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Sunday, March 26, 2017

A New Superintendent

It was just announced that we have a new superintendent in the school system where I work. I'm glad an individual was chosen so we can move on with the change. The new candidate seems to be individual who will be sensitive to individual students' needs and this is good since that has been a hallmark quality of our school system.

Closed Minded: Missed Opportunity

I was met with a situation where a closed minded group related to my personal life sphere, and as I confronted this I realized what lost opportunity existed.

When we close our minds to the potential out there, we hinder our lives from the promise that exists.

If this group opened their mind, I think they would have the opportunity for a better quality of life.

Of course, I can't know that, but what I can do is caution myself to have an open mind as often as possible. Onward.

Forward Thinking and Plans

At times, those that lead my work are troubled by my forward thinking and questioning. Yet, I know the value of lead time. If we don't think ahead, we usually don't make good change. Thinking ahead while ideas are fresh with good lead time and inclusion of many voices often spells optimal growth and change.

It's important for systems to employ regular, inclusive research and development threads to move programs ahead in ways that matter to students. When these threads are exclusive and last minute, good change is typically stymied.

So as I think about what went really well this year and what could be better, I recognize the value of lead time. Yet, as one colleague often explains, there also needs to be time to respond spontaneously and in a timely matter to needs and interest as they arise. As my father always says, "It's a little for today and a little for tomorrow," when it comes to looking ahead and working for the day. Onward.

School Year Map: Realistic

As I think of the sometimes unrealistic expectations we place upon ourselves as educators, I want to create a realistic school year schedule that I believe meets children's needs well. Of course, before embarking on this plan, I'll work with grade-level teammates and others this summer, but here's a first draft.

June 2017
  • Move-up meeting, letter, supply list, and summer study opportunities
Summer 2017
  • Professional study and preparation for the school year ahead
  • Team meeting to plan year, book field studies
  • Classroom preparation, initial plans and prep
  • Student/Family Orientation Event (I'd like to include this as part of our teaching/learning plans)
September 2017
  • Identity/Team/Learning Community Focus: Who are you? Who is the learning team? How can we optimize who we are and what we do to learn successfully together?
  • Assessment: What do we know individually/collectively and what goals do we have for the teaching/learning year.
  • Starting showcase portfolios.
  • Team Building Activities: Global Read Aloud, Global Cardboard Challenge, Team Protocols Schedule, and Routine, Notecard challenge, spaghetti-marshmallow challenge
  • Team Building Field Study: Gillette?
  • Focus on Earth Friendly Classroom/Learning Community, Composting Focus
October
  • Family-student-teacher conferences: Sharing initial assessments, projects, showcase portfolios, and creating goals. 
  • Content/skill/concept learning units begin in earnest in each curriculum area. (Math Unit Plan)
  • RTI begins
November
  • Earth/Space Studies: McAuliffe Challenger Center Field Studies
December
  • Field Study: Maya, Incas, Aztecs: Harvard Natural History Museum
January-February Break
  • Midyear assessments, new goal setting
  • Report cards, showcase portfolio updates
March-April Break
  • Skills and Stamina Focus in preparation for spring tests
  • Parent-Student-Teacher conferences
April Break - June
  • State tests
  • Fifth Grade Play
  • Biography Project
  • STEAM/Naturalist Focus
    • STEAM Projects
    • Garden/Compost Work
    • Naturalist Field Study
    • Visiting Naturalist Experts
    • Spadefoot Toads

Start with the Positives: How do you employ strengths based models to support individuals?

As I think of nurturing and supporting my own children and family members today, I am mindful that it's always good to begin with the positives.

For example, a family member that I want to support has the following positive attributes and supports:
  • Gregarious, optimistic attitude
  • Lots of loving family members and friends
  • A good number of interests and great curiosity
  • Socially interested 
So as I think about this, I recognize that one of the best ways to support this individual is through the social path.

As educators and parents we want the best for all the people we serve, we want to do what is right for them. As we think about this, it's important to start with the positives with questions such as the following:
  • What are his/her positive attributes, strengths, and characteristics?
  • Where is she/he happiest, most productive, engaged, and empowered?
  • What do we currently do that positively supports this individual?
And once we've determined the positive parts of the profile and situation, we can then think of the needs.
  • What's holding this individual back?
  • What does he/she need to do better?
  • What challenges could undermine his/her success, happiness, forward movement?
As I think of another individual I know, I find myself wanting to try out this strategy. The individual's strengths include the following:
  • Lots of loving family members
  • Physical strength, artistic interests/strengths, a desire to do well for self and others
  • Employment
This individual's struggles include the following:
  • Time, money, and access to steady supports
  • Steady confidence and perseverance in light of the challenges that exist
So remains the effort of how to we work towards those steady supports which will result in the needed steady confidence and perseverance. In this situation, I can see how good family support, social services and counseling can help to attain those steady supports.

As I think more about this strengths based model, I wonder how I can use it more with self, family members, and students. Essentially using a model of where are the strengths and how we can maximize those strengths to support areas of challenge. 

I know this is probably not new to anyone, but as I think of it, it's a great way to face issues of individual need and promise in any venue. One I want to explore more, and one that probably has been documented under other names in multiple disciplines. 



Improve Schools: Elementary Advisories

As I consider the fact that it's difficult to give every child the personal attention they deserve in school, I wonder again about instituting elementary advisories.

Here's how that would work.

First you would figure out the number of available staff in a school.

Next you would figure out how many staff-student advisories you could have. For example, perhaps you could find the staffing including assistants, educators, specialists to staff one staff member - eight student advisories.

After that you would figure out when advisories would meet and what they would do. I think a good focus of advisories would be to combine it with read aloud and social skills. For example each advisory might meet every morning to focus on a social skill/issue by playing a game, doing an activity, or simply talking about it and then they would also spend some time reading a good book.

These advisories could potentially empower our students and schools.

Further if you wanted to make more use of the limited staff most schools have, the younger children could have advisories in the morning and the older students could have them in the afternoon. In this way, many specialists could potentially serve on two advisory groups each day, possibly advisories that also help them meet their service plans for specific students.

What do you think of this idea? I think it holds great potential.

Sunday Thoughts: The Week Ahead - Last Week in March 2017

Typically I end the week with a projection for the next week, but as you can see by my last posts, I was struck with a big case of exhaustion. The work-plate simply runneth over and it was clear that I needed a big sleep which fortunately I did get last night. For the last three weeks I felt like that little soccer player that constantly hobbles up and down the field chasing the ball but never reaching it. Why did this happen?

Simply stated, I was involved in a very large number of professional learning and teaching efforts in the past two-three years--efforts that grabbed a lot of morning, evening, weekend, and vacation time. Finally, the tank was on empty. Better pacing would have prevented this, but one effort, the book project I'm involved in, took much more time than anticipated. Sometimes when you embark on a new endeavor, you simply can't anticipate how much effort that activity will take. I was also involved in a number of personal family events this year that took a bit more time and energy than anticipated--again that I was difficult to know ahead of time.

Generally I'm the kind of person that likes a chest or bureau with a few empty drawers, or a schedule with open time so that when a good event, object or opportunity arises, there's space for that. I don't like a too-tight schedule or pattern as I value time for creativity and think greatly and too-tight schedules squeeze out spontaneity, serendipity, and creativity. I like lazy mornings that enable me to look out the window, wonder, write, and create--that's ideal for me.

So with all that in mind, I've essentially cleared my plate of professional activities outside of my favorite efforts which are all classroom related by just saying no in the past few weeks to other invites and professional events. I've cleared the path so there's needed time for the children at school, my own personal needs/efforts, and that beloved time for wonder. I expect I won't face this level of exhaustion again anytime soon (fingers crossed).

So what will the week ahead bring?

Professional-Family Event
Sadly a beloved member of our professional team experienced a significant loss this week. He's been attending to this family matter, and his absence has made everyone realize just how much he does everyday to support everyone of us. I really want to be present for him at this time to acknowledge his loss and his tremendous contribution to our learning community each and every day.

Fraction Projects
On Friday I gave students a lesson on model making using a large variety of online tools to support their fraction project work. The projects are coming along wonderfully and I'll spend some time this afternoon looking them over and providing suggestions as students work towards mastery on these story projects. The goal of the project is for students to apply the fraction concepts we've been learning to real world situations in a story context with models, numbers lines, mathematical language, and images.

Fraction Concepts
All week we'll review a large number of fraction concepts by making models, solving problems, and doing number work. The review will include a host of explicit lessons which are a bit dry, but necessary so that students know how to make, interpret, and discuss the concepts and models. Students will use their math tools to follow and contribute to the lessons.

Math Skill, Review, and Enrichment
Students will engage with Khan Academy and Symphony Math to practice skills and review math concepts as they prepare for the systemwide fifth grade math test and upcoming MCAS tests. Khan Academy provides a wonderful multimodal review of all grade level standards on the computer which is great practice for the online MCAS tests which will look much like PARCC tests we took last year. Symphony Math helps students to understand math concepts through a large number of modeling exercises thus helping students to readily connect math concepts to the visual models those concepts represent.  As Symphony Math gets better, I find myself liking the platform much more.

Reading Study
My small reading group will continue to read and discuss the wonderful book, Becoming Naomi Leon - a perfect book for the group.

Special Events
The team will do final preparations for our upcoming trips to the Museum of African American History.

Professional Learning
I'll find time to do some of the work related to the MTA TLP committee I'm on, and I'd like to find time to read the Frederick Douglas autobiography that's been sitting on my bed stand for weeks now.

As I write, I realize how I write and rewrite the plans for days, weeks, and months. It doesn't make for good reading, I know, but it does support this blog's intent which is to tell the true story of one educator at this time in history. It is a story of planning and re-planning as I respond to all that impacts my work as an educator and a mom. No two teachers approach the job in the same way and every teacher's story will read a bit different. I hope that ultimately I'll be able to pen a book that supports new educators in their quest to do what they can to serve every child well. It's remarkable that our country still supports a public education for every child which provides the potential of helping to give every child a strong start in life and the tools with which to contribute to and enjoy a strong nation and global community. This is positive work, and work that I continue to be proud to be apart of. The constant challenge is how to do it well, and this challenge is what makes the job awesome and daunting at the same time. Onward.


The Big Sleep: Realistic Expectations and Patterns for Teaching Well

I know I say it again and again, but sufficient rest is essential to teaching well--there's no way around it.

Too often educators get exhausted. It's the pace of the day, the constant needs, and the limitless expectations and potential the job holds that make it a tiring profession.

Good planning, positive routines, optimal pacing, and sufficient support all contribute to a realistic schedule where educators can get enough rest.

What really tired me out this year was the stretch I did in the professional learning realm to develop my practice this year--there were a lot of stretches that resulted in some significant exhaustion which then dominoed into acts that cried, "You need more sleep!"

As I think about this and think about the needs for educators to continually update their professional learning and repertoire, I think we can do a better job with time overall to support both well rested and energized practice as well as deep and forward moving research and development.

How might we do this?

Professional Learning Time
First, I think that educational organizations need to understand that professional learning and development are part of the job and not just on-your-own-time endeavors. It's critical that time is carved out to support teacher's professional learning. As it stands now many teachers are spending considerable time on weekends, nights, mornings, and during the summer updating their professional credentials to teach better. Now, I do think some time in summer is well invested in this endeavor. I also don't mind spending some time on weekends, mornings, and before school--but it adds up, and it's important that some significant time is spent during work time to learn in meaningful ways (Much of the in-school learning time is not impactful as demonstrated by many studies and teachers' experiences, and that needs to change)

Time for Feedback, Response, and Review
Next, it's critical to look at the amount of time teachers are expected to work outside of the work day. For example project work for a large group of students can take an entire weekend day to review in a meaningful way. When that happens it means that a teacher is working a six-day work week. I think we have to be realistic about what good teaching involves and use time wisely in response to this. I think we have to retire some old time expectations in order to make more room for meaningful, new efforts that impact students with strength. I'll be thinking more about how to do this in the days ahead, but for today, Sunday, I'll tackle a host of student projects as I work to coach each child to mastery with the project.

Significant Time for Parent Conferences and Communication
As it stands now many teachers are working significant overtime to prepare for and participate in parent conferences. Some time is given for these meetings, but the time given for the meetings outweighs the significant before and after school time teachers are using to attend IEP meetings and typical parent conferences. In the old days, these meetings were short 20-minute teacher-driven reports, but now they are a much deeper exchange that often involve the child and multiple other teachers as we collaborate around what a child has done and goals for that child's support and efforts.

A close look at the elementary teacher's day and expectations may signify the need for substantial change in order to update what we can do realistically and well to support every child while also giving teachers substantial time to develop their craft, respond to student learning, and get the rest and personal time they need to teach well.


Teaching the Math Unit: Developing a Pattern

The standards are broken into units of study. I like these content, skill, knowledge chunks with regard to teaching math well. As I think of this unit study, however, I would like to grow it to be a more regular pattern--one that mirrors good learning for any question, content area, or exploration. Therefore, I imagine a unit roll-out below.

Topic Title: Essential Questions
First, I want to start the unit with the topic title and essential questions. For example, I want to begin next year's math study with algebraic thinking. As part of that, I want to students to engage in a deep review of multiples and factors, order of operations, expressions and equations, variables, and coordinate grids. I'll think about the essential questions, but can imagine one to be "How do factors and multiples relate to a whole number?" I'm sure I can express that better with more thought and will do a bit of research on the matter.

What You Know?
Good learning demands that we bring to mind what we already know. That would be the next step. I can imagine that I will have students bring this to mind with a host or pictures, numbers, words, explanations and questions both on their own and with others.

Essential Concept, Skill, and Knowledge
Next through a series of blended explorations I will guide students to learn the essential concepts, skill, and knowledge of the unit.

Vocabulary
We will do some explicit words study.

Practice 
With both online and offline tools, students will have opportunity to practice what they know.

Projects: Puzzles, Problems, Writing, and Presentation
Projects, puzzles, problems, and writing will give students the opportunity to apply the learning in an investigation, writing, and presentation. This will also give students the chance to embed previously learned concepts, knowledge, and skill.

Home Study
Home study will include a menu of scaffolded practice and project work that students will be asked to complete throughout the unit. There will be regular check-ins for this work.

Assessment
The final unit assessment will include a traditional systemwide test and results from their practice and project work.

I'm looking forward to building in this explicit study schedule in the year to come. In order to do this, I will need to do the following:

  • Create vocabulary lists and activities (such as crossword puzzles, games. . .) for each unit.
  • Find a good project that matches each unit. Use Boaler's YouCubed site, Khan Academy Puzzles, and other research to support this.
  • Determine discrete practice "pages" online and off that match the unit topic.
  • Look at the order of units and determine what order will best support overall student learning.
  • Give parents and students opportunity for summer study with regard to some math essentials such as facts, large number addition and subtraction, and review. 



Saturday, March 25, 2017

There Always Comes a Day When You Need That Individual

None of us can do it alone. No matter how independent we are, there comes the days when you need each other. So as you traverse the paths of life, remember that every individual you encounter may be an individual you turn to one day for help or consult.

Ratio of Consultant Services to Direct Care


There seems to be a growing discrepancy between the number of available consultant services and direct care when it comes to teaching well.

Everywhere I look there are organizations ready and willing to help schools in specific ways, but when it comes to direct service to students, the kind of important responsive day-to-day support, there seems to be dwindling numbers.

There needs to be a good balance between consultant groups and direct service. In general, I believe that direct service deserves a greater share of the pie when it comes to funding so that class sizes, needed support, and ideal resources are available to serve every child well.

This is an important consideration particularly at a time when we see many outside investors looking at schools at an opportunity to "do good" and invest in education.

Good Teaching: Focus on the Child

There are so many ways that we can focus on individual children as we teach. As I think about this, these are some areas I want to focus on in the days ahead.

Compliment Board
Add compliments to students' compliment folders when I catch them doing something positive.

Project and Assessment Review
Make the time to carefully review students' projects and assessments. Add helpful and positive comments.

Accomplishment/Creativity Bulletin Board
Create a space in the classroom for students to display their accomplishments, creativity, and interests.

Portfolio Files
Space to store student reflections and completed projects, learning efforts.

More Small Group Work
Opportunity to connect with small groups and individuals more often so all students get a chance for teacher contact, coaching, and encouragement.

Playground Walk and Talks
Playground duty is a great time to talk and walk with students to catch up with any concerns or needs they have.

Certificates/Badges
A colleague has been using certificates to celebrate student accomplishments.

Put-Ups
Another colleague uses the ideas of "put-ups" regularly to foster positivity to students' good work and behavior.

Problems are Opportunities for Positive Change

One aspect of life that I don't like is that no matter how old you are or how much experience you have, you still make mistakes and face problems. I wish I could be more like Sara Blakely's dad and high-five myself every time I make a mistake, but instead I labor over error trying to find the meaning in it all and at the same time feeling bad about making the error or recognizing the problem in the first place.

With my own children, my greatest times of error have been marked by guilt. In an effort to do all that I can for them, there have been times when I've made a bad decision or neglected to see an area of need. Times like that make me feel bad since, like most parents, I want to be there for them as much and as well as I can. Yet as parents, and as teachers too, we can't anticipate every error or problem--parenting and teaching share the common denominator of positions that are filled with surprise and new learning.

There are bottom-line rules that support both parenting and teaching, and as much as possible it's important to keep those rules in mind.
  • When in doubt, take a break. You'll never go wrong in any way, if you simply walk away. I learned this early when I was a babysitter and faced babies who cried endlessly. I learned that a baby will never harm himself/herself by crying and if the crying is getting to you, simply walk away. The same is true in the classroom. If a child's behavior is perplexing and frustrating, walk away, seek consult, and take a break in order to understand the behavior better. You'll never do wrong if you do this. 
  • You can't be kind enough. Sometimes when your children at home or in school act up, you can simply begin to tell them all the things you value about them up front. That settles everyone down. For example, if a child is jumping around the room (that happens sometimes in 5th grade), you can say, "Tom, I appreciate your energy, zest for life, athleticism, and the number of great friends you have, but in order for me to teach this skill, I really need you to sit down right now.) That often works.
  • When you err, be upfront about it. Own it, dissect it, and use it as a teaching point. My dad did this all the time when I was growing up and it helped me to understand him and the problem at hand well. For example, once he was very upset, and he sat down and explained to me why. His explanation made me feel very close to him and very grownup at the time--it was a powerful and intimate moment. 
  • Don't forget--no one can be all or do all. Sometimes your children will bring challenges that are so difficult to understand. I remember that with one of my sons we went through a period of utter despair. Day after day we discussed the situation and had some pretty good arguments about the related issue too. I read everything I could about the situation and sought help from others in the know. It was a challenging time. As I look back on the issue, one of the most troubling aspects was that I simply didn't have as much support as I needed, however by reaching out to others, I was able to find a number of activities that helped to remedy the situation, and now many years later the issue is a distant memory and my son is strong. 
  • Err on the side of positivity. You will never do wrong if you remain positive. 
  • Balance energy, time, and outreach. In today's world we have to continually re-prioritize our time, effort, and investment. When we stretch too far, like an elastic, we snap. It's important to make time for self care, rest, and health as without that we can't be good for anyone. 
Like most people, I don't like error or problems, but I'll heed the words of Neil Gaiman and Johnny Cash below and move forward with good intent, action, and effort. Onward.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something. - Neil Gaiman

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. - Johnny Cash

The Fifth Grade Teaching/Learning Program

As parent conferences wrap up, I'm thinking a lot about what's working with the fifth grade program and what we'll do to better the program in the year ahead. It's good to think this through while all the comments are fresh.

Collegiality
Next year will be our third year with the three-classroom shared teaching model. Essentially the educators work as a team that includes classroom teachers, specialists, special educators, teaching assistants, and therapists to serve all students well. This year we updated our schedule to maximize the program potential which has improved the model. We keep a running list of ideas and communicate with all members of the team on a regular basis. We meet regularly and will focus meetings in the spring and summer to review the program and make plans for the upcoming year. We coach each other and work together to serve every child well.

Teach Every Child with Respect and Care
More than anything else, every child deserves respect, care and attention. It is important to set up a routine/pattern from the start of the year that ensures that every child receives this. Regular use of class meetings, class protocols, conflict resolution, and targeted response in teaching and social skill support helps in this regard. One challenge I face in this area is the pace of the curriculum. Sometimes I feel a need to rush the curriculum given all the expectations I'm given with regard to knowledge, skill, and concept development. The rushing results in dismay, so it's not a good idea. As educators we have to be realistic about the time we have with children, and the importance of a playful, happy childhood. When we try to cram too much in with too much speed, the potential for disaster grows.

Some ways I want to recognize each child include the following:
  • Beginning the year with a meaningful identity project. Last year all students contributed to a "My Three Words" film which created a powerful, positive and inclusive start to the year.
  • Making time to meet with individuals and small groups on a regular basis.
  • Having a bulletin board in the room to acknowledge students' strong points, accomplishments, interests, creativity and compliments about children. A "You're Important!" Board.
  • Focusing class meetings on social-emotional skills, and embedding social-emotional skills into the curriculum on a regular basis
  • Responding to a child's discomfort, worry, or questions as soon as possible in order to support that child in conjunction with his/her parent or guardians. 
Team Building and Communication
Our communication with next year's class actually begins in the spring with the move-up letter and supply list. At that time we invite students into the TeamFive community by introducing the program in person and by letter, sharing the year's website, introducing online learning platforms students may use over the summer and that we'll use throughout the year for ongoing study, and listing supplies students will need for the year ahead.

Then, we begin the year in September with a number of team building focused experiences and lessons including the note card challenge, spaghetti-marshmallow challenge, and the Global Cardboard Challenge. All of these activities help us to focus on the importance of team for our TeamFive grade five learning community.

We have a number of positive communication activities including our start-of-the-year Curriculum Night Presentation, twice-a-year parent conferences, TeamFive website, weekly newsletters, and end-of-year celebrations. As I think ahead, I want to make sure that we carve out the time and energy to foster the best possible parent conferences since that time is so valuable with regard to student encouragement, coaching, and support. Since this time is so important, I do think, as a staff, we can better make space for this in the learning/teaching year. Currently it's an extensive add on with regard to preparation and meetings that far outweigh the time provided for this task. I'd also like to see us consider a deeper way to foster a sense of team at the start of the year by perhaps changing Curriculum Night to a more comprehensive orientation event.

Math Education
This is my main area of teaching. The good news is that children mostly made terrific progress with their learning in this area. The growth between early year learning and learning at this time has been substantial. I see this in the data collected as well as their ability to persevere on a math task.

More good news is that we made some nice headway with students who struggle by offering extra support with targeted learning efforts. Using an online program, Symphony Math, in conjunction with small group teaching, the use of manipulatives, and paper/pencil has served as one good approach in this regard.

As far as enrichment, the use of Khan Academy has allowed students to move at their own pace with grade-level concepts, coding, and other math challenges such as puzzles, sixth grade concepts, and more. One RTI group is also focused on enrichment, so children meet twice a week to enrich their math learning. As part of that enrichment, students are currently writing math stories and using multiple models and number lines to depict all the fifth grade fraction standards in their stories.

With regard to more problem/project base math, we have done some of that, but I want to include more, and will use the Jo Boaler's YouCubed site a s a reference for that.

Our program is directed by the standards which are many and deep for the year. I'd like to shift the order somewhat of how we approach the standards since our order is a bit different than the order promoted by the state, Khan Academy and other resources. I also want to think more about how we embed team building and collaboration skill building. We did this well at the start of the year, and I want to replicate that and then do some more. I also want to interject Boaler's and others great videos about growth mindset, cognition, and how the brain works to foster optimal learning habitudes. And, I want to continue the focus on making and using models, math tools, and learning and using good math vocabulary with the many resources we have for this.

Further, as we discussed yesterday, I will make a more concerted effort to include the following technology standards into the math learning:
  • Use computer systems as an example of systems as we discuss the place value system and math as a system in general.
  • We will use math talk and math share to recognize that different solutions exist for the same problem.
  • Use of logical reasoning to predict outcomes of an algorithm.
  • Individually and collaboratively create an algorithm to solve a problem.
  • Detect and correct logical errors in various algorithms.
  • Describe examples of databases from everyday life and use those databases as part of math learning units.
  • Collect and manipulate data to answer questions using a variety of computing methods and tools. 
  • Create simple models of systems.
I will advocate for a more streamlined assessment system since I believe many of our unit assessments are too long and could be matched better to both the content/skill standards and standards of mathematical practice. I want to think about the many online tools we use for math and think with colleagues across the system how we will use those resources well. 

Showcase Portfolios
When used well the showcase portfolio is an awesome tool for reflection and share with regard to a child's learning. I've used both online and offline portfolios, but continue to favor the hand held portfolios for many reasons.

What's working in this regard is the following:
  • The use of a showcase binder that lends itself to students making wonderful covers.
  • The use of dividers to separate main areas of learning.
  • The inclusion of signature learning pieces including student compositions, images of learning-related events and projects, assessments, and online learning reports and certificates.
To grow this effort, I'd like to do the following next year:
  • Work with the team to decide how we will promote students' meaningful making of covers--covers that depict their identity in ways that matter to them.
  • Work with colleagues to create a divider template that includes space for the discipline area title, a description of what matters in that discipline, related images, and a guiding quote
  • Make the time for students to reflect at the end of each signature learning event including field studies, project work, assessments, and specialists events. 
  • Make the time before parent conferences to help students organize their portfolios and practice presenting their portfolios to a classmate so they are prepared to present their portolios to their family members at conference time.
  • Create a system of collecting an organizing portfolio pages--probably a few crates with file folders that will host the pages in clear sheets as they are completed. Then making the time to put those pages into the portfolios every month or so during portfolio homeroom days.
Reading/Writing
My talented and committed colleagues lead this area of the curriculum with skill, and I support as part of RTI and in other ways. With regard to math and STEAM study, my main areas of the curriculum, I foster the practice of reading, vocabulary, and writing skills in the content areas too.

Our small RTI groups are well led by both the teacher in the lead and the reading team. Next year I want to look more closely at the best ways to integrate reading aloud in homeroom if the reading teacher feels this is a good idea. 

Field Studies
We had a large number of great field studies this year. I'm sure the team will meet this summer to discuss which field studies we'll keep and which ones we may retire or replace. Currently children engage in the following field studies:
  • An arts event: This year we attended the play, "Akeelah and the Bee"
  • STEAM Study at the McAuliffe Challenger Center
  • Science exploration at the Boston Museum of Science
  • Natural history focus on the Maya, Incas, and Aztec at the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge.
  • STEAM exploration at Gillette Stadium (a team building experience)
  • Biography Project Living History Experience: Museum of African American History
  • The American Revolution: Guided Freedom Trail Walk
  • Wetlands Exploration: Earth Stewardship Focus
  • Raising Endangered Spadefoot Toads: classroom environmental experience
  • Visiting Expert: Frederick Douglas Living History Presentation
  • Potential visit to Natick Labs for a STEAM-related exploration and possible States of Matter presentation. 
Cultural Competency
We focused on individual identity, differences, similarities and dignity. Also, via film, literature, field studies, and classroom conversations, we've worked to develop a culturally proficient grade level program. This is an area that we will continue to assess and grow in the year to come. Some of the successful activities we included included going to the play, Akeelah and the Bee, and discussing the play with deep questions related to cultural proficiency, our upcoming visit to the Museum of African American History with a focus on Frederick Douglas' life as a historic mentor, the use of numerous video clips and current events discussions, an introduction/review of the history of people, migration, immigration, and skin shade, and direct discussion of any matters related to prejudice or injustice related to individual or group differences.

STEAM and Special Events
Once we complete our standards-focus in reading, writing, and math, we focus in on a number of special projects including STEAM study, the fifth grade play, and the biography project. All three projects allow students to synthesize the learning they've done with the priority areas above in deep and powerful ways. The biography projects allows each student to study a global changemaker that mirrors an interest he/she has. The STEAM projects are all related to our environment providing students a chance to use science, technology, engineering, art, and math to explore, create, and solve problems. The play is a great opportunity for children to showcase their speaking, acting, singing, dancing, and art skills/interests in a wonderful performance for the school. All three of these big projects make the end of the year celebratory and engaging. 

Professional Learning
Next year, I'll focus my professional learning on cultural proficiency, math teaching, and shoring up the details of teaching and learning well. I want to dig in and really think about how use what we've learned so far about our model and program to best meet the needs of every child in conjunction with colleagues, students, and family members.

Grants
We have a generous grant agency, WPSF, that supports innovation. Next year I'd like to focus grants in the following areas:
  • Inspiring Signage: Empowering and inclusive school signage that makes valuable words and people from all walks of life visible to students in inspiring ways throughout the school.
  • The Modern Classroom: a grant that supports the kind of furniture that lends itself to a more modern teaching approach. I'd like to request funding for rolling tables instead of desks and better supply modules for students' personal learning supplies.
  • Cultural Proficiency: I'd like to continue to develop our ability to make our programs culturally proficient by working with an agency like Primary Source to build our ability to make our program sensitive to the many cultures represented.
Surveying the TeamFive Learning Community
While a survey is always daunting, particularly when you're a critical thinker like me who can always see room for improvement. It is important to survey the TeamFive learning community as we think ahead to next year. Specifically I want to know what the community thinks about how we can better serve each and every child while also making our programs more culturally proficient and academically strong. I imagine that the team can use the noted areas above as focus areas for questions.






Friday, March 24, 2017

School Challenges: Focus on the Good

There will always be challenges in the schoolhouse, after all it's people work and people work is often not simple.

Sometimes it's important to take some time out to focus on the good that's occurred in a week in order to note the challenges ranking in the overall school picture. Hence, here are some highlights from this week.

Superintendent Candidates
I listened to a number of skilled candidates share their perspectives about school life. By listening to these interviews, I learned a lot and gained some new ideas which I hope to use.

RTI Book Group
The small RTI book group that I'm leading is reading a wonderful book and having great conversations. Students showed nice gains on one reading test and discussed ways to make better gains on another assessment. It's a great group that I look forward to working with each week.

Jo Boaler
I shared a bit of Jo Boaler's extensive math research with students this week, and I could tell they were intrigued and inspired. I'm going to organize her student/family-centered work so that it's quickly accessible so that I can use it more to help students and families how to learn math well.

Math Tech
We focused a lot on how to use math tech tools this week to forward students' math learning. Students made tremendous gains on fraction story projects, Khan Academy practice, and Symphony Math. In addition, I was able to coach many individual students with specific learning questions. It was wonderful to see so many children lead their own learning with strength.

Technology Standards
At our PLC we reviewed all the technology standards from the state. I found them to be a wonderful list of standards as we discussed the ways we currently teach the standards and ways that we might enrich that work in the days ahead.

Room Re-Organization
We reorganized the room to make it more inviting and learner-friendly.

Kindess Matters Folders
Students decorated compliment folders, and have started writing wonderful compliments for each other to add some light to the gray, cold days of March.

Parent Conferences
We continued parent conferences which gave the students and me a chance to share a lot of examples of student learning and growth.

Overall there was a lot of good work this week, a week that brought a bit of challenge too.

Tears in the Classroom: A Sixth Grade Story

I adored my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Quist. He was a young teacher with lots of energy. We had a lot of fun in his class and he took an interest in us beyond the usual classroom learning and efforts. I so vividly remember one day when friends and I were creating a bulletin board. One friend, Sue, was an amazing artist. She had drawn a beautiful design on the board and we were all coloring the design. We were silly and fooling around a lot, and Mr. Quist was trying to teach. He gave us several reminders to do the right thing, but we continued fooling. Then he raised his voice. I was so ashamed that we had upset him. I was also embarrassed and angry that he yelled at us. I ran out of the room in tears. I don't know if I ever told my parents, but I knew I was doing the wrong thing, and I understood that I was mostly upset because I had upset my teacher.

Tears happen in classrooms now and then. I've cried here and there, and children have cried from time to time. Of course, we like to steer away from that behavior as much as possible, but in truth, the classroom is an intimate place of learning, share, and connection, and sometimes, similar to family life, there can be events that bring us to tears.

Now that I've been teaching for a while, I'm sure Mr. Quist rethought the episode and there were no more tears that I remember that year. The problem was probably trying to teach the rest of the class while trusting that a small group of enthusiastic sixth graders could create a bulletin board in the front of the class without creating a ruckus. He learned the lesson that it's difficult for any group of sixth graders to create together silently as it's a social age that generally displays a lot of spunk.




Friday Musings: The Do-Over

I'm a teacher who likes to try new ideas, and sometimes those ideas don't go as planned. That can be frustrating, and that can make you wish you could have a do-over--a chance to do it better.

Fortunately, teachers usually can have a do-over--the next day, you can try the lesson again and do it better. Letting students in on the process of why it didn't work the first day, and did work the next time also can show them that you are not afraid to make an error and then correct it.

Just today, with one class, we listened to Jo Boaler explain the positivity that error brings to our brains--when we fail and then reflect and learn from it, we actually learn a lot.

This month has been a month of new ideas and learning/teaching paths, and might I say, I've done a lot of learning. In fact, I'm a bit worn out from all that learning--learning that will serve me well in the future as I continue to teach.

Program Decisions: To Waver or Not

I like to be open minded about program decisions. If you can prove to me that a change is good, I'll try to make that change.

Recently I have been challenged with regard to a few program decisions. The challenges were frustrating since I had given so much thought to the work. I went back and thought some more about the challenges, and have decided to stick with the original decisions. Sometimes we have to be strong about the good work we do to plan for and decide with regard to teaching and learning.

On one hand it's good to adapt and be flexible, but on the other hand if we change too much too often programs will not have the depth and impact we hope and plan for. Again, a balance.

Teaching: The Challenge of Numbers

One challenge we face in teaching is the challenge of numbers. What would be quite easy to teach in a one-to-one setting can become much more challenging with a large group of children. Yet there are times when it's important to teach the large group as sometimes we want to relay information that's important for all to hear and respond to at once.

Part of the time our efforts to teach the whole group occurs due to efficiency and the need to review lots of information with little time. To pull group after group with similar information is often not efficient given the long list of expectations we have as teachers.

One key to the whole group lesson success is the introduction. It's important to let students know why you've gathered them as a whole group to learn a single concept or strategy. For example, I gathered students yesterday to review a number of concepts quickly that we have been working on. After the review, a more differentiated activity was planned. We didn't reach the activity due to some unexpected events during the lesson, events that may not have occurred if I had introduced the activity differently. It was a new review and I didn't realize how children would react and what they would need which were different than I anticipated.

Today we have another whole group lesson as I plan to teach students how to use a number of tools to enrich the fraction projects they are working on. At the start I'll be explicit about the expectations during a whole group lesson, expectations such as:

  • stay focused
  • take notes, make models, write questions
  • think about how you might apply this information to your projects
We have a number of whole group lessons next week too--lessons that depend on student focus and participation in order to introduce new concepts and existing concepts in new ways. Some prefer the whole group lesson, but most prefer lots of project work and learning on their own. But, sometimes the numbers and expectations make this impossible given the tasks at hand. 



Thursday, March 23, 2017

You Can't Please Everyone

You can work and work and work and try and try and try, but there comes a point where you do have to throw up your hands with the knowledge that you can't solve all problems or please everyone. Doing well for others is a two-way street. Sometime you do give more and that's okay, but there comes a point, at other times, when you realize there's no winning in that situation and you put your energy elsewhere. There's no need for declarations, just a simple change in plans to do what you can where it matters and where it is embraced.

March Madness: The Days that Make You Better

What began as a good day went downhill fast. The overall reason for the downfall was a general sense of blah, malaise, and tired of school attitude across the grade. This happens now and then at school and when it happens it's a clear signal for change.

March and April are a long months filled with lots of skill work as we approach upcoming tests and evaluations. The pressure is on to introduce all the standards, help students reach mastery with as many as possible, and meet all systemwide expectations. I find myself pulled in two directions in light of this. On one hand without a good list of expectations and standards to meet, you could slow down too much and not give students a solid foundation. Yet, on the other hand, too many standards and expectations can weary both teachers and students. As is often true, it's the balance that matters.

So in reaction to the fact that students displayed a number of disconcerting behaviors today, the team switched the plans and had a "kindness afternoon" of softer, gentler efforts focused on kindness-related efforts and quiet reading, writing, and drawing. That decision led to happy chatter for about an hour and then we ended with a final fifteen minutes focused on the classic film, The Secret Garden.

We all love good days--good days with families and good days at school, but inevitably a day arrives when the challenges are many and the satisfaction is less. That's when we know it's important to return home, get the rest you need, and come back the next day with a better plan and hopefully better results too. Onward.

p.s. If you're a new teacher and reading this, know that even teachers who've been in the field for a long time experience days like this from time to time.

Editing Big Projects and Coaching to Mastery: Fraction Story Projects


Students are busy integrating narrative with fractions and models to tell a math story. As students create these tales, they are learning to use a number of online tools to illustrate the meaning of the math.

The students who worked independently or with small groups have been mostly left to their own on this project so far since I've been focused on helping other students complete a number of mandatory learning tasks. Today I'll review the project assignment and rubric with students. Then on Sunday, I'll make the time to review the projects that have been shared with me via Google docs. I expect that I'll add a lot of comments to projects to encourage project corrections and extensions.

Since I have a lot of standard teaching to do, I'll allow this project to continue as an additional opportunity for students to study, solidify, and enrich their understanding of all fifth grade fraction concepts.

At our school, we generally coach all projects to mastery; we work with students until they reach a high level of performance. That's what I'll do with these fraction projects, projects that will prepare students well with regard to showing what they know and applying that knowledge to a meaningful and creative context.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Teaching Well and Teacher Leadership

Teaching really well is a full time job, yet I am a fan of teachers having teacher leadership roles too. How do we reckon with the two to promote greater distributive leadership while also making sure that teachers have the time they need to teach children well?

As I think of this, I return to the idea of team teaching where groups of teachers of students at similar age-levels and/or disciplines work together to promote a thoughtful program for all students in their charge. These teams of teachers would include traditional classroom teachers, specialists, and assistants. There would be a host of activities that they engage in as a team to target programming to meet students' needs and interests while also fulfilling the expectations of systems.

In addition, with respect to  research and development, these teams of teachers would utilize time and money strategically to stay on top of the latest research with regard to teaching well. This distributive model would allow teachers to lead each other and teach too. I've written about this before, and am now looking more deliberately at exactly how this might occur in schools to better what we're able to do with and for each child.

Superintendent Candidate Interviews

This week superintendent candidates are visiting our school system. In the evening, their interviews with the school committee can be watched live via the computer.

I've been watching the interviews and have found them to be a terrific source of professional learning. What makes this good professional learning is that the candidates have extensive knowledge from their many years of experience in a large number of education positions.

Ideas that have struck me so far is the value of job-alike groups. The notion is not new to me, but when I heard a candidate describe her desire to be in such a group, I realized that I would also profit from such a group. Also, another candidate spoke about the value tech integration brings to personalized education.  While again, the notion of personalized learning and how to do it is not new, when I heard this candidate discuss it, I realized the great benefit this kind of tech integration brings to coaching individual students forward at their personal level of need or interest.

There were many other points the candidates made that I found intriguing and thought provoking, and there were others where I found myself wanting to tell them what we're already doing in the areas discussed. I'll continue to watch the interviews this week and learn. Overall it just shows that we can learn a lot from one another and we need to reach beyond our own school systems to learn how others are tackling the job at hand in order to broaden and deepen the good work possible.

Teaching Better: Personal and Systematic Change

Our system is choosing a new superintendent. Candidates to date have noted that the education system I work in is a system that values betterment--we are always looking for ways to do our jobs better to serve children well. I value this priority.

As I think a lot about how we can do this, I have noted the following personal and systematic efforts that will help.

Personally, as I look ahead, I'm steering my teaching/learning ship in the following directions:
  • Earlier-in-the-year, more comprehensive, streamlined initial assessments.
  • Advocacy for less extensive, but more informative/useful, assessments throughout the year.
  • Greater differentiation in the math program to make sure that every child has opportunity for just-right engaging and meaningful growth and support.
  • Development of our student portfolio efforts including the following:
    • Thoughtful, early-in-the-year, identity cover creation
    • Thoughtful, early-in-the-year, dividers creation
    • More regular reflections and goal setting sheets
    • Greater inclusion of specialists study evidence/projects
  • Possible inclusion of all students at both fall and winter conferences including teaching children how to lead their own parent conferences.
  • More time early in the school year devoted to teaching students how to access and use online teaching/learning tools well. Including times for parent instruction too if desired by parents.
  • Providing technology for those students who do not have it at home at the start of the year.
  • Providing greater home study support before and/or after school in conjunction with other existing home study programs. 
  • Finding a "job alike" group to connect with--this has been somewhat difficult to find given my place in the teaching/learning world, but I'll keep looking.
Systematically, I believe our teaching community will grow well with the following efforts:
  • Regular, comprehensive, and streamlined communication, reports, and share
  • Greater distributive leadership, less hierarchical management and focus
  • Better, inclusive, strategic planning around all issues
  • More transparent, open systems of stakeholder voice, choice
  • Less superficial effort, and more deep, transformative action and effort
  • Fewer administrators who do not work directly with students providing more time for teacher leadership and staffing that work directly with students
  • A more streamlined evaluation system with better tools for reporting and sharing information related to the evaluation system--our current tools is very basic, not allowing quality share
  • Greater, inclusive attention to research and development efforts in order to grow our practice in ways that truly matter and are researched based. 

What to do when a child is behind in math teaching/learning?

Truly learning should not be a race. Instead it should be a steady set of approximations as we get closer and closer to the identified goals and desires we reach for.

Yet when teaching large groups of students with identified grade-level expectations and standards, some children are "behind." This occurs for a large number of reasons in any school. These reasons are worth investigating as no child likes to be "behind" and often being "behind" in the early years sometimes can spell education troubles later on.

As I look at the reasons why children are "behind" in math, several reasons stand out including the following:
  • early life challenges that prevented a child from gaining a strong foundation in math.
  • less interaction with math related play, stories, and talk at an early age. (For example children who build a lot early on, tend to have better mathematical thinking skills later)
  • less academic identification, little good programming, and minimum practice in the early years.
  • limiting attitudes and mindsets about math learning.
With those reasons in mind, how can we help those students who are "behind."

Dispel Math Myths with Provide Positive Growth Mindset Coaching
It's important to dispel the math myths that exist. As one child told me one day, "People in my neighborhood can't learn math." We had to dispel that myth with the truth that anyone can learn math, and the challenge is to find the best ways to help all students learn math. A positive attitude, asking questions, practice, and math play are all ways that help people learn math.

Build a Strong Foundation in Number Sense
Recently I worked with a child who had a difficult time with making combinations of 10. For many reasons, the child did not have the opportunity to gain a strong foundation in number sense. Until we shore up that foundation, all new fifth grade concepts are going to be difficult to learn. It's important to look for ways to shore up that foundation in students who are "behind" in developmentally appropriate, engaging, and meaningful ways.

Engage Students in Math Play
Activities such as building with legos, playing games, measuring and making boxes and other shapes, cooking, making and playing with playdough, counting and sorting are all activities that help to build math skills and foundation.

Support
Our school has done a good job providing adequate teaching support at fifth grade. This means we have the staffing we need to support all children. The key is to utilize our collective teaching power in the best ways possible to support all children.

Online Learning
There are multiple great online tools that help us to support student learning. Making sure that children have a computer to use at home and in school with good tools and programs also supports positive math teaching and learning. 



Limitless Paths to Fraction Study

I drew a picture of multiple paths to demonstrate to children that there are countless ways to learn today, and what's important is that we choose paths that help them to gain knowledge, concept, and skill in meaningful, engaging, and successful ways.

As I think of these multiple paths, it's up to me to guide the choices students make to learn. As we develop our fractions standards knowledge, students are engaging in the following activities:

  • Online learning via Khan Academy, TenMarks, and Symphony Math
  • Online practice and mini tests via That Quiz
  • Real time practice versus an online/offline creative fraction story project and paper/pencil packets.
  • Small group review with Response to Intervention groups
Today I'll revisit this message as we continue the practice in order to help the children reach mastery. 

Chess and Fractions


Students have been practicing lots of fraction and other skills. It's been a bit dry as students complete this practice online and offline. So as I prepped the review of fractions, I wanted to make the activity a bit more playful, hence I created a fraction review packet that reviews the game of chess. We'll practice fractions, review chess game rules, and then students will have the time to practice the game online and offline. This will provide students with the opportunity to build mathematical thinking both with the review packet and by playing chess too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Helping ALL Students Succeed

My colleagues and I hold the belief that all students are capable of learning and learning is a limitless proposition. When it comes to learning we're never done, and what's most important is that we keep reaching forward to better ourselves with good learning and application of that learning.

At school we know that students come to us with all kinds of strengths and challenges. While one student may read with ease, another might struggle. Similarly there could be a student who is challenged with math and another who finds math easy. Students demonstrate strengths in sports, social skills, art, music, technology, particular subjects, and more. Similarly, students demonstrate challenge in all of those areas too. Anyone who has lived for any amount of time, knows that's the reality of life--a mix of strengths and challenges.

So the challenge in school is to help all children succeed no matter where they are strong and where they might be challenged. This is easier said than done since many children have trouble understanding why they might not be able to do some things with the ease that their classmates enjoy. It's frustrating to be a slow reader, weak mathematician, the kid with few friends, or a challenged athlete. Like adults, children think, why can't I do all that I want to do, and be as good as my friends and classmates.

As educators we have to keep the messages alive:
  • There are different learning timelines for everyone. 
  • No one learns exactly the same. 
  • What matters is your steady effort, asking questions, and seeking additional help when needed.
  • Also, the more you know about how you learn, the better you will learn. 
Even when you keep those messages alive, some students will shy away from asking questions while others will have challenges understanding that they don't learn exactly like their friends.

All that said, it's educators job to teach all students and help them in any way that they can. As I think about this, I plan to do the following in this regard:
  • Introduce every lesson with the rationale letting students know why we're doing what we're doing.
  • Inviting students to add information and thoughts about the plans with the question in mind, how can I help you more.
  • Promoting student reflection about their learning strengths/preferences and using that knowledge to support students' learning success.
  • Using data transparently so students know what their data looks like with an opportunity to ask questions and chart paths to reach desired goals and expectations.
Tomorrow students and I will talk frankly about the work they are doing with math tech and fraction projects. We'll look at an example of one team's project and review the project guidelines. I'll have students think about what will help them reach current math tech goals, and then we'll get to work reaching for those goals.

It's a limitless landscape of learning potential today, and the job is to help every child understand who they are, what they desire, and the skills, concept, and knowledge they'll need to move ahead. A mighty challenge, and a positive one too.

Monday, March 20, 2017

In The Face of Wrongdoing

When you're privy to wrongdoing, it's not a great place to be.

Wrongdoing that goes without truth telling, apologies, and amends is like rotting meat--it stinks.

This kid of wrongdoing infects an environment and wastes everyone's time.

Wrongdoing of this nature destroys trust, collects false alliances, and destroys potential.

Perpetrators of this kind of ill typically show no remorse or care for their selfish, hurtful acts.

There will be this kind of wrongdoing always, and it's best to seer clear of it until the bad speak or action begins to affect what truly matters. Then you have no other choice, but to speak up.

Thankfully, for the most part, when people err, it is in error, not on purpose and with the worst in mind. There are a few selfish women and men in our midst that think of few but themselves and this is where that kind of rotten wrongdoing arises.


School Changes, New Challenges

Over the years there have been countless challenges in the school house, lately, however, the positive challenges outweigh the negative challenges.

In the past, I longed for one-to-one computers for students, and now we have those. This makes a substantial difference with regard to what we can to do serve each child well.

In the past, I longed for greater collaboration and a shared teaching model--we have that model now and it presents a wonderful, positive potential and challenge with regard to teaching well. There is so much strength to the model.

In the past, I hoped that we could help students who did not have access to tech at home, and we are now beginning to provide that access.

There's still longing for a few items, policies, but for the most part, the challenge now lies with me--I am challenged to shore up a number of teaching/learning actions by embedding new research, learning, and possibility to help students more and better.

This is a good place to be, a place I have hoped for and now have a chance to engage with.

The Trump Days

Trump's tweets spew accusations against so many, accusations that are mainly sent when he himself has been accused of something or criticized are painful. These big accusations are not sent with a sense of unity, care for our country, or respect for the citizens. There is no due process here--just flagrant expressions without evidence or thought of the consequences the words create.

Further, the latest news that the investigation about Russia's impact on our elections continues is disconcerting and worrisome. If Americans sought the help of foreign countries to break the law to help their election efforts, there's a real problem, the kind of problem that could negatively affect so many aspects of our democracy and freedom.

As citizens we have to be patient and watchful. We have to watch that due process and the law are followed. We have to look out for the specific evidence that proves the points/acts discovered.

Our government has to look at how all this happened and do what we can to obstruct such acts to the best of our collective ability in the future.

In the meantime, we have to continue to keep our eyes open, speak up for truth and justice when the need arises, and do the good work we can as both national and global citizens who seek "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all.

Is Learning Online Natural?

Is learning online natural? What learning is natural? I guess we could say that learning in any venue is both natural unnatural dependent on the individual, goals, circumstances and more.

Over the weekend I analyzed a large amount of student data with regard to online learning. I noted a lot of scatter from those that seem very facile and motivated by online learning to those who shy away from the venue almost all the time. To dig deeper, we're spending the week focused on online learning with regard to current standards and goals. and as we focus in on that learning path, I'm looking closely at individual work and need in an attempt to coach students ahead with these venues and tease out why some are eager to use these vehicles for learning and some are less so.

Also, the team discussed how we might look at the integration of these tools in new and different ways for next year with regard to our learning schedule, patterns, and routines. The learning paths today are many, and it's how we navigate those paths and prioritize that matter a lot. These choices won't be the same for every child, but it's worth the effort to look closely and differentiate in ways that matter.

Teaching Well: A Realistic Schedule

For the past ten years or so, I've been working around the clock on education issues and school work. I was driven to improve my craft and advocate for change in schools near and far. In a sense, I followed my passion in this regard, learned a lot, and did make significant improvement in my work and in structures that support my work.

Now I'm turning the corner and digging into the detail work that relates to teaching well. I work in a shared model that holds lots of promise for teaching students well. The state I work for has many good initiatives and efforts in place. The union I belong to is similarly supporting teachers' good work and service to students as well as fair working conditions. There are still changes that I'd like to see, and changes I will work towards, but essentially I'm diving into the arena of what it means to give students the best possible holistic education while they are in my charge. I will extend my work by writing about it and continuing my research.

In the meantime, I'll also embrace a more realistic schedule of work and personal endeavor. Working around the clock for years was the right thing to do at the time and fortunately I had the personal at-home support to do that. Now, however, I want to take my weekends and most nights back so I have good energy for the days when I'm at school focused on the children.

There's many systematic efforts that can help teachers have more realistic schedules, and those efforts include the following:

  • Good communication so educators know what has happened, is happening, and will happen. Poor communication means more work for everyone.
  • Streamline the outer layer of administrators and coaches so that most people in school systems are providing direct service to students. In the past many years, an outer layer of coaches, administrators, and consultants has grown heavy which I think has added an extra layer of stress do teachers while providing less hands on deck when it comes to serving children and their families.
  • Look at how time is used in schools. It remains true that some positions require work long before and after the school day while other positions have far less required time-on-task--this is inequitable and should be remedied in schools everywhere.
  • Rethink meetings and leadership moving towards better models of distributive leadership to foster greater autonomy, mastery, and purpose--ingredients that lead to professional success in all areas of work and service.
Realistic schedules help educators to be energized and healthy, and healthy, energetic educators have what they need to teach children well. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Do What You Can When You Can

In speaking with a teacher friend, it was obvious that we have to do what we can when we can. None of us can be all, do all, or even see all, but everyone can target a number of effective strategies and efforts towards betterment.

As I think about this, I am cognizant of my current goals which include the following:

  • Continue to work as part of the state's Teacher Advisory Cabinet (TAC) with a specific interest in the integration of the ESSA legislation, a focus on high needs students and deep, rich, holistic student-centered programming.
  • Continue to work as part of MTA's Teaching and Professional Learning Committee to support the responsive professional learning side of our union. 
  • Continue to work as part of the local union team to foster fair salaries and working conditions so that educators in the system where I work have what they need to teach and serve parents and students well while also enjoying a good lifestyle for themselves and their loved ones.
  • Continue to invest in the development of rich, culturally proficient, meaningful, and engaging curriculum work to foster engaging, empowering education programs for children.
  • Continue to speak up for better systems, greater distributive leadership, just working conditions, and streamlining of extraneous efforts so everyone has more time to directly serve students.
  • Speak up with regard to government and other organizations' influences on education to foster as much holistic, student-centered support where most of the dollars spent on education are directly related to supporting students and their families in ways that matter. 
  • To continually learn from the many learned people who populate the field of education and other fields near and far. 
Where is your energy directed? How do you contribute to betterment locally and beyond? What can you do at this time? 

Be Vigilant and Outspoken for Justice

Injustice occurs, big and small, all over the world. We all have the responsibility to act against injustice. Sometimes that can mean simply reminding a colleague that her voice, action, or choice may prove to create injustice. It's impossible for all of us to recognize the many ways we can contribute to injustice and we need each other to create just environments.

Injustice may be displayed in inequitable work conditions. If some have work conditions that are much better than others, that injustice needs to be reviewed and remedied.

Equity does not exist in our world, and we must strive for a type of just equity that doesn't maintain that we have to be the same, but instead supports fair opportunity and basic rights including health and education for all people across the globe. I added a student sign to my blog that reads, "Injustice anywhere is a thread to justice everywhere."

As I think on this topic, I want to think about ways that I can support a just, fair school community--one where all students have the opportunities to learn with happiness and success. I also want to support an environment that treats all employees fairly too--no one should be working for a wage that is not livable, and there should be advancement opportunities for all employees in every role so that they can improve their wage and skill as they work for the organization.

We have to encourage one another to speak up with regard to justice. For example, whoever knows the truth of the Russian influences on our election, has an obligation to speak up. Our freedom and justice depends on it. There are so many bright and talented people in our world, and each of those people have the obligation to speak up when faced with injustice. We can not silence injustice, but instead we must be vigilant and outspoken for justice everywhere.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Parent Conference Thoughts

This week we hosted parents and students for parent-student-teacher conferences. It was awesome when children chose to present their portfolios to parents and highlight their best work, questions, and ideas/goals for better learning and teaching. It was also a good chance to sit back and see a child's program in a holistic way. Even when children were not present, the conversations between parent and teachers were valuable leading us to program evaluation and betterment.

As I listened carefully to parents and their children, I thought about the need to keep in regular contact with all families with regard to a child's program. I also realized that there are so many ways to coach and work with each child, and how parents and children themselves provide the invaluable insights with which to teach a child. In addition, it's clear that there are limitless avenues to travel when it comes to nurturing children and school personnel have to make decisions in that regard because while we can do a lot, we can't do it all.

I'll take the information I learned this week and embed it into the teaching/learning ahead in the weeks to come. The conference periods are essential periods in the school year. I believe our conference periods are well timed in the early fall and late winter. I also feel that portfolios are a good source of information and talking points for the conferences, and the many data points and examples of student work included help to tell the story of a child's year. Focusing on the positives is essential while it's also important to highlight goals and needs too. Finally, as teachers map the year, it's essential to build in conference preparation time and scheduling that provides ample time and energy for the value and benefit the conferences bring to the overall program.

Math Tech Week

Rather than move ahead with more paper/pencil study this week, we'll devote the week to math tech catch-up and new learning. For many students, learning via tech is not natural as it's a different medium than paper/pencil and takes some practice as to how to utilize the tools for best learning. We'll spend the week digging into how to maximize the use of technology to learn using a variety of identified programs and tools. It will be good to give this avenue of learning explicit focus and time for about five hours over five days. I'm sure we'll all learn a lot.

Teaching Well: Spring Cleaning

I'm not exactly sure why, but this year has required more classroom cleaning than ever before. I think it's because our classes are big; we have a lot of teachers; we host classroom lunches quite regularly; and we use a lot of materials when we teach. Hence there's a lot going on in somewhat small spaces, and that results in the need for frequent cleaning.

Also as our shared model evolves it becomes clear that some tools of old are no longer necessary, while new tools require different kinds of organization. So Monday I'll do a couple of hours of spring cleaning (the same spring cleaning I'll do a bit of at home today). Last Sunday, I heard that our school was filled with teachers doing the same. There isn't much time during the school day for this kind of cleaning work so many teachers go in on the weekends to do the work.

I'm not a big fan of being in the schoolhouse on the weekend because it's usually cold, dark, and lonely, but a good dose of spring cleaning will brighten the room and energize me for four weeks of dedicated standards study by students in the weeks ahead.

I'm also feeling that "throw it out" mood which means it will be easier to part with well-loved materials and tools that I no longer use.

The younger the students you teach, often the more cleaning that's involved. The same is true in your home--there's a lot more cleaning to do when you have a home full of young children than later when your home is filled with older people.

It's always good to seize the moment when the cleaning bug hits, and it's great when this spirit arises well before hot weather arrives. Many say that to be an elementary school teacher is to be a "jack of all trades" and one of those trades, for better or worse, is classroom cleaning.

Note due to family needs, I switched the spring cleaning to a Monday, not Sunday as originally planned. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Musings: March 17, 2017

It was a very busy week with many parent conferences, student meetings, and professional learning efforts. It's clear that the next four weeks prior to the April vacation are going to be steady weeks devoted to individual students, small groups, and the fifth grade team in general. The week ahead will find us working together to reach and refine multiple learning points and expectations--I'll foster reach with plenty of encouragement and rationale. I'll also seek to act on the many comments and questions that came up at parent-student-teacher conferences. Onward.

Developing Student Showcase Portfolios

It's been a busy conference week as students and teachers share students' showcase portfolios with family members. The showcase portfolio is a powerful tool for reflection and share.

I'd like to develop our use of this terrific tool for even better use in the future. How might we do this?
  • Match the initial portfolio creation with our introduction to each subject and the program overall in the fall.
  • Include the identity project that many students really enjoyed at the start of the year as a community building project.
  • Take more time for initial reflections at the start of the year to help students learn the many ways that they can reflect on their learning.
  • Make a bulletin board in each subject area to collect and post student work in a timely way that's easy to transfer later to the all-subject portfolios.
  • Invite specialists teachers to include reflections and images of work completed in their classes in the portfolio.
  • Have complimentary online portfolios using Google sites or another online program to host digital projects.
I want to think more about this part of our program, a part that builds wonderful and helpful metacognitive skills in our fifth graders. 

Teaching Rotary

As I considered the teaching/learning decisions today, I thought of a rotary. When you drive around the rotary, there are multiple paths you may choose. The same is true for teaching a particular standard or skill--there are many paths to take. You may decide to take the computer path, the explicit teaching path, the small group project path, game or the video path. Like most educators, I try to employ most of those paths in the teaching/learning curriculum since students gain different learning and content skills via each path. I like to mix it up.

There are some limitations to the paths such as class size, time, and room size, but in general, I'm fortunate to work in an organization where there are few limitations.

So as I consider the multiple paths ahead, and the will to expose students to all the standards they'll face on the upcoming systemwide and state assessments, I'll use a variety paths with the following plan.

  • Catch-up Day: Today students will catch-up by finishing tests and working to complete online skills activities.
  • Explicit Teaching: Multiplication and Division of Fractions. We have a lot of skills to learn and practice here. The fraction project work is ongoing too, and it will be good to make time for that.
  • Volume exploration. Since students have been introduced to the main concepts, this lends itself to small group project work.
  • Geometry exploration: This lends itself to lots of drawing and thinking about geometry.
  • Measurement: This, like the volume unit, lends itself to small group project work since students have already been introduced to the concepts.
  • Test review: By this time students will have been exposed to all skills, and will be ready for a practice menu of many choices.
  • Online practice: There's multiple online practice options which I'll encourage in the days ahead.
The plan is set. It will be a busy six weeks or so of skills, practice, and testing. After that we'll move into our STEAM/play/biography project phase--a more playful phase of the school year. Onward. 



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Teaching: You Can't Do It All

I remember a veteran teacher saying the more you know, the harder it gets with regard to teaching. What she meant was that the more you teach, the more options you are aware of therefore the greater decisions you have about how to spend the minutes and days of the school year.

As educators, we continually make decisions about next steps in collaboration with colleagues, families, students, and administrators. When it comes to educating students, there's no one way. Curriculum programs help us decide, but those programs are always in flux as new information, resources, and tools are introduced.

Today I'll give students a little more time to organize their portfolios, work on math tech skills, and continue their math fraction compositions. Some students will also complete tests they started yesterday as well. We'll also continue parent conferences too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Parenting and Teaching: You Can't Be Kind Enough

As I met with parents during conferences today, I thought about the fact that you can't be kind enough--kindness truly does move mountains.

I thought back to the many times I was challenged during my parenting years, and the fact that most of that challenge was born out of worry, frustration, lack of resources, and being overwhelmed.

Once when my first child was ill, the day care provider met me with a litany of worrisome and what I felt was incriminating remarks. As a new mother, I was so distraught thinking that I wasn't doing well by my child. I brought him to the doctor, and he cried and cried. The doctor made me wait and wait. I was beside myself, left the doctor's office and drove to the emergency room. The emergency room would not see me and told me to return to the doctor. By this time, at about six at night after a long day at school, I was very upset. I returned to the doctor and my son received the needed care. It was a long, long day, and I wasn't the kindest person to all the people I met that day. In hindsight, the truth was that my son had a challenging medical issue that no one knew exactly how to deal with. His treatment included multiple doctor's visits, a few operations, and care from multiple doctors. Finally we went to highly regarded specialists when he was older and the problem was solved. In hindsight, it would have been worth the time to take a number of days off to research the issue deeply when he was young, but perhaps the information to serve him well was not available. I don't know.

Another time, I worked for hours with my son on a school assignment. With my first son, I was doing everything I could to support his best effort and learning. The teacher reacted poorly to his performance. I didn't understand her remarks. I researched the issue and disagreed. We never reached any agreement, and my son was caught in the middle. In hindsight, the whole debate wasn't worth it. The truth was that it was a small assignment with little long lasting value. I should have let it go.

Another time, I got very upset when my oldest son was asked to perform a task I felt was inappropriate. I challenged the situation and was met with substantial pushback. I held my ground and never looked back. I knew I did what was right in that situation.

I'm sure there are many more stories that I could tell, but these three stand out as very troubling and trying situations and note that each of the issues occurred with my first child as I worked to navigate the challenging path of teaching and parenting at the same time.

When my next two sons arrived, I was more relaxed and less worried. At that point, I simply knew that I couldn't do all or be all, so I was more forgiving to myself and others.

In the end, as I meet with parents and parent myself, I've learned that you can't be kind enough. It won't be perfect and no one is at fault--the reality is that most people everywhere are reaching to do the best that they can for the people they love and care for. That matters, and we have to be there to support each other in this regard.


Math Differentiation

As the year moves on, what students need and desire becomes more clear. There's need for differentiation, and I've thought about how we might do that.

First, there's need to differentiate students' tech skill development. We have a number of programs that students engage with, and there exists a hierarchy of values with regard to that tech. Essentially the program expects students to do the following:

  • Complete Symphony Math
  • Master their facts
  • Practice math using TenMarks and Khan Academy
  • Enrichment choices including Khan Academy Coding, Project Work, and Logic Problems
With regard to the core teaching and learning, there's a need to review and practice the expected standards. Some require little practice and others require more substantial practice. This is another area where differentiation is required.

Tomorrow I'll introduce the tech chart, and meet with small groups to encourage those students to work towards meeting the goals set in that area.

I'll further find a day to meet with the logic group to enrich their opportunity to meet with like thinkers to problem solve and support each others' learning.

I'll look to YouCube too to find some exciting, team ways to build learning and understanding. There's never a loss of learning and efforts to engage in with regard to teaching well. Onward. 

Desire to Serve All Well: Parent Conferences

Parent conferences are a time of celebration and discernment too.

Educators seek to please all and meet the needs of many, and that's a challenging quest.

For example, sometimes tight adherence to curriculum expectations means that you aren't serving the children who need something different.

And at times, meeting high needs may mean that you miss some enrichment opportunities, and meeting high needs and enrichment may mean that the core gets left out.

Perhaps your teaching leans in a particular direction, and that's not the direction a particular student or family values.

As I think of the multiple needs, interests, and passions before me each day as I teach, like all teachers I try to give everyone a fairly equal share of the curriculum/learning emphasis.

It's important that parents regularly speak up, ask questions, and contribute to the teaching/learning--we need to hear from parents and students too about what they want and need.

We have many measures in place to gauge that, but sometimes those measures aren't enough.

So as I listen to the many parents and students express what's working and what could change for the better, I have to listen carefully and think about how I might revise the schedule to meet the needs expressed. On the other hand, no teacher can do all things, and our first charge is to be kind to children, engage them in the learning, and teach the program set in the best ways possible.

As I've stated many times, teacher's work is humbling work, and we're always learning something new as we aim to serve children and their families well.