Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reacting to Manhattan

Like everyone, I am so tired of the attacks on innocents around the world. When I read about teary, frightened children and the injuries and deaths of innocent people, I am angry and sad. Why does anyone think they have that kind of authority over the lives of others, and especially how can those who are mothers and fathers seek to kill or injure innocent people--mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, friends.

We have to bring together our collective creativity, knowledge, and understanding of this situation to put an end to it. It has to be a global effort. We need to begin with experts who understand these acts well, and then reach beyond those experts with their leadership into homes, families, communities, and institutions that can further help us resolve this violent disease, one that brings great hardship to so many, and one that costs lots of money--money that could be used to elevate life.

What I can do now is to continue to work in ways that welcome all children into our classrooms and work with those children to help them develop good skill and confidence so that they can find their interests and pursue a good life. I can also reach out to work in the community and neighborhood in positive ways. I certainly don't have much to say here. I'll continue to read, think, reach out, and learn to understand better and do more.

Focus In: October 31, 2017

The brain-shifting for multiple focus areas is always a challenge as an educator. It's good to stop regularly to outline the work ahead.

Cultural Proficiency
Readying students for the In the Heights experience

Math: Unit Two

WTA: Keep notes, website up to date

TPL: Fully engage with JFNT Conference on Saturday

DESE TAC: Attend 11/14 meeting, share all meeting highlights with systemwide colleagues and PLN, follow up on committee expectations, initiatives.

Teacher Leadership/Shared Teaching Model: Spend a day with teammates focused on how we can lead our model forward in ways that matter with regard to students and their families.

Science/STEAM: Read, research, prep, and teach Matter Unit

Math RTI: Work with enrichment/core group leaders to promote greater mathematical thinking with specific exercises. Work with intervention groups to provide good materials to forward students' targeted skills, knowledge, and concept.

Reading RTI: Work with small book group to forward comprehension and fluency skills through worthy book discussions, reading, and follow-up activities.

SEL: Work with school counselor to forward Open Circle discussions and support class meetings on a regular basis. Focus on attributes of character in multiple ways throughout the year.

Faculty Senate/Child Study: Attend meetings as they occur and contribute as helpful.

Field Studies/Expert Visitors: Work with Central Office to make payments online. Work with administrative staff to attain needed checks. Follow up with students and families with regard to payment and permission slips. Work with grade-level colleagues to organize upcoming events.

Classroom: Continue to update to make the room well organized, inviting, and useful with regard to optimal learning.

Posts and Resources for Deeper Reflection

Typically at this time in the year, I'm often too busy for the deep thought and reflection needed with regard to the many resources I receive via the numerous channels I connect with. Hence, I typically start a new post just to collect those resources so I can revisit them during times when I can really think with depth and apply the new learning.

Maximizing Professional Learning and Share in Dynamic Learning Communities

I work in a dynamic learning community. Family members, students, community members, educators, and administrators are continually learning and developing their knowledge. How do we maximize the share of all this terrific learning? How can we use this dynamic learning to our collective advantage? How can we move towards optimal share without overwhelming each other?

As I think about this, I do think we need a central share vehicle. I believe a shared professional learning blog is the best vehicle--a blog with distinct categories related to content/subject area. I also believe there should be an obligation for those who attend conferences to share a short write up with links with others in the learning community. I'll think more on this in the days to come, and please share if you have other ideas related to this. Thanks.

Day Off: Focus

Turned out that my "sick day" turned into a a couple of days off due to a weather related event that closed the school where I work. I have to say this worked out well for me as I needed a couple of extra days to feel better. Also today is Halloween and it's never the best teaching/learning day since students are very, very excited about the holiday events and rarely give the teaching/learning the typical attention.

So today will be a day to focus on all the supports and efforts that support good teaching. A good day to play catch-up. Onward.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Social Media Use and Update

When you first dip your toes into the social media pool, you simply don't know where that eventual splash is going to take you. That's why you have to stop once in a while and review the streams you've created.

I've mostly centered on this blog, Teach Children Well, and my Twitter, @lookforsun. Recently, however, I've started to become more political, and I don't want to mix my professional education/parenting blogging and tweeting with my political work as I want to stay mostly apolitical when it comes to my work as an elementary school teacher and education professional. We all know that it's impossible to stay completely apolitical in any sphere since politics rubs up against and intersects with every type of work and effort, so there will be times when the two collide, harmonize, or simply intersect. In general, however, as a teacher of young children I want to keep my focus on their development and the efforts that forward their potential and opportunity.

That's why I've created a new Twitter, @MaureenDevlinUS for my political activity and a new blog, Iridescent Lens, for my more personal views about politics.

Update: There's great intersection between my role as teacher and my role as one interested in political advocacy for children and families--this has been difficult to dissect online and off. I will think more on this challenge in the days ahead.

Focus on the Good Challenge

I'm thinking about the positive challenges in my midst today--challenges that stare me in the face, and challenges that if met will uplift my work and life. How do we overcome those challenges we face and find the promise in the problem.

First, dissect the challenge. What's actually happening and why?

Next, make time to meet the challenge. Avoidance and denial is the surest way not to meet or overcome a challenge.

After that create a positive routine that strikes at the challenge on a daily basis.

There's a great sense of pride and success when one overcomes or meets a challenge, and knowing that inspires the path ahead.

Planning for the Unexpected

I unexpectedly came down with some kind of illness today. Too ill to teach, I had to call in for a substitute. This doesn't happen too often fortunately and when it does I always feel guilty as I know a day with me is different than a day without me for the class. Yet teachers make a big mistake when they come in sick for a lot of reasons.

That being said, this makes me realize that as teachers we have to be ready for the unexpected. I have a sub binder, but it's tucked away. Project materials cover a couple of tables too. It was an extremely busy Friday, one with little time to tidy up and organize, time when I didn't plan for the unexpected.

There's a lot going on in my life this year beyond me and my family, events that could lead to unexpected events. So when I return on Tuesday, I'll make some time to prep for the unexpected events. I want to add that to my school year prep chart too. Onward.

Another New Start; Focus Close to Home

After a fairly quiet weekend, I recognize that it's the beginning of another new start, a brand new chapter of teaching and learning. This typically happens when clarity about focus and momentum occur.

The new start focus is not different that the past chapter. The mainstays of a welcoming home and classroom, focus on family and teaching, and continued reading, research, and development remain. Yet the change is to accept a quieter, close-to-home approach to the work I do. I am beginning to go deeper with my practice as I explore a number of teaching and learning ideas in the classroom where I teach--ideas that elevate what students and teachers can do to maximize learning in meaningful ways.

In the past many years I reached out a lot to organizations and people throughout the world for wisdom, ideas, learning, affirmation, and challenge. This was all good, and won't completely end. But now, to a large degree and for this chapter, the focus will be a micro-focus on the effort and opportunity that exists here. Onward.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween: Give in to the excitement

Image Reference
Students will be excited this week. Many will have Halloween on their minds. I'll not fight this, but instead give into the imaginative and creative energy that exists. In math we'll focus on pumpkins rather than Halloween. Students will make an imaginary giant pumpkin patch as they study the connection between meters, decimeters, centimeters, and millimeters. They'll work together with a focus on measurement and collaboration to make giant paper pumpkins that are one meter high and one meter wide. The pumpkins will have eyes one decimeter high, noses one decimeter wide, and mouths between 50-80 centimeters wide.  After they meet those measurements, they can have fun decorating their pumpkins. For other classes, students will practice using coordinates to draw a pumpkin and then to create their own coordinate grid pictures for friends to create. After Halloween, I'll increase our independent reading and online practice time since children will likely be a bit tired and potentially out-of-sorts. In years past I've fought the energy that matches big holidays like Halloween, but this year I'll teach with complimentary activities instead.

Note: We don't directly celebrate or teach with a Halloween theme since some children do not celebrate this holiday.

Self Assess & Reflect for Teaching Success

Next Saturday, I'll present "Reflect for Success" to new teachers at the MTA's Just for New Teachers Conference, a conference focused on Massachusetts' new teachers' needs, interests, and opportunities. I am happy to take part in this great event as I honor the timely and innovative work the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) is doing to uplift education for all students and teachers in the state.

My presentation will focus on real-time reflective practices teachers may use to uplift their current efforts and long-term goals to serve students and families well. We will focus primarily on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESEs) new draft rubric for the teacher evaluation system. My work with DESE's Teacher Advisory Cabinet (TAC) introduced me to the process and detail related to this rubric, a rubric I both support and have started using when it comes to optimal teaching and learning. I hope that our team efforts to unpack the rubric in relation to reflective practice will give new teachers greater capacity to lead their professional practice with strength and depth.

Research supports reflective practice, and my efforts to embed reflection into my practice have mirrored what the research tells us about the benefits of regular reflection.  I'm looking forward to sharing this valuable information and practice with new teachers as well as learning from these dedicated new teachers about the ways they use reflection in their own practice to lead, learn and teach well. If you're interested, consider joining us.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Too Much Curriculum, Too Little Time

As our system embraces new curriculum, I find that we haven't made room for the new learning and all the prep that goes with it. This is a common problem in schools, one I'll be thinking more about.

Gratitude List: Resources That Make a Difference in Schools

As a critical thinker, I stop now and then to write a gratitude list of all that our school and school system has for which I'm grateful for--the resources and attributes that give us conditions for excellence.

Family and Community Support and Engagement
The community is supportive of, and engaged in, the success of students and the school.

One-to-One Technology
Our students have access to a tech device all day, every school day. We also let students without tech at home borrow a device to bring home. At the high school and middle school level, every child has a tech device for home use and school use. We have many additional desk-tops, iPads, and other tech devices available.

Academic Software
We have a number of subscriptions to a variety of academic software subscriptions (Of course I'd like more and better, but we're fortunate to have what we have).

Specialist Subjects
Every student, every week learns in the grade-level classrooms as well as in physical education, the tech lab, library, music room, instrumental lessons, and art.

Field Studies, Special Events, and Expert Visitors
We have regular scheduling of all of these special events--events which broaden students' experiences and perspectives.

High Quality Educators and Staff
Our teaching staff meets the criteria for high quality preparation, and our teaching assistants generally far exceed the minimum requirements for teaching assistants--they are well educated women and men who bring substantial experience to our school.

Good Facilities and Playgrounds
We have a sensational playground and an adequate facility. Though older, the facility mostly meets our needs for good teaching/learning.

Continually Evolving Curriculum
The curriculum continues to evolve. Current efforts to build STEAM teaching has resulted in meaningful and engaging hands-on exploration and study. New purchase of FOSS kits for science is bringing a high-level hands-on science program. Continued efforts to uplift math and literacy teaching similarly are lifting those curriculum areas. Increasing levels and quality of teacher voice, choice, and leadership as well as family/student voice, choice, and leadership continues to elevate this work.

Cutting-Edge State/Union Efforts
The Massachusetts' state/union efforts to uplift educators and education for every child are translating into better and better commitment and effort. These groups, though sometimes at odds with each other, are both doing a lot to create a solid education for all Massachusetts' students.

Multiple Organizations that Contribute to and Support Education
All around us organizations willing and ready to uplift education for every student exist. The more we reach out and work with these organizations, the better we will get.

Increasing Servant/Distributive Leadership Attitude
I notice an increasing servant/distributive leadership model at play where I work at all levels. This takes time and effort, but it is beginning to occur more which meets current organizational and leadership research.

Resources to Support Professional Learning
Typically in our system we receive funding to support our attendance and participation in professional learning events. We also have some targeted and meaningful professional events on site.

Materials for Teaching
We can choose the materials we need for teaching and do receive funding for a good percentage of those materials. There are some restrictions and processes that I believe can better support us in this regard, but when I talk to teachers in others systems, we have a much greater ability to choose what we need to teach than others.

Good Staffing Numbers
We have significant time-on-task teachers and assistants that work with children daily. Many schools do not have the staff numbers they need to service students well. Again, I'd like to see some re-directing of some of these services to provide students with even greater support, but I know that are numbers are good whereas some schools have a real dearth of teaching/teaching-assistant support for learners.

Of course there's much to do to increase our capacity both individually and collectively, but I would be remiss not to mention all the great attributes we currently have in place. I'm sure there's even more than I've listed too.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday Musings: October 27, 2017

It was a busy week with lots and lots of learning, collaboration, problem solving, and student-centered coaching and teaching.

What will the week ahead bring?

Just for New Teachers Conference
I'm looking forward to this MTA Event next Saturday. I will give a presentation about the value and possible paths related to reflective practice. I'll also have a chance to learn with the many new teachers (teachers with five or less years experience) which will be inspiring. This Saturday I'll dive into the planning and prep for the event.

Big Pumpkins and Coordinate Grids
Students are exploring metric measurement by making big pumpkins for our mock "Topsfield Fair" Pumpkin Patch. They'll also learn about coordinate grids as a fun and celebratory math activity during a week where many students will be focused more on Halloween than anything else.

Visiting the Theater
We have a theater field trip planned.

Competency Based Math Teaching and Learning
I'll be working with colleagues to deepen our student-centered competency approach using multiple resources.

Lots of Reading
Colleagues who recently went to the Literacy for All conference brought back the message that the volume of reading and student choice matters a lot. We'll support that with plenty of quiet reading time during a week where students may be a bit more excited and tired due to Halloween. My book group will continue to read and discuss Swindle.

Math Unit Two and RTI
We'll begin both of these events in earnest this week.

Faculty Senate and WTA Meetings
There's a couple of collegial meetings planned.

This week's key activity will be to review the agenda and encourage good collaboration, focus, self advocacy, independence, and choice as we continue to lead students ahead on the Learning Road.

When Research and Evaluation Don't Match Practice

Are there practices you use that don't match up to the research about good teaching and learning? If so, why do you continue?

As I think about that question today, I'm thinking about the pedagogy I use and when that pedagogy matches the research and when it doesn't. A couple weeks ago when I engaged the students in a "sit and git" teaching lesson in order to complete an expectation quickly, I knew immediately that the lesson didn't match research. I was the one carrying the "cognitive load" while students sat passively and assistants and specialists scurried and sat around the room to help them write down notes. That was performance teaching and the performance wasn't very good. That teaching did not match the research.

That night I went home and thought a lot about the expectation and the lesson. I designed a new approach that put the cognitive load on the students in a differentiated way. The tech that sat at the center of that lesson gave everyone a guide and our class website and math book provided resources to inform the task. Students were engaged, active, asking questions, and working alone and together with zest. That's a lesson that matches the research.

More and more I'm trying to uplift learning experiences so that I meet our standards-based expectations as well as the research about what makes good teaching and learning. I'm trying to steer clear as much as possible from efforts that are not supported by the data, research, or observations about good teaching and learning. I will work with my colleagues in this effort.

Today I'll try an activity similar to Boaler's floor-to-ceiling investigations to start Unit Two of the math unit. I'll focus on the positive effects of good collaboration, systematic process, and pattern seeking as students complete the challenge. I'll use similar ability/speed groups so that one person doesn't dominate the activity and students can work at a comfortable pace. I'll spread students around the room, and then spend lots of time answering questions and observing the way students tackle the task. I'll ask specialists and assistants to do the same, and then we can compare notes about how to build learning using more of these floor-to-ceiling explorations that put the "cognitive load" on the students to foster greater depth and learning. My one reservation about today's task is that while it's similar to a number puzzle, it's a bit less meaningful than I like. I'll liken it to "password creation" and cybersecurity with regard to the way those tech experts use combinations in meaningful ways to create all kinds of security codes to protect information online. That will give it some real world connections. I'll use the video below to help create meaning for the number exploration:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Evolution of Thought and Practice: Impact on Oppression

As the news zeroes in on issues of harassment, I find myself wondering why we can't think differently about the way action and thoughts evolve in matters like this and others.

When we look at oppression, harassment, disrespect, and injustice, we can always see a path towards betterment--it's as if humanity and dignity are the magnets moving us forward as we evolve towards greater and greater respect and care for one another. Know that I'm impacted, in a large part, by Teihard de Chardin's thought that we are continually evolving towards greater good. I recognize that idea has been challenged by some, but for now I accept that belief, a belief Pinker's research affirms.

The media, in general, takes a superficial and primitive approach to the evolution of thought and practice. Rather than looking deeply at the progression of thought as we move towards greater humanity, they zero in on a few sensational cases and repeat the message over and over again. While this does bring an issue to light, I believe the media can do more for our collective or individual intelligence or growth, rather than keep us mired in old ways and old think. I think the media can broaden and deepen their approach to news rather than using lots of sensationalism and exaggeration. While President Trump decries the media, he too promotes primitive thinking and action, rather than a deeper, more humane, and promising outlook and response.

Though over simplified, we can look at almost any issue of injustice and see the progression from old, disrespectful ways to more modern, humane ways. What was once accepted as just and right, or at a minimum, acceptable, is now seen as a crime to humanity--we see this with slavery, sexual abuse, harassment, and gender inequality.

In my life, I endured significant verbal harassment as a female--I know that's more common than not. I also experienced a culture that quickly judged people by religion, culture, body size, lifestyle choices, whom they love, what they do, how much money they have, and more. As we move towards greater acceptance of, and respect for, diversity of living, we have to recognize the change at play.

Rather than creating a sideshow of society "freaks," I believe we need to look deeper with empathy and a focus on positive change rather than finger pointing and scapegoating. Of course those who committed crimes need to take responsibility for their past acts of oppression, injustice, and disrespect, but we also have to recognize that their efforts were part of a culture that accepted and even possibly elevated that kind of behavior. Can we expect individuals to have the moral fortitude to stand up against injustice on their own in times that accept that kind of behavior? Unfortunately, most humans don't have that kind of courage.

As I think more about this, I continue to wonder what we are doing today as a culture that will be shamed and blamed as a crime of humanity in the future. I suspect our treatment of the poor and children will be seen as inhumane in the future. Too many poor and too many children are treated with injustice today with regard to basic needs, safety, and the rights for fair and equitable education and health care. Those children and poor today will rise up to let us know that their past treatment was unjust--they will tell us that a very wealthy country like the United States was criminal not to provide basic education, health care, and other supports to all people. I suspect there will also be outrage with regard to the way we treat the environment--will our children rise up and condemn our past acts, acts that polluted their world and lessened the quality of their living conditions? The mentally ill will scorn their treatment as will those who sit in jails for crimes mostly caused by societal ills.

As the world evolves, we learn individually and collectively. Hopefully we will continue to get better and notice the short sightedness, greed, crimes, and oppression of the past. We need to help each other evolve towards greater good. We have to stand up too.

While so many women are now standing up against Weinstein's acts. I wonder why they didn't stand up earlier--yet I know the difficulty in doing that. I think about Harriet Tubman who was scorned and punished time and again for her bravery and courage to stand up to slavery because she knew it was wrong and wanted to put an end to it--she didn't go along and wait for others. I think about the bravery of Malala who has forged ahead for human rights too. There are many brave people amongst us who have the light and vision to know what is right--individuals who are unafraid to fight for that.

And as those who are swept along with the acts of oppression, injustice, greed, and hate--the slave owners, the harassers, the cheaters, the abusers, the discriminators--we have to wake them up and confront their acts sooner than later. We also have to look deeply at ourselves and ask when do we silence others; when do we oppress; when do we act with greed; when do we discriminate knowingly or unknowingly. I have empathy too for those who are swept along--perhaps I'm too forgiving, but I've seen in time how strong the current of bad acts are. When I worked in a place where harassment was encouraged and congratulated, I recognized how difficult it would be to be a man and stand up to that, particularly a man who had a lower position than the harassers. I had a low position too and had always experienced that kind of demeaning language about women everywhere in my world, so I didn't even realize that it wasn't right--it didn't feel good, but I thought that's the way it is. I know better now. Education plays a big role in this evolution--those in the know have a responsibility to find ways to educate others about what is right and good with regard to humane, respectful, and forward-moving acts.

I always hesitate to write a post like this from my place of imperfection. I am well aware that I have a lot to learn with regard to learning more and building greater and greater respect and care for those all around me and this world we live in. But we can't let our imperfections stand in the way of our drive to be better and to advocate for good.

This is a rambling post as thoughts about this issue continue to mix in my mind. Greater clarity will come later, but in the meantime, I wanted to share these initial thoughts. I welcome your feedback and stories too. We can never move ahead solely by ourselves--it takes the collective experiences, thoughts, and knowledge of many to move a culture ahead. This is the journey of humanity, a journey that each of us partakes in for a very, very short amount of time. How can we make our time matter?

Teaching Math: A Collaborative, Competency Based Program

Our team is working with care to figure out how to best teach all students well in math. This is like a giant puzzle since our students are quite diverse with regard to their current skill, knowledge, and concept profiles as well as their interests, desires, and learning behaviors.

As I noted to a colleague, this is a problem of privilege since our school has countless resources to use to meet this problem with success including:
  • dedicated, skilled staff
  • one-to-one technology
  • good tech programs (though I always yearn for more)
  • lots of hands-on learning materials/resources
  • adequate learning spaces (we're a little short on space, but that's not a big, big issue)
  • good schedules
  • supportive families
  • eager, healthy, happy students
So how do we mix and match the resources we have to successfully implement an effective, engaging, empowering math learning/teaching program?

The more I think about this, the more I am directed towards a competency based program that looks like this:
  1. Skill, concept, and/or knowledge goal is introduced
  2. Possible learning paths are presented
  3. Students work on their own, with other students, and/or with teachers and teaching assistants to make choices about their learning as they reach for competency
  4. Students take a short test over and over until they reach competency
  5. Once they reach competency, they either go to the next goal or spend some time on enrichment activities. 
  6. In general the class will move together competency by competency.
To maximize our efforts in this regard, we can do the following:
  • Personalize homework with tech venues and other activities
  • Make good use of RTI, homework club, and possibly the "Preview Program"
  • Maximize our professional time with students. How can we make the most gains with students with regard to our time-on-task with students. 
  • Make sure that students are carrying the "cognitive load" as that leads to learning--in other words, students should be puzzling, problem solving, talking about math, and actively learning as much as possible. (less passive sitting/listening and more deep, engaging, responsive learning activities)
  • Encouraging students to take charge of their learning by identifying success criteria, developing learning paths, following those paths to learning, assessing their knowledge, and advocating for greater, better, and more targeted supports. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Path Ahead: October 25, 2018

We're hitting a positive stride now that the year's schedule and plans are set. As I look ahead, the following actions take priority.

Once homeroom students complete their math assessment today, we'll spend some time cleaning desks and organizing the room. There may also be time for some in-class free choice with building materials, books, games, and other choices.

Math Teaching/Learning: Unit Two
We're just about done with the deep and challenging math unit one, a unit with lots of new words, concepts, and learning goals. Unit two is a lot easier to teach and learn so that will offer students who got a bit stressed out by unit one a chance to apply learning strategies and efforts with more success. Xeroxing packets, introducing important vocabulary, and learning the concepts in a myriad of ways will lead us forward.

Math RTI
Our Math Response to Intervention groups will begin next week. Our efforts in that regard will be informed by this week's PLC  meeting and today's student services meeting. Questions we'll answer include groups make-up, teaching/learning focus, coordination of staffing, enrichment and modification focus.

Science Units
The challenge with teaching science has been time--time to read/study the materials, time to organize/set-up materials, and time to teach the lessons. I hope that I'll find that time in the week ahead so we can begin our science study of matter in earnest.

RTI Reading
I have a curious group here and some planning to do as well in this regard. In the future, I wonder if we can make this a five-day a week effort instead to add consistency. We might be able to start this now using our 8:30-9:00 am time each day.

Field Studies and Special Events
We have a number of great field studies planned. The challenge here is to organize all the field trip forms and checks, work with office staff to get checks to pay the vendors, and confirm bus and field study reservations. There are also a few other field studies that need to be scheduled and organized.

Administrative Paperwork
There's a lot of paperwork to organize and submit. There's little time to complete this work during the school day, and sometimes by the end of the day, I'm just too tired to complete the many forms that require just enough attention and clarity that make them difficult to do at the end of the day. Hopefully I'll have the time to complete all those tasks today. Ideally most of those tasks would be required and completed prior to the start of the school year, but many are assigned after that time.

Professional Learning, Association, and Contribution
I'll discuss potential professional learning events with colleagues today, but it looks like this year may be a year of less outside-of-school learning just because the goals I have for teaching/learning this year are very classroom centered. In a sense I'm spending the year embedding the learning that I've done in the past few years. I like this kind of hand-on application, and I am learning a lot. I have a lot of paperwork to complete related to past learning and upcoming learning-related events however, and I have upcoming meetings related to the WTA, MTA's TPL and DESE TAC. I'll be participating in the MTA's Just for New Teachers Conference as well.

Like most teachers, there's a number of efforts in this realm that have been left undone during the busy weeks at the start of the school year. So I'll focus my attention in this direction too.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Value of Collegial Share

I'll be able to use this poster right away with my
Reading RTI group that's reading Swindle.
Colleagues attended the Literacy for All conference. They wrote a number of notes related to the most important information they learned--information that will uplift our collective teaching. This is an example of what strong teaching/learning collegial groups do. They learn, they share, they grow programs, they reflect/assess, and work together to lift what we can do to better our service and leadership to children and their families. I am so honored to work with colleagues willing to make the time to share their learning.

Note: They shared the video below as an example of what anyone does to get better with specific relationship to the volume of reading and writing.

See the Promise in the Problem: Teaching Challenged Learners Well

When I was little and experienced a problem, adults in my life would say, "You are imagining that." That wasn't a helpful response because it led me to burying problems rather than dealing with them.

Still today, my initial reaction to problems is to ignore them until I get upset--that's my gut instinct, yet I'm trying to retrain myself to notice problems when they start and to see the promise in the problem whenever problems occur.

Rather than react with emotion or worry, I want to say to myself, "There's a promise in this problem, and I want to work on my own and with others to figure out what that promise is."

If I can retrain myself in this way, then I'll also become a teacher who can foster this attitude in my students, an attitude that faces problems with the knowledge that tackling problems with strength leads to greater growth and success.

So as I work on the big problem of how to teach challenged learners better, I see tremendous promise. To actually meet this problem with strength is to reach betterment, betterment in teaching and most importantly student capacity, success, and happiness.

What do I know so far?
  • Challenged learners benefit from targeted teaching and response.
  • Challenged learners benefit from respect, dignity, and care.
  • Challenged learners often need a bit more space, quiet, and a loving environment than others.
  • Challenged learners benefit from learning experiences that are so intriguing that they want to continue the learning at home.
  • Challenged learners benefit from deep analysis of their profile and what works for them.
  • Challenged learners benefit from good home-school connections and relationships
  • Challenged learners benefit from greater streamlining and consistency
  • Challenged learners benefit when schedules flow rather than take on an inconsistent, choppiness
  • Challenged learners benefit from culturally proficient teaching and welcoming learning environments
  • Challenged learners benefit from learning how to learn, taking on growth mindsets, and understanding cognition which gives them the tools to become successful learners
  • Challenged learners benefit from high-quality, apt use of technology and other intelligent assistants.
When I think of challenged learners, that old adage, "When you give a man a fish, he eats for  a day, but when you teach a man to fish, he eats for his whole life," keeps coming to me. With challenged learners we have to give them the tools to figure out who they are, what they're interested in, and how they can access the knowledge and learning necessary to gain success. 

We are living in a world now that has so many avenues for teaching and learning success, yet, in many ways, we continue to be mired in old constructs such as strict pacing guides, limited tech use, too many worksheets, not enough depth, less project/problem-based learning, institutional unfriendly learning environments, and more. 

We need to reach out and up to meet the needs of challenged learners with greater success. If we do this well, we will meet the needs of all learners better. I welcome your thoughts on this problem, a problem I'm very interested in.

This note reminds me of an event that occurred many years ago. I had a student who clearly struggled with the teaching/learning program at hand. Yet one day when a speaker came that looked like the student and relayed information related to the boys' life experience and culture, the boy was the best in class. The other students turned to me and asked, "Why does _____ know all the answers." I remarked with something like, We are all really smart when it comes to learning that's familiar and interesting to us. . .everyone has their areas of smart. As we think of "challenged learners" we can't forget that part of the challenge often occurs because the context and content of the learning program does not relate to their primary interests, areas of competence, or what they are familiar with. "Smart" in one place, time, and event is often different than "smart" in another context. 

Blended Learning: Teaching Students to Use Online Tools

What those who don't learn with technology may not know is that learning with technology in blended ways takes explicit teaching and practice. It's not intuitive to all students as many may think.

Today the objective of the math class will be to teach students how to use a online tools to assist their learning. I noticed this week that many students need more explicit instruction in order to use these tools to assist their learning in ways that matter. To teach students this skill is to essentially give them wings as once you learn to learn with technology the learning you're able to reach is amazing.

See the Success

Whether you're a child or an adult, you may forget to see the successes that occur day after day. Yesterday the best success was the time I had working with a few young children. They quickly caught on to the concepts, and every time I noted their success, they beamed and did even better. This is the kind of teaching/learning result I work towards.

Another success was the use of an online Google form practice test. The students really enjoyed using this learning vehicle. They also helped me to perfect the too via emails to me about corrections that need to be made and multiple attempts at the tool to earn a perfect score. I like this tool because it helps students to develop independent skills and tech skills too.

Most students also gave their best energy to the learning yesterday and that's always rewarding too.

Reboot After a Tough Day

Our team is working to teach well. We've hit a couple of challenging issues related to scheduling, pedagogy, and direction. This is not uncommon when it comes to good teaching--sometimes teaching well is not a clear, easy-to-follow path, but instead a path of questions, quandary, and investigation.

The questions we are focused on include the following:
  • How do we best teach complex students?
  • What strategies work best?
  • How do we maximize our individual and collective efforts?
  • What pedagogy results in positive academic growth?
Finding our way down this one path will take good listening, intent, and effort. I know we'll get there, but it will take some time, respect, good energy, and apt collaboration.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Working for the Same Goals

Is the team working for the same goals?

First, how do we determine our goals? Is it an inclusive, transparent, data-informed, meaningful process?

Next, are the goals visible? What is most important to the team? How do we use signage as a way to remember and work towards the goals? What language is most important to our collective goals?

Then, what processes including communication are we using to reach those goals? Are the processes visible with the end-goals in sight?

And, do we stop now and then to reflect, revise, and redirect together? How do we assess our efforts towards meeting our goals, and how do we help each other in this effort?

Without a good, transparent, and inclusive goal setting process, it's unlikely that rich, deep goals will be met by teams of teachers, administrators, family members, students, and the community.

What are you doing now that meets this call, and what else can you do to better effect this process? I'm interested.

How Do We Best Coordinate Our Services for Students?

When multiple educators work with students, how do we best coordinate our efforts? This week our team will discuss this, and in the meantime, I'll be thinking about it.

First, obviously, we have to meet to discuss objectives, efforts, and next steps. This begs the questions: How often do we meet? When? Where? How many? And, what's the process? Many years ago, I attended a meeting at Google where it was discussed that good decision making requires about 4-5 people. This makes me wonder if some of our decision making groups are too large for good process--something to think about.

Next, we have to think about how we maximize our efforts? When is it best to "divide and conquer" and when is it best to teach together?

Further, we have to decide who does what? It's important that everyone contribute in ways that matter so what will that contribution look like with regard to communication, time-on-task with students, timeliness, planning, assessment, analysis, and more.

In busy schools, it's best if we can create patterns of service as patterns are easier to follow and assure that we hit the marks we've targeted for effective teaching and learning.

I wonder where our meeting will take us.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Teaching: The Long Road

It is a morning for good reflection. The autumn air and beauty is inspiring me. As I reflect on the learning this year and in the future, I am recognizing that my specialty will be math/STEAM teaching and learning. I really enjoy this area of teaching and learning and can see multiple ways to develop my knowledge and students' skills and abilities in this area. This work will bring me joy and help me to stay fresh and up-to-date with the work I do this year and into the future.

This year and in the years to come, I'll finish up my commitments to a number of other professional efforts, and then zero in on this area with good professional learning events, reading, research, reflection, and lots and lots of application. I've been thinking a lot about the path forward and today this path has emerged with strength--it's good to have a destination :)

Using Google Forms for Unit Assessments

There are many advantages to using Google Forms in conjunction with paper tests for unit assessments.

Originally a year or so ago, I thought of replacing the paper tests with Google forms, but the drawback of that is that you can't really see students' work effectively. The paper copy allows you the opportunity to really look at how a child solved a problem or completed a calculation. On the other hand the Google form allows you to look at the data from the tests with greater scrutiny in the following ways:
  • The form grades the test so you can quickly see how students scored.
  • The form translates into a Google spreadsheet so you can quickly sort each question to discover common errors, trends related to the teaching, and areas for change in instruction, practice, or review.
  • The results are easy to share with colleagues and others.
  • It saves time.
  • When used for student practice and review, the Google form can be set to provide quick feedback and also provide the teacher with ready homework results.
Essentially using a Google form with a paper copy of an assessment is a good way to get more efficient and deeper data results related to unit assessments. This is one way for teachers to use their time more effectively.

I tried Google form in this capacity years ago and it was very elementary and clunky. Google forms have improved a lot, and it's a great time-saving, depth-producing, instruction-informing, test-friendly tool for teachers today. I recommend you play with it. 

Building a Math Program: What Works?

As a critical thinker, I am always looking for better. As our math program continues to develop over time, I have found myself critical of many of the directions chosen. Yet when things go right, I often don't take the time to write about it. So in this post, I'll list a number of efforts that are positive with our collaborative math program development:
  • There is ongoing dialogue about what we teach and how we teach as we assess each assessment and list of activities.
  • There is ongoing dialogue as we create RTI groups and review unit assessments.
  • There is continued debate and discussion.
  • There is a shared Google document of lesson ideas, assessments, standards, vocabulary, and other information that helps all of us to teach the grade-level standards. 
This ongoing dialogue whether it be in person or online is positive as it grows everyone's ability to teach the content well. Also the shared resource is helpful as everyone has access to materials that help us to teach the unit.

These are positives with regard to our current teaching/learning approach in math. 

Reflection is not about proving you are right

I think some may become confused when it comes to a positive reflective practice and think that good reflection is about proving you are right. Instead good reflection is about taking an honest look at the work you do to decide how you might improve.

How does one do this?

First, it's important to zero in on the topic that you are reflecting on. For example, a topic I am reflecting a lot on is how to teach our most challenged students better.

Then, it's important to look at what's happening related to this topic with questions such as these:
  • Where are we seeing success?
  • Where are we seeing a lack of success?
  • What are the attributes of success we notice?
  • What are the attributes of lack of success we see?
  • What time, staffing, environment, pedagogy, and resources lead to greater success?
  • How can we effectively maximize the use of those positive contributors more?
  • Where does research and development play a role here? How are we maximizing the use of collaboration too to develop this effort?
Good reflection looks at the big picture independently and with others. They create a discovery path, and then act upon its findings. Information is shared readily and inclusively--it's not a competition, but instead a collegial effort towards betterment. 

Teaching Self Advocacy: Speak Up

At most family-student-teacher conferences this year, I encouraged students to speak up or email me if they needed more information or had ideas for the classroom. I mentioned the positivity of such self advocacy. I also recommended that families create family GMail accounts so that if they allow a young child to email his/her teacher, it comes from the family account so there's good oversight and collaboration with the effort. The more students learn to self advocate from an early age, the better they will do. A big focus of the work I do to teach well is to teach students how to be responsible, independent learners and decision makers, and self advocacy is a big part of that. What would you add to this conversation?

Research and Development: A Collaborative Approach

Good goal setting and visible long term vision helps everyone in an organization to contribute and learn in ways that matter.

Updating the Professional Learning Path

This picture depicts my main teaching/learning focus this year, a focus empowered by my professional learning path priorities.
This year's professional learning path is mainly focused on deep, detailed professional research and development close to the classroom. While I enjoy taking part in broader, more diverse workshops and learning opportunities, it seems that this is the year to mostly focus in, synthesize, and apply the learning of the past many years into my daily practice. What will this look like?

Reflective Practice
Over the years I've developed a deep and steady reflective practice of reading, research, thought, writing, sharing, and application. The reflective cycle has empowered my practice considerably, and more I adhere to that cycle, the better the teaching and learning become. I will present this work and strategy with new teachers at the MTA's Just for New Teacher Conference on November 4th. At the conference I'll specifically show how teachers can use reflective practice to meet and deepen their work related to the Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation System as well as their overall goals and objectives with regard to their teaching careers.

Learning Design
My research and reading related to brain-friendly, student-centered, culturally proficient learning design has also strengthened my ability to teach well. I want to use this learning to deepen teaching in the areas of STEAM and math this year. I also want to advocate for practices at the local level which will empower our ability to teach, research, and develop our work.

Student Advocacy, Independence, and Successful Learning
There's much we can do in schools to develop greater student advocacy, independence, and successful learning. My colleagues and I are exploring this via the use of multiple learning strategies including revised orientation efforts, updated student-teacher-family conferences/showcase portfolios, greater use of online learning menus and personalized learning sites, drop-in learning opportunities, online tests, quality field experiences and expert visitors, and more. To empower students and their learning in modern ways that matter increases success, happiness, and contribution.

Collaboration and Good Process
I find that so many good ideas are hindered by a lack of good time and process for apt collaboration. Through advocacy, analysis, outreach, and reflection, I am looking for ways to build greater time and process for the kind of collaboration that empowers educators, students, and the rest of the learning community to better what we do.

I need to take a special education course to meet the requirements for recertification next year. I'd like to take one of Mahesh Sharma's classes related to math and special education needs and practice. My sister took one of those courses last summer which she said was amazing.

Committee Work
I'll continue my committee work and related networking too to both learn and contribute at the local, state, and national levels of education via the MTA, NEA. NBPTS, The Teacher Collaborative, ECET2, WTA, DESE TAC, and more.

There's so much opportunity to get involved in professional learning events today. That professional learning work truly empowers what you can do with and for the students and families you lead and serve. The important point is to figure out where your priorities lie in this realm each year and let those priorities lead your practice ahead.

Potential/Planned Professional Learning Events
  • Just for New Teachers MTA Conference Presenter 11/4
  • NBPTS Jumpstart (potential w/focus on math/STEAM)
  • Teacher Leadership Conference (December)
  • Mahesh Sharma Special Education/Math Conference (TBD)
  • The Teacher Collaborative Open House (November)
  • SEL Book Events (potential)
  • MTA Summer Conference - STEAM, Math, Union focus 
  • ECET2 - potential w/Math/STEAM focus

2018-2019 Learning Teaching Prep and Plans List

This will be my personal focus next year. 

There is great satisfaction in teaching well. To work with a team of colleagues, students, families, and administrators to prepare and implement good work to elevate students learning, self-concept, happiness, and capacity is a terrific way to use your energy and focus your time. 

As I think of prioritizing and targeting efforts for the 2018-2019 school year, I'm thinking about the work I will do to support students' learning paths, paths that lead to success with learning-to-learn strategies, social emotional learning, collaboration, communication, and academic standards.

What efforts and evidence will foster this work in the days ahead? The focus during the start of school includes the following:
  • Social-Emotional Learning and Team Building
  • The Language and Behavior of Learning 
  • Community Building 
  • Relationship Building 
  • Teamwork, positive routines, and norms in STEAM, math, science classes. 
School Year Prep and Planning Chart 
Information highlighted needs to be done soon.
Spring/Summer School Prep for 2018-2019
  • Continue to Update local union website. Ongoing
  • Keep a supply list throughout the year and Order supplies - ongoing.
  • Determine classroom needs, complete order forms, shop for supplies, and keep receipts.  The PTO gives us a few hundred dollars for supplies, but we have to turn in receipts to get that. . Match with system-wide initiatives
  • Review student teacher guidelines/information for fall student teacher efforts

Teacher Prep Days at end of August:
  • Plan to purchase items that help you to be personally ready and energized to teach--inspiring signage, healthy snacks. . .
  • Organize all materials and classroom - Room Set Up - last week in August
  • Focus on the parent handbook and needed signatures at Curriculum Night
  • Focus on the student handbooks and signatures during the first days of school - Xerox copies
  • Ask about required school forms during set-up days to plan accordingly
First Six Weeks of School Year

For Teacher
  • Complete Mandated Online Trainings: This takes about a half day. Make sure that the trainings are up to date at time of completion. Summer/Fall 2017
  • PLC Start: Establish overall focus, norms, roles, protocols. . . .
  • Send out forms, notices right away--and have extras at parents' night for parents to fill out there if needed. 
  • Curriculum Night: Establishing the Learning Community, Extended time: one hour in gymnasium with a presentation/sound (date? time?)
  • Parent surveys: Paper survey worked better than online survey last year. Refine this with colleagues
  • Send out weekly newsletters
  • Evaluation Professional Learning and Practice Goals: Update goals to reflect system-wide goals, summer work, review with admin., continue efforts to meet goals.
For Students:

Day One
  1. What's your name? Read name list. Discuss importance of names. Show funny name video.
  2. Review sign in, lunch count, and class jobs procedures.
  3. Review supply list. Make sure that every child has supplies he/she needs. Organize and store supplies. Collect summer math study packets (review in evening).
  4. Review room set up, assign studio stations and discuss set-up, expectations, and share.
  5. Review recess rules, recess.
  6. Focus on What is a team? What makes a team strong? Introduce notecard tower activity. Students work with team to create note card towers. Students complete lab reports, meet and share. 
  7. Review and practice transition and lunch routines. Review schedule.
  8. Begin read aloud. Visualization and Empathy to understand historic context and roles as we read historic texts including James Printer, a Novel of Rebellion
  9. Review homework: make a word find of classmates' and teachers' names by hand on graph papers so every child get to see and read each others names. 
  10. Review end-of-day routine and recess.
Day Two
  1. Collect homework. Review names, jobs, needed forms, news board, and Practice Routines that Matter again. Just Breathe: Making the most of the mindful moment and other morning routines. 
  2. Tell the story of our United States Constitution, and review school handbook which is like a constitution for our school. What makes our school handbook similar or dissimilar to the United States constitution? Active Reading: The Student Handbook: What do we do well and what can we get better at--how can we shortlist the handbook rules and protocols to a memorable phrase, sign, poem, or acronym? How can we make these rules and protocols are own?
  3. Work in teams to determine our class government? Share ideas. Work on using handbook and class government ideas to write a class constitution. 
  4. Review transition, recess, and lunch routines. Recess
  5. Work with folders to create window collages of what everyone sees and knows about you (outside of folder) and parts of you that people might not know and that you want to share in this activity. (Integrating SEL chapter 6)
  6. Review homework: Parent/Guardian timeline interview
  7. Read Aloud
  8. Recess
Day Three: First transitions
  1. Review names, jobs, and routines again.
  2. What is the Declaration of Independence? 
  3. What was the context of time, place, and experience that led Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and what does the phrase "All men are created equal" mean today? How can we rephrase this for our classroom?
  4. Read the Declaration of Independence together. Discuss history of "All men are created equal" and if that stands the test of time? How can we rephrase that statement for modern times and for our grade-level team?
  5. Review transition, recess, lunch routines. Recess
  6. Review timeline project. 
  7. Time Line Prepparent interview, template, Dream Me activity, and ImportantChanges (Integrating SEL p. 82-84) Coordinate with tech teacher. Prepare for the project which will be completed in tech class. Self Awareness with Timelines: Students will create a time line that includes a parent or guardian's main event before they were born from birth onward, their own main events, and 4-5 events they imagine for their future. This will be done in technology class. Prepare for this activity with early-year homework and classwork including "Dream Me" activity from chapter 6 in Integrating SEL. 
  8. Read Aloud
Many early year activities
come from this book. 
Days Ahead in Homeroom
  • Review TeamFive website together. Introduce computer use, protocols, safety, digital citizenship. 
  • Marshmallow-Spaghetti Towers
  • Build a tower with four pieces of paper that can hold a quarter.
  • Team Talk: What is a learning community? What makes a learning community successful? What matters when it comes to being a successful learner? What matters when it comes to being a positive learning community member?
  • Complete class constitution, sign, and hang up for all to see. 
  • Set up showcase portfolios and complete Happiness Surveys at start of year. Review this with colleagues -- front page cover ideas and back cover potentially "one word posters."
We may want to embed this language in portfolio efforts
  • Your one word project and Video with Students. Teach/Review Google Draw.
  • Personal Assessment: Godilocks Games (p. 94-95) is a good activity for children to do an early assessment of themselves. This will provide good information for teachers and family members as they goal set with and for students.  (SEL book)
  • What is a Hero? Who are your heroes? Identifying honorable characteristics, finding people to look up to, learn from,  and follow in real time, history, and literature, sharing the story of Malala.
  • What is your point of view or perception? The birds story, a discussion on classroom needs, wants, and desires.
  • Peer Pressure: Do I Dare Do It (Integrating SEL p. 84-86)
  • Study Skills: What do you really think? (Integrating SEL - chapter 6, Socratic Method)
  • Humor Helps: Integrating SEL p.89-90. I'd like to turn this into an activity where students can create a cartoon, write a paragraph, or write and act out a script. I may integrate this with the writing, art, and/or tech teacher. Students love the integration of humor into the classroom and as one who is very serious, I can see how helpful this would be. 
  • Behaviors at School: To get a head start on conflict resolution and language related to bullying behaviors, students and teachers will use the pyramid on top of the page to discuss the kinds of behaviors that can happen at school, and the appropriate ways to prevent and if needed respond to those behaviors in an effort to build a more caring and helpful classroom community. 
  • STEAM TeamworkCrossing the peanut butter pit (Integrating SEL - chapter 5), Alphabet Actors (p. 94), Can-moving activity (p. 102) and similar activities such as note card towers (p. 108) and marshmallow or gumdrop structures.
  • Where do you want to live? Introduction to environmental education (Integrating SEL - chapter 6)
  • Solar Ovens STEAM activity - embed SEL questioning and activities from Integrating SEL, chapter 6 egg drop activity.
  • Resilience/Grit Activity. Integrating SEL p. 86-87
  • Curiosity: A Critical ElementUse this lesson from Integrating SEL, Chapter 6 as introduction to current events learning/teaching.
  • Think Positive activities and study Note that several of these activities can be integrated with physical education and music class too. 
  • Self Control Lessons (Integrating SEL chapter 5)
  • The Conflict Within (p.106) - this might fit nicely with the writing program
  • Trust Walk (p. 104-105)
  • Difficult Choices (p. 105-106)
  • Deserted Island (p. 107)
  • Reflection (p. 109-110)

Days Ahead in Math Class
  • Thursday, September 6: Names, collecting summer homework, Create math class norms, math study spaces/groups and routines for the math classroom. 
  • Friday, September 7: History of people: introduction to timelines. History of people, skin shade, timeline - "The past affects the future." video
  • Monday, September 10: No school
  • Tuesday, September 11: Review norms, introduce and begin Name Value activity
  • Wednesday, September 12: Introduce Math Reflection Journal (in 3-prong folder). Complete part of the assignment together and assign the rest due Tuesday 9/17. Work on Name Value activity.
  • Thursday, September 13: Complete What's Your Name name value activity. Students who are done work on Symphony Math. 
  • Friday, September 14: Symphony Math practice, follow-up goal setting with Symphony Math.
  • Monday, September 17: Systemwide Assessment if ready. Possible facts assessment.
  • Tuesday, September 18: Collect Homework. Review That Quiz and let students practice.
  • Wednesday, September 19th: No School
  • Thursday, September 20th: Pattern exercise. Pass out next week's homework, pass back last week's homework.
  • Friday, September 21st: Boaler "Everyone can learn math" Ted Talk. Making Mini posters about a positive math mindset. (Teacher professional day)
  • Monday, September 24: warm-up on facts and arrays: playing a math game
  • Tuesday, September 25: Review order of operations with "How Many Ways Can We Make 48?" Pick up/pass back homework.
  • Wednesday, September 26: Introduce new homework. Introduce unit one: Place Value
  • Thursday, Place Unit continues
  • Friday, September 27th: Field Trip
  • Follow Standards-Based Scope and Sequence in days ahead using systemwide scope and sequence, unit guides, Boaler's grade five book, and other resources.

Kindergarten-Buddy Math
  • Sunflower Glyphs
  • Time Line 1-11; interview and make 1-6 timelines with kindergartners
  • Place value finger activity

School Year Focus: Big Events
  • September: Routines, Protocols, Community, Relationship Building, Assessment
  • October: Beginning, Practicing, and Deepening Learning Routines - early year field studies: Boston Museum of Science, Sturbridge Village, Greenways
  • November: Space Study - McAuliffe Center
  • December: Focus on Matter
  • January:
  • February: RagTime
  • March:
  • April: MCAS
  • May: MCAS
  • June: Global Changemakers, Boston Walking Tour, Celebrations, Environmental Studies w/focus on rivers and wetlands
Professional Learning for School Year 2018-2019
  • Reading, Research, Writing, and Study
  • ATMIN Presentation 10/27
  • Re-certification
  • Establishing a STEAM studio
  • Using Boaler research/books to update math teaching/learning
  • Using SEL book to embed SEL into the academic program more. 

This poster will continue to lead my work in the year ahead.