Sunday, December 31, 2017

Motivated by a Meaningful Rationale: Teaching the New Science Unit

I am not motivated by a check-list or simple directions. That's dull and makes me feel like a robot rather than a teacher. Hence, I have to find the deeper meaning related to anything I do in order to do it well. I have to connect the learning to something bigger than me or my students--a life enriching concept, activity, or outcome.

Hence as I work to cull a lengthy kit into ten meaningful lessons, I am thinking about the deeper meaning of the kit which is to have a deep understanding of the physical materials and properties that exist in our world, and by having this deep understanding, one can better utilize and make decisions about the world's materials with greater promise and ability.

How will I gain this greater meaning myself so that I can well choose the activities students will partake in.

First, I'll study the standards so I know what students are expected to know.

Next, I'll read the book, Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik to get the big idea of the subject, a subject I didn't study much during my education

Then, I'll read through the kit materials I've been given. I'm not a big fan of kit materials and the way they are written, but I'll do it. I always prefer crafting units of teaching rather than being handed units, but nevertheless I'll read through it.

After that I'll weave a version of the unit together that I know will be meaningful for students and create a website to match the unit. The website will include all the activities, links, vocabulary, and follow-up enrichment activities.

Once that's done, I'll set up the science lab in my classroom to support the teaching, and then step-by-step students and I will explore and learn.

To learn and teach a new unit well requires substantial investment of time and effort. I would have preferred building the unit from the standards up and integrating it into other areas of study, but I wasn't given that chance so I'll follow the process above in the next ten days so I'm ready for the unit's start. Onward.

Too Much Curriculum

Our system has the unique issue of too-much curriculum. There's more expectations than time to fulfill those expectations. Hence we have to continually revisit what we do, why we do it, and make some tough decisions related to priorities.

The state tests are clearly a priority. It's one of the only measures that we spend a lot of time talking about and using to forward our programs. Hence, it's a priority to meet the standards that enable us to do well on those tests. I have a clear outline of how to do that, and make that a priority. Rather than "teaching to the test" though I do my best to make this learning engaging, student-centered, and varied to meet the multiple learners in my midst.

Another priority is STEAM teaching and learning. We have a good schedule of fine projects in this arena, and truly it's the students' past learning that is motivating this priority. Students LOVE STEAM learning and they beg for it.

Further we have a healthy social competency learning focus and activities. Students mainly look forward to this learning too. They like to build the community and they appreciate the abilities they gain that make it easier and more successful to work with one another, lead their learning/living, and solve problems.

Service learning is a strong value and activity at our school too.

There's many ways that we can continue to grow our curriculum efforts, but we have to do this with care since just adding more doesn't work--instead we need to look at how we design and embed the curriculum focus in ways that matter, meaningful ways that make a positive difference in children's lives.

Curriculum Priorities: What Matters?

As I think of curriculum priorities, I believe that educational systems have to think with greater depth and breadth. I think that too often educational systems are satisfied with less and easy rather than deep and meaningful. These are curriculum considerations I believe that every system should make and deepen.

Anti-racist and Culturally Competent Teaching Program
Every child in every school should be apart of a developmentally appropriate anti-racist and culturally competent teaching program. What does this mean? This means that in every school no matter what the cultural or racial make-up of that school is, the materials, programs, and efforts should reflect all cultures, races, religions, gender, and people that make up our country and world. That means students should be reading stories about the diverse people that make up the world's population, and they should understand deeply the roots of racism and prejudice. Every child should understand the simple biology of skin shade, and be able to be proud of whatever shade they are. Further schools that reflect less diversity will have to work harder to help their students learn about and develop respect for our diverse population in positive ways. Too often the only images and stories students in more homogeneous school settings hear about people different than them are negative whereas there are countless opportunities through travel, the arts, student exchanges, reading, and research that help children understand each other and develop the needed respect to live and learn with people from all walks of life. A deep study of Razia's Ray of Hope is one way that we have used to develop greater respect for the world's people. Other ways include explicit teaching about culture and skin shade, focus on labels and racism, and the deep study of global change makers.

Environmental Stewardship
Beginning from a child's first days of school, all study should be tightly integrated with the environment. Children should learn to grow food, understand their natural environment, and work to be positive stewards of that environment. Too many teaching/learning programs do not integrate with the surrounding environment and there is substantial opportunity to grow our learning programs so that students understand the need to protect and preserve the environment around them. In the past we have forwarded programs like this, but we still find that it's difficult to get the support, funding, and leadership we need to keep these programs going. That's something I'm thinking a lot about.

Project- and Problem-Based Learning
Our school system has embraced STEAM teaching and learning in positive ways. We have a number of great hands-on problem/project-based learning events that occur throughout the grades. This has been a positive direction, one that's evidenced in students' pride, engagement, and education. We need to continually notice and develop how we foster worthy project- and problem-based learning to master the art of teaching and learning in this way.

Deep Use of Technology
Schools everywhere have to develop their technology learning to a place that's greater than "workbook on a page" technology. In our system, we have good examples of this at all levels, but I believe we can do more to deepen our use of technology in ways that better mirror the multiple ways that technology is being used outside of schools to develop students' capacity to successfully problem solve and lead in their world. Virtual reality technology, robotics, coding, gaming, and more should be a mainstay of technology throughout the grades. It is important to develop our work in this area.

Social-Emotional Learning and Curriculum Design
Last year I spent a considerable amount of time co-authoring a book that demonstrates how teachers in grades three to five can embed social-emotional learning into the academic curriculum. To co-author the book meant that I learned as much from my fellow authors as I contributed. We need to look carefully at the way we design and teach the curriculum so that we are teaching in deep, meaningful, and life-enriching ways. Teams of teachers should continually revisit learning design to make sure that they are teaching with up-to-date pedagogy, resources, and experiences in order to develop students' capacity to learn in modern day engaging and empowering ways.

Modern Indoor/Outdoor Learning Environments
Too many schools still mirror the old time school house. We need to seriously consider the way we use our buildings and schedules to teach well. Stand-up desks, hoki stools, comfy chairs, movie-making spaces, quiet learning modules, STEAM spaces, gardens, math playgrounds, and more should be considered as we develop our learning environments. Too often no one pays attention to the environments where students learn, and that is lost potential.

Service Learning
It's amazing to see the growth of empathy, teamwork, and contribution that grows from a positive emphasis on service learning. The key is to grow this work in ways that matter and ways that include all students in meaningful, curriculum-related ways while still including the student-driven creativity, heart, and effort this kind of work benefits from and further develops.

I am a fan of a good list of standards to use as a framework for student study. I am a fan of this because knowledge begets knowledge and when students have a solid knowledge, concept, and skill foundation, they are prepared to learn more better, and use that knowledge in ways that matter. Of course standards needs to be accompanied by student-centered, interest/passion-based, and well designed learning experiences. Standards don't stand alone.

Our schools hold tremendous potential for teaching well, but we can't become complacent. We have to continually look at what we do to teach well and how we can improve our practice and efforts with learning design, content, and environments so that we are teaching as well as we can. To teach well is to give our students the capacity to successfully live in, engage with, and lead the future and this is a worthy aim.

Check the Box or Grow Your Practice

For some teaching and learning is about checking the box, getting it done, and for others it is about continually developing your practice with others to become a better and better organization, teacher, or leader? Which path defines your direction?

New Years Nuts and Bolts

My mind wanders towards all kinds of awesome ideas, yet I know those ideas are worth little if I don't attend to the substantial foundation work that's needed to give the ideas good structure and support. Hence the new year will begin with lots of nuts and bolts--the essential ingredients to creating a strong foundation for good learning and new ideas.

The Learning Community
Upon arrival, I'll welcome students back with positivity and we'll get back on track with learning. We'll begin with a reflection related to a past assessment, and some warm-up work for the math unit ahead. The teaching team will review our to-do list, and send out a newsletter to update families on upcoming events and teaching/learning focus.

The New Math Unit
I'll use what I learned during the past math units and students' reflections as I lead the new unit of study. I'm looking forward to building upon our past learning, and helping every child succeed with this unit in the weeks ahead.

Science Lab
I've been looking for the time to set up the new science lab and begin our new study. It seems that the time is here, and I look forward to the excitement students will feel as they embark on this new study--a study that will help them learn the state standards and enjoy science as well.

Union Work
At the local level, I'll continue to so my secretarial job which includes keeping the website up to date. Further, I'll work with other board members to update our handbook and bylaws draft in the next few months. Later the draft will be reviewed by the board, then reviewed and approved by the membership. There's not a lot of big changes needed, but there is the need for lots of updates to reflect our more modern age of local union work. At the state level, I'll continue to serve on the Teaching and Professional Learning committee, take part in one or more of the courses that MTA division offers, and learn more about advocacy as I've chosen public schools as one area that I will focus on with regard to advocacy and voice in the year ahead. I know that strong public schools lay the foundation for a strong and successful country, and I believe that many of our country's political leaders have lost sight of that so I want to get more active in that realm.

Professional Learning
In addition to the professional learning I'll do with the union, I'll continue to develop my repertoire in all subject areas through a number of professional learning events beginning with my work with The Teacher Collaborative, and then hopefully via some engaging study related to special education in math, geography/history via an NEH Institute, and a good amount of professional reading.

I want to observe closely the many teams I am apart of. Teams where I have a good deal of voice and choice are teams that I'll give the most energy too. Teams where my voice is less respected or heard will be teams that I mostly observe to understand how those teams work and why teachers' voices are less respected and heard. I may later advocate for more teacher voice/choice with those teams, but for now, I'll observe, listen, and learn to understand more.

Professional Presentations
I don't love presenting at conferences and workshops because I don't like the distance I feel from the learners in the room. When I teach in the classroom, there's a great deal of intimacy involved--I know my learners well and truly want to meet their needs and forward their capacity. That interchange is motivating for me. Yet in a presentation room, I don't know the learners and it's difficult to gauge who they are and what they want to learn in a one or two hour sessions. Yet, I like the challenge of presenting, and I feel strongly that there are practices that I use and knowledge that I have that will be  helpful to others, hence I continue to propose workshops and present from time to time. This is an area of professional practice, I want to think more about.

Again and again I list my priorities as it's easy to lose track of what's most important as an educator. I think it's easy to lose track because many of us are leading ourselves in the profession. We don't have a lot of leadership that truly cares about our individual paths, hence if we really care about doing a good job, we have to stay mindful of our work and lead ourselves.

Of course, if I were in charge of the world, I would make sure that educational organizations were much more dynamic. By that I mean that they would be organizations where all stakeholders had voice and choice, and all stakeholders were continually involved in worthy goal setting, idea exchange, learning, and developing. I'm sure some of these educational organizations exist, but in general, the old hierarchal structure of schools that is pervasive, in my opinion, is not a dynamic structure, but instead one where teachers are often isolated from the good work and promise possible. Hence, we have to motivate from within, lead ourselves, and seek dynamic partnerships within our schools and outside in order to build our capacity and reach forward to teach well.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Update Your Professional Learning Path

The vacation has given me needed time to think, rest, and make plans for the year(s) ahead.

With professional learning in mind and Snyder's book, On Tryanny, as inspiration, I want to develop my professional repertoire to support teaching and learning well. What will I do in this regard?

First, I'll attend the January 6th Union School event in Massachusetts, an event sponsored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Snyder speaks of keeping our democracy strong and what we need to do in his book, and one focus he encourages is to get out there and be personally involved with a few good organizations. In his book, On Tyranny, he demonstrates how the corrosion of established institutions is one of the first steps in dismantling a democracy, and that to keep a democracy strong, we have to stay true to the professional ethics of established institutions that contribute to a free and just society. For me that means continuing to invest my time and energy into the Massachusetts Teachers Union (MTA) as one group that forwards good work to serve all children and their families well. This is very important to our democracy, our freedom, our country, and our world.

Next, I'll attend the January 11th Teacher Collaborative event, as this is another organization I want to learn from and contribute to. In a sense the Teacher Collaborative works to connect public school and private school educators and education organizations around the state with the aim of developing best practices and service to students. I want to develop my repertoire and by networking with this group of invested educators, I'll be able to do that. Already the founders of this organization have contributed significantly to my ability to teach well, and I look forward to a continued relationship and support with this organization, and organization I've invited colleagues to partake in as well. (1/10 Update: Note due to a scheduling conflict because of a snow day, I had to attend another event rather than this one.)

Further, I'll take part in one of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) professional development events related to obtaining the 15 PDPs I need to recertify. Fortunately the MTA is offering a number of courses to meet recertification requirements, and I look forward to partaking in this. I tried to meet this requirement via an online course, but I still find that I'm mostly a person who likes to learn with hybrid courses--courses that are blended with part online and part in-person contact.

Then, in conjunction with colleagues at school, I'll work to do the following:

  • Consider summer study via scholarship programs listed on this professional learning page
  • Work to write grant proposals to develop our curriculum programs at school.
  • Plan and execute the new science curriculum.
  • Continue to develop the math teaching/learning program with colleagues and possibly via the Teacher Collaborative Co-Lab structure.
  • Participate in the ATMIM organization, an organization that forwards optimal math teaching and learning in Massachusetts. 
There's a temptation as a busy teacher to hibernate by sticking to our in-school activities alone without getting out there and connecting with colleagues and others, yet we can't do that. We have to push ourselves out there because sometimes "More is More" which means that we need the inspiration, energy, and motivation that new voices, connections, and learning experiences bring to us. Sydney encourages this greatly in his book, and his words are worth heeding. Onward. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Speak Up Against Trump

Probably like most Americans, I feel small in the face of Trump's loud tweets and abrasive actions. Trump would be happy to read this as it seems he likes to make people feel small and insignificant. Yet, I can't let that feeling stop me from writing, reading, acting, and discovering what I can do to support American ideals and the good life for all America's people.

Today I read Timothy Snyder's book, On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century. It's a great read, and a read that will make you want to stand up and speak up against the tyrannical and authoritarian acts and words that the president repeatedly makes.

Snyder looks back at history to show us how Trump's words and acts are dangerous and similar to acts and words offered at other times in history, times that led to inhuman and disastrous regimes.

As I read Snyder's words, I felt a sense of duty and responsibility to learn more, get out and talk to people more, and act for what is right and good when it comes to the freedoms and liberties we enjoy and want to forward for ourselves, our family members, neighbors, and all citizens of the United States and world.

We cannot stay silent at this time in history. We cannot conform. We can't be passive. We have to learn, speak out, and act for what is right and good.

Trump and his cronies would like to frighten us. They want us to feel small. They want to fool us into thinking that they are taking care of us when in truth they are padding their pockets with tremendous wealth, and often choosing the interests of foreign leaders and countries over the interests of our own country.

Snyder cautions us from just believing the facts and words repeated over and over again by Trump and the media, and encourages us to read to find out the facts and truth of the matter. He encourages us to vote "while we can" and run for office too.

In so many other places over time democracy has lost its footing, and in these places it was the people themselves that lent fuel to the fire of those disasters by conforming, staying silent, and believing in the propaganda without looking deeply at what was really being said and if it was true or not. Public servants themselves became monsters in Germany and other places as they followed along treating their fellow humans as animals.

We can't allow disrespect towards others. We can't allow the name calling that the President exemplifies regularly. We can't allow the sensationalism and the use of lies and blasphemy to create unjust and inequitable situations for people. I blocked Trump and his cronies on Twitter so I don't have to read his derogatory tweets and mistruths.

We have to speak up. We have to stay alert. We can't be fooled and used by those who are greedy, self serving, and unjust.

I feel small at this time in the United States. I feel small because I don't have the money or power that oppressors like our president have. But I can't stay silent. I have to speak up. I want to encourage all Americans to speak up and rise up against the struggle that President Trump and his cronies have created, a struggle for the common man, woman, and child to receive their human rights and dignity. The struggle to have a good life and equal access to the law. The struggle to be proud of who we are no matter what our gender, culture, race, class or religion.

Trump has been passive and quiet in the face of human rights, but he has been loud and indignant when it comes to matters of his power and might. This is unAmerican, and not in the best interests of most of the country. I will continue to read and find out about what is happening. I will do what I can to resist this unjust and inhuman regime created by the president and his cronies. I will listen to what others have to say too. Onward.

Strengthening Skill and Results

Sometimes the most difficult challenge is to go deep to strengthen the essential skills and knowledge related to the work you do. This is what they mean when they use the adage, "The devil is in the details." Those gnawing details are essential ingredients to the good work possible--the day to day learning/teaching focus that makes a decision with regard to the good work you're able to do. Those are the details I'm focused on at this point in my career. Onward.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Gift of Time

As we all know, time is limited, and how we use those minutes in a day says a lot about who we are and the life we lead.

As I think about those precious minutes in the new year, I'm thinking about how I want to use them, and the goals that will be fed by that time.

The biggest priority for my minutes in the new year will be students and family. Most of my minutes will be devoted to those two groups by way of teaching, nurturing, and spending time together in common pursuits.

The goals are happiness and positive development for family members and students alike.

As for the other minutes in the days ahead, there are some deeper questions speaking to me--questions I'll explore through reading, writing, and eventually related action.

Time at this point in my life is as valuable or more so than money, though I am moved to make sufficient dollars to pay the bills and care for those I love. How we spend our minutes matters, and demands that we make some time to consider that. Onward.

Science Study Day

A week from now, I'll set aside a weekend day to study the science curriculum. I need to take a large number of lessons and cull it down to the time available. This will take at least a day of concerted focus and study.

I'll begin with the standards that students need to learn for standardized tests and system expectations. I want to understand those standards well.

I will also take a close look at the expected assessment students will need to take. I'll move that assessment to a Google form which I find to be an excellent way to assess as the data reports truly inform the follow-up teaching and reporting I need to do.

Next, I'll dive into the numerous lessons and activities possible and choose the ten best activities--activities that will engage students with hands-on exploration, and activities that fit into the time available. I'll likely create a website to match the activities so that students have a resource to go to for essential and enrichment information and activities.

I look forward to the learning, and the challenge has been finding an open day for the kind of deep work this takes to teach well.

The Learning Home

I want my classroom to be a learning home; an environment where there's a "place for everything and everything in its place." I want it to be the kind of place that the students and I look forward to being in each and every day as we come together to learn.

There are many inspirational posters already hanging on the walls, and there are many great materials for learning. Yet, there's too many extra items--items that I rarely to never use and items that are tool old and tattered for good use. Hence in the new year, I'll brighten up the room by getting rid of the outdated, overused materials and better organizing the terrific resources that students use daily. It's time for a complete clean up and a chance to make the room the learning home that we ned to forward the good learning and teaching possible.

Specifically that means throwing out old, dirty containers and getting rid of the many recyclables that take up a lot of space--I actually wish we had a recyclable materials room similar to the one the Children's Museum has had (I'm not sure if they still have that), but space is short so that won't happen at this point.

It also means getting rid of the old books and materials--teaching tools that I haven't used in a year or more.

Further since almost all the materials I use are online, it also means that I can get rid of most of my old files too.

Soon I will use the time I have for a really good clean up which will make the room inviting for students and teachers when the new year arrives.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What Matters?

A few days away from school give us the chance to think about what matters and where it's best to devote our time and energy. These are good questions to consider as you move ahead in time.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


The Christmas holiday was wonderful. We had the chance to spend good time with so many friends and family members. A blanket of white snow helped to make the holiday beautiful too. And now as I sit here surrounded by the beauty of the season, I find my mind already wandering towards spring and where that will find me.

I think my mind is wandering in that direction since the winter months will be filled with lots of hard work and big goals--work that will take discipline, energy, focus, and if I stick to that path, there will be much to celebrate in the spring. So that's why spring draws me like a beacon, a light to empower the arduous journey ahead.

The winter journey's challenge is not a visible peak, but instead an interior summit--one I've made for myself and one that I know is important at this time. Therefore on this day where the bright sun sparkles in the snow, an image of yellow forsythia motivates me.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Real Time Priorities

When I return to school, these are the real-time priorities I'll attend to:

Math Education
  • Unit Three Review/Reflections
  • Divisibility Rules Review
  • Facts review/game
  • Unit Four begins
  • RTI: Standard algorithms, multiplying by powers of 10, decimal talk, ordering, and computation, problem solving
  • Symphony Benchmark 
  • Report Card Assessment
Science Education
  • Hands-on matter unit, reading, and assessment
  • Complete current book group book, plan upcoming meetings
Room Renovation
  • Set up the "Matter Lab"
  • Renovate the math materials spaces
  • Clean up the class library space
Attend Union/School Committee Meetings as Planned

A Healthy, Positive Home/School Routine

Decisions by One or All

Typically our team makes decisions together. I find that there's good capacity in that. Sometimes decisions that affect teachers and students are made without teachers' or students' input. Those decisions are typically not as effective as inclusive, team decisions.

Spread the Cheer

I didn't know if the season of the spirit would find me yesterday as I lamented a number of relatively small issues, and then last night thanks to a friend's invitation and lovely, welcoming home, I caught the Christmas spirit. We sometimes don't realize how a bit of hospitality can truly change one's mood and invite a sense of festivity and cheer.

Today I'll ready for our gathering, a gathering of family members. There's food to prepare and a house to clean. Then I hope I can share the same kind hospitality and cheer my friend shared with me last night.

As for the multiple issues I discussed yesterday, the end result is that I'll put my attention fully towards math education, science education, care for each child within my charge, collaboration with close colleagues, and a good personal/professional balance. There's much that I can do within my own sphere of responsibility, and taking a leave of the bigger issues for a while may be exactly the right path to follow.

Now it's time to welcome the holiday and prepare. Onward.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Ideal

I've been smarting about lack of response related to a few issues I feel deeply about, issues that require response in order to move forward with important teaching and planning. The blocked path has created a great deal of anguish for me, a path that I feel could have been unblocked without too much trouble, yet a blockage that persists.

This wall has created a yearning in me for better and more--a yearning for systems, structures, and supports that will better able educators like me to do the work that matters. I've analyzed the situation through multiple lenses and with multiple people--it has created consternation and a bit of a snag with regard to holiday festivities.

Many don't know why I ruminate about such issues. They say, "Let it be. You don't have control over that.," but I know that blocks like this halt potential with what I can do with and for children, and I don't know why we would be satisfied with lost potential. I don't understand why people would be willing to create the kind of stress and frustration that blocks good work and kind care of children. It simply doesn't make sense to me, especially when the issue is so small and the decision so simple.

Yet that's the way it is, and not unlike so many snags that I've experienced throughout my professional career, it's yet another point that demands advocacy and debate. I wish that simple issues like this were in the teacher's decision making spectrum rather than left for multiple channels of discussion and debate. That seems to me to be so much simpler and effective, but that's not the way others see it and that's not the way it is.

So as I try to lay the issue to rest to celebrate the holidays, I realize that there are a number of issues and criteria I long for in schools--attributes that I think will better schools for children. I thought about those attributes and made the list below:

I want
  • honest conversations about what works and what doesn't work, and the evidence to back that up
  • good use of time that supports student learning
  • careful use of dollars to support programs that are truly positive, not just programs that look good
  • realistic assessment of what's working and what is not
  • regular communication about what we've done, what we are doing, and where we are headed
  • consideration and timely response to questions
  • greater teacher voice and choice
  • teacher/student-led initiatives
  • less administrators and more time-on-task teachers
  • timely, inclusive, and transparent goal setting processes
  • respect
  • clear, inclusive, transparent goals and vision
  • fair and equitable treatment of educators at all levels and within all disciplines
  • adequate, welcoming spaces for teaching and learning
  • adequate resources and easy-to-use purchasing systems
  • streamlined support systems that support more time-on-task with students and easier administrative work
  • deeper, better access to good technology to forward teaching and learning in modern ways
  • more distributed leadership models
  • transparent, timely, and inviting idea streams and decision making processes
  • equitable attention to all students and their needs and potential
Some of what I want, I fortunately have. Some of what I want is still not a reality. In the days to come I'll think about priorities and advocacy with regard to this list. Onward. 

The Amazing Story Contest

Colleagues were inspired to elevate students' engagement, flow, and confidence with writing. In that end, they invited students to enter story contests--regular creative writing contests that inspire students to write. I've seen the enthusiasm students have when involved in these contests, but up until yesterday I never engaged in the event. Then yesterday due to scheduling choices, I led the contest finale in my class. I read the many individual and collaborative stories entered. As I read the student listeners were transfixed. They listened to each and every story with great attention. Also as I read I noticed the tremendous craft, voice, and creativity embedded in each story. This was amazing writing! My colleagues' genius was evident--this story contest was not only tremendously enjoyable for students, but it served to elevate writer and listener too. Amazing!

In the end, students voted for the top story--a well crafted holiday fantasy. This event not only taught me a lot about teaching well, but it once again solidified why I like our shared teaching model so much. We truly learn from one another each and every day and that empowers what we can do with and for our learners which makes the job more successful, meaningful, and powerful! Good News!

Let the Celebrations Begin

Consideration of the limitless opportunities school life holds for betterment consumed the early hours of this morning. I had to make a plan with regard to the upcoming year before I could move into the joyous celebration the holidays bring to me and my loved ones.

Now it's time to celebrate, and what does that mean.

For me it means preparing a welcoming home, healthy foods, and a few special gifts and surprises to light up the days with those I love. I feel fortunate to have family members and friends I care a lot about, people who I can share the holidays with. Now it's time to show that care through the holiday actions and cheer. Onward!

Lost Capacity

I spoke to a person that I consider to be a brilliant educator today. She lamented her lack of voice and choice in her school system, a system different than the one I work in.

I worried as I thought about the lost capacity that system is facing by not tuning into this educator's brilliance. Why would they continually just tell this teacher what to do without paying attention to her long tenure of excellence when it comes to teaching students.

Do they ignore her capacity, intelligence, and experience because it's easier, and because they can? Don't they realize that by doing this, they are offering their students less.

It's clearly time to re-look at systems with regard to schools as I believe that system structure in many schools and school systems are hindering the brilliance possible, a kind of brilliance that serves children well.

Confidence and Questions Related to Direction

As educators we need to recognize our efforts that matter, the efforts that we know impact our students. For me those efforts include the following:
  • extra help sessions
  • personalized/targeted learning experiences
  • use of informal/formal assessment data to develop programs
  • working closely with families, colleagues, and students to develop programs
  • regular reading, research, and collegial investigation
As educators, we also have to be well aware of the questions and desires we have, questions and desires that will develop our practice more. My questions and desires include the following:
  • How can we better teach our students who appear to have math challenges?
  • How can we better serve our students who have what seems to be weak math foundations (less math play, less early math learning, skills, knowledge, concept)?
  • How can we better utilize our resources to serve students better?
  • How can we deepen and broaden our use of the best technology to develop all students' ability to learn math?
  • How can we move from mostly "workbook on a page" tech to deeper, more meaningful, three-dimensional technology to develop students' math understanding and learning?
  • How can we integrate math with other subjects more?
  • How can we embed worthy, relevant, and meaningful math projects into the math curriculum more to match the research that supports those projects and the growth and engagement the projects inspire?
  • How can we embed a regular diet of coding for all students in our school so that by the time students leave 5th grade they are able to solve simple or sophisticated problems with coding?
  • How can we work with parents to support greater at-home math-related play, talk, and activity?
  • How can we use better process during team meetings to develop our math collective genius?
  • What are the best resources for math growth and development?
  • How do we best share ideas that work?
  • How do we best spiral our programs towards betterment?
We also have to be well aware of the work we need to do and can do to develop our capacity to teach well. For me that means the following:
  • Another room make-over to match current goals and teaching including science lab update and math materials renovation.
  • Review of students' unit three tests and reflections.
  • Creation of RTI scaffolded assignments and priorities to guide our efforts in this area.
  • ATMIM membership update
  • Inquiry and reflection on math roles, idea share, and protocols. 
The clearer we are about our direction, questions, desires, and right-in-front-of-us opportunity to better and grow the work we do, the better teaching and learning we'll do too. 

Is the Chain Too Long for Optimal Change?

There's typically decision making chains in every organization.

When are the chains too long for good change?

Have you researched this? If so, what does your research say?

Getting to the Heart of the Issue

All week an issue gnawed at me. I knew that I could not enjoy the holiday break without getting to the heart of the issue--what is going on?

I thought and thought and thought. I consulted a number of other people. I looked deeply at what I did and what I could do, and finally I arrived at the heart of the issue.

In general, I believe the heart of the issue lies in how we handle new ideas for betterment including how those ideas are shared, discussed, and debated.

In anticipation of an upcoming meeting, I shared an idea for what my team and I believe is betterment in the situation.

The idea was met by silence from some and questioning by others. After answering the questions, the idea was met with greater silence--a silence that was worrisome, and a silence that appeared to disagree with the idea.

Later I queried more in person, and there was even more silence, again a worrisome silence making me believe that the idea was seen as contemptuous and ill-conceived. I felt voiceless and choice-less.

I thought more and more about it. Why did we come up with the idea in the first place? We came up with the idea because given the parameters that exist, we felt the idea was a way to better serve students. Why did I forward the idea prior to the vacation? I anticipated debate with regard to the idea since it proposed a change to an established practice, and I didn't want to create havoc at an upcoming meeting. I felt that previewing the idea with those in charge would create a better meeting. I was hoping that a decision about the idea could be made in advance of the meeting so we could spend the meeting on deeper and more meaningful discussion and efforts.

So where do we sit now? The idea is on hold since there has been no response other than questioning from those to whom the idea was posed. The idea will be decided on in some way at the meeting, a way that I will witness then unless I hear more about it in the days leading up to the meeting. I feel I can't write anymore since I've already provided my advocacy and evidence, and now I'm waiting for a response.

At the heart of the issue is that I wish  my teaching team had total control over this issue, but we don't, and we have to rely on the approval or disproval from others. Also, I wish the decision could have been made in our favor prior to the meeting so we could talk about deeper issues at the meeting--issues related to specific student learning, but that will not be the case. I also wish that I was better at advocacy--I wish that I could share ideas and accept the resulting silence or comments with better understanding and knowledge. The silence always stabs me like a knife--the silence always says to me that people don't care or don't honor my work, when in truth, silence is silence, and silence could mean people don't have time, people don't know what to say, people don't feel the question is directed at them, people don't think I should be offering ideas. . . . .no one really knows what silence means.

Hence at the heart of the issue is how does one share ideas in ways that matter? What are the protocols for idea share? What is the expectation for response? What is the systematic view of idea streams and the protocols related to that? How is teacher advocacy looked at and supported or not supported? What is the role of teacher voice and choice?

I will share these questions when the time is right to better understand this situation, and in the meantime, I'll let the issue rest until I hear more. Onward.

Protocols for Debate and Discussion

A recent idea share was met with mostly silence, and when the query continued, the silence deepened. The deepening silence incited frustration, sarcasm, and more questioning. Why did this happen?

When there are few to no streams for idea share, debate, and discussion, it may be that every new idea is met with a different approach and a sense of alarm rather than welcome. It could be that in some situations, new ideas are not seen as good ideas, but instead seen as threats to the status quo--the status quo of roles, decision making processes, or the way it has always been done--tradition.

As one who is always looking for and trying out new ideas to better the teaching/learning I do, this presents a quandary. How do organizations best meet new ideas--what are the protocols in place for idea share and how are those protocols made explicit to create dynamic organizations, the kinds of organizations that continually spiral towards betterment.

In thinking about this, I have a number of questions including the following:
  • What protocols are in place where you work with relation to new ideas--how are those ideas debated, discussed, and tried out?
  • Is everyone in your organization invited to share new ideas with welcoming arms and listening ears or are new ideas only allowed by some?
  • How do you grow your systems and efforts? Do you create idea share streams, protocols, and ongoing related efforts? If so, what do these idea streams look like?
My advocacy and share is sometimes welcome by some individuals and teams, and at other times unwelcome by others and other individuals and teams. 

I want to think more about my advocacy for better and different, and as I think about this, I'm curious about the following questions:
  • Why do some stay silent when I advocate for new and what I think is better?
  • Why do some not discuss and openly debate the ideas?
  • Why are ideas dismissed without rationale?
  • Why don't we take an ongoing look at new ideas, but instead often relegate new ideas to specific times of the year, meetings, or events?
I grow my practice day-to-day as I think about the learners I work with and the resources, schedules, and support available. I like this natural system of growth, yet I work with many others, some of whom seem to desire a different growth process. 

I want to listen more to hear what people define as dynamic process, good growth streams, and efforts that matter. I want to hear about the stories of success and the paths of successful idea share and growth. I want to understand this better and will make this a priority as I move ahead in the profession. 

Collaboration and Decision Making

A new idea was born out of necessity in the schoolhouse, yet the new idea experienced pushback and silence too. What are teachers to do?

We advocated for the idea. We cited evidence that supports the new idea, and now we will wait to likely discuss the idea at an upcoming meeting. In the end, the final decision will not be ours, but instead decided by others who often make decisions for us.

I will listen to the debate, and I will follow the resulting directive.

So often new ideas arise, and those new ideas are discussed with the team. In the best of circumstances, we arrive at a compromise--a better idea that arises from the team debate and discussion. In other situations, the idea is defeated without compromise or affirmation of the idea's rationale. For example, my advocacy to continue to use Khan Academy has been unsuccessful, and we are no longer able to use that tool in my school. Last year our school was sixth in the state with regard to high performing fifth grade math students, and I'm sure that, in part, this high rating was due to the use of Khan Academy, yet the tool has been dismissed from our list of acceptable tools. The decision made was out of my hands, and so I'm following the directive in place.

Our advocacy and ideas will not always be affirmed or accepted. Our debate and discourse will sometimes result in decisions that we would not make, and that happens in every organization and to every employee at one time or another.

It's best to use our best respect, knowledge, and experience to read, research, try-out, and then advocate for ideas that matter, and it's best if those ideas are entertained, discussed, debated, and then decided upon.

If we just go along and not advocate for what we think is right and good, our organizations will stay stagnant and not move forward. Yet, with that advocacy, we have to be willing to lose at times; to see our ideas denied. Hopefully in most situations good ideas brought to the table will receive a good dose of honest debate and discussion before final decisions are made, the kind of honest debate and discussion that honors the experience, outlook, knowledge, and skill of all who are involved in the situation, goal, or outcome related to the idea.

Inspiring Practices

What kinds of practices inspire and motivate good growth and learning?
  • regular, respectful communication
  • common goals, questions, and direction
  • debate and discussion about meaningful information and questions
  • shared research, experiences, resources, and practices
  • team
  • continued program growth and development

Math Role and Goals

Recent discussions and exchanges related to the math program prompt me to think about my role as a math teacher. Overall the main aspects of my work include the following criteria:
  • Teach each standard for mastery
  • Employ engaging and empowering math experiences
  • Encourage mathematical thinking and practices
  • Coach each child forward with a good attitude and positive learning actions
  • Assess regularly, and use the assessment data to inform instruction
  • Advocate for program growth and development
  • Seek professional learning to develop math teaching/learning efforts
  • Work with families and colleagues on a regular basis to support student's math learning
I wish that educators had a bit more say with regard to the overall math programming and plans, and that's an area of the field I'm exploring too on multiple levels. As I explore, I'm thinking deeply about the following questions:
  • Who is leading math program development on multiple levels?
  • Is that leadership research- and question-driven?
  • How is that information shared with others, and does the information share empower and engage math educators in ways that promote growth and development?
  • What are the expectations for my role with regard to math growth and development?
  • How can our collaborative work help students more?
My students will profit from the following efforts:
  • More hands-on-deck--students profit from the good coaching and teaching of many
  • More practice and learning with engaging practice experiences
  • Time-on-task with math
  • Math talk and questioning
  • Greater experience with coding and worthy, project-base math tech 
I believe that when our collective efforts are question driven, and those questions focus on our goals and vision for the math program, we do our best work. When efforts are more of a to-do list, than a question-driven process based on worthy goals/vision, then, in my opinion, we lose capacity. Further, when all practitioners are treated with respect and given voice and choice in ways that matter, a sense a team develops, and with that comes good energy and growth. 

Is the Goal Control or Growth?

As we teach and learn with children and colleagues, from time to time, we should consider our actions and the actions of others to determine if the goal is control or growth.

There should be little room for control goals and instead an environment that looks to growth as the goal most if not at all times.

What is the advantage of control over growth?

Obviously growth has great advantages over control in most situations.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Wrong Expectations

I voiced concern over a matter today, and got a surprising response. The response led me to wonder if my expectations with regard to the issue are completely off track. Perhaps what I expect is not what others expect, and perhaps how I define the situation is very different from the ways that others define the situation.

So in looking deeper at the issue, I will use the following questions:
  • What are the priorities in this matter?
  • What are the expectations?
  • How is the matter assessed and evaluated?
  • What is my role related to this issue?
In a sense the situation might be having the expectation that you're eating an apple, but instead you're eating an tomato, cookie, or an avocado. No matter how good the cookie, avocado, or tomato is, you won't be satisfied if you're expectation is that you're eating a cookie.

This is why issue, role, and situation definition is important. It's important that people know what to expect or perhaps craft what to expect. It's important that people understand the parameters and the goals so that they can assess, evaluate, and develop well. 

When Questioning is Met with Disdain

Sometimes questioning is met with disdain.

Perhaps this is because of the timing or tenor of the questioning, or perhaps the questioning awakens a sensitive place in the person who is receiving the questions.

When questions are met with disdain, it's good to take a pause, assess the situation, and note what's happening. What did the disdain look like:
  • angry response
  • silence
  • negative looks
  • disinterest
  • sarcasm
  • threats
For those who ask tough questions, this is important to consider. 

The Naysayers' Contribution

In life there will always be naysayers.

Naysayers in my early life honed my critical thinking skills.

Naysayers at home refine my living in positive ways.

Naysaying students make me think deeply about what I do and why I do it--they often lead me to change my ways.

Naysaying colleagues help me to look deeply at my work.

There's a right quotient of naysaying however as if one is always a naysayer, no one listens, and if the naysaying is for power only, then that contradiction serves to further distance people.

Naysayers can contribute to the greater good, but there's a balance here that's important for all of us to consider.

Developing the Math Program: Students are the Best Teachers

As I continue to look for ways to develop the math program, I will seek the consultation of the best teachers--the students.

I will begin the new year with taking a close look at students' reflections about unit three. What worked? What didn't? How could the unit of teaching gone better?

I'll also meet with individual students a lot to look closely at their learning. What do they need? How can I help them?

I also want to look for ways to work more closely with family members. What can I do to help parents, and how can parents help me and their children when it comes to math success?

And I want to work with the teaching team too. How can we close the opportunity and skill/concept/knowledge gap we see with our most struggling math students? What more can we do to build stronger math teaching/learning relationships, learning experiences, skill development, and overall success? I want to hear what my colleagues have to say about this.

And I'll continue to learn about this topic. Hopefully our request to have a 15-PDP (professional development points) expert-led course of how to effectively teach students who display math learning disabilities will happen and that will help us to better assess and teach our most struggling math learners.

There's lots to do to increase our math teaching/learning capacity and I look forward to that work in the new year.

Why Did Representatives from States with the Weakest School Systems Support the New Tax Bill?

Representatives from the three poorest states in the country voted overwhelmingly for the new tax bill--why? 
Representatives from states with the most challenged school systems voted mostly in favor of the new tax system.

As I struggled to listen to the debates about the new tax bill the other night, I did a little research. I realized that representatives from states with the strongest school systems and greatest incomes did not support the new tax bill, a tax bill that would likely make those states' rich even richer.

Yet representatives from states with the overall weakest school systems and least wealth did support the bill--why would states that struggle to educate their populous support a bill that helps corporations and the wealthy more than schools and people without sufficient wages? The only answer I can think of is personal greed, but I'm open to your thoughts--why would representatives from the poorest states, states with the least rated school systems, support a tax code that greatly elevates corporations and the wealthy? Help me to understand.

States with strongest school systems did not support the new tax bill.

When Collaboration Matters

I always look forward to collaboration with my grade-level colleagues. Mostly I look forward to this collaboration because our overarching goal is the same which is to teach our seventy-five fifth graders with as much strength, compassion, care, and skill as possible. Our meetings focus in on how we can do this on our own and with each other. Our meetings don't focus on each other's challenges, but instead focus on our collective and individual capacity and how we use that to do the job well.

Collaboration that is less inviting is collaboration that doesn't share a common goal that's valued by all.  Also collaboration that is not based on good research, effective effort, or good intent is also uninviting. Check-the-box collaboration which is doing it because it's prescribed but doesn't represent much value is also not welcome--we want to collaborate on issues and efforts that matter, not issues and efforts that we do just because we've always done them or because they look good. There's no gain in that other than possible political gain (which, I know, is needed at times, yet I find it difficult to impossible to commit to efforts for political reasons only).

Our collaborative time in schools is precious and we want that time to matter. We don't want to get together and then waste the time on efforts and strategies that are meaningless, redundant, not supported by effort, or ill directed, but instead we want to use that precious time in ways that matter.

As a collaborator that means that I too have to be thoughtful about how I contribute to and use that time. What comments are important, and what is best left unsaid?

Also as we think about good collaboration, we have to think about process. It's clear that teams everywhere are looking at ways that they can elevate their process to gain more effective collaboration and result. The use of technology can work well to aid this effort as technology can be used for the mundane and systematic aspects of collaboration, leaving more time for the deep conversations and good work possible with collaborative teams.

Collaboration matters a lot in schools. We do our best work when we collaborate well. Yet that collaboration has to be based on effective goals, process, and strategies--it can't be messy, thoughtless, or overly prescribed collaboration as that doesn't build the capacity possible.

Paper/Pencil vs. Online Assessments

This year most students have been taking their math assessments via paper/pencil and online. What have a I noticed?

There is value in both.

The paper/pencil gives you good insight as to how a child tackles a problem and solves it whereas the online assessments provides a good class view of how the children together take the assessment since it's easy to sort and sift the data to inform your teaching.

Online student's copying and input errors are hard to rectify whereas with paper you can see the error trail. For my strongest students, they are keenly aware of their input errors and how that affects their scores. I think that will help them to do a better job on state and systemwide online tests as they will be more careful to input data correctly.

Online tests help students who have visual or reading challenges since the online tests can be used as an assistive technology to lessen those challenges in multiple ways.

The ready feedback available via the online test builds students' metacognition and learning. Students eagerly look at their test responses to see what they got right and what they got wrong. They are quick to point out to me if an answer they think is right is marked wrong which leads to a good conversation and also good information for me to use as I continue teaching that child. Further I'm able to easily look at a child's results online and share those results as needed via the Internet which is efficient and helpful when it comes to working with colleagues.

I like the combination of using online and offline tests together. While not perfect, the effort is demonstrating some important points. For one, some teachers are noticing that it's too difficult for some of our most challenged students to complete the work on paper and then input the data. This may mean that these students need a scribe for standardized tests and this is an accommodation we need to consider.

Of course I want to build greater use of the performance assessment too--an assessment that's multimodal including presentation, three-dimensional models, and more to demonstrate skill, concept, and knowledge.

Do you use the combination of online and offline assessments? If so, in what ways do you find this advantageous and in what ways do you find this to be cumbersome or ineffective? I'm excited about developing this work in the days ahead and look forward to your responses.

How Do You Respond to Educators on the Front Line of Teaching and Learning?

As an educator, it's always interesting to see how people respond to your work, questions, and ideas.

In general, family members, close colleagues, and students respond readily to the efforts I promote to teach well. Families, colleagues, and students respond with support, positive critical analysis, questions, and collaboration. Their support is dynamic and serves to build a strong teaching/learning team.

Administrative response varies. Some simply ignore emails and requests--they don't respond, and treat you like you are invisible. Others respond with a thank you or a short response which leaves you thinking if they read the material or care about what you've said. Still more respond with negative comments that quickly demean your idea and give you the message that you are not worthy of having an idea, your position is too low for voice and choice. And then there's the responses that I truly welcome, responses that respond with the research that confirms, debates, debunks, or adds to my thoughts--those administrators respond in a way that values your time and effort and continues a positive level of collaboration and development towards teaching well.

To respond to educators in ways that develop dynamic teams is best. To ignore or demean educators is to lessen the capacity possible when it comes to good teaching and learning. After all educators who are on the front lines of teaching do the work that helps students to learn, and when their questions, ideas, research, and efforts are treated with respect, then what they do develops in ways that support the best of what we can do for students.

Curriculum Conflict and Collaboration

At times educators see curriculum in different ways and conflict occurs. One team of educators may feel that one strategy is best while another team believes another strategy is best. When this happens, the work requires greater scrutiny, discussion, data analysis, and research.

In the current issue where this has occurred, there's been some frustration. Yet there hasn't been the discussion, data analysis, and research so I'm thinking about the steps to come, and these are the questions I have.
  • Why is using a document a more efficient and helpful strategy than using a spreadsheet?
  • Why are groups of defined numbers better than making groups based on student need, observation, and positive study attributes? What research supports this?
I want to listen deeply as educators share their perspectives, process, and goals? I want to hear the research, data points, and success stories that support this work as well as the information that does not support the strategies I've deemed successful.

Also as we continue to build our student interventions and targeted teaching, I want to listen for the research and learn about these questions too.
  • What efforts are in place that are truly working? How do we know that those efforts work--what evidence, observation, stories and research do we have?
  • What can we do to raise our level of success with students; what are others doing to elevate their work and success that I might try too?
For my own work, I want to dive deeply into the following efforts:
  • Building ways that student reflection and showcase portfolios can promote better effort, strategy, and learning.
  • Matching figures with meaningful, relevant student-friendly data, essential questions, and focus. 
  • Integrating science and math more.
  • Listening to colleagues more to cull wisdom, good strategy, and links to effective learning and teaching.
  • Adding more extra support times to work with students who profit from the extra one-to-one attention and time. 

You Can't Always Get What You Want List

  • Khan Academy
  • More Tech Access
  • More Purchasing Power
  • More Time for Planning
  • More Say Over What I Do as an Educator

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The New Year in School

  • Continued focus on character
  • Continued focus on math education starting with reflections on unit three and the start of unit four.
  • Focus on the science unit of matter with hands-on exploration and learning
  • Continued efforts to create a learning environment that best meets the needs of students
  • Continued learning via top notch education organizations, resources, and individuals
  • Seeking a good balance of personal/professional to teach well.

Ending and Beginning a Year

Students will end the year with a wonderful science event, quiet reading, a snow globe writing project, winter story contest, surprise box exchange, recess and a class clean up. They we'll begin the new year with review of divisibility rules, fact practice, and a factor game. In the new year there will be a number of student meetings for curriculum review and assistance too. In the meantime, there will be time to catch up with and celebrate with friends and family members. Onward.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Regulations like Taxes are Not Necessarily Bad

A good tax is when people pay a fair share to support the common good such as public schools, clean water/air/land, peaceful global relations, affordable quality health care and opportunity for all.

Good regulations protect us too. For example good regulations protect smart and safe distribution of legal drugs, safe driving, environmentally-friendly corporate practices, equity and care for our most vulnerable citizens.

The majority of our law makers today want us to believe that taxes and regulations are bad, and that by not paying more taxes we will have a better country. I do believe there's a balance here, however, I believe the way that our current political majority has ruled is short sighted and does not create a good foundation for our nation's children or future. Onward.

Falling Down the Tax Hole

I swore off the Trump hole yesterday and fell down the tax hole today. Why?

The more I read about the new tax bill, the more I worried. I worried about the speed with which the bill was created and way it wasn't shared with transparency or crafted with bipartisan efforts. There was clearly an agenda to pass this bill to show strength and increase wealth for the Americans who were creating and forwarding the bill.

In many ways the bill seemed to be similar to taking out a giant personal loan to give your boss a four-star trip around the world, while using a few dollars of the loan to bring your family out for pizza. Your short term gain is that your boss is very happy and your family pleased to have a meal out. The long term problem is that your boss just invested and reaped the benefits of the $50,000 that you spent on his trip. He's happy, but now you have a big, big debt, more bills, and no ability to take your family out to eat again. The boss could return the favor and give you a big raise, but we know that bosses typically take better care of themselves than they do their workers so this is unlikely. He'll probably look for another worker to give him another free trip.

So what's an average American like me to do?

First, I need to look for ways to speak up for and support voter's rights--we need more average Americans to stand up, speak up, and vote. It was alarming to notice that representatives and senators from the country's poorest states and states that underfund education were strong supporters of this tax bill. Instead of fighting for the rights and needs of their citizens, they threw them tax scraps and heavily supported the wealthy and big corporations.

Next, I need to continue to teach well. One reason this tax bill passed is that I believe Americans can't see the numbers well--it's very difficult to see beneath these complex schemes that make it look like many politicians are working in your best interest, but when you look deeply, it shows that they are not working for you, but instead working for those with the most economic and political power. That's why average Americans need more political power. So if I teach well, my students will be more savvy when it comes to looking at the numbers and society's needs/potential, and making good decisions for themselves and others.

After that I need to continue to read and study the words and actions of American leaders I value, leaders who I believe can help me to better understand how I can support a wonderful America--the kind of country I am proud to live in and a country where opportunity belongs to all people, not just a few.

As Americans, we have to be aware of what's happening. We have to listen carefully and watch closely. We have a great country, but the current President and Congress, in my opinion, are dangerous leaders--the kinds of leaders who put respect, decorum, education, health care, inclusion, and support for all Americans aside --they are not the kind of leaders that support the America I believe in, an America that values diversity, protects the rights and needs of children, takes care of the environment, and promotes promising innovation and growth from all walks of life not just big business.

There's so much to learn here, and so much to do that it seems overwhelming, but as with anything in life, the best we can do is a step-by-step direction that begins with good work and advocacy close to home and living the lifestyle you support. Onwards.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Advocate in a Modern Age

It's really tough to be an advocate in the modern age, particularly if you're an average citizen who works, takes care of a family, and likes to have a little fun now and then. Most full-time jobs today typically take much more than the 40 hours expected, and family takes a lot of time on top of that. So what's left with regard to time and energy is little. Yet if average citizens don't speak up, we won't have voice and our needs and efforts will not be represented thus leading to a less positive life than possible.

So what can happen?

One idea is that our elected officials begin to think about how they can routinely enlist average citizens in advocacy efforts that are doable and valuable with the time and energy they have. New systems of advocacy could be created, systems that invite voice and choice with greater capacity, impact, and value.

Another idea is for our lawmakers to create room for advocacy perhaps with worker's rights' rules such as four days weeks, days-off for advocacy, and more.

Still more is to truly analyze this issue and look for ways to elevate voice and choice of the common man and woman so there is equitable representation when it comes to decision making, new laws, money spent, taxation, and fair representation.

I want to think more about this question, but this is a start.

Specific Learning/Teaching Plans: January - June 2018 Road Map

I've thought a lot about the investment of time, dollars, and energy for January through June 2018, and have reached the following conclusions:

Classroom Centered
While I'd like to attend some worthy, yet time consuming and expensive, professional events, I'll stay classroom-centered during these months. I will stay the course of uplifting the curriculum program in math and my designated area of science/STEAM. This will take good time and care in the days ahead.

Positive Routine
I will continue to work towards a healthy, positive routine that balances home and school well. Not an easy task as every teacher knows.

Professional Efforts and Learning
I'll focus this work on building the classroom curriculum program for successful math/science/SEL teaching/learning. This spring I'd like to take a special education course related to math disabilities and challenges, and I'm researching that option now. I also learn via the many professional opportunities close-to-home offered by the groups I listed yesterday. I will also continue to contribute and learn from the groups I currently am associated with.

I am fortunate to have many good professional and personal relationships, and want to give those people the time, support and energy they deserve.

I will continue to support the local union as their secretary, board member, and website manager, and I will continue to play a role on the MTA's TPL. In the local role, I want to work on the information management, updating, and getting the word out about great professional learning opportunities.

I'd like to use the great summer energy and time to do some deep, creative, and forward-moving creative work. David Culberhouse's research calls me, and perhaps I'll invest in reading the great works he's been developing for so long now. I may match his work with visuals to embed his research into my professional work. I think this will be true sabbatical summer of study and thought since it's likely that next year's teaching year will build upon the work we are doing with our team this year--work that is mostly successful and work that we are bettering each day.

Testing the Waters

I made a number of queries in person, via the phone, and through email yesterday to get a feel for the priorities, investment, and initiatives happening in and around me yesterday. Then I did some thinking about the answers I received. Where did I note rich commitment, important ideas, and forward thinking?

In one conversation, the idea of vision came up. I fully support the need for organizations and individuals to invest in vision and work together towards that vision. Without vision, we are aimless, and our efforts are never as good as they might be with a thoughtful, collective vision at the helm.

Professional Learning
For some this is very important, and for others this is less important. For me this is very important, and I will continue to invest time and energy into this endeavor as this is the fuel that leads the good work I'm able to do.

This varies in intensity and direction. I want to think about this more with regard to my students.

Good relationships are at the core of almost all that we do, and it's imperative to develop these relationships in ways that matter.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Falling Down the Trump Hole Again

Tonight I fell down the Trump hole again. The more I read about his and his cronies' words, decisions, and actions, the more discouraged I became. Rather than working to uplift the American people, it seems like those people are working to demean the majority of Americans, and elevating only a few.

The elevation of wealth for the wealthiest seems to serve people like Trump best, not most of the people in the United States, and the tax cuts serve to elevate the wealthiest while not uplifting supports that are very important, supports related to health care, environmental protections, and education--supports that would help most Americans, not just a few.

Then of course, there's the news of the Russian investigation and all the sad and worrisome facts that continue to emerge from that work. Discouraging reports about Americans who used their time to support a foreign country's agenda and their own gain rather than the agenda of their own country and people--more discouraging news of greed and selfish intent.

However it's Christmas and do I want to let Trump's demeanor and demeaning decisions ruin the holiday for me and those I love and care for. No.

So for the next few days, I'll follow the great leaders that I know of, leaders who have been working around the clock during Trump times to stand up for the American people, leaders like Senator Warren, Senator Markey and more. I'll listen to their words and advocate for what is good for the American people, most of them instead of a few. I'll listen to few stories of our President, his family, and cronies and instead turn my attention to those I love and desire to spend the holiday with. I never thought I'd live in a time when the President of the United States shows so little care or attention to the needs and potential of the American people, our country's resources, and the the country as a whole, but that is the way it is now, and the best I can do is to do my work well and advocate for what I believe to be a better way. Onward.

Can We Support a Tax Bill That Mainly Supports the Wealthiest Americans

Good American leaders that I value are calling the new tax plan a scam. I believe them. The chart above demonstrates how the new tax bill favors the wealthiest Americans, Americans who are already living a comfortable life.

How can our law makers support a tax bill that will add to our debt, favor the wealthiest Americans, and do little to support average Americans?

We need to think carefully about taxation. We have to tax people in fair ways that create enough money to make our country strong. Our country will be strong if we use taxes to support the following priorities:
  • Good health care for all
  • Basic needs for all
  • Clean, healthy food systems
  • Clean, protected natural lands, water, and air
  • Strong infrastructure
  • Recreational facilities in every community
  • High quality public schools for all students
  • Innovation and exploration
  • Armed Forces
  • Good jobs and fair, responsible organizations
Just making the rich, richer and saving everyone else a few dollars in their tax bills for a few years while raising the debt and making our country overall less strong is not a good plan. 

I'm by no means an expert, but our current lawmaking body's majority continues to vote against what is right and good for most of the American people. They are voting for short term fixes that may look good to some, yet only serve a few including themselves and the most wealthy Americans. 

We can do better for more.

Further, we continue to have a President that has us on the roller coaster of worry and fret day after day as he continues to choose for his own wealth and the wealth of his national and international friends and family members.

This is very troubling. We can do better. 

How Much to Push?

With a class full of capable learners, there's always the question of how much to push. Some students persevere tirelessly while others move at a much slower and less enthusiastic pace. That differential always prompts a teacher to question, what can I do to motivate all to work with great perseverance and drive--to stay the course, ask good questions, and learn as well as they can?

Good teachers know that it's important to teach in multiple ways to draw as many students as possible to the learning table with eagerness, positivity, and energy, yet we also know that with big classes and a diversity of learners, it's likely that not everyone will be as motivated or enthusiastic at every learning moment. While lots of learning is fun and fulfilling, some learning does take lots of practice and push--it doesn't come easy.

I will be thinking about this over the week's vacation with respect to my learners. While I don't want to push too much, I also know that when pushed in a just right way, students are proud of what they've learned and how they achieve. For some, they simply don't believe they can learn as much as they can or do as well as they can, and when you give them avenues and coaching to reach optimal achievement, they persevere more and do well. As many say, teaching is a dance--you want to direct in a just right fashion that doesn't push students overboard, but does give them a push to persevere and learn more.

Some will say that if the learning is engaging enough, then pushes aren't necessary as learning is natural and children push themselves. Yet at the foundation level that I teach, some foundation skills are laborious for students, and it does take hard work to gain a good foundation in those skills, concepts, and knowledge points. For example a child who has difficulty with simple algorithms, may have to work a lot to understand the process(es) and perform them with accuracy. Similarly children who struggle with reading at a rate that's good for comprehension may find the practice tough.

How do you determine the just right push in teaching? How do you master the learning/teaching "dance" so children are rightly pushed forward, but not pushed overboard. I think every teacher deals with this question, and if you have any insights, I welcome your share.

Self Regulation and Good Choices

Most students make good choices in school, and those good choices truly help students learn. Some students for a large variety of reasons have more trouble making good decisions. For example if we're working on the computer on project, they might consistently get off task using another computer site, or if we have group work, they might often fool around instead of staying focused. These are students who simply seem to not be ready or not have had experience with making good decisions for their time. As the teacher, it's my job to scaffold decision making in ways that foster as much independence as possible; to help children learn to make good decisions about their learning each and every day.

In the new year as part of our learning-to-learn curriculum and focus, students and I will spend some time discussing making good choices, and how good choices lead to greater autonomy and independence. I think they're all ready for this discussion and the good growth that will come from it.

Hitch Your Wagon to a Star

For many years I've been looking out and in, high and low to find mentors, leaders, innovators, coaches, and exemplars in education. I have connected to many, many extraordinary educators, educational resources, and events to build my practice. Now in the sunset years of my career, I want to choose a few organizations to connect with, organizations that will help me to do the best work possible in the last decade of my teaching career. Who will I choose?

Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and National Education Association (NEA)
I will continue to be a member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and National Education Association. The MTA is working around the clock to find ways to help educators lead their profession and learn. Currently the MTAs leadership is leading with educators in mind, and they are working to maintain public schools that put students, their families, and educators first rather than the directives/priorities of a few.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)
I find that DESE does a lot to positively elevate what we can do in schools in Massachusetts. I want to continue to work with this group to keep my practice aligned to state mandates, innovation, and ideas. I also want to continue my work with this group so that I have a voice with regard to state initiatives and events. To stay on top of the state's work in education means that my work with students continues to meet the state's expectations for good teaching and learning.

Teacher Collaborative
Massachusetts' education innovators Kat Johnson and Maria Fenwick have started The Teacher Collaborative, an agency in Massachusetts aimed at supporting educators with regard to networking and doing their best work. This is a great resource to use as you build new ideas and collaboration to better your practice.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
During my tenure, I want to stay abreast of what NBPTS is doing with regard to research and promoting a positive education for every child. This group represents dedicated master teachers throughout the country and those educators represent excellence with regard to teaching/learning efforts. This is a great group to stay connected to, and a great group to lead your professional work.

ECET2 and EDChat 
These are two online and offline organizations that help me to stay connected to new ideas and new funding too.

Association of Teachers of Mathematics in Massachusetts (ATMIM)
I want to build my local affiliation with math educators across the state since that's my main area of teaching so I've renewed our building membership to this group and hope to go to their spring conference as one way to connect more to Massachusetts teachers of mathematics.

This conference is an incredible source of awesome ideas and excellent teaching and learning each year. Though I cannot attend every year, I will try to make it when I can.

Local Museums, Historic Sites, Nature Preserves, and other Educational Institutions
There are many, many terrific educational organizations nearby that offer tremendous opportunity for learning and teaching. I want to continue to take advantage of what these organizations offer.

I'm sure I'll add to this list in days to come, but right now, I'll commit to staying in touch with these organizations via their websites, twitter chats, email, and special events to promote the work I can do with and for students.

Peaceful Pattern

I'm focussed on a peaceful pattern in this week before the holiday break. That means getting all needed end-of-the-year paperwork completed, helping students study for a test, sharing stories, reading, and supporting many special events. I want to take the time to stop and look children in the eyes as they request support, ask questions, and express needs throughout the day. Onward.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Do State Tests Support Teamwork or Individual Success?

Our director gave a succinct, methodical presentation of the grade-level MCAS scores. I appreciated her step-by-step approach and noticed how it was a helpful approach for so many educators at the table. Overall I am a fan of standardized state testing, yet I have questions about how the test scores are used.

I continue to be a fan because the data I receive from the scores help me to teach better. I dive into the Edwin analytics with detail to see who performed as expected, who outperformed expectations, and who did not meet expectations. I think carefully about the program taught and the performance gained. I compare the test scores to multiple other formal and informal measures, and use the results to better the teaching/learning program. I believe that the standardized results are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to teaching well.

With that said though, there is room for improvement with the tests and how they are used. First and foremost, the tests show us that wealthy schools and schools less wealthy generally have different success rates. This is an important factor to consider, and we must use the test scores to look for ways to bridge the opportunity gap between wealthy districts and districts with less wealth. This is vital to the strength of our state and the future happiness and livelihood of all citizens. Children with good educations will be happier, more successful, and better able to contribute to society, while those who don't receive a good education will be less able to contribute and more likely to challenge society in troubling ways. I believe we can offer every child a top-notch education in this state, and that begins with the following measures:
  • Educator choice and voice in every district
  • A tech device for every student in the state
  • Continued attention to worthy standards-based, research-supported educational efforts and programs
  • Sufficient support and adequate facilities
  • High quality summer and after school programs for children at risk everywhere in the state
I also believe that the state has to change its focus on the individual teacher. For example at my grade level we share the teaching of all 75 students. I teach most of the math, yet when I received the MCAS results I was matched with only the students in my class which provides a false report of my impact on students. I think the state should allow districts to choose whether they use a shared model of teaching or one-teacher-one-classroom teaching, and then the data will be demonstrated in that way. For example, if the state did allow that choice, then they would also be able to gather data about the success of one-teacher-one-classroom environments versus shared-teaching models. It's my guess that shared-teaching models at fourth and fifth grade would show better results than one-teacher-one-classroom models since with the shared model educators are able to go deeper with the curriculum they are in charge of and also profit from the collaboration with other grade level educators.

I believe that to strengthen schools we have to look more deeply at school leadership models and structure. I believe that greater collaboration and distributive leadership models will produce stronger schools. I believe that changes to the way the state tests are analyzed will offer some good data to look more deeply at this claim. I hope the state takes this recommendation seriously. 

Teach Well: A Thematic Approach

When I sit down on a Sunday morning to think about the week ahead, I generally begin by thinking about the theme of the week--what's most important now?

As I thought about this today, I realized that for this week, doing your best is the theme. We have a big math test coming up, and what's most important is that every child does his/her best. Then we'll use those scores to inform upcoming instruction and provide needed re-teaching and enrichment as well as a new unit of study for all.

The theme of "doing your best" rings true for me as an educator too. Challenged by the recent school-wide illness, it's important for me too to realize that if we do our best each day as educators, in the end, we will do a good job. Educators face all kinds of challenges when it comes to teaching well, and each day if every educator brings their best abilities to the job, we'll collectively present a wonderful program to the children we teach.

To do our best requires that we take care of ourselves, prioritize carefully, learn regularly, and make relationships, kindness, and respect a mainstay of our programs. The job is limitless and we can never do all that's possible, but if we work together to decide what's most important and then do that well, we'll do a good job and impact children's lives with positivity and strength.

So as the week begins, I'll share the theme with students, and tell them that it's important that everyone does their best this week--their best to study for the test, their best on the test, their best during the week's special events, and their best as we share surprise boxes, listen to each other's winter stories, and learn together. Onward.