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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Test Day: Math Assessment

Students will take a math assessment today. I'll use their results to make decisions with the grade-level team about next steps with regard to the core curriculum and Response to Intervention efforts. In order to stay faithful to the systemwide scope-and-sequence, I taught the unit in short time. It would have been helpful to have a couple more weeks to focus on the material, however there are many standards to master in fifth grade and I don't want to run out of time.

Generally students are doing quite well with the material. Many will be successful with the test and some with need additional teaching after the test. I'll continue to weave these standards into later units and review.

Most students will take the test online and offline at the same time. The offline option gives them space to figure out their answers while the online test allows students to see their scores and review their answers with me right away. The online test also provides me with a helpful spreadsheet of student answers that I can analyze as needed to inform the curriculum program. I simply place the score on the paper copy and send the test home with children the same day if the test is completed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Robust Programming: Teaching Well

Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's recent report, Educating the Whole Child, leads us to answer the call of promoting robust programming to teach children well. As I read and think about this, I am working to define "robust programming." What does a robust teaching/learning program include, and how are programs like this funded and supported?

Too often we stay mired in what we have always known instead of developing our practice and efforts to meet the promise of modern times, tools, and technology--what can we do better as we develop teaching/learning efforts so we can rightly call our programs robust?

As I think about this, my initial reaction is to name these attributes of robust programming:

  • meaningful, engaging, and empowering field studies
  • indoor/outdoor education
  • multiple tools and resources including both online and offline venues
  • worthy informal and formal assessment to ensure that our programs are meeting our goals
  • optimal, collaborative goal setting processes, debate, and discussion
  • worthy professional learning that forwards our efforts as individuals and teams
  • spiraling our teaching/learning efforts to continually better what we do with and for each child
  • modern learning environments that put children in charge of their learning in comfortable and inspiring environments
  • collaboration with multiple learning/teaching organizations and individuals within and outside of the school
I will think more on this question in the days ahead, and I welcome your ideas as I grow this thought thread. 

Teach Math Well: Give Students Every Opportunity to Succeed

To teach well, we need to maximize students' opportunities for success by providing lots and lots of positive learning tools, resources, support, and coaching.

As I reviewed a host of student assessment scores today, I thought about the math learning menu, and what we can do to help every child succeed.

We know the following activities support students well:
  • Review vocabulary in meaningful ways and make vocabulary easy to review. Posting a vocabulary slideshow can help students and educators readily review important words related to the learning. Thanks to the educators at Granite School for their wonderful work that supported this slide show: Granite School Vocabulary
  • Provide learning menus and teaching support for student learning. Update menus regularly to support students' at-home, in-class independent, small group, and partner study.
  • Maintain a content website that supports student learning.
  • Provide online and offline practice opportunities for assessments.
  • Utilize visual models and coach students to make their own visual models online and off:

  • Focus on the standards and teach those standards in numerous ways, ways that respond to students' individual and collective needs as well as empower and engage students' interest, collaborative learning/problem solving, and inspires creativity and curation of related materials.
  • Work collaboratively with colleagues who support student learning and teaching.
What would you add to this list? How do you ensure that you teach a complete, multi-modal, full service math program to each and every student? I look forward to your thoughts.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Collect Signature Moments

A blog can be a place to collect signature moments of teaching and learning.

A collection of these moments provides a wonderful avenue for reflection and a means for bettering the work you do on your own and with others.

It's a way to test your ideas too as you share those ideas with people near and far and then consider their reactions and responses.

It is important to make a collection of signature moments in your professional and personal spheres. These collections become rich foundations for future work and impact.

Administrator-Educator Divide: Time-on-Task

One of the great divides in education systems is that during the work week administrators are making decisions and choosing for educators while educators are busy with time-on-task with students. Then on the weekends when educators have some uninterrupted time to think, administrators are often not available. This divide disrupts streamlined, focused, and state-of-the-art teaching/learning efforts.

The way to change this is to re-look at how time is spent during the work week and to reconsider roles with regard to the percentage of time spent with time-on-task efforts with students, time for inclusive/collaborative problem solving, focused research, and planning and prep. Multiple reports related to success in education point to the need for educators to have greater time to lead their efforts and profession in collaborative ways. Flattening the hierarchy and spreading out the responsibility and ability for educators to teach and lead has been shown to elevate school systems and what we can do with and for students.

When administration and educators are separated by time, roles, and responsibilities, that divide dilutes what's possible with students, however, when systems modernize with more flattened hierarchies and greater leadership with autonomy, mastery, and purpose for all stakeholders, we see a gain in meeting the amazing potential that exists in education.

Navigating New Initiatives: A Bottom-Up Approach

Too often new initiatives are not met with good process. Instead a few promote change with a limited process and perspective rather than a modern, inclusive process that truly takes every individual's voice and choice seriously.

We see these limited processes creating havoc throughout organizations while more inclusive, bottom-up approaches tend to result in better results and greater teamwork amongst all stakeholders.

How can school systems and organizations embrace this kind of inclusive, bottom-up thinking and doing?

First, it's critical to have common goals and language related to those goals. What really matters to your teaching/learning organization? I believe that Darling-Hammond and Harvey-Cook's recent article, Educating the Whole Child, offers a great starting point for this discussion.

Next, it is critical to assess the goals you are reaching for with an inclusive lens. What's working and what could be better? Too often assessments lack a holistic lens and rely on the perspectives of a few rather than the many. Good assessments take all stakeholders' voices and choices seriously--good assessments take a deep, serious look at what's going on and what could be going on with positive change.

After that, it's important to put a priority plan in place--where will we focus our attention and what will we do? What are the critical first steps to making positive change, and what changes can wait or be relegated to other organizations and/or resources.

Modernizing processes for growth and change is imperative in today's quickly changing and growing world. It's also imperative to make these processes inclusive and more democratic so that all stakeholders' opinions, needs, and interests are taken seriously and included in efforts for change and growth.

Teaching Well: What to Wear?

Fortunately I work in a school where there is no dress code. This is important because we are a playful school with a great big grassy playground. Mostly, to teach well, requires playful clothes that allow you to sit on the floor with a group of children, explore outside no matter what the weather is, and move a lot as we teach and learn each other.

Sometimes, however, the day may warrant fancier clothes and shoes or perhaps the mood you want to create or lessons you want to present profit from a dressier look.

In general, I believe there should be no dress codes at schools and people should wear the kinds of clothes that allow them to teach well in all kinds of circumstances. Onward.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dig into the Important Issues

Too much time is wasted on unimportant issues that have little impact on good living for all. Before making time for any issue, we must consider the issue's worth and effect. Sometimes we can find ourselves on a path that's not meaningful or rightly directed. When that happens we have to find out why we started down that road and then craft a new path to a better result. Onward.

Updating the Way We Teach: Learning Menus and Websites

The way we teach and learn is becoming more and more sophisticated and streamlined thanks to the amazing potential of technology. I can more easily personalize and target teaching with all kinds of wonderful instructional materials and learning events to better meet students needs.

As an educator, I am a fan of the standards as a framework for learning. Then, with the standards as a framework, I work to strengthen the learning experiences for each and every child utilizing a number of venues including the following:
  • hands-on investigations, creations, and problem solving
  • videos
  • games
  • online and offline exercises
  • explicit lessons
  • collaborative learning experiences
  • students teaching students
  • regular systemwide and grade-level formal and informal assessments to inform the teaching/learning program
Some of the main tools I use as I update the learning menu and effort include the following:
Two resources that I plan to use more in upcoming units are Jo Boaler's book about teaching fifth grade math and the book Timeless Learning These books are written by extraordinary educators and researchers who are committed to what is best for students and our future. I hope to embed their work and research into my efforts to teach well.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Big Picture: Teaching and Learning 2018-2019

With the year launched, it's time to revisit the big picture goals and ideas. Last spring I created the mini poster above to guide my work this year. Is this image still relevant? I'll evaluate point by point.

With regard to project based math learning, I'm struggling again due to the number of concepts and the tight scope and sequence I'm tasked with following. The schedule and quantity of prescribed learning standards and events are great leaving little time for the kind of worthy project-based math learning Jo Boaler's research recommends. What's a teacher to do? Since I'm making good headway with the prescribed tasks, I'll work to embed Boaler's activities in an upcoming unit of study in November and/or December as a starting point.

In terms of increasing rigor with regard to science study, we have instituted the use of a science journal. Soon I'll revisit science journaling efforts with students including the lab sheets, models, reflections, notes, and other information students are adding to those journals. I'll also look into the use of badges as one way to acknowledge students' learning efforts and results.

The practice goal I've chosen for a student learning goal is leading to greater scaffolding and personalization which has been positive.

Tying SEL into all learning is happening daily as I embed videos, stories, and other short lessons that focus in on social emotional skills. Soon students will zero in on that more as they ready their portfolios for student-teacher-parent conferences during the first week in November.

Our weekly PLCs and Student Service Meetings give me an opportunity to engage more effectively with the broader team to teach all students well. I want to employ my overall goal to listen more and better to these meetings as one way of growing my skill, collaboration, and effect.

Overall students need to take center stage in my teaching/learning work. I'd like to find more ways to give students independence, leadership, and responsibility over their own learning and the classroom events and experiences. I'll be thinking of this in the days ahead.

Specifically these goals and intentions will become apart of the weekly routine in the following ways:

  • Good prep and planning
  • Regular communication to the learning/teaching team
  • Regular analysis of students' efforts and learning results to inform curriculum efforts
  • Regular advocacy for what we need to be able to teach well
  • Regular conversations with students about what they need to learn well and be happy at school
There are countless ways to teach and learn, and as the year moves along, I'll do what I can to continue to develop my repertoire to meet the goals outlined above as well as the environmental education learning goal. Onward. 

Science Day Four: Planning and Prep

Our grade-level has had three days so far devoted to science education. The first included lots of background information about the matter, atoms, the carbon cycle, habitats, and the water cycle. The next found students creating watershed models, and the third was a full-day devoted to outdoor education in a local nature preserve. The next day will find students discussing climate change as well as updating their science journals with carbon cycle model and properties' hunt notes, creating ponding nets, another ponding experience at a local stream, some map study and more matter exploration.

To prep for the day, we'll do the following:
  • Plan the climate change lesson with our naturalist coach
  • Prepare and distribute the carbon cycle models
  • Revisit ponding efforts and supplies including making ponding nets
  • Matching ponding efforts specifically to the standards
  • Add "percolation" to water cycle models in the science journals
  • Reviewing students' science journals and perhaps adding "badges" for tasks done to the end of each journal as a way of acknowledging students' study and learning. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Good Teaching is Not Glamourous

In many ways, United States culture is obsessed with glamour. That's one reason, I believe, that teaching does not receive the support that other professions receive. It's too bad that people can't see beyond the desire for glamour to the value of quality education for each and every child.

For example, yesterday I experienced one of those great days in the classroom. The staffing was sufficient and thoughtfully dedicated to helping children learn. The children were engaged learning on their own and with others. They asked good questions and guided their study of the focus topics. The furniture and supplies in the room supported collaboration, comfort, needed space, and good teaching/learning. I was able to work with many students in focused, meaningful ways. The result was not glamorous, but certainly meaningful and positive. Students were learning in ways that made them feel good about themselves and invested in learning more.

As a society, we have to thoughtfully consider where we spend our money, time, commitment, and support? To well support education in meaningful ways that help every child learn in meaningful ways is a good investment in peaceful, productive, happy, and collaborative communities today and into the future.

As Americans we can enjoy glamorous events and people as a form of entertainment, but when it comes to building a strong country of happy, good people, we have to look beyond glamour to well funding and supporting education and other areas of service and living that matter.

Refining Goals and Direction

As I move away from system thinking to digging into what I can do with and for students in the classroom, I find myself a bit frustrated. There are so many changes I'd like to entertain with system personnel and so much potential that I see. Yet the avenues in that direction are filled with obstruction and little support. Few are inviting educators into decision making streams in ways that truly make a difference, and lots of old time committee work remains--the kind of work that typically results in little effective change.

What's a teacher to do?

I will continue to offer ideas, speak up, and work for change via the open doors that exist such as the local union, and then I'll focus the rest of my time and energy towards what I can do to support student learning well.

First, I'll focus on my overall student learning goal which is to grow effective practice opportunities and response with the rationale that it takes good practice to master skill, concept, and knowledge. This work means keeping a close eye on all learners to make sure they get adequate personalized practice to help them master the standards in meaningful ways. Specifically students complete a weekly practice packet, an online learning menu, in-class learning experiences, and online practice sets. I support their efforts by offering two extra help morning sessions a week, weekly check-ins, parent communication, and individual meetings throughout the week.

Environmental Education
My second goal is to embed science standards into environmental education in conjunction with my grade-level colleagues and Drumlin Farm naturalists and educators. We started this work with a professional learning day for teachers, background lessons, making watershed models with our naturalist coach, and a day-long hike, ponding, water testing, map study, and exploration at a local nature preserve. Efforts to come include reviewing and extending our study of properties, matter, the carbon cycle, habitats, and the atmosphere. We'll also study climate change and engage in student community action projects with our naturalist coach. We may tie a pontoon boat river tour into this project as well as part of a local grant effort.

Last year the team wrote a grant to support creating one of our fifth grade classrooms as a collaborative lab with tables and student drawers. The new furniture has created the kind of collaborative learning environment I've always dreamed of. Now I need to make time to re-organize to better the room's organization and readiness for the many collaborative science, math, and STEAM activities ahead. That means making the best use of the shelves, cabinets, and other spaces that exist so that students can easily access needed materials and then put them away. Many of our learning experiences at fifth grade are materials intensive which means it takes considerable thought and effort to organize those materials in accessible and safe ways.

Student Showcase Portfolios
Students create showcase portfolios to share with family members and others at upcoming Fall conferences. Those portfolios will include the following materials:
  • Beautiful Cover
  • All About Me
    • Happiness Survey
    • Past-Present-Future Timelines
    • Photos from the class photo sites (two-five student-selected photos in each portfolio)
  • Learning Profile
    • Score Report: standard assessments, unit tests, and more
  • Goals
    • SEL Assessment
  • Learning Experiences
    • Fall Field Study Reflections: Nature Walk, Museum of Science, Sturbridge Village, and McAuliffe Challenger Center experiences
Physical Science Unit

I'm in charge of the physical science unit and that means reviewing summer work related to this study as well as a review of the multiple curriculum materials that exist. I want to ready the room for this study so that every student gets at least six learning experiences related to this topic and related standards.

STEAM Projects
We've moved these projects into the spring months so that we have enough time and space for the science units and environmental science study this month. 

Math Presentation and Learning
I'll be presenting at a local ATMIM Math Conference in a few weeks so I'll need to make time to review the materials and the presentation prior to the presentation which will focus on tech integration in math learning. 

Professional Reading
I can't wait to read Timeless Learning Pam Moran, Ira Socol, and Chad Ratliff. Books like this written by extraordinary educators truly empower what I can do with and for students. 

Readiness for Good Teaching
Good teaching demands readiness which includes good energy, lead time, professional learning, and regular, positive collaboration. 

I will work with a number of teams to organize and forward RTI efforts and sensitive, targeted student services.

Union Efforts
I'll continue to work as part of our local Union board. Fortunately our union enjoys the membership of all professional educators and represents a diversity of roles, voices, and interests. The meetings we have are always lively and our membership investment is strong and focused on excellence with regard to our professional efforts and the needs we have to teach all students well. 

Supervising Student Teachers
This term I am supervising an outstanding student teacher. That role includes helping her to create and then engage students in worthy learning experiences. There's lots of work to do in this regard as she prepares for her take-over days and weeks. This is good apprenticeship work that results in worthy learning and teaching for educators, student teachers, and students. During her take-over weeks I'll complete the needed paperwork related to this work. 

I like to continually grow my teaching/learning efforts towards betterment. Creating a list like this provides me with direction, the kind of direction I can match with good energy to teach well. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Working Within Tight Parameters

As an educator I work in multiple tight confines. Often my ideas are disregarded and my efforts stymied by a lack of respect or interest. I believe that most educators face this situation.

There are many changes I would personally make to improve education, however my efforts to make change in these areas have gone unsupported. Those changes include the following:
  • greater opportunity for coding and movie making for young children
  • less tight parameters related to math education and scope and sequence obedience
  • the use of Khan Academy
  • flattened hierarchy by adopting co-coaching models, leadership opportunities/responsibilities for all educators, less administrators and more time-on-task-with-student educators
  • revised models of RTI and special education intervention
  • revised purchasing processes so teachers don't have to spend as much time or their own money to get the materials they need to teach well
  • more teacher voice and choice overall
  • sufficient time for prep and planning as well as sufficient resources
That said, I will work within these tight parameters while still advocating for greater voice and choice with regard to the work I do. As a classroom educator my experience, education, and effort is often dismissed and disregarded while those with far less experience are often given the task of telling me what to do.

I believe teaching/education organizations need to update their roles, schedules, and structures to be more modern, inclusive, and effective. I can see zillions of ways to to do this and will continue to look for ways to effect this change. I will also continue my recent efforts of digging in with greater focus on the day-to-day ways I can teach every child well as I work with grade-level colleagues, families, and students. Onward. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Teaching After a Long Weekend

For the past few decades I've mostly been home during a long weekend. I spent those weekends catching up on life and participating in my children's events. Now as a mom of young adults, I had the chance to take off for the weekend and visit one of my sons. As always it was a great treat to spend time with one of my children.

After a big, fun weekend away, it takes a bit more get up and go to get back on track with the school week. Fortunately I left the plans ready to start up again after a past week of lots of standards-based environmental education.

What's on the agenda this week?

Mainly this week will find students digging into place value skills, concepts, and knowledge in multiple ways. We'll also have some good time for deep discussions and planning sessions related to teaching reading, serving students well, and planning for upcoming special events and targeted teaching.


Saturday, October 06, 2018

Extraordinarily Busy and Positive Week

Last week was an extraordinarily busy and positive teaching/learning week. Now it's time for a short reprieve to enjoy time with family and friends. Next week we'll dig into some explicit teaching and learning related to the standards. We'll also spend some time working on building positive teamwork and learning-to-learn behaviors. Onward.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Friday Musings: October 5, 2018

High School students did a great job teaching students math via playful experiences yesterday. 

With a holiday weekend filled with family events ahead, I want to write about the days to come in school so we can easily pick up where we leave off today.

What's on the agenda?

October find us digging into the standards with multiple learning opportunities and a focus on each child's individual needs, strengths, and interests.

Our studies will find us doing the following:

Environmental Education
Students will continue to add illustrations, reflections, and information to their science journals. In the next week, we'll make those journals a mainstay of quiet reading/writing work as children continue to learn about the world around them with a science lens. I want to collect those journals and review their work to date. I also want to give students badges for the big accomplishments in science learning such as specific field studies, hands-on projects, student advocacy efforts, and STEAM endeavors.

Physical Science
Soon I'll review our physical science curriculum, shore up a number of learning experiences, and rearrange materials in cabinets to support that study. Students love the hands-on learning related to our physical science curriculum--the challenge is to well organize materials and learning experiences to support this enjoyable and meaningful learning.

Math Education
The weekly math learning routine is taking shape including a weekly home study packet, weekly at-home online skills practice, an in-class or out-of-class learning menu, early morning extra help sessions, and daily learning experiences that introduce new concepts, skills, and knowledge in a variety of ways. Students already took a start-of-school assessment and now we're working towards our first official grade-level unit assessment. The greatest challenge with math education is finding the time to help every child learn with the support they need and profit from, and I'll continue to work to find ways to do that in the days ahead.

Read Aloud
We're midway into our book about the King Phillip's War which is a part of the new social studies standards. Students are enjoying the book, and I need to devote good time to that story before our upcoming colonial period field study.

Colonial Period Education
My colleagues are mainly teaching this unit with lots of related reading and writing. We've woven some of this education into our local science studies, field studies, math, and read aloud. I'll try to embed a bit more social studies education via math by helping students to frame their understanding of this period by looking at and working with important dates and numbers related to the period.

Timeline Project
Our tech teacher is working with students to complete their past-present-future timelines as a way of helping them to develop the social studies lens that the past does affect the present and future in many ways. This project also provides students with an opportunity to learn about each other and build community. We will post these projects in the hallways for students to refer to throughout the year.

Social Emotional Learning
While I hoped to engage in more teamwork efforts at the start of the year, the push to begin curriculum work was great. Yet students' are demonstrating a need for greater, explicit teamwork learning and practice so I'll make time for this in the days ahead with a number of explicit lessons and teamwork experiences.

Once again the classroom is in need of a bit of renovation--new learning and materials have created a need to reorganize materials. I'll do a bit of that at the end of the day today and in the weeks ahead to get ready for the collaborative science/math activities ahead.

It's been a positive start to the school year with a great team, enthusiastic students, helpful family members, and good resources to teach well. Onward.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Hiking with Students

Soon we'll take a hike with students. With parent chaperones, educators, and the youth officer, we'll traverse the sidewalks, back roads, and woodsy paths to a local conservation area. There students will hike through the trails, test the water, engage in ponding, have a picnic, and play.

Our goals include the following:
  • Children will have an enjoyable experience in nature and a chance to fall in love with the great outdoors.
  • Children will explore the land and water of the area.
  • Students will notice many aspects of science that they're tasked to learn and educators are tasked to teach. 
Safety is our first priority. We'll bring needed first aid kits, educate the chaperones, spread educators and chaperones along the trail of children, and keep our groups together.

Joy is our next goal. We'll give students an opportunity to enjoy the natural environment, and through their joy we'll relay a number of learning points through conversation, exploration, and hands-on learning.

We'll take pictures of our adventures and use those photos later on as we continue our study of watersheds, climate change, and environmental advocacy. 

I'm anticipating a positive trip with students and colleagues. I'm sure we'll all learn a lot. Onward. 

Incredibly Busy Start of the School Year

This school year is speeding along--why so fast?

Primarily the speed is due to our new environmental education effort with Mass Audubon educators and naturalists. We've already had a professional day, created and taught background lessons, engaged in a watershed model making event, and planned a field study. This is a lot of extra work on top of the busy start-of-school learning experiences and routines.

Of course, I'm very excited about this new learning because it embeds worth state science standards into relevant, meaningful, hands-on learning experiences, experiences that will better prepare the students to live well in their world and take care of that world too. They are gaining essential knowledge and a solid foundation for future science learning.

What has this work involved?

We've engaged in considerable professional learning which has translated into deeper, better lessons. We also had to acquire, organize, and use a number of new materials too which took time to collect, prepare, and use. And there's been a considerable need for communication and collaboration to make this work.

What's next? In the days ahead, we'll do the following:
  • continue to support students' science journal work
  • field studies and outdoor education on the playground
  • student learning about climate change
  • students' environmental advocacy, service, and community action projects
It's a deeper, more student centered year--one that I'm excited about and a bit harried too as I try to keep up with it all. The minutes and hours in a day, unfortunately, have not changed so this means trying to rework the schedule to fit it all in. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Late Nights: New Curriculum

New curriculum demands lots of extra teacher hours. If the new curriculum is good, I don't mind giving the extra time, however sometimes you simply run out of time to prepare and teach new curriculum, and that can be frustrating.

This week our team has been working hard to embed multiple teaching/learning standards into outdoor learning led by a grant with Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm. The grant allows us to deepen our work in the local habitat to help students know, love, and care for their local lands with good standards-based science knowledge, concept, and skill.

So far we've devoted one professional day to the work and lots of individual and group research. We've also hiked the local land, talked to property owners, and educated students and chaperones about the field study to come. Today we'll engage with students in a hands-on activity with our naturalist coach to learn more about the watershed area where we live and how that watershed works.

As I work on this new curriculum, I wonder why this isn't a mainstay of every classroom in the country. Children should know their local habitat well as it will set them up to better live and care for that environment in ways that matter. I know that this study does happen in many places and I'm happy that we are one of those places.

There's lots to do in the days ahead to make this study meaningful--good work that sometimes challenges the time and support available. Onward.

Monday, October 01, 2018

A Day of Unexpected Events: Life in the Real World

I worked a lot this weekend and was ready for the teaching and learning ahead with the exception of xeroxing the work completed.

I came into work in time to copy the needed packets and then found a bit more time to copy another packet for student study. That's when the unexpected events began. I had to stop the copying due to the unexpected visit by the repair man. Then when the copies were resumed there were unneeded extra papers attached, so I had to stop the copying again.

During the school assembly, the lights went out for a brief minute or two which was handled well by the students and leaders. Later the first lesson didn't go as expected. What I expected to be quite easy for the students turned out too be too difficult so we did the work together. I continued to find time for the copying stopping to repair the machines about every 10-15 minutes as the copying continued. As I copied I forget that the clocks were not working and the times for specials were not the same as last year, hence I returned to a class of students saying, "Where were you?" I instructed them about what to do when a teacher is missing and told them what happened. It was only a short space of time so it wasn't a big deal and an event that often happens at the start of the school year as everyone gets used to new schedules and routines.

Then looking at my computer, I became worried that the power wouldn't last through the last lesson so I ran out to my car to get my charger only to be met by a slew of wasps that bit me multiple times in the face and legs. After a nurse's visit and reporting the wasp nest to the office, it was time for the last lesson which, as you can imagine, found me a bit rattled by the wasp stings. Nevertheless we got through most of the learning.

Much of what happened today was the result of the start of a new units--new units take lots and lots of extra research and prep and take teachers down unexpected instructional roads which can throw us off balance a bit.

Overall the new unit was met with enthusiasm and we'll continue down the introductory path this week with as much preparation as possible when it comes to new learning endeavor.

Thankfully, I don't appear to be allergic to wasps and the whole affair could be a good scene in a sitcom especially the part when a couple of wasps flew up my pant leg and and were buzzing around biting inside my capris.

Life in school is never dull. It's always full of lots of unexpected events. It's about as real as life gets and that means there will always be lots of unexpected events. Onward.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lead Time is Critical to Good Work

Sometimes lead time is impossible, but in general, lead time leads to good work.

When issues of analysis and deep think are presented at the last minute and do not provide time for preview or review, the analysis and think is typically less good than when information is presented with time for thoughtful analysis and consideration.

With regard to the classroom, I try to give parents and students a heads-up about the learning to come. Often the team will share a number of resources ahead of a project to allow students time to preview, look at the information, and try out related experiments and learning projects. This generally translates into greater investment, enthusiasm, and engagement with the learning. I believe the same is true for educators when it comes to professional learning--the more we can share in advance, the better.

Last minute sharing often seems like a tactic of oppression. It seems this way because when you present information and expect a response all at the same time with limited time you limit the conversation, analysis, and thought, and you also mitigate the potential for good decision making. We see this kind of tactic used often in politics when one group wants it their way without consideration of the others sides' thoughts, opinions, needs, or interests.

Good learning, I believe, generally demands lead time. Lead time creates a prepared and open group of learning. Last minute share when there's little time to prepare creates stress, angst, and oppression which serves to frustrate and divide a learning community rather than build a strong, collaborative team. Do you agree?

Find Meaning

A friend told me about a person in his life that is lost--a person who can find no meaning. I found that hard to understand since as a teacher there is limitless opportunity for meaningful work and the greatest challenge is prioritizing those opportunities and choosing the best amongst them.

What holds my friend's friend back? Why is he stuck?

First of all this stuck man was not nurtured in ways that build a strong person. His early years and care-takers were misguided with regard to what really matters in life. They saw children as a thing apart and didn't put much time into their care. I think of Gladwell's book, Outliers, and the notion of concerted cultivation which is to really get to know who a child is and nurture that child holistically towards a good life. That was missing from the man I speak of.

Throughout the man's life he carried the weight of a childhood that was privileged but lacking in the elements of essential care and love--a heavy burden.

Also this man carries the weight of not easily fitting in to life's categories of acceptance. He's not the beautiful women, the strong man, the good leader, or the inspired poet, but instead he's a lost man who wears his losses like a detour sign that says, "Don't go here; don't know me; don't be my friend." Thus people are often repelled by this man. This lack of popularity also has created a wall to meaning for this man.

Yet the man if of high intelligence, keen vision, and magnificent desire. If he can find a way to invest those energies into meaningful work he will be found, discovered, able to live a good life. What could he do? He could tackle a big question the world holds and invest in that question. He could look for a lost people and nurture those people in ways that makes a difference. He could people something or write something that uses his past losses and new found energy and inspiration to move others.

To find meaning in life is essential--to make your days count is imperative. There are so many books that can help us find that path for me those books include Joseph Campbell's Pathways to Bliss,  and Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

It is essential that we find meaning in the work we do and that we follow paths we believe in, paths that have merit for our lives and the lives of others. In what ways is this true for you?

Focus on What Matters

In any organization bureaucracy can take over one's mind, one's attention, and one's direction. This is not what should happen. Instead the mission and vision of the work should lead one forward--what does that mean for me heading into the second month of school?

I will take the time to look over students' first unit of math study carefully--who achieved and who still needs more teaching and learning in this regard? After that analysis, I'll make plans about when and how I'll reteach and support students who missed some essential learning in that unit. I'll also head into the next unit with all students in ways that have been successful to students in the past. I'll also begin the teaching and learning related to physical science and STEAM study while embedding SEL lessons throughout the teaching and learning. To do that means taking care to thoughtfully plan our first multidisciplinary lesson related to our watershed study--this lesson will include both physical science, math standards.

System-Wide Decisions
Our school system leadership will meet with us to discuss changing school start times. I will listen carefully to the proposals and my colleagues questions and ideas. It's important that school start times are ideal for all students not just some, and my research to date points to the fact that the most positive change will cost the system extra money and I will likely choose along the lines of what's best for all students with regard to the research about student health and optimal learning/living.

Professional Learning
We have a systemwide professional learning event however we don't know what that will be or where it will be. I am a learner that likes to preview material and learning with good time, so I worry about learning that doesn't include good lead time or an introduction. However, I'll do as I'm asked to do--attend the learning event and cull what I can to develop my practice.

Student Service Meeting 
We had a very good nuts and bolts student service meeting last week. This week we'll likely go deeper to discuss practices we can embed to serve all students well. This is a positive weekly meeting.

ELA Data Meeting
We'll dive into scores and more related to reading instruction this week and make groups for RTI reading instruction where we help students to build fluency and comprehension skills in meaningful ways. This practice has resulted in positive reading and writing growth over the years. It's a lot of work, but work that's worth it.

Student Teacher
I'll continue to supervise the student teacher by reviewing the schedule of the week to come, helping her to plan, prepare, and teach lessons, and observing her work in action as she teaches a number of lessons this week. She's an excellent teacher so that's a joy.

Teaching in Nature
As noted in the previous post many lessons will revolve around standards-based environmental education this week including multidisciplinary background lessons about watersheds and river habitats, an introduction to the history, geography, and biology of the local habitat, a fun and games study of facts related to the SUASCO watershed, a hands-on model making event, and a class hike and hands-on exploration in nature. This effort will take care and attention to multiple learning points and with dedication will result in an awesome first week of study with our Drumlin farm naturalist coach, students, family members, and educators.

Student Response
In keeping with this year's goal, I'll collect this week's practice packet on Tuesday and review students' efforts Tuesday afternoon and evening. On Wednesday I'll review students' online work. I'll provide two mornings of extra help before school, and talk to students and contact families and educators with regard to students who are not keeping up with their practice to see how we might support those students more. My goal is to check in on all learners each week via these feedback loops to ensure that every child is having the opportunity for just-right practice and response on a weekly basis.

As you can see it will be a busy week ahead--one that demands I keep the focus. This is typically true for all educators wherever they teach. Onward.

Teaching and Learning in and about Nauture

Students will engage in a week of multidisciplinary environmental study this week. What does that mean?

This means that students will learn about life science through writing, the Earth and water cycle through reading, and physical science via math.

Via an introductory slideshow, students will also learn about the history of the land, the rationale for learning about our local river and wetland habitats, and how the past has affected the present and will impact the future.

Students will specifically study watersheds including the SUASCO watershed where we live. They will create three-dimensional watershed models with small groups and review specific facts and concepts related to our watershed as they complete Junior River Ranger workbooks, workbooks created by the National Wild and Scenic River System.

Children will also learn about the land's history, geography, and living organisms via exploration and discovery with maps, ponding, testing water, and observation during a day in nature at the end of the week.

How will we assess this effort and use that assessment to continue to build this standards-based year-long study of watersheds? Next week we'll assess the learning and related attitudes to date. We'll use the assessments to note what students have learned well, what we need to teach more and better, and where we'll take the study as we lead towards climate change education and student community action efforts.

This is a worthy and exciting curriculum to teach, one that comes to us, in part, via the generosity and commitment of Drumlin Farm educators/naturalists and a SUASCO grant.

The Educator's Role in System Issues

Too often educators are left out of systemwide decisions which I believe lessens the potential possible for good teaching and learning. After all educators are the people who work day-to-day and hour-to-hour with students and to leave them out of the decision making loop is to leave important voices, perspectives, and ideas out of those decisions.

As I think more about this, I think there has to be change in most school systems with regard to who has the time and place for decision making and the processes used to make those decisions. Mostly since educators are busy with students almost every minute of the day, those who make decisions are distanced from this work and often make decisions based on their own projections of what educators think rather than what educators truly think. To include educators in decision making systems have to change roles, schedules, places, and process.

How should they do this?

First, it's essential for systems to create a good short list of systemwide goals, and this shortlist has to be the result of good process with the voices of all stakeholders including students, families, educators, administrators, and community members. This shortlist has to acknowledge the system's overarching goal which I believe should be a whole child approach to good teaching and learning. When we are doing our jobs well together students are happy and they are learning the skills, concept, and knowledge that will give them a positive foundation to a good life and a good country. What are those essential skills, concepts, and knowledge?

The standards, I believe, are a good source of foundation knowledge skills, concepts, and knowledge--to teach the standards well is to give students a strong foundation for future learning. Also to make sure our programs regard social emotional learning with fidelity is also essential and to teach in ways that best meet current research and knowledge about how brains and bodies work is also essential. As Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey so clearly explain in their recent article, we need to be cognizant of the whole child as we design programs, teach, and forward our learning communities.

As I think of all of this and the programs I work with, I believe the we have a lot of good resources and components in place including a good schedule, adequate facilities, good resources, and highly qualified staff. What we are missing is a consistent and meaningful place at the decision-making table. Too often, decisions are made without our input and in oppressive ways. This is an area that needs to be considered carefully and changed to elevate our teaching/learning community more. To do this well, administrators would make more time and space for teacher voice with regard to decision making, managing our programs, and spending money--still much of this is decided by people distanced from students and teachers on a daily basis and this is an issue that needs greater attention. To do this well means that some administrators have to believe in this and spend time making it happen--they need to elevate teacher leadership in ways that matter.

With this in mind, I have to work with what exists and work for what I dream of at the same time. How do I do that.

With regard to the good resources, schedule, and colleagues that exist, I'll work with my team to forward a robust, student-centered, and results-oriented standards-based teaching/learning program. We take program design seriously and continue to read, research, and revise to create a dynamic program that puts students in the driver's seat of their education in meaningful, positive ways.

As far as teacher leadership, I'll continue to observe and analyze the situations that exist, situations where teachers are not included in the decision making. Currently teachers are often not consulted about major systemwide issues, professional learning time/events, scheduling of extra supports, money expenditures, and updating schools and playgrounds. All of these areas affect what we do and who we are at school, yet we have little voice in this regard.

If I had more voice/choice, I would consider these issues carefully with my colleagues, and as I consider these issues I would look for ways that we can elevate teacher leadership and add more time-on-task with students for all educators and administrators in our system.

  • co-coaching models with all coaches having essential responsibility for working with students
  • a change in building supervision/curriculum leadership models
  • service delivery start at the start of the school year for all service delivery to students rather than waiting a month or two into the school year for some services
  • a re-look at purchasing procedures and a greater ability for educators to order what they need in order to teach well rather than reaching into their own pockets to pay for needed materials.
  • a better and more inclusive process for program development
  • greater transparency with regard to decision making processes and the decisions considered and made
  • less top-down decision making and more collaborative decision making including all educators
I've been lobbying for greater teacher leadership for a long time, and while I've seen some growth, I have not seen the kind of modern changes I read about in articles about dynamic organizations, organizations that promote autonomy, mastery, and purpose as Pink's book, Drive, highlighted so long ago. There's great potential in building dynamic teaching/learning organizations, a potential we need to consider with depth and care as we move schools forward. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Goal Shift

I carefully outlined my goals in the spring of last year, and since then I've been refining and changing those goals. Similar to any natural system, life in schools is always changing and so are the goals I choose.

Yet, as the goals changed, there was also refinement. The more I know the students and the more the team works together, the better I understand what's needed. Hence when I present the goals this week, those goals will be more fine-tuned and responsive to the needs of the students as well as the betterment of my practice.

The first goal, the student teaching goal, will be a goal to provide sensitive, thoughtful, and encouraging student-centered, standards-based practice opportunities and response to all fifth grade math students each week. Specifically that will include the following:
  • Responding to students' practice packets with comments and points.
  • Reviewing students' online practice exercises and assessments.
Responding in class will include both verbal and written responses to students' in-class learning experience efforts. I will keep track of this effort with a record document that charts students' efforts and accomplishments in ways that I can analyze as the year moves along.

The second goal initially was to embed SEL into science/STEAM efforts, however in light of the work that's needed to fulfill the environmental education portion of our science program, I will change that goal to professional learning related to develop a standards-based, student-centered environmental education program for fifth graders. This is a meaningful, relevant goal for the work at hand.

I'm looking forward the goal-setting meeting I'll have this week with my evaluator and the work ahead to reach those goals.

Weekend Musings: Teaching Well

We seem to be busier than ever at school, but the busyness is mostly associated with great goals and really positive endeavor. What's taking our time?

First, I'm digging into my goal of improving student feedback loops to encourage better learning experiences. That means solidifying a routine that works for all students. Currently the routine includes a weekly review packet, online assessments and exercises, classroom coaching/teaching, and individualized support, enrichment, and modification.

In the week ahead, I want to think carefully about the following:
  • Reviewing students' packets for accuracy, precision, and positive learning goals/practice
  • Helping all students to understand and complete the learning routines
  • Providing more individualized support for those that need a different approach, reteaching, or enrichment in specific areas.
I'm also working with colleagues to embed multiple science standards using the 5 E's approach into our environmental study experiences. This involves preparing a number of learning experiences, charting our efforts, teaching and responding to the students, engaging in the efforts, then reflecting and building upon what we have done so far. Over the summer and in the past two weeks we started this effort by setting goals and communicating with Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Naturalist Educators about the focus of this study, engaging in related learning experiences, taking a nature hike as educators, working with the team to outline the study, and now working on all the related details. This is deep and rewarding work that will result in robust learning for students.

The year's start also involves supervising a talented student teacher and working as part of a dynamic teaching team. Our meetings have been long and worthwhile as we find ways to work with one another, support one another, and together meet the needs of all the fifth graders. This work takes a lot of good time each week and I expect that our efforts will result in very good attention and care for each and every fifth grade student.

There's a professional learning event coming up which has not been shared with us yet so I expect that I'll learn about that in the days to come. I find that good lead time for these events helps educators to be prepared and make the most of the learning. Often when the related information is last minute, the learning potential is compromised. That's why we try to stay ahead with communication to families with regard to the fifth grade program. With lead time, families can better support the program, ask related questions, and provide needed resources and other information to make the teaching and learning successful. 

Now it's time for more detail-related research and prep to support the learning for the week ahead, learning that will be apart of a robust, holistic program for all students. Onward. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

What Matters: New Learning Experiences

Today students will embark on a relatively new learning experience.

What's important.

First, safety matters. Bring the phones, the class lists, and safety gear.

Next, engagement and happiness will propel the experience in a positive way. Have a sense of adventure, positivity, and enthusiasm as we engage in the event.

After that, focus--look for evidence of the standards and concepts we'll be exploring all year and focus in on those experiences, events, and examples with care.

Finally, reflect with students about the learning that happened, the connections made, and the questions and inquiry we're left with. Onward.

Elevate Your School Community by Partnering with Local Colleges, Universities, and Education-Related Organizations

Our school has been working with two local universities with regard to hosting student teachers. The student teaching programs in Massachusetts have come a long way in years past. The expectations for student teachers and supervising teachers have been elevated in significant ways. There's more time involved and there's also more growth involved too.

Yesterday I met with the college professor who is supervising the wonderful student teacher in my room. Together we discussed the student teacher's excellent lesson. As I listened to the college professor talk, I found myself reflecting on my own teaching. Her points not only provided growth opportunities for the student teacher, but opportunities for my own growth too. It was a very positive meeting.

Essentially the college professor was pointing out the need for lessons to be tightly targeted in order to result in mastery learning. While she acknowledged the need for general lessons, I listened carefully to her ideas related to more tightly targeted lessons. I especially enjoyed the conversation since I often fall to the side of big-idea teach rather than discrete standard teaching.

Also as we talked, I acknowledged that I was happy that our school could be a satellite campus for the university--a teaching/learning school where university professors, student teachers, and practicing teachers work together to develop a positive, productive learning atmosphere for all students.

There's much to be gained by extending what happens in schools to the greater teaching/learning community including colleges, universities, and other education-related community organizations. For example, Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm has invited us into an environmental education grant this year focused on standards-based education about watersheds, climate change, and community action. Our initial meeting was terrific as Drumlin Farm educators and naturalists shared the research and background information related to the grant's focus with us. We learned a lot. Now, we're working with a naturalist coach throughout the year to deepen our efforts in this regard. This too is very positive.

When schools can connect and work with outside agencies, there is great potential for growth in meaningful ways. I look forward to continuing the efforts we're involved in now and other similar efforts in the future.

Teaching Well: Student Coaching

I scoured those MCAS scores again last night. I did an early year analysis of the scores this summer to determine my yearly goals and evaluate the teaching program. What did I notice?

I noticed that the following criteria matter:
  • Teaching each standard with depth
  • Student practice
  • Targeted individual support and help
  • Positivity
  • Optimal class size
  • Apt materials and resources
  • Qualified support
  • Good attendance
As I thought about these criteria, I thought about how I'll use this knowledge to impact this year's teaching/learning program.

First, I'll make sure that every child gets the practice they need--when students don't practice, they don't master the standards. This means I'll provide lots of in school and home study practice options and coach each student when it comes to supporting that practice with in-school help during the school day plus a couple of extra help support sessions each week. I'll also work with families, teaching assistants, and the team to support children's needed practice in multiple ways.

I'll also keep track of who is completing the assignments and how they are doing. I'll institute the use of learning menus and self-assessments to support student growth as well as multiple classroom lessons, projects, and problems to support their learning. 

I'll specifically teach the curriculum standard by standard weaving in MCAS problems when appropriate as well as other learning options including vocabulary and problem solving. Further I'll use tools and resources that I know have been successful in the past and try out new tools that colleagues point to as successful.

And, I'll advocate for systemwide supports that make a difference. For example a friend of mine in a school system other than mine had thirty students in her class last year. Many were disadvantages in a number of ways. She had little to no support. I looked at the MCAS scores from her school and they were dismal. My friend worked around the clock, but no matter how gifted, talented, or dedicated she is, no one can service thirty students with care--class size matters, and we're fooling ourselves if we don't pay attention to this. There is an equity quotient too when it comes to class size, and that equity quotient depends on the complexity and needs of a class. If a class, no matter what size it is, has great complexity that will affect the learning and needs to be considered with regard to supports.

Further, staffing and scheduling matters with regard to achievement--it's imperative that staff is qualified for the teaching expected and that scheduling creates a positive pattern of learning. 

While I work in a school system that has substantial support and very good achievement, I believe there's always more we can do to build greater success and worthy learning for each and every student. With that in mind, I'll work with the team to support that learning. Onward. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Haste Makes Waste: Teaching Lessons

We all know the adage, "Haste makes waste," is a truth, but we don't always abide by that lesson. That describes my day today. I rushed in at 7a.m. to make a 180 copies of study packets and information. Then I managed an early morning help session, taught two classes, observed the student teacher teaching a lesson, had lunch, met with the student teacher, copied the field trip permission slip, ran a student meeting, supervised student play, attended a student-service meeting, and ran home to cook dinner. . . .it was a busy day, but not as busy as the days when I was also caring for my young children.

Of course there were a few errors on the field trip permission form, thus "haste makes waste," and thanks to a kind parent, the mistakes were quickly corrected via email.

I say it again and again, teaching is a limitless job--there's always more we can do, and to reach is to sometimes make mistakes, do too much, and miss a detail or two.

What remains most important is doing all you can for the students you care for, minding those errors, making better, and moving forward. Onward.

Clarity Supports Trust

Clarity supports trust.

When colleagues, friends, and family members know what you are doing and why you are doing it, trust generally grows, however when what you are doing, why you do it, and how it goes is a mystery, trust typically wanes.

I thought about this recently as one program area I work with is mysterious. There's rarely any communication. The goals of the work are unclear and efforts questionable. There seems to be no structure, big think, or honest action with regard to the effort. I've inquired, made suggestions, and tried to understand this program, however, I rarely witness anything that makes me trusting or desiring to get involved. Yet the mission of the program is critical so I will continue to think about how I might embrace and engage with this valuable mission and program in honest, trusting, vauable ways.

On the other hand, there is another program that I work with that is almost entirely transparent. The roles, routines, and efforts are clear. The objective is transparent. The goal is worthy. There is good trust with regard to this program, and with greater openness and more modern process, this program will continue to grow with trust and good result.

As I think of the connection between clarity and trust, I am thinking about the programs that I am mostly devoted to--how do I make the efforts trustworthy and understandable. Presently I share the learning/teaching menu with all involved so they know what's coming up. The challenge is that the plan is constantly changing to meet students needs. I am trying to focus more transparently on patterns of service so that everyone knows what's going on and adding their expertise to the mix of student teaching, service, and support. Further I am working to see snags and problems in the teaching arena as opportunities for individual and shared growth as I seek the promise in problems while navigating the teaching/learning road towards betterment.

There's always more we can do to teach and learn well--to be clear is to invite trust. I will work towards that, and in the meantime, for those who don't value or subscribe to clarity, I'll tread gently routing my teaching/learning path in the direction of trust versus those confusing, mysterious, and questionable paths of practice and share.

Choose a Challenging Goal: Improving Craft and Practice

It is goal setting time in schools throughout Massachusetts. Teachers meet with evaluators to set and review goals, rationale, action plans, and success criteria.

I believe it's valuable to set challenging goals. Some shy away from setting challenging goals for a number of reasons. One of the greatest reasons, I believe, that people don't set challenging goals is that they work in environments that don't welcome risk, mistakes, and the needed efforts and teamwork that go hand-in-hand with challenging goals.

Fortunately I work in an environment that can support a challenging goal, and I enjoy a challenging goal because that kind of goal is intellectually stimulating and helps me to become a much better teacher.

So this year I've chosen two challenging goals. One is to improve feedback to students in ways that encourage and motivate greater academic success in math, and the other goal is to embed Social Emotional Learning into science and STEAM lessons. Both goals are born from worthy rationale. The better feedback goal originated with a deep analysis of MCAS scores and other measures of students' performance from last year, and the SEL goal came from a number of research/learning endeavors I've been involved in including writing the book, Integrating SEL into the Academic Program and Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's recent reports, Encouraging Social Emotional Learning in the Context of New Accountability and Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success.

I have already noticed that improving feedback has resulted in better performance and better relationships with children. Good feedback loops help educators to know the learners they are working with well. The challenge with good feedback lies in time and numbers--there are many children in a class and little time to provide quality feedback.  With this in mind, I am trying to create feedback loops that work. So far, I am using the following feedback loops:
  • Weekly homework packet: the packet includes a small amount of needed review and additional enrichment/bonus options. I pass out the packet on Wednesdays and collect and review the following Tuesday. The challenge is that the feedback takes about 6 hours after school, however the good understanding I receive from this feedback is invaluable. We know that many countries provide needed feedback time for educators, however that's typically not true in the United States. 
  • Online Learning Menu: I provide feedback by reviewing students' overall learning and creating a responsive learning menu that students can complete on their own or with peers in school or after school (if desired). Students' efforts are reported to my computer, and I can quickly assess who is learning the material and who needs more or different supports.
  • Math Workshop: During math workshop, I am able to readily respond to students as they engage in a large variety of learning experiences.
  • Tests, Quizzes, Exercises, and Assessments: These learning mechanisms help me to see who has mastered what skills, and I can use that information to better plan future learning experiences, small group support, and individual coaching. 
  • Parent/Teacher Conference Prep and Presentation: This process creates a back-and-forth effort to review learning to date, compose goals, rationale, and action plans, and work as a learning team to encourage and support student learning.
I am enthusiastic about the goal of strengthening student feedback loops as I know it will support greater, deeper, and better student learning. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this goal too as their efforts and feedback will inform my goal efforts too.

The second goal which is to embed SEL into STEAM and science lessons is a goal I'll complete learning experience by learning experience. The first challenge I've met with this goal is making the time to include this teaching as well as science and STEAM lessons--we often run out of time to meet the demands of a curriculum program that outweighs students' time/energy capacity as well as hours in the year. With that in mind, however, I will set aside time for this valuable teaching and learning. I'll chart my efforts beginning with next Monday's math/science lesson about carbon and its relationship to who we are, our environment, and what's important. 

Choosing a challenging goal keeps learners and teachers in the game of school. Goals with a just-right challenge rightly direct our energy, time, and effort leading us forward to improve and develop our craft while teaching all students well. What is your challenging goal this year? Why is this goal important to you and your students? How will you reach that goal and what kinds of supports are available to you in this regard. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dot your i's and cross your t's. . .

It's important to keep a log of efforts, events, and ideas.

Your log does not have to be elaborate, but it's best if it is time stamped, organized, and easy to refer to.

Logs like this can help you to look back to understand issues--to know what happened, and if mistakes happen, to understand where the mistake came from and how it might be remedied in the future.

Without a log, the past has a way of recreating itself--with a log, facts hold a higher place.

Coordinating Service Delivery

Schools fortunately are filled with multiple service providers including classroom teachers, special educators, occupational therapists, physical therapists, counselors, specialist teachers, teaching assistants, nurses, and more. This terrific array of service providers can be complicated by the need to coordinate those services both in time, intent, and delivery--how do we find time and work with each other in ways that best meet the needs of each and every student.

As I think about this issue, I believe the following points are integral:
  • prioritizing what's most important for each service delivery person
  • efficiency with time since there is little time for share 
  • effective scheduling
  • time-on-task with students
  • patterns of response
This week as I meet with a number of service delivery providers in a number of meetings to look deeply at service delivery priorities, intent, actions, and results, I'll be thinking of the best possible patterns of service delivery--patterns that ensure we are doing what we need to do to appropriate meet each child's needs and potential. 

Some years present little need for coordination since there are not as many services needed, and other years present a more complex situation. That's why it's important to look deeply at this situation early in the year to create best possible patterns of service delivery, effort, and effect. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Recalibrating Routines

Every new school year prompts the need to recalibrate routines. Once you begin to know the students and your own family's needs and schedules, it's time to create a routine you may follow each week to accomplish all that's integral to teaching and living well.

As I continue to think about optimal routines, I'm thinking about the need to do the following:
  • create optimal service delivery 
  • establish good feedback loops
  • spend time on healthful living
  • meet curriculum expectations
  • respond to student/family needs and interests
  • develop and grow my practice and the teaching/learning program
  • contribute to the greater good at school, at home, with the extended family, and in the the community 
None of us can do it all, but we all can contribute in ways that matter--matter to ourselves and matter to others. What's important here is a positive routine--what will our routine look like?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Learning: Forging Paths in the Forest

Images taken at Pennsylvania's beautiful Chanticleer Gardens

As children struggled to learn exponents, I explained that new learning is like forging a new path in the forest. I relayed a story about a recent time when I lost my way on a mountain hike. I started out on a weak trail and then found myself on a well-worn path. The well-worn path, however, was the wrong path, and then I had to find my way back to the less well-marked trail.

Similarly as students worked to evaluate exponents, they continued to move into the well-worn path of known math facts rather than the newly taught exponents. 4 to the power of 2 was often evaluated as 8 since 4 X 2 = 8 was ingrained in students' minds, while 4 to the power of 2 = 4 X 4 = 16 was still a weak path in their brains.

We discussed ways to make a weak path a strong path--students easily understood that a weak path becomes a strong path when we practice, make connections, and teach the information to others. Then they noted a large number of ways to practice, make connections, and teach information--ways that move knowledge from the confinements of short term memory to the depth and strength of long term memory.

As I teach this year, I am realizing that many students don't understand how learning works and what their brains do. They don't understand the reasons for learning or learning paths. They are more concerned with right and wrong rather than deep, meaningful, and transformative learning.

I will embed lessons about learning and how the brain works throughout the year. Lessons in the near future will include these questions:
  • What is mastery?
  • What is the difference between long term and short term memory?
  • How can we connect new learning to what we know already?
  • How do we make meaningful and productive learning paths?
  • What is energy management? How can they use this knowledge to strengthen their own learning? 
  • What is the difference between an exercise and assessment?
  • How can we use the multiple "intelligent assistants" around us to empower our learning and living?
I'm sure this list of questions will grow, and the challenge will be to relay this information in child-centered, meaningful, and developmentally appropriate ways. 

I welcome your feedback and thoughts on this post as I develop this endeavor. 

Embedding SEL into STEAM/Science Study

I am proposing that my professional learning goal this year will be to study and embed SEL into science and STEAM study in explicit and meaningful ways. I have chosen this goal for a number of reasons:
  • SEL is essential to teaching the whole child, and teaching the whole child spells successful learning as evidenced in Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's latest report, Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success
  • SEL is critical to successful science/STEAM study, learning, and meaningful application--to solve today's problems, we need to work together as people, communities, nation, and world with apt social/emotional skills and actions.
  • There is not a lot of time in school to teach SEL as a discrete subject so to embed that teaching/learning into all disciplines in meaningful ways is to teach SEL in a real-world, integrated, and meaningful way.
Now, it's easy to state a goal, but it's more difficult to achieve that goal. Achievement demands success criteria and a learning plan as John Hattie clearly demonstrates in his terrific book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning.

The success criteria for my goal will be that students learn about the essential points of SEL in developmental ways during science/STEAM lessons in 2018-2019. I will more clearly define those essential points as I move through the year, but essentially the points will include all areas of CASEL's SEL model

For specific lessons, I'll begin with a book I wrote with colleagues, Integrating SEL into the Academic Program. I will personalize and modify the lessons in the book to match the science/STEAM lessons I teach.

The learning path for this goal will include the following:
  • Learning experience-by-learning experience, reorganize to include the following:
    • A specific SEL goal
    • Visual image and explicit language that expresses the specific SEL goal on the learning experience lab sheet.
    • Short, engaging introduction via video, questioning, images, and experience
    • Short discussion about how we can make that goal explicit in the specific science/STEAM learning.
    • Science learning--typically including an introduction, active learning progression, and reflection/assessment.
    • SEL learning goal will be evaluated via observation, conversation, and an assessment and/or reflection question during each learning experience. 
  • Analyzing and reflecting on student responses, and using that information to better the SEL efforts in the next learning experience.
  • Inviting colleagues to share this goal with me.
  • Reviewing the goal and progress with my evaluator, administrators, team, and perhaps colleagues outside of the school.
  • Continued professional learning related to the goal including Pam Moran, Ira Socol, and Chad Ratliff's  new book, Timeless Learning.
I am very excited about this goal and where it will take the students and me with regard to meaningful learning and good living. 

Friday Musings: A Short, but Meaningful Week

Rainy days gave students a chance to make indoor recess choices.

It was a short, but meaningful week for TeamFive.

The main focus of the week included the following:

  • Practice using the online learning menu and homework routine
  • Study of numerical expressions and algebraic thinking
  • Practice using math tools 
  • An inspirational talk by Sam Drazin
  • Our first school assembly and related meetings about upcoming assemblies 
  • Continued reading about King Phillip's War and the colonial period in the United States
  • Picture Day
  • Reading, Writing, and more.
Next week is our first five-day week at school which will include four in-school teaching days and a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science. The big focus next week we'll be coordination of student services and response to individual and collective student needs and interests. As we get to know the students, we can better respond to the way they learn best and what they need with good learning design and coordination of service delivery. 

The year's off to a great start--may it continue. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Student Feedback: What Matters?

My student teaching goal for 2018-2019 has been morphing since last spring as I considered a number of topics. What finally rose to the top was student feedback with respect to math teaching/learning. Why did this rise to the top?

First of all, this goal responds to Jo Boaler's advice about homework which leads us to include less repetition of skill and more reflection and deeper thinking. I hope to embed this into students' expectations and then provide meaningful feedback to this kind of homework.

Next, when I assessed the students' MCAS scores last year, I felt that better feedback for some students would have translated into greater success. These were students that easily fell through the cracks because they were quiet, able to stay under the radar, and not always completing the learning expectations for many reasons. Already my new feedback loop has demonstrated to me a few students who could easily be missed this year without a good feedback loop.

Also, this goal meets the systemwide goal which is to notice all children and not to leave any children out of the teaching/learning activity.

Finally, I know that feedback matters. Our new superintendent has made it a practice to write a simple and positive note to teachers after he visits their classrooms. This feedback has created positivity at school and encouraged teachers to work well. Feedback matters to all of us and is a terrific way to inspire good work. When you receive feedback, you are noticed and you know that someone cares about your individual work and learning.

This goal begs the question, What is good feedback?

As I think of this, I am thinking of multiple types of feedback including the following:
  • Whole class comments about the learning team's efforts and needs.
  • Individual written and verbal comments that acknowledge specific accomplishment, need, ideas for growth and betterment, and clarifying questions.
  • Asking children to share their knowledge, teach others, clarify, and enrich.
  • Using student work as exemplars, and having students share their work with the class, school, or community.
  • Emails to students, family members, and school staff.
  • Badges that demonstrate the attributes of learning well done.
  • Video comments.
  • High fives, smiles, stickers, smiley faces, other emojis, teacher-student back-and-forth journals, conversations, grades, assessment scores, rubrics. . . 
I am going to think deeply about feedback this year and study it more. If you have stories about successful feedback, please share to help me broaden and deepen this learning. Thank you!