Monday, July 31, 2017

Respond to trouble sooner than later

Too often we stand back when we suspect trouble will occur. We may be afraid to speak up, not trust our instincts and think that troubling situations will right themselves. Yet typically when we suspect trouble, trouble will occur so it's best to stand up and speak up sooner than later to right the situation.

We have to help one another in this regard with honesty too. We won't always know or do what is best as we act with the best of our knowledge and ability and at times that's not enough particularly if a situation is new to us or we're, perhaps, blinded by allegiance to ideals, people or efforts that actually support troubling circumstances.

We see this often when parents have a child with troubles. It is so difficult to see your own child's troubles or challenges as you love your children so much, it's troubling to see their shortfalls. The same is true with ourselves--it sometimes takes others to help us see our own challenges as humbling as that may be.

When we meet challenge early on, we save everyone the trouble of big problems and troubles. Rather than incite greater challenge, when issues present themselves we can act right away with collaboration and positive process to remedy the situation.

We have to trust our instincts with regard to troubles, and we also have to trust our faithful friends, relatives and colleagues to help us right our road when the path becomes unclear or troubled. If we respond positively to trouble sooner or later, we'll forward the good work possible and avoid the bigger troubles that may occur.

Of course life will never be trouble free as that's part of the human condition, but as much as possible we don't have to add to the troubles that may naturally and unknowingly occur. Onward.

Visualize the School Year Ahead

Visualization is a good process to use as you prepare for the school year ahead. When using visualization, what do you imagine. Here are my expectations.

Pre-school year grade-level team meetings
Our team collects ideas, links and a to-do list on a shared Google document. We'll likely move from one item to another as we make countless decisions to prepare for and plan the teaching year ahead.

Room set up
I'll spend one long day setting up the room to make it a welcoming, comfortable and organized learning environment for students.

Pre-school system and school meetings
We have a couple of days ahead of the students' start to come together to ready for the year. It's likely that administrators will share a host of goals and vision for the year ahead. We'll integrate that vision into our school year plans to meet systemwide obligations as well as our own plans.

Students' first day
We'll review names, supply lists, seating choices, schedules and routines. We'll have some fun too with team building activities and the selfie project.

Curriculum Night
During the first week of school we'll meet with family members to introduce the fifth grade program and entertain parent questions.

What will the first days of the school year be like in your teaching/learning environment? Visualization is a good way to start.

Trump Times: Good Effort and Energy Thwarted

President Trump's drama is taking up a lot of good energy and time from political leaders and others who want to do what's right and good for our country. His countless tweets, ridicule and angry rants are getting in the way of good diplomacy, collaboration and development. Rather than work with the many well-directed, intelligent individuals that exist, he incites conflict and confusion. As so many articles like this one suggest, he may be a threat to the American people.

What are Americans to do?

Our United States Senate and House of Representatives are tasked with a great challenge, and that's how to right our country in a time where the executive branch is not doing its part, but instead creating undue havoc. (When has there been a time before when the President of the United States supports police brutality?)

The United States Congress has to appoint a bi-partisan commission to research the potential for impeachment. This, in my opinion, should happen sooner than later. This Impeachment Commission needs to enlist the support of the best lawyers in our country as they figure out if President Trump is the threat he appears to be. As they research, they can look carefully at the following behaviors:
  • public humiliation of his cabinet members and other political leaders through bullying tactics such as name calling, untruths and other acts.
  • inciting violence as he did with his recent comments to law officers
  • possible collusion with foreign countries and/or attempts to obstruct vital investigations related to Mueller's investigation 
  • lack of diplomatic awareness, respect or strategy with regard to our international relations
  • cronyism where relationship trumps the law/protocols with regard to his many family members that are involved in the nation's specific and delicate international and national efforts
  • sharing of important information via Twitter in sensational, and seemingly dangerous, soundbites
  • what seems like potential illness at play and perhaps the need for a complete physical exam to see if the President has the physical and mental health to do the job. I believe that any person thought to be a threat to self or others can be committed for this kind of medical check-up
I'm sure that the bright minds of the American people who are so much better versed in the law and Trump's antics than me can come up with a much better list of reasons why this President may be a threat to our country, and what needs to be investigated sooner or later with potential impeachment proceedings or at least some restrictions about what he can and cannot do at this time as POTUS.

I don't want our political leaders to sit back at this time, but instead move forward to truly understand what's happening and if impeachment proceedings should begin. I know that good Congressmen and Congresswomen have been working overtime during Trump Times. He has at least doubled their jobs in short time with so much work that could have been avoided if we had a President who truly demonstrated an awareness of government, the law and the potential that good collaboration holds for developing our country rather than challenging it.

I hope others, much more informed than me, will begin to stand up and cry out for a stop to the lack of respect for our nation's laws and people President Trump is demonstrating. As the article I linked tells, this is not a reality show, but instead real life for all the hard working individuals who deserve dignity, respect and leaders who take the job seriously. Do you agree? 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Union Efforts and Potential: Get Involved

I've been thinking about the potential our union holds for good teaching and learning. What I like best about my local WTA, state MTA and national NEA unions is that those organizations protect educators' ability to advocate for student welfare without repercussions. I also like that our unions bring hard working educators together to advocate for good working conditions and fair salaries. This collective voice and advocacy has the potential to move schools forward in ways that matter for all citizens especially the children we teach and serve.

It took me a long time to truly appreciate the teachers' unions. I joined without reservation because I grew up in a working class neighborhood and noticed how unions protected the rights and wages of neighbors, relatives, and friends. I knew unions were important to the average family's welfare.

Yet as a member I rarely was involved beyond the local level. I was very busy teaching and parenting, and made little time to investigate what the union had to offer my colleagues and me. Then, about ten years ago, the union reached out to me and many more. They noticed our interactions via Twitter and other social media. They heard our yearning for better educational structure, support, and vision. And they took an interest by inviting us to join union efforts and events.

I didn't realize that support was there, and now after becoming involved and taking advantage of union-driven professional learning and support classes and events, I want to encourage others to get involved sooner than later as your local, state, and national unions have avenues of good support available to you if you begin to learn about this and take advantage of it.

I suggest you start with your union's web pages. We have pages for our local, state and national unions. Make the time to look over those web pages to identify opportunities and supports which can support you as an educator. The Massachusetts Teachers' Association has multiple free professional learning events which can also help you to get the training you need to re-certify your professional license--this is very helpful.

I also suggest that you get involved in your local unions to advocate for the work conditions and fair salaries that will help you to do the good job you envision for your students. Local unions typically have lots of varied opportunities for involvement.

Further I suggest you make a regular routine of reading the union websites and receiving regular updates online.

Unions are one way that the average person can get good voice wth regard to local, state and national platforms. Our unions represent our collective voice and need, and our unions will better reflect what you want if you make the time to get involved so your voice, great ideas, and effort are noticed and heard.

In today's complex world, we need good unions, unions that protect the rights and welfare of workers who are well intentioned and willing to do the hard work to build strong communities and care.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Building the Math Unit

How can we embed deep, future-ready learning/teaching skills and equity in our math teaching/learning units. In the days ahead I'll revisit this post as I build the place value unit to include the skills and efforts noted in the mini posters below.

Typically when you make good time to embed new research into unit planning, that new depth, breadth and reach is then easier to employ as you revise and update other units.

How Does Learning Happen?

I've read a bit about cognition and learning. I've observed learners for many years. As I think about this, I believe that the following efforts set the stage and forward good learning.

Awaken Curiosity and Interest in the Topic
Well before the actual learning event, invite students to think about the topic by introducing the big idea via the Internet, a classroom poster, letters or discussion. Pique curiosity, begin the learning path.

Provide Rationale and Learning Goals
Then in real time present or create the rationale and learning goals with the learners. Why is this learning valuable, necessary or planned? What are the learning goals?

Create Learning Paths
Think with learners about the many ways that they are able to reach these learning goals, and then give lots of choice, voice and leadership to the learners as they navigate the learning path. Provide a good number and variety of learning experiences to help the learners reach their goals.

Reflection, Revision Points
Stop now and then to reflect and potentially revise learning paths. Revisit rationale and learning goals at these points, then think about how you're doing with regard to reaching those goals. Identify further needs too.

Formal and informal assessment should occur along the way to see if you're actually learning and reaching the goals set. At the end of the effort a final assessment of some kind should be completed. That assessment should assess well if you've reached the goal or not and what went well and what could have been better. The final assessment should result in a report, product or presentation of some kind to solidify the learning completed and to identify next steps and future goals.

Too often learning goals and needs are projected on communities and learners without good rationale and process. This kind of learning tends to hang in the air without much traction or real impact. People sometimes think if you say it, the learning will happen, but that's not how learning happens. Real learning depends on good process, and good process takes time to create, embed, revise and direct for yourself and with others.

It's critical that educators promote brain-friendly, learner-centered learning rather than old fashion do-what-I-say learning that typically results in less breadth, depth and reach. Do you agree?

Teaching Year Ahead: Keep the Focus

I've clearly outlined my teaching/learning focus for the year ahead. I'll shift that focus a bit once I hear the systemwide goals which are usually relayed at the start of the school year. I don't expect the system goals to create much change to my personal teaching/learning goals.

One challenge I face in school is that I have many, many leaders who plan for me. These leaders don't work with students often, but have substantial time to make plans for my work. Their distance from the day-to-day student work and expectations sometimes makes their directives difficult to follow. For example they may want me to do something that seems like a mismatch given the questions students are asking and the behaviors they are displaying day after day.

What's a teacher to do?

The truth is that this large number of leaders serve multiple educators so they are not working with me that often, at most it's usually once or twice a month which means 20 interactions during the year. Yet when you consider there's about five of these leaders, that's 100 interactions and 100 different activities/events to respond to.

What I would prefer is to lessen the number of leaders and increase the time-on-task for skilled professionals with students. I'd like to see less top-down leadership and more distributed leadership where skilled professionals are working as teams with students and with each other to serve students well. That does not occur as much as I'd like and I do recognize the challenges inherent in the shift from top-down to more distributive models of teaching and learning.

Typically I get stressed when many add new protocols, activities and think to the plans I've made. I get upset mostly when these plans don't take into account my experience, research, plans and efforts. I typically quickly embrace new information and activities that respond to student need and research though, especially needs I can't meet easily and research I haven't yet learned about.

So in the year ahead, I want to get along with all these leaders and I want to show respect. I also want to move forward with the goals that I've set to teach well, goals well-based on past efforts, systemwide expectations and a commitment to helping every child succeed with positivity and academic growth.

Hence, I'll react to the numerous new directives in the following ways:

  • Listen for new, valuable information. Write that information down and embed it into my work.
  • Not worry about repetition or outdated information, and use those times to focus on my own goals and efforts.
  • Speak up with respect if the share does not match research or student needs. Sometimes directives are shared that don't match current research or oppose what students are needing.
  • Recognize that leaders and teachers are all on different learning paths with varying objectives. Sometimes one educator's goals and another's may not match--this happens.
I've thought a lot about the goals for the year ahead. I'll work closely with my grade-level team to reach those goals. I'll think seriously about the  many additional protocols, goals and values that will be shared, and choose wisely about the time and energy I'll devote to that array of directives, then respond with respect and care. Onward. 

Professional Learning: Good Share and Teaching

Too often professional developers resort to the teacher-led model of learning. In this model the teacher or professional developer stands at the front of the room directing the learning. Generally in these teacher-led efforts the teamwork and collaboration involved is somewhat obvious and trite--it's meant to look like good collaboration, but in truth it's not.

Not enough professional developers use new cognitive knowledge to lead their preparation and work with educators. Instead it's mostly one-size-fits-all presentations with little depth, breadth or reach.

With this in mind, I recommend that professional developers ask themselves the following questions before planning learning efforts for educators.
  1. What do I know about the teachers I'll present to with regard to their level of knowledge related to the area I'll be presenting, their level of interest and how this knowledge might positively impact their future teaching and learning.
  2. How many educators will be in the room? How much time will I have?
  3. What do I hope the take-away will be?
  4. How can I differentiate the learning so that educators have some choice, voice and leadership over the content I'll present?
  5. How can I make this a blended experience that will support depth with this learning? Did I create a website, online discussion thread and/or opportunity to connect with the learning prior to, during and after the presentation/learning experience?
  6. What can educators take away and embed into their practice right away to make a positive difference?
Too often professional developers don't ask the questions above and instead talk at educators rather than work with them. This is very discouraging for teachers who have limited time and a host of questions and investigations they are currently involved in to better their teaching.

Further as education leaders think about the year ahead, they need to think carefully about educator time. It's important that leaders safeguard educator time so that we have the time we need to teach well and develop our craft in ways that matter rather than sitting through dull presentations that offer little value. 

Thoughtful Record Keeping Leads to Good Reflection and Analysis

Before school starts it's important to think about how you'll keep your records--the data that will help you to reflect and analyze the teaching/learning program well.

As I think about this today, I've made a list of assessment efforts that I'll monitor and collect. I'll make a hard copy student assessment sheet for each child and put them in a notebook which will make tracking and share easy. I'll also create an online record sheet for easy data input and manipulation to help me assess student learning as well as class teaching efforts.

Students in Massachusetts take MCAS tests. Teachers and families receive these scores in the fall. The scores are one way for us to determine who is mastering the expected standards and who needs more support in these areas.

That Quiz
On That Quiz, I'll create a class assessment file and a class practice file. The assessment file will be a record of how students do with fact knowledge and other standards-specific knowledge tests. The practice file will include a host of practice exercise scores. Mainly this file will allow me to see who has fluency and accuracy with facts and who needs more practice in this area. It will also allow me to see who is making progress, and who continues to struggle. The practice exercises will allow me to see who is practicing when that's assigned and how they are doing.

Symphony Math
Students will regularly learn math via Symphony Math and Symphony Math tracks students' learning progress and needs.

Track My Progress
Students will take this assessment quarterly which will demonstrate how they are doing with expected math standards.

Home Study
I will assign a weekly home study assignment. Once a week, I'll check students' efforts in this regard. Every year I try new systems in this regard, but what's important is noticing who is practicing and who is not. Generally students who don't practice much, don't make as much progress. Yet with all the research related to little benefit with regard to homework, I want to tread gently in this area.

Assessment Scores
Students take regular standards-based paper/pencil assessments. I'll track their performance and needs related to these tests.

Khan Academy
I will use Khan Academy metrics to see who is successfully using this platform to practice and learn.

I will also look at students' TenMarks practice and performance metrics.

Observation and Math Talk
During class I'll observe student effort, teamwork, questioning, self advocacy, independent learning skills and more. Students and I will talk a lot too about what they need, want and desire with regard to their learning. I will keep a simple student notebook for anecdotal/observation notes and data.

Project/Problem Based Learning and Math Writing
Generally rubrics and checklists will guide this work and assessment.

So, at the start of the year, when I introduce students to assessments and how we can use them to manage, develop and assess learning growth, need and interests, I will tell them about the many ways that we can assess what they're doing, how they're doing and what they need or desire.

Then at parent conference time, I'll share the following information on a student assessment sheet in addition to students' share of their showcase portfolio with specific examples of their learning, creativity, project/problem work and study.

Update: We create this data sheet now using an online mailing program that sorts and organizes data from spreadsheets into individual reports.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Role Model of What Not to Be

Nobody wants to be the role model of what not to be. Instead we hope to cull our craft and develop our demeanor in ways that help us to build good character and become collaborative mentors, colleagues and friends to those we live and work with.

Yet many of us have had the experience of being a poor role model from time to time when we've made a bad judgement, erred or acted without good sense. That's part of the learning curve of being human. It's what you do after those trying events though that turns the page to better days or digs the ditch deeper in despair.

As I think of this I'm thinking of errors that students make. I'm thinking that we can show them a simple drawing of a fork in the road and tell them that they can use this experience to move towards better or continue the path of error and poor judgement. Moving toward better will serve them well as they continue, and I'll share the rationale for that with those students.

Our President has had many chances to take the higher road, but he continually disregards that path. Instead he digs a deeper and deeper ditch when it comes to disrespect and disregard for so many hard working, dedicated people of multiple perspectives.

What we can learn from him is that's always best to work with respect and care for others whether we agree or disagree. We have to do what we can to move forward with truth, good process, dignity and both individual/collective vision for the promise and potential life holds. Onward.

Developing Orientation Processes for Schools and Students

Our team is working to elevate and enrich our orientation process for the school year. We have found that when students and families are distanced from the good information, and opportunities to connect, at the beginning of the year, that distance only widens as the year goes on resulting in a gap in academic success and a positive experience of school.

What will our new orientation events include?

There are many elements of orientation we'll review as we plan ahead.

Information Share
We have found that many families don't know about the supports available to them, supports that may help their child do better in school including:
  • scholarships/enrollment in extracurricular events, field studies and after school programs
  • available social/emotional services/help
  • the opportunity to borrow a computer for the year
  • the ability to speak up at any time to advocate for their child
We may create a folder or booklet for all families that is in both paper copy and online. We may also need to have this booklet recreated in specific language for students who come from families where English is a second language. 

Intake Survey
We'll work to create a better intake survey for all families, and do what we can to receive a completed survey from every family. It may be that some of these surveys are filled out at an early-year family meeting particularly if it's a family for whom English is a second language. This survey will help us to know families well and be able to reach families when needed. 

Relationship Building
Since the orientation events that exist have been in place for decades, there hasn't been any changes to reflect the research demonstrating that positive relationships are critical to good learning and teaching. Hence the orientations in place, in general, are short, highly-populated and teacher-led rather than interactive. We will look at ways to host a number of orientation activities and events that foster deeper relationship building. Those activities will likely include the following:
  • Early year meeting for students distanced by geography from the school
  • Early year meeting with new students and students who are distanced from the school neighborhood
  • Early year parent meeting for new families/families who request an early meeting
  • Curriculum Night which focuses, in part, on relationship building amongst families
  • Small group student lunches
  • Team building activities/events
Last year we had a very successful family-student event at a local museum. It was a lot of fun and boosted positive relationships that resulted in better learning. We want to do more of this. 

Our team has created a virtual classroom website to support families and students. We use a number of technology programs to support student learning, and we send out a newsletter weekly via the Internet. Yet, not all families have the ability to access these supports for a large number of reasons. We'll discuss why that might be true and how to use orientations to bridge the technology divide. We'll also suggest that families set up a family gmail that they can use to track school correspondence and allow their child to use for emails that parents can monitor and check. 

Family-to-Family Connections
Long ago I read a research article stating that many valuable connections that lead to student success are formed on the sidelines of student events. Our team will look at how our students' families access this opportunity to spend time on the sidelines while watching their students perform, play sports or learn together. We'll think about this as we work with our PTO to support positive events for our fifth grade team. 

Building Teamwork and Respect for One Another
We'll use the orientations to build teamwork and respect for one another through targeted discussions and lessons about learning differences, race/culture, mindsets, and social-emotional learning lessons. We'll also plan a number of enjoyable team building activities at the start of the year in order to give students a chance to get to know one another, make new friends and discover what they have in common. 

I work with a terrific team of talented educators. I'm sure that they will have a lot of great thinking to add to the ideas above. I'm sure our work with families and students with this revised orientation process will also lead to betterment. I'm looking forward to the work ahead.

We may also want to consider the Hosting Conversations research as we build this orientation effort.

Health Care Going Forward

I stayed up to hear the vote tonight. Thankfully the crazily named "skinnyrepeal" or "Healthcare Freedom Act of 2017" did not pass tonight. I was afraid that many Americans would lose their health care. I remember when the emergency rooms were filled with people without health care, and I knew that those people were not getting the kind of health care they needed. I also remember hearing stories of people who met catastrophic health needs without insurance resulting in less care and tremendous bills.

I also know that health care is a complex issue, one that's not easy to solve when you're talking about keeping 326,000,000 people healthy. I know that this issue, like any complex issue, depends on the expertise of all stakeholders, good process, priorities, goals and vision.

I say start with what we have in place now. What's working and what can be better. Think about a percentage cap for how much of a person's income they have to pay for health care. Economists can figure out the average percentages individuals will need for homes, food, health and other necessities and determine what's fair. No one should not be able to eat, have shelter, and receive good health care too. I believe our country has enough intelligence to construct a plan where people pay a fair amount to afford good health care for all.

I think we also have to look at the costs related to health care to make sure that some people aren't getting rich on individual's health needs. In addition, we can look at medical school caps and access to health careers training. Perhaps more health care professionals will lead to more affordable and accessible care. So many students today get turned away from medical school, and I wonder why that's true beyond those who are not qualified for the study.

I don't like to stay up this late, but I hate more to think that our country's leaders might vote against the essential needs of citizens, needs like adequate health care.

Fortunately the crazily-named skinny repeal did not pass, and now hopefully, our leaders will work together to work with bi-partisan efforts to develop and improve the Affordable Care Act so that no American is without good health care and also that no American is paying more than their share for health care.

I imagine health care of the future will take on an Amazon-like platform with greater man-machine integration. Now time for rest.  Onward.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Professional Learning 2017-2018 School Year

Summer study is underway. The events are scheduled, the motivation ready and the materials set.

As an individual who sometimes takes on more than is wise, I need to chart the course ahead so I stay true to plans, efforts and goals.

What will the school year bring in terms of professional learning, research and study?

Daily reading, research and writing
I'll continue my practice of daily reading, research, reflection and writing--a practice I enjoy and a practice that feeds my teaching/learning work well. This is easy to do since my tremendous Professional Learning Network forwards me terrific information, resources and ideas regularly.

Focus on Primary Goals
My primary goal this year is to really go deep with my efforts to inspire, coach and teach the students in my grade-level team. I'm going to use what I've learned so far, collected and continue to learn to teach as well as I can. I have a number of specific goals and activities related to this outlined on my ePortfolio and will make this the mainstay of my work this year.

Special Education Study
To be recertified in Massachusetts, every teacher has to earn professional development points in the area of special education. I plan to earn those points next summer via online or real time study.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Teachers Advisory Council (TAC)
I plan to work with educators across the state in this capacity to develop teaching/learning efforts in ways that matter.

Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) Teaching and Professional Learning Committee (TPL)
I plan to do what I can as a member of this committee to forward optimal teaching/learning events for Massachusetts educators.

National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Community (NBPTS)
As a nationally board certified teacher, I plan to work with the MTA to support other educators who would like to join this dynamic community by becoming nationally certified.

Wayland Teachers Association (WTA) Board Member/Secretary
I hope to support the local teachers' union as secretary and board member. I also may serve on their new evaluation committee to see how we can streamline the evaluation system in ways that make it both meaningful and efficient.

Parent of a High School Senior
As a parent of a high school senior, I know there's lots of leg work to do here beginning with football-related activities and also activities related to swim team, college applications and more.

Professional Learning Events
It's likely that I'll attend a number of professional learning events within my system and elsewhere as the opportunity arises. I hope to use these events to add to my professional learning foundation and the work I can do with and for students.

I'll likely resist the temptation to attend other big events or join other initiatives in the year ahead as this is already a full plate. At the end of the year, I hope to mostly have achieved my primary goals which is to help all students learn with confidence and success.

Future Books/Articles that come highly recommended:

  • Into White
  • The Hate you Give
  • All American Boys
  • How it Went Down
  • The Smell of Other People's Houses
  • The Sun is also a Star
  • Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe

The Math Year: First Lessons

Throughout the year I'll emphasize the elements of successful math teaching/learning as
described by Jo Boaler in her book, Mathematical Mindsets
As I think about the math year ahead for 2017-2018, I want to have the year's first lessons ready. Note that we have a system plan that I have to follow, and within that plan I have the ability to teach in ways that I have found to be successful.

The core program will begin with the lessons below, and the Response-to-Intervention (RTI) periods and math technology will serve to build on and enrich these lessons/goals.

Day One: 
  • What is Math? 
  • Why do we learn math in school? 
  • What are the best ways to learn math? 
I'll begin by reviewing student names and supplies. 

Then I'll have students open up their Chromebooks and go to a Google classroom page that lists the questions above. I'll tell them to take a few minutes to add answers to the doc with their initials. The answers will stream in on the big screen as they write. 

After a few moments, we'll talk about each answer. For the question, What is Math?, I'll note that the definition of math is not a simple (as illustrated in this blog post and web page), however I like Keith Devlin's description that math is the science of patterns

Next we'll discuss the many reasons that we learn math and I'll emphasize that we learn math to become good thinkers and problem solvers--math provides us with many systematic ways to understand, discuss, and create. 

Then as I listen to children tell me about the best ways to learn math, I'll note that we all learn a bit differently from one another, and it's my job to understand how each student learns best so I can help them learn math successfully. Further it's important for every child to understand how they learn best to help themselves learn math and other subjects well. After all the student is his/her first and most important teacher. 

For homework, I'll ask students to write me a letter telling me how to teach them math--I'll ask them to be as specific as possible and tell them that their letters can be handwritten or typed and that they can put it in traditional letter form or make a mini poster, diagram, list or other format that will help me to understand what they want me to know. 

Finally if we have time, we'll watch a couple of introductory films about learning math, and then discuss how we might change or add to the list they've created. 

Day Two/Three: Building Community Birthday Math and What's Your Number

Note that the next five lessons will be interchangeable since they rely on the supports of the technology and math department so they may not be taught exactly in this order. 

Day Four: Intelligent Assistants for Math Teaching/Learning
I'll tell students that I read a great book about the future this summer and that the book was named, Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman. Then I'll tell them that Friedman notes that we will all continue to use lots of "intelligent assistants" in our lives to learn. I'll ask them what they think that means. Then I'll introduce them to one intelligent assistant we'll use which is Symphony Math, a math online learning program that helps students to learn math through good interactive use of language, numbers and models. Since many students have experience with this, we'll talk about successful ways to learn with Symphony Math and make a list of those strategies for the classroom. Then students will sign in and get started. I'll do a lot of assessment with regard to how students sign on, access the technology, focus and more .

For home study I'll have students complete a short math facts assignment to warm them up for the next days work. 

Day Five: Assessment Helps Us Learn and Teach
On day three, I'll talk to students about assessment. First, I'll ask them what it is and what their experience with assessment has been like. We'll talk about what it means to assess our own work, and how we can use assessment to develop our performance and learning in any subject. Then I'll introduce the That Quiz facts assessment. I use That Quiz as a tool for lots of simple assessments and practice throughout the year. I'll show students how the assessments are accessed and displayed on the class learning menu, and then I'll have students get started with the assessments. When done, they'll work on their Symphony Math. 

For homework I'll assign a number of short That Quiz assignments which will be listed on the learning menu for students to use for practice and enrichment. 

Day Six: Using Assessments to Drive/Inform Your Learning
On day four, I'll have students analyze their That Quiz results with regard to the assessment. Then, I'll have a host of learning options available to help them reach for the next steps with regard to math fact accuracy and fluency. This will give them a chance to see how they can lead their own learning.

For homework students will be asked to access the same learning choices available in class and practice and develop their fact knowledge more. 

Day Seven and Eight: What's Your Number?
To build community and help students to get to know one another as well as review math vocabulary, we'll complete the "What's Your Number" activity

For homework students will begin working on a number fact array packet that focuses on specific facts and landmark numbers. 

Day Nine, Ten, Eleven
Additional systemwide assessments and completion of activities listed above. 

Day Twelve: Providing Context: Math Has a History
I will tell students that math is manmade--it's not natural though a purpose of math is to understand and describe the natural world. I will ask them what they know about math's history and then we'll watch a number of short videos that describe the history of numbers. 

For homework: students will continue their array packet.

Day Thirteen: What is a System? What is the Place Value System?
We'll begin by talking about what is a system and what makes up a system. We'll talk about the many systems they belong to and learn about. Then we'll specifically discuss the place value system, a system that we learned is a human-made system. We'll begin to create a big model of the place value system.

Following Days:
Then we'll begin to study the place value system with depth to master the following standards:

This unit roll-out will include the following lessons and activities:
Note that I will assess the unit roll-out plan to make sure that I'm teaching w/future-readiness skills as noted in the mini posters at the bottom of the page. 

After that we'll continue unit-by-unit with the systemwide roll-out using similar elements to teach and enrich all standards.

Also, as I plan and lead the unit roll-out, I want to be mindful of future-ready teaching/learning that I culled from recent reading and noted in the posters linked on this post.

Doing the Hard Work

Hard work is a relative term. What's hard for me may be easy for you? Yet I surmise that all of us have tasks and chores that we deem to be hard work.

I tend to schedule those tasks or else I'd avoid them altogether. I typically schedule a few celebrations and events to look forward to as well to take the edge off the hard work.

The upside to hard work is that you feel really good when it's completed and you've done a good job as the job you've done typically lasts for some time and results in good result and reward.

Hence in the month to come I've got a number of days set aside for jobs I don't look forward to but will be happy to have them done. I know this is part of living we all contend with. Onward.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Speaking for Others? Creating Policies

As I listened to the school committee debate over policy today, I noted that some spoke about school events without real knowledge of what happens. I think it's essential to collect facts and figures in accurate ways before conjecturing what happens and why. Too often policies are created based on conjecture and hearsay rather than a good process that uses accurate data, observation and consult.

Think Big: Loose-Tight Strategic Plans Matter

We often waste money and time by not having a strategic plan.

For a simple example as I clean up around my house, I realize that in the early years we spent money on a number of items we certainly could have lived without. If we had a better strategic plan, we would not have purchased those items, and instead saved the money for more valuable purchases and events.

The same is true for schools and other organizations. When there's no strategic plan, it's likely that money is wasted. Strategic plans matter.

For example in the school system where I work, the elementary schools are getting quite dated. Money is continually spent to update those schools. If we look at our schools with a strategic plan, is it in our best interest to continually update these buildings or is it better to hold off on updates and think about a new elementary school campus for the town. I'm not sure what the right direction is, but I think a strategic 10-year plan is important in this regard.

Some may debate the need for a strategic plan with the idea that too-tight planning leaves little room to respond to new ideas, needs and innovation. That's why I use the title "loose-tight" since it's important that strategic plans have room for change and movement similar to the way buildings are designed and built in earthquake zones--there's room for movement and change.

Even in my own life, I have a strategic plan--a 10-year outlook at where might life may move and where I'd like it to move. That helps me to hold off on spending money on some items in order to have money and time for items deemed more important to me and my family.

Does your school system have a strategic plan? Did your system use an inclusive process for this plan? Is the strategic plan transparently posted, and is there a regular routine of checking in to evaluate and revise/enrich the plan?

I'm happy to hear that our new superintendent is working with others to create a long term plan. I'm excited to be apart of this process in the days to come.

Supporting the Minority

It's difficult to be the minority in any situation.

The fat girl in a room of thin girls.

The light skinned individual in a room of dark skinned individuals.

The boy in a room of girls.

The child in a group of adults.

The Muslim at a Christian gathering.

The gay at a mostly heterosexual event.

The transgender student at your high school.

The single mother amongst all married couples.

The impoverished student amongst wealthy students.

Whatever the case, it's difficult to be the minority in any situation. Yet, those in the minority have a right to be who they are without prejudice, disrespect and cruel repercussions. They have a right to fair laws, rights and opportunities just like anyone else.

Today as President Trump speaks out against those who are transgender, he takes our country down. His prejudicial and isolating comments make others think that because you're transgender you can't be strong, patriotic or choose to serve our country with intelligence, fortitude or commitment.

But this is who President Trump continually shows himself to be, he's a man that repeatedly ridicules people based on gender, economic class, culture, and now, sexual orientation. It's as if he lives in a bubble devoid of contact with the great diversity of people who live in our country. It seems he sees the world through very narrow glasses of what is right and what is not right rather than through a lens that notices the great wealth, depth and breadth that a broad view of human nature, potential and promise brings to leadership.

In my opinion, President Trump demeans who we are as a people and a country with his prejudicial comments/choices, name calling and disrespect. Every day of his leadership has been discouraging. My hope for the future lies in those who know the laws well, those with heart and understanding of the great and promising diversity our country represents. I hope those people will continue to work on their own and together to defeat Trump's leadership and replace him with people who value human dignity and efforts to better our wonderfully diverse country and people. I will look for opportunities to join them to support an inclusive, non-judgemental/prejudiced USA in the ways that I can.

Preparing for Union School: MTA Summer Conference

Next week I'll attend the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) Summer Conference. I have always found the conference to be a great educational event and I encourage MTA members to participate for one or more days of terrific professional learning and collegiality.

This year I'll focus my efforts on Union School which is the MTA's multi-day event focused on learning about the union. As the local union secretary and a member of the MTA's Teaching and Professional Learning Committee (TPL), I am interested in learning about the nuts and bolts of the MTA so that I can support local members with regard to their rights and opportunities as MTA members and help to forward terrific professional learning opportunities as part of TPL across the state.

A few years ago a colleague and I attended MTA's Next Generation Leadership Program. I learned a lot during the intense three-day weekend event and look forward to connecting with new Next Gen participants as well as alumni at the MTA Summer Conference as well.

What I hope to get out of Union School and the conference in general this time is the following:
  • Attending events related to advocacy and the work we need to do to forward a good education for all students in our State and beyond. I want to direct my time, writing and speak well in this endeavor.
  • Understanding union-related laws and opportunities with greater detail so that I can support our local union members well.
  • Thinking about how our local union uses communication, transparency and process to serve our membership well and develop our ability to teach all children well with voice, choice and leadership
  • Noting ways that I can support our local union leadership in ways that matter
  • Understanding our MTA leadership and decisions/events to come so I can be prepared to attend and interact thoughtfully
The single most important factor to me about being a union member is that the union protects free speech and advocacy. Without the union I could be easily punished or dismissed for advocating for students. With union support, I am able to stand up to advocate for children's and family's rights even if those rights are looked at as problematic, costly, bothersome or unimportant by others. 

I am also a fan of the union because it protects teachers' rights to receive a fair wage and work conditions. This too is very important. As a historically female majority profession, our working conditions and wages are often compromised. There continues to be a need to advocate for fair and equitable pay, work conditions and opportunity for all educators. In many ways, I am fortunate to work with good conditions, but many other educators suffer from tough conditions. 

Further the union helps us to collectively advocate for better education decisions and choices on broader national and global levels to support good efforts to uplift the profession. I believe that educators are "nation builders" and I believe that a high quality education for all children spells less violence, greater equity, more respect for one another, valuable innovation and protection of our natural lands, water and air. I see the promise that education holds, but know that we need a collective voice to advocate for support for education.

I am not a fan of old-time union myths and attitudes which say that unions support those who don't work hard--while I'm sure there's a few teachers that may not do the work expected as that's true of employees in any profession, I know that the vast majority of educators give their professional work significant time, energy, care and expertise--they've chosen the profession to make a difference in children's and family's lives. That's a positive motive to celebrate and support.

So while I don't like giving up a few days of summer sunshine to learn, I do like the experience and result of attending the MTA Summer Conference each year to boost my knowledge and ability to support individual and collective efforts related to teaching and learning well. 

Next Steps: Health Care Crisis USA

I do think the health care issue is a crisis in the United States.

I believe it is a crisis because politics is trumping our dedication to the human condition and dignity for all people.

The speak from many is about gaining/losing votes, gaining/losing financial support for campaigns, and seemingly personal/financial power rather than a focus on developing our country in ways that matter, ways that elevate the human condition and our ability to foster life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people, not just some.

The fact that our President, Donald Trump, continues to surround himself mainly by older white men and family members, visibly demonstrates his lack of taking a broader view of our diverse country. He appears to value money and past realities of power and process over all else. We don't see a modern perspective coming from him or his cronies, a perspective that acknowledges globalization, climate change, population growth, multiculturalism, interdependence, collaboration and the continuum of what it means to be human and to dignify that reality by accepting people's personal choices related to their lifestyle, relationship, and other personal choices.

Like many, I am disheartened, but not giving up. Instead I am recognizing that I have to do more, get more active and support those around us who are working around the clock for human dignity and welfare.

I have been following many who are dedicated to doing what's best for all people. One of the people I am following is Senator Elizabeth Warren. She is working 24-7 to understand what's going on in order to stand up for what is right for all people. She is facing tremendous name calling and ridicule from President Trump who does not value her work and experience. Trump typically does not value women beyond their physicality or relationship to him or his cronies. 50% of our country is female, and we have to support leaders who support what's important to us as women--women who are mothers, women who are working, women who face unique female medical questions/conditions, women who have faced prejudice over time, and women who care about our communities, safety, education, and good living for all.

In Trump Times, the sensational sound bite often trumps dedicated work, significant experience, careful investment and good process. He manipulates us with his tweets that demean, name call, don't tell the truth and make complex issues seem like simple affairs. He denies good process and does not respect our Constitution, country's history or diverse populous.

So what is a citizen like me going to do now?

First, I'm going to look at my schedule and see where I can fit in real time to support individuals like Elizabeth Warren who are working overtime in the face of Trump's indignant speak, actions and lack of support for the average American.

Next, I'm going to look at my budget to see if I can spare a few dollars to support the best organizations that are working for our country's best interests.

And, I'm going to continue to learn as much as I can about our governmental processes, laws and rights so that my advocacy is well directed.

This is a time where all Americans have to sacrifice time and money to keep our country strong for our wonderfully diverse population. We have to get involved in the tough issues that exist such as where we spend our money, how much people are taxed, protection of our natural lands, equity for all no matter your gender, class, culture or religion and fair opportunity via education, health care and communities.

It shocks me that some will accept a President who name calls, does not tell the truth and clearly cares about the needs of his wealthy friends and family members over the needs and rights of all Americans. It worries me that we're accepting a leader who has everyone working overtime due to his lack of ethical process, effort or speak just to be able to live the life we've always enjoyed as free citizens of a country that values life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This is our new reality, and what will you do to make a difference today?

Develop Programs or People?

Too many in schools believe that buying new programs will boost teaching/learning. While I believe that good programming can lead to better results, I think it's more important to look holistically at teaching/learning with good analysis first.

As I write, I'm thinking of an effort at play in a school system I've learned about, but don't work in. Their scores were low so they quickly purchased a new program for all educators without a deep look at statistics and data.

To truly uplift a teaching/learning community, you first have to analyze what's happening with detail. How do you do that analysis?

First, look at all the data? Who is achieving according to the data and who is not? Where is achievement happening and why? Look deeply at the classrooms and teachers for whom achievement seems to be happening. Notice the demographics of those classrooms and teachers with regard to gender, culture, class, interests, at-home support, language, extracurricular activities, sports/health and more. What trends do you see? Is there little achievement anywhere or are there pockets of tremendous achievement? Do some cultures, classes, genders, interest-groups achieve better? If so, why? Take a deep look.

Next share that deep look with stakeholders. Say, this is what the statistics show, do you agree or don't you agree? Why or why not? What stories, details, and events are the details missing? How can you help us to understand this data better, what can you add?

Then utilizing stakeholders' observations/reactions and the data, see what's missing, and what might make a difference to the overall program. How can you use dollars, programming, educators, structure, technology, other tools and strategies to better boost learning and achievement--what really matters?

Propose and try out trial programs. Track the efforts. Continue to analyze both formally and informally to decide what's working and what is not working. Continue to grow.

To simply buy new programs as quick fixes to teaching/learning problems is short-sighted. What really matters is the analysis that informs next steps. The world of learning and teaching will change continuously, and the best way to respond to that is to institute regular routines of analysis and development. It's not people or programs, but instead process that matters most.

Lead Your Individual/Collective Teaching/Learning by Asking the Right Questions

Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with our new school superintendent. He invited me in to talk about a number of points related to teaching and learning. In general, I shared my thoughts related to communication, distributed leadership, decision-making processes, and curriculum. As I think about the meeting, I find myself thinking more specifically about asking the right questions.

As we talked, the issue of questions came up. I noted that a question important to me is "How do we best teach students who fall one, two or  more grade levels behind the expectations for a grade level?" I am interested in this question as I want to really look deeply at what creates this situation, and how we might support these students in ways that matter. As I think about this topic in relation to the elementary level, one factor that contributes to the academic divide is the date children join our school system. It seems that many of our students who fall far behind, join well after kindergarten thus missing out on our terrific, developmental programs to teach basic skills. In light of that, I'm wondering if we need to conduct a more thorough assessment of students joining our schools after kindergarten and perhaps even add some transition learning programs to help these students move up in skill/knowledge to meet or get closer to grade level expectations.

Of course to decide well would mean taking a much deeper look at these students with the following questions:
  • How many students at grades 3 through 8 fall more than one year behind grade level with respect to standards' mastery? (What metrics would you use to figure this out?)
  • At what age did these students enter the school system?
  • How many of these students are identified as special education students, and what special education needs do they have?
  • Are there other identifying factors that relate to these students such as class, family income, residence location, culture, gender, physical/mental health factors . .?
  • Do we note a rise in this population from grades 3 to 8 or does it fall or stay steady?
  • How many of these students leave the school system, and if they leave where do they go from grades 3-8?
Knowing specifically who your students are that don't make the grade-level standards is important. Once you know who the students are, then you can look closely at how our current efforts make a positive or not-so-positive difference with the following questions:
  • Of the students who made substantial gains in closing the gap between their performance and expected standards, what do we know about them in terms of gender, culture, geography, class, health, programming, extracurricular activities and other factors?
  • Of the students who did not make gains or even fell more behind, what do we know about them?
From this analysis, can we identify who we are reaching and who we are not reaching? Can we clearly identify factors that make a difference, factors such as specific programming, supports, educators and more? Can we identify particular students we are missing and why? 

This is an important question, one that greater, more targeted analysis will help us to solve. 

And, as I think of my work as an educator in general, I am thinking about the questions I ask and work to answer. I am thinking about the depth and breadth of those questions and what I do to use those questions to lead good work. Currently the questions that will lead my work at the fifth grade include the following:
  • Which areas of math did our students demonstrate good learning overall, and which areas do we need to teach better? I will use MCAS metrics in conjunction with Symphony Math, Khan Academy, observation and class assessment data to help me answer this question. Then I'll think about the timeline, learning experiences and structures that supported this work. I'll reach out to colleagues and others to help with my analysis and resolve. For example data points already demonstrated to me that we did a pretty good job with geometry, but could have done a better job with numerical expression. I will dig deeper into the data to see why this is true and use what I learn to uplift our teaching in the days ahead in this regard.
  • How can we deepen cultural proficiency in our programming to support student success? As a team we are going to use our past efforts in this regard to develop continued endeavor in this area. For example, we are going to elevate our orientation and intake processes to develop stronger relationships with students and families as research demonstrates this is critical to culturally proficient programming and student success. I will also look deeply at the data points to see where our cultural proficient efforts worked and where we can do better. 
  • What is the most effective way to teach math? This question stands at the center of my teaching efforts. I continue to develop my repertoire in this area with analysis of student work and result as well as reading and studying related literature--research that is reflected, in part, on this blog, via our TeamFive math website, and through the learning experiences I create, find, revise and utilize with students. 
  • How do we build optimal class community and students' SEL? We know that strong communities and SEL leads to optimal learning and teaching so that's why this is a central question for me. I am collecting teaching/learning ideas and efforts to support this on this Learning Behaviors, Mindset and Attitude website
In summary, it's identification of the most important questions that leads our work well. As system, school, grade-level and class teams, we need to identify those questions and then choose good processes to lead to development.

For my own work, I use the following process to develop response to my central questions:
  • daily reading and research
  • regular updates to guiding websites, learning experiences and advocacy
  • regular collegial observation, discussion, share and debate in real time and via my professional learning network (PLN)
As a system we are continually developing the processes we use to respond to the questions central to our efforts. The elements we use now and can continue to develop include the following:
  • data analysis: we currently use many data points, and I think we can continue to deepen, broaden and enrich our use of formal/informal data to identify and develop good questions to lead our collective work.
  • share: we currently have opportunity to share best practice, but I think we can develop our share and networks in ways that will better our collective effort and result. This will take research, discussion, trials and development
What questions are the central question of your individual and collective practice? How do you develop the answers or response to those questions in ways that matter? These questions are central to the work we do to teach students well each day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Putting Your Work Online: A Virtual Gallery

This is one of my favorites of Christine's @LineDesign33 Virtual Gallery.
I like it because it inspires me to imagine being that mermaid on the whale's back.
I can't wait to hang this up in my classroom to pique students' imaginations and creativity too.
Like me, my cousin, Christine Lucey-Meagher, is passionate about creating and caring for others. As an educator she designed amazing learning experiences for students like this Dr. Seuss Project. Also like me, her motivation has been to create, inspire and build community. Money has been an afterthought.

Now retired with a collection of beautiful hand-created line prints, Christine is developing her own virtual studio, LineDesign33. Together Christine, her husband Kevin and I started her online studio yesterday with a website, Twitter account @linedesign33, Etsy membership and Facebook postings. In the days ahead, I'm sure she'll create a Google+ presence, Pinterest, Facebook page, Etsy sell page and more.

After posting her virtual gallery yesterday, she already received a couple of orders for cards and personalized art work. In exchange for my time, she gave me a poster of the beautiful line drawing at the top of the page. I can't wait to share that drawing with my students as a point of imagination, inspiration and just pure pleasure.

It's important to put our work online these days. It's a way of sharing our commitment, care, talent and creativity with others. It's also a way to receive feedback and develop our efforts and craft. Further when our work is online, it's much easier to share with audiences near and far. It saves a lot of legwork and gives us more time to create with depth, breadth and purpose too.

I invite you to visit my cousin's beautiful website, view her amazing creativity and even order prints, cards or posters too as they make terrific, original gifts for others and decorations for your home or office.

I also invite you to put your wonderful talent, interests, inspiration and creativity online for all to see and share. As Thomas L. Friedman notes in his latest book, Thank You for Being Late--today's world is a start-up culture where everyone, in a sense, is their own personal "start-up business." As you think about that, wonder what your start-up is and how you'll share the time and dedication you give to that work with others. Please share with me as I'm interested.

Visit Christine's Virtual Gallery @LineDesign33 or LineDesign33

The Advantage of Mini Posters when Updating Teaching/Learning

Are we focusing on the right capabilities as we develop teaching/learning programs?

It's challenging to cull multiple pages from books into information you can easily remember, apply and embed into your practice as an educator. One strategy that works well is the mini-poster, small posters that include essential facts and information to lead your work. I found and/or created a number of these so far this summer based on books I've read. I don't want to lose sight of these ideas so I added the posters below. I'll feature this post on my blog, print the posters out in color for my classroom and utilize the ideas as I work with colleagues to build the learning/teaching program in the year ahead.
What makes students future-ready

The year's teaching/learning goals

Great image for students to discuss demonstrating fair is not equal, and equal is not always fair

Symbol that represents the way TeamFive works and learns
Poster with essential points related to building equity

School system digital do's and don'ts

Reminder of social-emotional lessons to embed in the teaching/learning program throughout the year

Very important distinction to share with students and have posted for easy reference. 

Awesome mini poster to lead collegial work and co-teaching.

Are we embedding these skills and abilities into our learning unit and lesson designs? How do we assess for these skills and abilities?

Community Trumps Management

I no longer like the term behavior management as it implies that our work is to manage children rather than inspire, lead, mentor and collaborate with children. When we think like managers, I believe, we miss the essence of teaching well which is to create a community of learners who lead their own learning and contribute to the collective learning of the class.

The movement towards greater SEL (social emotional learning) is a positive direction to move in as we encourage and inspire our young learners forward. How do you teach them to lead their own learning in ways that matter?

Please take a look at my collection of SEL links and resources as it may help you to build a dynamic teaching/learning community with self-motivated, young leaders, learners and contributors. If you have suggestions for the guide, please share. Thank you.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Earn Your Words

I'm thinking of a Saturday Night Live skit where a guy sits on his couch tweeting out ideas/suggestions, but never acting to make those ideas/suggestions a reality. There's lots of couch-pundits/radicals/politicians who speak out a lot and don't act. This kind of advocacy can have a bit of impact, but not the kind of impact that occurs when speak and action work in tandem towards service, betterment and change.

Hence, how can I assure that I'm not one who speaks, but doesn't act? It's the big-idea-to-small-action flow that occurs. We read, research, think/speak big and then bring it down to your real-time work.

So today I tweeted about a lot of issues and process, and how can I bring those tweets down to my own action/speak.

We're all a mix of good/bad--it's a continuum
It's important to refrain from judgement about individuals or groups based on evident action or words, instead it's good to go deeper to find out what's really going on and what someone truly believes or represents, and see the continuum that exists of good and not-so-good actions/speak/think.

"Go hard on the problem, not the people."
This advice from the book, Getting to Yes, reminds us to figure out what the problem at hand is and work with others to deconstruct that problem and remedy it rather than staying focused on individuals.

Don't label whole groups
There's tremendous variations amongst people within groups, refrain from speak/judgement that labels whole groups. Look deeper and find out more. Know individuals well.

Be respectful
When cornered, disrespected, demeaned or dismissed, we can revert to our primitive selves with disrespect. Instead it's imperative to always be respectful as that paves the way to greater resolve and good collaboration.

Work Together
Acknowledge that we all come at living from different perspectives, beliefs, vision so it's critical to work together, collaborate, and use that diversity to come up with better solutions.

We live in a complex world that's often not simple to understand or navigate, but it's in our best interest during this short life to do what we can for betterment, positive change, and living well.