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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Attending the School Committee Meeting

Why should educators attend school committee meetings?

In some systems, this is a common occurrence, and in other school systems it is a rare event.

Our teacher's union is moving towards greater attendance at school committee meetings because we care about the decisions made and topics discussed at those meetings since the school committee and educators share a common interest in doing what's right for the children and families we serve.

I believe that when all stakeholders work together to best serve students, families, and educators, it's a win-win situation and results in a school system we can all be proud of.

Trump Marks a Turning Point

Trump's evident lack of empathy, humanity, and care for most Americans calls all of us to action. What can we do in the face of a President who is so cruel and inhumane?

First, we have to make sure that in our own lives we live with as much empathy and humanity as we can muster. What we do in our day to day lives to lift our family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others is critical. It's often a lot easier to stand up and speak out for what is right than to actually do the good work possible.

Next, we have to make sure that the way we use money and do our own work is ethical and forward moving. We can't cheat, and need to be mindful of needs close to home and far away.

After that we have to support good government. Good government helps all to have fair and equitable lives. Good government ensures that wealthy companies and individuals don't cheat the common person. Good government uses money to help out when there are disasters. Good government works with global partners to protect and forward the global community with as much peace as possible. Good government looks for creative ways to better lives for all. Good government is not greedy and singularly directed to only a few, but works with collaboration and good effort to make life better for all.

And we can't accept leadership that is troubled, insane, unstable, disrespectful, and unfit for office. It's my opinion that President Trump is unfit to lead our country. He is a disgrace to all that I value in our country. I can't wait until the day that he steps down, and I hope on that day he moves to another country.

I continue to honor the good leaders and American citizens that work tirelessly day in and day out to do what is right. I hope to follow their leadership.

Data Mailing Labels

I was wondering how to efficiently share a host of data points with parents, and then I realized I could simply turn those spread sheets in data mailing labels. Now most of you are probably thinking, "Duh--of course you can do that," but it never occurred to me before. So I surmise my colleagues and I will work a bit on our spread sheets, choose the worthy data, mail merge to create labels and affix the labels to each child's portfolio as a little stats sheet of learning so far. Of course, the data is only one small part of an overall child's portfolio, and that's how we'll deal with it. Mostly we'll focus on students' wonderful showcase portfolios that focus on the whole child in positive ways.

Appreciation

Yesterday I was appreciated by a group of students and that felt good. Later in the day I found myself appreciating a few colleagues who contributed significant time and energy to better our school and service to students. Their detailed-oriented, acute dedication helped me to focus in on some specific issues with greater clarity and care. I could not have done this without the colleagues' dedicated time and effort.

This year as my house quiets and my schedule is more reasonable, I find that I'm noticing and appreciating more. The hectic schedule of balancing children, work, professional learning, and more can, in ways, blind one to the myriad of good works that are happening all around you. It's a pleasure to be at this place of recognition--a good place to be.

The Week Ahead: October 2017-2018

It was an eventful school week, and one that ended with good efforts and enthusiasm to come. These upcoming efforts were foreshadowed by the terrific buddy event at the end of the day Friday.

Next week finds the class focused on the following events:

School Assembly
TeamFive students will begin running the school assemblies which is always a terrific event.

Fact Proficiency
Each student is following a personalized path of fact proficiency. Many students made terrific gains in that area this week, and I expect that more will make gains in the week ahead. Facts and problem solving will be the priority for math home study this week.

Math Focus: Place Value Vocabulary, Charts, and Ways to Read and Write Numbers
Students will engage in a number of activities to study vocabulary, the parts of the place value system, model making, and reading/writing numbers. Students will also practice math with Symphony Math.

Solar Ovens
We'll likely make our solar ovens and hopefully successfully cook S'mores on Wednesday.

Buddies: 100's Fall Color Chains
We'll make 100-chains with our kindergarten buddies on Friday

Professional Learning
It's a local union week with attendance at the school committee meeting and our executive board meeting. I'll also attend a day-long professional learning event focused on our new Foss science kits that match the new Massachusetts Science, Technology, and Engineering (STE) standards. Our team also has a potential inservice presentation which I reached out to learn more about, and we have an extended PLC to discuss reading data and our Response to Intervention (RTI) efforts. I also want to review some recent place value assessments to see what students currently know and to determine a good direction for the learning to come. And we have a faculty meeting too. It's clearly a busy professional learning week.








Friday, September 29, 2017

Data Analysis and Teaching Well

I spent the morning organizing a host of student scores. I do find data analysis helpful when it comes to teaching students.

Initially the data demonstrated to me who may be having difficulty understanding class lessons due to issues with foundation skills, concept, and knowledge, and who is ready to take off in these areas. There was some scatter in data with some that makes me want to look deeper, and think more about who they are and how they learn. Together the team will focus on a few students today as we think about how to best teach those students this year--what will they need to learn well with confidence and good growth?

I believe the team building activities at the start of the year helped to make the team ready for the learning ahead. Recent focus on routines and rules will also set the stage for good teaching and learning. Now as we foster those good protocols and a sense of team, we'll dig in more with the targeted learning, learning that profits from both informal and formal data as well as a host of other factors too.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Friday Plans: Last Teaching Day in September

Tomorrow marks the last day in September of the 2017-2018 school year, and overall it's been a good start. We've got a lot of playful pictures and hallway displays that demonstrate that. We're also getting to know the students, and learning what helps them learn and enjoy school best. Building those student-teacher relationships takes time, and we're on our way.

Tomorrow students will finish up math assessments, learn with Symphony Math, take a few facts quizzes, and do some online math study in a workshop format. We'll continue our read aloud and  make 100s chains with our kindergarten buddies using 10-finger models. There will also be some time for routines' review and recess too as well as some follow-up organization work. I'm looking forward to a good day.

When Children Go Deep, Preview and Simplify

I've noticed that I have a lot of students that go deep this year. They see the depth, the layers, the details, the weave, and the complexity. When children go deep like that, the rest of the schedule, supplies, materials, and efforts have to become much simpler. It's also important to preview the day's events, activities, and expectations because it's easy to get lost when you go deep too, and when you get lost you might forget to be on time, follow a rule, put away your supplies, or pick up your pencils

I experienced this with one of my children. He's very much a dreamer. He has great ideas and is an adventurer too. When he was young I had to make his bedroom very simple because too many things crowded his ideas, sense of peace, and ability to be organized.

Every class is a teacher to the teacher. Even after 32 years of teaching, I'm always learning. And this year's class is going to teach me a lot about supporting depth and dreams--creating routines, a schedule, and classroom that supports busy, imaginative, playful, and questioning minds.

The depth has shown itself during play, conversation, read aloud discussions, and artistic endeavor. This is a challenge I didn't expect; and one I'm ready to embrace and learn from  Onward.

Professional Learning: Reflect for Success

On November 4th, I'll join other MTA members and staff to welcome and learn with new teachers, teachers with five or less years of experience. I'll facilitate the "Reflect for Success" workshop. During the workshop, I'll do what I can to support new teachers use of reflection to forward their professional practice in meaningful ways.

First, we'll introduce ourselves, and then we'll do a "vote with your feet" related to a few basic reflection questions.

Next, we'll discuss our experiences with reflection including when you reflect, where, how often, and why?

After that we'll take a look at the rationale and benefits for reflection as well as a number of vehicles for reflection.

Then participants will choose a reflection venue, and then utilizing DESE's new draft rubric for the educational evaluation system, participants will choose a reflection exercise to try out.

Finally we'll share our next steps.

Online/Offline?

I placed students' math unit online. The fifth graders have both an online and offline copy of the unit. The unit includes standards, essential questions, vocabulary, and multiple exercises related to unit skills, concepts, and knowledge.

Today students will access the unit both by paper and by computer. I'll show students how to use tech tools to access text, and we'll discuss the advantages of paper copies as well as the advantages of tech copies. For now, students will keep the paper copies in school and be able to access the tech copies at home.

While this is as much a math lesson as a learning-to-learn lesson, I believe it's important. The online copy will allow students to use a myriad of tech tools to make the text and exercises more accessible. They may use text to speech, highlighting, zoom, color coding, links, and more to learn the content. The paper copy provides the opportunity to write, sketch, and draw which is helpful since writing, sketching, and drawing are valuable ways to learn and memorize information well.

Students are definitely reaching to learn in this fairly new-to-them blended way. We will support them in every way that we can as we know this is future-ready and will equip students for optimal learning now and into the future.


Details That Matter

I love the big think and ideas. For example, yesterday the students and I discussed how our current read aloud, Yolen's Young Merlin Trilogy, is a metaphor for life. It was a rich discussion that fostered stretch and connection making with students.

Yet, while I love the big think, there's need for details to make the classroom seamless and streamlined. What are those details that so many teachers complete with ease each year?

Organization Center
Having an organization center in the classroom helps everyone. That center needs the following items:

Sign In and Lunch Count
It's critical to many in the building that students sign in and sign up for lunch. There needs to be a lit and related forms readily available.

Bathroom Sign-Out
It's important for safety and security that children sign out and in when they leave for the bathroom.

Lunch Menu
Students check this daily so it needs to be posted in important places.

Extras
There needs to be a place to retrieve extra assignments or supplies for current project work and study.

Schedule
Students like to know what's going on, so it's important to list the daily schedule and post the weekly routine.

Calendar
Students are often asking about the date--a calendar helps.

Portfolios
Students access their portfolios often so it's important to have them readily available.

Paper, writing supplies, and other classroom supplies that students need
It's best to have a ready supply accessible to students.

Reminders
The organization board needs a place for reminders.

I'm putting more effort into these details this year and will organize the read aloud/organization center to support greater student independence and classroom community in the days ahead.

How do you face a challenge?

Our teaching team faced a challenge. We met the challenge head-on.

First we notified those involved of the challenge.

Next we analyzed the challenge alone and with others to see why the challenge occurred and what we could do to resolve this challenge.

Everyone did their part. We established a number of new routines and we educated many about the challenge's harm.

This was good work.

Teach Well: Progress Matters

Progress matters as illustrated in the Harvard Business Review article, The Power of Small Wins. As I think about nurturing, encouraging, and coaching my young fifth graders forward, I take this idea to heart. How can I celebrate the small wins with students, and focus on the progress we're making in positive, proactive ways? Ambille and Kramer, authors of the article, write, ". . if you focus on managing progress, the management of people--even of entire organizations--becomes much more feasible. . .if you facilitate their steady progress in meaningful work, make that progress salient to them, and treat them well, they will experience the emotions, motivations, and perceptions necessary for great performance."

Good Process Leads to Progress
Streamlining classroom systems to foster independence and make time for the most important tasks is critical. Who wants to waste lots of time on the details? Instead, create systems that are seamless. Yesterday's Open Circle meeting of students pointed out a large number of ways that we can streamline our classroom systems to make them more positive and effective. I'll be working on those details in the next few days.

Meaningful Endeavor
It's critical to bring rationale to every lesson--why are we learning this and why does this matter?

Treat Them Well
Targeted, regular, positive encouragement, support, leadership, and teaching matters. In the article, the authors outline what one great manager does with the following details:
  • Establish yourself as a resource, check-in, don't check-up on students. Help them out rather than give advice, and don't blame, but work together to solve problems. 
  • Use transparency as much as possible. Withholding information diminishes investment.
  • Nourish the team daily by regularly responding and positively intervening to the issues and potential at-hand.
  • Stay attuned to students' daily activity and progress. Continually coach forward with positivity and valued support.
  • Establish a positive climate one event at a time. Model positive talk, effort, problem solving, collaboration, and team.
  • Celebrate the small wins regularly. 




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Serving on DESE's Teacher Advisory Council (TAC)

Today marks the kick-off meeting for this year's DESE TAC. I am looking forward to this meeting because I appreciate the time, effort, and depth the DESE team brings to this endeavor. Last year when I served on this committee, I was able to learn a lot, share my own and colleagues' perspectives, ask questions, and relay important related information via my blog and school connections. I'm happy that our state fosters teacher committees and councils that meet regularly with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Today, at this first meeting, I'll listen a lot. I'll hear about new initiatives, what's going on in schools all over the state, and other information that will impact our teaching/learning efforts this year. I'll think about how I can contribute to this committee from my primary focus this year which is creating a dynamic classroom learning community and working with colleagues with a team focus. As I work with this team, I'll think about the Harvard Business School article that I keep returning to this year as I work ahead to meet goals and do the good work possible.

The Big Picture: Teaching/Learning 2017-2018

When challenge occurs, I analyze it in multiple ways on my own and with others to make it better. I like to tear challenge apart to find the "promise in the problem" and foster improvement. An unexpected end-of-day event created a re-look at all the details related to teaching/learning at fifth grade. I think the outcome of that thought will result in an improved program, one that serves children better.

With those details in mind, I want to zoom out to look at the big picture once again. Where are we headed and why?

Math: Place Value
This unit is taking time because not only are we teaching place value, but we're assessing students' current math knowledge, concept, and skill, teaching routines, and building a dynamic math teaching/learning community. To rush into the curriculum without this means less success overall. Further, to begin the place value unit in meaningful ways, I'm making the time to relay context, rationale, and meaning--why should we study the base-ten place value system and where does this system fit into the overall math context. For example, yesterday students had the opportunity to watch a couple of short videos about the history of the base-ten place value system, a history that shows students that the base-ten numerals were an amazing invention, an invention that allows us to make numbers infinitely large and small, positive and negative. Next we'll look at the idea of systems, and why the base-ten place value system is a system. After that we'll analyze the parts of the system, and then look deeply at the behavior of this valuable number system. All of this learning takes lots of practice and considerable time, however, a good, deep focus sets the stage for units to come.

Class Community
Today we'll tighten up the rules and protocols that set the stage for a kind, caring, and helpful class community. I'll slow down and deepen the teaching and learning and make expectations explicit in order to support our wonderful community of amazing students.

STEAM
We've set the stage for great STEAMwork and students are eager to engage in this student-friendly and engaging learning. The next project is set to go, and we'll start that next Wednesday.

Science-Specific
Next week and the week after that as teachers we'll focus in on science teaching and then bring that teaching back to our students. I know that students will really enjoy our new units of science study and learn a lot.

Organization
Our organization patterns are continuing to take shape. I'm getting used to the new student information system, and learning how to deal with the snags that the new system, like anything new, presents. I'm working with students to receive needed parent forms and information too. Soon I'll create student/family lists from student surveys and support students' showcase portfolio completion in preparation for upcoming parent/student conferences.

Professional Efforts
Mainly my professional efforts are focused in on what happens with students in classrooms. I'll bring that focus to the many professional workshops, meetings, reading, and study I engage in.




The School Team

I admit that my ideal school is an open environment where students have significant freedom and choice. The Ms. Frizzle model of taking a busload of students on field trips every day appeals to me. I love to learn, and I love the excitement, creativity, and drive a group of invested learners display when they are working on meaningful projects and problems.

Yet that ideal does not work as well in close quarters with large numbers of students. More students, less space, and limited decision making power means a greater need for routines that support good transitions, safe behavior, and caring collaboration. Our classes have 20+ students, and almost every corner of the school is used for lessons, meetings, lunch, and support services. It's a busy school environment, and in a busy school environment, team is more important than ever.

So how does a teacher who desires more free, open, and independent learning reckon with the limitations that large numbers and relatively tight quarters present?

First, this morning students, colleagues, and I will meet with the students in an open circle to discuss classroom rules, protocols, and behaviors that create a strong, caring, and productive class culture. I'm sure students will have many good ideas, and we'll work together to implement those ideas to better our class community.

Next I'll slow down the teaching/learning. There's a temptation to rush with the tower of curriculum that equals more time than we're at school and more time and attention than many fifth graders have. Every teacher knows that today's curriculum and standardized test demands create pressure since there simply isn't the time available to meet all those expectations. For example if you're teaching writing, then you may have as many as 25 essays to review and coach forward a week with as little as 45-minutes of time set aside for that as well as all the other administrative duties a day. That's a lopsided equation that teachers meet with creativity. At our Middle School, they actually added new positions to remedy this reality somewhat. We might want to think about how we can remedy this at the intermediate levels of elementary school too. The same may be true for science projects for which set-up takes a large number of planning periods. Time is short in schools for prep, planning, and response, and that's an added pressure too. In the face of this, teachers have to continually remind themselves that they're not super-human, and the job is to do their best in the face of this pressure. Also, we have to enlist student support too when it comes to setting up for projects, editing each others' work, and teaching each other too. Further, it's great when systems allow good technology since one-to-one computers with worthy technology can relieve this issue, however in many schools the tech is so restricted that they may not have the computers, and if they do have the computers, they may not be able to access the terrific technology that exists for learning due to other factors. Overall though, good teaming benefits from slowing down the program so there's time for social-emotional learning and attention to each student's needs and interests--this is what students remember most, and this is what supports a stronger future more than anything else.

Also I'll listen carefully to colleagues. Every educator and staff member in the school sees the situation a bit differently due to his/her focus. The custodians expect respect when it comes to cleanliness, recycling, and organization. The lunch staff appreciates readiness, good manners, and responsibility. Recess staff expects students to play fairly, be safe, and respect the rules. Classroom teachers look for tenacity, focus, academic drive and interest, asking questions, and learning lots. Specialists appreciate attention to detail, good strategy, an interest in the subject matter, and the ability to flexibly switch from one educator's perspective and focus to another's discipline, priorities, and management. I heard schools once described as small cities due to the complexity that exists in those relatively small and sometimes cramped buildings. I agree with that metaphor as the day is filled with multiple, intersecting transitions, focus areas, goals, students, and staff.

The more we can meet the many challenges that school presents as a team, the better we'll do. On the upside, to work with many means you are also working with tremendous experience, interest, creativity, and ideas which also like a city creates a complex, but rich learning/teaching cultural fabric. If I were to teach in a Ms. Frizzle-like manner, I'd miss out on the terrific synergy and collaboration that enriches my practice and ability to teach daily.

I'm thinking a lot about the attributes, challenges, responsibility, and opportunity the school team presents today as I prepare to coach my small team of fifth graders ahead. I welcome your thoughts and ideas as I continue this thinking and resulting action. 


Recallibration

It happens in relationships. It happens in families. It happens in organizations and businesses, and it happens in school - recalibration.

Recalibration means to readjust, rearrange, re-order, reposition and re-sequence. As I thought of those verbs, I realized that there's many ways to better the class community and efforts now that we know students better and know our new schedule too.

To make the time to recalibrate means that you take the time to make time for betterment and serving students well. This kind of recalibration is needed often throughout the year as students grow and change, it's part of the continual process of change and betterment that good schools embrace.

Mostly our recalibration will include readjusting the schedule to account for messy transitions, and messy transitions mostly were due to times when students return to the class at many different times such as when they return to class from music workshop and instrumental lessons which includes at least three locations and three somewhat different programs, and when there wasn't enough time for a more-thoughtful transition with greater support. This is a greater need this year than last year for a number of reasons specific to this year's schedule and class. So I took a close look at the schedule, and found places where we can extend and better transition support, protocols, and time to make those transitions more community-friendly.

To embrace recalibration means that you embrace the potential for positive change and growth. You see the promise in the problems that uproot, and use that promise to create a better plan, process, and protocol.




Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Making Expectations Explicit

When some don't follow the expected protocols, it may be because the protocols aren't explicit enough. Tomorrow we'll change the schedule so we have time to go over the school rules that pertain most to our class specifically including the following:
  • Follow the morning routine: sign in, read the day's agenda, get started
  • Work quietly and focus on the task at hand
  • Respect others' belongings and bodies--no body contact
  • Do your part--clean up, put away your materials, follow the schedule
  • Ask permission before you leave the room, don't just walk out. Sign out when you leave, and sign in when you return.
  • Walk silently in the halls so you don't disturb others' learning
  • Play kindly and fairly
  • Use polite language
  • Listen when someone else is talking
  • Ask questions or ask for help if needed
  • Be kind and helpful to others
Most of all we want a safe, caring classroom. We want a classroom where children learn in engaging ways too. If everyone does their part, that will happen. Tomorrow we'll focus on this. 

Privilege and the Developmental Curve

There's a gradual release of responsibility when it comes to school privileges. There's always a stage at the start of the school year where you figure out what the group and individual children are ready for, and what they are not ready for too.

As  you think about student privilege, the first priority is safety. You don't want to give students a level of freedom that creates an unsafe situation. You also want to make sure that students are learning, and you don't want to allow a level of privilege that gets in the way of learning. For example sometimes the privilege to choose is too great if a child continues to make a poor choice.

Choosing the right level of privilege is a stop-and-go process. You allow privilege and see how it goes. If it doesn't work out, you pull that privilege back, or if it works well, you create even more privilege.

Our team is looking at privilege now--what's working, and what can change for the better. We're getting to know our students, and learning what works best for them. I'm sure this is true for most teachers at this early time in the school year.

What Matters? Goal Setting Season

In a sense, goal setting season is beginning at school.

Yesterday I attended a meeting where we considered a number of goals.

Principals will meet soon to think about school goals.

The Department of Education Teachers Advisory Council (TAC) will consider goals at this week's first meeting of the year.

Parents, teachers, and students will consider goals as we meet for parent-teacher-student fall conferences.

At PLC we'll soon review initial assessment data in math and reading and set some short term goals for teaching and learning too as we create targeted RTI groups.

The local Union board will consider the year's goals soon, and the MTA Teaching and Professional Learning committee (TPL) will also consider the year's work and goals at an upcoming meeting.

I'm sure there are many other goal-setting meetings happening throughout the school, system, and multiple other education organizations I belong to and work with.

As I think of all these meetings, my role, and the goals we'll make, I'm thinking deeply about what is important when it comes to goal setting.

First, I think it's important that we use data, deep think, experience, knowledge, creativity, and collaboration to set meaningful goals that will uplift individuals and the community. If we set goals too quickly, it's possible that we'll target work and result that isn't relevant, meaningful, and impactful. To set meaningful goals, we have to think about what's most important.

Then, to think about what's most important, we have to use good process that looks deeply at issues. For example, sometimes issues are perennial meaning that they occur every year because no one has really made the time to think deeply about the issue in ways that matter.

What's important to me related to the many goal setting meetings I'll be involved in is the following:

  • I want children to have a happy experience at school.
  • I want students to be excited about coming to school and enthusiastic about the learning that they're involved in.
  • I want students' social, emotional, physical, and academic learning to be meaningful to them.
  • I want students to make good progress in all areas, and I want that progress to be explicit to them--I want the students to see and reflect on their growth and goals regularly.
How will I meet these goals on my own and with others?

With regard to school-wide goals, I'll listen carefully to my colleagues' experience, research, data, and priorities. I'll work with them on goals that are mutually embraced.

With parents/guardians and students, we'll look at students' reflections, strengths, and challenges, and determine together where the teaching/learning priorities are for holistic, overall success as well as success with our standards-based curriculum.

With the state committee, I'll listen carefully to the goals the state is working on, and see how I might match those goals with work relevant to my school, grade-level, and professional learning. I'll do the same with the MTA TPL committee.

As far as school-wide goals, I'll listen carefully as I'm interested in the process used, and how those goals affect the work I do and the experience students have. And with the local union, my goals are three-fold. First, I want to understand our new agreement well. I also want to keep the website up-to-date and promote teacher-friendly professional learning by listing and sharing worthy learning events that are available. 

At present, in the classroom, the goal now is to continue to help students follow positive routines, routines that promote optimal learning, independence, responsibility, voice/advocacy, and a caring, collaborative community. The second goal is to complete collecting initial school forms from family members and the completion of a host of assessment data, data we'll use to set new learning/teaching goals. I also have a fair amount of curriculum teaching and planning work to do for early-year teaching events. Onward. 

STEAM Exploration: Solar Ovens

Our system has identified a number of STEAM projects for grades K-5. Each grade level is responsible for about three projects a year. Tomorrow our grade-level will embark on the solar oven project.

While you could literally spend weeks on this project, time is short in standards-based public schools so we've dedicated two lengthy science times to the endeavor. What will students do?

First we listed a large number of introductory videos and tasks that students could do on their own to prep for the project. Tomorrow we'll focus in on two of those videos--one that sets rationale for solar ovens and one that introduces how to make a simple solar oven. Then student groups will make ovens, and test them out by heating water in the ovens. There will be some follow-up science study, reflection, and next steps design too.

The second day of the project will find students re-designing their ovens to capture more heat, and then they'll test the redesigned ovens by cooking s'mores. After that students will have a chance to reflect on the next iteration of their oven what it will look like given all the information they've learned through invention, trial-and-error, science reading/study, and talking to one another about the project.


Monday, September 25, 2017

#Takeaknee = #Takeastand

It's important that people stand up, kneel down, or speak out about what they believe in. Peaceful expressions of advocacy have always been a hallmark of the United States of America. As we notice people all over the country speaking out and standing up for what they believe in, I am thinking about how leadership should act in the face of these protests.

First of all, leadership should welcome advocacy for what is right and good. The initial #takeaknee protest was intended to raise awareness about racist brutality and response. Our country's racist history rooted in slavery is something we have to continually contend with and work against. Clearly racism still affects our country in terrible ways, and we have to use our best creativity, empathy, and intelligence to rid our country of this devastating disease. When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, the President should have invited him to the White House for a conversation, and the conversation should have started with "You were courageous to take a knee, please tell me why you did that, and let's see how we can work towards betterment in that area."

Next, leadership and all of us need to not only speak out, but we need to act. President Trump spends most of his time tweeting to degrade people who disagree with him. It doesn't seem like he does much to truly remedy the situations that face us, situations related to climate, poverty, infrastructure, health care, and more. President Trump leads for President Trump, his family, and a few wealthy cronies. He truly doesn't demonstrate respectful care or regard for most Americans. He is more interested in his popularity than anything else. In my opinion, he's the worst President that America has ever had.

Further, we need to understand why some still support President Trump. I think those who are good people who continue to support Trump do have issues we need to think about. Issues such as affordable health care, fair immigration laws and protocols, safety, and opportunity. It does seem like some pockets of our country feel distanced from opportunity, safety, and equitable benefits--I think it's important to look at this with care and depth. I also feel that others who support Trump are prejudiced individuals who have a backwards vision for the United States, a vision that lends less rights to people of particular cultures/races, women, and middle to lower economic classes. There's no room for this backwards, prejudicial outlook or vision in our country, and a President who supports this is a President who does not represent our fundamental values which direct us towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Peaceful protest is a positive way to affect change. Peaceful protest of any kind should be embraced by our leadership, and that peaceful protest should be a sign that we have to look deeper at issues and make good change. President Trump is wasting our time with his constant prejudicial, uninformed, bullying tactics--just think about the positive change and development that could occur with a President who is willing to bring Americans together to foster good policy, protocol, and change to forward the tremendous potential for what is right and good that exists.

Student CRM?

I would like to collect student data on spreadsheets I can use to analyze and manipulate data, and then print out individual student data sheets for parent conferences.

Do you do that?

What system do you use?

What data, formal and informal, do you collect?

How does the data help you to personalize your programs and utilize resources well?

While there's great talk online about student-driven versus data-driven, I like the way good data collection and analysis can help me to see a child with greater depth and clarity. Certainly no child is singularly a set of data points, but it's true that data analysis can help us to look at our programs, staffing, students, and services in different ways.

The key is to keep the analysis holistic with both formal and informal metrics--a child is much more than a test score, but test scores can help us to see a group in ways that matter too.

Families also respond to data--it's a quick way to assess their child's overall skills in an area, and as long as that data is coupled with informal and more holistic observation, I believe it's positive.

For example with upcoming parent conferences, I'd like to report the following (though some of these metrics won't be available at that time this year):

  • State scores (unfortunately won't be available)
  • System-wide assessments (also may not be available, but I'd like to lobby for availability)
  • Grade-level assessments
  • Anecdotal evidence related to student interest, happiness, need
  • Portfolio examples of student ideas, interests, learning, and school activity
Positive parent/guardian conferences lead to positive parent/guardian-teacher-student conversation, goal setting, and relationships. Good data and a holistic look at a child's learning program helps family members, students, and teachers work together to direct the teaching/learning program.

I think we're ready to update our process in this matter with the following efforts:
  • more organized data collection, organization, analysis, and reporting
  • more timely data collection, organization, analysis, and reporting
  • replacing the report card with regular data collection and reporting processes--processes that mirror the natural processes of teaching and learning
  • more facile, systematic, and deep use of data, informal and formal, to make decisions related to program development and practice.
In turn, I hope this movement will help us to help students to manage and direct their own learning efforts. For example this week, I'm using data from recent fact tests to differentiate home study so that students are studying at the level they are currently at--a level that will hopefully encourage them to take ownership of this learning and practice. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Study List 2017-2018

I need to start a new study list as great links are shared:

Trump Times: Update

I've been consumed by school and family these days, and less on top of Trump Times, and can say after a bit of review that President Trump continues to disappoint and worry me as the leader of the United States.

It seems that Trump is much more concerned with his popularity than any other aspect of his work or endeavor. In what ever way possible, his main aim is to get his name out there in sensational ways so no one forgets who he is.

His childish behavior continues as he wages word wars with the leader of North Korea. Their word fight is something very akin to what you may see now and then on an elementary school playground. His retweet of the golf ball hitting Hillary Clinton is also similar to the kinds of cyberbullying we have to deal with now and then at elementary school, the kind of cyberbullying his wife, Melania, spoke against this week. I wonder if she gave Trump a time-out. His willingness to speak out against NFL players' non-violent, peaceful advocacy for human rights, once again demonstrates his willfulness against human rights and freedom of expression (unless it's freedom of expression by those who he agrees with such as those who will to end equal rights, health care, good education, and all else that is right and good for humanity.)

So what are Americans to do about such an offensive President?

First, I am grateful for all who put Mueller in charge of an investigation of Russia's influence over the election. This matters greatly, and it seems there is mounting evidence of Russia's impact on the election. This information will help us to better our electoral system and rid our government of those who work with foreign leaders to undermine our United States laws, government, and individuals' right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Next, I am grateful to all the political leaders who are standing up to Trump's willfulness when it comes to getting rid of good health care for average Americans. It seems that Trump's main reason for getting rid of equitable health care is to put his name on a new health plan, and to help wealthy Americans become more wealthy. Rarely to never does Trump stand up for what is right and good for average Americans, and that's why I'm so surprised that many average Americans continue to support him.

Third, I am grateful to all the leaders from all fields of study, work, and location who are willing to stand up to Trump and his cronies' unfair, elitist policies and speak. Their leadership is challenging who we are as Americans, and those who speak up position themselves for Trump's relentless and childlike name calling, put-downs, and disrespect. Trump, again similar to what we see on playgrounds here and there, uses public shaming, name calling, and seemingly untruths whenever he feels threatened or disagrees with people.

We have a very child-like President who is creating havoc in our country. It is a real problem for our country and all the people in it. As for my part, I'll continue to work for equity in my professional field, community, and nation. I'll read up, and do what I can to support a better America, one that embraces our wonderful diversity and one that works with the rest of the world to forward the potential that our humanity holds for what is right and good.

Week Four: 2017-2018 School Year

The schedule is beginning to take shape, and that means the planning will become more targeted in the days ahead. Targeted teaching and learning means making the time for the most essential teaching, leading, and coaching for every child, and those targets continually change as students demonstrate varying interests and needs. A day of play and good rest allows me to focus in on the teaching ahead with greater detail in the writing below.

TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More
This week we'll revisit the focus on team as we complete the marshmallow-spaghetti challenge again. I'll use the resources on this team page, plus the pictures from the last challenge to jumpstart the event. Later in the week students will reflect on the teaming and learning from this event.

Buddies: Students Teach Too
We'll also focus on learning in many ways this week including how to teach our kindergarten buddies about ones and tens in base-ten. Fifth graders will practice finger-counting with the kindergartners, and then they'll make a tens-chain up to 100 with strips of finger counters.

SEL: Open Circle
The week will find us at our first open circle where we'll again talk about teamwork. In general, the group is learning how to work as a team and respect one another's needs and focus as well as the learning/teaching focus of the class. The school counselor will lead us in this discussion in a big circle in the school cafeteria.

Math: Facts, Place Value and Assessment
Math will focus on facts and place value. We'll start with a discussion about short-term and long-term memory, and how placing those math facts solidly in the long term memory helps with math learning. Then I'll tell them that the results of their first facts quiz demonstrated where they are on this learning curve, and that this week's home study will help them gain greater mastery over this learning challenge. I'll give another set of online quizzes next Friday to see who is making progress, and differentiate the assignments and support in this mastery endeavor accordingly in the weeks ahead.

We'll also begin to focus with greater depth on place value. We'll discuss the concept of systems, and then discuss the base-ten place value system. We'll see a film on the history and creation of this system, and then make models of the system parts and behavior.

Students will take the Track My Progress and Symphony Math assessments this week too. These assessments along with class work, the place value pre-assessment, and other scores, informal assessments, conversation, and observation will help us to target the teaching and learning in student-friendly, positive ways.

Read Aloud: Metaphor for Life's Journey
Our read aloud will continue as we watch the young Merlin develop and change over time. We've already discussed how resilience and dreams can push a person forward even when times are tough. This week we'll focus a little more on the people that impact your journey as Young Merlin otherwise known as Hawk in Yolen's trilogy begins to travel with Ambrosious, the mage and mountebank, and Vivianne, his accomplice. We've made connections in this story to Harry Potter particularly since young Merlin is born of mortal and immortal parents.

STEAM: Solar Ovens
We'll embark on the solar oven creation project this week too. Working with partners, students will build a solar oven out of a pizza box and measure the increasing temperature of water in that solar oven. Next week students will have the chance to improve their designs and cook s'mores in their ovens. This should be a fun project!

Team, Learning, and Leadership Events 
The week also includes today's systemwide Family Cook-Out, grade-level team meetings focused on scheduling, projects, and field studies, the school Faculty Senate meeting, DESE's Teacher Advisory Council meeting, and the High School Back-to-School Curriculum Night (my son's in high school). All of these events will contribute to team and optimal teaching/learning focus too.





Saturday, September 23, 2017

Creative Math Workshop

Yesterday the students engaged in a well-planned endeavor that was beyond their collective, current skill level. As that became apparent, the teachers in the room shifted the teaching/learning to a review of the concepts using a number of short videos. Upon playing a music video, many children started to dance--they were very good dancers. The first instinct was to ask them to sit down and listen, but before I did that I watched recognizing that many learn well as they move their bodies to music and sing the lyrics. I let them dance, and then noted that students sometimes use dance and song to learn concepts, and then showed them a few videos that exemplify this. There was clear interest so I said that I'd have a math music video contest, a contest I've since decided to broaden to a math creative expression endeavor and contest.

I'll organize the creative project requirements which will include the following:
  • Focus your creative project on teaching specific information from our place value unit
  • Work in mediums you enjoy such as visual arts, video, song, instrumental, theater, or dance.
  • Make time to plan the work together, practice, review with a teacher, produce, and share.
I'll create a few opportunities for children to come to school early or stay late to work on their projects. 

Toward the end of the unit, there will be a time to share the projects with classmates and perhaps others. 

I'm not sure where this project will take us, but the reason I'm starting it is that I want to engage the students in the learning, and there is clearly a desire from these students to use art and creativity to learn. Let's see what happens. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Musings: September 22, 2017

It was a very busy, but overall a very good week and a very good Friday.

Today was busy, busy, busy. We began with a principal-led PLC focused on norms, roles, schedules, and agendas for the year's PLC-very productive.

After that, the math coach came in to teach the first of the day's two-period math classes focused on games. She mirrored much of the Boaler teaching philosophy and language as well as many more positive math strategies and efforts. The games were language-rich, engaging, and focused on our standards-based curriculum. Overall students were engaged, and I learned two more wonderful math games to include in the math curriculum.

Later students created percentage quilts using Google table with a focus on 100%, 50%, 25%, 10%, 1%, and 200%. This gave students a chance to learn the Google table tool, and engage with percents, factions, and decimals in an engaging way.

Students also had a chance to take instrumental lessons, meet and work with their kindergarten buddies, and complete classwork and enrichment items.

Next week will find us focused on the place value unit with greater depth, making/testing solar ovens, read aloud, math assessments, open circle, faculty senate, and a couple of parent conferences. Hopefully next week will also bring a bit more peace and ease with the new at-home and school routines too as I adjust to the new year. Onward.

Try, Try, Again As You Rise

Life is a complex series of plains, inclines, and plateaus. I find myself on the rise these days with a large number of deep learning challenges close at hand. I know what I need to do, but there's some personal resistance to the change, and the level of intention needed to make this rise is significant. It's not an easy incline, but instead a deep and significant personal climb.

I talk to my students about the need for vision with regard to resiliency. You need to know, in part, where you're going to get the energy to get there. Dreams are actually fuel for this forward movement, and the clearer your dreams are, the better the energy.

So, I can see I have some work to do in order to clearly outline the dreams and vision that are calling for this more deliberate direction and change. It's a movement towards betterment, a movement that spells some significant change in the details of life (not the big issues or events), but as they say the "devil is in the details," which means that those details of change can be the most onerous as we work for good change, betterment, and the will to rise.

PLC Starts Again

Our system has embraced Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Those PLCs have evolved over time, and I value what we do during this time to collaborate with all the educators that teach our fifth graders once a week.

Today's meeting will be led by the principal who will bring the system's latest iteration of PLC to our attention. This probably will be a focus on bettering the PLC with small changes and greater attention to particular details. I honor the continued growth and development of any school routine with the focus on bettering our collaboration and good work.

The challenge at PLC is time and numbers. There's typically up to ten people at the meeting and the time usually lasts less than an hour. That means the meeting has to be well organized to be effective. There is typically some debate at the meetings too since we are often trying to solve meaningful problems related to teaching students well, and problem solving often invites debate. Good debate profits from good process and respect for one another. I believe this debate also profits from lead time to review related documents, agendas, and issues so we're ready for the collaborative work of sharing ideas and working together to do good work.

I'll listen carefully as the PLC starts with a mostly similar team. In the past our team's collaborative work has truly helped all of us to teach better, and this is work I value as the results are visible in children's smiles, investment, and positive development. Onward.

The Day Ahead: Positivity

Despite so many worrisome news reports, I do have the daily opportunity to work with positivity to teach children well. Today students will learn new math games, practice instruments, read and listen to stories, play with friends at recess, and complete creative projects. We have such a wonderful group of young learners who by nature mostly look at life with optimism and positivity--I recognize what a privilege it is to work with these children. Onward.

New Routines and Cranky Kids

I was cranky last night, and I figured out that it had a lot to do with the fact that I'm sharing a car now when last year I had a car all to myself. It also has to do with a few news reports that hit home and were worrisome.

As I think about this crankiness, first, I recognize the first is a problem of privilege, so there's no reason to feel sorry for myself, and this may be the way a lot of my students feel as they adjust to new schedules in the school year. The worst part of sharing the car, is that I have to adjust a lot of routines which take time and thought. Last year, my car was essentially the office I don't have. I could safely keep a number of school supplies in the car, and get them as needed. This year, I've lost my "office." Not a big deal, but a lesson nonetheless, that new routines take time and can make people cranky, and we need to be mindful of that as our young students adjust to new routines in the school year.

Secondly, in the news last night there were a number of worrisome reports--reports about health, reports about empathy and care for one another, and reports about environmental/social needs. With a government that now has to contend with an erratic and seemingly warmongering President everyday, it is challenging to see how many issues have risen and how many issues our government leaders have to deal with. Also, some of the news reports, spelled needed changes for my family, and our commitments since what once seemed right and good, science and study is now showing to be less right and good creating a need for change. Students too watch the news. They see the worrisome and scary reports too. Like no other time, the news is a delicate topic in elementary classrooms since much of what is reported goes against our basic school principles and rules.

As I always write, the key is a good routine with thoughtful change and response. I will be thinking about that today as I coach my students and own children forward.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thinking About Learners; What They Need and Desire

I'm pondering about the many learners in my midst and what they need.

As I think about these learners, young and old, there are some thoughts that stand out.

First these learners want to be encouraged, not discouraged. With a strengths-based mindset and model of teaching and learning, we can always begin with the strengths.

Next, these learners need to know how to learn, and they can learn this with good introductions to tools, mentors, strategies, and spaces that will develop their teaching and learning.

These learners want to be celebrated and congratulated from time to time for their extraordinary efforts. The response does not have to be great to be significant, but positive responses go a long way when it comes to noticing learners' good endeavor.

The learners profit from good routines, time to talk, and time to let it all sink in too.

I really like working with learners. I like helping them to find their way amongst all the choices, dreams, and hopes that exist. I see tremendous potential in each learner I work with, and I'm often amazed by what they do and where they're headed. That's a strong suit of the teaching profession.

Teaching Well: Fighting Discouragement

It was a great day of teaching, yet I left discouraged. Why?

Mainly the discouragement was based on efforts I hoped for that didn't occur. My sister would say, "I don't know why you think things that have always been one way will suddenly change," but forever the optimist or too idealistic to see the reality, sometimes what I expect is far different than what is.

Teachers get discouraged at the end of the day for many reasons--they may be tired, a lesson may have failed, a support did not arrive, or there was challenging debate. Discouragement will happen from time to time, and it can take you down if you don't have good strategies to fight that discouragement.

As I coach myself forward, I am reminded of the following strategies that work well to fight discouragement.
  • a healthy, positive routine
  • prep and planning ahead
  • realistic expectations for what you can do
  • celebrating the small wins
  • focus on what's positive 
  • strategically working with others for change, and knowing that positive change takes time

Is Silence Safe?

Today I engaged in a school conversation on Facebook. It was clear that my ideas were not embraced by those I debated with. I honor those folks' ideas and perspective, but I also honor the experience and context where I teach and learn too. When it comes to teaching well, almost everyone has an opinion, and truly, there are lots of right answers depending on context. The best I can do is to continue to engage in these conversations to both question and inform my practice.

Many might not engage in discussions like this because they feel that their words will not be honored and their voice may not matter, but when we stay silent we don't grow as individuals or communities. Of course, too much noise gets in the way. Like all things, there's a good balance here.

What My Students Need?

As I think of my students this year, I'm thinking about what they need. Here's my list.
  • Some need more dedicated one-to-one time to learn to read and enjoy reading too. 
  • A positive teaching/learning program.
  • Some need more dedicated time to learning how to use computers as intelligent assistants so that tech can support their learning needs and interests.
  • Some need more deep, rich, engaging projects.
  • Some need more comfy chairs.
  • Some need more teacher time to talk.
  • Some need more playground equipment beginning with badminton rackets and birdies.
  • Some need a bigger lunch as they are growing and the typical elementary school lunch is not enough.
The children are well loved and cared for by their families. They come to school ready to learn. As I think of the list above, I realize it's a less cumbersome list than other years, yet a list that helps me to form the efforts for the days ahead. 

What Does Engagement Look Like?

Engagement makes teaching and learning enjoyable. Engagement depends on good tools, student-centered teaching and learning, and a welcoming learning environment. Sometimes engagement is challenged due to curricula or environmental issues--the school is not welcoming, and the curricula uninteresting or dull.

There are so many positive things we can do in schools to create a more engaging and student-friendly environment. And in the best of circumstances, administrators/educators have a servant-leadership mindset which means that their efforts are focused on the students and families we serve, and they work to create the best possible student-friendly schools possible.


Dream School: What I'm Wishing For

While I've typically advocated for better in school, this year I'm focused more on the classroom details and efforts to support each child's successful learning and experiences of school. Yet, my advocacy spirit has not dimmed, and I dream of so many positive changes for schools--changes that will make schools more inviting, successful, and future ready for all students. What do I wish for?

Deep, Meaningful, Engaging, and Creative Tech
Rather than workbook-on-a-page technology, I want to integrate more deep, rich, constructive technology like 3-dimensional printer software and machines, coding such as SCRATCH, learn at your own pace, well-designed intelligent assistants like Khan Academy, multi-player games, and three-dimensional modeling programs like Minecraft. My hands are tied in this area and my options are limited with regard to what technology I can use with students. I've spoken up, and now it's up to others to try to deepen the tech we use. I know that this is a right direction for education.

Better Purchasing Systems and Protocols
I am spending more money than ever for my classroom. Fortunately the PTO will reimburse me for some of those purchases. But the way our purchasing system works is that you have to order most of what you need during the very tired last weeks of school--weeks where you have little to no time or energy to give ordering your best thinking. Now that I'm fresh, new curricula is introduced, and I know my students, I find that I need many more materials to make the class a successful, happy place. Sometimes our behavioral problems occur because we don't have the kinds of supplies that welcome students' comfort and good learning. Sounds silly, but in a small classroom with 24 students, traditional dice are loud and don't land well on the surfaces available. Yesterday I was introduced to foam dice which were so much better. I wish I could order those right away to make learning better, but the process is lengthy and detailed so if I want them, I have to order them myself. I also know that comfy chairs relax this class so I'll order a few more, and while I can support the STEAM lab with lots of recycled goods, I don't have the storage space or time to drum up all those supplies. Instead, I can order well-made supplies to support the projects which I have done. The list goes on and on with regard to supplies I could use to make the learning better, but given our current purchasing system and the time I have available for paperwork/advocacy, if I want those supplies, I mostly have to buy and pay for them by myself if I want them in a timely manner.

More Playground Equipment
I've noticed how well received our latest playground equipment is. Children LOVE it! We could use more climbing, stretching, and swinging equipment. I'd also like a gazebo space with picnic tables and some open space for too-sunny and drizzly days so students can still be out in the fresh air. Big swings for student/teacher swing and talks would be nice as well, and newly painted sports fields lines will support more peaceful and organized play for those who enjoy sports games at recess.

Strategic Teaching and Learning Roles and Staffing
I think we can go deeper when it comes to strategizing the way we use our time to help every child learn. This will take a whole-school approach, commitment, and creativity. I think there is some lost time and staffing in this regard, and I can think of ways to improve this.

Communication
I still long for that kind of deep, reflective, transparent, and inspiring regular communication. I don't know why this does not occur often, and perhaps I am alone in desiring this. I find that teaching well takes lots of inspiration and encouragement, and the kind of newsletter or communication my husband used to receive weekly from his boss who is now the governor of Massachusetts is something I long for with regard to our shared efforts to teach and learn well. I looked forward to Mitchell Chester's weekly note at the state level, and now that he is gone, his voice and leadership is missing.

Less Leaders, More Time-On-Task Support
I continue to be a fan of distributive leadership where almost everyone has responsibility for, and time-on-task, with children. I find that too many leaders leads to confusion and less support for children, whereas models of shared teaching and co-coaching lead to more dedicated and collective work with and for children.


While I desire a lot, I am thankful that I have a cozy corner in the classroom for professional work, substantial paper, one-to-one chromebooks for every child, a great grade-level team and systemwide colleagues, a terrific teaching/learning schedule, invested students/parents, dedicated colleagues, a large grassy playground, lots of natural spaces, specialist subjects, community support, and more. There's a lot in place, and I think there can even be more with little additional cost, and potentially promising results.

Classroom Details 2017-2018

The class takes shape as students demonstrate their preferences related to all kinds of teaching/learning events.

Read Aloud
Our read aloud space keeps morphing and changing as I notice what students need. Many in this class likes to draw as they listen, and I understand that as that's what I like to do too. Drawing while listening helps me to pay attention, relax, and understand the story. Some prefer to relax n the comfy chairs too. The comfy chairs almost hug the children, thus relaxing them. Others spread out on the floor or sit on hoki schools. We've had some good discussions as we read the Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen--a trilogy that lends itself to good book talk.

Morning Routine
We have extended time for morning routine this year which is good. We're working to make this as independent time as possible giving students control over the start of their day. This is a time to catch up with individuals and answer questions too. The morning routine typically includes signing in, choosing lunch, and following the morning work menu which varies from day to day.

Math
Students all have bags of math supplies, and we've started the math year with a variety of online and offline activities. So far, it has been a positive start.

STEAM
STEAM started with enjoyable team activities, and now leading into our first project: the solar oven project.

Science
Science and STEAM overlap, and this year we have new FOSS kits to support specific science teaching. I'll soon read all about the kit, and develop the hands-on activities to meet student interest, standards, and academic need.

Recess/Specials
Students have great recesses on our big playground. I want to buy more recess toys since we can use more. Students enjoy their many specials including tech lab, library, art, music, instrumental, and physical education.

Field Trips/Expert Visitors
We have a great menu planned, and now it's time to complete all the details related to this.

Cultural Proficiency/Orientation
We continue to do research in this area, and plan related events. Early year get-to-know each other activities such as selfie collages, birthday cake pictograph, math number, and upcoming culture flags have all fostered conversation about who we are, what we enjoy, and what we dream of. These conversations and activities have fostered positive class culture.

Class Meetings
We have regular class meetings to discuss student/teacher needs, interests, and current/future efforts. These meetings tie the team together in positive ways.

Buddies
We've yet to start our buddy routine, and will do that soon.

Star Classroom
Our school has a star classroom effort, and our class has started collecting their stars.

The agenda is full and well-planned, now it's time to stay the course.

Looking Ahead

It seems like our curriculum efforts are well organized this year which means that we have the time and knowledge we need to differentiate well. As I look ahead, I realize we are currently involved in the following efforts.

Assessments
Students are taking a number of informal and formal assessments that will help us to target the teaching and learning ahead.

STEAM
We started STEAM with a couple of team building activities, and next week students will begin their first STEAM project, the solar oven project.

Science
After the initial STEAM project, we'll launch our new FOSS science kits and units study.

Math
We're continuing the first unit, place value.

Field Studies/Expert Visitors
Some are scheduled, and some need to be scheduled.

Paperwork
I'm waiting on a purple form from some families, and some families still need to sign up for a conference. I'll contact individual families if I don't receive those items by Friday. I also need to make a few more family surveys and send those out as well.

Student Portfolios/Conferences
We'll prep portfolios and review assignments with students as we prepare for the year's initial parent-student-teacher conferences.

Professional Efforts
DESE TAC, MTA TPL, Faculty Senate, Child Study, and WTA make up the lion's share of my efforts that lie outside of the grade five team.



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Playing Math Games

I enjoyed learning about managing and promoting math games from the math coach today. The coach gave a well-paced, developmentally-appropriate mathematical introduction to the game. We matched students with like ability, and let them play. We all roamed the room helping partners play the game and noticing how the game playing connected to each students' skills and interests. I will definitely play this game again, and scaffold it a bit more for the many different areas of need and interest in the class. I also really liked the way this game fostered the acquisition of math vocabulary in an engaging way.

Welcoming the Coach

If you read my blog, you know that I'm a fan of co-coaching and distributive leadership rather than a separate role of coach in elementary schools. Yet many elementary schools are embracing the model of hiring coaches to support educators. The reason that I am a greater fan of co-coaching over a separate position of coach is that I feel that separate positions add to the layer of support in schools that don't work regularly with students, whereas the co-coaching role gives that time and support to the teachers in the field who are directly working with students day-to-day. I believe that most people working in schools should be directly tied to time-on-task with students and direct accountability and care of those children. When the layers of professionals removed from students becomes too large, I believe that resources that can best support students are challenged.

That being said, I do work in a system that embraces the coaching model at elementary school, and with that in mind, I've been thinking of ways that I can best maximize that support to develop my teaching after all these years. So today and Friday the coach will come in to model math games that support dynamic student teaching and learning. While I know that math games are a positive part of the math curriculum and used to solidify and deepen concepts, I've never watched a skilled professional model that effort. I look forward to the learning ahead, and I'm sure that the students will enjoy the games.

As educators in thickly settled school systems, it will always be the case that there are initiatives in the works that you support, and initiatives which you may question. When it comes to initiatives you question, the key is to find ways to utilize and support those initiatives in ways that best support your learners and professional practice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Strategic, Holistic Teaching

When we observe students closely in a number of formal and informal ways, we learn about the supports they need to learn more and better. Once the initial observations and assessments are done, it's time to think strategically about how to best help those students gain a strong foundation in concept, knowledge, skill, and interest.

Today I looked at a host of scores, and in the past ten days, I've observed the students a lot. Now it's time for the team to work together strategically to prioritize and teach well. What do we have to do?

All Hands on Deck in Purposeful Ways
We are fortunate to work in a school that has substantial staffing and support, and the challenge here is to utilize our collective time and energy in ways that matter. This requires transparent goal setting, scheduling, and time-on-task with students.

Prioritizing
As we look at students' programming, we need to prioritize. For example, if you're a specialist working with an at-risk student who cannot read well, that's likely to be a first priority. If that student faces similar challenges socially, you may think about how you can build reading fluency and social skills at the same time. Or if you're working with math students, and find that some have little foundation in number sense, that's likely to be the place where you start.

Looking Ahead
As we look ahead, we know what's most important is that children learn how to learn, and retain confidence, a love of learning, and engagement all along the way. How we teach today will impact children tomorrow, and that's why a holistic lens and effort is imperative. We want to mentor, coach and guide children ahead in positive, holistic ways so they may clearly see and maximize their strengths as well as learn how to strategically work on their challenges.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tomorrow: Directing the Teaching/Learning Path

Tomorrow is day 10 of the school year.  We've done a lot already, and now it's time to play catch-up to make sure that everyone has completed early year projects and learning efforts, endeavor mostly aimed at getting to know one another, building good relationships, and introducing initial learning/teaching patterns.

During the next few days, I want to focus on individuals--who is completing tasks and who is not? What do students need to achieve good learning and success? It's also a time to focus on routine--what's working well and what needs a bit of change to work better.

Essentially we're building a team, and preparing to learn as positively as possible in the days ahead.

Changing Patterns

Changing patterns is not easy, but it is often a good thing to do.

It's inevitable that we have to change patterns regularly, and it's best to take the time a new pattern requires in order to embed that pattern into your routine.

Too often we think that patterns can be quickly and easily changed, and don't give our children, students, or other family members the time time they need for the change.

In school this year, I'm paying a lot of attention to patterns. I'm watching carefully how students engage with the new school year's patterns, and making changes and providing more practice when needed.

I know that embedding good routines and patterns creates time for greater depth and focus with learning, teamwork, and engagement, so I'll continue to think about this and give the changing patterns the time it deserves in the days ahead.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Global Commitment to Protecting the Lives of Innocents

I'm listening to and reading about world leaders' will to protect the lives of innocents. I'm hearing their discussion about the responsibility of private businesses, individuals, and governments to partake in this important goal. I'm wondering if the key is to create a policy that we all share--a policy to protect the lives of innocents.

Who are innocents?

How can we protect their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

What is the responsibility of individuals, organizations, businesses, and government in this regard?

How can we define this better, and work towards this goal in ways that matter?

Pattern of Learning and Living

I find that patterns are integral to good learning and living. Yet, while I value patterns, I find patterns difficult to commit too. I grew up with less routine/pattern, and I often connect that to my interest and ability with creativity. Yet, a lack of pattern, can also be connected to disorder, confusion, and trouble too. Patterns are good, and no patterns are also good.

With that said, however, I'm working to build in a better pattern this year--one that acknowledges what I need to teach, learn, parent, and live well. What's needed?

Daily Time for Reading, Research, Reflection, and Writing
This creates the fuel and wisdom I need to do my job well and reach the hopes and dreams I have.

Time to Move, Play, and Be Active
Essential for health.

Good Food and Good Relationships
The sustenance and energy for living a good life. Both take time and thought.

Time for Play and Fun
There's so much to enjoy in life, and that invigorates us.

Practice
Time-on-task to do the good work and live the good life I reach for.

Onward.

Brain Study and Impact

I attended a mind brain presentation at Boston University on Friday. The presentation provided a snapshot of what is happening in this field, and gave me lots of ideas I want to develop and think about as I continue my work to  teach young children well.

The many ideas I gained were like tiny seeds implanted in my brain, seeds I'll read more about and begin to grow as I develop my understanding of this arena. Initially however, the day-long event provided me with the following school-related ideas and emphases:
  • Our school system STEAM efforts are well directed, and the work I do to manage and develop these efforts with good research and intent matters. Creating opportunities for students to work together and integrate multiple disciplines to understand facts, patterns, and relationships as well as to invent new solutions is key instruction for the future our children will face.
  • Quantitative literacy is essential for our students, and the more that we can model mathematics in multiple ways online and offline is integral to their future success in any discipline. My advocacy for 3-dimensional modeling programs like Minecraft, 3-dimensional printers, and other sophisticated technology is right-on when it comes to developing the ability to create and understand computational models and analysis. 
  • Modernizing schools and teaching is essential to preparing students for the incredible opportunity for exploration, investigation, and innovation that exists. Old time school is not relevant to our world today.
  • Interdisciplinary Study, Thinking, and Innovation is the way of the future, and we need to foster deep, relevant, engaging problem/project base learning to build this skill and perspective.
As I noted, much of what I learned, I am just beginning to understand, however, I did add my cryptic notes below, notes I'll share with students as rationale for much of the study we do. For example, when I return to school, I'll say to students, overall I learned that scientists are basically trying to figure out how to make a Google map of the brain that shows all its parts and clearly defines how the brain behaves too. This is very complex since every brain is unique and ever changing. In some ways, our brain exploration mirrors space and ocean explorations since all three areas of study are essentially frontiers where there is much to know and understand. I'll likely discuss this before I show The Powers of Ten movie, a movie that brings this connection to life and helps to teach the fifth grade math standards too.


Philanthropy
I will introduce children to philanthropy, the desire to contribute to the welfare of others, expressed especially in the donation of money to good causes. I will tell them the story of Rajen Kilachand, who recently donated $115 million dollars to Boston University to jump-start more collaborative science research, and for whom Boston University's new integrated engineering and life science center is named. I had the chance to meet Rajan and his family at the event. I also learned the impact and information related to philanthropy and the basic sciences and math.

Marc Kastner, President of Science Philanthropy Alliance, discussed the role of government funding and philanthropy. Kastner noted that Kilachand's donation was a "spectacular example of what science needs." He further noted that research and development impact the long term health of the economy which we can use to infer that research and development impacts the long term overall health of organizations including schools. Kastner mentioned that the United States dropped from first in research and development in the world to tenth, and that this could have consequences. He spoke in support of federal funding for the sciences, and said that philanthropy cannot fill the gaps that less public funding creates. The discussion moved to the need for greater collaboration amongst research universities and organizations.

Seeing the Depth and Vitality of Math
I had the chance to talk to Peter Robert Kotiuga, a Boston University mathematician who recommended that I read The Enjoyment of Mathematics and Pioneering Women in Mathematics. I learned a bit about his research, research that, in part, focused on the visual aspects of mathematical thinking and learning.

Recognizing the Impact of Interdisciplinary, Investigative Science Study and Impact
Later, during a symposium of scientists, I learned about new inventions in the biology and engineering:
  • Robert S. Langer introduced a new method for drug delivery, and noted that delivery systems is a main focus of biotech today. He explained that in days of old and still today, physicians and scientists, looked around their homes to find materials and models for needed invention, and used "trial and error" to invent, but now scientists are using computational models to invent via technology. He looked forward to a time when we will make organs on a chip and design body parts on a computer. An example of the production of skin and how that can much more quickly help burn victims was amazing. 
  • Richard Kitney discussed synthetic biology, and mentioned that we are in the 4th Industrial Revolution which is a time of interdisciplinary invention. He talked about new ways to make vaccines, and the fact that the flu is predicted to be big this year. He told of the use of biosensors in the body and synthetic biology. During the symposium, it was noted that DNA Code and Binary code will likely synthesize in a biodigital fusion. 
  • The discussion led to genome editing to mitigate or end disease, and the invention of the CRISPR. Diseases with single mutations are much easier to understand than diseases with multiple genetic mutations. This science depends on interdisciplinary efforts. For example the data collected in the labs is then interpreted by computational models to find patterns and relationships that lead to greater understanding and innovation.
  • At times, due to the extent of data, computational modeling may not work, and the human eye and interpretation may be better. 
  • It was noted that working close to one another leads to good synergy and interdisciplinary work because of the relationships that develop, relaxed nature of the connections, and the proximity. Creativity flows better in these environments. Yet, we know there is a good rhythm of creativity that exists with close-proximity share and global share via social media and other means.
  • The inventions they are creating essentially promote a feedback pattern of assess, choose, and activate to solve biological problems. Involving the public in a dialogue with regard to biotechnology was seen as positive, and it was also mentioned that embedding the social sciences in all new research programs was important too. 
  • Networking was emphasized, and the need to seek and identify the terminal points, points of effective exchange, is valuable. 
  • The future of neuroscience was discussed. With regard to brain disorders, the role of heredity was noted, and the potential to treat these disorders with gene therapy was illustrated. The study of brain disorders is still in its infancy, and the fact that every brain is different makes this research very complex. The fact that parts of brains can be made in a dish, makes progress in this area possible. Animal studies with mice are not as effective in this regard since the mouse brain is so different than the human brain. Studies with primates are more promising. Good research and innovation in this area will create better lives for individuals and the nation--brain disorders cost our communities lots of time, money, and trouble. 
  • Robert DeSimone mentioned that the Boston science community is the most interactive community, and that's great for the city of Boston and its universities. 
  • DeSimone said that the goal is to make a Google Map of the brain to make the brain parts and interactions transparent. 
  • It was further noted that the goal is to make activity maps of the brain to show how the brain works. Optogenetics is a study that is promising in this regard. 
  • The fact that the brain is continually developing makes the science more complex. For example brains of twins that begin as identical personalize over time. 
  • Quantitative literacy is important to understanding this science. The new world of medicine will be a world of genotyping and interdisciplinary work. A mechanistic understanding of the brain is desired. 
  • Boston University is doing some ground breaking work with anxiety, and they are working with local school systems in this regard. 
There is terrific energy and enthusiasm related to neurology and the potential for bettering lives this study brings. There is lots to consider, and much we can do to prepare our students for the world they will inherit and develop in this regard. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Choosing

It's is a privilege to have choice--choice over your time, where you live, what you do, and your loved ones and acquaintances. Many in the world have much more limited choice than others. With choice comes responsibility and the need for reflection, collaboration, and thought. Time to gather your ideas, dreams, and responsibilities together, and reflect that in the choices you make.

How we use time is a wonderful choice. How we make those choices won't always be perfect, but with thought, we'll do well with time.

Whom we choose to spend time with is also an important choice. When we neglect spending time with those we love or care about, the relationships suffer. Yet when we make the time to spend time with those we care about in ways that matter, the relationships grow strong.

The time we devote to our professions matter, and how we spend that time makes a difference too. There's always a balance to be made there, a balance that's not always easy to find.

Time for the places we live is important too. Without making the time to care for our homes and yards, we lessen our potential for good lives and living.

Time for fun is equally important--we need to make time to have fun and enjoy life too.

I'm thinking a lot about choosing today, and in particular, I'm thinking about how I use time in that regard.

Full Brain

Yesterday I attended a day-long alumni event at Boston University about neuroscience. It was fascinating, and I learned a lot that will impact my teaching in the coming days. I have a lot of notes, and I'm going to let my brain rest a bit before I begin to organize and solidify the ways I'll embed the new learning into my practice. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Noticing Betterment

I am noticing evidence of betterment.

First, I am noticing greater lead time with dates and events. This is positive and very helpful when it comes to planning and doing a good job.

Next, I am noticing betterment with the tech venues that assist the daily duties. For example our attendance was just put online and this is much easier than off line attendance routines. Soon we'll be able to ask parents to pay for field trips online which will save us considerable time and effort. The use of Google calendar is another time-saver and example of betterment.

We have increased planning time which is also evidence of betterment. Finally we have a planning period every day, and many planning periods in common with colleagues. This is a significant improvement from the past.

Curriculum is better outlined, organized, and communicated at local and state levels. Since there is always change in this regard, there's still room for growth in this regard.

And, people are beginning to respond to emails in a timely manner which means that I need to write a lot less emails. That's awesome!

It seems that our work environment is becoming more organized and service-oriented which means that I have the time and capacity to heighten my ability to lead and serve the colleagues, students, and family members in my learning/teaching team.

I am also noticing that more educators are speaking up, sharing ideas, and becoming active in our local union. Since I work with many committed and dedicated educators, this involvement spells betterment for all.

This is good news.

Revisiting Summer Research

It's so easy to read and research, and then to let go of what you've learned. To truly embed new research into the school year, one has to revisit that research often and reflect upon application. This morning I'm reflecting on the research I read by Friedman, Darling-Hammond and others, and Emdin. I highlighted main points in these mini posters, and then reflected on what needs to happen in the classroom below. In the days ahead I will review other research posts related to brain-friendly learning and cultural proficiency to look more deeply at how research may positively affect the teaching/learning this year.







Continued dialogue with students as we co-construct the classroom. Infusing this language into the daily teaching/learning efforts.

Curriculum Focus:
  • Reading and talking/writing about reading daily.
  • Math everyday utilizing the math practices effectively and deeply
  • Blended learning and focus on how to maximize the use of "intelligent assistants."
  • Critical and creative learning projects, activities
  • SEL focus throughout the curriculum that emphasizes respect, ethics, character, metacognition, and more. 

Equity Efforts
  • Team emphasis
  • How can we provide opportunity to students?
  • When and how do we listen?
  • Differentiation
  • Informal/formal data analysis to lead learning/teaching
  • Everyone belongs focus
  • Effectively embed equity efforts.
  • Revisit the "No Prejudice Here" theme/discussion regularly.

Starting with Emdin's research, I have the following to do:
  • Institute call and response routines
  • Create expression/question bulletin boards
  • Foster positive team competition (we'll do that with upcoming STEAM activities)
  • Continued teaching with the arts
  • The hello project - multiple greetings. We'll focus on this in Open Circle too. 
  • Continue to co-construct class protocols.
  • Open-ended math teaching project. We'll do this at the end of the place value unit.
  • I've used recess as a time to have open ended, friendly conversations with students regularly.
Darling-Hammond and others' research about future-ready teachers and students.
  • We started showcase portfolios earlier, and have slowed down the classroom to include more reflection, analysis, and reasoning.
  • I've advocated to include lots of tech into teaching, and have received some refusals here, but I am including what tech I can, and will continue to advocate for more and better as I research.
  • We've done initial assessments, and as new data comes in, we'll continue to analyze. 
  • As I get to know students more and have more analyses, we'll begin to differentiate more. At this point, we've begun to differentiate in small ways with teaching assistants' support.
  • We've been focusing a lot on vocabulary across the curriculum, and looking at curriculum through multiple lenses. 
  • Teamwork has been a strong initial focus and will continue throughout the year. 
  • Our initial STEAM explorations have fostered creativity as did our initial selfie project--we have many more projects planned that will include lots of creativity. 
  • We began with a deep look at cross-cultural issues with a historic lens and will keep that focus going with projects, discussions, current events, reading, and more. 
  • We've emphasized that students need to lead their own learning in brain-friendly ways. We also discussed that the sum of passion plus knowledge equals success. We'll continue to focus on growth mindset and brain/cognitive knowledge.