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Friday, April 28, 2017

Is Your Child Lonely?

Sometimes there are lonely children.

If you know a lonely child, there are things you can do to lift that loneliness.

First, talk to the child. What does he or she love or wish for.

Next, find small groups that share that interest--join the child in attending those groups. Engage in the activities and discussions of interest.

Further, scaffold playdates and friend events, but joining your child and choosing an activity that's fun for everyone--an activity that doesn't require lots of talk or your child's investment, but one that's simple and fun.

Tell your child too that it's okay to enjoy being alone and doing quiet things--not every child is gregarious and outgoing, many are quiet and shy. For many children, there favorite times are times at home with the intimacy of the family they love.

I don't like to see a child suffer from loneliness, and at school we seek to support children if they feel this way. This is important.

North Korea and the Berlin Wall

As I think of North Korea, I think of the Berlin Wall--a wall that divided a country for years.

Is there any way that we can use diplomacy rather than force or threats to work with North Korea and promote development of better global partnerships?

Is there any chance that we can come together with that isolated country to work for peaceful relations that focus on what people need to gain "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?"

How can we justly avoid a show of force and use diplomacy instead?

Like most people, I dread the idea of force and lost lives from any country or place--I am a fan of as much peaceful collaboration, debate, and decision making as possible. I'd like to see us as a global community decide that our biggest battle is the battle of injustice, and work together to fight that battle with peaceful means--means that challenge us to rise above ways of old that use force and destruction.

I would love to be able to look ahead to a North Korea that is a global partner with many countries in the world and a country whose borders are open and free for coming and going between North and South Korea and elsewhere.

I know there is a long history and lots of pain associated with this conflict, but I hope that someday that will be in the past, and a bright future for the country as one among many peaceful and collaborative countries exist.

Friday Musings: Next Week?

It was a crazy end to a wonderful school week with an unplanned-for fire drill which threw the schedule and consequently some students into a bit of  tailspin at the end of the day. Children really do best with some predictability, and when the unpredictable events occur it always sets them back a bit.

Nevertheless there was no damage done, and it did add a bit of excitement to the final minutes of the week.

Next week will find us reviewing and practicing a lot of math. We'll focus, in particular, on review of geometry, measurement, and volume concepts as well as a benchmark test and MCAS Math practice tests. It will be a busy week of review. In addition, students will focus on their biography project with a number of explicit lessons and time to practice.

Professionally there's a faculty meeting, writing class, and local union meeting too. Seems like it should be another wonderful week to come. Onward.

Let it Go

All around me there are thousands of good initiatives and efforts. I am fortunate to work with many dedicated professionals near and far--it's amazing to think of all that good work. Yet, I'm one person, and can't be involved in all initiatives and efforts. Hence, I've outlined my professional direction for the next year, and will now direct the teaching ship in that direction.

And as far as all those other great and intriguing initiatives, I'll give them my good support, but I'll reserve my energy and time for the directions most meaningful and important related to my work as a classroom teacher. The outreach related to those events will be the writing I do that matches those efforts.

Where are you directing your energy?

I've been Mrs. Wishy-Washy these past few weeks as I deliberated around a number of opportunities only to say no to most of them.

Why the no?

I simply want to reserve energy and time for the most meaningful endeavor in my midst--the endeavor I truly want to empower as much as I can.

What is that meaningful endeavor?

That meaningful endeavor is the following:

Developing the math program so that it is more inclusive, engaging, and successful. That growth will include the following:
  • Developing my knowledge of computational thinking w/Google's online course
  • Embedding six of Boaler's floor-to-ceiling explorations into the math program
  • Refining and revising the math website that supports student learning
  • Reading a host of articles and books about math education, articles I've saved on a number of sites and in my home. 
  • Writing a WPSF grant to support professional learning at the McAuliffe Center for the Fifth Grade team.
  • Writing a WPSF grant for rolling tables, rather than desks for the classroom. This will better prepare us for the teamwork and explorations we plan to do.
Developing our shared teaching model so that it is a more culturally proficient program. This involves the following activities:
  • Planning an orientation for non-resident, high needs, and new students so that those students and their families get off to a great start in the school year.
  • Planning a number of special events during the year that helps us to build knowledge and relationship amongst our teaching/learning team including students, families, educators, administrators, and community events. These events will include signature field studies, a start-of-the-year "selfie" project, and more culturally proficient routines and efforts throughout the program.
  • Looking carefully at the schedule and routine to make sure that we are making significant time for student-centered teaching and attention.
  • Completing Emdin's book, For White Folks. . ., and reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Earning my special education PDPs at the MTA Summer Conference
  • Writing a WPSF grant for better culturally proficient, SEL, and growth mindset inspiring and motivating signage in our school. 
The best I can do to forward my teaching and learning in the days ahead is mainly to read, read, read, and incorporate those ideas and efforts into the classroom program with colleagues in ways that matter.

The greatest satisfaction in all of this is to see students' increased experience of school and increased positive outcomes in holistic ways. 

Lost Opportunity

Daily, great opportunities for learning, grants, and programming come through my email. I hate to pass up these opportunities, but I also don't have unlimited time. I know there are some working on regional professional learning efforts, and this could be the answer to this dilemma--a way to seize the opportunities out there.

There's also opportunity at the district level to better maximize these opportunities by looking closely at how we use our time and professional learning efforts.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Staying the Course: April 2017

We're staying the course these days with a similar pattern of testing, biography study, math practice, specials, play practice, and recess. It's a good course. The children are happy and we're able to make the time to support lots of individual interests and needs.

How Are You Smart? What is Smart?

This post challenges our ideas about "smart," and this is a needed and worthwhile challenge as we think about teaching in ways that elevate all our students to good lives and the opportunity for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

What does "smart" look like in your family, classroom, neighborhood, and greater community? The post challenges us to think deeply about what smart is, and how that smart is demonstrated?

I want to think about this more, and look for a number of ways to think about "smart."

Example One: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may be the smartest child when it comes to survival--that child may know how to take care of himself/herself despite incredible challenges.

Example Two: A child who many not achieve well on a standardized test may be incredible when it comes to using his or her hands to build, sculpt, draw, or make.

Example Three: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may sing, dance, act, or speak with incredible strength, charisma, and impact.

Example Four: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may have the best idea and persevere with regard to that idea with such intensity that he or she may change the world.

Example Five: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may have incredible empathy and be able to love and care for others in ways that enrich entire families, neighborhoods, and communities.

So how do we help students to know and value where they are "smart" and let those students shine in their personal "smartness!"

How do we use standardized tests to perhaps acknowledge where we need to help students more with regard to obtaining skills, concepts, and knowledge that we believe are essential to the good life, but not use those tests to demean, label, dismiss, and discourage individuals and whole groups of students?

As I think of this, I recognize that I have lots to learn, but there are actions I can begin with right away.

First, discuss the tests in ways that are right such as "These assessments test specific skills that many feel are integral to your success. Some of you are strong with these skills already and others are still developing abilities in these areas. It is the job of your educators, parents and yourselves to find meaningful and successful ways to boost your skills in these areas. Less ability in these areas doesn't mean that you're not "smart," but instead demonstrates areas for potential growth."

Further, it's important to find ways to acknowledge, develop, and value the many "smarts" that are not tested, smarts in the areas of the arts, nature, building, social-emotional intelligence, problem solving, speaking, agriculture, and many more--areas of expertise that matter to individual lives and the lives of communities. We need to open up our programs so that we are giving students opportunities to show off their areas of strength. The more we can do this, the more we will elevate all of our students as well as develop students' respect, inspiration, and admiration of each other.

In the days to come, our school program provides lots of opportunity to do this. We have the play that will highlight many skills not included on standardized tests. We have a number of nature and STEAM explorations too where students will demonstrate multiple abilities not included on tests. Further we have the multi-dimensional biography project that allows students to study a person of interest with depth through reading, writing, research, video-watching, art, tech, costumes, and more. In a sense, after the tests, we are pulling away from the more traditional teaching that responds to test standards into the realm of multiple areas of "smart."

The question remains, how do we develop this throughout the year.

For starters, we'll build on the relationship/personal knowledge start-of-year events we've fostered in the past with a potential new focus on the "selfie" utilizing, in part, the art exhibit at Middlebury College and Dove Soap's Selfie project. I can imagine at the start of the year talking about the idea of "smart" with students as well as the idea of the "selfie," and then having students create artistic selfies that depict a portrait of themselves that they value surrounded by multiple visual and audio clues about how they are "smart" in their families, neighborhoods, and greater communities.

Then I will focus on looking for what Jo Boaler calls floor-to-ceiling explorations that are culturally proficient, matched to the standards, and meaningful so that the diversity of students I teach will have an opportunity to learn math and collaborate in ways that utilize and maximize their areas of "smart" as they learn the standards.

Further, working with a school team, I'll write a local grant to fund signage for our school that children can identify with and that includes messages related to social-emotional, growth mindset, and cultural proficiency. Messages that will lift and inspire students as they learn in our school and classrooms.

I'm sure I'll add more in the days ahead, but I wanted to write today so that I didn't lose track of the potential possible, potential inspired by the terrific post linked at the top of the page.

What Will the Day Bring? April 2017

Today starts with MCAS. Fortunately the system has done a great job organizing staff, materials, and devices to support the assessments, so I expect that to be smooth running.

After MCAS students will enjoy a considerable recess break, and then they'll have time to work on their math tech learning menu. After lunch, we'll focus in on the biography projects, some read aloud and one more chance to play. I expect it will be a good day for all.

Professionally I find myself readying materials and information for end-of-year projects, teaching, and tasks.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Learning Diagnosis: Teaching Better

Lately the class has been working towards completion of an explicit learning objective. The objective is well defined, easy to access at home or at school, and relevant to our standards-based curriculum. Some children achieved the objective quickly gaining valuable information. Others completed the objective quickly, but didn't seem to hold on to the learning (I'm wondering why the learning didn't "stick" for those learners.). And still more, are trying to meet the objective.

Yesterday I was working with young students on this objective. I noticed that the students were quite distracted and did not have a solid grasp of the content involved, content that had been taught earlier in the year. I tried to instill a pattern of thought and stories to help the children gain the knowledge and skill, and it worked in part. I also got a white board and pens to aid the children's work, and that helped too. Yet the distraction continued partly because we were in seats next to the window next to the playground which offered too much of a distraction for the young students who enjoy recess. Plus there were many more distractions too including side talk by nearby students and the typical hustle and bustle of an elementary classroom.

As I think about these students, I'm wondering about what seems to work best.
  • In hindsight, I wish I had more time at the start of the year with the students' loving families to talk specifically about the children's goals and efforts. I think I could have enlisted more family support had I been more explicit about objectives and expectations. Next year I want to bring more explicit objectives and understanding of the program elements and expectations to all parents at the start of the year.
  • I also wish I had set up more explicit check-ins with this children. I know that if I had set up a more specific check-ins, the children would have been more successful at meeting the goals.
  • Further, the children had the opportunity for significant extra support away from distractions, and I hope to continue this as the year progresses. Some children learn better in places without too many distractions.
  • Teachers have worked with the children with lots of positivity, so there have been few to no issues of frustration or struggle in this arena.
  • The children demonstrate keen interest in learning, and we have a number of great projects coming up so those will be high interest events for the children. 
  • Seating for whole class lessons and efforts have been good, but whole class lessons are not the children's best ways of learning. 
  • Good pacing, classroom structure, and use of optimal supports help the children. 
No two learners need the same teaching/learning attributes for success. Every child's ideal learning situation is a bit different from their classmates' perfect learning environment.

Teachers spend lots of time thinking carefully about each learner, and as we diagnose what each child needs, we think carefully about the following attributes:
  • available supports
  • positive environment conducive to learning
  • pacing
  • scaffolding assignments
  • student-advocacy, voice and choice
  • responsive, inspiring programs that are high interest for students
  • needed progression of essential skills, concepts, and knowledge
  • opportunities to shine--demonstrating strength, mastery, and inspiration to others
Next year I want to think about how I can build my ability to make goals and expectations explicit to learners and their families. I also want to think carefully about the early year in-take with regard to "diagnosing" what a child needs. How do I use early year parent surveys, student assessments, student surveys, observation, and class events to know my learners as well as I can as soon as I can? Also, how can I readily assess and begin to utilize the many supports available, both supports in the way of staff and supports in the way of helpful materials, spaces, schedules, and pacing? 

Good teachers carefully diagnose what their learners need, and then work to provide those elements to the learners to gain as much and as positive learning/teaching success as possible. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What Do Parents Want With Regard to a Good Education?

As I assess this year's efforts and think about next year's efforts, I am thinking about what parents want when it comes to their child's education. I've come up with the list below, let me know if there's anything you would add, modify, or delete.

Happy, Engaged Children
Parents want education programs to be the kind that children are engaged with and enthusiastic about. Parents don't want their children to dread school, but instead be excited about going to school. To create school programs like this, educators have to look for ways to welcome all children in ways that make children feel like they belong in meaningful and authentic ways. Further educators have to know their students well so that they can design programs that meet students interests, passions, and needs.

Basic Skills and Knowledge Development
Parents want their children to learn essential skills such as reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. Parents expect that their children will learn to read well, write well, and problem solve with mathematics well. Parents expect to see good growth in these areas each year.

 Standardized Test Success
If your system has standardized tests, parents expect their children to demonstrate good growth on those tests.

Friendships
Parents expect that their children will make good friends at school.

Learning Community
Most parents expect that both they and their children will experience a dynamic learning community when they think of the school their children will attend.

As I think of the expectations above, I realize that there are some goals that teachers have and some parents also have, goals like the following:

Creative, Project/Problem-Based Learning
Educators know that students are elevated when they engage in creative project/problem-based learning, the kind of learning that encourages students to reach with creativity, collaboration, communication, contribution, and critical thinking skills.

Teamwork
Educators know that future-ready students will be students who know how to work well as part of a team. This is an area that many parents value too.

Social Competency and Emotional Intelligence
There is a growing awareness about the value of social emotional learning (SEL) in schools. Educators and most families recognize that children who demonstrate good social emotional skills and understanding generally succeed with greater happiness and success.

Physical Health
Educators and most families understand that physical health is very important. Children who are healthy learn better and are generally happier. It's important for educators and parents to work together to promote learning environments that promote physical health in every way possible. That may mean that we have to replace some old ways for new, healthier ways to develop positive learning communities.

Inspiring Experiential Learning
Most educators and families recognize the value that inspiring learning events have with regard to students' learning investment and results. When students have the chance to experience wonderful field studies, visiting experts, and rich cultural events, their world view is broadened and their dreams enriched. Often it's these wonderful learning experiences that inspire a child's future learning and study.

As I think more specifically about all the points above, I am thinking about how my team and I will continue to embed and enrich these attributes into our teaching/learning environment.

Happy, Engaged Children
Generally we reach this goal by staying in constant contact with families and students. We ask students what do you want, need, and desire, and respond to their answers. We observe students carefully and do what we can to promote happiness and engagement. We create classrooms that are comfortable and welcoming. We work with families to help students reach happiness and engagement when that's not happening.

Basic Skills and Knowledge Development
In many ways the primary focus of our program is basic skill development and knowledge development. Daily students read, write, and learn math. They also study a large number of social studies and science units. Our program is guided by state standards, and our goal is student mastery with regard to those standards. There are many assessment points, and lots of variety with regard to the way we teach these skills and knowledge.

Standardized Test Success
By teaching all the standards, we prepare students for standardized test success. We use the tests each year, in part, to assess our teaching and our program and tweak the program to help students succeed more with regard to the tests. While not all children reach proficiency at elementary school in our system, all but a few do reach mastery by high school. I think the fact that our system pays attention to a more holistic program keeps students engaged and invested, so that students stay in school and continue to develop towards wonderful achievement for all by high school. I also acknowledge that I work in a system that enjoys considerable privilege which definitely contributes to this success.

Friendships/Teamwork/SEL
We have many programs in place to support friendship building, and work to help students in this regard. Our efforts with regard to teamwork and SEL contribute to this. While I believe we have wonderful programs in this regard, this is an area I'd like to strengthen with regard to my own teaching by developing the lessons and efforts I embed into the standards based teaching to further develop students SEL, teamwork, and friendships.

Physical Health
We have a great playground with considerable recess. This is positive. We also have an engaging physical education program. Many students engage in after school sports and physical fitness activities too. One way we can further build this area of teaching/learning is to help students who don't have access to after school physical fitness activities to have that access. We could also possibly make greater use of the nearby pool by providing all students with swim lessons during the school year.

Inspiring Experiential Learning and Creative Project/Problem Based Learning
Students in our school enjoy multiple service learning, project/problem based learning, field study, expert visitor, and cultural enrichment events. One way we could improve our efforts in this regard is to take a holistic look at the experiential learning we offer and make sure that we are providing students with a rich kindergarten-to-fifth grade experience of varied events, visitors, and field studies. We live in an area that's rich with resources and it's in our students' best interests to take advantage of this.

I hope to use this post as a guide to next year's curriculum night for families. The more that families understand the explicit goals of the curriculum program, the better they are able to support and contribute to those goals. When parents and educators work together to reach meaningful student goals, the program develops with strength and success.






Keep the Mission Upfront

No matter what happens, you have to keep the mission upfront in your work. It's a good idea to write that mission down and consult the mission time and again to make sure your efforts are aligned in that way. This will be my homework tonight.

Monday, April 24, 2017

First Day Back: A Kinder, Gentler Classroom

The end of the school year has potential to be a difficult time of the school year if you don't pay attention to pacing and sufficient time for student issues and events.

At the end of the year there are many fun, celebratory events and many challenging events too. This leg of the year begins with the standardized tests which can be challenging if not given the right amount of support, practice, prep, and good attitude.

The end of the year also includes transition events as our students will be leaving the elementary school and moving to Middle School. For some that's simply wonderful, but for others it is a more emotional change since they have been at the elementary school for six terrific years and they are reluctant to leave.

With that in mind, we'll begin the first day back from vacation with a review of our classroom protocols with the theme of kindness to others. We'll talk about the fact that when we're all doing the right thing, we lift everyone up in ways that matter.

Then we'll attend school assembly, and after that we'll have recess--a time for students to play with one another and catch up after vacation. When we return to the classroom, we'll discuss the weeks ahead and reflect on what is important. We'll add those reflections to students' portfolios and meet for read aloud.

After lunch we'll try an MCAS practice test to prepare for the upcoming ELA tests later this week. It should be a good day for all with this kind of attention.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The News Challenges Us: What Can We Do?

One great challenge today is how to protect the lives of innocents in peaceful ways.

I don't believe we need war or aggression to make positive change, and I do believe we can use money and people power to positively impact positive change.

Let's think about the Aaron Hernandez case. Here's a case of an individual who appeared to have a lot of strengths, but also faced a lot of challenges. What could have happened during his young life to build more on the strengths so the grave challenges he later faced didn't occur? What could his family, teachers, neighbors, coaches, and others have done to direct him in a better direction? I'm sure everyone of those people have some ideas about this, and perhaps they'll use those ideas to better life for others. There's a lot of young Aaron Hernandez's out there, and perhaps the promise of his demise can be that people will take what they learned and make life better for those young men and women.

Every time a terrorist event occurs, I wonder too--what could we do to encourage those terrorists to use their time and energy for good rather than for destruction? What encourages them to cause such pain and suffering?

How can we change destruction-for-change to positive development-for-change? How can we use what we know already and the good acts that occur throughout the world to promote this?

When we turn a blind eye to any suffering, we only create more. Yet, none of us have the answers in all challenging arenas that we are aware of. I'm aware of arenas of challenge that I've tried to affect to no success, and I hope that others that are aware of those arenas will be able to do a better job there than I can. Then there are arenas that I do have some say over--areas where I can have a positive affect, and it's there that I need to put my energy and knowledge.

It's not a perfect world, but it remains a world with tremendous potential for good. Watching "Hidden Figures" last night provided me with a great example of working for betterment and good--there's so much to learn from that film.

It's important to read up on the world around us and to think about how we might positively affect and/or change what's happening to better promote "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all people young and old. I believe we can do a better job as a people, and the key is working together toward fulfilling the tremendous promise and potential that exists.


Guessing Games?

I like my planning and research to stay about nine months ahead of implementation. I find that when I'm ahead, I can seize opportunities such as grants, conferences, seminars and more that help to enrich the work I do.

In some cases, this forward movement is hindered by guessing games. Guessing games arise when questions are posed and unanswered. Guessing games arise when information is not forthcoming and plans unshared. Guessing games stand like a wall that hinders forward movement, and guessing games, for the most part, waste a lot of precious time.

Why do guessing games occur?

I'm not sure about this. Perhaps questions are asked before others have thought about the topic. Perhaps people feel that some in the trenches can't handle news of future plans and information. Perhaps there's a worry that if questions are answered, more questions will be asked. I'm not sure.

Now, guessing games don't occur in all parts of my work and learning. The state of Massachusetts and the teachers union for example are very good about sharing information and letting us know what's happening. They invite voice and provide some choice. I don't always agree with the state or union, but I do always appreciate their information share and invitation to take part by sharing ideas and doing what you can. In fact, their share is so good, that I have to prioritize about where I'll get involved and where I'll leave it to others.

In other areas of my work, it's always a guessing game. I pose questions and no one answers. People meet and the information is not shared. I watch the school committee meetings, read the newspaper, and read other memos and information posted and try to piece it all together to see where we might be headed in those arenas. I make my best guesses and try to align my research and work with what I guess to be the direction of effort. I also try to share my research as one way to impact direction, but I rarely receive response, so I have no way of knowing if that research is impactful or not in a transparent way, but again I can guess as I watch efforts take place.

In the best of circumstances, I'd like to replace "guessing games" with good communication, the kind of communication the state and union pride themselves with. They share regularly with the students and teachers in mind. They are open to my questions and suggestions and typically respond in good time with logical answers--answers that help me to understand where my research, questions, and work fit into the bigger picture. This kind of respectful response leads me forward to greater research and effort. It's a win-win in so many ways.

For now though, with regard to the guessing games, I'll tie my work to the information I know and continue to research, study, and work towards betterment and development in the areas where I have the greatest responsibility. Hopefully one day most guessing games will be replaced by terrific communication and share cycles, the kind of communication that empowers people to work collaboratively for truly terrific work and endeavor. Onward.

Bring the Light: Returning to School After Vacation

Tomorrow I'll return to school after a wonderful week's vacation. The theme will be to bring the light to the positivity, challenges, and opportunities that exist during the final nine weeks of the school year. We have a great program planned for the final chapter of school, and the overall focus will be to coach students forward with care, attention, and optimism.

What will that look like?

First Week: April 24 - 
Back to School Reflections

Sometime in the first few days students will reflect on the learning and special events to come. At that time, we'll also revisit student portfolios.

ELA MCAS
During the first week back, the main focus will be the ELA MCAS. Students will take the practice test, practice using the tools and then take the actual tests. The rest of the learning time will be spent on math practice and review, reading, and specialist subjects.

Spade foot toads
We'll prep the tanks and welcome our spade foot pollywogs.

Second Week: May 1 - 
Math Focus/Biographies
The second week back students will focus in on math review and math MCAS prep primarily. During that week students will also focus on their biography study and fifth grade play practice.

Third Week: May 8 - 
Math MCAS, School Play, and Science Prep
Students will continue their practice of the play, take the Math MCAS, and prep for the science MCAS with a number of special learning events. Students will continue their biography study.

Fourth Week: May 15 
Students will take the science MCAS and focus in on the play. Biography study will also continue.

Fifth Week: May 22
The main focus will be the fifth grade play, and then we'll focus in on the biography project, math practice/learning, and STEAM study.

Sixth Week: May 29
Memorial Day then STEAM study, math, and biography work.

Seventh Week: June 5 - 
Field studies, Field Day, STEAM study, and biography study.

Eighth Week: June 12 - 
More field studies, biography presentations.

Ninth Week:
STEAM study, clean-up, fifth grade celebrations.

In addition to coaching and teaching our students, teachers will be busy with multiple transition activities including the following:

  • Final report cards
  • Move-up letters
  • Move-up supply lists
  • End-of-year record keeping and completion
  • Room clean-up
  • 2017-2018 orders
  • 2017-2018 website
  • Lots of STEAM/math study prep, research, and teaching
What's important now is to teach in ways that are kind, caring, and attentive--ways that you'll use to begin the next year in a positive way. 





Friday, April 21, 2017

Matching Professional Goals to Multiple Goals and Initiatives

As I read numerous reports, I understand the goals of many with whom I work.

One overriding goal is test scores--much of the money and time focused on curriculum is focused on curriculum related to teaching/learning defined standards and test scores. This is a reality of teaching life for many educators and students.

While I'm not going to change that on my own, I can try to embed those goals into good teaching and learning-teaching and learning that moves beyond a goal to get good scores, but also achieves that goal too.

How can I do this?

First, I can pay good attention to the efforts created related to test scores. I will read the reports and utilize the curriculum created to fulfill the expectations of my job.

Then, I can work to surround and embed that curriculum with teaching/learning efforts that make learning rich, deep, and meaningful. To do that I will do the following:

  • Look for ways to make all learning, culturally proficient learning. This learning prompts educators to teaching with "more of them and less of us" thus putting students at the center of the work we do.
  • Shift content from solely skill and concept learning by adding content that is relevant to students' experiences.
  • Work with colleagues to embed rich learning experiences and field studies that further inspire the content, skill, and knowledge.
  • Tie curriculum goals to meaningful, local learning events, problems, and situations to build greater relevancy and meaning. 
  • Create a positive routine in schools so that students are learning in brain-friendly, healthy, and happy ways.
  • Advocate for more teacher/student/family-friendly policy, supports, and communication to support the strength and potential of the learning/teaching team.
It's important to assess the learning/teaching community with whom you work and identify the expectations, values and opportunities that exist for good work. Once that is done, then you need to determine your own goals, the goals that you'll work towards as you meet those expectations in ways that are positive for students and their families. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thinking About the Equity/Opportunity Gap: Thoughts?


As I analyzed a host of scores, the opportunity gap showed it's challenging face.

How do we help students who don't have the same opportunities as other students for success? What really works?

This year we've tried many efforts including the following:
  • flexible grouping, RTI
  • a focus on teamwork, community building
  • outreach to families and students
  • a student-centered approach to daily learning
  • a variety of program supports including more staffing, differentiated programs, choice. . . .
  • efforts to develop greater cultural proficiency throughout the program
  • lots of field studies
In general students are happy. Behavior is good. The data demonstrates growth. Families are involved.

Yet, I'm still not satisfied. I think we can do better. Here are a few of my ideas for betterment, please let me know if you have more to offer.
  • Include a one-three day orientation for high needs students and students distanced from the mainstream of school outreach. Include the following items at the orientation:
    • Honest conversation with students and families about what we can do to support students' academic, social, emotional, and physical health success and happiness.
    • Introduction to the school program including supplies, routines, and expectations.
    • Engaging activities that help us get to know one another and begin to form strong relationships.
    • Linking families and students to valuable recreational and arts programs that most children in our school enjoy on a regular basis. 
    • Explicitly introducing home study routines and expectations. While there are a lot of debates about homework, I still see the difference that children who study regularly demonstrate versus students who don't practice regularly. 
    • Gaining good communication/transportation avenues and protocols with each family including best times to call, phone numbers, text numbers, email or call? . . . .communication is often difficult with high needs families.
  • Making every effort to "Decenter yourself, and center the children." as Jose Vilson suggests. Building the curriculum around students' interests, questions, ways of learning.
  • Bridging the opportunity gap by making sure that every child has the supplies needed for success including technology, WIFI, and other needed materials.
  • Analyzing our current programs to see where success occurred and where it did not occur--refining and revising programs with that in mind.
  • Beginning an orientation process for all new students at our school to get to know who they are and what they need upfront. Making sure that these students get the kind of services they require right away. Re-looking at the intake process for new students to make sure we don't miss important information that might make them more successful at school.'
  • Thinking about restructuring our mentor program to be a high needs-mentor program, where students have an in-school mentor to check in with regularly during the school day. 
What else would you add to this?


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Next Year's Goals: 2017-2018

I just completed my evidence for this year's evaluation. I do like the way Massachusetts has educators set goals, plan a strategy, and then reflect on those goals at the end of the year. My goals this year were to develop a culturally proficient fifth grade program and to make sure that most fifth graders met the grade-level expectations for performance and learning.

Both goals are somewhat limitless, but I believe that I achieved those goals in collaboration with my colleagues. So as I collected the evidence to prove that achievement, I thought about what goals I'd forward for next year. Of course, the goals, in part, will depend on systemwide vision--a vision I typically learn about in September, but as I think about my own work and expectations, I suspect next year's goals will be similar to the following:

Student Learning Goal
To increase successful math differentiation by including one floor-to-ceiling Boaler-like exploration into six math units during the year. I believe that achieving this goal will bolster engagement, a love of math, empowerment, growth mindset, team, and learning.

Professional Learning Goal
To study, design, implement, and assess floor-to-ceiling math explorations beginning with Boaler's YouCubed site and the Standards of Mathematical Practice.

Curriculum, Planning, and Assessment
To further develop student showcase portfolio efforts by incorporating more regular and meaningful student reflection, goal setting, and action plan (learning path) efforts. To restructure student-teacher-parent conferences so that students present their work and goals at both the fall and winter conference.

To build on this year's work with the math scope and sequence/expectations, RTI, and math tech including the professional learning/student learning goals of studying and including more floor-to-ceiling explorations.

Teaching All Students
To assess our cultural proficiency efforts this year and build on those for next year by incorporating the following events:
  • Writing a cultural proficiency/growth mindset/SEL signage grant to a local organization
  • Including one or more field studies that boost our program's cultural proficiency
  • Developing greater cultural awareness and related materials, experiences into all learning experiences
  • Surveying our students and families with regard to culture and making sure that we include their cultural backgrounds in the curriculum regularly. 
Family/Community Engagement
Continued efforts to develop newsletters, website, parent conferences, and response efforts. Continued outreach and intersection with the community via our field studies and other learning events. Continuing to advocate for combining our STEAM study with real-world community events, needs, and places. 

Professional Culture
Continued share of professional learning opportunities and teaching/learning outreach and information. Continued contribution as local union secretary and board member of state and union agencies. Continued collaboration with grade level team to teach a dynamic fifth grade program. Response to building level/system opportunities and requests for support. 




The Long Road: Teaching Well

This has been the perfect vacation week to think about the long road in education--the path I am on for the next many years.

As I look ahead, I recognize that my path will take two directions. The first will be towards my work in the classroom. I will devote myself to doing what I can to teach students at the grade-level with love, care and strength. I enjoy this work and feel that I have a lot of energy and passion for it. In addition, I will work with colleagues at the school level to develop my work in this arena.

The next direction will be to slowly build my consulting business, Teach Children Well. Currently that business includes reading, research, writing, and presenting. During my free time I'll build that business with more of the same and see where it takes me. The mission is to support the positive development of children and agencies that serve children. In the near future, my main objectives are to continue writing my blog, Teach Children Well, to learn more about writing for children via a local course, and to read and research more.

These directions feel right as they are directions that are meaningful to me and positive. Onward.

The Globe Acts Against Injustice

The crusade of our times needs to be a war against any form of injustice.

I believe that this can be a peaceful and creative crusade that fosters global partnerships in leading the world forward against the ills that plague us. We need to creatively and collectively act in favor of basic needs and rights for all humanity, a clean planet, and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all.

As we act, we need to ask the following questions:
  • Will this act positively affect humanity?
  • Will this act harm innocents or the environment in any way?
  • Can we do this in a more meaningful, positive way?
We have to move forward with our problem solving to peaceful, creative solutions. We have to put more time into promoting positive problem solvers than old fashion fighters and destruction. As a people we have to fight our old inclinations and move forward to our new potential. 

There is great promise in what is possible, and it will take the good work of all of us to get there. 

Stand Up to Injustice

A friend in another field has been telling me his story of injustice over a number of years now. I have been listening to what clearly has been an unjust work situation. He has been collecting evidence and utilizing helpful resources to his advantage. The case clearly demonstrates that sometimes injustice occurs in the workplace. What makes this most disconcerting is that my friend has been sticking up for what is right and good while the authorities in his workplace have been trying to replace good work with more superficial efforts.

As I think on his situation and other similar situations I've heard of or experienced, I am struck by how these unjust situations start. In this individual's case, the office was running well and a new individual came in and clearly tried to get rid of all existing staff since she targeted one after another in inhuman, unkind, and unprofessional ways. The new manager also was clearly trying to gain kudos for modernizing the office by focusing on new technology, however her focus on the technology alone negated the rich and important mission of the workplace thus giving power to the superficial efforts while ignoring the reason the workplace exists in the first place--a valuable service to people.

If the new individual had arrived with a clear mission of working with the existing staff to tie new technology to the deep mission of the office, she could have truly risen both amongst her staff in the office as well as in the eyes of her leadership team. Instead, her tenure has been marked by one problem after another, and she must clearly be seen as both a nuisance and one without commitment to the deep work of the field--work that makes a difference for individuals, communities, and society.

When injustice occurs in the workplace, it typically occurs because one or many let ambition trump mission. I always say that it's okay for ambition to feed mission, but it's not okay to let ambition trump mission. In any work place, and particularly in workplaces that serve humanity, it is essential that the mission stay at the center of everyone's work, and it is also essential that people in the organization, both new and veteran, work together to identify what that mission is and how to continually promote the mission in forward-thinking, modern, rich, deep, and meaningful ways.

Yet, injustice will occur, and some will enter the workplace with their own ambition or perhaps a lack of understanding or experience as their leading force thus letting people down and creating havoc. When this happens, people for whom the mission remains the focus, have to speak up and work together to right the organization in ways that matter. With as much respect, dignity, knowledge, and truth, the just have to speak up with questions and information to put the organization back on the right path. In the best of circumstances, this synergy will occur with new and old coming together to chart an elevated mission path, but that doesn't always occur.

Injustice is occurring at our national level right now. Our President is not acting presidential, instead he tends to label everything good or bad and big or small--he seems to take no time to truly look deeply at issues and think about the American people, our place in the global society, and how we can elevate and move our country forward. Not every one of his ideas are bad, but almost all of the ways he works are disrespectful and frightening. He is not acting in just, humane, and dignified ways, and this is very troubling. His actions call Americans who are devoted to our democracy and to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all Americans to speak up and share what they know and believe in order to put us on a good, righteous, path for living well in a global society.

In the face of injustice, people have to find allies and speak up for what is right and good. My friend has to endure suffering as he speaks up and supports the mission of his field and work at this time. His manager will have to face the fact that she lost sight of the mission of her work, and it's likely she lost sight because she didn't speak up way back when her own bosses were leading her astray (there is a long history to this case). We will retain the strength of our commitments and the work possible if we are courageous enough to speak up and work together in the face of injustice--the more we stand for what is right and good together, the better we will server one another. This is one of the most important aspects of living and being human.

Success: Love

Two comments on the Internet struck me.

The first suggested that if we stay focused on test scores, schools won't change. While I remain a fan of balanced, streamlined testing, I also recognize that we have to take the school day back in order to innovate in ways that matter. I want to think more on this point in the days ahead.

Next, a friend on Facebook shared the mini poster to the right. That and reflections this morning about parenting well leads me to the focus on love. Before all else at home and in schools, we must love those we serve--that is the first priority.

Teach Children Well: Parent Well

My mother taught me to "never say never," as she warned me against judging others. From a young age, I remember her telling me that you just don't know what life will challenge you with, so don't be quick to judge.

I've mostly heeded her words particularly when it has come to parenting. I know that parenting isn't an easy road, and that parents are met with many challenges along the way--challenges most of us never even dream of.

That being said, I did find myself researching a number of young adult and child issues over vacation--troubling issues that I wondered about, and I did find a thread of missing parents as the cause, in part--parents who appeared to spend quite a bit of time and money on their own needs rather than attending to their children's needs. It seemed that in some of these cases, parents who were met with BIG challenges, chose to escape and blame rather than face the challenge and look for positive ways to deal with the issues.

As I thought about these issues, some of which resulted in heinous crimes, I looked for nuggets of wisdom that might help parents embrace the challenges rather than deny or further deepen the trouble.

Own the Issue
In many cases, parents deny their children's troubling issues. That's a big step in the wrong direction. Whether it's addiction, learning challenges, illness, isolation, unhappiness or any other child issues, parents have to face the issues rather than deny the issues. It's important to get to know your child as much as possible and that includes your child's challenges.

Seek the Support of Others
It seemed that some parents suffered from troubled relationships, their own personal health problems, lack of friends, or misunderstandings. As I considered the cases I studied, I realized that it's critical that parents facing problems, find support groups of others who face similar challenges. There is strength and knowledge in numbers, and when a group of people facing similar challenges get together they can help one another.

Don't Add to the Problem
Parents sometimes add to a child's issue. For example if addiction is an issue, parents might add to it by having lots of parties that include drugs or alcohol--that only exacerbates a child's issue. Also if a child's issues relate to bad behavior, sometimes parents aren't present to monitor and support needed change. Some parents are more interested their own wealth and happiness than that of their children's, and then dedicate time to themselves rather than giving their children the time they need and deserve. To parent well, parents have to be present for their children, and they have to change their own behavior in order to support those children.

Prioritize
Think strategically and prioritize. Parents whose children face big challenges have to research, take care of themselves, and take care of their children too. This requires reading, research, and prioritizing. Parents have to take the long view of what's most important and prioritize as they move in a good direction that will support their family.

Love your Children
I've seen parents who have children that disappoint them. These parents have a difficult time loving their children because they do not have the children they hoped for. They don't realize that children bring us on journeys we would never expect, they are their own people and don't truly belong to us. Parents who can't love their children need help. Those parents have to go to counseling and figure out why they can't love their own children. This usually has its roots in the parents' own upbringing or psychological profile. Parents who don't love their children set their children up for BIG problems.

No parent is perfect and no child is perfect. It's a challenging road to parent and be parented, but there are some parents who are too selfish, damaged, or unaware to parent well. It's important to the safety and welfare of our communities, that all parents do what they can to take good care of their children. As community members, we can do our part by creating communities that support good parenting. Environmentally we can make sure that our communities are safe and include parks, playgrounds, bike trails, and nature spaces to support positive family time. Program-wise we can support good prenatal and birthing supports, preschool programs, schools, and recreational programs too. Work places can promote events, schedules, and expectations that support good parenting as well.

Teaching children well is the job of educators and it is the job of parents and the community too. What would you add to this post? How can you support these efforts?




Saturday, April 15, 2017

Is President Trump aware that he represents ALL Americans?

As I listen to Trump's frightening talk of war and aggression, I wonder if he realizes that he represents all Americans--Americans who work daily to positively affect the lives of those they love and those they serve in their families, work places and communities.

Does he realize that destructive acts far away end up affecting lives at home? Does he understand that it's time for greater diplomacy and peaceful work with regard to making a better world? Can he see beyond his own ego and will to be king to the fact that this is a democracy, a country for the people, not just for he and his family.

It's worrisome to see just how much power one has in our democracy--always believing we were a system of checks and balances, it seems to me that our president has too much power as I watch Trump single handedly make lots of decisions that seem worrisome and that threaten our peaceful, positive, and prosperous democracy. It feels like he leads by looking through outdated glasses instead of new lenses that recognize we are a global community and we depend on one another for peace and prosperity. Even he depends on the global community with regard to his wealth and productivity.

My only hope at this time is that the investigation about Russia's influence on the election will demonstrate that there were illegal efforts in play to make Trump president, and I hope this will result in a change of guard in the executive branch of our government. I know that good leaders are working overtime to combat worrisome laws and acts, and we all have to do what we can. Too often too many turn a blind eye when small matters of worry and discontent occur, and then those small matters become bigger and bigger causing great worry and sometimes irreversible acts.

Trump is appearing to be a war mongering President who is acting quickly without consult of the congress with regard to world connections. I am worried about this. Are you?

I hope I am wrong, but almost every day there is more news that leads me to the conclusion above.

Choosing Well in a Sea of Information: Summer Study Priorities

There is a sea of education information out there, and the important factor is that we choose well with the time we have.

Choosing depends on gaining chunks of time and a study plan to focus in on important new learning, research, and experiences that will help to develop our classrooms for the better.

As I think about my main focus, math education, I think it's important to boost my own knowledge and skill in ways that matter. To do this I'll focus in on computational thinking by taking Google's online course, revisit Boaler's floor-to-ceiling explorations in her book and on YouCubed and look for ways to embed those explorations with the Standards of Mathematical Practice (SMP) into next year's curriculum, and re-organize teaching/learning materials including the SEL materials I hope to embed into lessons to build greater student confidence, communication, and collaboration.

In addition I'll read Friedman's book, Thank You for Being Late, as one way to ensure that my efforts are in line with future thought and think, and I'll continue to read Emdin's book looking for ways to update our teaching with regard to cultural proficiency.

When you think of time, it's somewhat short with about five hours a day of learning/teaching five days a week. With regard to professional learning time, at best it's about three hours a day during work time, and another five to eight hours a day during days devoted to professional learning in the summer. Yet that time adds up, and when used well significant learning and development can occur.

So what's the game plan?

Math Learning/Teaching Development (Early August)
Rationale: My main charge is to teach math well and meet the many standards set. I think we can continue to invigorate this program by elevating our use of the SMPs, floor-to-ceiling explorations, greater SEL/growth mindset and personalized learning, and more computational thinking talk and effort. 
  1. Review last year's data and practice, and use that review to develop next year's study/efforts.
  2. Read/Study YouCubed site, attach research/activities to specific units of study and routines.
  3. Study Google Computational Thinking course and add language/exercises to specific units of  math study.
  4. Update/reorganize math learning/teaching website and routines.
  5. Organize math teaching/learning materials. Acquire any needed new materials.
Cultural Proficiency Development (Mid July)
Rationale: We have a diverse population of students and we live in a diverse world. The more our students can meet that diversity with positivity, skill, and strength, the better their learning will be and the better they'll be able to successfully apply that learning in their lives for individual and collective success. 
  1. Add a STEAM learning event that relates to cultural proficient teaching (June)
  2. Review past writing/information related to this effort.
  3. Review this year's efforts and carry-over successful efforts to next year.
  4. Complete Emdin's book, For White Teachers. .  and apply that research to the teaching/learning program.
  5. Work on writing grant proposals to support signage to support greater cultural proficiency, SEL, and Growth Mindset.
  6. Look for learning events and experiences that will develop our efforts in this area. 
  7. Re-look at units and find ways to continue to make units more culturally proficient meaningfully representing and incorporating the many cultures in our class and our world. 
  8. Evaluate our curriculum map for culturally proficient teaching/learning events as we draft the map in August
Social Emotional Learning (Emotional Intelligence)/Growth Mindset (Early July)
Rationale: Similar to cultural proficiency, the more students can understand the science that underlies their successful learning and application of that learning, the better they will do and the more fulfilled their lives will be. The science of learning points to the amazing connections between successful emotional intelligence and growth mindset with academic/life success.
  1. Read Friedman's book, Thank you for being late. . . .
  2. Revisit activities/efforts used to develop both SEL and growth mindset. 
  3. Look for ways to couple these efforts with student portfolio efforts.
  4. Find ways to embed this learning into regular learning experiences.
  5. Earn special education PDPs at MTA's Summer Conference
  6. Complete SEL book I've been working on with colleagues this year. 
STEAM (Late August)
Rationale: We know that STEAM learning affects positive invention, the kind of invention that can positively impact our lives and solve problems. We know that this learning depends on effective teamwork too. To provide students with this learning early is to start them on a path that will impact their lives and the lives of others with positivity and strength. 
  1. Look for ways to develop a learning environment that supports greater STEAM learning
  2. Write a grant to support rolling tables rather than desks in the classroom
  3. Continue our efforts to develop the TEAM in STEAM.
  4. Evaluate this year's STEAM efforts and develop for next year.
Teach Children Well (Ongoing)
Rationale: It's essential that educators continually develop their knowledge and skill to teach well.

In many ways, my professional work has become my own small business. I spend a great deal of my free time reading, writing, composing and presenting information related to teaching/learning online and offline. I will formalize this work more in the days ahead.

I believe the plan above will help my students next year to have a successful learning year--one that welcomes them to the learning environment in ways that matter and one that provides them with the skills, knowledge, concept, and mindset that will help them to be successful learners in all that they do. 





Friday, April 14, 2017

Restructuring Collective Learning

A colleague sent me a valuable podcast to listen to today. It was from the popular education blog, Cult of Pedagogy. Then I reviewed the Massachusetts Department of Education's "Teachers' Top Three,"which had some great ideas about community building. As I thought about this share, I realized there are a number of wonderful educators stepping up to lead the profession all around me. Then I thought about the fact that I need to change some of my routines in order to stay up to date with this wonderful new information.

Some routines that might help include the following:

Walk and Learn
Following my colleagues' lead, it may be a good idea to walk and listen to podcasts as one way to get some exercise and update my pedagogical knowledge at the same time.

Keep a Running List of Professional Learning Blogs, Books, and More
This is my main list as I look ahead.

Include Regular Surface and Deep Learning in the Weekly Schedule
I typically do a good job with the surface learning each morning for about an hour, and the best deep learning I do usually involves a course or professional collegial group. It's a good idea to sign on to one or two collegial deep learning events each year to develop your practice--deep learning profits from learning that occurs over time and includes both individual and collective effort.

Share
Work as a collegial group to determine the best ways to share the learning. I believe that systems will support professionals by creating a place such as a well organized website and structure for collective share. The best way might be to set up a website and then invite a structure of a short share with links to deeper information for those interested.

Alone we can't learn all, but together we can learn and share a lot to forward our professional work and organizations.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Free Mind Free Time

This is the most free time and free mind I've had since my eighth grade summer. I remember that summer fondly. Our busy house of eight was quite quiet back in 1973. Mom and dad had jobs and my younger siblings were busy with camp and other activities. I had the house mostly to myself and I spent a lot of days relaxing and reading--I LOVED it!

Now it's April vacation, many years later, and I have a similar span of free time and free mind. School work is mostly ready for the return, family members happy, and the house quite empty--time to relax with no heavy agenda awaits. What a luxury!

Why has it taken so long to have a spell of this luxurious free time and mind?

Well, the years have been busy with school, family, work, and other necessary matters, and only now has a resting place arrived to my happy welcome.

I'll likely fill the week with my favorite pastimes of reading, writing, talking with friends, some drawing, and perhaps a bit of adventure too. Free time and free mind are gifts that far exceed most others and now I'll begin to enjoy this wonderful reprieve.

Teaching Tenacity?

Today I was reviewing standards-based content with a number of children. Several were willing to persevere and several were satisfied with less investment and commitment.

I was essentially giving the students a chance to learn a little more and rectify a few errors that they had made on a math assignment.

As I worked with the students, I found myself thinking about why some of these students were more willing to persevere than others. Ideas that came to mind included the following:
  • Interest in the topic
  • A desire to do well
  • Modeling at home for perseverance 
  • Positive self talk and coaching
  • A belief that pushing yourself a bit more makes a difference
As a mom, my own sons at age 10 and eleven, demonstrated different capacities in this area, and I, frankly, had differing amounts of time for each child. For the first, I had a lot more time for a number of reasons, and for the third I had a lot less time. The middle son had the middle amount of time. I can see plusses to the time spent and minuses so I don't feel that one won out, but instead see it as different parenting at different times.

I can say that some factors that have helped our sons persevere include the following:
  • Seeing my husband and I persevere
  • Family talks about making choices and determining what matters
  • Growth mindset awareness--essentially you become what you put your time into, and we all have limited time so where are you going to invest it?
  • Positive coaching--we know that no one can be all things, and we continually coach our sons in the direction of making good choices.
Does this mean that my own sons and students persevere all the time--not at all, none of us do that. We have limitations to how much we can push and what we can do, but as I think more about this, I want to be mindful about what works when it comes to teaching tenacity and encouraging the kind of perseverance that truly makes a positive difference. Onward. 

The Day Before Vacation: Cheering the Team on!

Today, the day before vacation, we'll cheer the team on as students complete assessments, work on reaching math tech goals, support initial biography study reading, and learn all about turtles with high school mentors.

There are a large number of students I'd like to check-in with today too in order to solidify learning details and work completion. It looks like a nice play day too so we'll likely have a couple good recesses too. Onward.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tying the Curriculum Together with Essential Questions

As I reviewed our curriculum map today, I began thinking about our idea of tying the curriculum together with essential questions.

Our curriculum overall basically responds to these questions:
  • Who are we and where do we live?
  • People near and far, past and present
  • Attributes, characteristics, traits, and properties: details that make a difference.
  • Creativity and imagination: dare to dream
  • Advocacy: Self knowledge, expression, choice and voice
If we look at our many curriculum parts, we can tie the parts together with these themes.

If we were to grow this more, we could start and end each leg of the year with thoughtful discussion, reading, and expression of the theme. Then we could embed the theme in the study we do.

As we reach for deeper learning and teaching, we need to reach for greater depth in what we teach and how we teach it. Identifying unifying essential questions and addressing those questions throughout the learning and teaching is one way to do this. 

Explicit Homework Routines for Elementary School?

Every year I come up with a new homework routine, and every year by the end of the year I'm dissatisfied with it.  Now many educators at the elementary level have given up on homework altogether, but I still see the value in daily practice. So the question for me is how to strike the balance so that homework provides good practice, but does not burden children or families who need and benefit from good time for play, family meals, and other activities of interest and passion.

Next year, I'll use the experience to date and try a new iteration of the homework routine which will include the following:
  • A very short practice packet each week with a number of review problems and a short space for reflection and math writing (explain your thinking).
  • Option and encouragement for practice with our online programs.
  • Suggested practice time: 20 minutes a night (students are also assigned 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of writing a night)
  • modifications will be available upon discussion with students and families (we never want to push students too much, but instead strike that just right balance)
Once a week I'll have students pair-share their homework and then pass it in for teacher review since completing homework is part of our overall grade-level requirement for our progress reports and transition to Middle School recommendations. 

As I review this year's efforts, I realize once again that the more explicit we can be about expectations at the start of the school and throughout the year, the more learning success will be accessible to all learners. This is an important discussion to have with colleagues as you end the year and experiences are fresh and as you begin the new year. 

The News Loves Simple Issues and Scapegoats

The popular media loves simple issues and scapegoats.

While it's important to analyze errors with care and detail, it's also important to look at the importance of issues.

Too often I believe the media loves to focus on issues that are "easy issues"--issues that are easy to discuss without any commitment to action or change.

One "easy issue" I think that many like to talk about is abortion. It's easy because many of the people that talk a lot about abortion never have to consider having one or not. Abortion is a difficult issue for those who have to truly consider this with regard to their lives, health, beliefs, or more. If you're an older man, it's unlikely that you'll have to sacrifice much to advocate one way or another with regard to abortion.

A "tough issue" however is poverty--we don't hear a lot of talk or depth with regard to poverty because to truly deal with poverty will require sacrifice amongst all of us. To rid our country of poverty means we have to deal with privilege, and many don't want to discuss this issue because it might mean that they have to share what they have including power, land, and money. The issue of poverty demands action, so it is rarely discussed. Poverty is a "tough issue."

Spicer's poor choice of discussing Hitler the other day is an important issue, but an "easy issue." Yes, he was wrong and he erred. He needs to apologize, and Trump's entire team has to stop shooting from the hip with their conversation, facts, and discussion--their communication is horrible since they often don't rely on the experts, facts, or truth of matters, but instead use hype and marketing strategies. What would be better is to bring in the experts, and let them talk about the serious issues. No one expects Spicer to be able to talk about all the important issues that face our country--a bright leadership team would rely on experts and let them speak or at least let them write what Spicer will later say. There are people who have devoted their entire lives to the study of these important issues, and those are the people who should be talking about them and helping leadership teams make good decisions.

We can spend hours talking about Spicer and his poor explanation, but instead we should be focused on how the executive team makes decisions and shares information in general. This is a big, tough issue and one that requires the best among us to research, learn, and advocate for what is right and good in this regard. Further we can't let hype and exaggeration get in the way of the tougher issue which is Russia's influence on the election and the executive branch--this needs to be teased out and understood in order to go forward. If Russia did collude with our current executive branch then that is a big worry with regard to any decisions our executive branch makes. That is the "tough issue" we need to understand.

There are "easy issues," and though these issues are important, they are issues that don't require depth, sacrifice, and time--instead those "easy issues" are issues that most of us can remark about and finger point without doing anything that takes any energy to make a difference. Then there are tough issues like poverty, the Russia effect on the election, world peace, hunger, violence, and inequality that are really tough issues--issues that require sacrifice, time, study, and good strategic process to solve.

We need to separate the "easy issues" from the "tough issues," and while both require attention, we can't let those "easy issues" stand in the way of the more important, "tough issues," issues that when solved truly enrich human lives and experience.

I'm going to think more about this, and welcome your thoughts.

Evaluating the Math Program: What do you think?

I sat with a parent and we discussed, in part, the math program.

There were many positives including the following:
  • All standards were included
  • We include many multi-modal opportunities to learn and express that learning
  • Students had made significant growth according to data collected
  • There were a large number of check-in points
  • There is good online tech program support
There were also a number of challenges:
  • Are there too many tests? Are tests too long?
  • Is the program too narrow including mostly paper/pencil practice rather than richer, deeper math explorations?
  • Are we trying to cram too much in and not leaving enough room for worthy differentiation that responds to where learners are?
  • Did we include for the Standards of Mathematical Practice?
  • Should we include more 3D online programming and 3D study that's more interesting such as gaming and coding to support the program.
I thought about where we are and where we might go, and came up with the following thoughts:
  1. We may need to change the order of the scope and sequence a bit to better support our learners he Standards of Mathematical Practice, and teamwork.
  2. We need to think deeply at the start of the year about how we are going to manage the program for students one to two years behind with regard to the grade-level standards--what is realistic and meaningful with regard to teaching, practice, and learning in this regard? The standards progression matrix I mention below will help with this. 
  3. We need to think carefully about each piece of the program--what's working and what could change for the better?
  4. We need to include more floor-to-ceiling Boaler-like math explorations that invite all students into the wonder and excitement of quality math learning. These are the kinds of experiences that children go home talking about and naturally working on because the experience is so intriguing, thought provoking, and engaging. 
  5. We need to focus on positive teamwork, math talk, and debate
  6. We need to look for ways to include 3D math platforms like Minecraft and coding into the math program in ways that matter.
  7. Educators need to continue to develop their repertoire for the standards, computational thinking, coding, floor-to-ceiling explorations, cognitive science-driven lessons, and standards of mathematical practice. 
Personally, this evaluation leads me to the following actions:
  • study the new standards over the summer and create a standards/progression matrix to use for differentiation (does one already exist?)
  • re-read and watch materials related to Boaler's floor-to-ceiling explorations. Look for ways to include these explorations into the curriculum. 
  • take Google's Computational Thinking course
  • Re-organize the supporting website and teaching/learning materials
  • Possibly engage in some action based research related to math study.
I look forward to forwarding this discussion with colleagues in the days ahead as I work to develop my practice inline with system and state standards and student interests and needs. 

Professional Learning: Meaningful Strategic Process

Earlier in the year, I was apart of a professional conversation that was frustrating. There was not a good plan for the conversation or a good understanding of the team that was at the event. As I think of the questions I have related to good teaching and learning, I'm thinking about how to forward a worthy conversation with multiple individuals about learning--what would work?

Currently our math scope and sequence does not include many Boaler-like open-ended standards-based math explorations. I believe that the research points us in this direction as math educators, so I would hope to make this a topic of a worthy professional discussion.

I can imagine the following plan:
  1. Preparation (one week including a weekend ahead): Consider the way you teach division with large numbers. As you consider this think about the practice you promote? Bring your best lessons, activities, problems, and models with you. Note that the overall year's professional learning will be to include more floor-to-ceiling engaging activities in the math classroom--activities that promote the Standards of Mathematical Practice.
  2. Meeting One: 
    1. Begin with a Boaler video/write-up explaining floor-to-ceiling math explorations. Hand out a plan for this kind of learning effort. 
    2. Break educators into small groups of 3-4 educators. Have those educators design and/or find (YouCubed is a good resource) a division floor-to-ceiling exploration that meets the standards, engages all learners, related to their lives, and provides plenty of worthy practice. Give educators a template for this design.
    3. Have educators share their explorations in 2-3 minutes with each other.
  3. Follow-up and Implementation: Ask teams to finalize their write-ups and share with the whole group. Then ask each educator to implement one of the floor-to-ceiling explorations with their class. Have the teachers take pictures and reflect in writing on the experience.
  4. Meeting Two: Have educators give a short presentation (2-3 minutes) on the floor-to-ceiling exploration. What worked? What didn't? Discuss the strengths, challenges, and details of this approach. Make a plan as to how we can include at least one of these explorations for each unit. 
  5. Virtual Share: Set up a document for virtual share so that educators can share their work in this realm throughout the year. The document should have columns for links to activity, notes about activity, and results. 
  6. Meeting Three: Did this approach make a significant difference in our math program? Why or why not? What does the data show? What do our observations show? Where should we take this approach as we think ahead about the program? 
How do you engage your team in meaningful, deep conversation and action related to professional learning and practice? How do you enlist support of colleagues in this regard? Why does this matter? 

I plan to think more on this in the days ahead. 

School Moments You Treasure: Math Debate

The moments a teacher treasures in school are not what many would think. For example, a few days ago a little girl was curled up in a pink umbrella chair with a good picture book. She was entranced with the book. I treasured that moment.

Another little girl led a group of kindergartners with joy and heart, another treasured moment.

A boy proudly rode his bike in circles at the end of the day on the playground--he was so proud of his strength and agility. Other children happily chased him. A joyful moment.

A typically rambunctious boy, calmly came up to me and asked his first serious question for clarification on an assignment--a first sign of self-advocacy! I was overjoyed.

Then yesterday two young girls came to me with a math problem. They had taken different approaches and solutions to the problem on the right. I sent them back to debate their solutions with one another to try to figure out whose solution was correct. They returned a while later saying that their answers were different and they couldn't figure out who was right and who was wrong.

I enlisted the support of a number of other mathematicians, and everyone puzzled over the problem. I couldn't give it my full attention as I was leading a large group of students on another task so I promised I would go home and figure it out, and we could talk the next day.

Last night, I played with the problem, and in the quiet of my home I figured out where the girls had gone right and wrong with the problem. Today, I'll make some time to talk with them about it. What made this a treasured moment was that the girls were excited enough about the problem that they wanted to talk to each other about it, and then they wanted to talk to me about it. The excitement caught on and several other children puzzled over the strategy and conclusion. I exclaimed, "This is fun!" and they agreed. It's what we hope for in the math classroom, and the challenge is to find more opportunities for exciting math problem solving and debate like this. Onward.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Where do you fit into this big world of teaching and learning?

There's nothing I like more than working with children in ways that truly make a difference. When that occurs, I'm happy.

So as I consider the question of where I fit into the big world of teaching and learning, I'd say it is to increasingly find ways to teach children well.

This means that I have to dig deep in myself to reflect, find the energy, and learn how to teach well, continually developing my craft.

This also means that I have to work with others to advocate for the structure, schedules, routines, and support that help us to teach well. Teaching well depends on the individual and it also depends on the infrastructure that surrounds that individual.

Further it means culling life's time, commitment, and energy so that I have the time to do the work that brings me happiness and feels worthwhile.

Where do you fit into this big world of teaching and learning? What do you need to do to meet that call with strength and purpose?

Calm, Cool, Collected Day

Yesterday's challenge with the field study led the team to rethink end-of-year focus and protocols. We had a good talk as a student-teacher team yesterday, reset the protocols and revisited goals. Then this morning we reviewed the focus and protocols once again, and I noticed a calm, cool, and collected atmosphere in the room. Clearly this was needed and yesterday's events opened the door to this positive update.

Educators and students are pushed in many directions by all kinds of influences, and we have to continually seek balance and purpose amongst all that influence. Questions such as what are our goals, what matters most, and how can we do this well support positive effort in this regard. I feel so fortunate to work with a dynamic grade-level team of classroom teachers, teaching assistants, and specialists in light of this--it's our collaboration that leads to better work and good decisions.

I feel fortunate that we're at the other side of a few calls to recalibrate the year. It's good to move to this bright, gentler and celebratory part of the school year.

School Priorities

There are a number of structures, routines, and efforts that matter a lot in school. As I think of developing my craft and ordering materials, I want to be cognizant of these elements.

Realistic, Supportive Routine
Setting a good routine and schedule at the start of the school year helps you to meet the priority teaching/learning goals.

Priority Teaching/Learning Goals
For the most part, the teaching/learning goals that matter most to system leadership are meeting the State standards and SEL/community building goals and efforts. So as we set the schedule, we'll look for ways to make time for SEL and standards-based teaching/learning.

Positive Protocols and Procedures
I will make the time to work with students to create positive protocols and procedures for teaching/learning community success and happiness.

Teamwork
Positive teamwork will be a continuous thread throughout the school year--a thread that we'll support throughout the curriculum efforts.

Showcase Portfolios, Reflection, and Metacognitive Skill
The showcase portfolios serve as a vehicle for reflection and metacognition. These portfolios also serve as a centerpiece of parent/student conferences and goal setting. I want to think about this process more with colleagues as I'd like to develop this practice in the years ahead. At the end of the year, the showcase portfolios serve as a storybook of the fifth grade year.

Math Materials and Teaching
My main focus is to teach math well. I have a nice collection of math materials, and hundreds of good math lessons and resources to support that. The focus will be to organize those resources as I prepare for the math teaching years ahead. I will also look for good opportunities to develop my math teaching repertoire.

STEAM Teaching
As our team focuses on this area of teaching in the days ahead, we'll think together about the best ways to incorporate and develop this practice.

Field Studies, Cultural Proficiency, and Special Events
This summer we'll focus our efforts on thinking about ways that we can continue to review and build our efforts in this area.

Parent/Student/Teacher Conferences
I want to think about the role of these conferences and how they might support children's learning well.

Materials and Supplies
As a team we've been thinking about the ways that we can make needed materials and supplies available to all students. As I clean up the classroom this spring, I may put together extra supply packets for students who may not be able to access the supplies they need for learning. Our team has found a way to provide tech to students who are not able to access that, and we'll use that strategy in the coming year. Further we'll order a few extra supplies as well to support student learning.

Teamwork, Collegiality, and Idea Share
There are many initiatives int he works that relate to classroom teaching and learning. I'll keep abreast of those initiatives by watching school committee meetings, attending faculty meetings, reading newsletters, and joining committees that support good teaching/learning. I'll seek to align my efforts to work and efforts that invite teacher voice and choice, and steer clear of areas that don't respect or welcome educator ideas and efforts.

Home-School Balance
As always I'll strive for a positive home-school balance which is often a challenge for teachers since both areas of life hold limitless opportunity and possibility.


What Do Students Need?

At this juncture of the school year, students need as much attention as there is time to give them. The day has limits, however, and there's a fair amount of expected efforts such as required assessments, so the goal is to slow down the schedule to make that time for support and care.

What will that look like in the days ahead?

Until the vacation start, students will complete common assessments, make time for reading, prep for ELA MCAS, meet with RTI groups, and enjoy a special turtle-centered event with high school students. The good weather will invite lots of play at recess too.

After vacation, the weeks are focused on expected events.

Fifth Grade Play
There will be time set aside in the weeks ahead to prepare for the fifth grade play. The play actually meets quite a few ELA standards as well as our efforts to work on team and camaraderie.

ELA MCAS
When we return to school after the vacation we'll focus on the ELA MCAS with practice sessions and the test itself which takes a few hours a day over a three day period. When students are not focused on the test or practicing for the play, they'll focus on math learning and reading.

Math MCAS
Students will continue to study math standards as they prepare for the early May tests.

Biography Project
It's all hands on deck to support students' biography  project work.

Middle School Transition
Some time will be set aside to prepare students for the transition.

STEAM
We'll set aside team time for STEAM projects and learning.

Field Studies 
We still have a few field studies left.

It's a busy time in the school year, and every week has a different focus. The overarching focus, however, will be to support the learners with kindness and care as we navigate the final chapter of the school year.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Disappointing Field Study

Today we had a disappointing field study.

First, the field study experience we paid for did not happen. The location personnel did not support our visit similar to the past. They did not give the kind of quality presentation we expected, instead they seemed to give us a performance that represented little regard for us or our students.

Also a few students did not behave appropriately. Partly this was due to the disappointing quality of the presentation and the late start, but it was also due to the fact that we clearly need to provide more structure and review manners and expected behavior with greater focus for some. While some students clearly have experience interacting with museums and "museum behavior," for other students this is new requiring greater preparation.

Finally, it may be true that the museum was simply too small and not focused enough on what young students need with regard to learning about history. It may be that this museum is a better field study for older children who are doing research related to a specific time period or focus area. And, I wonder how our shift to greater skills and less of the rich project-based learning we did in the past from K-5 related to social studies affected this trip too. I noticed that during an earlier social studies field experience, children had less background knowledge than in the past, and I wonder if the fact that we let go of many wonderful history-related projects and field studies throughout elementary school contributed to this too. Thankfully the state is re-looking at social studies throughout the grades, and while people complain about standards, standards do sometimes fuel good, comprehensive programs.

If you read my blog, you know that the students in my school have had many wonderful field experiences over the years. We're bound to have one now and then that doesn't live up to our expectations. I look forward to working with my team as we think about the trips ahead, and what we might do to support a wonderful experience for all students. I also look forward to planning future trips and thinking about which trips support the best learning experiences. Onward.