Friday, March 31, 2017

Wonderful, Powerful Words

Only introduced today to Rev. Sekou -- his words speak to me. My main goal is to teach the children well in natural, responsive, caring ways. I seek to know each child and use time and energy wisely to empower them in ways that matter.

Today great challenge stood in the way of this aim--my planning and care was obstructed by information unshared and tasks expected--efforts that took me away from the work I desire to do.

Why did I let that distraction stand between me and the children. I couldn't understand why they don't join me in the joy and reach for teaching well--the conversation about how and what we do that matters and what we can do to make a difference. Instead scores, tight programs, and steep expectations stand in the way.

Then tonight, I read words that empowered me. Words that made me feel more like teacher as artist than teacher as peon, words that gave meaning to my work, vision, aim, and hope. Thank you Rev. Sekou for empowering my own direction to do what I know is right and good.

Sekou's words from this article.

Thinking Big: Positive Directions

Snags in the path lead to deep thought and rerouting.

With a busy weekend ahead, I want to solidify the path going forward.

The path is laid out, and I'll continue as planned.

Fraction Projects
I'll continue to review projects and make some time next week to help students with questions related to this project.

Our little group is doing a great job.

SEL and Learning to Learn
I've been embedding lots of these lessons into the start, middle, and end of the teaching hours.

When time permits, I'll make time to review the new curriculum expectations and order related supplies.

Local Union
I'll ready notes for Thursday's meeting.

I'll attend Wednesday's Meeting.

I'll attend Thursday's Meeting.

Teacher's have to be quite mindful to stay the path amongst all the distraction, obstruction, and challenge--onward.

Friday Musings: Teach Ahead

I'm looking forward to a good week next week not that I processed today's learning curve. What will happen.

Half the class will be on a field trip, and I'll focus on helping the other half of the class catch up on lots of learning work we've been doing. It will be nice to have 12 rather than the typical 23 to focus on.

Students and I will review the math homework together.

Fraction II Assessment

I'll pass out a new home study packet and students and I will review concepts to prepare for the common assessment. I'll also spend sometime at the DESE TAC meeting

Students and I will continue to prep for that common assessment.

I'll accompany 1/2 of the class on a field study.

We'll review the home study packet together

Time for the Common Assessment

Math Tech and Common Assessment Completion. High school students visit to share their endangered turtle species study.

April Vacation Starts


The Problem with Relying Too Heavily on Scores

In some places, all that matters is the scores. And we all know that one way to get good scores is to teach to the middle and the top as they will skew the scores in an advantageous direction. Yet, is this right or good--I think not. Instead I believe it's best to teach to all students in ways that matter.

As we think of the way young children progress towards mastery, we notice multiple, varying paths that require differing levels of time, repetition, modality, and more. There truly are some students who are "quick studies." They learn in the snap of your fingers, but there are others that take lots of time and repetition to learn a skill or perhaps demonstrate that skill. To rush those students along is only to potentially demean them. We know that positivity, encouragement, and success lead to greater learning, so why build programs that teach to some and not others.

It's imperative that we begin to look carefully at what each and every child needs, and match our program paths to those needs. Too many assessments, drill, and not enough time for meaningful learning will do that to children.

One-size-fits-all curricula generally does not serve children well, yet there's room for some same learning and activity for all children.

I watched Jo Boaler's new TedTalk today. It was so inspiring. As I've noted before her research proves what so many good teachers everywhere believe in.

Surprise! New Curriculum

A simple question revealed that I have two new units to plan for and teach prior to the end of the year. One was a replacement unit I missed due to the fact that I was absent during the curriculum share day and didn't realize there was a new unit and the project had changed. The other one (which I originally thought was two) was brand new as far as I know--I never heard of them before and had no related information. Now I have the information for the two new units and the one existing unit in the curriculum thread and there appears to possibly be another activity too that's being shipped soon-I'm still unsure about this.

So all in all there's two new units to teach in the last eight weeks of the year--each unit will take about 2-3 days to teach and colleagues and I will collaborate around those units.

What would have been helpful in this regard would have been to receive an outline of all the units via email early in the year. That would have helped me with planning and supply acquisition.

As it stands now, I have to find time to discover and order all the related materials and study the units--units I had no voice in since I did not volunteer for the days to do the research. I don't think voice and choice should depend on who has volunteer time, but that's not for me to decide.

I really think good teamwork depends on keeping the team up to date in a timely manner about what is happening and why. It's really helpful to make information accessible via websites and other user-friendly vehicles too to aid educators' efforts. And of course, there's always greater investment if educators have voice and choice. Also I had spent a great deal of time prepping for the two units that were deleted, and I had no say in the deletion at all.

I really try to stay ahead of the curve, plan the lessons, do the research, and focus on good teaching. But when events like this happen, you feel like a cog on a wheel being rolled by someone else. Events like this basically say, "You don't matter--do as I say, don't think, and obey." I've not read anything to support this kind of effort, but it exists in pockets here and there for teachers. I must say it's very discouraging.

The surprise today was quite troubling for me, but as I always do, I'll make it work. Onward.

Retention, Repetition, Reach

The three R's of retention, repetition, and reach are as important to learning as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

As we think of our learners, we notice who retains the learning and who does not. As we teach, we strive to create lessons and learning experiences with and for students that lead to worthy retention of process, knowledge, concept, and skill. What works when it comes to retention? How do we measure retention? Why does this matter?

I am especially thinking about this as students take end year assessments. Who will retain well and who will not? Why will this happen? Do we study this with care, and use that information to help us teach better.

Many curriculum programs and expectations don't provide enough time, opportunity, and variety with regard to repetition. Most learning requires substantial repetition--repetition that moves from exploration, introduction, discussion, practice, review, more practice, application, and assessment. As we think about teaching well, we have to think about the amount and type of repetition we offer students when it comes to good learning.

How and when do you foster reach with regard to learning. Is that reach always encouraged and provided or is it only offered here and there for some rather than all?  Students who reach with confidence, questioning, and good energy, typically learn more and better.

As we think about new ways to assess learning, assessments that move beyond the artificial grade-level or age-related tests, we might begin to measure attributes of learning well that matter and attributes that I expect will look different when thinking about individual learners.

What do you know about retention, repetition, and reach? How do you include these learning attributes in your teaching/learning research, planning, practice, and assessment. I hope you'll share as I'm very curious about these three R's of learning.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Looking Out

As I look out to the years ahead, what do I see with regard to teaching and learning.

Shared Teaching Model
I'd like to continue to develop what we can do with the shared teaching model at fifth grade. We feel it's a positive model that holds good potential for growth too.

Math Teaching and Learning
I want to think deeply about the latest research related to optimal math teaching and learning. Specifically I want to develop efforts related to blended learning, project/problem based learning, interdisciplinary units, and differentiation to serve all students well.

Modern Environment
I'd like to modernize the classroom more with more flexible furniture and better storage units. I have some ideas related to this that I plan to explore more soon.

Elementary School Campus
I suspect that the community may begin to think about a new elementary school campus to modernize the facilities for young students learning. Not long ago this kind of effort was done well with regard to the high school. I think this would be a step in a positive direction for the community. It could also be a step towards a more eco-friendly building and use of lands/grounds.

Serving Students Well
I want to work with colleagues to create positive ways to welcome students and families into the school environment and serve all the students well. I'd like to revisit a lot of the traditions we have in place and analyze those traditions with an eye on inclusion, effectiveness, interest, and importance. In some cases, some traditions may be modified or eliminated while new traditions may be embraced. One new tradition I'd like to foster is a more comprehensive orientation or students and families--one that helps to get eery child and family off to a positive start in the school year.

Instructional Value
I want to keep researching and reading so that the instruction is valuable, engaging, and empowering.

Distributed Leadership/Teacher Voice and Choice
I'd like to work towards greater distributed leadership and teacher voice/choice in the school community. I believe we have to look for ways to empower the entire learning community including students, families, educators, administrators, and citizens with good strategic process that leads to best possible teaching and learning.

End of Year Chapters

The final chapter of the school year finds us moving from one special event to another including the following:

Math, Reading, Writing, Science, and Social Studies Skills and Stamina
Study and prep for upcoming tests

Test Season
Seven standardized tests that last about two hours each give or take.

The Play
Singing, dancing, acting, and coming together as a grade level.

Field Studies
African American history, Freedom Trail, Wetlands exploration, and perhaps a STEAM trip too.

Global Changemakers
Finding historical or current day mentors to study with reading, video, writing, acting, and presenting

Science, tech, engineering, art, and math exploration and investigation

Reading, reading, and more reading

Picnics, Field Day, Slide Shows, Clapout

Trump Times

Living in Trump times is discouraging. So far the news reports a lot of dismantling of good regulations and laws that protect people and the environment. Deregulation of our private data on cell phones and other computer devices seems to serve no one well but the cell phone companies. Less funding for public broadcasting seems to eliminate good programming for many, and policies that go against protecting Earth seem to set our children and grandchildren up for big problems.

Further, the news about Russian ties to Trump's win continue. Now Flynn has agreed to be witness for immunity, but will he tell the truth. It seemed he didn't share important information about his affiliations before taking the White House job, so why will he tell important information now.

Trump's staff seems a lot more like a dynasty than a democracy since he's mostly signing up close friends and family members to lead, rather than trying to get a representative group of leaders to work together to lead the nation.

There's little that comes from the White House that is uplifting or positive--it's the daily dose of dread and doom.

Every day I hope I'll wake up and find out that all is changed, and he's taken the job seriously and really does care for our diverse nation and the real issues that exist, issues that challenge "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for Americans," but instead daily I see backwards vision that seems to take away the forward movement of years past. Why would a new President want to dismantle what's in place rather than develop it--that just doesn't make sense to me.

Yet, I'm an average American who has knowledge of my community, family, and job, but not the purview of the President or the very wealthy men and women he surrounds himself with. What I can do is read what I'm able, speak up, align myself with positive good leaders and groups, and do what I can to forward what I believe in.

What do I believe in?

I believe in a good education for every child? I love what public schools are able to do with regard to nation building since children of all walks of life are able to come together to learn, share ideas, and develop in positive ways. I know public schools aren't perfect, but I believe the potential is there to continue to develop our public schools for good of individual people, communities, the nation, and the world. I am not opposed to those who want to home school or use private school, but I do believe that public money is for public school, and that money should be spent wisely so our public schools are the best that they can be.

I believe in equal opportunity for all Americans. I don't believe that you should get a special tax rate if you're rich and famous. I think it's fair to have a fair tax rate so that everyone pays a fair share.

I believe in quality, affordable health care for all people. Actually I believe that health care should be a right and everyone should get high quality health care. I believe we should invest in preventative measure so that people stay healthy--measures like protecting clean air, fertile soil, safe communities, accessible nutritious food, healthy buildings, and opportunity for high quality education so that people stay as healthy as possible. Then for illness whether it be bodily illness, mental illness, or dental illness--I believe that in this day and age everyone has a right to good health care.

I believe in strong communities. I believe our government should do what they can to forward strong, livable communities--communities with lots of green spaces, sustainable agriculture, public transportation, natural beauty, good schools, bike paths, recreational facilities, libraries, and more that supports quality life for all citizens.

I believe in a country that is a good neighbor to other countries. That means we're a country that works against war and destruction and contributes to development and prosperity for all nations. I do believe there's enough to go around on Earth to provide good living for all, and I believe it's our aim to work towards that.

In my own sphere, I'll do what I can to positively promote a positive education for my students, fair work conditions/salaries for my colleagues, and a happy life for my family. I suspect that most Americans feel similarly to me.

Trump Times are not happy times, in fact they are times that are quite dreadful--let's home the tide turns in the days ahead. It will never be perfect, but I believe it can be better.

What's that Smell?

As children entered the room today, the first words out of their mouths were, "What's that smell?" Sadly, I have little sense of smell which made for a difficult time with regard to potty training and diaper changing, but in a smelly classroom it's a blessing.

I didn't pay too much attention until their cries became louder and I realized this wasn't just a typical smelly situation. With a brief bit of investigation, we found two plastic bottles of sour milk and quickly got rid of those.

Then when the next group came in, it was if the smell pushed them back out of the room. They cried in anguish as they covered their noses, "What's that smell!" That led to a greater investigation to see if a little mouse perhaps found its way into the room and died. We looked behind shelves and cabinets, and found no dead rodents or any other evidence that led to the smell's origin. We did discover, however, that some of that sour milk on the floor and wiped it up.

Later when the homeroom students returned we did a thorough clean-up of desks and classroom nooks and crannies. We found more old food in a few students' desks and a rotten apple in the bottom of the lunch bin. After all that cleaning, students had a recess outside in the fresh air, while a few volunteer students and I put the classroom back together.

Just yesterday, I remarked to a colleague that this time of year is the beginning of the end of the year and that it's time to wear our flexibility vests. That's not to say we always experience smelly classrooms in the spring, but instead to recognize that spring brings tests, special projects, field studies, and at times, tired teachers and students which means that there's more change, new schedules, less support, and more surprises than usual. Today was a good example of that, and luckily we had those "flexibility vests" on and dealt with the smelly room as an opportunity to clean up and get ready for test season and the great STEAM projects ahead. Onward.

The Lost Potential in Secrets

Secrets stand like a wall in the face of potential.

When secrets exist about any topic, those secrets hold back the promise possible.

Some keep secrets because they are not confident about the material they hold away from others.

Others keep secrets as a way of keeping power over others.

Some favor secrets so they don't have to face the questions or response the information tightly held will elicit.

In general, and for the most part, secrets are a waste of time.

For example, with regard to the Russian investigation. There appears to be some secrets that some are not divulging. If there were no secrets, the investigation would have no leverage, but authorities have clearly found evidence of secrecy. These secrets are wasting our country's time and resources with regard to the potential we hold for good and fair government.

Even in schools secrets exist. When some won't share data, future plans, notes from meetings, and more, secrecy takes foot, and generally that secrecy leads to undesirable conjecture, hearsay, projection, and action.

In the personal sphere, secrets are generally found out, and when found out cause more harm than if the secret was shared in the first place. There's a continuum here, and one that I can't begin to analyze as secrecy in personal lives includes such a variety of topics and reasons for the secrecy.

In general, open, transparent, inclusive process is best. This kind of process allows good debate, conversation, and shared decision making. Also this process invites the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of many, many who are in the know of the important information.

I believe, for the most part, there is lost potential when it comes to secrecy--do you agree?

Encouraging Learners

Every morning just before I go to school, I think about how I'll encourage learners. Yesterday I told the wonderful story of one of my sons and his band of classmates who continually encouraged each other in school despite some real challenges. I told the students that all of those boys today are doing great and I believe that their success, to a large part, is due to that peer encouragement.

Today, I'll talk about reaching success and doing well. I'll say that doing well in any realm is within our grasp, but that good work takes targeted effort and choice.

I'll use the upcoming fraction assessment as the focus. I'll note that if children complete the fraction study packet with care and in a way that works for them, then they'll likely do well on the test. I will further add that there are many choices to make with regard to this successful completing of the study packet as they can work alone, with friends, at a table, in a comfy chair, and if they desire with teacher support since we have a number of teachers available to support our math learners.

I will remind them that asking questions is a sign of intelligence and not to "stay stuck," but instead get up and ask a teacher or classmate for help if they don't understand. I'll give them all a bit of time to ask general questions, and then I'll let them make their choices and complete the work.

As they work on the packet, I'll position myself in a location where I can see all and help any who come to me. If children seem off task, I'll remind them of how doing this task well will help them to succeed on the assessment, and that if they have trouble choosing a good place to work or helpful peers to work with, I'll then make the choice for them to help them stay focused.

Essentially, I'll remind them that they are the most important people when it comes to their education and success, and it's the choices they make that lead them in the direction of success. However, I'll also say that the teachers are there to help, and it's important to reach out if they need that help. Onward.

Evolving Process and Protocols

Good process and protocols evolve.

It's important to take an inclusive, regular look at the work you do with others and decide what will stay, what will go, and how the work will evolve.

As I think of this, I recognize that this kind of regular review is critical to the good work possible. When we don't make the time to explicitly discuss what we are doing and what we might do, we lose the opportunity to improve what we currently do and commit to.

How might this occur with collaborative groups?

For groups that work together often, I believe it's good to keep a running list of what works, what doesn't, and what can be improved. Group members can add to the list regularly, and the group can sit down and discuss items as time permits.

This kind of process also profits from a regular sessions during the year that focus in on explicit discussion of the program and direct response to the opportunities for change and betterment.

As I think more about this, I am thinking about the areas in which I work such as curriculum development, local union leadership, state committee efforts, and grade-level team work.

Curriculum Development
I believe that inclusive, strategic process that is well orchestrated including all stakeholders leads to optimal curriculum development. I would like to see the curriculum teams that I'm apart of make more time to develop and use good process for collaboration in this matter. I think if we do that we will really make positive growth with regard to the many curriculum areas we work in and the deep, thoughtful teaching we do. The key words here are strategic inclusive process. At present, most of our curriculum work is top-down which does not match the latest research for dynamic collaboration and share--the kind of collaborative effort that rises from modern day protocols and strategic process efforts.

Local Union Leadership
We have many protocols and routines in place, but it may be time to review, revise, and update those protocols in order to modernize some of the efforts we engage in as a local union. We have a strong, talented, committed educator group, and the more that we can positively update our processes to be inclusive, timely, and well-focused on our collective goals as educators, the better work we'll do. Updating and modernizing our efforts will depend on the contribution and time of many as well as the support of our state union leaders and representatives. I believe that educators are professionals who should have substantial say in the work they do similar to other professions, and our local/state unions offer us a positive avenue with which to have that say and leadership.

Grade-Level Team
Our new shared model gives us significant time to come together to review the program, revise, and add new elements as needed. We have many processes in place for share and improvement and we do keep a running document of ideas that we discuss regularly. This is the group I work the most with, and the group that regularly reflects and works together to develop what we can do to serve children well. Fortunately we all bring a growth mindset to our collaborative work, and I believe that we continue to develop this team teaching model in ways that matter and make a positive difference for children and their families.

State Committee Work
Though sometimes tough due to scheduling, travel, and extra work, my work with the state union and department of education committees provides me with positive models and information to bring back to my work at the district level. In my opinion, both the state and our state union are using lots of modern day, inclusive and streamlined processes to share information and collectively do good work. I am so proud to be part of both of these organizations and have the opportunity to learn from and contribute to the efforts they lead. My only regret with regard tot his work is I wish I had a bit more time to devote to this work, but as every teacher knows the day-to-day work of teaching and learning takes up the lion's share of my professional time.

How do the processes and protocols evolve in the organization where you work? How do you contribute to this evolution? Do evolving process and protocols respect the voices of all stakeholders, promote inclusive effort, and use modern day research with regard to the strategic processes and tools used?

It's a changing world, and we do best when we acknowledge that and regularly work to update the work we do on our own and with others in this regard. Onward.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Copy Machine Hour

One part of an educator's job is xeroxing or copying. I'm spending my one-hour planning period today xeroxing three packets including two lengthy assessments and one home study packet. I've started bringing my computer with me for these copy-hours so that I can work to the rhythm of the machine.

Since this is a blog that tells the real story of teaching from one educator's perspective, I would be remiss not to mention the approximately one-hour of copying a teacher does each week. Having one-to-one tech devices has reduced our former copying down to the current about one-hour average.

When the machines are in good order and paper available, it's not such a bad job, yet it's a job that takes up a piece of your planning time.

While I'm at the copier I often create learning pages, reflect in this blog, tweet with other educators about teaching/learning ideas, read my emails, and plan ahead--so I make the most of it.

How much time do you spend at the copier each week? Do you receive help with this work?

I actually would prefer to copy myself while I work on the computer, and then use any available help during teaching times in order to meet the many needs the students present. How about you?

Meeting Error with Compassion

Recently I made a small error, and that error was met with tremendous compassion. That compassion energized me to do a better job in the area of err. It was awesome.

Then not long after that someone made an error in my midst, and I was able to pay the compassion forward. It was such a good feeling to pass on the graceful care that had been given to me.

When error occurs, it's first best to assess with questions like this:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What are the next immediate steps?
  • What are the future steps to prevent such an error later on?
Of course when it comes to errors that cause little harm, this is easy, but if an error is big enough to create substantial harm, we have to think more about that.

That's one reason why, as teachers, we have to work with children in ways that prevent irreversible and harmful error. How do we do that?

Preventative Programs
It's good to assess our programming in ways that help us to discern if we are paving the way for students' good living, the kind of living that protects students from those irreversible errors. That kind of programming should include the following in developmentally appropriate ways:
  • fire safety
  • stranger safety
  • drug and alcohol prevention
  • healthy eating and nutrition
  • body smarts--how to care for your body so you are safe and healthy
  • social skills
  • Internet safety
  • accident prevention
  • safety drills--violence prevention
The "Do Not Go There" List
It's good for all of us to have that "Do Not Go There" list of actions, the kinds of actions that can create true harm for others. That "list" will vary from age to age and person to person, but in general some of the events on that list for young children would include the following:
  • Never take a pill or drug on your own without a trusting adult's consent
  • Never walk on the ice or go swimming without adult supervision
  • Never touch a gun, and leave a home or place where a gun is present right away, then tell a trusting adult.
  • Never push, shove, or hit another person
  • Don't create emotional harm with hurtful words, sayings, hearsay, or conjecture
  • Don't steal
  • Don't vandalize
  • Don't go off with a stranger under any circumstances
  • Don't write, share, or draw anything harmful on the Internet or on paper
It's good to couple this "Do Not Go There" with relevant, age-appropriate stories to bring meaning and remembering to the list. Some may say that this is the kind of list that parents should share with children, but I think it's important for teachers to talk about this list too at times when appropriate. 

Observation, Reporting, and Collaboration
As educators we are mandated reporters which means that if a child displays or states comments which reveal potential harm, we have to report it to the authorities who will then investigate and determine next steps.

It's best when schools have collaborative protocols in place for situations like this. While no one ever wants to report difficult events, in the end it's what we are obligated to do. If the results are that the issue is not of concern, all the better, and if the issue points to a need for intervention, that's good too. 

In all, wrongdoing, error, mishap, and sometimes harm will happen. No one looks forward to these unfortunate events, and we do well to avoid if possible, and then if the unfortunate event does arise it's in everyone's best interest to bring as much compassion to the situation as you can. 

Connecting Students to Their Local Environments: Science Study

Our system is working to embrace the new standards, yet there seems to be some reluctance to connect this learning to the local environment and the many related community organizations that exist.

While I believe that we want to meet the standards to provide students with a strong foundation of science concept, skill, and knowledge, I also believe that embedding this work as much as possible in the environment around us and in connection with local organizations is the way to go.

I've heard that we will invest in kits. I've never been a fan of store-bought science kits, yet a colleague defended these kits with me recently and I could see their merit. Yet, I believe that if we purchase kits, those one-size-fits-all kits should be used in conjunction with local organizations and the local environment.

Why do I feel this way?

First, our environment depends on stewardship, and the best time to build that sense of environmental awareness and care is at the early ages. I believe it's our duty as educators to foster a love, care and knowledge in students of the world around them. Students will be the future caretakers of the Earth, and it's important that we begin that journey with them in schools when they are young.

Relevance and Real-World Learning
When students are learning in a way that impacts the world they live in, the learning is powerful. It's also a lot easier to share relevant, real world learning with family members, and it's likely that those family members will forward that learning as a result of a child's enthusiasm, interest, and knowledge.

Knowing and Contributing to the Local Community
Our school community happens to be filled with wonderful environmental/science sites and organizations with which to connect to as students learn. When children connect to these real world learning opportunities, they begin to belong to a group that might end up leading to summer camp opportunities, internships, jobs, and possibly their future professions. We need future scientists and environmentalists and by connecting students early in their lives with these organizations we boost students' love, interest, and interaction with the world around them in important ways.

Some local sites and organizations students could connect with include the list below. If every grade connected with a few of these organizations, what we could do for and with students would expand exponentially:

  • Wayland Green Team/Community Gardens/School Gardens Initiatives: Multiple educators and community members have devoted hours and hours of volunteer time to our school and community gardens. This provides students with a hands-on science lab right in our school community. If more science funding, learning and time were devoted to this in meaningful, supported ways, children will continue to learn on site in ways that they can replicate in their own lives at home now and in the future.
  • Transition Teams: Our local community has a transition team. Transition teams are committed to sustainable living and living systems. These teams are willing to support schools transition to more natural, environmentally sensitive ways to learn.
  • Massachusetts Audubon Society: This organization provides countless professional learning and student learning opportunities.
  • Acton Discovery Museum: This Museum offers hands-on science learning at the museum and via their visiting science program.
  • Boston Science Museum
  • MIT Museum
  • New England Aquarium
  • Southwick Zoo, Stoneham Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo
  • Ecotarium
  • The Food Project: Opportunity for students to participate in harvesting/growing food
  • Natick Farms
  • Concord Consortium
  • Grassroots Wildlife Conservation
  • Trustees of the Reservation
  • Sudbury Valley Trustees
  • Landsake Farm
  • Harvard Peabody Museum
  • Natick Labs
  • Fruitlands
  • Sudbury River
  • Great Meadows
Enthusiasm and Excitement for Learning
Connecting with real-world, meaningful learning in ways that positively impact the world around us truly inspires students to love and care for their world. It also inspires a sense of peace and greater academic learning too. This is critical for our students and our world. 

In what ways do you foster this kind of real-world science study and learning? 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Good Work

Sometimes I notice work that needs to be done, but work where there is little support.

I don't like to get involved in projects when the needed support for good work is not there.

Good work requires sufficient time and investment.

Some may believe that even if a job can't be done very well, it's still worth the effort. They may be right in this regard, but I know how frustrated I get when a job can only be done at a minimal level, rather than the rich level possible.

Perhaps this desire for depth and richness holds me back and perhaps holds others back too. If I could be satisfied with less, then maybe more could be done or a small project/investment could grow.

On the other hand, I know what happens when we make a deep, collaborative investment into an endeavor, project, or effort--the learning and result is incredible, leaving a long lasting effect.

Therefore, for the time being, I'll steer clear of initiatives that don't have substantial support or the investment needed for the depth I desire. It's just not who I am, but perhaps you can convince me otherwise.

Is Learning Natural?

Many will say that learning is natural. As we desire to know, we investigate and learn.

Yet, as we talk about expected school learning, that may not be as natural. For example students are expected to learn about many skills, concepts, and knowledge areas that they might not naturally gravitate to at the time they are expected to learn it, so in cases like this, I would say that learning is not natural.

Then one could debate whether it's best to follow a child's natural learning path or whether it's best to impose a learning path on a child. I suppose if I had lots of money and time, I would have let my children learn naturally responding to their curiosity with all kinds of wonderful travel, reading, math work and more. What fun that would be.

Yet could we replicate that kind of responsive, open learning in schools with lots of children, less staff, and limited materials and time. Perhaps, but at this point, I think the best we can hope for is the happy medium--a program with some expectation and some free learning too.

So as I think of the expected learning, the goals imposed upon children whether they are ready or not, I wonder how we can make that learning more accessible to children. As I think of this today, I recognize that in this age of wonderful tools and information at our fingertips, one way to do this is to teach children how to use the tools and materials that lead to that expected learning.

For example our team spends a lot of time creating a terrific website that includes almost everything you need to know about the grade-level program. Yet many children and their families still don't access that resource often to support learning expectations. In thinking about this, I realize that I don't spend enough time upfront in the school year teaching students how they might access that website in beneficial ways. Next year I'll make it a point to do that with enough repetition so that children become facile with using the website.

Similarly many children don't access tools like Symphony Math, Khan Academy, and TenMarks to support their learning in ways that matter. Again, it takes explicit teaching to show students how to access these tools and use them well to support learning needs.

The same is true for using rulers, colored pencils, sharpie markers, and any other hand held tool we use to explore math concepts. With explicit teaching, children learn to use even the simplest tools in ways that matter to benefit learning.

In all, I do believe it's natural for us to learn what we need and want to know. I also believe that "natural learning" isn't always possible given the constructs that are in place to support children, schools, and educators. I also believe that we have countless expectations and just as many or more paths to reach those expectations, and by teaching the tools and pathways explicitly we give students a greater opportunity to access and succeed at the learning.

Learning benefits from the guidance of educators and others, and that guidance depends on some explicit instruction as well as time for exploration, investigation, share, questions, talk, and practice.

Realistic Schedules: Time for Health and Family

Educators are known for giving multiple extra hours to the profession. While giving extra often results in good, positive work, it can also take away from health, friends and family, and this is not good.

As educators face multiple schedule decisions, it's important that they retain the time they need for their families, friends, and health.

How can educators do this?

What's Required?
First, it's important to consider the schedule of required time/expectations and the time where you give extra. How does the "extra" positively contribute to the work you are able to do for students, and where is that "extra" not needed or unnecessary? For example, many educators in my system give extra time for legally required meetings. Those meetings can and should be scheduled during the school day as it is part of the required job. If teachers ask that those meetings are scheduled during the school day, they will buy back time for initiatives they're devoted to and time for family, friends, and health.

Necessary Needs
It's also important to consider needs related to health, family, and friends. Some health needs require more time, and educators have to decide if those needs require school year time or summer time. Sometimes it's easier to have a health need met during the lazy days of summer, but if you have babies or small children, it's often better to meet that need during the school year when you have day care in place. This choice will differ depending upon who you are and what your personal schedule are expectations are like.

Strategic Use of Lead Time
Further using lead time to plan well with colleagues helps. For example, I recently reached out to administrative colleagues with regard to next year's schedule related to homework clubs and a number of student supports. If we could talk about those supports up front and schedule ahead, I could easily make the time for those efforts. However, if the efforts are scheduled without teacher voice and at the last minute, it will be much more difficult to support the efforts. With good lead time and teacher voice/choice, efforts end up fitting well into educators' personal/professional schedule as well as their desire to partake in work that makes a positive difference and work that is successful. Last minute, exclusive initiatives generally result in less success and investment.

As I work with families, students, colleagues, and other learning community members, I want to be mindful of the issues above as we work together to craft the best possible teaching/learning supports and efforts to serve every child well.

What Good Awaits: Choosing Well

Change has the potential to create disruption, yet change can also spell positivity too.

Change is a constant, and how we embrace that change matters.

As I think of a large number of changes ahead, I think about the good that awaits.

Ethical Practice and Effort
One change I see occurring is a greater emphasis on ethical practice and effort. This change has been mirrored in greater transparency and strategic process in many areas of professional work and effort. This ethical practice replaces hearsay and conjecture with truthful conversation and process which, I believe, will eventually result in greater distributive leadership and positive practice. Essentially to practice this ethical effort, one has to "walk the walk" and erase conjecture and hearsay from his/her conversation, and embrace open practice with a critical eye on betterment and optimal collaboration with others.

In real time this means not accepting statements that do not have merit or substance. It also means following through with promises and positive acts. Further, this ethical work demands owning error and learning from it as well as continued advocacy and collaboration for best possible process, support, learning, and teaching.

Choosing Well
As I've mentioned before, this year I signed on to a large number of professional events that taught me a lot, but were definitely not my preferred learning/teaching activities. It's important to choose well for who you are and what you want to accomplish. I had to step down from a number of these efforts as the time the efforts demanded were beginning to have an effect on my chosen work which is my day-to-day practice.

As an educator my number one priority is the work I can do with and for children as well as the systems and learning that bolster and support that work. I am truly committed to the question of how we can better schools and education to serve children well. This question holds tremendous potential for individual children, communities, our nation, and world. It is future making work that matters, and work that I'm passionate about. It is essential that I say no to work that doesn't directly match this aim, and yes to work that supports this work well. I wish I had the foresight to see this with regard to a few initiatives that I've had to say no to.

To serve children well, we can't lose track of the details. I'll focus in on some of those details today--details related to student portfolios, re-taking tests, goal-attainment, and more.

Good collegiality where we support one another in ways that matter is essential to good work at school. What does good collegiality look like? It's that balance of sensitively supporting colleagues at school and in their personal lives as appropriate. It's also working together to create and build programs that support children well. Teaching well also means that this collegiality extends to families, community members, and administrators as well in order to do the best work possible.

Balance and Realistic Expectations
In any work like teaching the potential is limitless and this is where balance and realistic schedules are important. It's important that one continually review and revise expectations and balance to keep it realistic and doable.

Professional Learning
Stepping down and away from a few activities that were going to demand more time than I had, I want to be cognizant of what future efforts I'll sign on to--efforts that support my main areas of interest and commitment: family and students.

In this light, I'm looking forward to doing a lot of reading, analysis, and preparation for learning events, lessons, and opportunities ahead. I'm also invested in working with collegial groups who are invested in improving schools to serve students better.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Clear The Deck

There comes times every so often in one's life when you have to clear the deck, and make time for the unexpected, but necessary events life brings.

It's important to heed that call because if you continue to the norm, you may miss out on what it is you really need to be doing.

Life presents us with these decisions now and then, and it's good to heed the call.

Prayerful Remembrance

I grew up with a very healthy attitude towards death. When someone died in our big extended family it was as much a celebration as a time to grieve. We were there for one another, and that togetherness is warmly marked in my history and current day activities.

Today I'll attend a memorial service for someone who has passed. I will bring the warmth that my family ingrained in me as I sit witness to the love and care this individual's family has demonstrated over the years towards this person.

I've yet to experience a death of a parent, spouse or child, and don't look forward to that experience should it happen in my lifetime as those are the people closest to me. I have marveled at the way friends and colleagues have met such pain and sorrow in their lives.

Today will be a time to share memories, love, and remembrance with a devoted family and many friends. I feel honored to have a day to share in this celebration of a life well lived.

Make Your Own Decisions: Beware of Influence

Many years ago, I was heavily influenced by colleagues with regard to other colleagues. I took some colleagues' beliefs as true while I didn't trust other colleagues' opinions. We could probably dissect this activity in many, many ways, but in truth, the end conclusion is that it's best to make your own conclusions about situations and not be influenced singularly by one group or individual's perspectives.

We see this right now in the political realm. We noticed many people taking sides for this decision or that when in truth there's probably no side that aligns with any one individual's beliefs or interests--it's probably a mix of this and that, one side and another.

Our two party system models this either-or think which can be damaging in so many ways as most decisions aren't either or, but instead a continuum of some of this and some of that. How do we move from "either-or" think to "continuum" think.

In a current professional situation, I find myself disagreeing more than agreeing with a few policies, yet I can see value in each policy too. It's not one or the other, but some of what exists and some of what I think can be better. Our paths to good continuum think is a path of inclusive, strategic process--a path that includes multiple perspectives with good process.

Recently I was involved in such a process as part of the new superintendent screening committee. I felt that the process was a good one which represented many points of view. As I listened to the many points of view during the screening committee meetings and then again during the public share, I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with every candidate. No one's answers matched my perspective entirely and no one's answers were without wonderful merit and substantial good experience. Ultimately as the process continued, one candidate rose to the top. Since I felt the process was fair, I am ready to ally myself with the new superintendent with regard to the work I do to forward system goals and vision in a honest way.

Later today, I'll attend another meeting that falls at the end of what I believe was as fair as possible a process for the given objective. I'll listen to multiple points of view from a good diversity of people, and then ultimately a decision will be made. What I care about most in this process is that people who want to talk are heard, and all points that people feel matter are given air time. If the process is good, I'm ready to trust the result.

It's important that we're all independent thinkers who promote and support good process as we reach for the visions we hold for good work and living. We will all see it a bit differently, and that's the way life is. If the issue really matters, we'll likely give it greater advocacy, energy, and time. If it's a smaller, less important issue, we might let it go and let others decide.

Most of all, it's important to decide for yourself and not let undue influence from any individual or group mark your resolve. The best decisions rely on many points of view, good listening, and honest, respectful share. That's the path I hope to follow. Onward.

Reaching Out With Questions

A couple of classroom events spurred a lot of thinking about the curriculum program this weekend. To better the program, I reached out with a lot of ideas and questions.

I received answers and responses to a few of the thoughts/questions I shared, and those responses made me glad I asked.

Essentially, I recognized that paths I hoped to embrace as positive teaching/learning paths would not be embraced by curriculum leadership which means I would not be able to gain time or money for those efforts. Without that support, it would be a full time extra job just to forward that teaching, and I don't have the time or energy to do another full time job on top of the full time teaching job I have.

If I didn't reach out with the questions, I would not have known the answer. Just imagine, I may have spent weeks this summer planning for teaching only to be told that I couldn't do the work. This has happened to me numerous times during my professional tenure, and that's what propels me to ask questions up front even if the questions are not well received.

Even though many educators say act, then apologize later, those educators don't understand the threat to our jobs we face when we do that. Only some in organizations are able to do that, and those tend to be people favored by organizational leaders for a large number of reasons. Others risk their jobs if they do this.

So again, it's best to reach out with questions, and go from there. In some places there's little room for creative thought or experience, it's a tight path of strict expectations. When meeting paths like that, it's best to follow, and then use your creativity and ideas in another, welcomed and important way.

Do It My Way or Don't Do It At All

In some cases, and for some, "It's my way or the highway," which means if you don't like it, leave.

I am not a big fan of this management style as I believe it leaves a lot of good ideas and substantial experience out of the equation. Even when it's difficult, I'm a big fan of inclusive, strategic processes of development. I find that exclusive processes never seem as successful, efficient, or positive as inclusive, strategic process.

Yet, if you want to change those tight, exclusive processes, it will take a lot of collaborative work by you and your colleagues. It takes a lot of advocacy to make change, and you have to be fully committed to that change in order to devote the kind of time and effort needed.

Almost every time I forget about the exclusivity and narrow paths of some areas of the profession and reach out, I get pushed back as if I'm in a windstorm--a sharp reminder that in those areas of think/work, there is no room for me or my ideas unless I follow the strict path set.

I tend to be a more creative individual, not one who chooses narrow paths--I like the expanse or ever changing, flexible, responsive paths the world offers.

So what to do in the narrow sphere?

The best direction I can see is to learn the strict path, meet the parameters, and use my creativity and big think in other areas. To try to engage in what seems like too-tight paths I fear will be suffocating to my nature, but I can follow the strict guidelines and build out from there on my own. That's the best I can see. If you have another idea, let me know.

Clear Expectations: Teaching Well

Last spring, at this time, I felt that some parents were unsure about the Middle School transition process particularly to do with math placement. There's all kinds of attitudes and research related to math grouping, but the reality is that our system does group students by ability in sixth grade and it's part of the fifth grade teacher's job to recommend which group is best. We make these recommendations based on a very tight point system that includes many data points, observations, and other information.

Because some parents were confused last spring, I decided to share all of the grouping information upfront at the start of the school year this year so parents would not be surprised. That seemed to have worked. Now, this spring, I realize that there are a few other areas of the math curriculum that I can make more explicit as well in order to help parents and colleagues support students well. As I think about this, I am thinking of the expectations that the system and I have for our fifth grade math students:

Math Facts
Expectation: Ability to complete 50 facts in three or less minutes for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, add/subtract, multiply/divide, add/subtract/multiply/divide, simple algebraic expressions
Practice: Test at start of year, and develop personalized practice programs for individuals still working to obtain this goal. 

It is an expectation of the system that every student is facile with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division math facts. Facile means that most students can complete 50 facts in three minutes or 100 facts in 5 minutes or less. After research, I believe this is a reasonable expectation, and most students at the grade level can do this. Next year I want to make this goal a part of our first weeks of school as we develop understanding of algebraic thinking, review multiples/factors, and learn about coordinate grids.

Symphony Math
Expectation: Complete Level 26, Fifth Grade
Practice: About 3-15 minute periods a week plus some immersion times too

It is the expectation of our system that students will complete the fifth grade Symphony Math online exercises. Symphony Math has been evolving since we started using it many years ago, and I find it to be a good match for math learning and teaching. In general, we want to foster a regular pattern of Symphony Math practice, however, sometimes devoting substantial time to immersion and heavy practice results in greater success with regard to teaching and learning. I will, for the most part, make this a regular part of the curriculum beginning at the start of the year, and then adding some immersion days/weeks towards test time to help every child complete the task.

Khan Academy
Expectation: Complete Fifth Grade Mission
Practice: Both at-home and in-school practice that corresponds with students' individual goals

Khan Academy is a perfect learning/practice site for the fifth grade standards. Khan Academy reviews each standard with exercises that helps a child to see each standard in a number of ways using words, numbers, and images. For students to use Khan Academy well, it takes some immersion time too--time when teachers are available to answer questions and teach students how to learn online. It's also helpful to set goals with regard to time/mission goals to encourage students' online practice. The more students get used to using Khan Academy, the better support it is. The expectation for fifth grade is to finish the fifth grade mission. For some students it's best to begin with early math practice or practice with earlier grade missions. Levels and personalized goals should be determined early in the year with students and families.

Expectation: Complete each TenMarks grade-level unit exercises in correspondence with similar classroom work/goals. Take the unit tests prior to the paper/pencil unit tests
Practice: Regular in-class and at-home study. 

Our system also uses TenMarks. It is a language-heavy program, but also a program that helps student learn the fifth grade standards. If our system continues to use TenMarks, the expectation will be that every child completes the TenMarks section and assessment that corresponds with the classroom teaching/learning goals.

That Quiz
Expectation: Students will complete discrete That Quiz tests that allow students to test their skill knowledge now and then
Practice: Used as needed for quick student/teacher-assessment of discrete skills

This is an ideal site used to test students' discrete skills. Students can easily self monitor their learning and needs with these exercises.

Standards Scope and Sequence
Expectation: Students will participate in each unit of study including the unit assessment
Practice: The program follows the Scope and Sequence of Units so that all students learn all standards.

This is a system-wide program that is outlined on a grade level document. Each unit is taught with multiple activities and exercises.

Home Study
Expectation: Students are expected to complete home study assignments, if that's difficult teachers and parents will create modified assignments for the child.
Practice: Students are expected to practice math skill for twenty minutes each school night.

Assignments are typically passed out on Monday and due the next Monday. This is so that families can support students math practice in conjunction with students' many other activities and commitments. Home study assignments are listed on an online document that usually contains the link to the assignment page or site.

Struggling Students
Expectation: Some students come to the grade level well behind the grade level expectations. In cases like this the teacher team will work together to craft a program to support these children's efforts to strengthen their math foundation in positive ways.
Practice: A thoughtful, carefully crafted program taught by a number of educators.

Mindset and Work Habits
Expectation: Every child will learn why it's important to embrace a growth mindset as well as the many positive strategies that support positive math learning/teaching.
Practice: Learning to learn, cognition (brain-science), SEL and growth mindset lessons will become a regular part of math lessons to foster students' ability to maximize their learning potential. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A New Superintendent

It was just announced that we have a new superintendent in the school system where I work. I'm glad an individual was chosen so we can move on with the change. The new candidate seems to be individual who will be sensitive to individual students' needs and this is good since that has been a hallmark quality of our school system.

Closed Minded: Missed Opportunity

A closed minded group related to my personal life confronted me, and as I confronted the situation,  I realized what lost opportunity existed.

When we close our minds to the potential out there, we hinder our lives from the promise that exists.

If this group opened their mind, I think they would have the opportunity for a better quality of life.

Of course, I can't know that, but what I can do is caution myself to have an open mind as often as possible. Onward.

Forward Thinking and Plans

At times, those that lead my work are troubled by my forward thinking and questioning. Yet, I know the value of lead time. If we don't think ahead, we usually don't make good change. Thinking ahead while ideas are fresh with good lead time and inclusion of many voices often spells optimal growth and change.

It's important for systems to employ regular, inclusive research and development threads to move programs ahead in ways that matter to students. When these threads are exclusive and last minute, good change is typically stymied.

So as I think about what went really well this year and what could be better, I recognize the value of lead time. Yet, as one colleague often explains, there also needs to be time to respond spontaneously and in a timely matter to needs and interest as they arise. As my father always says, "It's a little for today and a little for tomorrow," when it comes to looking ahead and working for the day. Onward.

School Year Map: Realistic

As I think of the sometimes unrealistic expectations we place upon ourselves as educators, I want to create a realistic school year schedule that I believe meets children's needs well. Of course, before embarking on this plan, I'll work with grade-level teammates and others this summer, but here's a first draft.

June 2017
  • Move-up meeting, letter, supply list, and summer study opportunities
Summer 2017
  • Professional study and preparation for the school year ahead
  • Team meeting to plan year, book field studies
  • Classroom preparation, initial plans and prep
  • Student/Family Orientation Event (I'd like to include this as part of our teaching/learning plans)
September 2017
  • Identity/Team/Learning Community Focus: Who are you? Who is the learning team? How can we optimize who we are and what we do to learn successfully together?
  • Assessment: What do we know individually/collectively and what goals do we have for the teaching/learning year.
  • Starting showcase portfolios.
  • Team Building Activities: Global Read Aloud, Global Cardboard Challenge, Team Protocols Schedule, and Routine, Notecard challenge, spaghetti-marshmallow challenge
  • Team Building Field Study: Gillette?
  • Focus on Earth Friendly Classroom/Learning Community, Composting Focus
  • Family-student-teacher conferences: Sharing initial assessments, projects, showcase portfolios, and creating goals. 
  • Content/skill/concept learning units begin in earnest in each curriculum area. (Math Unit Plan)
  • RTI begins
  • Earth/Space Studies: McAuliffe Challenger Center Field Studies
  • Field Study: Maya, Incas, Aztecs: Harvard Natural History Museum
January-February Break
  • Midyear assessments, new goal setting
  • Report cards, showcase portfolio updates
March-April Break
  • Skills and Stamina Focus in preparation for spring tests
  • Parent-Student-Teacher conferences
April Break - June
  • State tests
  • Fifth Grade Play
  • Biography Project
  • STEAM/Naturalist Focus
    • STEAM Projects
    • Garden/Compost Work
    • Naturalist Field Study
    • Visiting Naturalist Experts
    • Spadefoot Toads

Start with the Positives: How do you employ strengths based models to support individuals?

As I think of nurturing and supporting my own children and family members today, I am mindful that it's always good to begin with the positives.

For example, a family member that I want to support has the following positive attributes and supports:
  • Gregarious, optimistic attitude
  • Lots of loving family members and friends
  • A good number of interests and great curiosity
  • Socially interested 
So as I think about this, I recognize that one of the best ways to support this individual is through the social path.

As educators and parents we want the best for all the people we serve, we want to do what is right for them. As we think about this, it's important to start with the positives with questions such as the following:
  • What are his/her positive attributes, strengths, and characteristics?
  • Where is she/he happiest, most productive, engaged, and empowered?
  • What do we currently do that positively supports this individual?
And once we've determined the positive parts of the profile and situation, we can then think of the needs.
  • What's holding this individual back?
  • What does he/she need to do better?
  • What challenges could undermine his/her success, happiness, forward movement?
As I think of another individual I know, I find myself wanting to try out this strategy. The individual's strengths include the following:
  • Lots of loving family members
  • Physical strength, artistic interests/strengths, a desire to do well for self and others
  • Employment
This individual's struggles include the following:
  • Time, money, and access to steady supports
  • Steady confidence and perseverance in light of the challenges that exist
So remains the effort of how to we work towards those steady supports which will result in the needed steady confidence and perseverance. In this situation, I can see how good family support, social services and counseling can help to attain those steady supports.

As I think more about this strengths based model, I wonder how I can use it more with self, family members, and students. Essentially using a model of where are the strengths and how we can maximize those strengths to support areas of challenge. 

I know this is probably not new to anyone, but as I think of it, it's a great way to face issues of individual need and promise in any venue. One I want to explore more, and one that probably has been documented under other names in multiple disciplines. 

Improve Schools: Elementary Advisories

As I consider the fact that it's difficult to give every child the personal attention they deserve in school, I wonder again about instituting elementary advisories.

Here's how that would work.

First you would figure out the number of available staff in a school.

Next you would figure out how many staff-student advisories you could have. For example, perhaps you could find the staffing including assistants, educators, specialists to staff one staff member - eight students advisories.

After that you would figure out when advisories would meet and what they would do. I think a good focus of advisories would be to combine it with read aloud, writing/composing, and social skills. For example each advisory might meet every morning to focus on a social skill/issue by playing a game, doing an activity, or simply talking about it and then they would also spend some time reading a good book and writing/composing in online or offline journals.

These advisories could potentially empower our students and schools.

Further if you wanted to make more use of the limited staff most schools have, the younger children could have advisories in the morning and the older students could have them in the afternoon. In this way, many specialists could potentially serve on two advisory groups each day, possibly advisories that also help them meet their service plans for specific students.

What do you think of this idea? I think it holds great potential.

Sunday Thoughts: The Week Ahead - Last Week in March 2017

Typically I end the week with a projection for the next week, but as you can see by my last posts, I was struck with a big case of exhaustion. The work-plate simply runneth over and it was clear that I needed a big sleep which fortunately I did get last night. For the last three weeks I felt like that little soccer player that constantly hobbles up and down the field chasing the ball but never reaching it. Why did this happen?

Simply stated, I was involved in a very large number of professional learning and teaching efforts in the past two-three years--efforts that grabbed a lot of morning, evening, weekend, and vacation time. Finally, the tank was on empty. Better pacing would have prevented this, but one effort, the book project I'm involved in, took much more time than anticipated. Sometimes when you embark on a new endeavor, you simply can't anticipate how much effort that activity will take. I was also involved in a number of personal family events this year that took a bit more time and energy than anticipated--again that was difficult to know ahead of time.

Generally I'm the kind of person that likes a chest or bureau with a few empty drawers, or a schedule with open time so that when a good event, object or opportunity arises, there's space for that. I don't like a too-tight schedule or pattern as I value time for creativity and think greatly and too-tight schedules squeeze out spontaneity, serendipity, and creativity. I like lazy mornings that enable me to look out the window, wonder, write, and create--that's ideal for me.

So with all that in mind, I've essentially cleared my plate of professional activities outside of my favorite efforts which are all classroom related by just saying no in the past few weeks to other invites and professional events. I've cleared the path so there's needed time for the children at school, my own personal needs/efforts, and that beloved time for wonder. I expect I won't face this level of exhaustion again anytime soon (fingers crossed).

So what will the week ahead bring?

Professional-Family Event
Sadly a beloved member of our professional team experienced a significant loss this week. He's been attending to this family matter, and his absence has made everyone realize just how much he does everyday to support everyone of us. I really want to be present for him at this time to acknowledge his loss and his tremendous contribution to our learning community each and every day.

Fraction Projects
On Friday I gave students a lesson on model making using a large variety of online tools to support their fraction project work. The projects are coming along wonderfully and I'll spend some time this afternoon looking them over and providing suggestions as students work towards mastery on these story projects. The goal of the project is for students to apply the fraction concepts we've been learning to real world situations in a story context with models, numbers lines, mathematical language, and images.

Fraction Concepts
All week we'll review a large number of fraction concepts by making models, solving problems, and doing number work. The review will include a host of explicit lessons which are a bit dry, but necessary so that students know how to make, interpret, and discuss the concepts and models. Students will use their math tools to follow and contribute to the lessons.

Math Skill, Review, and Enrichment
Students will engage with Khan Academy and Symphony Math to practice skills and review math concepts as they prepare for the systemwide fifth grade math test and upcoming MCAS tests. Khan Academy provides a wonderful multimodal review of all grade level standards on the computer which is great practice for the online MCAS tests which will look much like PARCC tests we took last year. Symphony Math helps students to understand math concepts through a large number of modeling exercises thus helping students to readily connect math concepts to the visual models those concepts represent.  As Symphony Math gets better, I find myself liking the platform much more.

Reading Study
My small reading group will continue to read and discuss the wonderful book, Becoming Naomi Leon - a perfect book for the group.

Special Events
The team will do final preparations for our upcoming trips to the Museum of African American History.

Professional Learning
I'll find time to do some of the work related to the MTA TLP committee I'm on, and I'd like to find time to read the Frederick Douglas autobiography that's been sitting on my bed stand for weeks now.

As I write, I realize how I write and rewrite the plans for days, weeks, and months. It doesn't make for good reading, I know, but it does support this blog's intent which is to tell the true story of one educator at this time in history. It is a story of planning and re-planning as I respond to all that impacts my work as an educator and a mom. No two teachers approach the job in the same way and every teacher's story will read a bit differently. I hope that ultimately I'll be able to pen a book that supports new educators in their quest to do what they can to serve every child well. It's remarkable that our country still supports a public education for every child which provides the potential of helping to give every child a strong start in life and the tools with which to contribute to and enjoy a strong nation and global community. This is positive work, and work that I continue to be proud to be apart of. The constant challenge is how to do it well, and this challenge is what makes the job awesome and daunting at the same time. Onward.

The Big Sleep: Realistic Expectations and Patterns for Teaching Well

I know I say it again and again, but sufficient rest is essential to teaching well--there's no way around it.

Too often educators get exhausted. It's the pace of the day, the constant needs, and the limitless expectations and potential the job holds that make it a tiring profession.

Good planning, positive routines, optimal pacing, and sufficient support all contribute to a realistic schedule where educators can get enough rest.

What really tired me out this year was the stretch I did in the professional learning realm to develop my practice this year--there were a lot of stretches that resulted in some significant exhaustion which then dominoed into acts that cried, "You need more sleep!"

As I think about this and think about the needs for educators to continually update their professional learning and repertoire, I think we can do a better job with time overall to support both well rested and energized practice as well as deep and forward moving research and development.

How might we do this?

Professional Learning Time
First, I think that educational organizations need to understand that professional learning and development are part of the job and not just on-your-own-time endeavors. It's critical that time is carved out to support teacher's professional learning. As it stands now many teachers are spending considerable time on weekends, nights, mornings, and during the summer updating their professional credentials to teach better. Now, I do think some time in summer is well invested in this endeavor. I also don't mind spending some time on weekends, mornings, and before school--but it adds up, and it's important that some significant time is spent during work time to learn in meaningful ways (Much of the in-school learning time is not impactful as demonstrated by many studies and teachers' experiences, and that needs to change)

Time for Feedback, Response, and Review
Next, it's critical to look at the amount of time teachers are expected to work outside of the work day. For example project work for a large group of students can take an entire weekend day to review in a meaningful way. When that happens it means that a teacher is working a six-day work week. I think we have to be realistic about what good teaching involves and use time wisely in response to this. I think we have to retire some old time expectations in order to make more room for meaningful, new efforts that impact students with strength. I'll be thinking more about how to do this in the days ahead, but for today, Sunday, I'll tackle a host of student projects as I work to coach each child to mastery with the project.

Significant Time for Parent Conferences and Communication
As it stands now many teachers are working significant overtime to prepare for and participate in parent conferences. Some time is given for these meetings, but the time given for the meetings outweighs the significant before and after school time teachers are using to attend IEP meetings and typical parent conferences. In the old days, these meetings were short 20-minute teacher-driven reports, but now they are a much deeper exchange that often involve the child and multiple other teachers as we collaborate around what a child has done and goals for that child's support and efforts.

A close look at the elementary teacher's day and expectations may signify the need for substantial change in order to update what we can do realistically and well to support every child while also giving teachers substantial time to develop their craft, respond to student learning, and get the rest and personal time they need to teach well.

Teaching the Math Unit: Developing a Pattern

The standards are broken into units of study. I like these content, skill, knowledge chunks with regard to teaching math well. As I think of this unit study, however, I would like to grow it to be a more regular pattern--one that mirrors good learning for any question, content area, or exploration. Therefore, I imagine a unit roll-out below.

Topic Title: Essential Questions
First, I want to start the unit with the topic title and essential questions. For example, I want to begin next year's math study with algebraic thinking. As part of that, I want to students to engage in a deep review of multiples and factors, order of operations, expressions and equations, variables, and coordinate grids. I'll think about the essential questions, but can imagine one to be "How do factors and multiples relate to a whole number?" I'm sure I can express that better with more thought and will do a bit of research on the matter.

What You Know?
Good learning demands that we bring to mind what we already know. That would be the next step. I can imagine that I will have students bring this to mind with a host or pictures, numbers, words, explanations and questions both on their own and with others.

Essential Concept, Skill, and Knowledge
Next through a series of blended explorations I will guide students to learn the essential concepts, skill, and knowledge of the unit.

We will do some explicit words study.

With both online and offline tools, students will have opportunity to practice what they know.

Projects: Puzzles, Problems, Writing, and Presentation
Projects, puzzles, problems, and writing will give students the opportunity to apply the learning in an investigation, writing, and presentation. This will also give students the chance to embed previously learned concepts, knowledge, and skill.

Home Study
Home study will include a menu of scaffolded practice and project work that students will be asked to complete throughout the unit. There will be regular check-ins for this work.

The final unit assessment will include a traditional systemwide test and results from their practice and project work.

I'm looking forward to building in this explicit study schedule in the year to come. In order to do this, I will need to do the following:

  • Create vocabulary lists and activities (such as crossword puzzles, games. . .) for each unit.
  • Find a good project that matches each unit. Use Boaler's YouCubed site, Khan Academy Puzzles, and other research to support this.
  • Determine discrete practice "pages" online and off that match the unit topic.
  • Look at the order of units and determine what order will best support overall student learning.
  • Give parents and students opportunity for summer study with regard to some math essentials such as facts, large number addition and subtraction, and review. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

There Always Comes a Day When You Need That Individual

None of us can do it alone. No matter how independent we are, there comes the days when you need each other. So as you traverse the paths of life, remember that every individual you encounter may be an individual you turn to one day for help or consult.

Ratio of Consultant Services to Direct Care

There seems to be a growing discrepancy between the number of available consultant services and direct care when it comes to teaching well.

Everywhere I look there are organizations ready and willing to help schools in specific ways, but when it comes to direct service to students, the kind of important responsive day-to-day support, there seems to be dwindling numbers.

There needs to be a good balance between consultant groups and direct service. In general, I believe that direct service deserves a greater share of the pie when it comes to funding so that class sizes, needed support, and ideal resources are available to serve every child well.

This is an important consideration particularly at a time when we see many outside investors looking at schools at an opportunity to "do good" and invest in education.

Good Teaching: Focus on the Child

There are so many ways that we can focus on individual children as we teach. As I think about this, these are some areas I want to focus on in the days ahead.

Compliment Board
Add compliments to students' compliment folders when I catch them doing something positive.

Project and Assessment Review
Make the time to carefully review students' projects and assessments. Add helpful and positive comments.

Accomplishment/Creativity Bulletin Board
Create a space in the classroom for students to display their accomplishments, creativity, and interests.

Portfolio Files
Space to store student reflections and completed projects, learning efforts.

More Small Group Work
Opportunity to connect with small groups and individuals more often so all students get a chance for teacher contact, coaching, and encouragement.

Playground Walk and Talks
Playground duty is a great time to talk and walk with students to catch up with any concerns or needs they have.

A colleague has been using certificates to celebrate student accomplishments.

Another colleague uses the ideas of "put-ups" regularly to foster positivity to students' good work and behavior.

Problems are Opportunities for Positive Change

One aspect of life that I don't like is that no matter how old you are or how much experience you have, you still make mistakes and face problems. I wish I could be more like Sara Blakely's dad and high-five myself every time I make a mistake, but instead I labor over error trying to find the meaning in it all and at the same time feeling bad about making the error or recognizing the problem in the first place.

With my own children, my greatest times of error have been marked by guilt. In an effort to do all that I can for them, there have been times when I've made a bad decision or neglected to see an area of need. Times like that make me feel bad since, like most parents, I want to be there for them as much and as well as I can. Yet as parents, and as teachers too, we can't anticipate every error or problem--parenting and teaching share the common denominator of positions that are filled with surprise and new learning.

There are bottom-line rules that support both parenting and teaching, and as much as possible it's important to keep those rules in mind.
  • When in doubt, take a break. You'll never go wrong in any way, if you simply walk away. I learned this early when I was a babysitter and faced babies who cried endlessly. I learned that a baby will never harm himself/herself by crying and if the crying is getting to you, simply walk away. The same is true in the classroom. If a child's behavior is perplexing and frustrating, walk away, seek consult, and take a break in order to understand the behavior better. You'll never do wrong if you do this. 
  • You can't be kind enough. Sometimes when your children at home or in school act up, you can simply begin to tell them all the things you value about them up front. That settles everyone down. For example, if a child is jumping around the room (that happens sometimes in 5th grade), you can say, "Tom, I appreciate your energy, zest for life, athleticism, and the number of great friends you have, but in order for me to teach this skill, I really need you to sit down right now.) That often works.
  • When you err, be upfront about it. Own it, dissect it, and use it as a teaching point. My dad did this all the time when I was growing up and it helped me to understand him and the problem at hand well. For example, once he was very upset, and he sat down and explained to me why. His explanation made me feel very close to him and very grownup at the time--it was a powerful and intimate moment. 
  • Don't forget--no one can be all or do all. Sometimes your children will bring challenges that are so difficult to understand. I remember that with one of my sons we went through a period of utter despair. Day after day we discussed the situation and had some pretty good arguments about the related issue too. I read everything I could about the situation and sought help from others in the know. It was a challenging time. As I look back on the issue, one of the most troubling aspects was that I simply didn't have as much support as I needed, however by reaching out to others, I was able to find a number of activities that helped to remedy the situation, and now many years later the issue is a distant memory and my son is strong. 
  • Err on the side of positivity. You will never do wrong if you remain positive. 
  • Balance energy, time, and outreach. In today's world we have to continually re-prioritize our time, effort, and investment. When we stretch too far, like an elastic, we snap. It's important to make time for self care, rest, and health as without that we can't be good for anyone. 
Like most people, I don't like error or problems, but I'll heed the words of Neil Gaiman and Johnny Cash below and move forward with good intent, action, and effort. Onward.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something. - Neil Gaiman

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. - Johnny Cash

The Fifth Grade Teaching/Learning Program

As parent conferences wrap up, I'm thinking a lot about what's working with the fifth grade program and what we'll do to better the program in the year ahead. It's good to think this through while all the comments are fresh.

Next year will be our third year with the three-classroom shared teaching model. Essentially the educators work as a team that includes classroom teachers, specialists, special educators, teaching assistants, and therapists to serve all students well. This year we updated our schedule to maximize the program potential which has improved the model. We keep a running list of ideas and communicate with all members of the team on a regular basis. We meet regularly and will focus meetings in the spring and summer to review the program and make plans for the upcoming year. We coach each other and work together to serve every child well.

Teach Every Child with Respect and Care
More than anything else, every child deserves respect, care and attention. It is important to set up a routine/pattern from the start of the year that ensures that every child receives this. Regular use of class meetings, class protocols, conflict resolution, and targeted response in teaching and social skill support helps in this regard. One challenge I face in this area is the pace of the curriculum. Sometimes I feel a need to rush the curriculum given all the expectations I'm given with regard to knowledge, skill, and concept development. The rushing results in dismay, so it's not a good idea. As educators we have to be realistic about the time we have with children, and the importance of a playful, happy childhood. When we try to cram too much in with too much speed, the potential for disaster grows.

Some ways I want to recognize each child include the following:
  • Beginning the year with a meaningful identity project. Last year all students contributed to a "My Three Words" film which created a powerful, positive and inclusive start to the year.
  • Making time to meet with individuals and small groups on a regular basis.
  • Having a bulletin board in the room to acknowledge students' strong points, accomplishments, interests, creativity and compliments about children. A "You're Important!" Board.
  • Focusing class meetings on social-emotional skills, and embedding social-emotional skills into the curriculum on a regular basis
  • Responding to a child's discomfort, worry, or questions as soon as possible in order to support that child in conjunction with his/her parent or guardians. 
Team Building and Communication
Our communication with next year's class actually begins in the spring with the move-up letter and supply list. At that time we invite students into the TeamFive community by introducing the program in person and by letter, sharing the year's website, introducing online learning platforms students may use over the summer and that we'll use throughout the year for ongoing study, and listing supplies students will need for the year ahead.

Then, we begin the year in September with a number of team building focused experiences and lessons including the note card challenge, spaghetti-marshmallow challenge, and the Global Cardboard Challenge. All of these activities help us to focus on the importance of team for our TeamFive grade five learning community.

We have a number of positive communication activities including our start-of-the-year Curriculum Night Presentation, twice-a-year parent conferences, TeamFive website, weekly newsletters, and end-of-year celebrations. As I think ahead, I want to make sure that we carve out the time and energy to foster the best possible parent conferences since that time is so valuable with regard to student encouragement, coaching, and support. Since this time is so important, I do think, as a staff, we can better make space for this in the learning/teaching year. Currently it's an extensive add on with regard to preparation and meetings that far outweigh the time provided for this task. I'd also like to see us consider a deeper way to foster a sense of team at the start of the year by perhaps changing Curriculum Night to a more comprehensive orientation event.

Math Education
This is my main area of teaching. The good news is that children mostly made terrific progress with their learning in this area. The growth between early year learning and learning at this time has been substantial. I see this in the data collected as well as their ability to persevere on a math task.

More good news is that we made some nice headway with students who struggle by offering extra support with targeted learning efforts. Using an online program, Symphony Math, in conjunction with small group teaching, the use of manipulatives, and paper/pencil has served as one good approach in this regard.

As far as enrichment, the use of Khan Academy has allowed students to move at their own pace with grade-level concepts, coding, and other math challenges such as puzzles, sixth grade concepts, and more. One RTI group is also focused on enrichment, so children meet twice a week to enrich their math learning. As part of that enrichment, students are currently writing math stories and using multiple models and number lines to depict all the fifth grade fraction standards in their stories.

With regard to more problem/project base math, we have done some of that, but I want to include more, and will use the Jo Boaler's YouCubed site a s a reference for that.

Our program is directed by the standards which are many and deep for the year. I'd like to shift the order somewhat of how we approach the standards since our order is a bit different than the order promoted by the state, Khan Academy and other resources. I also want to think more about how we embed team building and collaboration skill building. We did this well at the start of the year, and I want to replicate that and then do some more. I also want to interject Boaler's and others great videos about growth mindset, cognition, and how the brain works to foster optimal learning habitudes. And, I want to continue the focus on making and using models, math tools, and learning and using good math vocabulary with the many resources we have for this.

Further, as we discussed yesterday, I will make a more concerted effort to include the following technology standards into the math learning:
  • Use computer systems as an example of systems as we discuss the place value system and math as a system in general.
  • We will use math talk and math share to recognize that different solutions exist for the same problem.
  • Use of logical reasoning to predict outcomes of an algorithm.
  • Individually and collaboratively create an algorithm to solve a problem.
  • Detect and correct logical errors in various algorithms.
  • Describe examples of databases from everyday life and use those databases as part of math learning units.
  • Collect and manipulate data to answer questions using a variety of computing methods and tools. 
  • Create simple models of systems.
I will advocate for a more streamlined assessment system since I believe many of our unit assessments are too long and could be matched better to both the content/skill standards and standards of mathematical practice. I want to think about the many online tools we use for math and think with colleagues across the system how we will use those resources well. 

Showcase Portfolios
When used well the showcase portfolio is an awesome tool for reflection and share with regard to a child's learning. I've used both online and offline portfolios, but continue to favor the hand held portfolios for many reasons.

What's working in this regard is the following:
  • The use of a showcase binder that lends itself to students making wonderful covers.
  • The use of dividers to separate main areas of learning.
  • The inclusion of signature learning pieces including student compositions, images of learning-related events and projects, assessments, and online learning reports and certificates.
To grow this effort, I'd like to do the following next year:
  • Work with the team to decide how we will promote students' meaningful making of covers--covers that depict their identity in ways that matter to them.
  • Work with colleagues to create a divider template that includes space for the discipline area title, a description of what matters in that discipline, related images, and a guiding quote
  • Make the time for students to reflect at the end of each signature learning event including field studies, project work, assessments, and specialists events. 
  • Make the time before parent conferences to help students organize their portfolios and practice presenting their portfolios to a classmate so they are prepared to present their portolios to their family members at conference time.
  • Create a system of collecting an organizing portfolio pages--probably a few crates with file folders that will host the pages in clear sheets as they are completed. Then making the time to put those pages into the portfolios every month or so during portfolio homeroom days.
My talented and committed colleagues lead this area of the curriculum with skill, and I support as part of RTI and in other ways. With regard to math and STEAM study, my main areas of the curriculum, I foster the practice of reading, vocabulary, and writing skills in the content areas too.

Our small RTI groups are well led by both the teacher in the lead and the reading team. Next year I want to look more closely at the best ways to integrate reading aloud in homeroom if the reading teacher feels this is a good idea. 

Field Studies
We had a large number of great field studies this year. I'm sure the team will meet this summer to discuss which field studies we'll keep and which ones we may retire or replace. Currently children engage in the following field studies:
  • An arts event: This year we attended the play, "Akeelah and the Bee"
  • STEAM Study at the McAuliffe Challenger Center
  • Science exploration at the Boston Museum of Science
  • Natural history focus on the Maya, Incas, and Aztec at the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge.
  • STEAM exploration at Gillette Stadium (a team building experience)
  • Biography Project Living History Experience: Museum of African American History
  • The American Revolution: Guided Freedom Trail Walk
  • Wetlands Exploration: Earth Stewardship Focus
  • Raising Endangered Spadefoot Toads: classroom environmental experience
  • Visiting Expert: Frederick Douglas Living History Presentation
  • Potential visit to Natick Labs for a STEAM-related exploration and possible States of Matter presentation. 
Cultural Competency
We focused on individual identity, differences, similarities and dignity. Also, via film, literature, field studies, and classroom conversations, we've worked to develop a culturally proficient grade level program. This is an area that we will continue to assess and grow in the year to come. Some of the successful activities we included included going to the play, Akeelah and the Bee, and discussing the play with deep questions related to cultural proficiency, our upcoming visit to the Museum of African American History with a focus on Frederick Douglas' life as a historic mentor, the use of numerous video clips and current events discussions, an introduction/review of the history of people, migration, immigration, and skin shade, and direct discussion of any matters related to prejudice or injustice related to individual or group differences.

STEAM and Special Events
Once we complete our standards-focus in reading, writing, and math, we focus in on a number of special projects including STEAM study, the fifth grade play, and the biography project. All three projects allow students to synthesize the learning they've done with the priority areas above in deep and powerful ways. The biography projects allows each student to study a global changemaker that mirrors an interest he/she has. The STEAM projects are all related to our environment providing students a chance to use science, technology, engineering, art, and math to explore, create, and solve problems. The play is a great opportunity for children to showcase their speaking, acting, singing, dancing, and art skills/interests in a wonderful performance for the school. All three of these big projects make the end of the year celebratory and engaging. 

Professional Learning
Next year, I'll focus my professional learning on cultural proficiency, math teaching, and shoring up the details of teaching and learning well. I want to dig in and really think about how use what we've learned so far about our model and program to best meet the needs of every child in conjunction with colleagues, students, and family members.

We have a generous grant agency, WPSF, that supports innovation. Next year I'd like to focus grants in the following areas:
  • Inspiring Signage: Empowering and inclusive school signage that makes valuable words and people from all walks of life visible to students in inspiring ways throughout the school.
  • The Modern Classroom: a grant that supports the kind of furniture that lends itself to a more modern teaching approach. I'd like to request funding for rolling tables instead of desks and better supply modules for students' personal learning supplies.
  • Cultural Proficiency: I'd like to continue to develop our ability to make our programs culturally proficient by working with an agency like Primary Source to build our ability to make our program sensitive to the many cultures represented.
Surveying the TeamFive Learning Community
While a survey is always daunting, particularly when you're a critical thinker like me who can always see room for improvement. It is important to survey the TeamFive learning community as we think ahead to next year. Specifically I want to know what the community thinks about how we can better serve each and every child while also making our programs more culturally proficient and academically strong. I imagine that the team can use the noted areas above as focus areas for questions.