Thursday, November 30, 2017

An Early Start: November 30, 2017

I couldn't keep my eyes open after 8pm last night as it had been a busy and positive day. Now I'm up in the wee hours of the morning because the day ahead is very, very busy and there's lots to do to get ready and prepare.

What's on the schedule?

Room Clean-Up
We cleaned and organized desks yesterday, and today I'll spend some time organizing other aspects of the classroom. With 26+ people in a smallish room for about five hours a day, there's need for regular clean up and organization.

Substitute Plans
My colleagues and I are attending a conference tomorrow, and I'm running out the door at the end of the school day to attend the Teacher's Collaborative's first big event in Boston this afternoon. So I have to make up those sub plans for tomorrow this morning.

Reading Group
I've got to finish reading our RTI reading book, Swindle, as I prepare for our final group talk about the story, a story the children enjoyed. I also have to prep our next book study. I'll choose a shorter book, one we can complete before the holiday break.

Yesterday there was a quandary about a particular learning strategy used so I want to find out more about that including what happened, why, and how might we make it better the next time. We actually already put one change in place to mitigate the issue that occurred. I find that if we approach problems and room for betterment right away, we find the "promise in the problem" and move on with better process and result.

Since we'll be out tomorrow, we need to complete and send out the newsletter today.

Prep the Week Ahead
The focus for the week ahead will be the Character Campaign, Reading, and Math Unit 3 plus enrichment.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Positive Changes in the School House

As I walked down the school house hallway today, I noticed how clean and bright most of our school is. There's been considerable effort in the past year to clean up our school and that has resulted in brighter hallways as well as an updated faculty room and new restroom--may sound crazy, but improvements like that improve morale. Last year our staff room was halved and at every lunch time, people were squished and therefore disgruntled. This year there's ample space, new furniture, and a sink--a place to relax, eat your lunch, and talk with colleagues. Much better!

We have a new restroom too. It's bright and clean. This too is a good change since we don't have to wait in line to use the restroom as much during our really busy days with short breaks. The hallways for the most part are clearer which makes moving from one room to the next easier too.

There's still room for more changes and updates to this old building, and I'm wondering if it's best to make those updates or plan for a new building or elementary campus for the town. To make that decision, there's a lot to consider such as the following:

  • Additional building in town. It seems like our area is becoming more like metro-DC with more apartments and condos rising up. Does this mean more students? And if it does, how will that impact the need for learning space.
  • Traffic is another concern. As our area becomes more populated and busy, traffic increases. How will this affect busses, other transportation, costs, routes, and building needs?
  • There's a push for more modern learning spaces--spaces that look a lot like Boston's Museum of Science--does that push us in the direction of rethinking how an elementary school or campus will look and work. I was on our high school building initial idea team--the process was dynamic and helped the community to reach an awesome result which is a terrific high school learning environment.
  • There's the research of neighborhood schools versus community schools. There was a lot of work done in that regard a few years ago, and before decisions are made, I believe that team needs to meet again to review that research for today's time and a growing community to see if renovation or a new school campus makes sense. 
  • Future-think and long range plans. The community needs to think about space as land is at a premium in this town, and they have to think about the kinds of learning experiences they want for their children. For example, if an elementary school campus were built where I work, we'd have walking access to the high school fields and community pool which could mean some additional positive programming. 
What positive changes are you and your colleagues thinking about with regard to your teaching/learning environment? What good process are you using to make those decisions in inclusive, transparent ways? There's lots to think about as we continue to forward a positive education for every child and community, and that think menu will look somewhat different in every community. 

Helping Every Learner

The little boy looked at me with his big eyes and asked, "Are you going to be here this afternoon?" Unfortunately I was not able to stay after school that day, but I realized that our time together a week or so ago after school was meaningful to him since he was asking if I was going to be there again. This showed me that he was eager to learn, and that he trusted me. A few others have asked me similar questions in the past week demonstrating a desire for that small group or one-to-one help with the math--it's clear they want to learn, but need the extra support I am able to offer before or after school.

Then I read this article about in-school tutoring on Politico, an article that affirmed the value of small group or one-to-one intense support with tutors that care, tutors students may build a great relationship with. Now I'm wondering if we can look a bit more deeply at our teaching/learning practices to empower our learners more by providing more deep and targeted learning experiences both in school and after school. I'm wondering if it is more impactful to lessen group size and work with greater depth for periods of time to truly grow students' knowledge, ability, and interest in any learning topic?

This strikes at a conversation I had related to this topic yesterday. During the conversation I wondered aloud about the strength of scheduling interventions and services in ways that matter. Further, I discussed the idea of placing greater attention on service delivery maps that are carefully crafted so students' needs and services are prioritized in ways that they are not missing essential learning and teaching to receive services or in ways that extra services are well coordinated with content/concept goals. To do this would require substantial time up front before the year begins to make sure that every child's schedule targets their main learning goals and needs including the need to feel like a vital and valued member of the learning team, and in ways that allows students to develop their rich interests and talents. For example I believe all children deserve to learn in the arts, and that arts should not be traded for basic skill instruction.

As I think of this more, I recognize that I am often thinking about the learning quotient. For example, I'll often accept a fair level of noise, movement, and what may look like confusion in the classroom, if I know that there's a lot of learning going on--I can tell that the learning is going on by the conversation I hear, the student-to-student helping, data streaming in from tech sites, and the questions asked. I'm more concerned with learning than management although I recognize that there needs to be some order and routine to foster good learning.

So as I think more about the learning quotient, the amount of learning or growth children achieve, I am prompted to invest my energy in the following efforts:
  • Before and after school help/tutoring available to all
  • Opportunities for one-to-one and small group deep learning when possible
  • Lots of active learning
  • Number play, exploration, and problem solving
How does this focus translate into action?

Collegial Share and Planning
Currently I share a weekly schedule with colleagues who teach math with me. That schedule includes a loose-tight focus (loose to respond to where learners are at, and tight to make sure we cover all standards), targeted learning events/support, study guides (packets), tech menus, online homework, and lots of learning-to-learn and mindset coaching with regard to how to ask questions, use positive self talk, and apply strategies for optimal learning. To develop this more, I want to be able to assess our efforts in more pointed and ongoing ways to determine the learning quotient we are achieving, and to refine and revise our efforts as needed. I re-looked at state scores last night with regard to math growth scores. Although it is only one measure, I noticed again that attributes that led to positive growth included greater use of visual models, good use of tech integration, attention to language/reading, deep one-to-one support (tutoring), regular assessment, and family-school communication/teaming. In a couple of situations where the growth was less, I don't think we took the progress monitoring seriously enough since those students displayed little growth throughout the year, and I wonder if they would have increased their success if we had stopped and looked deeply at what we could do to truly help those children succeed and then revising our supports to make that happen. In two cases, students learning took a turn midyear, a turn that signaled exhaustion and struggle. Fortunately we've changed our curriculum a bit to respond to that midyear downturn so that might help this year. We're also offering more supports with regard to language development which might help too. I want to continue thinking about this with colleagues so we can do better.

At-School Tutoring and Extra Help
Better than sitting on the couch at home correcting papers is the effort to offer extra study support during the week. Fortunately I can do that this year due to the fact that my own children are older and need less after school support, and I don't have an extra job to pay the bills which many younger teachers do have. I want to continue to build this in-school tutoring/extra support effort in ways that matter and translate into good academic growth and success with students. I will think about how I can make this happen in the weeks ahead.

Study Packets
Utilizing an idea that arose from our Middle School efforts and a conversation with a highly qualified mathematician in our midst, I've started using the unit packet study guide to guide our teaching/learning efforts. This guide includes all major visual models and learning efforts and allows educators, assistants, and students a guide to the most important skills, concepts, and knowledge for each unit. The use of the study guide enables us to work with more time focused in on the most essential content.

Tech Integration
The use of Symphony Math, That Quiz, Google apps, TenMarks, and a few other games gives us a good tech infrastructure to work with to help students succeed in math. These platforms offer educators the opportunity to personalize the exercises for each child if needed. These platforms also work like the study guide as one way to organize and lead the learning--a method that students can use with each other, on their own, and with educators for practice and self-learning. I wish we could use Khan Academy, but at this time, our system won't allow it. I continue my advocacy with little success so far since I believe that Khan Academy is a super tech platform for math learning and support.

Projects, Problems, and Exploration
I want to add more of these to our math program, and that's an area that I am exploring at this time. 

Interdisciplinary Math Education
I also want to integrate our math teaching/learning with other topics regularly, and that's another area I'm working to improve on. 

Students Helping Students
We use this strategy often in class and it is a very successful research-based strategy, one I want to use more. 

Educators everywhere are always thinking about how they can help every learner. That's a challenge when we're working with lots of children--a challenge I'm committed to meeting with greater success in the days ahead. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Honor the Gifts of Others

Schools are like "small cities," noted a interviewee on an NPR piece a year or so ago. I agree--there's a complexity with regard to numbers, interactions, focus, goals, and scheduling much like a busy city. And in that city, no teacher is all things--no one brings all the gifts to the table, but it is rare to impossible to find that there's an individual in this educational "city" that does not bring any gifts to the table, and far more likely that every citizen of this school city, brings extraordinary gifts.

As we work with one another, we need to honor the gifts that each other brings to school life. We cannot expect anyone to be all things or bring all gifts. Instead, we have to work with one another to maximize our collective potential--to honor and utilize the gifts of each other to serve students, families, educators, and the community well. In that end, we will, together, implement a strong program of worth, one that enriches, empowers, and transforms lives in ways that matter.

The Teacher Collaborative: Take a Look

This morning I lamented as I told my husband a story of discouragement, one where good work was not inspired, but instead a "check the box" mentality existed. I noted that I need encouragement to teach well, and he responded with a vote of affirmation for my professional connections via the Internet and elsewhere, connections that help me to elevate the work I do.

As I thought about his affirmation, I realized that in the last few months as I pushed into the classroom and focused on specific teaching goals, I had lost track with my many sources of Inspiration, sources such as #satchat, #edchat, @thejlv @chrislehmann @pammoran and more. I recognized that while I had attended a few professional events this year, the events weren't targeted well at the need I have to develop my practice with like-minded and strong-minded educators--the kind that make me think deeply about what I do and why I do it.

Then I thought about an event that's coming up this week, The Teacher Collaborative's first Educator Exchange, an opportunity for passionate and dedicated educators to gather and discuss what's really important to them, a chance to encourage each other and urge each other forward in ways that matter. The Exchange will be led by two dynamic, energetic, experienced educators--people who have taken the time to listen to educators and find out what they need so that they can teach better and serve children, families, and colleagues well.

I share this thinking as you may want to get involved with the Educator Exchange, and you may also need to revisit your professional connections and the time you spend nurturing your craft and feeding the knowledge, energy, spirit, drive, and passion you need to teach well. To teach well is a multidimensional endeavor, and taking the time to consider all of those dimensions is essential to developing your craft in ways that matter.

Trump Continues to Disgrace Us

Yesterday Trump had the opportunity to rightly honor brave and courageous men who used their intellect, talent, and tradition to help the United States during a terrible time in our country's history. Instead, and as usual, he turned the spotlight on himself as he demeaned Native American culture in general, and specifically Pocahontas and Senator Warren.

He could have used the opportunity to tell the story of those brave men, and to honor their heritage. He could have helped to educate all Americans about the first Americans, our Native Americans, and given the men a chance to speak about their contribution. He could have used the opportunity to elevate and educate, but instead he turned the spotlight on himself and his ability to demean others. In this case he chose to demean Pocahontas, Senator Warren, and the brave men who stood next to him.

No matter how you feel about Senator Warren's past claims about having Native American heritage, there is no doubt that she has devoted her time and energy towards deep issues of importance to all people. She is not sitting by the sidelines watching Trump and his cronies strip the American people of their rights, freedom, and opportunity, but instead she is speaking up day after day for what is right and good for the American people. She is dealing with very complex issues related to economic opportunity, fair taxation, equal rights, and respect. Many of the issues she deals with are complex, deep, and very important to our livelihood as individuals, community, and nation. Most of us don't even understand the complexity of the health care and economic issues, she supports. President Trump does not look at her work with any depth, instead he hyper-focuses on one aspect of her lengthy career and uses name calling to demean her.

To demean her by using the name of another is to demean that person too. He is making fun of Senator Warren by using the name of a brave young Native American women who endured oppression during one of the first European settlements in the United States. Pocahontas represents the struggles that Native Americans faced time and again as immigrants from many nations settled in the Americas. Instead of using her name to demean, the President should use Pocahontas' story to educate, demonstrate strength, and point us in a direction of doing better with regard to respect and care for all of America's people. It's not surprising that Trump shows little respect for either of these women as we rarely see him stand up for women in any way.

Further, he demeaned the men he was there to honor to by using their good work as an opportunity to forward his disrespect, campaigning, and disregard for others he knows little about or disagrees with. President Trump, time and again, rules for President Trump--he is at the center of his mission, his efforts, his speak, and his work. He demonstrates little care for anyone but himself, and his policies, name calling, tweets, and speak demonstrate that. We have a president that disgraces all of us, and a president that uplifts the voices of racism, disrespect, and hate. To demean others seems to make him feel more empowered and strong.

As an American citizen, I can speak up to the best of my ability, and then do the work I believe in at home and at school each day. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know that disrespect and ignorance is not the path to developing a strong nation that promotes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. We must all work together to raise up those respectful, intelligent, and altruistic leaders amongst us--the people who will help us to continue to build a nation that brings people together and develop life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. Senator Warren is one of those leaders, and there are many more amongst us--leaders who are willing to work day after day to raise up American values, opportunity, and respect for one another.

What is the impact of that idea or effort?

How do we measure the impact of our efforts? When are our efforts truly enriching and life-changing, and when do those efforts look good on paper or in theory, but actually have little impact? How do we measure that?

As we think of the limited time, space, and resources most schools face, the topic of impact becomes important. If we waste resources, time, and space on efforts that are less impactful, then we don't have what we need to build ideas and practice that lead to substantial impact.

To work towards greater impact, we have to take a deep look at where our problems and potential lie? We also have to look deeply at the mission of the work we do on our own and with others? What is the mission of your work, and how do your efforts make that mission visible?

At this juncture, my mission is to do the following:
  • Foster and contribute to a respectful, focused, and successful learning community
  • Teach in ways that foster cultural proficiency and respect
  • Successfully teach math, science, and reading standards
Learning Community
As a contributor and participant in the learning community, it's important to me that I invest time and energy into efforts that matter. I also want to advocate for a learning community that is mission-based. In that effort, I want to support good effort to create, revisit, and revise our mission and goals as needed in order to do the best that we can for our students, their families, and educators. I don't want to sign on to efforts that are less impactful or connected to our mission.

Cultural Proficiency and Respect
There's much we can do to continually build a more culturally proficient and respectful learning community. I think it's important that we think deeply about this as a learning community, and move forward with efforts that truly make a difference. 

Math/Science Learning
This is at the heart of the work I do, and there is much to do to build the learning and teaching in these areas. Currently time is the biggest challenge since there isn't the time to teach these subjects in the way I would like to. I need more time for preparation and planning, and more time for teaching. I also need more space to teach these subjects effectively. I will continue to focus in on these subjects and suspect that I'll spend a good amount of time in the summer and next year devoted to this work. 

This Friday our team will have an opportunity to think deeply about the processes we use and efforts we engage in with regard to leading our students, colleagues, and each other forward towards enriching our collaborative model of teaching and learning. I'm looking forward to this day as well as the efforts to make our program more impactful in ways that matter. 

Teaching New Material

While Jo Boaler encourages us to teach math with greater depth, problem solving, and exploration, the reality remains that our standards-based curriculum includes many new concepts, skills, and knowledge points to relay, information that is often best relayed through a step-by-step introduction. Ideally that introduction would be preceded or followed-up by worthy, hands-on, meaningful exploration, but we often simply run out of time for that rich learning. However, it's that rich exploration and problem solving that makes the learning engaging, empowering, and memorable.

I am not giving up on Boaler's ideas as I believe in her research, but I also have to meet the expectations of introducing a large number of math concepts, skills, and knowledge points this year. So I'll take a procedural approach with regard to introducing the concepts and continue to look for time to deepen the learning experiences as Boaler's research encourages us to do.

Monday, November 27, 2017

How Can I Creatively Use Time, Strategy, and Effort to Develop Student Success?

Most teachers wonder how they might use time, strategy, and effort to develop students' learning success. They return home most nights giving the day a bit of reflection that asks the following questions:

  • What worked today?
  • What didn't work?
  • What are the current, future learning/teaching goals?
  • How can I successfully reach those goals?
To participate in this daily reflection, is to constantly revise and rework the teaching/learning schedule, efforts, exercises, projects, and endeavor to achieve betterment. This is different than sticking to a script no matter what, and instead means that we keep refining the script to teach better and support students more.

Educators who think and reflect like this are rarely seeing the impossible, but instead open to the possible. Educators who do this are clear about their goals, and open to finding ways to achieve those goals. Rather than sticking to tight parameters, these educators push the boundaries and look at teaching from many angles with the only constant being to do what's best for students.

As I consider the question at the top of the page, I am finding that I'm engaging in more deep discussions, one-to-one, and small group endeavor to tease out what helps students succeed. For example today I had the chance to meet one-to-one with a child, and as I did I recognized one significant change I can make to his strategy repertoire to improve his math performance and understanding. It would have been difficult for me to focus on this strategy with the chance to work one-to-one with the student.

So as I consider the many ways that family members and educators work with students, and how students also coach themselves ahead, I am reminded of the following questions:
  • What re the primary goals for the work I am doing?
  • How do I forward and inform my practice so I am meeting those goals?
  • What does my regular practice of reflection and assessment look like, and how do I use that work to revise and refine the learning/teaching I engage in?
  • How do I plan ahead to forward goals, and how do I communicate with and support colleagues as we work together in this endeavor?
As educators, family members, and/or students do we get mired in schedules, strategies, practice, and effort that's less impactful and successful? Do we forget to revisit our endeavor in an effort to revise and refine for greater result? Do we try to do it alone when, in truth, it is in our collaboration that we generally do a better job? There are many questions to ask and much work to do on this teaching/learning path, and if we give these tasks the time deserved, we will be proud of the results gained. Onward. 

What's Your Place With Regard to the Big Picture

I like using the big picture to guide my teaching/learning work, yet at this time, this year, I'm focusing in on the details of my teaching/learning work. I am wholly focused on the specific goals of community building, promoting positive learning-to-learning skills/attitudes, math education, STEAM, team, and cultural proficiency. That doesn't leave a lot of time for big picture think and action. The good news here is that many colleagues are focused on those big picture events, and it seems like streams of communication, advocacy, and teamwork are becoming more fluid, transparent, and powerful in the system where I work--this is good news, the kind of news that allows a teacher like me to take part in the big picture efforts, while also having the time and support to do my work in the classroom well.

As I think of the big picture, I'm happy that our superintendent is focused on the goal of listening to all stakeholders with regard to creating a vision for the school system. I'm similarly happy that our union president and so many union members are thinking deeply about the work that needs to be done to empower our school system in terms of optimal work conditions so that we may serve students and their families well. Further there are multiple teams and committees working in earnest to better all aspects of our collective and individual work including our practice related to specific disciplines, cultural proficiency, social-emotional learning, health/wellness, and the arts and culture. There is a vibrancy here that's inspiring.

Further, notes of advocacy seem to be more readily read and accepted than challenged and criticized--this is also a positive move. Some still don't respond to letters advocating for better and different, but more do respond, and this is good.

So as I move forward, I'll continue to advocate and support fluid streams of communication share, positive debate, and research-based practice and effort. I hope that colleagues will continue to and increase their share of their professional learning and pursuits. I hope that administrators will continue to build their practice of sharing the news and information related to our individual and collective work while also inviting the voices of all stakeholders to honest debate and discussion related to those efforts, and I hope those voices are taken seriously and considered with depth since we know that the voices and ideas of those on the front lines of teaching and learning are vital to a system's strength and development. Further, I hope that our system will continue to reach beyond our boundaries to learn about, advocate for, and participate in efforts to better education for all, everywhere.

It's always important to entertain the dance from big picture to individual/focused practice, and as we dance that dance, it's essential that we support one another in ways that help us to stay the course towards best possible practice and service to students, colleagues, and families.

Math Teaching: Focus in on Learners

All fifth graders took the unit assessment. Most performed well, but a few surprisingly did not perform as expected. What happened to these earnest and hard working students when they took the assessment?

In the next couple of weeks, I'm going to find time to sit down with those students one-to-one to watch them take the assessment again. I want to see how they approach the task, deconstruct language, check their work, and both write and type their results on paper and into the computer. Why didn't these students whose performance in class demonstrates good understanding of the material not do well on the offline/online assessment? What happened?

I know that these one-to-one sessions will result in excellent learning for both teacher and students. Students will better learn how to take a test and translate their knowledge into a positive assessment score while I'll learn how to teach these students better. This will be a main focus of the next month of teaching and learning.

The Month Ahead: December 2017

Today begins our final month of December 2017, and the month that marks the 2/5 mark of the school year. As usual, this month will mostly be directed towards lots of skills and practice which I find to be a good complement to the holiday festivities that occur throughout the month.

Math Focus
We'll spend a considerable amount of time focused on building math fluency and skill with multiple algorithms, problems, and activities to build fluency with multiplication, addition, and subtraction of whole numbers and decimals. I'll also focus in on students' learning-to-learn skills specifically with positive self talk, making good choices, and deconstructing math language in this regard.

Community Building
The class will launch the character campaign on December 11th. In the meantime we'll focus in on the attributes of character and our presentation for school assembly.

Science Study
My homeroom will focus in on the attributes and science of matter while the other homerooms will focus on space and Earth science. Later in the year students will travel from homeroom to homeroom to study each science topic.

Our teaching team will attend a conference focused on teacher leadership. During the day we'll focus in on our team goals of building greater cultural proficiency as well as our ability to team to serve each child and family well.

Special Events
There's a number of special teaching/learning events this month too including concerts, field studies, and expert visitors. We'll also end the month with a few homeroom days and perhaps a pajama day too.

With twenty teaching days until the new year, we'll give each day and each student positive attention as we continue to move towards keeping good focus and meeting goals.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Attention to Detail Leads the Learning/Teaching Path

As I think about the the days after Thanksgiving holiday,  I am thinking about the ways I want to focus more on attention to detail--attention to detail with regard to student service, logistics, daily lessons, and teamwork. It's not about the big picture right now as that work has received considerable thought--it's about the details.

To make that visible, I want to revisit service delivery maps, administrative work organization, collegiality, teamwork, and lesson planning and response. The goal in the end is to provide the best possible service to students, families, and colleagues as a learning/teaching team member. Being faithful to weekly meetings, needed planning time, extra help sessions, and family conferences/meetings is a good way to make this work visible. Similarly making that one hour or so a day for the administrative paperwork that goes with the job helps too.

Overall it's been a good year, and I'd like to continue pushing in with the details above to continue to better my practice as expected and desired. Onward.

Knowing Your Class

A class of children is full of surprises. As you move through the year, you learn more and more about them. What some children enjoy, others don't enjoy. What some classes gravitate towards, others don't show interest in.

Today the students surprised us with their incredible creativity with the Turkey-in-Disguise persuasive essay and project--the students work was amazing. Similarly I was surprised to see who really enjoyed our class films and who did not. Further, I'm recognizing that I have some good fix-it students who can recognize where problems exist and how to fix them.

Over the holiday, I want to think about the class's individual and collective personality as I plan ahead--what they enjoy, the questions they ask, and the needs they have will dictate how we approach the topics we'll cover in the days ahead. Overall I enjoy this time of the year when we have developed good relationships with students and families, and now we begin to deepen the work we do for optimal learning and teaching.

Math Education: The Advantage of One-to-One Support

There were a handful of students who did not perform as expected on a recent assessment. I want to understand deeply why this happened so in the next few weeks I'll make the time to let those students take the test again one-to-one with me. As they take the test, I want to watch and listen for the following:

  • How do these children read the problems? Do they read carefully, highlighting main words and questions or do they rush the reading?
  • How do students interpret the questions and make sense of them? Do they draw a picture to support their understanding, and do they stop to think if their answers make sense?
  • How do they calculate? Do they check their work? Do they write down their numbers carefully?
  • How do they sustain stamina throughout the test so that they are giving the start of the task the same energy as the end of the task?
In each of these cases, the students have demonstrated good understanding in class, yet their test performance did not match their class performance. I believe that taking the test one-to-one with me will help me to teach these students how to take tests better, and it will also give me great insights as to how to teach these students.

Sometimes the time we set aside to work with a child one-to-one reaps great insights and advantage that empower the teaching/learning program going forward. That's my aim with this approach. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Do Your Best and Accept What Happens

The best we can do is to do our best, then accept what happens. Educators spoke up via surveys, letters, and attendance at school committee meetings to voice their concern about changing start times. We worry about the impact a later start and end to the school day will have on our young students, their academic efforts, and other programming such as field trips, extra help, family conferences, childcare, and extracurricular activities. Now the decision lies in the hands of the community--what will they choose?

Many of us gave up several hours last night to attend the school committee meeting, time that we typically spend preparing for school the next day and taking care of our families. This week it was also time we would have used to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. The issue meant enough to us to give up that time. We voiced our concerns and hopes for a win-win solution, a solution that would positively impact middle school and high school students as well as young students, their families, and the teachers who work with them.

What more can we do? We can continue to speak up when possible. We can share our concerns via writing. Then we'll accept the decision that is made, and do our best to continue to meet the many expectations presented with a somewhat less positive schedule. We have to remember that we are not superhuman, and similar to the students we're considering with regard to a school start change, good rest, health, and scheduling is important to each of us too. That helps us to do the work we've chosen and desire to do. We have a fairly good contract, and those are the guidelines by which we are expected to work--guidelines that frame our teaching/learning efforts. Attention to those guidelines will help us to do a good job with reasonable expectations. That's important.

Change and Big Decisions

Like the amoeba, the elementary school teacher is often asked to morph and change year after year to accommodate multiple teaching/learning decisions and changes. Our voices are typically small when it comes to big decisions that affect the work we do, and that's why our unions are important. We have to work together to promote optimal teaching/learning conditions--the kinds of conditions that allow us to do our best work to serve students and their families well.

Decision processes differ from decision to decision and group to group. There's no one overarching decision-making process in place. Yet as I think about this, I think it is important to make decisions with as much transparency, inclusion of all stakeholders as possible, good researching and rationale, and adequate timelines.

I am amazed at how much transportation issues impact school decisions. Last year the school committee spent tremendous time and effort on the issue of where to park the school busses, and now the busses are impacting the decision of when to start school too. I never realized that transportation impacts what we can do to educate students so dramatically. It would be a big job to look at this impact in depth--a job that requires looking at districting, bus costs, and the many,  many routes needed. Recently an MIT group created a new way to look at bus routes. I imagine they used discrete math to maximize the time and busses. This same group will be working with a local system to figure out their bus situation too.

Every decision at school seems to be a big decision since all services and school efforts are tightly woven together--new start times for our schools will challenge lots of systems and efforts that are in place, effort like field studies, extra help, commutes, schedules, child care, after school events, and time available for learning will all be impacted. Yet, this is what happens at schools as we continue to change.

I worry about the impending change of later school start times given the tremendous expectation of rigor and time-on-task at the elementary school. I worry that students, families, and educators will simply run out of steam given so many changes, and changes where the needs of elementary school students and their families seem secondary to the needs and schedules of others. I am concerned about the impact these changes will have on our well-crafted programs and schedules.

I wish the current change, a change in school start could be made in a way that profits all rather than only some. I think it could be done, but that depends on whether it's a priority to those who make and fund the decisions. Onward.

Monday, November 20, 2017

School Start Time Challenge

Research points us in the direction of starting schools at a later time for middle school and high school students, yet to do that at the expense of our elementary students or "morning larks" as they were described by Dr. Judith Owens seems to me to be a price too high when we think of the need to educate all children well.

Why can't we come up with a solution where young elementary school students are able to start school as early as 8 and finish by 2 or 2:30 while their older high school and middle school community members begin at 8:30, the sweet spot for teens noted in the sleep research. How could we make this happen? What will it take? Why would we want this? What's holding us back?

Sports is a big dilemma since sports are based on an earlier high school start--to respond to the research, sports programs need to be pushed later into the day. I don't see why this can't happen since research shows that middle school and high school students who get enough rest do stay up later, and therefore, it seems to me that they'll be able to participate in sports at later times.

Elementary students, on the other hand, are highly energized early in the day--that's their best time to tackle the rigorous standards-based curriculum posed to help them develop a strong foundation of learning-to-learn skills and foundation knowledge, concept, and skill. To start school later for elementary school students is to miss out on their best learning time, and to use that time for other tasks that may tire them out, but not necessarily contribute to the rich learning possible. Just as it's great to maximize later school starts for high school students, it seems that it's equally advantageous to begin school on the early side for elementary school students.

Yet transportation is a costly issue that impacts school start times, and to hire more busses costs money, but if academic success is important, perhaps that money is well spent. That's for community members to decide. Or perhaps, there are different ways to think about transportation, ways that make optimal times for elementary, middle school, and high school students. I'm not a bus expert, and would have to do a lot of research to see if there is a better solution.

As it is, we're having difficulty fitting in the needed teaching/learning during the optimal 8:45-12pm slot of energized time students have at school, and to push it forward another 15 minutes to 9:00am will make it more difficult to maximize the potential that exists. That said, a decision will be made and I'll follow through. I just hope it's a decision that honors what elementary school students need as much as what the middle school and high school students need. That would be a fair and equitable decision.

Some possible decisions to, perhaps, lead to this equitable decision might include the following:
  • Create a new sports league of schools that start high school and middle school at 8:30 - 9:00
  • Consider bus routes with multi-age students and drop off elementary school students first for an earlier start, then high school and middle school students
  • Start later and tell other schools you play sports with that your games have to be later
It seems like starting high school at 8:30 or 9:00 would give the busses time to pick up the elementary school students beforehand. Let's see what happens. 

Using Google Form Assessments to Build Metacognition

Students don't have to wait days for me to wade through 75 tests to find out their scores. Instead with Google Form tests, they know their results the minute they press the submit key, and if they don't think they were scored correctly they can come right up to me and debate their score. This new approach to assessing students is efficient and leads to greater ownership with regard to performance and result.

As I get better at making the tests, I am watching how students respond. This efficiency is also allowing me to delve deeper with regard to what students readily understand and what is still confusing to them. It's also giving me a glimpse of what happens when they take an online standardized test. For example, many adept math students simply type their answers in too fast and make silly mistakes related to accuracy, not skill. And so many get weighed down with the language and simply read the directions incorrectly or skip reading the directions altogether. Then, of course, there are the precision masters who are the first ones to figure out where I could have done a better job making the test--I appreciate their eye for detail.

I think the use of Google forms is helping students to become better at metacognition, thinking about their math learning and performance. As they complete answers and solve problems, they know that they'll be scored right away and that makes them want to ask clarifying questions, take their time, and answer precisely. Further practice tests similar to the final tests give them a chance to use Google form to perfect their skill with specific standards and concepts. They can take those tests over and over again.

Finally, as I've stated before, the fact that the data is poured right into a spread sheet gives me lots of analysis opportunities which, in turn, help me to use the test data more efficiently and strategically to inform instruction. Google Form assessments are a terrific way to uplift the teaching/learning program in ways that matter, and hopefully will result in better metacognition, math learning, test taking, and standardized test scores.

Goals Ahead: November/December 2017 Teaching

It's a short and celebratory week with Thanksgiving just a few days away

This week I'll focus on the following:

Math Assessment
Students will do their best on the unit two assessment. I'll coach them to use good test taking strategy. Later they'll positive learning strategy to puzzle through a number of relatively new concepts using online exercises.

Mars Expedition and Space Exploration
Students will have the opportunity to virtually travel to Mars and explore the universe. It will be an exciting and eye-opening event.

Coordinate Grids
Students will learn the basics of plotting points, then practice by making coordinate grid pictures.

Good Character Campaign
Students will continue to focus on our school wide Good Character Campaign with a focus on how we make the attributes of good character visible using this page as a guide. The rationale for this unit is that people with good character typically enjoy greater happiness and more success.

Thanksgiving Breakfast
Our school sponsors an event to foster our collegiality. It is a long held tradition that recognizes the strength and promise of our camaraderie.

After the holiday, the focus will include these events:

Unit Three Math
Students will review their learning success so far this year as we discuss ways to successfully master the standards in unit three. Then we'll get started with the learning.

Culture Focus
Prior to Thanksgiving, students focused on culture in their social studies class. That focus will continue as we entertain many cultures during December when students discuss their holiday celebrations. A deeper focus will occur with respect to the ancient Mayan culture.

There will be a number of days devoted mostly to science in order to complete our first science units.

Character Campaign
With posters, announcements, and other activities, students will foster a school-wide good character campaign.

Math Fun
Wednesday math will be devoted to a number of fun math activities to build skill in numerous standards-based areas, areas often not taught with depth until the end of the year, but areas that are included in mid-year and spring assessments.

Keeping the focus is essential to good teaching, and naming the priorities is a good way to support fidelity to that focus. Onward.

Voice and Teaching Well

Educators met with the school committee to voice their thoughts and ideas related to an upcoming decision about school start times. School start times considerations is a topic that's being considered in many school systems in response to research that demonstrates that teens need more sleep. The decisions related to this topic are more complicated than one would think since school schedules are intricate weaves that synthesize academic, social, emotional, and physical needs for optimal programming. Other realities that affect these decisions include traffic patterns, work start times, daylight, and daycare costs/availability. Few decisions related to schools are simple since schools reach out to support all students, and those students represent significant diversity with regard to age, culture, family style, needs, challenges, and strengths.

What's important in all of this is that people stand up to express their thoughts and ideas--decisions are best made when those decisions are inclusive representing the voices of all stakeholders. Though timely, it's best to create the kind of process that listens to everyone's voices including the voices of educators, students, and family members.

As educators we can't be afraid to respectfully stand up and speak out for what we believe is right and good. Similarly we have to be ready to listen to the voices of others too--to see it from their point of view. None of us know it all or have all the answers, and our good work profits from our collaboration with others.

Years ago when an important issue was discussed in our school system, teachers mostly stayed quiet. Many citizens spoke up, yet their point of view was not considered with depth. I went along with the decision made only to realize later that many of the points that citizens were making were not listened too, but were rightly made. The decision made resulted in a lot of problems, problems I didn't expect, but problems that many citizens had predicted. In hindsight, it would have been better if all sides of the story were considered before a decision was made. That would have resulted in less pain and problems.

I often want to make decisions quickly, but the older I get, the more I recognize that it's usually better to take your time with important decisions. If wait time isn't going to create harm, then it's better to take the time to use good process to make optimal decisions. Rushing usually does result in less good, more costly decisions, while taking our time has the potential to result in win-win decisions.

Of course, as my father taught me, we can't complain about decisions if we stay silent. Instead we have to push ourselves to be involved in important decision making. We have to make the time with our colleagues to review the information, listen with an open mind, and share our point of view. Whether we are educators, family members, or students, our good work depends on using our voices to speak out and stand up for what matters.

As educators our experience, expertise, and point of view matters with regard to decisions that impact our students. The experience, expertise, and point of view of students, family members, community members, and administrators matter too. It is in coming together with all points of view and good process that lead to optimal decisions. We can't forget that.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Idea Percolation

Sometimes I just sit for hours and let the ideas percolate. This happens when new paths are being forged and new ideas are taking shape. I can feel them working in me, and it's hard to relax and rest when this is true. Generally this idea percolation takes place prior to big events such as the start of school, holidays, travel or milestone events such as birthdays, graduations, wedding, and new babies.

So as I try to bring the percolation to fruition, I'm thinking way ahead beyond the holiday season and well into the new year. What ideas are brewing?

It's more of the same, a time for deepening and enriching craft, team, trust, and practice. Unlike a shiny new car, this is similar to a favored painting that becomes more dear over time. In less than a decade when I leave my practice, I want to leave on top which means providing the best possible service to families, students, and colleagues--as I've written about this is a period of pushing in, going deeper, and getting better at the most critical aspects of the teaching profession which are all about engaging, empowering, and educating children so that they continue to develop with strength, confidence, positivity, creativity, and a solid foundation in the basics of literacy, numeracy, knowledge, and life skills.

To reach this crescendo is all about efforts to quiet, build character, listen, observe, read, research, and practice, practice, practice--that's the path toward this desired momentum, and then, perhaps, after that I'll write about it, use what I've learned in a different setting, or venture in other ways--only time will tell.

I've bought a few good books to read as I journey in this direction, and as with any new or renewed journey there's a sense of curiosity about where this path will take me.

The Content of Your Character

Students watched MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech" which led to a deep discussion about what's important. Later during an Open Circle meeting we discussed the idea of forwarding a Good Character campaign. Children had all kinds of awesome ideas including:
On Wednesday, just before Thanksgiving, students and I will meet again to discuss how we might divide into Character Teams and make good character visible in our individual and collective lives. Each team will be responsible for making posters and completing other related tasks for the Good Character Campaign which we'll figure out together.

As we do all of this we'll let the information on this Developing Character page lead our efforts. If you have any additional ideas, please share.

Priorities on the Teaching Path: November 2017

This is a year of pushing in and focusing deeply on the classroom and school team--how can I contribute more and better to teach well?

As I think about the teaching path ahead, and this central question, I identify the following efforts that are empowering direction:

Family-Teachers-Students Teaching/Learning Team
Family members have been an incredible source of capacity this year. I have reached out to numerous parents to support me with the efforts to teach math well, and they have responded with incredible honesty, care, and support. This level of teaming is resulting in much greater student investment, understanding, and development which is awesome. I want to continue to make more time for this in ways that matter. In some cases, this requires push since some families are difficult to get ahold of and others are sometimes more difficult to understand with regard to their needs and what will help, but instead of turning away from the challenging situations, I want to work with my colleagues to be more inviting and making the family-teacher-student team accessible and successful for all.

Extra Help: Homework Club
By making time for extra help, I am gaining tremendous capacity with regard to student-teacher relationships, understanding my learners, and the ability to help students in ways that matter. In the past, I was unable to provide this extra support due to my own parenting schedule and duties, but now that my children are older, I have that extra half hour most days to open the classroom up to students who want to drop in, ask questions, gain support, and work on their home study at school. The hum in the room during these extra help sessions is energizing, and what I learn from these young, enthusiastic learners who are choosing to be there is meaningful, inspiring, and ever so useful when it comes to teaching well.

Everyone in the Classroom is both a Teacher and Learner
To foster a culture that understands that everyone in the room is both a teacher and a learner is to gain far more teachers, and an openness to learning from your peers. Often students who master a concept will help a student who is working towards mastery. There's an eager attitude here that promotes best possible teaching and learning. When students help each other, everyone benefits and it gives me more time as the teacher to zero in on specific students and their learning needs.

Welcoming Learning Environment
The cozy chairs, bright rug, and multiple supplies make the room a cozy learning environment. This is positive, and the more I work to create that atmosphere in spirit and set-up, the better.

Email Me
I encourage families and students to email me anytime they have a question. I find that this open invitation typically results in a number of emails upfront, and less after that. To answer people's questions right away is to create a sense of camaraderie and trust which leads to greater efficiency and ease of questioning after that. I tell students "Don't Stay Stuck, Ask," and I tell family members, "No question is to small, please email me with your questions and concerns."

Teacher as Learner
Vulnerability is a large part of this year's focus as you have to make yourself vulnerable so that you can learn. These vulnerability means owning your mistakes, reaching out for help, asking questions, and taking responsible risk to better what you can do for each other. The teacher as learner is the teacher who continually betters his/her work for the benefit of all. There's sometimes that tendency to close the door to new ideas, suggestions, and ways of increasing capacity, but we can't do that if we're going to teach well--we have to be ready and willing to ask questions and then to listen to the advice that our colleagues, families, students, administrators, and community members have to better our impact.

As I look deeply into my practice, the areas above are areas I want to focus on in order to build my capacity to teach and learn well. Onward.

Trustworthy Teaching Teams

I work with a trustworthy team, and as I work with this team, I am beginning to deepen what I can do to be a trustworthy team member and also foster the kind of trust that empowers what we can do together to support students, their families, and each other.

What does it take to be a trustworthy team?

Good Structure
A good structure for regular communication and meetings is important to building trust. Our team meets about 3-4 times a week regularly. Not all team members are present at all meetings, but in general we have a good showing of classroom teachers, special educators, guidance counselors, reading/math specialists/coaches, and administrators. At those meetings we share a lot of data, ideas, stories, research, and more to forward our practice. We also have a few shared communication vehicles including a grade-level website, online teaching sites, and Google docs where we share information regularly. This kind of structure is important to trustworthy teams.

Service Delivery Maps
The idea of mapping students' service delivery in collaborative ways with maps is one that I'm thinking a lot about these days. To map service delivery in advantageous ways demands good collaboration, communication, and trust. We have to be willing to nudge one another forward with regard to fidelity to the service delivery schedule, openness to make change, honesty about teaching/learning pedagogy, resources, and direction. We are exploring this idea more as a team and looking deeply at service delivery with the following questions:
  • How can we maximize meaningful time-on-task with students?
  • What group sizes are ideal for what teaching priorities? When is a one-to-one teaching/learning situation more powerful than a small group, and when does a small group or whole class learning focus reap better results?
  • How can we utilize online tools and platforms to maximize student learning and engagement?
  • When do we embed lessons related to growth mindset, learning-to-learn behaviors, cultural proficiency, and rationale to develop students' self efficacy?
  • How do we broach challenging problems of practice with one another in safe, trusting ways? Often it is when we disagree, that we collaboratively end up with the best new ideas and solutions.
  • What practices will we retire, and what new practices will we adopt to further student learning?
  • How can we help one another with our strengths, and turn to each other for help with regard to our challenges?
Team Building and Consultation
I think it's important for teams to look for opportunities to strengthen and build team via shared reading, idea share, attending conferences, and working with consultants. Three members of our team will be attending a teacher leadership conference in a week. This will give us a whole day to reflect on the strengths of our team as well as to look for ways to develop our team more.

Making Time to Know, Value, and Support Each Other Beyond Work Expectations
My brother recently sent me a New York Times article about the Google study that explores optimal work places including meeting potential and working with satisfaction. As we discussed the article, we clearly understood the importance of seeing our colleagues as more than workmates, but instead taking the time to know and value them as people. It's this basic and integral level of human dignity that is essential to any positive work environment.

Respect for and Acceptance of Vulnerability
We are all vulnerable because none of us bring all strengths to a team. With our strengths, we bring our challenges too. This is where respect for and acceptance of vulnerability are key. The more we understand ourselves, the more transparent and forthcoming we can be about our vulnerable areas, and the more we understand our teammates, the more accepting and supporting we can be about their vulnerabilities too. This is essential for good family teams as well as positive work teams.

Honest, Transparent Communication
Too often difficult-to-share thoughts, questions, and ideas are not communicated well. I think that almost everyone meets a challenge here, yet I've known individuals who have taught me a lot about honest, forthright, and caring communication that quickly deals with situations and sees the "promise in problems" with good result. Those individuals have been mentors to me in this regard. The more we can be honest with our colleagues in ways that matter, the better.

Letting Some Things Go
Teams of individuals will never always agree--that's a given, and with that in mind, often it's good to just let some things go. The route to good teamwork will be peppered with challenges and struggles from time to time. Some of those rough spots are worth the time and effort to figure out and make better, and others are simply passing annoyances that do go away and aren't worth the effort to deal with. Sometimes a little space and time goes a long way to solidifying team whether it be at home or at work.

In my years of teaching, I am finding that building trustworthy teams is an essential ingredient to doing the best possible work with and for students, families, and each other. The more we can commit to trust, the better. Do you agree? 

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Good Day

A bit of a room shift and some help from a terrific and talented teaching assistant made the day extra positive. We started with lots of attention to reading, then math, and after that more reading, and finally buddy time and recess. While I was teaching math, students had time to to practice their writing as well.

Lots of activity in the cold air helped the students to focus when it came to learning time which made us realize that, perhaps, the schedule is a bit too squished and that's something we can look at in the week ahead. Next week is scheduled with special events as well as a unit test so it will be a good precursor to the Thanksgiving holiday. Onward.

Sexuality and American Society

I find myself cringing with all the news about sexual harassment these days. I find myself considering all sides of these stories, at least all sides that we hear. I wonder if we're not holding the bar for past events too high, yet I respect and support the need to elevate the bar with regard to the ways men and women are treated related to their bodies, minds, and right to live without harassment or inappropriate predatory behavior. No women or man should be harassed or inappropriately treated in matters of attraction, sexuality, relationship, or any other matters. That's a given.

Yet, on the path to understanding attraction, sexuality, and relationships, people act with all kinds of clumsiness. That's especially true with regard to sexuality. As men and women become aware of sexual desire and interest in others, their actions are affected greatly by the contexts in which they live. In many places, there is nowhere to go to discuss sexuality and appropriate behavior towards those you are attracted to. In these cases, people are learning from what's available rather than what is reliable. Also within every context there's a great variety of what is seen as appropriate behavior and response, and what is seen as inappropriate.  In a sense, as people become sexually aware, it is an awkward process--a process with many missteps. Yet there's a difference between missteps and inappropriate predatory and abusive behaviors.

With the daily reports of groping, inappropriate conversations, and nonconsensual acts, I find myself looking back in time to a time when most women could expect to be harassed almost daily. Many men acted inappropriately towards women in many, many contexts. In general, women were more often treated as second class citizens whose bodies were more important than any other aspect of their humanity. It was degrading and still is degrading when it happens. I remember the pain when boys held up ratings as girls passed on the college campus, the remarks made when I walked down a street, and the constant verbal harassment in places where I worked. I also remember the dates gone wrong. We were learning about attraction, relationship, and sexuality, and in some cases these situations could be described as abuse and harassment, yet I know in all of those cases it was a situation of unknowing and little good leadership or mentoring about appropriate and positive relationship behaviors and actions. There is a long historical acceptance of inappropriate behavior with regard to sexuality, and that has to be unlearned and deleted from our culture, and we all have to work towards this change. Fortunately I grew up in a home with a strong mother who used her voice to stand up for her rights--this helped me as a young women to stand up to inappropriate behavior, yet like most women my age, I also accepted comments and behaviors that would now be considered harassment, but back then were the norm.

America, in general, has always had a difficult time talking about sexuality in open, honest, and natural ways. The fact that for many it's a taboo subject, has made the situation difficult and problematic. Hopefully all the discussion now will help our society to move forward with regard to optimal discussions and education related to sexuality and appropriate behavior as well as respectful treatment of men and women with the multiple types of relationships that exist. We can't accept the bad behavior of the past, but rather than focusing on scapegoating and finger pointing, I think we have to look ahead as to how we'll help people embrace the wonder and beauty of sexuality, relationships, and attraction in ways that are honest, uplifting, and positive rather than old time acceptance of behaviors that were disrespectful and dehumanizing. Of course, however, in issues of abusive, predatory behavior, we have to act with greater legal and moral strength. Onward.

Teachers: Student Champions

I believe that teachers have to be student champions--we need to find ways to champion and support our students in ways that matter.

How can we do this? These questions may help.
  • Do my students feel welcomed and heard in the learning environment? If not, how can I support this integral component of school success?
  • Are my students receiving the services they are entitled too? If not, how can I rework the schedule so that all students are receiving the appropriate supports?
  • Do my students have access to optimal educational resources? If not, how might I advocate and work towards providing my students with those supports, supports such as hands-on materials, comfortable seating, adequate learning facilities, necessary technology, and playful spaces for recreation?
  • Do my students take part in a holistic, positive learning program? How can we continue to build learning programs so that these programs mirror the research and positively forward student learning in engaging and empowering ways?
  • Do we team with families to foster optimal teaching/learning environments and programs? How can we build this vital aspect to teaching and learning?
  • Have I spent enough time with a student in order to build a positive teaching/learning relationship, and to understand well what that student needs to succeed? 
  • Am I making sure that I meet my obligations to meet with all children regularly to service their academic needs, challenges, and strengths?
Similar to parenting, the ways we can champion our students is infinite while time is finite so we always have to prioritize what we can do. This is an essential ongoing process so that we meet the wonderful potential to positively help each child develop and succeed. 

Doing What's Best for All: School Start Times

Yesterday multiple teachers met with the school committee to discuss proposed school start changes. In general, the educators present urged the school committee and system leadership to look deeply at the needs of all involved, not just one group.

Many told stories of what it takes for young students to succeed, and the fact that an early start for young students and families is advantageous for optimal learning, family support, and thoughtful teaching. Late starts for young children mean greater day care costs, longer commutes, less good energy for learning, and more potential for stress and struggle. It was felt that to make positive changes for high school students with regard to school start times should not mean that the elementary school programs have to burden the change with less than ideal start times and reduced supports. Why can't we make positive change for some without taking away from others--how can change be a win-win for all?

The whole issue has made me think a lot about vision and process. Over the past many years our system has tackled a number of singular issues, but not since the work to build a new high school, have we engaged in a deep and inclusive process to set systemwide vision and provide a long range plan. I believe that when you don't have a long range plan, the short term goals suffer, and money and time are often not well used.

So what next steps are important in this regard? As one educator recommended, I think the issue should be tabled for now with the intent to work more closely with other school systems to make a regional decision that positively affects all while not taking significant time or effort away from some. I don't think that we should start elementary school at a later time as I do believe the increased traffic, loss of optimal instructional time, impact on family/work lives, and day care costs for our students, their families, and teachers are too great. We have a terrific teaching/learning program, and instead of making decisions to challenge that program, I think our efforts should be centered on how we can work to improve that program with a focus on the problems of practice that exist.

As for later start times for the high school. I understand that there's lots to discuss. I am a strong proponent of holistic school programs and believe that all students should have the opportunity for wonderful academic, arts, physical education/sports, and social competency learning and progress. Time needs to be looked at closely to fit all that in, and that's an issue that those in the know including administrators, high school teachers, and students and families at the high school level need to discuss and consider carefully. No one was complaining about a later start time for high school students as long as that time is truly going to result in a significant positive change.

As I think of our school communities, of course I'm a fan of spending the time and money to truly make impactful decisions--decisions that retain the terrific programming and service to families and students that currently exist, and decisions that help us to move forward with greater strength and purpose. In my view, decisions that I believe will lead to greater success are issues related to the following areas:
  • better and more purposeful communication amongst and between all levels and stakeholders of the school system. For example, I believe the system will profit from more modern ways of sharing research, professional learning, decision making and new ideas to forward teaching/learning as a system-wide team of families, educators, and students.
  • re-looking at school buildings and potentially creating a master plan for an elementary school campus that forwards a modern day approach to inside/outside healthy learning and collaboration. The issue of neighborhood schools is an important issue--is it best to forward renovated neighborhood schools or to pool the money and create a more modern elementary school campus? That answer would have to be the result of good process.
  • utilizing greater models of distributive leadership in order to foster greater leadership amongst all educators and students. I believe that when models of teaching and learning are too hierarchical and top-down, there's less room for creativity, innovation, development, and sensitive student/family supports.
  • greater modern use of technology and experiential learning to forward learning in modern, worthy ways.
There's many positive challenges in my own teaching/learning sphere. Our shared model of teaching at fifth grade is successful and there's plenty of room to grow that model to be even stronger. I'm excited about that work. Greater and better use of technology to foster rich and deep learning is possible, and I'd like to see us move in that direction too. I would also like to see us partner with local organizations to foster greater and deeper experiential learning as I believe that kind of learning fosters strong citizenship and a greater love, depth, and success with regard to learning. These kinds of efforts demand lots of collaboration and support. 

In summary, how can we make good decisions that benefit all rather than decisions that only benefit some and potentially hurt others? That's the key question, in my opinion, with regard to this situation. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Musings: November 2017

The priorities remain the same: math, science, and community building, and the focus is to forward those priorities in engaging, empowering, sensitive and caring ways. Onward.

Math Focus: Positive Growth

MA educators receive reports that depict growth.
In Massachusetts students get a growth score related to their academic performance. This year those scores were not published for parents since it's the first year of a revised MCAS state testing program, but educators did receive those scores. Essentially the growth score compares students to other like students, and rates their growth. I have studied these scores carefully over the years and have found that these scores, overall, demonstrate some important correlations with regard to instruction, attention, practice, and teacher-student relationships.

Students who get the best growth scores generally demonstrate the following attributes:
  • Regular practice
  • Positive teacher-student relationships
  • Pedagogy that matches the students' learning needs, strengths, and challenges
  • Good use of at-home and in-school technology
  • Multi-modal lessons that focus on visual models, problem solving, collaborative work, independent exercises/tests
  • Regular progress monitoring with reliable tools
  • Extra, targeted supports in math
  • Explicit focus on growth mindset, asking questions, learning-to-learn behaviors, and growth over specific knowledge or scores--the attitude that we're all on the learning journey and our goal is to continually progress
  • Positive family-school collaboration
  • At-home tech access and use with positive practice venues
  • regular attendance at school
  • basic needs met
When I have seen less growth, I have noticed the following:
  • less positive student-teacher relationship
  • less regular practice
  • less targeted, positive support
  • impactful challenging life events also affect this growth 
Why do these scores matter?

When students achieve, their confidence and knowledge, skill, and concept foundation grow. This is positive for later learning. Parents also relax when they receive score reports that demonstrate meeting or exceeding expectations. 

I believe that all scores have to be evaluated with the whole child in mind. In no year do all children demonstrate optimal growth. There are always some who demonstrate less growth, and in these cases some children do meet or exceed expectations, but some do not. Life events affect these scores too--when children face troubling or upsetting life events, their growth is generally impacted. That's why it's optimal to provide children with steady, loving, and predictable routines as much as possible at school, at home, and in the community. Yet we can't plan for all of life's events, and that's to be expected.

While many find faults with standardized testing, I continue to believe that streamlined standardized testing can offer valuable information if used to develop schools, not demean teachers and schools. For example, we can't ignore the economic correlations with test scores. Students in schools and communities that face greater economic challenges have lower scores. That should point the state in the direction of better economic support for those schools so they have the conditions for excellence. I work in a school that does have conditions for excellence, and generally our scores are good. That doesn't mean there isn't room for growth though. Our challenge is to use the "conditions for excellence" that we have in ways that translate into positive growth for all of our students. Conditions such as highly qualified teachers and assistants, substantial technology with one-to-one computers, good time for collegial meetings and collaboration, many resources, and a solid, positive infrastructure for teaching well are attributes that every school needs to foster success. I also believe that every child deserves reasonable class sizes so they get the attention they deserve, and I believe that in areas that are economically challenged, class sizes should not exceed 12-15. That would spell significant success if the other conditions for success were available too. The investment in our schools now will spell greater peace and success for society later on. 

As I think about growth, I am thinking about how I can work with my team to invite students to grow with a positive attitude and regular success. I will focus on the attributes at the top of the page to reach this result. If you have other attributes to add, please do. I am very interested in this journey. Onward. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Google Form Quizzes and Online Practice Promote Self Efficacy

I want to capture this learning event while it is fresh.

I've been using the combination of online Google Form tests, paper/pencil tests, and other online venues to forward students' math learning and self efficacy in effective ways.

Students take the Google form practice test first on their own using a paper and online copy. I encourage them to ask lots of questions which they do. They also help each other. When they complete the test, they submit the results and immediately get their score and the results demonstrating which problems they got correct and which ones were wrong. The wrong answers also show the correct answer. I have them take the practice test until they get everything right. If they believe their answer is right, but is corrected as wrong, we look it over together to see what the problem is or if, indeed, the answer is right.

Using this paper/online combination with instant feedback allows students to lead their learning, and gives me time to work with individuals in areas of need. The Google Form also allows students to learn to take tests online and to monitor their work in this regard. The online form work quickly demonstrates to students when they make silly mistakes, typos, and other errors related to precision. This helps them become more precise. Further, there is a lot of emphasis on reading the problems carefully, taking your time, and checking your work. Again their desire to and the expectation that they will get a perfect scores prompts them to take the test several times until they reach mastery.

Similarly, students use the free and simple That Quiz site for multiple math exercises to solidify their understanding and ability with multiple math skills, concepts, and knowledge points. I tell students to see me for an exercise reset if they get lower than 75. I can see their scores and generally check in with students who score lower than 75 to see what the misunderstanding and need for more teaching may be. I am able to pinpoint the teaching to help students reach mastery. This too is a great vehicle with which to grow self efficacy and math mastery.

Tomorrow we'll continue on this path as I give students the following choices to complete in order to reach mastery with the unit two concepts:

  • complete the unit math study guide
  • take the practice test again
  • work with one of the two above options with a teacher
  • if done with the top choices, see me to discuss next steps which might be completing homework, working on online practice sites, or working on bonus options.
When the class is motivated, we team with families, and multiple human and other resources exist to help student learning, success is attainable. 

Too Fast Expectations: Math Education?

A colleague commented that a child she was helping had no idea of the concepts related to the math unit. I became sensitive since I have to follow such a tight parameter with regard to teaching the standards, and there is little time to help students who need greater help with deeper understanding. In a sense, it's the conveyor belt of teaching and learning. If you stay on the belt and move with the group, you're okay, but if you are not keeping pace, then the problems begin.

I asked to run an extra help program in a different way to help those students who are not staying up with the speed of the class, but my offer was refused as the predetermined way of helping them will be the mainstay even though reports show questionable results from that method. There are other help efforts in place too, but, in my opinion, there's a synthesis and personalization missing that could really benefit children. Yet I have to go along and do the best that I can do by meeting the expectations set and finding time to deepen the learning and teaching for those who are not keeping up.

At yesterday's DESE TAC meeting the topic of professional judgement with regard to curricular materials came up. In general educators felt that decisions around curricular materials needed to be collaborative, research-based, and personalized too. While one educator's professional judgement may not lead us to a singular, right choice, the educator's judgement needs to be considered with regard to teaching children, and then that judgement based on expertise and experience needs to be a part of a greater collaborative effort to identify, embed, and teach the curriculum in ways that matter.

In general, the following efforts will help us to teach math better:
  • loose-tight curriculum parameters that take into account an educator's professional judgement, experience, and expertise as well as students' personal academic needs, challenges, and strengths.
  • Extra help sessions that are well managed, timed, and planned to really zero in on students' individual needs. Sometimes these extra help sessions are too general to make a big difference with regard to a child's learning.
  • Greater communication and synthesis. When programs are disjointed the learning becomes disconnected too. The better that we can collaboratively map the service delivery to meet students' academic needs, the better.
  • Identifying funding and using that funding earlier than later to staff helpful Title One, Extra help, homework clubs, and other supports. Earlier identification and scheduling of supports leads to greater use and fidelity with regard to those supports.
Every teacher wants every child to succeed. Schools are busy places with many dedicated educators often with little time. We all need to do our best with families to create well choreographed programs that help every child succeed and make progress. Onward. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Learning is a Team Sport

As I review emails and prep for today's Department of Elementary and Secondary Teachers (DESE) Advisory Cabinet (TAC) meeting, I am reminded in many ways that learning is a team sport, not the individual activity many think it to be.

Student Failure
A friend told me a story this morning about a relative of her's who is failing in a few subjects. There's multiple reasons why this child is failing, and many, many ways the school and others can reach out to help this thoughtful, caring individual. Most of all this child is failing because he simply didn't have the foundation skills, concept, or knowledge that his peers at the new school have, and the school hasn't created positive paths for this child's success. There's lots of work to do in this situation, and the focus of the work has to be to maintain the child's integrity while working with him to find ways to succeed, ways that include positive social/athletic endeavor, learning-to-learn behaviors, positive tech supports, and educators/classes that meet the child's current foundation level and need. Learning should not simply fall on this individual child's shoulders, but instead be thought of as how the family, school, and student team will work together to help this child succeed.

Class Success
To lead an entire class to success takes the apt teaming of educators, specialists, administrators, assistants, students, and families--the best success depends on all involved. How do we work together to promote success for an entire team that represents tremendous diversity. That algorithm is essential, and some of its parts include optimal communication, goal setting, use of online/offline supports, frequent assessments, and more. A central question here is how can we best synthesize and map our efforts for best success for all students.

Optimal Curriculum and Practice
Today when I attend the state gathering, we'll work on a number of teaching/learning topics related to curriculum and practice success. This too takes a team, a team that represents the individual, local, state, and national level. Together we need to use good process to forward the kinds of learning environments, pedagogy, resources, and experiences that foster the best possible learning for all students. I am grateful that Massachusetts has created teacher, principal, and other administrative teams to team with state officials and educational leaders to work on paths of positive, successful curriculum and practice.

Teachers Union
The local, state, and national teachers' unions see it from the teachers' perspective--what do we need to serve children well? At this point in time, main topics such as equity, inclusion, good process, conditions for excellence, and researched-based decision making are priorities in all discussions. We know that it's imperative that all children have school experiences where the conditions for excellence exist. It's not in our country's best interests to provide some students with failing facilities, education programs, and supports, while other students, generally wealthier and more privileged, enjoy multidisciplinary educational environments that have the conditions for excellence every child deserves. All schools should be top-notch. Further, the processes for educating, assessing education, and making decisions for schools and school communities need to be uplifted. We can't stay mired in old-time processes for decision making when so many terrific tools and structures exist for more intelligent, and promising processes and decision making exist. To stay mired in the old is to limit the potential possible for children in our schools.

Learning is a team sport, one in which we have to reach out and look for modern day leaders to lead. The potential is great for what good schools with conditions for excellence can promote with regard to the well being of every child and our nation. If we look at our work as the work of education team players, then we will be able to find the places where we can share our best knowledge, research, experiences, expertise, and questions to help further the good we can do together.

Monday, November 13, 2017

ReTeaching: Reading and Working with Math Models

Today I'll reteach a concept, one that I noticed students had a lot of questions about on Friday. I've created an enlarged copy of the models that students didn't know how to read and work with. Together we'll deconstruct the model. I'll teach them how to read models like that and how they might use labeling to help them work with those models. I hope this will help them understand the unit standards better.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Collaborative Management

On Monday morning, I'll talk to the students about the need for us to collaboratively manage the classroom. To do this, I'll first review the morning routine:

  • Hang up your bag and outdoor clothing neatly
  • Sign in
  • Read the morning work board, and get started at your desk
For me, I'll take a few minutes to review the sign in, register lunch count/attendance, collect forms/notes, and look around the room for any needs.  I'll shift my desk and organize my files in ways that support this effort more too. I already shifted once this year, but most of the materials I ordered didn't withstand the energized use of 25 students, so there's a need to redo the sign-in board and collection folders. 

I'll re-look at transition times and routines too. As a team we added time for transitions about a month ago which helped, but now I need to add a few more steps to transition routines to make sure that children do what they need to do to be organized and ready for the next learning period. I'll also make more time to review homework expectations as well. Many students are following through with this, but there are still a few that are a bit confused as to the regular homework routine. 

Essentially on Monday we'll shore up our routines and organization to support the good year of learning that's already in motion. These kinds of resets happen throughout the year as varying needs become evident. Onward. 

Society's Imbalance: Investigate and Speak Up for Schools

Citizens need to be on the look out for too-great imbalance in society as it is this imbalance that leads to injustice, greed, and crime.

In talking to friends who work in school systems different than mine, I noted that the class sizes and supports are making it virtually impossible for their students to have the opportunities my students have. This is a too-great imbalance, and one that the state needs to remedy. Nowhere should public school students be subject to situations where the conditions for excellence do not exist--this leads to all kinds of problems, problems that become greater and more costly in time.

We all know that if we treat our country's children with the care and investment they deserve, the entire country will benefit. Every citizen should take the time to visit a local school, assess the numbers of students in each class, determine if there is enough technology, and find out if dollars are be using in ethical, legal, and positive ways. When citizens turn aside and don't take an interest in their schools, they are essentially inviting greater disarray, crime, and injustice into their neighborhoods, streets, and community.

Society will never be perfectly balanced, but too-great imbalance leads to great injustice and weakness--we can't let that happen.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Piecemeal or Big Picture?

Is it best to attack issues and initiatives piecemeal or big picture? I think, in most cases, it's best to start with big picture and then work down to the piecemeal stage. For example as I tackle the materials management/procedures challenge, the big picture is to create a teaching/learning environment that works seamlessly--the kind of environment where the procedural/materials issues occur well without thought so that we can spend most of our teaching/learning time on the priorities of the job--teaching and learning.

Then as we work down with a piecemeal effort, it's important to think about how we can make every material and procedure easily accessible and ready for completion/use.

What other issues are occurring that require thought?

What is the big picture aim/effort and rationale?

What are the pieces that need to be completed related to this?

I think this is a good way to think it through.

Service Delivery Mapping: Teaching Well

Since schools are already multidisciplinary service organizations with regard to the fact that students are served by multiple educators, the school nurse(s), cafeteria staff, therapists, and after/before school coordinators, do we map our service delivery for individuals and groups in ways that matter? I started thinking about this a few weeks ago as we began working to synthesize our experience, expertise, and effort to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of a wide range of students. That got me thinking about the way we map service delivery, and why that matters. I'm curious if you and your colleagues engage in this, and if so, how does it work so that students receive the best possible programs, engaging programs that lead to happiness and progress. I'm curious.

School: Multidisciplinary Student Service Organization

What if "school" expanded to a multidisciplinary student service organization that included learning experiences, therapies, recreation, the arts, and health/dental care? What if your child attended a campus-like educational organization where he/she could learn the basics, problem solve, engage in meaningful projects, get his/her health needs met, participate in the arts, and engage in recreational activities? What would this school look like? How would this benefit children, families, and the community? Is this a vision we want to embrace?