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Monday, May 22, 2017

Take the Lead: Be Proactive

A few troubling comments were shared with me recently.

I was taken back and upset.

I've thought a lot about this and have reached out for professional advice.

I support respectful conversation, discourse and debate. I believe our organizations are stronger when information is transparent, open, and readily shared.  I worry when questions are met with disregard, silence, and negativity. I am similarly alarmed when people are unwilling to discuss or debate sensitive issues related to the good work possible in schools.

I will continue to read and think about this issue as I await the professional consult I seek.

In the end, it's my goal to teach well and do what I can to serve students, family members, colleagues, and community members well. Onward.

Oh Woe is Me

"No one likes a martyr," a relative would say whenever I suggested injustice. It was frustrating to hear that again and again, but I used the comment as reason to try to complain less.

Better than the phrase above, I think it would have been helpful to dissect problems and see the potential in the problem by planning an action plan.

The same relative would say that "You can't complain unless you are part of the solution." This phrase has helped me to always match problems with solutions--"Here's the problem," I think and "How can I help to solve it."

As I contemplate a recent, troubling incident, my relative's remarks come back to me. First, it's true no one likes an everyday martyr, yet problems do exist and we can't ignore them. Problems like the one recently experienced are small in the face of the huge problems that exist in lives, yet small problems can become big problems if we don't deal with them. Hence, seek the promise in the problem and decide how you are going to be part of the solution.

The solution with the problem above lies in these actions:

  • Careful listening and note taking
  • Speaking up when stories and words are misrepresented and shared
  • Keeping a paper trail of exchanges and efforts
  • Awareness of rules/laws related to idea share, free speech, opinions, and desire for betterment
  • Reaching out for clarification

Know Your Supporters

Moving ahead in education, I want to be cognizant of those who support my efforts and good work with honesty, care, and thoughtfulness. I want to steer my teaching/learning ship in that direction.

I also want to be cognizant of those that do not support the work I do with care, but on the other hand, stymie and confuse that work with undue criticism, dishonest rumors, little effort, an unwillingness to entertain or listen to new ideas/answer questions, and inaccurate reporting of information and events.

Those who don't support you will often work to undermine and demean you. It may take you a while to recognize those efforts, but after a time, you'll recognize a thread of activity that adds  up to disrespect and lack of support.

In the face of efforts like this, it's important to shore up your own work to make sure that you are supportive to others in ways that are fair, honest, and worthy--this is an important and critical aim with regard to work in any field.

You also have to keep good notes of what happens, when, and why. For example recently I asked a simple question, and when the question was repeated to me from another source, it was a much different question. Fortunately I have the original email on file if the question is brought up again.

None of us are perfect and we all have our areas of strength and our areas of challenge. Further each of us, if it is important to us, is developing our work and craft all the time. It is important to stay cognizant of this as we support one another with our best effort and energy. Some will not care about you at all--they will not support you. It's important to recognize this as you do your work.

Though worrisome, this is a reality that exists, and one that sadly stands in the way of the good work possible when educators work together to do what is right and good for children.


A Game of Telephone

I put forth a simple request.

The request was responded to in time with additional requirements.

I completed the requirements and fulfilled the effort.

Later, I heard about this exchange with a very different story--one that was disconcerting and worrisome.

Like a game of telephone, the story started as a simple exchange and ended up as a troubling event. What was lost in translation?

Transparency, questioning, and clear information shares delete games of telephone that exist in organizations and replaces those confusing trails of information with clear, honest speak and share.

If you face those who prefer telephone to transparency, then it's important to keep good notes of events and put questions and ideas in writing--that is much more clear than a a game of talk tag where the words morph at each exchange.


Information Wall

I heard a story about an information wall--a human-made obstacle to good information share that created havoc.

As I listened to the story, I thought of ways to break down that information wall.

First, it's critical to create websites with essential information that are easy to access at anytime of day or night. In the story I read about, the information was difficult to access. Recently a colleague created a website to support our systemwide work with MCAS. I consulted that website daily as I proctored the test and navigated the school computers and systemwide infrastructure and MCAS routine. The website saved me time and helped me to do what was right in view of the tests. If there had been a well designed, easy to access website related to the story above, the havoc would not have occurred.

Next, information needs to be easy to read and understand. Too often those who create documents related to their field of expertise forget that they are communicating with people in other fields who are less familiar with the material. People have to make time to make information simple to access, read, and understand.

Also, information requirements should be easy to complete. Many documents in our system can be completed online in short time. This is positive and should lead the way for others to make information easy to access, complete, and turn in. One great app to support this kind of work is DocHub which allows you to fill out any form online and then immediately send that form into the location that requests the form.

Further there should be sensitivity to people who work away from good phone or tech access during the day. Elementary school teachers have little to no time during the day to do personal business--our jobs are very active as we work with and for young children. People who work with elementary school teachers have to be mindful of this, and perhaps need to schedule events on weekends, in the evenings, or better yet, during a scheduled release time or professional day to ensure that teachers have the time to access the needed information.

Information walls in any field create havoc and block the promise and potential possible. As much as possible we have to take down those walls by making information easy to read/understand, accessible, and timely.

At the grade level we do this with our TeamFive website, weekly newsletters, calendar, and email response--we work to serve students, colleagues, and family members well by anticipating information needs and seeking the best ways to communicate.

Our local union does the same with our union website and regular newsletters. We have many pages on the website to support teacher questions and needs. I can imagine that we will even add more pages in the days ahead as questions arise.

Timely calendars also help, and when possible, if calendars can be shared with individuals with plenty of lead time, that too helps to deconstruct information walls and obstacles.

In general, people profit when information is forthcoming and understandable while information walls stymie good work and create frustration, confusion, and a waste of time.

Why Change is Slow to Occur in Schools?

There's the popular joke that Rip Van Winkle wakes up and the only institution he recognizes is school because it hasn't changed that much.

I was reminded last night about why schools are slow to change.

First, change is messy--it's not a neat, happy set of steps. Instead worthy change creates debate, discussion, and disruption. Similarly, to forward change is to navigate an unpredictable, sometimes tense, path. Yet, if we don't change, and things stay the same, we won't do the good work possible--good work prompted by new research, tools, and knowledge.

Next, change challenges the status quo which makes people uncomfortable. If you've always done it a particular way, you may not be open to a new way.

Change also requires good strategic process. Too often people want change to be quick and easy, but that kind of worthy change is rare--instead good changes depends on transparency, inclusion, debate, discussion, reflection, and analysis. That takes time.

Change requires the voice and choice of all stakeholders--change by some for others also is never as rich as change that's supported and forwarded by all stakeholders.

I believe that schools won't change much until we embrace new models of distributive leadership and systematic work. Same structure will not produce new results.

I'm sure that there are many more reasons why schools are slow to change, but as I think this morning, these are the obstacles that arise.

Fuel?

It was good to wake up to Godin's post, Choosing Your Fuel, this morning. Godin notes that "The fuel you choose. . .determines how you will spend your days." and he lists a number of fuel sources by Richard Fenyman. As I look over the list, I choose the following fuels:
  • Big Dreams - I know what's possible in education, and I want to move in that direction with my work and effort.
  • Connection - I choose this because I hope "others will join me" since together, we do better.
  • Creative Itch - yes, "the voice inside. . .wants to be expressed."
  • Dissatisfaction - I know we can do better
  • Generosity - I like contributing
  • Professionalism - because it is what good educators do
  • Meaning - I want to do work that has meaning and makes a difference
Moving ahead in my field, education, is not always easy, but I am committed to continuing to hone my craft and do the best possible job with the work I do with and for children, their families, and colleagues. Onward.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Detour

I need lots of good energy this week as it's the fifth grade play--a big moment for the wonderful fifth graders.

I need to give them all I've got, yet I just received a big detour which sunk my energy, challenges my spirit, and is causing me to stay up way past my bedtime.

What's a teacher to do?

First I'll steer clear of all detractors in the days ahead--I don't need that right now.

Next I'll focus in on what I can do and that's to cheer the students along for their big night.

And I'll do what I can to finish the year with strength and positivity--summer will lend a new reprieve.

Finally I'll take the lessons learned via this path and keep them with me as I navigate next year's teaching road.


Clarity

For a long time, I gave that situation the benefit of the doubt, but now it's clear that there isn't a shiny side to that coin--it's one dark situation.

There's little need to enter that cavern or consider those worries, instead I'll steer in the direction that's welcoming, promising, and good, and away from the tempest that exists.

Picking Yourself Up After a Blow

I came home happy after an Sunday afternoon of shopping partly for props and costumes for a special student-teacher school event only to receive a one-two punch in the gut via unwelcome words related to teaching.

It's difficult enough to keep the good energy high in order to teach a large group of young children, and that energy has to be even higher for special events that require money from your own pocket and lots of extra time--yet there's little regard for any of that as when it comes to ratings, what matters most is obedience and silence.

I'm obedient, but I'm also outspoken which is not welcome by many who administrate me.

What's a teacher to do?

This is so discouraging.

Those who administer the one-two verbal or silent-treatment punches again and again forget what it's like to be a classroom teacher. They forget what a bit of encouragement and enthusiasm does to help energize an educator. They forget that when teachers are feeling valued and energized, those good feelings are transferred to their students. They forget that teachers who are invested do care and do speak up when it comes to serving their children well.

If you read my blog, you know this isn't the first blow I've received. I get "punched" a lot in this profession of teaching with put-downs, lack of support, silence, and more. It's not easy.

But when I'm with the children teaching and learning, it's all good. I love what I do.

Yet, when these extraneous events occur, events far removed from the day-to-day work and investment I make, it's wholly discouraging and demeaning--the kind of pain that keeps you up too late at night.

Why Would Some Deny Ideas for Betterment?

Why do some deny or ignore ideas for betterment?

Why do they turn a blind eye or deaf ear to new ideas, questions, and share?

Is it because it means extra work?

Is there disregard because the source is a teacher, one who works with children day in and day out?

Is it because the individual believes he/she is more experienced, intellectual, and knowledgeable about the issue(s)?

I'm not sure.

Doing Your Best When You Are Not Valued

I am clearly not valued by many administrators in the system I work in. I know this by the comments they make and the way they rarely to never respond to my ideas or hard work.

Fortunately parents, students and community members support me well with enthusiasm and care. I am honored by this.

Why the gap?

I believe that the administrators who don't support me feel that it is my job to follow their directives without opinion, thought, question, or idea. They see me as the dutiful soldier in the field whose job it is to obey orders. Sometimes I am unable to silently obey because as a teacher who reads and researches and as one who is observant of her students and their families, I notice areas of concern, potential for betterment, and student needs. This observation, reading and research as well as my many years of experience prompt me to speak up, ask questions, and advocate for what is right and good rather than that which has always been a particular way or a directive that has been set far from the classroom, research, or reading.

Parents and students are in steady contact with me. They know that my first priority is doing what I can to teach the children well. They realize that I am open to their ideas and suggestions, and work carefully with my colleagues to teach every child well.

It's difficult to work in an atmosphere that does not support you well--an arena that continually challenges what you read and research to be right and true. Of course, I don't have all the answers, but I do have considerable experience in the field and spend lots of time reading and researching. When you work in a system like this you have to continually get the energy from inside yourself and outside of the school system. Fortunately I have good colleagues who collaborate with me to do good work for the children.

So what's a teacher to do?

I'll carry on and do the best I can day in and day out to teach well. I'll do as I'm directed by my many administrators and speak up if I feel we can do better, more, or different to serve children well even if my advocacy is not welcome.

I know that those quieter and more dutiful than me are rated with higher regard. They don't speak up too often or make waves, but instead go along as directed. Yet, when I see such great potential for change and betterment, I just can't stay silent--I have to speak up as that's one gift I bring to my field, an ability to see potential and promise that exists to make schools better for every child.






In Some Educational Arenas, Silence is Golden

Once again I was rated lower than others because I speak out and sometimes create tension due to my advocacy. There are many who feel that it's a teacher's place to stay quiet and do the work directed without opinion or comment.

When I first started teaching many years ago this was not an issue. Teachers, at that time, freely discussed ideas and led their work with children. However, in the past twenty years, that freedom has diminished quite a bit which has prompted me to write more emails and speak up more.

As a teacher researcher and learner, I am continually noticing ways that we can improve schools to serve all students well, yet in the climate I work in there is little opportunity to share ideas if you are at the teacher level--the teacher level is mainly directed by a supervisory group that includes multiple administrators. When I share ideas with most of those administrators, I receive little to no feedback. Sometimes I am met with sarcastic remarks and put-downs too.

Many advise me to stay silent. I can't do that as I would not be doing my job which is to advocate for children and look for ways to reach greater success with each student and their learning. Others have helped me to learn to advocate. This has been helpful, yet in my current climate, teacher advocacy is only embraced for some, but not others. I have ideas about why this might be true, but I have no data to prove my ideas.

So, to get a top-notch rating, I would have to become silent and not share my ideas for betterment. Some may say that's not true and that I just have to learn to be quiet and calm when I am challenged, ignored, silenced, or put-down--that's difficult for any person to do.

I always test my actions against an "end-of-life" scale, and in this case that scale would ask, Would I prefer to be known for a better rating or would I prefer to be known as an advocate for children at the end of my life? Of course, I would rather go to my grave having been one who advocates for children--that's more important to me.

As a teacher-researcher and one who is committed to doing the best possible job and moving towards betterment, I will continue to speak up if I believe there are ideas that will help us to serve children better. I will also speak up if I see contradiction, troubles, or issues that demand attention. I will always work to speak up with respect and care, and share my feelings respectfully even when challenged greatly.

It's hurtful to me to receive low marks for having the courage to speak up and debate tough issues especially since I typically have to do this on my own since the climate sends a clear message that speaking up, asking questions, and sharing ideas is not welcome in many areas of the arena where I work.

Fortunately there are people and places where ideas are embraced and betterment is the goal--I will continue to ally myself to those individuals and places, and as much as possible steer clear of those who find new ideas, speaking up, and debate to be more trouble than it's worth. Onward.

Poor Communication

So much potential and possibility is hindered by poor communication. We have to work to make communication accessible and clear to help everyone reach the potential possible.

Professional Path: Updating the Teaching/Learning Schedule

For the past few months, I've been deliberating about what a good path to deeper learning will look like since I have some rich, deeper learning/teaching goals set for the year ahead.

Finally, this morning, a positive routine came to me which includes the following:

Summer: Focus on professional research, reading, online study and writing related to main areas of professional growth and interest: math education, social/emotional learning (SEL), STEAM, and cultural proficiency. Summer study at MTA Summer Conference.

School Year 2017-2018
  • Morning reading reflection
  • Weekend reading/reflection
  • School Time: Hands-on learning/teaching with students and colleagues
  • Professional Connections: In-school teams, out-of-school online share via chats/reading, out-of-school committee work via MTA/DESE
This is a reasonable routine that focuses attention/direction on the areas I've identified for deeper learning and practice development. Onward. 

School Year Orientation

I have been considering the idea of bettering our school year orientation in order to help every child and family start the learning year with strength. The more I consider this topic, read about it, and discuss it with stakeholders, the more I recognize that bettering our school year orientations is a good idea.

This idea arose in me a few years ago as I attended my son's college orientation--the orientation was awesome and really helped both parents and students start college with strength and awareness. Now that my son is about to graduate, I must say that his college experience has been top-notch, and this is partly to do with the fact that we could help him navigate all the opportunities that existed thanks to the early days of freshman year when we received such a great orientation.

On Friday my team will discuss our ideas to better the orientation process for fifth graders entering our classrooms in September. I expect we'll discuss the following aspects of a new orientation process:

Orientation Day
A day before the start of school to help all students who are distanced from the school's geographic environment and academic program to have a small-group orientation that's enjoyable and helpful with regard to the expectations and potential the school year holds. I imagine that this day will include the following:
  • Lead time for parents and students to make arrangements to take part in the day's events.
  • Transportation for those who need it.
  • Places to host the event including the school classrooms, local places of interest, and a place to have dinner together and get to know each other.
  • A combination of serious preparation exercises and enjoyable relationship-building activities.
  • A serious teacher-student-family member(s) intake process where a large number of questions are discussed to get to know as much as possible about who a student is and what he/she needs for success in the year ahead.
In-Take Interview
I believe old-time introductory activities such as many parent nights and early year get-to-know-you activities don't provide enough good information to teach children well. I believe, like hospitals, schools need better family member/child in-take processes that include the following types of questions:
  • What are your/your child's strengths, talents, and interests?
  • Describe a time when your child was most enthusiastic and successful with regard to learning? What elements made that situation so successful?
  • Describe a time when learning and school was unsuccessful for you or your child?  What elements led to the lack of success?
  • Does your child have all the supplies needed for a successful school year including technology and WIFI? (Have the supplies the child/family can't provide available for them at the orientation)
  • What will be your child's transportation to and from school each day? Do you have any needs or questions in that regard?
  • What is the best time and way to contact family members?
  • Can family members help out in any way during the school year such as chaperone field trips, volunteer in the class, or help out during any one of the many special events that will occur? (Have a list of all special events and dates as many families need lots of lead time to take a day off work or arrange child care/transportation so they can help out.)
  • Will your child be able to participate in the following activities: after school homework club, after school math club, the after school activities program, student council, or special programming? Will you need a scholarship for these events? (Have scholarship forms ready to fill out with family members?)
  • (Ask if appropriate) Does your family work with the local social worker? If so, how? Is there a need for the school and social worker to work together on behalf of your child?
  • Since a lot of children develop confidence and social relationships with students during extracurricular activities, I'm wondering if your child participates in any of the many extracurricular activities available at school or in the community? This is a good way to help your child connect with others.
  • How will your child access lunch and snacks daily? Does your child have what he/she needs to bring in a healthy snack and water every day? (If appropriate to ask) Does your child need a free and reduced lunch? (Have forms available to fill out right at the meeting)
  • Do you and/or your child speak another language at home? Has your child been involved with ELL services in the past?
  • Does your child have or have had in the past an IEP? Has she/he had special education services of any kind in the past?
  • Does your child have any physical or medical issues that the school needs to be aware of?
  • What else do I need to know about your child in order to teach him/her well?
The in-take interview should be a welcoming event where the educators are trying to figure out how to best build a strong learning/teaching relationship with the child. It would be good to have refreshments available and a comfortable setting for this event.

Start-of-Year Get-to-Know Each Other Project
Last year the students made a great Three-Words video which helped to build a strong, respectful class culture. I can't share our video because students used their last names, but I can share this post which describes the project. 

Showcase Portfolios
Our team has been developing our use of showcase portfolios as one way to collect, share, and reflect on student learning. The initial showcase portfolio efforts begin with the Happiness Survey where students reflect on what makes them happy. This provides a very positive start. Other important start-of-the-year elements of this portfolio include the parent-student survey and the "What I wish you knew about me" student letters. The showcase portfolio in a sense becomes a storybook about the child's learning during the fifth grade year. It also serves as a point of discussion throughout the year as students, families, and teachers make decisions about learning.

Curriculum Night
Traditionally this has been a night for parents to learn about the school program. As a team, the fifth grade teachers present what's important about the year ahead. I imagine we'll revisit this aspect of orientation too to see how we can make it better, but I must say I think this is a strong piece of the overall orientation at this point. 

Old time school parent nights have a "factory" like quality similar to old time school structures of children sitting in rows all day listening and responding to teachers. It's time to rethink how we orient children and their families to the school year, and it's important that these orientations are empowering, enjoyable, and engaging events that help every child, family, and teacher know what's important with regard to getting the school year off to a positive start. 

The Week Ahead: What Matters?

Teamwork and Respect
After play practice on Friday, I had a serious talk with students about what's required for optimal teamwork. It's clear that for a few, the long play practices are tiring, yet it's important that students have an opportunity to try out this kind of learning and performing. For some, it will be an important step to their participation in countless arts events, and for others, it will offer the recognition that drama may not be their first choice when it comes to extracurricular activities or their future study and/or careers.

The play, in many ways, is also a lesson on teamwork and respect. As students practice they are learning about their role as part of a team, and as part of a team, they are learning to help each other out, encourage one another, and demonstrate respect and care about each others' strengths, interests, and challenges too.

I had to be a bit strong as I spoke to students about this need for teamwork, and I stated that it's not fair for any one person to upset the performance for all students. I enlisted a bit of parent support in this as well. Sometimes teachers and parents have to use strong words and cautionary tales/advice to lead children forward. We know from our own lives, that learning these lessons early on, helps children navigate their lives in the future.

Fifth Grade Play
Once we complete our final practice on Monday, it will be time to encourage the team with positivity. At that point we all will have given the performance our best time and attention, and then we will celebrate and enjoy the excellence of team and talent that the students portray as they entertain schoolmates, teachers, family members and friends.

Safety
As seasons change, I give safety talks. I try to help students anticipate the kinds of problems that can exist and give them a way to deal with those problems. During this season, the problems that can exist for students include street safety, water safety, stranger safety, and fire safety. Generally the rule of thumb when it comes to street safety is to be very careful when crossing streets and walking near busy streets--with increased traffic in our area and so many who are distracted by phones and other tech devices, students have to be extra cautious. Similarly, students have to be safe by water. As tempting as it may be to jump in for a swim, children should never go swimming without an adult present, and they should never dive into water without checking the depth of the water first. Stranger safety is a bit more important in the warm weather months simply because there are more people out and around, and fire safety is important as people begin to barbecue and have camp fires. Parents who may not have grown up in this area or who may not have spent lots of time with lots of children might not realize the safety lessons important for young children at the turn of each season, so I think it's important for teachers and safety officials to keep those messages alive.

Math Assessments
Students will take the final systemwide math assessments this week as well. That will give them a chance to "show what they know" about the final standards which we have already reviewed. The assessments will also give me the information I need to complete standards-based report cards which identify which standards students have mastered in math and which standards they are still working on. Parents and future teachers can use this information to work on the gaps and provide enrichment where needed with summer study via Khan Academy and other venues as well as lessons in sixth grade.

Biography Project
Students will continue to read about their "global changemakers" and take notes. Soon they'll start writing their presentations, completing mini posters, and drawing portraits too.

PLC Focus: Improving our Student Orientation for 2017-2018 School Year
Our team will meet to discuss these efforts.

Thanks to our team approach to teaching all fifth graders, so far this has been the best end-of-school year I can remember. It is well choreographed and organized allowing both teachers and students to enjoy the final days rather than experience too much stress or worry.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Specifically Charting the Focus Ahead: A Joyful and Meaningful Time

The calendar is set for the final weeks of school. Everyday is filled with wonderful learning and teaching activities, and as I think about dignity today, I want to think more specifically about the focus of all of these events.

Final Math Assessments and Goals
Several students are about ready to complete an expected online math goal. I want to make the time and provide the support to students so they can complete this goal. What's important here is that the goal provides students with a worthy foundation of math understanding and visualization--a foundation that will support later study.

All students have to take the final math assessments too which they will do at the end of next week. It's important that students understand that this is a systemwide requirement and one that gives them an opportunity to show what they know. Doing their best is what is important since what we learn from student assessments will help us to help parents and next year's teachers teach the students well.

Biography Project: Global Changemakers
Essentially this project provides every child with one global changemaker "mentor" since their study will reveal how one transformative individual lived/lives and to made/makes a difference in the world. These modern and historical "mentors" will inspire students now and in the future and the project will provide students with critical thinking, research, writing and presentation skills.

Field Day
Field Day is all about good sportsmanship, fun, health and team. It's also a chance for those students who love and enjoy the physical fitness aspects of life the most to shine.

Field Studies
Field studies related to historic Boston and local wetlands will provide students with an opportunity to learn in rich city and nature landscapes. We hope this learning will inspire students and families to continue this kind of learning in their lives outside of school as well.

STEAM
Students love the hands-on science, tech, engineering, art, and math design and exploration activities. They will have the chance to engage in a number of these activities at the end of the year--activities which teach them how to work with their individual and collective creativity, knowledge, research, and skill to innovate, invent, and design solutions to real-world problems.

Fifth Grade Play
The fifth grade play teaches students how to work with the arts as a team. They learn that a good performance depends on all of their skills, talents, and attention to the team needs and efforts. They will also learn the magic of the arts as they watch the way their collective performance brings joy, smiles, interest, and emotion to the audiences of schoolmates and family members.

Celebrations and Fun
The end-year celebrations are well orchestrated providing students with the right amount of memory, reflection, relaxation, and joyful celebration. The celebrations signal the end of the year, and for our students the end of elementary school, and this is important because it's important to acknowledge the important milestones in life--milestones that bring meaning and happiness.

As one teacher involved in all of these events, what's important is to be present for the students coaching and helping every child to get the most out of each event in positive, meaningful, and joyful ways. Onward.

Teaching with Human Dignity: What Messages Do You Send as You Teach?

What messages do our decisions, acts, rules, and programs send to students? This is an important question to ask whenever we make a decision that involves students.

In general I think we want to achieve the following messages when we act with and for students:
  • You matter: We want students to know we care about them and they are important in our world.
  • This decision will provide you with important tools and perspective for your future: We want to connect the decisions and actions we make to our desire to help students develop well for a future of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
  • I see you and I respect you: We want students to know that we see and respect who they are and how they are wonderfully similar and different from all the other students.
  • I am working with and for you: We want students to know that we are working with them to develop as learners--none of us have all the answers, and no one is without merit or importance as we learn together. Also, teachers are there to serve students and not the other way around.
  • Learning is meaningful and transformative: We want students to know that what they are doing as learners will truly change their lives in positive ways. For example during our recent biography study, students are essentially learning how to live by reading about the life of one famous world changemaker. Changemakers can serve as mentors to us as we make choices and act in our lives. 
  • Learning is fun and playful: We want students to understand what learning is with the latest cognitive and social/emotional research, and that learning is, in part, playful and fun. 
The programs and lessons we plan, the way we set up our classrooms, the tone of our voice, the conversations we have, the demeanor we share, and the care we put into every aspect of the teaching/learning program sends a message to students. It's integral that the messages that we send elevate, empower, and engage students in ways that leave them with self confidence, a sense of responsibility, and the tools to go forward with strength.

The questions in the chart below are one way that we can assess our work in this regard. 


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Needled

Like a pin cushion, you feel the pricks of one troubling remark, directive, or expectation over and over again. At first you let it go. Then you begin to feel a bit bothered, and after that you really have to make a decision about how to respond.

We probably have all been needled one time or another, and perhaps we've needled knowingly or unknowingly too. The key is to figure out how to respond to needling with respect and good process.
  • Listen carefully to what the needler is saying and not saying.
  • Respond as you would hope to be responded to with respect, care, and honest intent.
  • Keep track of the needler's efforts and speak to look for trends and to understand better.
  • Figure out a peaceful path in light of the needler's constant barrage.
It's the time of the school year where needling can happen for many reasons. It can be as simple as a hot classroom or as complex as a troubling family issue. It's important not to let needling get to you, but instead to react with a professional, well-meaning response. 

Silence Can Be Used to Intimidate

A response of silence to questions and quandary can be considered a form of intimidation. When people repeatedly ignore questions or not respond to requests, they send a worrisome message that you are not worth the time or energy that a response takes.

As much as possible, it is my intent to respond to requests, questions, and issues in a timely, polite manner. If I don't respond, please let me know. Also if you are not pleased with the response, let me know that too.

I worry about those who don't respond. I keep track to understand trends and try to find, perhaps, a better way, but all in all consistent silence with regard to responses to questions, concerns, and issues is intimidating and disconcerting. Onward.

Parenting and Teaching: Summer Suggestions

As you can imagine, I look forward to summer vacation. Students look forward to summer vacation too.

I'm not a fan of full-year school as I believe both students and teachers profit from the difference that summer months bring. However, I am sensitive to families for whom summer vacation is a burden due to the need to work and the challenge of finding and affordable, positive care options for children. What I wish for those children and families is the opportunity to attend wonderful summer camps and explorations--a chance to learn in different environments with lots of hands-on, creative learning--the kind that rich families have afforded their children for generations.

There are many ways that families can make summer a wonderful experience for their children including the following:
  • Think about your child's interests and passions, then find camps, summer programs, and events that will help your child to develop those passions and talents. Note that many, many camps provide scholarships--don't be afraid to ask about that if that will help your child attend these wonderful events. Also in the past, I've worked at camps to afford my children's admission--that's another option for those who have the time. 
  • List the museums, parks, zoos, nature preserves and other local attractions. Find out if your local library or school offers free or reduced admission. Plan to visit those local attractions throughout the summer.
  • Discover local nature paths, hills, and mountains--plan hikes, camping, and other outdoor adventures.
  • Think of a good schedule for family life, a schedule that includes daily reading and some fun math practice too such as playing cards, board games, Minecraft, or other online entertaining math games. 
  • Plan a family vacation. This doesn't have to be fancy, but if you can afford it, one night at a campground or inexpensive hotel with a pool can be fun for the whole family. Day trips are lots of fun too. Public transportation often has routes to all kinds of interesting places.
  • Watch great movies together. Look online for a list of classics or movies that every family should see and schedule a weekly movie night with popcorn and a family film. There's also great series of shows available too that a whole family can enjoy or single shows like 60 Minutes that lead to great family conversations.
Having a family meeting ahead of the summer days can help set the stage on how you're going to make summer special for everybody. This is a good time to get started with the planning. 

Can't Do That. . .

I'm clearing the professional path to hone in on what really matters to me which is teaching every child well. I know there's more we can do, and that's where my attention lies. What will I do and advocate for:
  • Better intake system
  • Better coordination with health/social service agencies
  • Greater collaboration amongst all members of the learning team
  • Updating classroom websites
  • Creating better scaffolding of content, knowledge, and skill to support optimal differentiation
  • Reading professional books that have up-to-date research, inspiration and information about teaching well
  • Writing grants to support transforming my classroom to a modern teaching/learning environment
  • Reflect on and better collaboration in certain spheres that are currently confusing
  • Healthy, active living which leads to energy and good work
The invitations to work on multiple projects have been wonderful. I am so honored to have been invited, but deep down, I know that the right thing to do right now is better the work I do right here in and for the classroom This is the work that matters now.

I'll use this work as I write to. I'll share highlights, questions, learning curves, and research for those who may be interested in this direction. 

At every decision, we choose a path, and it's best if we choose that path with an eye on the future and attention to these questions:
  • What work calls me?
  • What work can I do well for others?
  • What work will I be proud to say I've accomplished at the end of my career?
  • What work energizes me?
  • Where are my talents and abilities best directed?

Start a Test with a Couple Easy, Inspiring Questions

I watched a young child take a test.

This child is sometimes discouraged when it comes to test taking and at times will even stop taking the test.

As she took a recent test, I noticed that the first question was an easy, accessible, and inspiring question.

The little girl knew the answer and that energized her efforts for the rest of the test.

This reminds me that it's good to start any test or assessment with a question that's accessible and inspiring to all--that sets the stage for better work, effort, and performance.

Trump Times Continued. . .

I've written a lot about Trump times in view of the daily events related to the decisions and actions of the executive branch.

I must say that I'm relieved that an independent investigator has been hired to figure out what happened with regard to Russia's influence on the 2016 election and our government in general. I am pleased that this investigator seems to be well embraced by lawmakers from both Republican and Democratic parties as well as political leaders throughout our nation.

As I often write, I see from one set of eyes and experiences. I will continue to read and study about the issues that impact our government, but now that the investigation is happening, I hope to give my energy to my own work and endeavor.

Helping One Another: Strong Schools

A good and dedicated colleague was unready for a specific expectation. This colleague was not ready because she was so busy taking good care of students that she didn't have time to do the extraneous task asked of her. The colleague was stressed.

This is when helping one another comes in--who does have a few minutes available to pitch in when a colleague is wholly busy with student needs, the first priority for every teacher? How should expectations be re-looked at in situations like this?

One great aspect of our shared teaching model is that we work so closely together that an issue like the one described above rarely happens as we're always pitching in to help each other--the stress is far reduced in comparison to the one-teacher-one-classroom model. In so many ways we can bring our individual expertise, interest, and time to help the whole team.

Also, as educators, it's important to re-look at expectations over time and streamline those expectations so that most time is spent on teaching students well. Recently an administrator streamlined expectations to allow educators more time for tasks that serve students well--this was a welcome effort.

In good, strong teaching/learning environments discussion and debate is ongoing, communication about what has happened, is happening, and will happen is ready and regular, and people work as a team with respect and care for one another--all positions are valued and all are seen as vital team members.

It's critical that we build communities of care in schools, and those are communities are places where people help one another in ways that matter.

What Work Energizes You?

I try lots and lots of varying education-related ventures, and the more I try, the more I realize that what energizes me most in education is working to teach every child well. I love the challenge, creativity, and research that this goal awakens in me.

Meeting the goal of teaching children well includes the following efforts:
  • Optimal collegial collaboration
  • Lots of good reading and research
  • Attention to pedagogy, pacing, observation, listening, and parent-student collaboration
  • Creating an optimal teaching/learning environment
  • Advocacy with regard to what students and teachers need for optimal teaching and learning
With this in mind, I said no to a number of invitations recently--wonderful professional invitations, but invitations that would take me away from this valued goal.

Instead, as noted before, I want to spend my summer reading a lot and working towards my development as an energized, committed, knowledgeable,and successful teacher of young children. This has been my life's work and it is work I continue to be dedicated to. 

Do What You Can: Ally with Energizing Individuals and Groups

Yesterday I was caught by surprise. I had offered my idea happily only to be told it was not welcome. I forgot that there will always be people, places, and groups that don't welcome who you are or what you think or know. That's the way life is.

You can give these arenas good effort, rationale, and outreach, but after consistent pushback, you may decide that it's just not worth the time or effort to share your thinking in these arenas, and better to just do as you are directed as long as those directions do not hurt or harm people. Last year a colleague shared this thinking with me after she had been chided for sharing her ideas in the same arena. I countered with words like this, "How can you not speak up. You're a great teacher with so much knowledge--you've done such great work for so long." I was sad to see such a talented colleague demeaned and quieted--it was a loss for all of us not to be able to hear her voice and listen to her good ideas and experience.

The quandary that exists is that it is hard for me to imagine why others wouldn't want to entertain ideas for betterment or discuss what a classroom teacher knows and desires for his/her classroom and learning environment to better the experience of school for children. There are some, however, that I fear see classroom teachers more as "robots" or "do-its," not professional educators who have and continue to spend considerable time reading, researching, and reflecting about practice. As you know, one reason I'm a big fan of distributive leadership models is that those models give voice and choice to educators on the front lines of teaching rather than treat educators as the assembly line workers who are told what to do and are not allowed to think or use their own ideas and knowledge.

That being said, the lack of voice and choice does continue in pockets of education everywhere, and when possible, one needs to minimize the connections to those arenas as it's very difficult for educators to do their jobs well with little voice and choice--that's not how true learning and teaching works. True, effective teaching and learning is not a passive activity, instead it's an active, thoughtful, and evolving endeavor where educators collaborate, read, research, reflect, implement, and adapt countless ideas, knowledge, and response to best teach every child in their charge--this is the good teaching work I am committed to.

I am disheartened by old factory models of educational leadership and work--the kinds of models that don't regard educators with respect, good communication, debate/discussion, and care. Fortunately I also work in multiple arenas where educators are respected and work with terrific collegiality--these are the arenas that nurture terrific teaching and learning work and practice. These are the arenas where our service to children grows exponentially as we are seldom worried, demeaned, or unheard, but instead mostly valued and listened to as we work together to elevate what we can do with and for others. This is real teaching at its best. The new shared model I work in is an example of a teaching/learning arena like this--what we're able to do with this model is incredible and growing all the time.

I see setbacks like the recent surprise as a reminder that it is important to ally oneself to those that empower and energize the good work possible and steer clear as much as possible from those that continually demean, disrespect, and disregard you--those that rarely answer an email, don't enlist your thinking about decisions that impact you, withhold important information, and look down on you regularly.

Our detractors, when considered well, can serve as the sandpaper that refine our edges. They can also lead to our demise if we are not observant and thoughtful about how we handle their response to our words and acts. It's best to keep track of what happens in writing in order to understand and also to be able to represent one's rights if needed.




Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In the Face of Troubling Circumstances, Speak Up Early and Often

When troubling issues arise, speak up early and often.

An early respectful focus on troubling issues typically allows a ready, reasonable response--a response that rectifies the issue before it turns into a too-big, too-troubling, confusing issue.

Years ago I let an issue fester and as you might imagine, it blew up. I was afraid to speak up right away with persistence, detail, and evidence. That was a mistake.

With respect to our government today, I wonder what the discourse would be like if people in the know had spoken up earlier about Russia's influence on the election--perhaps we wouldn't be in the mess we're in right now.

As I think about my work as an educator, the same is true. When we witness troubling behaviors and actions, it's best to speak up right away and deal with the issue rather than let it develop over time--we have to trust our instincts, and when we think there's trouble, we need to investigate.

With family members, we often say, no question is too small. We encourage parents to speak up sooner than later and try to share information with plenty of lead time in case there's a concern or need for change or clarity.

The key to speaking up early and often is to use respect and sometimes humor is also appropriate in situations like this. In most cases, there is no ill intent, but instead a lack of understanding or clear perspective.

To better what we do, speak up early and often with care, respect, dignity, and responsibility--that kind of solutions-oriented action will replace regrets and set our efforts in positive directions.

Lend Focus and Perspective

Taking some time to discuss focus and perspective helps to elevate students' effort, collaboration, and result.

For example, this morning before students take a science test, I'll lend the perspective that it's always best to take your time and do your best. When  you do your best, you find out what you can really do with a test like this and it's one way to determine what you know and don't know with regard to the test standards. It's good to get into the habit of taking your time and doing your best. I'll also lend the perspective of what it takes to do well on this particular test since strategies differ dependent on test structure and focus. This test requires careful reading, marking up the text, eliminating multiple choice answers that don't fit, choosing the best answer, and responding to open response questions carefully with detail, scientific language, and length.

On Thursday we'll have a meeting about perspective related to the fifth grade play. I'll give students' the audience perspective. First we'll talk about the fact that their acting and singing will entertain the younger students greatly. I'll tell them that they will bring the young children into the play scenes and heighten their imaginations. The young children will see them as actors and actresses, and if they can use good eye contact, clear-slow-expressive speak, and lively song, they will give a great gift to all the children in the school. Then as I speak of the audience of parents that will come at night, I'll remind them of how proud their parents are of them and how parents will be watching to see them perform with their best effort and enthusiasm. I'll remind them that no parent wants to see their child fooling around on the sidelines or not taking the play seriously--they look forward to seeing the best that students can do. These play perspectives will help students rise to the occasion of the wonderful fifth grade play.

After the play, I'll lend perspective about the biography project, a project where students each study a global changemaker past or present who inspires them. During this project children line up in chronological order based on the changemakers' birth dates. The children dress in costume, act in character, and share a number of learning projects including an "interview" with the famous person, a digital mini poster, and potentially a portrait too. I'll tell students that this project is a GREAT learning project for the whole school community, and that their ability to share their research through writing, costumes, and acting truly helps everyone to gain a better understanding of history and what it means to be a changemaker in a great variety of fields including science, the arts, government, medicine, and business. I will tell them that their good work on this project will serve to inspire younger children and adults alike. I know this perspective will help students to do their best work on the reading, research, and project work. It will elevate student effort.

Perspective matters a lot when it comes to any work or project, and when that perspective is shared with a group, it can elevate an entire team to support one another and do their best work. It's important to share perspective in order to set the stage for good work and effort for any big project or effort.

How do you share perspective with your students?  Why does this matter? What would you add to this post?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Bravest Among Us are Peacemakers

The brave women and men that surround us are those that work for peace.

They are the loving parents, bright children, dedicated scholars, working men and women, courageous leaders, creative artists, earnest religious men and women, and citizens everywhere who, rather than take up arms and spend their days planning for destructive unjust and violent acts, seek ways to work with one another to create a peaceful, prosperous world for all.

The numbers of peacemakers, I believe, far outnumber warriors--those who spend their lives working to harm and hurt others directly or indirectly.

It takes courage to stand up to those who disagree with you armed only with words and the willingness to discuss and debate issues. Those who are brave are willing to compromise too as they work for peace and justice for all people.

I shudder as I think of those who work to harm others, particularly others who are innocent people who simply spend their days loving and caring for family members and working to earn a living and do well by neighbor and friend. I wonder how anyone can strike out against innocents. I surmise that they are angry for past wrongs done to them or their families or perhaps they are impaired in some way, but they certainly have no idea about the brevity of wonder of life.

Life is very, very short in contrast to time--we are but a blink of an eye, a drop of rain, a grain of sand, a glint of light--so tiny in the sea of time are we, yet our potential for good and lasting moments of generosity, care, kindness, love, and grace are amazing. We can do so much good in our short lives, yet too often we don't seize that opportunity, and some sadly do the opposite.

The bravest among us are the peacemakers, those who work day in and day out to spread goodwill and peace to others. We all can point to those people in our midst and we will do well to emulate them in our own lives as much as possible.

The Trump Train Points Us in the Direction of an Independent Investigation

Many of us ride the Trump train every day as news is revealed about the ongoing query related to Russia's influence on the 2016 election.

I'm sure many, like me, are wondering about what is true and what is not true. Like me, many probably want to move on and out of this situation, but the evidence continues to mount that suspicious and illegal activity occurred.

If we allow ourselves to deny suspicious and illegal activity that challenges our democracy, then we are setting the stage for our country's demise. We are a country that relies on The Constitution as our foundation document and law of the land. We have a great country, and it's our duty to investigate any matter that challenges our country's laws and our goal of "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" for all citizens.

I am dedicated to reading and writing about this issue because history shows us that seemingly small and confusing issues like this lead to grave injustices if not investigated at the start. Clearly this issue is not going to go away, in fact it grows by the hour and every hour that our lawmakers sit back and not take a strategic approach to investigating what truly happened is an hour lost with regard to the promise and potential our democracy holds to forward our country in ways that matter to all citizens.

I will keep reading and writing. I will try to find out all I can in order to advocate for what is right and good in this matter. I have no idea as to what will really come out in a thorough investigation, but I know that Americans need to understand what happened and then work to eliminate or minimize any future acts that compromise our democracy.

In the back of my mind I worry that some had or have a very troubling plan in mind for our country--a plan that elevates some and diminishes others, and it appears that the plan may also choose sides with regard to culture, gender, and other factors that define our great diversity in the USA. It's hard to believe that this would be true, but the more troubling facts are released the more this seems plausible. It appears that a few may think that they know better than the many citizens in our country. As I've noted before, I hope that I am wrong in this idea, but I worry that I am not wrong.

Whatever the case may be, there are enough Americans who are truly concerned about what is happening and we deserve a thorough independent investigation of Russia's influence on our election and the current leadership of President Trump with regard to ethics and lawfulness.



What does the Rainbow of Teaching and Learning Look Like?

As I strive to achieve the "rainbow" of teaching and learning, it's important that I define that vision.

What does it look like? What's included?

Let's start with the teacher.

The teacher is a well educated, energetic, positive leader who collaborates well with others to continually evolve the educational landscape and program in an effort to teach every child well.

What is teaching well?

Teaching well is the synthesis of knowledge, concept, and skill goals with students' needs and interests. As an end point of teaching well, we want every child to be a confident leader and curator of their own learning efforts and choices. We want students to understand how they can develop, utilize, and adapt skill, concept, and knowledge to achieve their dreams, live good lives, contribute and be happy.

Teaching well depends on collegial, student, family, and community collaboration and optimal programming.

To teach well educators have to collaborate with students, families, colleagues, and the community to craft optimal programs and schedules of study. These programs consist of in-school and out-of-school events and initiatives. The programs continually evolve and make good use of expert visitors, special events, advantageous tools, and thoughtful objectives.

Effective systems promote teaching/learning excellence.

The way systems work matter a lot with regard to excellence in teaching and learning. In the best of systems, distributive leadership is utilized in advantageous ways providing all stakeholders with voice and choice. These distributive models of leadership put all members of the learning community in places of leadership where they work with other members of the learning team to continually develop and utilize optimal efforts to reach the best possible success and positivity for every child.

Problems lead to greater growth and better work.

In these systems, stakeholders reflect regularly and utilize problems as points of discussion, collaboration, and direction when it comes to bettering the work we do individually and collectively. Problems provide us with a direction for betterment and allow us to identify where we can do more or better to serve students.

As I think of this rainbow of teaching and learning, I can identify areas for my own growth and development--areas I'll focus on in the coming months as I work with colleagues to continually improve what we can do.

How do we assess our efforts?

As we reflect, it is essential to assess our efforts as individuals and teams. There are many ways in which we can do this. These questions can lead those assessments:

  • Are students happy, enthusiastic, and leading their efforts to learn well? If not, why not and what more can we do?
  • Are students achieving the goals set? If not, why not? Are the goals reasonable? Does the program support the goals? 
  • Is there more we can do to match our teaching to updated research and knowledge? What do our research and development efforts look like? How can we better these routines in order to evolve our program in ways that matter to students and their families?
  • Are families happy with the program? What more would they add or modify to make the program better? 
While surveys are one way to attain information, it seems to me that in the classroom situation, the better way is through face-to-face conversation and lots of observation. It is the back and forth conversations that the intimacy of classroom life avails that helps most when it comes to improving what we can do to serve all children well.

Personally, what does this mean?
I've set a host of goals for next year's work which are outlined on this page. I know that greater attention to intake efforts and early year get-to-know students/families efforts will develop what we're able to do. I also know that our collective efforts to map the teaching/learning year will help us achieve more. And the analysis of multiple data points, observations, conversations will help us to review and develop  both individual and team goals. 



Grindstone: Not Glamorous, but Necessary

It's a time in my career that can be characterized by a grindstone. It's not a glorious time, but a time of daily effort, thoughtful work, and striving for something more and better. For a long time I've reached out beyond myself to advocate for systems and efforts to support good work. Fortunately much of what I've wanted, I now have which is incredible. The next steps of this education journey right now lie in my hands and my efforts--the betterment has to come from me right now and nowhere else.

This is a good place to be, a place I've yearned for, and now the key is to stay the course and do the good work possible to move to the next step of teaching and learning well. I'm excited about this place, but it's also a bit daunting as I know it will require considerable effort and attention. Onward.

Staying the Course: Teaching in May

Right now all the energy has to be directed towards staying the course, the course of end-of-year paperwork, student support, and program completion.

Research and study will be put on hold while we mainly put all of our energy into a strong finish.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Clear the Path of Distractions

Good focus on objectives, goals, and vision clears the path of distractions.

Simplifying your collection of materials objects and unnecessary events also clears the path of distractions.

Give away what you don't need.

Focus in on what matters and then take that path, acting, reflecting, and redirecting as needed.

When a distraction is too great it can mean that the distraction is actually our path, so while we need to clear the path of distractions, we also have to give those distractions some thought and analysis too.

Onward.

Injustice and Resolve

No one wants to be accused of injustice.

None of us want to contribute to unjust systems, acts, and efforts.

Yet, unknowingly, that will happen.

Instead we always have to be on the lookout for injustice and in the face of injustice, we have to speak up and act.

How does one define injustice? A simple Internet search lends an answer.


Then think about what injustice looks like in your family, community, state, and nation. How can you contribute to change.

Change begins with observation then conversation and collaboration followed soon after by acts.

There's lots to think about and do in this regard.

Exhaustion Gets You Nowhere: The End of the School Year

I often talk about the residual effect of a year of teaching. In many ways it's like dragging a blanket through puddles--the blanket gets heavier and heavier. This is how the school year feels because all year long you work to do your best with limitless potential and endless tasks and by year's end, let's face it, no matter how old you are or what your family life or lifestyle is, you're tired.

It's okay to be tired at year's end, particularly if you gave the year your best effort and service to children, but it's imperative that educators steer clear of exhaustion because exhaustion can take a great year and ruin it at the end.

How does an educator steer clear of exhaustion?

Pace Well
First, take a look at the pacing. Students, like you, have grown a bit tired by the end of the year. They don't have the same zest they had in September and are simply ready for a break. When you map out the year, it's good to save those final weeks for a mix of the classic reading and writing with some special events and investigations.

Share the Schedule and Rationale
Next, share the end-of-the-year map with students. Tell them what they'll be learning, how they'll learn it, and why. The more they understand the rationale for events and schedule the more invested, helpful, and successful they'll be.

Prioritize and Be Choosy
Late night ball games, concerts, and special events often leave young children and their teacher parents tired. Be aware of that and prioritize the end-of-the-year teaching focus well. Make sure every day has some quiet reading and study time as well as some invigorating teamwork.

Have a Sense of Humor
The end-of-the-year often brings some small errors, and it's best to meet those errors with a sense of humor. For example, as we attempted to make slime the other day, a child unknowingly dripped the colorful, messy solution all over the floor. I looked down and said, "Lift the bottle, look what's happening." She lifted the bottle and I said with a bit of laughter, "That's something I would have done at your age, let's clean it up." She and friends quickly cleaned it up and that was that--no problems, no tears, and a good laugh.

Play
Play is invigorating and educational too. Use play as much as possible at the end of the year to foster team, happiness, and learning success.

Rest
Make time for you and your students to rest. Lessen any homework you might give, and stay ahead of the end-of-the-year paperwork and demands by making a good list and chopping away at it earlier than later.

The end-of-the-school year is a tiring time, and it's important to think a bit differently about this leg of the year so that you end with the same strength that you enjoyed the rest of the year. During the upcoming weeks of summer there will be time to catch up on research, reading, rest, relaxation, and fun so move through this time with care, kindness, a sense of humor and well-paced teaching and learning.

In Politics and Education Disagree with Respect

Typically I really enjoy Saturday Night Live, but last night I felt the show, overall, missed the mark. Humor is challenging, and I know that no comedian always hits the mark all the time; it's difficult to find that sweet spot particularly with political humor.

At the end of the show, I was a bit discouraged because while the show, in my opinion, didn't hit the mark last night, they did deal with a lot of really sensitive and troubling issues that are happening right now in our country--issues of divide and questionable legality and ethics. Issues that I am concerned about as a citizen of the United States.

I think the humor has to continue since it bring levity and some understanding to the issues of our times. I believe that when it doesn't hit the mark, it's best just to ignore it, and get a good laugh and perhaps some insight when it does hit the mark.

In general, however, when it comes to our day-to-day discourse it's imperative that we disagree with respect. Disrespect confounds serious issues and takes people away from the problems and opportunities at hand. To disagree with respect brings us closer to solution.

It's not always easy to disagree with respect because it is inevitable that emotions become part of the equation especially if the disagreement affects issues that affect one's personal life and beliefs. For example I can't forgive Donald Trump for all his disrespectful body and women talk--he demeaned us so much by making fun of people's bodies and gender. This brought people down and elevated old time stereotypes and prejudices. These comments made me emotional and make me emotional to this day as I believe that every person has a right to be who they are no matter their gender or body type, and I believe that every person has a right to live without prejudice or ridicule with regard to gender, body type, race, culture, class and so on.

Good humor brings issues like that to light, and respectful discourse creates a path to positive change.

So as I move ahead I'll look for ways to disagree with respect. I'll still look to the funnymen and funny women to make me laugh and to bring forth political satire to help us understand issues too.

But I won't support the disrespectful discussion that's so prevalent on social media threads and in the news that take us away from the serious problems that exist. Onward.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cheer Them On

If you can cheer people on in life, do it.

Middle of May 2017: The Teaching/Learning Path

Students were joyful on Friday as we attempted to make slime (we need a better recipe), watched balloons blow up from the gas created from a vinegar-baking soda mixture, cleaned the spade foot toad tank, fed the earthworms, studied matter, and visited a local brook to look for tadpoles or frog eggs (we didn't find any, but we did find very interesting animal remains with very curved teeth).

Next week will be another busy and positive week with the following focus areas:

  • Hands-on science exploration
  • Attention to the spade foot tadpoles
  • Science reading and study
  • Science MCAS
  • Lots of play rehearsal
  • Biography study
  • Student Meetings
  • Professional writing class
The prep focus is to try out a few science explorations and then to use those explorations with the class. There will be focus on science and biography research too as well as continued nature study and hands-on nature exploration. It's a week for jeans and sneakers for all that messy indoor/outdoor exploration and learning--a good week ahead, the way I like to teach and learn. 

Polarization: Conversation That Goes Nowhere

It's a human instinct to polarize. There must be something about the way our brains work that propels us to place ideas, events, and opinions into a two or more groups to compare.

Typically though, polarization leads to conversation that goes nowhere--conversation that masks the reality of life.

We see this clearly with the current political speak with countless references to whole groups of democrats, liberals, conservatives, and republicans. Yet every individual knows there is great diversity and overlap amongst and between the groups. While we stay mired in polarization, we make little progress.

It is a better idea to focus on the issues, process, and policy. What really matters to the people of the United States? What process will help us to find that out, focus, and achieve good results? What policies will we craft, support, and live by in order to satisfy and develop our country?

In many ways, the election speak took us away from issues, process, and policy. Instead much of the election talk was polarizing, name calling, and the exchange of singular stories that serves to demean candidates and those that support them. We didn't really have a deep, rich national conversation about what really matters and how we will achieve good results and betterment. The national speak was diminished and petty instead of rich and forward moving.

As I write, I will make a vow to do the following:

  • Not identify Americans as large polarizing groups, but instead focus on the issues that matter to me, issues that forward the essence of our democracy with a goal of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all. 
  • Ally with groups that have good leadership and honest, positive aims. 
  • Research, read, analyze and reflect on information from lots of people to get both broad and detailed information and perspectives about issues. 
  • Use respectful, people-first speak and process.
I want to support Americans who want the best for each other no matter what their affiliations are--I want to look to their hearts and minds as I seek leadership amongst a diverse populous--leadership that looks through the eyes of children as they make decisions and determine policy, policy that reflects the best of whom we can be today and the best of what we can leave for our children and grandchildren tomorrow.

Do you agree? 

Friday, May 12, 2017

When a Friend, Acquaintance, or Loved One Falls

If you've fallen, you know how difficult that can be.

Falling, even when small, hurts.

When someone you knows falls, it hurts too.

The hurt is particularly painful if the fall is unjust or accidental.

The fall can be troubling if you offered warning and words of advice--if you actually told the person of the threat or potential harm.

But, in life, we all fall.

It starts with those early falls when you are learning to walk, and grows as we age.

As an elementary school teacher, a large part of of our job is to help students learn from those small "falls" such as words misspoken, troubling small acts, and more. We use these child "failures" as opportunities to teach so that later on when the potential for hurt and harm is greater, children can better navigate their choices.

Falls will happen, however, and sometimes those falls will be difficult to understand. Often there's no one person at fault, but many acts, like dominoes, that create a chain reaction and result in a troubling situation.

As I've noted before to self and others, it's best to speak up when troubles are small as speaking up and acting when wrongs are small prevent greater harm and hurt later on.

The recent Penn State fraternity tragedy is a good example of this. Just think if one of those young men had the courage to leave the house and call 911, a life would be saved and so many other lives without the weight of this great tragedy.

Yet, falls will happen, and when they do, we do well to offer our greatest compassion, empathy, care, and help--falls can and will happen to all of us. Yes, we need to work to prevent those falls by staying attuned, doing what's right, and relying on one another for consult and help when difficult situations arise, but in the end when tragedy strikes if we're there for one another, we will do well.

I hate even writing this because, like all, I don't look forward to a fall, but in light of a fall that an acquaintance is facing, I want to be mindful of this issue. Onward.

Educators: Recipe Followers, Inventors, Guides or Coaches?

As an educator who are you?

Do you read and follow teaching recipes?

Do synthesize ideas from from many and invent responses to teach your students well?

Do you observe and guide, taking the lead from your students?

Do you coach with your students' and your own goals and objectives as the focus?

Are you a friend, mentor or leader to your students?

What words describe your teaching?

What words do those that lead your work use to describe your work? How do they think about teaching and how does that affect they way they lead and support your work?

In general, as an educator, I think of myself as a synthesizer who synthesizes student needs, interests, and passions with the objectives of the organizations I belong to and the bountiful experiences, research, and information available to me for teaching well.

I synthesize regularly to make best decisions, plans, and responses -- it's an organic process that changes from day to day dependent on need.

Who are you as an educator? Why does this matter to the work that you do?

Friday Teaching/Learning: May 2017

Today is one of those days where there's more to do than time to do it. Fortunately all of the events are positive.

Students will start the day with science tech which includes a list of lots of science review activities and games.

Later students will complete some quiet reading and writing work with respect to science information and study.

After that they'll rotate from one class to another to study science with hands-on activities and work on biography research.

Recess will include a class game and exploration of the playground habitat. We'll feed the tadpoles, but put off cleaning their tanks until Monday when we have a bit more time.

It's a good day ahead.

Playground Potential: Nature/Science Studies

Our school playground is wonderful. It's a big field with play equipment and sports fields. The playground is surrounded by forest and wetlands. We have a garden, composting, and a courtyard nature space too.There's so much teaching and learning opportunity all around us.

I continually want to integrate our terrific environment into the curriculum. Our second grade teacher has done this well with her commitment to the school garden--which has been awesome.

Yesterday we spent a bit of time exploring decomposition at the back of the playground as students hunted for earthworms. And we also studied the play structure looking for evidence of simple machines. We attached a pulley to the play structure too to play with that simple machine.

A biologist from Grassroots Wildlife Conservation who is an expert on vernal pools visited too. She taught teachers and students a lot about the endangered spade foot toad, a vernal pool amphibian that we are raising in our classroom aquariums. Today students and teachers will explore our wetlands area on the playground edge to look for amphibian eggs, tadpoles and other creatures. We'll study the plant life too.

Later in the day we'll go outside to experiment with matter as we blow up balloons with baking soda/vinegar and make slime.

Our playground space offers endless, playful, and rich science teaching/learning opportunities. I want to maximize that opportunity more.

How do you use your playground as a valuable outdoor classroom? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

System Change and Development Hold Potential for Development in Education

I heard a school leader discuss past debate and discourse at a recent meeting. He essentially noted that the past debate had resulted in better work and effort today. I agree with his conclusion as I had watched and read about the debates as they occurred, and I noticed how the dissenters came together with common purpose and better work.

As I think of my history of more than three decades of teaching, I have noticed significant change. While our school doesn't look or feel that different than it did when I began teaching, there's been significant change in what we do and how we do it. I believe our approach has developed with regard to our sensitivity to individual students' needs and interests as well as our efforts to match new teaching with new research related to cognition, cultural proficiency, social/emotional learning, and health.

Also in the recent past, I wrote a lot about systematic issues and the need for system change. I am seeing good system change now. Most of all, the switch from a one-teacher-one-classroom approach to the shared grade-level model of teaching has been significant. I can't believe how much better I am able to teach with this collaborative model versus the old-time one-teacher-one-classroom-model. The new model has replaced competition and isolation with collaboration and teamwork. In the past parents would discuss which class is better, and now all students belong to the same cluster so that competition doesn't exist. Also in the past we would be responsible for all the students at a grade level, but we didn't know them all. Now with the shared model, we're still responsible for all students, but now we know those students well so it's much easier to care for them at recess, in the halls, during class and on field studies.

It seems that the system I work in is beginning to pay more attention to lead time, collaboration, transparency, communication, and teacher voice and choice too. I hope that change continues to deepen and take root. I also hope to see more commitment to distributive leadership models similar to our shared teaching model as I believe there is a lot of strength and development possible in flattening the hierarchy in school systems to empower all.

As I've noted in past posts, I believe that there's been lots of good work with regard to identifying and support attributes of good teaching, and now I believe the focus needs to be on the attributes of strong systems as I believe that elevating how systems work will result in a better education for all children. I believe that elevation should include the attributes I list above so that educational systems are contributing to strong, vital, collaborative learning communities that honor and elevate the voices and collaboration of all stakeholders including students, families, educators, administrators, and community members.

Thoughts about Standardized Tests: MCAS 2017

I continue to be a fan of streamlined standardized testing, yet I see lots of room for growth when it comes to standardized tests.

Let's start with the positives. This is what I like about the tests:

  • Provides common goals, content, and data points to discuss and build upon
  • Creates needed focus on essential skills and knowledge--before the tests, many students who could not read, write, or compute were not regarded with care or commitment
Also, as of late, there have been some positive changes with regard to the tests including:
  • The online tests are easier to give and hopefully cost less since the information is easier to analyze.
  • The online tests are promoting greater technology in all schools
There's lots of room for growth with regard to what's included in standardized tests and how they are given. In the future we will look back at these tests are archaic, but it is a process to develop the tests in ways that are valuable and enriching for learning. I can envision the following ways to improve the tests.
  • The tests have to become progressive. It is unfair to expect all students at a given age to master same contents in same ways. The tests should show us where students are on a trajectory of skill and knowledge, and the tests should be used as one data point to help us ensure that all students have a strong foundation of academic knowledge and skill.
  • The tests are too "flat," and for that reason their importance should be scaled down in time and weight with regard to the teaching/learning program. So many of our students' strengths, talents, and interests are not represented on these two-dimensional tests, and it's not fair to give tests like these so much of the teaching/learning resources including time, money, and ratings
  • The tests should not be used to rate communities or schools, but instead as one data point to determine how our students are developing with basic skills and knowledge. The tests could be part of an overall school/system-evaluation that includes other factors such as inclusion of the arts, cultural proficiency efforts, sports/physical fitness, and social/emotional learning/support.
Similar to most constructs in our culture, it's best to develop rather than destroy the efforts to date. Where are tests useful and where our these tests without merit? How can we develop this in ways that matter.

Long before we had standardized tests, I noticed that students who were not achieving were not getting the attention they deserved. One important change I've noticed since the tests is that more children are getting more attention. I think this is good, but I also recognize that there's continued room for improvement and development on how we use testing in schools. 

Trump Times: Making Sense of it All

Most of the news coming out of the Trump Presidency alarms me. I've rarely had this kind of visceral effect from any political leader during my lifetime. Of course, I've disagreed often with many politicians and leaders from all parties, but I've never been this worried or discouraged before. Bottom line, it's difficult to have a leader who rarely represents what you value and believe in.

Yet, I can't worry so much that I'm unable to do my work, develop my practice, and enjoy my friends and family. I have to make sense of this so I can move in a forward direction with it all. Finally in these wee hours of the morning, I have a good idea which is to stop focusing on Trump and instead, focus in on what I value, then advocate and work towards those values.

What do I value and what will I do?

Taxation
I am a fan of taxation. Taxation is like paying dues to clubs or associations you belong to--you pay the fee so you can utilize the services. As Americans we need to care about how our tax money is spent and the value we get from it. We should be looking at every dollar spent to see if we are getting good return. I believe taxes are well spent when they support equitable education, health care, infrastructure, clean water/soil/air, global partnerships/community, recreation/preservation/conservation, justice, and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all." I don't think taxes are well spent when they only protect particular groups. I do believe that everyone should pay their fair share and that should probably be a percent of your income. No one needs billions for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and everyone should pay their share. The metrics related to that "share" should be scrutinized with the factors of good living. For example if you're an average wage earner and health care costs you 25% of your income--that's not fair as for a high-wage individual that same health care may be 1% or less of their income. I'm not an economist, but this is the kind of economic thinking I believe should lead our country's tax laws.

Education Equity and Strength
I believe in a great education for every child. I believe in our public school systems, though I also believe that some may decide on private school for their children and that's okay with me. I believe that our public schools are doing a very good job, and I am committed to continuing and developing the good work possible in my classroom, school, system, and via advocacy for children everywhere. I believe our public schools provide the unique opportunity of bringing a diversity of cultures, race, religions, class, interests, and lifestyle together with a common purpose of learning--this is "nation building" at its best.

I believe that a strong Secretary of Education would start with acknowledging the amazing work that is being done in public schools throughout the country. Every day so many children profit from dedicated educators, good systems, committed families, school boards, communities and amazing technology and research. A good Secretary of Education would begin with good data--what's working and what can be better, and rather than dismantle a system that has so much strength, he/she would work to develop that system with deep knowledge. I will find ways to advocate for and contribute to good leadership in the Department of Education, good support from multiple education agencies, and good work by all educators.

As I consider acts related to education, I will look to see if those acts support an education that is equitable, accessible, and of high quality for every child. 

Quality Health Care for All
Similar to education, I don't believe that good health care means dismantling a system that has strength, but instead developing that system to be better. No system will be at its best ever as every system profits from thoughtful, research-based, and people-centered research and development. To dismantle the years of good work and result is to step backwards. Instead we should develop what we have and make it better. I believe that a smart country like the USA can use its collective imagination to develop the health care system so that every American enjoys top-notch, state-of-the-art, research-based, sensitive health care--that will make us a strong country.

As I consider health care, I will look for equity, accessibility, and quality too. 

Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean/Nutrient-Rich Soil, Protected Natural Lands
America is rich with natural resources and beautiful lands. It is an amazingly beautiful and resource-full country. We should be doing everything we can to protect this great abundance because a beautiful, environmentally clean nation will be a nation that can sustain strength, health, and happiness.

Positive Global Partner
It is in no one's best interest to fight with other countries and to work to destroy. It is in the best interests of people all over the globe to get along and support one another so that resources are shared well and equity prevails. The idea that everyone can have the same is not achievable or positive, but the amazing idea that we can work towards every global citizen having "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," is achievable. You don't have to be a billionaire to have "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," but you do have to have a safe communities, accessible/affordable health care, nutritious foods, clean environments, quality education, respect for diversity/difference, comfortable shelter, good clothing, and an opportunity for quality recreation and socialization. The battles of the times should be peaceful "battles" to bring justice to all people on the globe and to create environments that promote "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all global citizens.

Community and Recreation
Quality recreation places and opportunities help to build good communities. This is an important investment for our country. I am a big supporter of our National Parks, Forests, and Seashores.

Arts
The arts bring us together as a people. The arts make life rich and meaningful. We need the arts.

There is so much more that I will probably add to this list, but rather than obsessing over the President's behavior, I'll work to support what I believe makes a strong country. I believe that we need a strong country for all people. I don't like or dislike an individual because of his/her party or because of any other part of their cultural profile, but instead I want to support all Americans with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in mind. I don't think we have to be continually stuck in the mindset that there's not enough to go around because I believe with good action and imagination there's significant promise and potential to be had if we work towards it.

Bringing the Year to a Successful End: Final Focus

In a dedicated system like the one I teach in, the end of the year is filled with a large number of amazing events. The end of the year includes lots of standardized tests too, and many children are up later at night due to their own special events and affiliations outside of school. It's a busy time of year, and a time of year where teachers and parents have to be very mindful of pacing, student support, and right focus.

Thanks to our shared teaching model, I find that our collaboration is helping to keep the pace and support strong. Together, we do better, and I'm so happy about this--it's much better than the one-teacher-one-classroom model for so many reasons.There is strength in numbers and that is demonstrated as we help one another teach our 72 fifth graders with strength.

So as I focus in, I want to be cognizant of the following:

Science MCAS Review
Since the 5th grade MCAS includes K-5 science standards, there's a lot to review. We're using this review to make our classrooms science-centered with short videos, hands-on activities, more nature talk and walks, science reading, and science writing.

Final Math Tests
All math standards have been taught, and students will take a final test of all those standards next week. After that the math study will be incorporated into STEAM activities and math tech practice.

Biography Project: Global Changemakers
Students are reading, researching, and taking notes now. They're also working on related art and tech projects too. Later, they'll begin their writing and create their costumes. After that they'll practice their living history presentations. This is a signature fifth grade event that culminates in a final presentation timeline where children line up dressed in costume of a global changemaker past or present they identify with and share their reports with family members, friends, and school mates.

Fifth Grade Play
The fifth grade musical is a terrific exercise in teamwork, talent, and the arts. Children all shine thanks to the thoughtful, artistic efforts of our music teacher. There are many practices and the lifelong learning that results from this play is amazing.

STEAM Projects
Part of our science study includes a number of hands-on STEAM projects which students really enjoy. Those projects will extend right up to the final days of school. As part of this study, we may visit the high school's innovation center and get a good glimpse of the exciting STEAM study ahead.

Instrumental Concerts
The majority of our students take instrumental lessons in and out of school. At the end of the year, many of those students perform in a culminating band and orchestra performance that is always amazing. Students are busy now working up to those concerts.

Special Events
There are a number of visiting artists from upper grade schools in the system visiting us in the weeks ahead, and we are going on a couple of great field studies too.

Field Day
This is the culminating event for our physical education program, and a favorite day for many students as the whole school comes together to play countless imaginative and traditional games.

Fun Day, Slideshow and Clapout
Since it's fifth grade and students will be moving on to the Middle School, our final day is a day of fun, a parent-teacher-student slideshow of the students' elementary school experience, and the clap-out where all the children of the school line the halls and clap-out the fifth graders.

As you can see it's a busy minute-to-minute agenda for all, but also a wonderful, playful agenda filled with wonderful learning events.