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Monday, January 22, 2018

Focus: The Week Ahead, January 2018

The theme this week is to be more intentional with words, action, and attitude.

What does that mean this week?

First, it means that I'll have a lot of one-to-one conversations with students who need to catch  up on homework, assessments, and more. It's progress report time, and I want to take a look at students' results as I input the progress reports checks.

This also means that I'll be intentional with the way I introduce the weekly science lab. I want to be clear and I want to prepare all the needed materials.

And, I'll be intentional as I introduce the new math unit. Students and I will discuss what we can do to make this a successful unit of teaching and learning, then we'll begin working on the study together.

Further during team meetings I'll focus on listening to the perspectives of the many colleagues I work with--colleagues who contribute significant time, expertise, and care into the work they do each day.

At the MTA TPL meeting, I'll also do a lot of listening since the MTA team that leads this work has been very, very busy with countless quality professional learning events. I am interested in what they have to say, and how I can help out in the months ahead.

There's a special family event too where the focus will be to celebrate accomplishment and teamwork.

If challenges occur, I want to listen and respond after good thought as I don't want challenges to get in the way of the good work and events planned. Onward.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Life's Quest: Be More Intentional

I like to approach the day's chores with a deep thought, something I'll think about as I prepare the Sunday dinner and ready the home for guests, and today I want to think about being more intentional about time, place, and effort.

Schedules are changing in my life and there's suddenly time to be more intentional about the way I spend time, use words, and interact with others. For the past fifty plus years I've had a very busy, busy life. As a mother of three, the oldest of six children, and one of 56 first cousins, there was always lots to do and lots of people to care for and be with. From my earliest years I was caring for babies and little children which I loved. Later I started working at 15 and have had a busy schedule since that time. I was fortunate to have a reprieve from work during college semesters when I mostly didn't work, and now I do enjoy several work-free weeks during the summer. I typically spending this time reading, writing, and enjoying beautiful places with family members and friends.

In a sense, even though I was happy with my busy, busy people/event filled life, I always hungered for the time I have now--time to dream, write, read, create, wonder, converse, and explore. Even as a young child, I would push bedtime forward so I could draw my dreams on a pad of paper I kept under my bed. Those nighttime creativity sessions were only interrupted by my little energetic sister's cries for me to turn off the lights to let her get some sleep. Always in life I found places to escape to dream, places like the backyard swings, my bedroom, the den downstairs, the music room in college, a library nook, or a coffee shop. Today my own home has evolved to include a number of cozy nooks for reading, writing, thinking, learning, and dreaming.

Yesterday was the first official day that I recognized that I have to make my dream time official--now that I can, I have to build in at least one day a week to dream, write, create, and imagine as that's what I yearn for and now that's what I can do.

What will I do with that time? Where will it take place? How will I sanctify these periods of exploration? What people before me have done this and what was it like for them? I imagine that many who grew up in quiet homes with fewer people are used to this kind of time, and have devoted spaces and activity towards the life of the mind. I want to know more about this.

I will start by reworking our family schedule to acknowledge my need for this time and to carve out places and spaces for this practice. I know that some of my own children also crave this kind of time in their lives, and by acknowledging my need, I will affirm and give power to their need for this too.

During this time, I will allow myself to be pulled in the direction of heart and vision--I can feel the pull, and I want to understand this more. It may sound silly, but when I watched the movie, August Rush, the other night, I saw the kinds of pulls I feel made visible. There's hints that exist about where the energy will take me, hints such as my longing to understand midwest culture and place more, my interest in Thomas Jefferson and the Appalachian landscape, my quest to visit Washington, DC often, my love of fine point sharpie pens, the lure of local museums, and the desire to write near a window that looks out into nature.

Further I am ever so curious about the human story. I marvel at the differences we all bring to life and how our early lives, the people in our lives, geography, and history affect who we are today. There's almost nothing more that I like better than to sit and watch people, and then to hear their stories about what they love to do and why they love to do it. Typically when I meet people for the first time and they talk about their children, I ask, "What do your children love to do?" This gives me a wonderful inroad to who people are and what they desire.

I know that each of us is so small in the sea of humanity, and that each of our paths will be both different and the same in comparison to one another. I also know that each of us has significant impact over our lives and the lives of others. We make choices every minute that impact our life's path as well as the experiences of others, and for me I want to be more intentional with those small decisions, the use of language, and way I treat the people I meet.

In a busy life like the one I've had, you sometimes barrel ahead just to make space for yourself. There isn't always the time for quiet, gracious movement, but instead a sense of this is where life is pulling me and I'm heading in that direction one way or another. It's our impulse for survival that sometimes can make us impetuous, headstrong, loud, rough, and impatient particularly when our drive may be different than the landscape and drama of the places we live.

So to be more intentional is my aim, and the first step is to intentionally carve out time equal to a day each week to read, write, create, imagine, and dream--a gift to myself and hopefully to others too.


Sometimes we all feel pulled in multiple directions. The angst of being in the center of multiple needs, dreams, hopes, and directions can create angst. I am thinking about this today as I think of the many people in my life, people that range in age and vary with regard to need and interest. How do we reckon with this pull that sometimes can feel too tight in too many directions?

As much as possible I try to stay centered amongst the many pulls of life. I try to stick to a usual routine that makes time for the most important needs and desires of all of us. Sometimes though those pulls result in a snag where everyone is challenged, and then it's time to rework the routine and schedule, the connections and interactions.

I'd rather have that periodic confusion and still have the great people I have in my life, and it's good to make the time to iron out the snags and figure out the next steps and a better routine.

The Lifestyle Buffet

Years ago I began to think of life as a buffet, an opportunity with many choices to choose from. Last night as I conversed with friends, I thought more about this--what do you choose for your life as part of this "lifestyle buffet"?

Where you live is an important consideration. My husband and I chose to live in close proximity to my job to save time and to be close to our children when needed. This has been a good choice for me as the short distance has saved money and time in the car. We also, at our realtor's urging, chose a home that sits away from a busy road. This too was a good choice since the children could run around a lot without fear of busy streets. The house is easy to move around in, and has some cozy spaces and this is good too. Truly the only aspects about my home that don't fit me or my lifestyle choices include the home's inside-outside connection. Our house sits somewhat awkwardly on the land, and I would prefer a home where the inside-outside movement provides a much greater flow. Also the shape of our house is not interesting to me--it's, in my opinion, an awkward design, one that does not appeal to my sense of balance or art. Further our home is in the suburbs and I prefer a small town where your home is located close to a library, coffee shop, and a park--a place that's closer to a community center.

I am thinking about this lifestyle buffet this morning as I watch my young adult sons begin to make choices about jobs, homes, partners, and lifestyle. I see them navigating the choices ahead of them, and want to encourage them to reach for their dreams of finding a good place to live, job, friends, and interests. Also as my husband and I begin to have greater freedom now that our children are almost all grown, we too are thinking about the lifestyle buffet in terms of where we live, what we do, and the how we spend our money. We all have limitations with regard to these choices so to find a good balance that fits your spirit and needs does take time.

I try to think of my longing, what calls me. I do like to be surrounded by nature as that feeds my spirit and brings me peace. I like space too so a sparse home with some land appeals to me. Further I also like a community so I doubt I'll ever live far out in the country away from others. I like variety too so I wonder if I'll end up living in a very small and simple place so I can get up and leave often to explore other parts of the country and world for weeks at a time. I'm not quite sure how I'll choose in the years ahead, but I'm thinking about it.

How do you approach the lifestyle buffet? What are your priorities with regard to where you live and whom you live with? What material things do you have to have, and what can you live without? What time of structure, land, community, and natural lands are a must have for you to live well? Sometimes we don't think we have choices, but if you lay out a plan and work towards it, it's likely that you'll achieve at least some of what you aspire to gain in time.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

There's Always More That You Can Do

There's always more that you can do in any area of life, and deciding how you're going to move forward is an important consideration in light of this, a consideration I perseverate about daily in my blog.

So as I think of it today, I am pushing myself forward to focus in on the following efforts:

Analysis and Completion of Recent Math Assessments
I have found that a deep understanding of my learners leads to better teaching, hence this weekend I'll do a deep dive into student assessment data to note where children are at now and who and where I can lead forward in the days ahead. A few children did not have a chance to complete these assessments, and they'll do that on Monday.

Mixtures and Solutions Lab
Students will engage in a wonderful mixtures and solutions lab on Wednesday, and I have a lot to do to prep the materials and ready the classroom for this inviting task.

Progress Report Completion
There's a bit of work to do to complete the Progress Reports that will go home on Thursday.

Professional Learning
I hit a few snags with the online learning related to special ed again, so once again I decided to not get the PDPs in that way. I hope to take an upcoming MTA professional learning class or a summer math study in this area to complete this needed task. I will also present at the 3/22 ATMIM conference so I have so prep to do in that regard. I've got some grants to write and research with colleagues too.

Back on the teaching/learning track after a great big idea share with my Professional Learning Community (PLN) on #satchat this morning.

Social Emotional Learning #SATCHAT

As I reviewed the questions, links, images, and other materials for this morning's social emotional learning (SEL) #satchat, I found myself reviewing the efforts I'm engaged in on my own and with colleagues to boost SEL in ways that matter.

We know that SEL improves lives and success. It's a critical component of teaching/learning programs. And, it's also a limitless arena for development and growth. As we teach programs related to SEL, we develop our own social/emotional intelligence as well.

Question two today will focus in on the elements that make-up social emotional learning, and this is the first area I want to think about--where do we embed these elements into our curriculum program, and where might we boost this learning more.

Self Awareness
I know myself well, and I understand what I need to be happy, comfortable, and successful.

Students' showcase portfolios help students to think about who they are and what they are doing. These showcase portfolios include many reflective pieces. It takes students time to reflect, and I think we can continue to think about where we embed time for good reflection and share to build greater self awareness.

Social Awareness
I know how to read the people and places around me, and then act in ways that allow me to be successful in social situations. 

I believe our efforts to build good conflict resolution helps here. We use a "first step, second step" process where we encourage students to solve problems first on their own with words, and then if that doesn't work, seek the help of a teacher. Further, regular class meetings focused on the classroom community and social competency help to build this awareness. To continually focus in on the classroom community in meaningful ways builds this awareness.

Relationship Skills
I am aware of what it takes to be a good friend, classmate, sibling, neighbor, and utilize those skills in my relationships.

At the elementary level this is mainly focused on friendship. In our Open Circle meetings, the guidance counselor focuses in on specific skills that help in this regard. Project/Problem Based Learning (PBL) also opens the door for lots of collaborative work which often results in discussions about positive working relationships too. Our end-year biography project allows students to get inside the life of a global changemaker from today or the past, and in this study students focus on the individuals' relationships and other aspects of social emotional learning.

Responsible Decision Making
I understand what it means to make a responsible decision. I focus on personal/collective goals and what it takes to meet those goals and make good decisions.

We are always moving students towards greater independence by providing opportunities to practice and develop responsible decision making. Online learning menus, workshop lists, class protocols, and meetings provide students with the parameters within which they have considerable decision making skill. We talk about those decisions often, and help to coach students more specifically who meet challenges in this area.

Self Management
I take care of myself in ways that keep me happy, healthy, and successful with respect to my relationships, goals, and interests.

We continually coach students forward in this area with suggestions, modeling, and encouragement to manage their time, materials, emotions, relationships, and more. As I think about this, I think I can add more specific conversation about this at the start of the school year.

To make the case for each of these social emotional learning categories with specific language that brings the categories to life is a positive way to start the school year. I would also like to add mini posters to my classroom to help all of us use this language regularly to help students build these skills.

The mini poster from CASEL below also lends a positive rationale for SEL education in schools.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Workers' Rights and Democratic Process

Most workers are very busy doing their jobs, caring for their family and friends, and taking care of themselves. There's little time left after work to take part in the research and advocacy to protect their rights. That is why good democratic process and workers' unions are positive--the democratic process includes the voices of all and the union gives voice to workers who are often too busy to have voice on their own.

Many decry unions and at times unions get a bad rap, but as I think about our society, I believe we need unions now more than ever before. Workers in almost every industry need to get together and seek the support and voice they need to get the pay, respect, and benefits they deserve. The more pay is diminished and jobs disrespected, the greater the need for unionization and collective benefits.

Today as the Massachusetts Teachers Union alerted members about an upcoming potential change in their health care, I was reminded of our need for a union. Without that note most of us would be unaware of the change. Many educators return home day after day with little energy to do more than care for their families--they're exhausted after a full day of work. Many would have missed this news without the union.

Further, last year, without the union support, the cap on charters would have been lifted which would have resulted in greater inequity in the state with regard to financial support and equitable education opportunities for the states' children. While the press for charters is often complimentary, the realities don't live up to that press. Mostly I'm not a fan of charter schools because they are not products of public process and don't serve all children. I'd rather see the money go towards uplifting public schools for all students in ways that matter. Public schools can be innovative too. We don't need to support for-profit or private charter schools with public money.

Our country will be stronger if unions gain strength across all areas of work--unions bring people together and lobby for fair rights and benefits. Like a good democracy, however, unions don't survive on their own. Instead they require the efforts of all members to stay strong and dynamic. Everyone has to do their part to maintain strong worker's rights and benefits, and when workers get what they need, they are able to do the good work that supports a community, state, and nation. Onward.

Why Does Health Care Have To Be So Complicated?

This message relayed by the teachers' union is worrisome. I want to learn more, yet many of the meetings planned are planned with short notice, at a far distance from my home , and/or at a time when I am working. This makes it difficult to get involved. 

Today I received notice that many educators in Massachusetts may be facing changes in their health care. I know that many educators recently faced changes in health care and this means one more change. I also know that many of us are completely confused about health care.

I receive countless notices about my health care, most that I don't even understand. I know that many don't take advantage of health care benefits because those benefits are so confusing. I'm noticing greater reluctance amongst people with regard to going to a doctor due to the cost and confusion. This is all problematic.

We hear the government discussing health care all the time. We notice politicians like our president supporting increased wealth for the rich rather than good health care for all. I believe he believes in the survival of the fittest, and to him "fittest" is measured by wealth.

Life is challenging enough without having to worry all the time about health care confusion and change. It seemed so much simpler just a few years ago when you paid your monthly fee and got most of the health care you needed. Now it's all kinds of complex plans that only those with advisors can understand well similar to the need for advisors for investment funds.

Confusing, complicated, and reduced health care plans put most people at a disadvantage, and set people up for less health benefits and less overall personal health. This is a big problem that needs to be solved, and should be solved with fair process and the inclusion of the voices of those involved.

I'm disheartened by the news I heard today, and will listen to the voices of many as I decide the next course of action related to this.

The Weight of an Idea or Initiative

Ideas generally sit in my brain for some time before I work on them. There's been one big idea in my brain for some time now, and it just hasn't taken enough shape for clear direction yet. The idea now is somewhat like a brain cloud, and at sometime it will turn to rain and nurture the birth of a good idea. I love the brain action that happens with idea development. I find it very interesting and want to learn more about it.

Latest Reactions to the President

The president continues to worry me. He is bringing about so much worry and angst in the American people. His disparaging remarks and seemingly little concern about people in general as well as his impetuous spirit that seemingly puts us in danger again and again is horrible. Further those that idly stand by supporting his speak, greed, and what appears to be unethical behavior are just as bad.

How will I react?

First I am no longer going to use his name.

Next I've blocked him on Twitter--I don't need his rants in my daily Twitter feed, a feed I've come to regard as a terrific idea exchange.

Third, I will look to see what I can do at a local level to promote positive ideas and efforts, and then learn and listen to national leaders that I regard well as to what to do about that level.

Fourth, I will try to right my ways and use the president as the overcorrection that he is--one who represents how not to be in the public eye, what not to do.

Even if the president has an idea or two that are not so bad, it's difficult to hear or see those ideas amidst the greed, possible lawlessness, and unethical behavior. For those who support him simply because their investments are on the rise, they need to realize that is shortsighted. No matter how much money you have, it won't matter if our water and air are polluted, and the world is filled with uneducated, impoverished people who don't get the basic needs they deserve. It's about more than dollars when it comes to building a strong nation and world, one that cares well for the people in it.

The president's daily tantrums, outbursts, disrespect, and lack of honest, good work is bringing the whole country down--it's time for a change.

Teaching Challenges

There are always challenges when you teach. Some of the greatest challenges I'm thinking about right now include the following:

Students Who Need More
When we look out at our students, we always notice more needs than we are able to fill. This, I believe, is a natural feeling for teachers and one that tears at us. There is not one child in my charge that cannot learn, but there are some who would profit from greater one-to-one help, afters school programs, more consistency in routines, and less students in the classroom.

As I listen to the school committee meetings and budget reports, I also think about these needs. I wonder if it's better to have smaller class sizes than new programs that only support a few students. Yet innovation is important. I wonder if we are stretching our special education staff too think by giving them caseloads that are too great--is this the best solution long term. And as I say again and again, I worry that we're supporting too many positions that don't have direct time-on-task with students. Also, do we have a long range plan for our agin buildings and furniture--is it time to begin imagining and then working towards more modern learning environments for elementary students--environments that match the research for a modern-day education.

I am fortunate to work in a system that has many resources so our needs in comparison to other schools are far less. In talking to a group of teachers who serve on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently, it was so clear to me that citizens have to stand up and speak up for the children of the state. Too many children are facing dire consequences at home and at school due to grave social and economic issues as well as not enough good support to deal with those issues. These children will be future adults, and what we do now for them will translate into a stronger and better state late on. We have to help systems who face great poverty and tremendous social issues to get what they need to serve their students well.

We do have to build greater respect for educators, students, and families at school. We can't continue to treat teachers in ways that belittle and demean them, but instead educators should be treated with respect as well as high expectations. Good communication, inclusive decision making, respect for educators' professional experience and expertise, and supports that are meaningful and beneficial are ways to make that respect visible. Of course, greater distributive leadership which results in teacher voice, choice, and leadership is the way to build that respect. As I've noted before models of distributive leadership seem to occur in high schools and middle schools much more often than elementary schools. It seems to me that many elementary schools still have structures that don't promote respect and teacher leadership as much. This is a challenge ready for change.

Doing My Part
You can't speak up if you are not willing to work at your own development and improvement too. There's so much that I can continue to do to improve my practice to serve students well. Right now that translates into meaningful math lessons, positive science lessons, building and supporting a strong classroom and grade-level community, supporting my colleagues in ways that I can, and contributing to new programming.

Earlier this week I questioned whether I wanted to do the work with regard to the program creation and innovation possible as the support seemed lacking, but even without good support, I believe that this is one area I can contribute to and will make the time to do that in the days to come. Our team has many good ideas about how to deepen the learning program for students, and without the extra efforts those ideas won't come to fruition.

As always, too, educators can't spread themselves out too thin either. When we try to do too much, we often end up doing less. I want to be cognizant of this as I complete a number of important tasks in the weeks ahead, tasks including completion of progress reports, student portfolio work, parent-teacher-student conferences, continued efforts related to the classroom science/STEAM lab, and our will to build a more culturally proficient program.


Response to No Response

There are some areas of advocacy where I continue to receive little to no response, and there are other areas where the response is substantial and positive.

As my blog has indicated, as much as possible, I'm righting the teaching ship towards the areas of positive support and response, and away from the areas of silence or little response. Yet I still have to work and learn with those who respond to new ideas, questions, and advocacy with mainly silence and little support.

What's a teacher to do?

For now, I simply plan to listen. I may not agree with the lack of response, little support, or directives given, but at this point I simply have to take a step back in those arenas as it feels as if I am hitting my head against a wall. In time, it's likely that I'll understand these areas of professional life more, and that the areas will change or make more sense.

In the meantime, I'm delighted with the team I work with, students I teach, family support, good environment for learning, and ready support from many within and outside of school. This is very positive, and as stated before, I'll move towards this positive support as much as possible.

Another Turn in the Road: Teaching Well

Yesterday the students cleaned their desks and organized the room. I noticed how much more mature they were than in the fall as they quickly helped one another and me put items where they belong. The clean-up happened with such ease that there was time for some outside play before the end of the day. Everyone was happy!

I also noticed that while some are still working to persevere more, in general, all the students are demonstrating greater ownership of their learning and perseverance. This is good too.

With the second half of the year outlined, and many big projects and initiatives to come, my role at this time in the year turns to making every effort I can to help every child reach the goals and expectations set.

Those goals and expectations include the following:

  • Meeting the math standards in engaging, empowering ways. We've still got a lot to teach, but we have a good routine in place so both the teaching team and students will keep plugging away at this goal.
  • Teaching the new science standards in memorable, engaging ways. This is lots of work, but also lots of fun for the students which makes the work worthwhile. One child gleefully said during the science study, "I'm glad I came to school today, " and another remarked, "This is fun!" That's the best motivation for me.
  • As a community of educators, family members, and students we've pushed a lot this year to include worthy field studies, special events, and coordinated learning efforts. We're in a good routine and from now until the MCAS tests, we'll stick to that routine with a heavy focus on meeting the standards. 
  • After MCAS, there are a large number of special projects and special events including the fifth grade play, the biography project, field day, and the global cardboard challenge. 
With regard to the bigger picture of school life and professional learning, I'll mainly focus on science and math teaching as well as my role as union secretary, focus on obtaining needed PDPs for recertification, and our collegial goal of continued development of a culturally proficient program. 

I'll also continue my advocacy to build greater distributive leadership, better communication, teacher voice, choice, and leadership, and inclusive growth opportunities within the system where I teach. I'll work with others in this regard, learn as much as I can about these efforts, and utilize a lot of listening and observation to deepen my understanding of what educators can continue to do to promote top notch teaching/learning environments. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Celebrate the Talents Around You

I work and live with many whose talents inspire me. These are people who have talents I will never have, and I appreciate the fact that these people share their good talents with others. Rather than begrudge the talents of others or treat those talents with selfishness or disregard, it's best to celebrate and share in their talents. None of us are the same.

I was reminded of this several times today as I watched and listened to people with talents that are extraordinary--talents in leadership, speaking, socializing, attention to detail, and more. Too often people's talents are disregarded because they create fear in others--fear that they may not live up to another's talent. The truth is that we should develop our own strengths and enjoy the strengths of others. That's a path of success for all.

Tomorrow's Agenda: January 18, 2018

Today's exploration of the properties of matter was engaging for all--the morning flew by, and then the afternoon virtual meeting with DESE TAC was similarly engaging and fast. Now it's early evening and time to focus on tomorrow's teaching and learning:

Early Morning Help
Students in our fifth grade are welcome to come to school a half hour early to catch up on homework, get some extra help, or work on projects. There's always a great hum to the room, and I find I get a lot of work done at that time too due to the energy in the room.

Math Test and Tech
Students will work on computation assessments and a math tech menu to help inform upcoming progress report completion. While students work on their tests and tech, I'll answer questions and work on next week's Mixture and Solution Science lab.

Reading and Understanding Informational Text
I'll work with my small reading group to focus in on informational text related to science and social studies.

Play and Snow Science
Students will have the chance to check in on their Ice Orbs and play in the snow.

Special Ed Study
I'll start the required special ed course and apply the learning to math.

Friday finds us on a field trip and next week will be another busy week of science, math study, and reading. Since I work in a collaborative grade-level model of teaching and learning, my colleagues do great work in writing, reading, social studies leadership and teaching. I continually feel grateful for this wonderful model of teaching. Onward.

DESE TAC: Elevating Teacher Voice, Choice, and Leadership

Twitter response to today's great virtual DESE TAC meeting. 
The way the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Teacher Advisory Cabinet is run is an example of how to elevate and respect teacher voice, choice, and leadership. The meetings are thoughtfully prepared, the speakers are well informed, organized, and respectful, the process is modern and effective, and our efforts impact decisions made at the state level, decisions that impact all of us in schools. Further, I learn so much from the other educators on the council--their ideas and efforts are inspiring. I always feel valued at these meetings, and I also value the time, energy, expertise, and intent of these meetings. Thanks goes to Matt Holloway and his #MApactac team.

I'd like to see DESE really tune into the kinds of structures, schedules, roles, and efforts that uplift educator voice, choice, and leadership. I want them to help forward modern ways of teaching and leading, ways that elevate schools and the work we can do for students and their families. Also as I listened to many educators today, it's also important for DESE and our local school districts to partner with communities to help children in every aspect of life. We have to rid our communities of the poverty that truly diminishes what's possible for children and their families. That's a critical need.

There's so much we can do to better schools, and I am so pleased that DESE is enlisting educator voice with regard to the work they do, and enlisting our voices in ways that are respected and embedded in state-wide improvement efforts.

Teaching the New Science Standards Continues

It was great to see students' ability to be
precise as they measured volume.
As I condense multiple learning points and lessons into the time available, I find myself somewhat stressed. Why? The stress results from the following:
  • Lack of needed time for planning and prep
  • Lack of needed space for the activities
  • New information, learning expectations
  • Worry about potential failure with the lessons, efforts
Yet, the students LOVE the learning, and I actually enjoy the learning too. Step-by-step I'm making gains, yet the stress remains. It has been a while since I engaged in so much new curriculum with so little time.

As for time, we're just adding minutes to our days. And for space, I'm finding that using rolling carts for each science team is a good space saver and organizer. The new information is readily available via our new FOSS kits as well as countless Internet videos and resources. And as for failure, that will happen, but with time for planning, research and collaboration with teammates, I can avoid big failures. 

Young chemists demonstrated some terrific teamwork!
What have we done and where are we going?

To date, students have engaged in a few exciting experiments and learning experiences related to the content I'm responsible for. I've also created a go-to website with engaging videos and helpful diagrams and information. And, I've created an assigned an open-ended end-of-unit project that includes the main teaching/learning points. 

Today students had a lot of fun exploring the properties of matter in multiple ways. 

What's Next?

Testing for magnetism was especially fun. 
Students will revisit content related to mixtures and solutions as well conservation of mass. We'll also explore types of energy and engage in a few learning experiences that makes that knowledge come alive. 

Finally we'll share students' projects and students will take a Google form assessment that covers all the physical science they need to know for MCAS. They'll be able to take the quiz as many times as they would like until they get a top score demonstrating they know the essential facts and information. 

Improving Schools: Collaboration and Communication

In the past few days there have been a number of issues at school and at home related to collaboration and communication. Why?

It's probably because we just haven't taken the time to think over changing structures, requests, questions, needs, and other impacts on the home/school schedule. Changes have occurred, but we didn't take the time to thoughtfully think about the changes and what that means. When you don't meet change as an individual or a group with thoughtful discussion and efforts, confusion and conflict can be the result.

So what's a teacher and mom to do?

At home, we'll have a meeting to discuss expectations, schedules, needs, and ways that we can support one another in the face of changing schedules and more. And at school, I'll make some time to listen for a while since there doesn't seem to be time or interest in collaboration and communication in some areas (in other areas there is considerable communication and collaboration so I'll right my ship in that direction).

I think one issue that arises is that I often spend weekend time on big think that involves school--many don't like that because they feel weekends belong to fun, family, and friends. I don't disagree with that, but also for teachers to have voice they have little choice but to think during the weekend as that's when time for big think occurs since during the week their efforts are mainly pointed in the direction of time-on-task with and for students. On the other hand, decision makers use the time they have during the week for big think and decision making.

To create more distributive models of teaching where teachers' voice and choice is a mainstay of teaching/learning programs we have to make time during the week for teachers' to engage in authentic big think, idea share, questioning, and decision making. The way to do this is to include more hybrid models of teaching where teachers teach and lead. This helps to flatten the hierarchy and include greater voice and choice from those at the front line. I've thought about how we might do this and wrote about that in this post. At time schedules may look like educators have this time and voice, but sometimes these meetings do not take teacher voice, choice, and leadership seriously.

Why isn't this happening. It takes time and courage to change existing systems. To flatten the hierarchy with greater hybrid roles and distributive leadership means that administrators have to begin to trust educators more. They have to begin to recognize that professional educators are committed to and well-educated for positive teaching/learning decisions. They have to give up some of the control and work to collaborate and communicate more. This kind of change typically happens from the bottom up in systems since those at the helm are not eager to share the decision making, management, and leadership with those at the bottom layers of tight hierarchies. The challenge to incorporate teacher voice, choice, and leadership more seems to be more of an elementary and pre-school issue than a middle school or high school issue. It seems that elementary school teachers are led more than they are able to lead. I believe this may have its roots in gender bias since most elementary school teachers are and have been women over time.

In a sense, educators are often oppressed in schools, and MLK's quote about the oppressed speaks to this. His quote demonstrates that educators have to work together to gain greater voice, choice, and leadership in schools. Flattened hierarchies, hybrid roles, and greater voice, choice, and leadership will come from us. Yet how will that happen?
  • First we have to get educated and use the evidence that supports greater teacher voice, choice, and leadership in our advocacy. I have to put together the research I have in this regard in easy-to-access mini posters, sound bites, and images so I can easily convey the promise of this movement to those I advocate to and with.
  • Next we have to work together with our unions, collegial groups, state department of education, and other groups to promote better models of leadership and effort in schools. I believe that one reason schools are not meeting the potential possible is that we have to modernize the structures, schedules, and roles in schools. Too many schools still look and act like schools 100 years ago. There is room for change in this regard.
I want to continue to develop and grow ideas in this area as well as advocacy. I believe that schools can be better for all students, and I believe it is in our good communication and collaboration that will bring this about--communication and collaboration that is something that we can all continually improve at. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Truths revealed themselves today which led to a recalibration. Essentially it is integral to steer the teaching ship in the direction of positive support--teachers need that kind of honest inspiration to do their work well. On the other hand, educators have to steer away from areas that are negative and of little support as those drain the energy you need to teach well.

Do You Listen to Educators?

I shared a point of view to learn that my point of view was different than others. I knew it was different from some, but the note inferred that my point of view differed from many. What is true? I'm not sure.

To find the truth of the matter, I'll have to explore the issue with greater depth with these questions: What do you think of that policy? Do you think the policy should be more flexible? Do you believe a different policy will serve us better? I have inquired about this and have heard that some other educators agree with me.

I suspect that the response I got was based on limited research, and as stated, my point of view was my own, not the viewpoint of others. Now I'm wondering what others think, and what is the best way to collect an honest point of view with regard to the matter. I am also wondering if the issue matters when it comes to our priority which is teaching children well. I'm wondering if the policy as it exists now has truly made a significant difference with regard to the ways we teach and the ways student learn. There's a lot to investigate.

In a similar situation recently, I heard and read teachers' points of view and realities misrepresented. Those speaking acknowledged that teachers felt one way and had access to resources that I don't believe is correct. Yet I am only one teacher in one school, and it may be true that those points of view and resources are accurate with regard to other educators that I don't know or have regular contact with.

In the end, I continue to be a fan of inclusive systems of transparency and share. I believe that distributed systems of leadership elevate truth and accuracy as well as the voices of all stakeholders. When educators have little voice and choice, their perspectives and reality are often misrepresented, and misrepresentations are not helpful when it comes to creating helpful policy and protocols for teaching well.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Putting Large Blocks of Time Aside To Deepen Learning/Teaching

It's often not possible to find large blocks of time for learning as an elementary school teacher and a mother--you're usually fitting lots of learning into scattered smaller blocks of time. Though to reach some of the important deeper learning and study, you've got to find large blocks of time to complete the work and give the learning the time it deserves.

I want to schedule some large blocks in the days ahead to complete some significant study including the DESE special ed course, ATMIM presentation prep, writing WPSF grant drafts, and researching, creating, and prepping upcoming new science learning experiences. If time allows I'd like to dig into a bit more too. Now it's time to schedule those blocks. Onward.

Good Advocacy: Patience, Process, and Time

Educators must be models of what education is. We must, as MLK advocated for, think intensively and critically, then advocate with good character for positive development and change in schools--the kind of development and change that brings equity, opportunity, success, and love to all of our students. 
Good advocacy doesn't have the narrow focus of "I want it, and I want it now!" That can be the way you feel inside, but successful advocates know that good advocacy is better than this.

The Idea fro Change Emerges
Good advocacy begins with good analysis. You look around, and you don't like what you see or experience. You notice that there's potential for positive change. The next step is to deeply analyze the situation. Why isn't change happening? What's holding good change back? What data, stats, and stories will promote good advocacy? What is your vision for change and why is that vision better than what's happening now?

Share the idea with facts, data, and stories
Once you fully understand the issue, you begin to tell your story, share the data, and advocate. It's not "my way or the highway" advocacy, but instead advocacy that involves sharing the stories, data, and new ideas. As you share, you listen too. What do others have to add? How are their experiences and thoughts changing your vision and deepening your advocacy?

Work with Others to Effect Change
Advocacy on your own typically goes nowhere. Good advocacy profits from creating and working with teams to form a collective voice and agenda. In schools that might mean working with your grade-level team, school-wide colleagues, faculty senate, parent group, or union to forward new ideas. As with recent successful advocacy, find out the truth of people's ideas and experiences and use that data to forward the advocacy in personal, respectful, and targeted ways.

Strategy and Persistence
Keep the story alive, persist, and refine as you learn and experience more. Don't be afraid of compromise and look for win-win solutions. Always keep the mission and good work of your advocacy up front, and fight any urge to let ego or personal benefit triumph. Good advocacy brings forth good ideas for the community, not good ideas that benefit only one person's ambition or ego. I always like to say, "When ambition feeds mission it's okay, but if ambition trumps mission, then you've got a problem."

As Timothy Snyder suggests in his book, On Tyranny, it's important to support a few good organizations and institutions as you work towards maintaining and developing a strong and positive democracy. For educators, their local, state, and national unions are good institutions to support--institutions committed to a positive education for every child, and institutions which provide educators with a collective path for advocacy and good work.

As I continue to teach, I am advocating for the following positive changes in schools and government:
  • Greater distributive leadership structure, schedules, and efforts in schools to elevate the voice and choice of all stakeholders (often called flattened hierarchy.
  • Greater teacher leadership in schools--more teacher voice and choice.
  • Elevated process and analysis for good decision making, evolution of practice/systems, and prioritization. Too often it's outdated, narrow, and exclusive process that hinders positive development. 
  • Greater transparency, truth, and inclusion in all efforts of government and schools.
  • Fair taxation and adequate funding for all public needs including healthy food, optimal health care, education, clean lands, air, and water, modernization, and the arts.
  • Equity and respect for all people
To advocate well requires a good amount of patience. Change takes time, yet too much patience may lead to passivity so you want to strike the right balance here. Advocacy requires time too. It's important to make time to be active in ways that advocate for better--we can stay satisfied with less when more will elevate our lives and institutions. Good process matters too, and it's best to work with others to uplift the processes we use to advocate for and elevate ideas and practice that lead to betterment.

How can we elevate justice for all stakeholders in schools, particularly equity and justice for all of our students. What can we do better?

The Week Ahead: January 15, 2018

I spent quite a bit of time this weekend looking over the curriculum map, asking questions about curriculum efforts, and advocating for changes in a few areas where I think we can do a better job at school. I know that not everyone appreciates emails on the weekend, but classroom teachers have almost no time during the school week to attend to the bigger and deeper issues since we're on task with students and using our planning time to support our time-on-task efforts with students. That's why we have to use weekend, evening, and early morning time for advocacy and bigger questions that relate to the work we do.

So with the questions and advocacy posed, I'm ready to tackle the week ahead. What will we do?

During math students will take a short computation quiz to demonstrate their skill and knowledge at this time. I'll use the results to complete students' standards-based progress reports that are sent home soon. I'll also work with students who need some support in this learning area, and others compete in the Factor Game tournament which is a engaging way to build fact skill and knowledge. At math tech times, students will work on Symphony Math and TenMark exercises.

In one class, students will review what it means to make chemical change and physical changes with matter with a short reading exercise, a hands-on experiment, and a chance to make colorful ice orbs. In the other class, students will study solutions--solutions in both closed and open systems. They will create a salt water solution to see what happens to that solution over time, and they'll do the same with a sugar and water solution. That class will also revisit a reading selection about energy and matter as well as have some time to work on the end-of-the-unit project.

This involves a lot of specific tasks including organizing the experiment materials: bottles, balloons, baking soda, vinegar, lab sheets, canning jars, string, pencils, paper towels, water buckets (we don't have a sink in my room), plastic bags, kosher salt, and duct tape. It also involves making copies of the reading selections and activities.

My RTI reading group will continue to focus on informational text and the strategies that help one to read that text with fluency and understanding.

This week I have a virtual meeting with the DESE TAC West team. There's a number of wonderful topics that we'll be learning about and discussing. I truly enjoy my time and effort with regard to this team since this work elevates the work I do with my students and colleagues, and it also gives me a chance to use my experience teaching children every day to impact decisions made at the state level.

We are reading the new accommodations guidelines for MCAS to make sure that all of our students with IEPs have the accommodations they need for successful test taking. As I read these accommodations, I want to also think about how I am using those accommodations on a regular basis to support students' daily learning.

Professional Learning
I am starting DESE's online special education course this week--a course that will give me the 15 pdp's I need for recertification. As I take the course, I plan to use a math focus and think about the many strategies and knowledge points shared with the lens of how I can teach math to my students with special needs better. I will also continue to read about the science I am teaching and update the student website and lessons accordingly.

Our team will miss our weekly PLC this week since we'll be on a science/social studies field study with the students, however we'll still have our grade-level meeting and one student-service meeting where we'll discuss the upcoming field study, curriculum map, special friendship week efforts, MCAS accommodations, and other matters.

The Week After That
If time permits, I'll also prep materials for the week after that. The math is ready, however, I have science to prep which includes experiments related to conservation of matter, the use of scales, and a discussion about the results of our salt and sugar solutions. Progress reports need to be completed that week too. On a personal note, it's the week where I need to get all those college financial aid forms completed too.

Creating a weekly focus list like this helps me to navigate the teaching/learning road and to keep my attention on the efforts that matter. Onward.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Critical Thinking and Program Development

As a critical thinker who often questions the ways things are in schools and classrooms today, I have to be similarly critical of the work I do. Where can I improve? What can I do better? How can I help students more? I've thought a lot about those questions this weekend, and will continue to think about that in the days to come. It's important to strike a good balance of critical analysis in schools, analysis that is self directed and directed at the systems, roles, schedules, and structures that we work with and within.

Are Co-Coaching Models Better?

I listened to the school committee meeting the other night and was worried when I heard about the potential of adding two more coaches to the district. If you read my blog, you probably realize that I am not a big fan of the coaching model in schools. I am, however, a fan of the co-coaching model, a hybrid-teaching model where teachers teach and coach each other at the same time.

Too often, I believe that the coaching model is too distanced from the day-to-day needs and opportunities that exist when teaching students. I feel that coaches who work mostly to help teachers, but not work with students are too removed from teaching to be the kinds of support needed to substantially contribute. Working with students on a regular basis keeps you in the game and allows you to experience the most challenging aspects of the job which are how to help every child succeed in ways that are meaningful, relevant, engaging, and empowering.

When I hear about the potential of adding two more coaches, that feels like I will get two more bosses on top of the administration I already have which include coaches, the principal, and other department leaders who direct my work. What I need more than anything else is more help with the direct service to children as well as the opportunity to work collaboratively with colleagues to coach each other.

The team model that we have in place at my grade level is awesome. We have time each week to coach each other. I would like to see this model broadened into a more distributive co-coaching, leadership model which I've outlined in this post. I would like to use the money set aside for coaches to support this model instead. I worry that the coaching model has become popular because it serves administration well--if students don't do well, they can blame the coach and quickly replace that coach. I worry that to hire a coach is a quick fix to a problem rather than truly looking deeply at the problem and talking to teachers about why it exists. When I heard people advocate for a coach in a particular subject area, I wondered why they think that's needed. I believe the issue in that area lies in time on task and student-teacher ratios rather than educator ability.

Schools need to look deeply at the issues that occur. They need to analyze the impact of particular systematic roles and models too. Then it's important that they choose models that work best. There is substantial research that supports greater teacher leadership in schools, and we know that skilled professional teaching time-on-task with students is paramount to improving schools and student success.

I question the effect of the coaching model in schools if that model means that coaches do not regularly teach students, take part in typical teaching duties and activities, uplift teacher leadership, and team with teachers in ways that matter. I am open to your debate in this arena as I am always working to understand situations with greater depth, breadth, and potential. Perhaps there are scenarios of success I am not aware of.

Response to Intervention (RTI) Evolution

Example of a math tech menu
I am noticing that our system is ready for an RTI evolution. RTI stepped us into a more collegial and targeted process for teaching all students. Rather than one teacher doing all he/she can do to teach all the students in that class, grade level educators including specialists and generalists have been working together to teach all students in more targeted ways for a number of minutes each week. Together we review and analyze students' needs using formal and informal data, and then we utilize the teaching supports that exist including specialist educators. EL teachers, teaching assistants, and Title One Teachers to teach and enrich students in ways that matter.

In some cases, the way we do this is fluid, flexible, and well-targeted, and in other cases, in my opinion, the way we do RTI is too rigid and limiting with regard to targeting student needs in ways that matter. In those places where RTI is too rigid, it's time to think differently.

For example, today as I looked carefully at data related to student learning expectations, I thought about how we might use that data point to better target our RTI efforts for those students who demonstrated real need in that foundation skill. I wondered if it might be better to focus on that skill during RTI rather than the skills we originally thought about targeting. Further, since so many of our students this year are similar with regard to performance, I am wondering if it is necessary to make lots of RTI groups, and if we should simply call our RTI times, "Math Tech" times and use that time to have students follow an online menu in their homerooms while targeting students with the most needs with one-to-one or very small group attention with skilled professional educators. That would reduce the scatter that sometimes results in lost time due to transitions, conflicts, and confusion and better target student learning with the guidance of an online menu. Our team uses online menus often as one way to differentiate as well as make more time for meaningful coaching and teaching.

All good teaching is always evolving. To stick to a program that may be too rigid for growth is not a good idea, but instead, we should continually evaluate what we are doing and if that process is advantageous or not. Onward.

Teaching New Science Standards

Our system responded quickly to the new Massachusetts' science standards by buying FOSS kits. Our team reacted to the FOSS kits by dividing up the kits and using rotations so that each teacher is teaching one kit and content strand to all three fifth grades.

The kits and standards present some challenges that we've had to navigate.

First, fifth graders in the state are tested on standards from all of elementary school with an emphasis on grades three to five standards. This is a lot of learning to review and master prior to the tests.

Next, the FOSS kits have lots and lots of lessons and we don't have that much time on top of all the other curriculum we are teaching.

So the challenge is to teach and review multiple standards and lessons in engaging, memorable ways with the time we have. Needless to say this is a somewhat stressful challenge.

After considerable thought and reading, I highlighted the main concepts and standards to teach in memorable ways. I decided to make sure that the learning experiences were fun and engaging. Also at the suggestion of colleagues, I am using a blend of modeling experiments in front of the class and engaging students in the experiments themselves. For example last week students watched me pop popcorn as we discussed why that chemical reaction occurs. I also boiled water and then we discussed why that's a physical reaction rather than a chemical reaction. Later though students created catapults with their kindergarten buddies to review the concept of potential (stored) and kinetic energy. Using buddy time to engage in simple experiments/activities that review the science standards is a good way to add time to this curriculum.

I'm using the FOSS kits' many wonderful tools for science learning, and synthesizing their lessons and enrichment opportunities to teach the students' the fifth grade standards. I am also weaving in DIY activities and Mystery Science films and activities to broaden and deepen the learning to include past physical science concepts students need to know.

The use of a class physical science website allows students to continue the learning at home via reading, simple experiments/activities, and videos. An end-unit project gives students a chance to deepen their understanding of the unit's main ideas. The website provides all the information students need to complete the end-of-unit project too. I will also include crossword puzzles, comic creation, and reading/writing activities to support their learning.

At the end of the unit, students will take an MCAS like test using a Google Form and paper copy. I'll allow the students to take the test as many times as they'd like until they gain a score they are happy with (hopefully they'll all take the test until they get 90%-100%).

Since this is the first year with the new standards, it will be a learning year for all of us. I think we're off to a good start, and as a teaching team we're sharing our ideas for this regularly thus helping one another to teach the content well. I know that this unit of study will deepen and get better the more we teach it.

Good Data Does Inform Instruction: Looking for Trends and Connections

As I review large amounts of data to complete student progress reports, I am noticing significant trends and connections. This kind of analysis helps me to teach better and improve the teaching/learning program with colleagues. This data also helps students to see who they are and how they can improve their learning and foundation too. I want to collect a holistic array of data points in formal and informal ways to help students develop as well as they can. The data, when used well and coupled with good process, helps us to see clearly and forward our teaching/learning efforts well.

Math Proficiency Considerations: Sports and Math

As I prepped students' progress reports, I found myself focused on math fact knowledge. Thanks to our terrific fourth grade teachers, every child who took the facts fluency test had accuracy when it came to math facts. That's awesome! The challenge now is speed, and while speed isn't always the most important factor, a lack of facts speed hinders students' acquisition of deeper concepts and mathematical proficiency. It halts their ability to fluently synthesize a number of steps or concepts as they play with numbers, solve problems, and complete calculations.

Hence, I am thinking about how to build that fact fluency with greater speed and flexibility in the days ahead.

It was interesting to see that my good, but not strongest math students, often had fluency with sets of single operation signs, but struggled with sets of facts with mixed signs. I thought of the football exercises my sons have done, exercises that help them move from one physical action to another, and how their coaches have had them practice this to build greater flexibility on the field. The same is true for students' math flexibility--sets of mixed signs help students to gain brain flexibility and fluency with number sense. It's certainly not the only important aspect of math learning, but when mastered this can help students with their overall math learning.

It was also interesting to see that students who struggled with speed with single sets are my students that struggle the most overall with learning new concepts. These are bright and capable students who only need some engaging practice to get faster. One colleague suggested this online game. She used this game with a child she tutored and she said the facts growth was amazing. Since the system has not shown interest in buying this game, I'll propose it to parents of students who fall into this category. There are board games like Yahtzee that build this skill too. As a child, I played Yahtzee for hours and that truly helped me to be very fast with facts and number manipulation. I'm sure there are many other games too that are lots of fun and build this proficiency as well.

Facts are only one consideration with math proficiency, yet it's an important consideration. Most students who are fast with facts also have high scores in all other math work and study assessments. When reading Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School, his terrific explanation of the process related to short term memory versus long term memory matches what I am noticing. If students have their fact knowledge deeply embedded in long term memory, there's much more room for using short term memory to learn new concepts. Similarly Willingham's acknowledgement that knowledge begets knowledge matches this post too because students' knowledge of facts leads to greater math knowledge.

Math is a mix of skill, concept, and knowledge learning and synthesis. We can build math skill with facts while also building deeper and better mathematical thinking, concept, and knowledge through deeper problem solving study and project work. Our math teaching can include multiple parallel paths of study that support each other. I continue to explore this idea, and look for ways to embed it in process that matter with our fifth grade standards-based, foundation-building program. I am open to any advice you have as I continue to build my repertoire, knowledge, and skill in this area. In so many ways I see parallels with the sports training my sons have done and continue to do in swimming and football--in these sports it's a synthesis of many online/offline strategies to develop a successful athlete. I want to do the same with regard to developing strong and versatile math students too.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Professional Planning: The Five Year Plan

As I organized my recertification materials today, I thought about my five-year plan, the plan I'll put into place to prepare for the next recertification round. What will I focus on that will meet recertification requirements as well as uplift my professional practice.

As I read over the many opportunities to earn PDPs and develop your professional repertoire, I thought about where I'd like to take my teaching and learning in the next five years--what matters?

First, I have one more course to take for recertification and I've elected to take the state's online special ed course. I've signed on to take this course before, but didn't get started due to a busy schedule. I think the winter months may be a perfect time to complete this no cost course.

After that, I am going to focus my attention initially on research related to the math curriculum. I'm going to read about this and spend some time organizing the work to date to see where the next steps will take me and the program. I also hope to engage in efforts related to science education and the new social studies standards. As I write, I recognize it's not so easy to create a five-year plan, but nevertheless, it's good to give it some time upfront so that you are always headed in a good direction professionally, a direction that matches your skills and interests with the best interests of the students and schools you serve and lead.

ReCertification: Thoughtful and Targeted Professional Development

I spent several hours this morning reviewing what constitutes the appropriate professional development process and Professional Development Points (PDPs) for a Massachusetts educator's recertification. I noticed that the documents for this have been updated.

After that I reviewed my ePortfolio to see what PDPs I have, and what I still need. As I reviewed the ePortfolio, I realized how important it is for educators to keep a running log of the professional work they do. We are so busy day-in and day-out, that it's easy to forget all that you do to lead your professional work. Therefore, I recommend creating an ePortfolio and adding relevant information related to your goals, professional accomplishments, and other pertinent information on a regular basis.

If you do this, you'll have what you need for evaluation system evidence at your fingertips at the end of the year, you'll also have the information you need for recertification, and if you add a resume, you'll be ready to present or apply for worthy professional opportunities when they arise.

Also as I read through the Massachusetts information, I realized how important it is to target your professional learning at the start of each five-year certification period. Prior to the new period, it's advantageous for educators to think about where they want to develop their practice and professional efforts in the next five years, and then to sketch out a professional learning plan. The more I thought about this, the more I thought that it might be useful for the state to extend their evaluation system process to a five-year process rather than a two-year cycle--this could result in a more streamlined professional evaluation efforts and one that helps educators to carefully target their growth in conjunction with the goals related to the role they play in a school or system.

In summary, the cold winter days are good days to organize your professional learning and teaching files, records, and plans. What else would you add to this process?

Note that after tweeting about this, I received the following information from DESE:
They also sent this helpful note:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Invest Your Time in What You Believe In

I know, I know--I write about this often, however, the writing helps to right my road and keep me focused. There are so many temptations to get off track in schools, so many initiatives that are not as important as others, and educators have to be strong to stay the good road of teaching and learning, a road that requires prioritization and a strong sense of what matters.

So as I navigate the road again amongst a zillion invitations to get off track, I'm focused on the following:

  • Local union website, note taking, teamwork, learning.
  • State union professional learning and advocacy for what's best for students, schools, and learning
  • Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Teachers Advisory Council efforts, contribution, and share. 
  • Math education: a steadily deepening program that serves all students well with research-based, student-friendly modern approaches to teaching and learning math
  • Science learning: hands-on, engaging activities that bring the science standards to life, encourage creativity and curiosity,  and allow students to learn and experience what it is that scientists do. 
  • Reading instruction that helps students to understand the many ways that we can make sense of and enjoy texts in multiple genres.
  • Writing/Social Studies: supporting grade-level projects and learning in these areas.
  • Engaging, holistic fifth grade program: supporting a grade-level program that is engaging, empowering, and educational.
  • Positive home-school balance
  • Professional Learning: courses, presentations, books, online share/research, collegial share and creativity
I want to keep this list handy so that I can resist the many temptations that exist to get off track--onward. 

What's On Your Mind?

I like to work on a number of considerations at all times. For example, I typically have a half dozen new ideas that I'm working on in my mind as I'm carrying out the day-to-day tasks, tasks that have been thought through and are now actively in place. For example all fall, I had the new science unit on my mind, but now that unit is happening--it's in the active phase so I'll follow the order set and analyze and improve as the unit is rolled out.

Other work in the active phase includes the division unit, reading RTI group, progress reports, and classroom routines and organization. There are initiatives in the waiting room too. For example I applied to present at the ATMIM spring math conference, and I'm waiting to hear if my proposal was accepted or not. If accepted, I'll start prepping, and if not accepted I'll simply ask for the day so that I can attend the math teaching/learning event. I'm also waiting to hear about a number of other initiatives, some of which I've applied for and others which I'm hoping to sign up. And in the think room or consideration space are the following ideas.

New Routine
While I've updated the school routine, now I'd like to update the overall work-home routine. There's some opportunity to make positive updates in this regard, updates supported by time and resources.

In that new routine, I want to make time for deeper reading. I've got a mental list of some great books and I'd like make the time to read and think about those books.

Local Museums, Theater, Nature Preserves
There's always great inspiration in spaces like these, and I'd like to make more time to visit places like this near and far.

Summer Fun and Recreation
I typically spend time in the cold winter months planning a few great summer adventures. I enjoy the research almost as much as the adventures.

There's a number of celebrations in the next few months, and I find that the older I get, the more I enjoy celebrating the special moments in people's lives.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tomorrow: 1/12/18

It's been an afternoon of big ideas, and tomorrow I'll be working with the day-to-day events of learning and teaching. What will we do?

Biography Project
We'll spend our PLC focused on the annual biography project, a wonderful signature event that's a terrific interdisciplinary learning event that elevates every child's knowledge and confidence.

Math Quizzes
Students will take a host of relatively short math quizzes in the morning to let us know where they are with some specific skills. That will inform our mid-year progress reports.

Students are working on a number of projects including a Matter/Energy presentation, Ice orb cartoons, math practice/enrichment exercises, writing pieces, and coding. During workshop they'll work on these projects.

High School Research Project
High schoolers will visit the school and conduct focus groups with elementary students related to advertising and marketing. The elementary school students are always inspired when the high school students visit, and the high school students are always humbled and inspired by the work they do with the elementary students too.

Math Planning Meeting
We have a meeting planned to discuss our efforts related to math teaching and learning with regard to specific students.

Ice Orbs with Kindergartners
During our buddy time, we'll help kindergartner students make ice orbs and hide them in cold places. Our class ice orb study resulted in some beautiful ice orbs, some partially frozen orbs, and some orbs that were still liquid. This made us think a lot about where heat exists and where it doesn't exist, and why some water balloons froze and why others didn't. We'll continue this study with our kindergarten buddies tomorrow.

Science in the Elementary Classroom

Students love learning science, however there are some challenges when it comes to teaching science in the elementary classroom. The challenges include times, space, planning, and prep. For example today as I transitioned from a science lesson to a reading rotation in 60 seconds, I didn't really have the time to put away all the science materials in a careful way. Hence I have to build in that time for clean-up. Another challenge is the noise factor. Science is exciting and I say it's impossible to keep 25 excited learners quiet as experiment are taking place yet schools are crowded places with large numbers of children typically in one room for most of the day--hence noise becomes an issue.

Despite the challenges, science remains lots of fun, and as we work to embed our new units I'm sure we'll get a good routine going. Onward.

Great Questions and Meaningful Inquiry Develop Your Practice

As we develop our practice, we all have questions that lead our work. Recently one question that has led our collective efforts with math education is how do we teach students who skill level is years below the grade-level expectations. Together we've put a lot of good scaffolded teaching/learning efforts in place to work towards good answers to this question.

Another question that I've had in terms of math education is how do we teach in ways that Jo Boaler's research has determined to be more effective, ways that utilize greater project/problem-based math investigations. Last night's #SBLchatMA led me to some new answers to explore in this regard.

In the past questions such as how to blend learning, how to use assessments effectively, and how to integrate technology have been focal areas of our individual and collective practice. We continue to think about those questions and grow our efforts in those areas.

I've been thinning a lot about professional learning I invite and professional learning/endeavor I resist. I think one answer here is that I embrace professional learning that is motivated by meaningful inquiry, research-based inquiry that will help us to solve the problems that stand in our way of teaching as well as we can. I resist professional learning/endeavor that is more check-list-like or directive, but not inquiry driven. As to simply complete a checklist is not to grow your knowledge or practice, but instead, to dig deep, problem solve, and create together and on you own led by terrific questions is the way to develop your practice in ways that matter. Do you agree?

Starting the Science Rotation

Image Reference
Each teacher on our team teaches one area of science to all fifth graders. I am teaching the physical science unit. I've started that unit with my homeroom students, and today I'll begin the unit with another class. At first, I was going to jump right into the unit with an exciting experiment, but when I woke up this morning and thought about it, I decided that it's best to start with a good introduction that sets the stage for the exciting experiments to come. So what will we do?

First, I'll let students know that their math teams are their science teams--basically that means the table group they sit with are their science teams. Then I'll introduce the overall expectation of the unit by reviewing the unit website and long term assignment. After that we'll review the language of the unit with a simple activity, and then I'll model a couple of simple science activities. As I model the activities, I'll focus on care for materials, observation of properties, making predictions, safety, and the unit main ideas. Later students will have the chance to begin their research for the end unit project, and the following week when we meet again, students will have the chance to complete their first experiment.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Twitter Chat Wakes Me Up!

Years ago a bit discouraged with teaching, I turned to the Internet and found a large number of awesome educators. I engaged in many Twitter chats and learned a lot. The Twitter interchanges truly uplifted my teaching capacity.

In the past year, I haven't engaged in Twitter chats as much, but then tonight I joined the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education #SBLchatMA (Standards Based Learning Chat Massachusetts led by +Rik Rowe and

The discussion focused on assessment and there were a number of good ideas and perspectives. In fact, with regard to PBL in math, a topic I am interested in, I found a book reference and have been invited to visit a school in Lexington to see what they are doing in this regard. I hope to follow up in the next few months.

Matt and Rik will host #SBLchatMA every other Wednesday, so that means the next chat will likely take place on 1/24--you may want to try it out. It's an efficient way to connect with educators outside of your school to learn and share ideas about teaching and learning.

Deep, Meaningful Work Takes Time

Today as I quickly introduced students to the idea of creating a comic to remember scientific information, we ran out of time for the good work and conversation the project will take. Work that's typically enjoyable, deep, and meaningful takes time, and too often in schools we're trying to fit ten pounds in a five pound bag. Some might say lengthen the day, but the truth is that there's a saturation point for deep, meaningful work, so I don't think a longer day is the answer.

I think the answer is taking the time to work together to choose the best projects carefully, and also being willing to flexibly change those projects if it means that the learning will be more relevant, timely, and of interest to the children in front of you.

There is limitless information at our finger tips, and many, many, many ways to learn, hence it's a time, as I've noted countless times before, where prioritizing is of utmost importance, and generally that prioritizing profits from student-teacher-family collaboration.