the trainings are up to date at time of completion. Summer/Fall 2017
  • Complete The Selfie Project and Video with Students
  • Establish Math Routines, Teach Tools:
    • Teach Symphony Math, Khan Academy, TenMarks, math supplies
    • What's Your Number activity - math vocabulary
    • How to make, label, share math models - area models w/fact arrays
    • Early year assessments
    • How to use math tools: rulers, calculators, tiles. . . .
    • Math reflection/metacognition
    • Math Mindset
    • Begin First Unit
    • Emphasize growth mindset
    • Discuss history of people and the reality that we can all learn math
    • Use Jo Boaler TED Talk and follow-up activity for inspiration
    • Math Workshop
  • PLC Start: Establish overall focus, norms, roles, protocols. . . .
  • Send out forms, notices right away--and have extras at parents' night for parents to fill out there if needed.
  • Curriculum Night: Establishing the Learning Community, Extended time: one hour in gymnasium with a presentation/sound
  • Parent surveys: Paper survey worked better than online survey last year.
  • Send out weekly newsletters
  • Evaluation Professional Learning and Practice Goals: Update goals to reflect system-wide goals, summer work, review with admin., continue efforts to meet goals.
  • Create Classroom Culture with students:
    • Set norms with students
    • Practice following norms
    • Discuss classroom community.
    • Work to empower student voice, respect, and contribution from start of the year.
    • Create guiding signage with students Be explicit. Ongoing
School Year Focus: Big Events
  • September: Routines, Protocols, Community Focus
  • October: Cultural Proficiency, Identity Field Study?
  • November: Space Study - McAuliffe Center
  • December: Maya, Incas, Aztec
  • January: Boston Museum of Science
  • February:
  • March: Math Global Cardboard Challenge Event, Matter Presentation
  • April: Expert Visitor
  • May:
  • June: Global Changemakers, Boston Walking Tour
Professional Learning for School Year 2018-2019
  • NBPTS Efforts?
  • MTA Summer Conference
  • Reading, Research, Writing, and Study (link via title)
  • Special Education Course (15 pdps) - online (if time permits) - Math Kennebunkport
This poster will continue to lead my work in the year ahead.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Creating Tension; Solving Problems

Last year on my evaluation I was chided for creating tension. I've thought a lot about this and see both positive and not-so-positive connections to this.

First of all, I ask a lot of questions and these questions create tension. In general, many people don't like to question established programs and processes. On the other hand, as a critical thinker, I am always questioning what we do and why we do it. I am always seeking betterment in my work on my own and our collective work. This search for betterment creates tension.

Next, the tension also exists because we don't have significant process or culture for questioning. I believe our current system structure leaves little room for good questioning and process related to questioning. If there were good structures for research and development, questions would be embraced rather than seen as creating tension.

On the other hand, the way I think and respond to situations that create questioning is a tension I can learn to change. For example, I tend to ignore and bury the initial indicators of challenge or problems and when those indicators become more and more clear, I reach a moment of realization that a problem exists. When I reach that recognition, I typically respond with big emotion--this is a tension I can change. Instead, I have to react to indicators signaling problems earlier rather than later. For example, children with problems tend to reveal their problems with unexpected and worrisome behaviors. Rather than burying the observation of those behaviors when they first occur, I have to train myself to call home and reach for help earlier than later. Similarly when problems in program delivery or planning occur, I have to speak up earlier than later. You can't wish problems away, instead you are best to tackle those problems with thoughtful, systematic response.

The biggest problem I'm working on right now is how to better elevate the growth and development of our most struggling learners. What can we do to uplift their learning in positive, life enriching ways? It's a great problem to work on alone and with my colleagues. As I've noted before we are a school system with tremendous capacity for doing a great job. I believe we can tackle this problem with depth and positivity. I think that if we use a more collaborative, strategic, and researched-based model for this problem, we will earn greater results.

So I don't mind causing tension that relates to the challenge this problem presents, but I don't want to cause tension with regard to emotional expression, lack of process, or even lack of respect.

I'm going to think about this more, and in the meantime, if you and your organization have great processes in place to tackle the big problems of teaching; problems that hold promise for betterment for every child's education--let me know. This is a problem I'm very curious and interested in. I want to see the promise in problems particularly this problem that I'm passionate about rather than treat them with contempt.

Math Growth and Development 2017

The math path has started. The downside is it is too rushed in my opinion, but that's out of my control due to systemwide leadership and pacing decisions. I would slow it down for good teaching and foundation building--I know that would be better for this group. Next, while the path benefits from many dedicated educators, there isn't enough good time and good process for those educators to work together. We're going to discuss that this week and try to reach a better planning/prep process.

The good news is that, in general, we have an invested teaching/learning community. We've given a number of good assessments that have informed the teaching/learning path, and we have a number of great online and offline tools to use to teach math well.

The next steps on the math teaching year path include the following
  • meet to discuss prep/planning collaboration, goals, and responsibility
  • complete unit one and assess
  • review assessments and begin RTI
  • create booklet for the next unit
  • create online expectations for next unit
  • include more floor-to-ceiling explorations for next unit--explorations that put the "cognitive load" on students' shoulders rather than the teachers (research shows this to be more effective teaching)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Family-Student-Teacher(s) Conference: A Learning Event

As the young girl read her marvelous story today during the family-student-teacher conference, I realized that the conference is truly a learning event.

The parent and I were learning about the student, and the student was learning about herself as she read her story and made commentary along the way.

Also during this conference period students presented portrayals of themselves as readers, STEAM leaders, students of social studies, and mathematicians. As children sat at the table leading their conferences metacognition grew and so did my understanding of where a child is at this point in his/her learning career and where I'd like to coach the student forward.

If well designed the Family-Student-Teacher conference at fifth grade can be as much of a learning event as a sharing/goal setting event. I want to explore this idea more and if you have anything to offer, please do.

Is it Time for Inclusion to Move to Personalization/Collaboration Focus

I started teaching when almost all special education services were provided outside of the classroom. Then inclusion came, and students were mainly serviced within the classroom setting. Now at a time of RTI (Response to Intervention), personalization, and greater student voice, choice, and collaboration, I'm wondering if it is time to shift the special education/regular education model and intersection again.

I wonder if the movement this time is to greater team teaching which means that the entire team of grade-level teachers, specialists, special educators, therapists, and assistants meet, study the students, and plan a teaching/learning course of action that helps all children achieve--a course of action that includes collaborative work, individual/small group coaching, whole class presentations, projects, assessments and more.

Our team does a lot of this now. We meet in PLC to review student assessments, needs, and interests. We develop and grow programs together. We all teach and take an interest in every child. What we may need to do more is use our imaginations, time, creativity, knowledge, and drive to better target and tailor learning so that we meet more needs in better ways. We're already doing a good job--there's much more that is strong and right, but I think this shift might make us even better.

Many schools haven't embraced the collaborative model we use, a model that depends on PLCs, RTI, shared teaching, specialization, and a whole team focus on all students at a grade level. In some schools, it's still the one-teacher-one-classroom model. And in some schools, specialists may arrive to help, but not plan lessons or tailor targeted approaches to lift students up. In some schools there may be less communication amongst all educators, and in some schools there may be little time for this kind of collaboration.

I think it's time to overhaul how we provide services, and in that overhaul we can't lose sight of the good progress made by students when they do have an IEP, specific goals, inclusion, and tailored targeted coaching and teaching by skilled educators. Yet in the overhaul, we might redefine what it means to team, target, and teach children in ways that matter.

I don't have all the answers, and I know that it's in our dedicated collaboration that we do better for the children and each other. Moving ahead to match the research and meet the great potential that exists is challenging work that calls for the best of all of us. It's not easy, and we won't always do it right, but we have to keep trying because a really good education for every child spells greater happiness, success, contribution, and communities. Onward.

Friday Musings: October 20, 2017

Not surprisingly administrative work fell to the wayside these past few weeks as I helped students prepare for and carry out family-student-teacher conferences. With all but three conferences yet to go, I'll be ready to devote some good time to that administrative work such as collecting/collating forms, field trip money management, and field studies/expert visitor scheduling next week.

Next week also finds students studying rounding and getting ready for Wednesday's or Thursday's first unit test--the Place Value test. My book group will continue reading and discussing Swindle, and we'll start our science matter unit.

Professionally the week includes the MTA's Teaching and Professional Learning meeting, a meeting devoted to discussing the math program, and a PLC devoted to math RTI groups.

At the meeting where we discuss the math program, we'll take a deeper look at scheduling, targeted support, and communication amongst many dedicated professionals. At PLC we'll create six-week RTI groups based on Thursday's assessment.

A continued focus on healthy, positive routines will continue throughout each day. There will be three extra help sessions offered too, and at least one remaining family-student-teacher conference and hopefully two more.

The six-week period of getting to know students and starting the year is past, and now we're digging into the learning. This is my favorite part of the year :)

Meeting the Needs of the Most Challenged Learners

In general our students do extraordinarily well due to multiple factors such as loving homes, wonderful life experiences, a supportive teaching/learning community, substantial in-school and out-of-school supports, good health, nutrition, and rest, wonderful extracurricular programs, dedicated family members and teachers, and lots more. We are a privileged school with much to be grateful for and proud of.

Yet we do have a pocket of students who don't demonstrate the same success as others, and I am wondering how we can affect better growth and development for those students. This is a question that often finds educators and administrators at odds with and amongst each other since there are many perspectives with regard to students that struggle.

As I think of this issue, there are a number of strategies that have worked with students who fall into this category. Those efforts include the following:
  • Steady, consistent, targeted, small-group or individualized supports with skilled educators
  • Culturally proficient teaching/learning efforts
  • In-school and at-home targeted tech-related support
  • Positive coaching and support
  • Thoughtful attention, analysis, and decision-making prior to the start of the school year with regard to scheduling and programming
  • Professional patterns that support optimal research, development, and service
Efforts that don't work as well include the following:
  • less targeted, drive-by supports
  • less effective lesson planning
  • less rigorous standards and expectations
  • groups that are too big or too disruptive to teach
  • lack of role models or examples of best learning
  • lack of good strategic analysis and programming
  • coaching that is not positive or uplifting, but instead demeaning
So as I think deeply about what we could have done to uplift the development of the very few students who didn't make as much progress as others last year, I think we may have done the following:
  • less choppy, and more consistent support. For example one student who had steady support with a skilled teacher made much more progress than another student who had choppy supports with multiple professionals.
  • at-home and in-school targeted tech support. A child who made substantial progress had this, while the students who made less progress, in general, did not have this.
  • small groups or independent service delivery. In some cases, I believe the service delivery for those who did not make as much progress included groups that were too large for the kind of sensitive, targeted support they needed. 
  • high expectations. I do think that, in some cases, the expectations for what students are capable of were too low thus translating into less progress.
I want to be mindful of my own work in this regard as we can always get better at serving every child. So as I move my teaching/learning work forward I want to work towards those attributes that truly affect best progress and development. 


This week I met a professional challenge.

As typical of most challenges I face on the professional front, the challenge rose unexpectedly surprising me. I had not anticipated this event.


Perhaps I did not listen well or understand early year communications related to the issue.

Perhaps there were a variety of understanding at play, understandings not well communicated or shared by anyone.

Perhaps there were different philosophies and alliances too.

I really don't know, but I do know that challenges like this do arise now and then, and when they do, there is usually a tipping point--a place where the challenge stares you right in the face and says, "Do something."

My initial response to challenge is to ignore it or get frustrated. This isn't good. It's better to see the promise in challenge--to try to dissect it, understand it, and conquer it with best effort and effect. As I tell my students, I want to reframe my challenge response by doing the following:

  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Discover the history related to the event
  • Express my own point of view related to the event
  • Work with others to figure out the next steps
Challenge is an opportunity for good change and forward movement, and that's the attitude I want to use as I move forward. 

Parent/Family-Student-Teacher Conferences: What Works

I'm working with my team to deepen and better student-family-teacher(s) conferences. We put a lot of time into this because research demonstrates how important family-teacher relations are to the overall success of students.
  • Lead time for sign-up
  • Online sign up
  • Students present at conference
  • Student portfolios (one-inch view binders)
  • Students' stats sheet: list of student scores for early-year assessments
  • Descriptions of each teachers' focus and main teaching events so far on the stats sheet
  • Examples of students study in each learning area
  • Photos of signature events and projects
  • Students' selfie collages (Identity/Community-Building Project)
  • Offering a variety of times
  • Reflection pieces
  • Goal setting pieces
  • Evaluation pieces
  • Happiness survey
  • Lighten up the curriculum/instruction week to make time for student/teacher portfolio/conference prep
  • Timed once initial assessments are complete (after MCAS score arrival?)
Family-Student-Teacher Conference as a Learning Event
As the young girl read her marvelous story today during the family-student-teacher conference, I realized that the conference is truly a learning event.

The parent and I were learning about the student, and the student was learning about herself as she read her story and made commentary along the way.

Also during this conference period students presented portrayals of themselves as readers, STEAM leaders, students of social studies, and mathematicians. As children sat at the table leading their conferences metacognition grew and so did my understanding of where a child is at this point in his/her learning career and where I'd like to coach the student forward.

If well designed the Family-Student-Teacher conference at fifth grade can be as much of a learning event as a sharing/goal setting event. I want to explore this idea more and if you have anything to offer, please do.

Conference Script
After sitting through the conferences, and watching students share their showcase portfolios, I think a good process for each child to follow includes these steps:

  1. Introduce family to teacher
  2. Share Happiness Survey
  3. Choose a piece of writing to read and talk about
  4. Read introductory reading pages
  5. Choose a STEAM project to share (including pictures)
  6. Talk about other important aspects of the year such as buddies and social studies
  7. Share learning evaluation
  8. Review stats and goals. (I want to simplify the goal sheet)

Family-Student-Teacher Conference: Clear the Schedule
After completing most of the conferences, I can say that I am really happy with our overall structure for conferences, however, I wish I had cleared the way even more so that extreme fatigue didn't set in. The week of family-student-conferences demand that all home tasks are complete and the fridge is full of easy-to-prepare family dinners. It's also important that the schedule does not include other deep tasks or problems to solve so that the attention can be focused on the conferences and teaching alone.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lesson Leaves Something to be Desired

I've taught the same deep and complex concept many times before to many groups, and today I aimed to teach it again. The first approach I planned did not work. It was too complicated for the learners. In the past we taught this concept in December rather than October so students had a better foundation for learning this information. This year we're teaching it earlier. Plus, it's just a difficult concept, and as I planned it, it didn't match the learners' well.

No matter how often you teach, you'll find that lessons planned and the students in front of you will be a mismatch from time to time. I had the opportunity to teach the same lesson two more times today, and each time I adjusted the lesson to match the learners. The lesson got better and better and the match was closer and closer.

Only those who plan student-centered lessons each day, lessons that respond to a large array of expectations, know the range of extraordinarily powerful and terrific lessons to those lessons that fall flat. That's part of the teaching experience, a part of the experience that those who don't plan and implement lessons daily don't really understand.

Improving Education: Lifting Communities

How can we improve education in schools?

First, we have to analyze how we spend our time. It's my guess that in some schools, time is not targeted well with regard to what really matters when it comes to happy, successful students.

Next, we have to take a close look at our teaching/learning environments. Are those environments positive, welcoming, bright, and warm.

Further, we have to look at how the schools are staffed. Adequate staffing is imperative. Too many schools do not have enough staffing for adequate teaching and learning. Also, in too many schools there's a lopsided staffing situation where there are many leaders without significant time-on-task with students. Good teachers with substantial experience should be mostly directed towards working with students. There's no need for lots and lots of administrators. Instead, a hybrid model of teaching and leading can serve to forward programs and student success too.

Teachers' and students' voices and choices need to be elevated with greater focus on distributed models of leading and learning.

Every child should have access to the best tech tools and equipment. It's a crime if a child doesn't have worthy, regular access to technology in today's world. (of course in wealthy systems where there's small teacher-to-student ratios, there might be more opportunity to hold off on tech, but with the large numbers of students in public schools, having quality tech is like having lots of extra hands.)

Schools need to find ways to welcome families to the learning/teaching community in ways that matter. Every school has to look closely at this issue with close attention to the context of the community where their schools are located and the students that they teach.

After school and before school programs are advantageous to many students and their families. Schools should look for ways to partner with local after school and before school programs so that students that need these services have this opportunity including the needed transportation.

Healthy, happy students learn better. Every school needs to partner with local organizations so that the students they teach are receiving basic needs of adequate clothing, loving homes, nutritious food, good rest, and quality health care. If students are hungry, cold, tired, unloved, or unhealthy, they won't be available to learning. I believe that individuals, communities, and the state can continue to improve their efforts in this area. Sometimes superficial efforts in this realm may be embraced when what's needed is deeper, more coordinated, and strategic efforts to truly make change.

To improve schools teachers need to be involved in high quality professional learning, research, and development. When this work is just relegated to those at the top of the hierarchy, it's less likely to trickle down to the students and their families. While everyone is working to impart what they know now, they should also be working to develop schools, teaching, and learning in ways that are research-based and known to elevate student success, contribution, and capacity.

To invest time, money, intelligence, and care into our schools in every community is to lift communities, and to lift communities means greater happiness, less violence, and more success for all. Research demonstrates that this is the best investment communities can make as they think about betterment. Massachusetts has done a great job with this, and there's still room for good growth. What will be your first step in this regard?

What's Ahead? Mid-October 2017

As parent conferences near the last few meetings, I am thinking ahead to what we'll do as a grade-level team in the days ahead.

Place Value Learning Continues
Students and teachers will continue to focus on place value concept, skill, knowledge, and application. This study will include a unit one assessment next week, follow-up RTI efforts, and the start of place value unit two.

Facts and Math Skills
This will take on a more targeted effort in the days ahead with a lot of variety depending on students' skill, interest, time, and motivation.

Science Study: Matter
I'll dig into this unit in the week ahead and begin the teaching next week. I'm looking forward to implementing this new, high-interest curriculum unit.

Reading RTI
Our small group has only met once so far. I actually think this effort is too choppy at this point in the curriculum and believe it would profit from an everyday approach of some kind. I'd like to discuss this with my colleagues and see how we might change this in this in the years ahead to improve. One idea I've always wanted to foster at the elementary level is the use of advisories where every teacher is matched with a small social group and with that group they work on reading, writing and social competency. This all-hands-on-deck would include all available educators including special educators, teaching assistants, and classroom educators. Group numbers would differ dependent on needs and interests. In the meantime, I'll work with my RTI group to read and enjoy the book we're sharing.

Field Trips and Expert Visitors
There's work to do to solidify, plan, confirm, and prepare students for these valuable events.

Administrative/Organizational Work
There's lots of catch-up to do in this area. Yesterday students and I made a dent with regard to updating portfolios, collecting field trip forms, and arranging classroom materials and notices.

Professional Learning
A host of worthy learning opportunities have been shared with me, and this weekend I have to review those opportunities and figure out which ones will meet the learning/teaching progress I'd like to make on my own and with colleagues.

Rich Curriculum: Time to Teach?

We have a rich curriculum at our grade level. The curriculum includes lots of great writing projects, super reading efforts, engaging science/STEAM, eye-opening social studies, deep math, terrific specials, wonderful expert visitors/field studies, and thought provoking, life-leading social-emotional learning.

The challenge is meeting all those expectations/opportunities without overwhelming students--like too much of a rich cake, even if the curriculum is good, too much will weigh students down and then they won't feel good.

What's a teacher to do?

Healthy Routine
The weekly schedule and routine is critical with regard to this topic. If you work well to create a positive weekly routine, you can stay clear of overwhelming efforts and lead towards manageable, child-friendly teaching/learning.

Maximizing Supports
As I've noted time and again, we have substantial skilled support when it comes to teaching well. The key is to use those supports well. Once parent conferences and the first teaching unit are complete, I want to analyze our many supports, and work with colleagues to see how we might maximize those efforts to build more meaningful time-on-task with all students so that everyone has a chance to succeed with strength.

Extra Help Sessions
In my position as a mom of older children, I do have a bit more time than I had when I was a mom of young children. Therefore I can offer some before school and after school extra help sessions. I find that extra help allows many students to get the kind of help they need to secure concepts, skills, and knowledge. Due to a number of professional commitments, the times and days for this help will vary each week and be announced in the weekly newsletter.

Tech Use
There are many advantages of learning with technology. One is the quick feedback tech allows. Also tech allows concepts to come alive via animated models, games, and video. Targeted use of technology can help students to develop skill, concept, and knowledge in ways that matter.

Many students enjoy completing homework with friends. Creating at-home homework clubs or afternoons can support this kind of positive teamwork. The kinds of conversation that students engage in when they work together has been shown to improve academic growth and learning.

Creative Projects
When students have to analyze and apply concepts in creative ways, they learn more. Looking for opportunities to make the learning come alive will also support optimal learning/teaching. Creative projects and teaching also allow educators to synthesize many concepts, knowledge points, and skills together into worthy, interdisciplinary learning endeavor.

Enlisting Family Support
Families are the key ingredient to student success. Engaging families in the learning/teaching process builds student success in meaningful ways. In every context, this will look a little bit different, and that's why it is important for teaching/learning communities to discuss this topic and make decisions that help teachers and students reach prioritized goals.

Having a rich curriculum is the first step to optimal teaching and learning. The next step is figuring out ways to reach those worthy teaching/learning goals using a myriad of strategies--strategies that fit the schedules, context, and priorities of the community that you serve and lead.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Math Growth and Development

Last year about 92% earned state SGP scores of more than 50% while 8% had less than 50% growth. I am happy with these scores, and I am now looking at ways to continue the good growth and improve the areas where there was less growth.

What worked and what could be better?

The main ingredient to success was substantial numbers of invested and skilled family members and educators who supported students learning in deep and effective ways over many years. We had a lot of skilled support when it came to teaching our students last year and in years past. Those supportive and skilled individuals worked tirelessly with students with countless strategies to develop their skill, concept, and knowledge.

Another factor that led to successful growth was the use of good tech. We mainly utilized Symphony Math, That Quiz, Khan Academy, Google Apps and a few other games to develop student skills. Students who completed all of the grade level exercises on Khan Academy demonstrated substantial growth and overall terrific scores. At-home tech access also can be connected to good growth.

Factors that were connected to less growth included unexpected and expected struggles, and the lack of concerted, repetitious, and meaningful ways to deeply explore what was happening with students who struggled a lot--some students really struggle with learning, and those students require lots of skilled, targeted teaching and learning. When programs are too choppy and students are less known by educators, then success appears to wane.

As I move forward this year, I hope to continue the use of substantial skilled support, differentiated assignments, increased parent contact/communication, and multi-modal teaching/learning efforts. As for new efforts, I'll use the mini math booklet as a resource for families/students, offer extra help/coaching sessions, and advocate for more consistent and less choppy programs for some students. I'll also continue to advocate for Khan Academy which was an important took for success, and a tool that has been recently banned in our system. I will also continue the practice of lots of targeted teaching in a wide variety of ways.

Every year classes differ and so does success or lack of success on standardized tests. Substantial student support, time-on-task, and targeted, differentiated teaching and learning are elements that lead to success. We're on our way.

Today's Focus: October 18, 2017

Today's main focus is family-student-teacher(s) conferences. There are many conferences scheduled, and I want to focus on those.

The next main focus is student learning. Today students will take a mid-unit math test. They will practice test taking skills as they show what they know. I'll use the assessments to inform upcoming lessons and student coaching.

After that, students will engage in a workshop where they will have the opportunity to update their portfolios, complete overdue math pages, and catch-up with reading, writing, and online math assignments. Every so often, we need these catch-up and extra-help workshops to solidify the learning efforts introduced.

At the end of the day, we'll have a short team meeting and then students will continue their study of the play, In the Heights with our talented and knowledgeable librarian. A good day to come.

Continuing the Place Value Path

As noted before, I wish I had a couple more weeks to dig into this unit, but with time constraints imposed, I have to rush through it a bit. So today, students will take a mid-unit quiz which will give them practice with test taking and allow me to see how they do on initial unit concepts. It seems like many are ready for this, and for a few that don't seem ready, teaching assistants and special educators will work with small groups to use the mid-unit test as an opportunity for guided teaching and learning.

Tonight I'll review the tests, and tomorrow students will be introduced to the "behavior" of the base-ten place value system with video, models, and guided practice. We'll continue that guided practice on Friday, and then on Monday and Tuesday, students will have a chance to review and practice rounding. Next Wednesday students will have a chance to practice with an online TenMarks assessment and throughout the start of the week next week students' homework will include completing an online/offline practice test that will be due on Wednesday. Then on Thursday students will take the test in their one-hour core math blocks. Next Friday educators will use students' scores to create our first intervention groups (RTI) for deeper, more targeted study with regard to place value. Onward.

Family-Student-Teacher Conferences: Promises and Perspective

This week our grade-level teaching team has been hosting families and students to fall conferences. We invited students to come to these conferences, and students prepared showcase portfolios as vehicles for sharing, discussion, and goal setting for the conferences. When students attend the conferences, they take the lead by sharing their learning highlights. Throughout the twenty-minute (or so) conferences, questions and conversation continue, goals are set, and promises and perspectives are shared.

I typically share my parenting perspective which is "50% academics and 50% passion." I believe that positive investment in finding and developing children's passion is what opens doors, builds friendships, and develops confidence over time. At fifth grade, passion-finding/building includes trying out extracurricular activities, talking/reflecting about passions, and giving students time to imagine, play, and investigate their interests. In real-time, passion building might include playing an instrument, time to draw or write, attending acting classes, traveling, sports, or gardening. Good attention to passions, both individual interests and collective pursuits, leads to care and attention with regard to academic development.

Of course we focus on academic development too. Students share a few examples of their best work in reading, math, writing, science, social studies, and/or reading. I share their academic "stats sheets" which, at this time, included a reading words-per-minute score, reading accuracy score, reading comprehension score, math facts level, and math skills/concept/knowledge levels. The overall review led family members, students, and I to set goals including SEL, Math, and Literacy goals. With those goals came instructional promises and suggestions.

For example, in some cases where students' accuracy and comprehension are strong, but the fluency lagging a bit, I suggested the use of One Minute Reader, and promised to introduce students to that reading app that includes lots of interesting articles and exercises that build fluency as well as vocabulary, comprehension, and accuracy. I also recommended reading engaging child-friendly poetry repetitively aloud to family members as a way to build fluency. Many students made goals with regard to writing skill and fluency. For those students I recommended journaling online or off, and I recommended back-and-forth parent/family member-child journals where the adult writes a paragraph daily and the child responds back-and -forth over time with all kinds of light and deeper topics and think. Mostly to write better, one has to write regularly. Of course reading and instruction help, and that's recommended and practiced regularly at school and as part of daily home study.

Executive functioning is always a big part of teaching and learning conferences. For some students, it's still a challenge to follow a positive routine in school and at home. When family members and teachers offer opportunities to take responsibility and follow fairly simple and supported routines, we can support goals in this area.

The portfolios include happiness surveys, student's reflections, and photos too. The photos, in many ways, display the joy in learning that students experience with our most playful and investigative learning such as working with kindergarten buddies, building STEAM structures, and making solar ovens.

I continue to enjoy having conferences during a one-week period rather than spread over many weeks as I find that the whole team is talking about the same topics with all family members. This gives the team a chance to really listen and think deeply about the collaborative program we foster with and for students. Family-teacher-student conferences are essential components of of a positive teaching/learning program, a component that helps us to teach well and support students' current and long term success, contribution, and happiness. What other ideas and thoughts would you add to this reflection as I continue to think of this integral element of the teaching/learning year?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

SEL Goals: Develop Character

Students created three or four goals in the following areas:

  • Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Literacy
  • Math
For SEL, there were three main goal choices including the following:
  • Following Directions
  • Collaboration
  • Character
To be able to follow directions is essential in an open, learner-friendly environment. The directions are simple and typically focused on safety, collaboration, and learning. When students don't follow the simple directions set, they create havoc for themselves and the whole class. Hence, this is a primary school goal.

Collaboration is another primary goal. For some, simple collaboration of working together, sharing, and speaking with care and kindness is very difficult. This is also a vital goal for successful classroom learning. 

The third goal, is a lifelong goal, and that's building character. To build character takes time, explicit effort, modeling, and conversation. This will be a goal that the whole class shares this year, and we'll work towards meeting this goal with care in the days to come.

I'll add references to build this goal in the days ahead

Teach and Share What You Know

I noted exasperation as a person in the know dealt with a person not in the know--there was distance with regard to knowledge, and that distance created frustration.

Instead of frustration, I suggest that the person in the know make the time to teach rather than admonish the one who doesn't know. Knowledge, in many ways, is privilege, and one way to extend privilege to others is to extend that knowledge.

How might you do that in your own work?

First make your work explicit. The more you openly share the work and thinking you do, the more that others can learn from that work, and even better, the more that others can contribute their own knowledge and thinking to your work thus improving both your work and study as well as their's.

When and how has this happened in my own life?

It's happened with the college process. For my first child, I studies this process a lot, and then wrote a blog post about it. I share that post with many as a way to share what I learned. Many have shared their tips and knowledge with me as well. This share has happened informally through conversation and anonymously with threads such as College Confidential. This knowledge share has been very helpful with regard to helping my own children find colleges that were good fits for who they are as people and want they desired in a college experience.

This also happens all the time via writing and reading blogs, attending workshops and conferences, joining and getting involved in teaching/learning organizations, and via countless informal conversations and gatherings.

None of us have all knowledge. There's no way that people can know all that we expect them to know. So the goal should be to share what we know in ways that matter to lift the practice of all.

Goal Tending: Meeting the Year's Teaching/Learning Goals

I'm deeply focused on the two main goals I've set for the school year. One is a student learning goal, and the other is a professional learning goal. The goals have been relayed, signed off, and outlined for the good work ahead. What does this mean?

Yesterday I shared my goals, rationale, and action plan with my supervisor. Now I'll move forward with meeting those goals.

The first goal is to teach math so that the majority of students gain math mastery in all fifth grade standards. The action plan includes the following steps, steps which I'll track in the year ahead. 

Many of the steps for this goal were completed over the summer and during the first six weeks of school:
  • Begin year with a focus on team building, growth mindset, optimal learning-to-learn behaviors, and cultural proficiency with activities such as "What's Your Number?," "Birthday Graphs," "Jo Boaler Ted-Talk" since research shows that children who feel like part of the team and are welcome to the learning environment do better. Students completed this aspect of the learning. 
  • Assessment of 2016-2017 teaching/learning program with online learning data, MCAS, & unit tests looking for teaching/learning trends, successes, opportunities for change.  A good analysis of last year's program helps to better this year's program. Last year's program pointed to tremendous success and opportunity. Success demonstrated that our growth scores for the grade level were among he highest int he state, far above the state average, and the majority of our students met or exceeded proficiency with math standards. Opportunities lie in the work we do with high risk students in the NM and PM categories. Assessment complete.
  • Creation of data charts for 2017-2018 school year to track ongoing process. Charts made.
  • Give assessments to collect early year and ongoing data including Track My Progress, Symphony Benchmark, and Facts Assessment to inform instruction. Assessments given to all but newest students.
  • Introduce math tech use, reference, and study with the following Internet websites and pages: Math Tech page, Magnificent Math website, Learning Menu/Homework, TenMarks, Symphony Math, That Quiz, and an assortment of other approved standards-based math games and activities to support student independent and collective study at-home and in-school, and to serve as a family resource for all math learning and teaching. An infrastructure of online supports exist to help students and families access the curriculum and support student learning. 
These are the goal-steps that will make-up the mainstay of the goal tending throughout the year. 
  • Teach all standards outlined in systemwide Grade 5 Scope and Sequence with a differentiated and blended approach in engaging, empowering ways. This is the current focus with great attention to daily learning experiences. 
  • Work with grade-level team and cross-system educators/leadership to develop successful teaching/learning strategies to meet this goal including Response to Intervention (RTI) data meetings and teaching efforts. This is another current focus as we work to support our diversity of learners. 
  • Use of unit booklet approach to provide students and parents with a ready study guide of standards, vocabulary, unit concepts, skills, and knowledge for each unit. I am developing this approach this year to support student learning. 
  • Assess ongoing learning through a number of regular assessments including the following:  Track My Progress, Symphony Benchmark, Facts/Skills Assessments, and unit tests/quizzes to inform instruction. 
The second goal is to work with my grade-level team to develop our knowledge and efforts to teach in culturally proficient ways. 

We have already completed a number of steps related to this goal. As far as the research goes, w have tended to research on our own, then share the resources we've found with each other. The steps I've completed on my own or with the team so far include the following:
  • Wrote and received summer work funding for the three grade-level teachers to further research and plan an orientation list of events to support greater cultural proficiency for two days each. 
  • Research: Read Emdin's book, For White Teachers Who Teach in the Hood . . ., and embed research into teaching/learning program. 
  • Attending the yearly METCO Picnic.
  • Planned and attended an early-year orientation brunch for Boston resident students. 
  • Teaching/Learning: Planned and implemented a number of early-year, community building  culturally proficient learning/identity activities including the following:
    • Selfie Project: Project to share students' personal lives, interests, and experiences via collective project work and project displays.
    • Smile Video: a positive video which presented family members and students with a video snapshot of students' initial teamwork and shared learning.
    • Birthday Graph and What's Your Number Projects aimed at building community, students' knowledge of each other, early positive assessment of math attitudes/abilities, and positive relationships amongst students and teachers. 
    • Start of showcase portfolio efforts to help students build a practice of metacognition, self-knowledge, goal-setting, and self advocacy.
  • Invite students to take part in fall and early spring parent-guardian-teacher conferences.
  • History of People presentation to all classes which examines the evolution of skin shade, the history of learning, and obstacles that prevent learning. Specific attention to the fact that racism and prejudice of any kind is not allowed at the school. Signage that reiterates that message. 
Efforts that we'll engage in on our own and together in the days to come include the following:
  • More Research: 
    • Listen to Angela Watson podcast related to effective teaching of black boys:
    • Read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and embed Coates' insights into the teaching/learning program.
    • Use this article as a guide.
Culturally Proficient Teaching Leads to Equity
Classroom Efforts that will support this goal. 
  • Plan and attend special meetings for parents, new students and students who are distanced geographically from the school including extra-help sessions before and after school.
  • Plan and implement culturally proficient learning/identity activities throughout the year to build relationships, team, belonging, and success for all students including the following events:
    • Visit Harvard Peabody Museum to learn about the ancient culture of Mayans, and creation of culture flags to build identity and respect for individual and collective culture. 
    • In the Heights play attendance and related teaching/learning with regard to geography, privilege, power, and perspective. 
  • Specific attention throughout the year to teaching in ways that invite all children to belong to the teaching/learning community. Using Emdin's research as a guide.
  • Continue to plan a number of informal and formal reflections/assessments to understand what students need to inform the teaching/learning program.
  • Stay in regular contact with families through newsletters, the website, emails, phone calls, and meetings to build the capacity of the teaching/learning team with the goal of successfully welcoming every child and building his/her holistic success related to the learning/teaching program.
Fortunately our shared teaching model at fifth grade allows me the time and space to focus in on these goals with depth and purpose. I'm sure as time moves along, I'll use this blog post to collect evidence and guide my practice with respect to these goals. I like this ongoing way of working with goals in actionable ways. I'll add the link to this post to my ePortfolio for ready reference and updating.  In the meantime, let me know if you have anything to add.