Monday, April 30, 2018

Summer School

During this last leg of the school year, I want to focus in on doing all that I can to support students' engaging and meaningful learning. They've studied a lot this year and now we're moving into the fun part of the year--the project/problem based learning leg which invites students investment and enthusiasm.

I want to attend to the multiple efforts related to ending the school year in a positive way, and I also want to set the stage for summer study which will include mostly reading and curriculum creation and revision. In many ways I've set the stage for a good summer of study and goal acquisition. Now it's important to stay the course.

Proud Of My Students

This morning I'll begin the teaching day by telling students how proud I am of them. They have been studying and working tirelessly at rigorous tasks all year. They have made good progress and have a good attitude. Well push a bit more this week, but before we start that, I want them to know that I really appreciate their investment, dedication, and care when it comes to learning.

Hate is Contagious

When you act or speak in hate, you spread hate. Hate is contagious.

When our leaders spew hateful comments towards any group, that hate is multiplied ten-fold.

We all have to seek to speak with compassion, and if it's difficult or impossible to find that compassion, we must speak with questions, not hate.

Sadly our President often speaks with hate--this closes doors and hinders opportunity for so many.

We all have to caution ourselves against promoting hate in any way.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Target the Oppressor, Not the Oppressed

At times those who are oppressed target each other.

Oppressors are happy to see this happen, and in fact may pit one oppressed individual against another to get rid of two people in one way or another.

Those who are oppressed cannot be tricked by this tactic.

For example, an oppressor may hold one individual from an oppressed group at high esteem and make him/her feel like a champion while oppressing the rest of the individuals in a group. This is a tactic to keep a group low and to retain power. Don't be fooled by this tactic.

The oppressed are often clamoring for air, justice, and freedom. Sometimes they are so down trodden that they are thinking only of survival, and they turn on one another instead of turning to each other to use their collective power to overcome the oppressors. Oppressors typically have lots of power--power with money, power with time, power with place, power with people--oppressors are snake pits while the oppressed are often powerless on their own, they need each other to overcome the oppressors.

Though we are tempted to use the tactics of oppressors against others, we cannot do that. To use their tactics is to build their unjust power and oppression. Instead we must use our humility, honesty, and humanity in solidarity to overcome the oppressors.

For example, challenged by no power, an individual may turn to a colleague and say, "You cannot do that." The colleague can in return say, "And neither can you since our power is diminished by the oppressor's greed, unfair laws, injustice, mistreatment. . . .together we have to work against this."

In theaters big and small we can all play the role of oppressor and oppressed--we have to be mindful of this. We have to think about situations where our power and privilege is greater than others, and we have to find ways to work against this and demonstrate respect and dignity. Similarly we will find ourselves oppressed from time to time, and we have to seek allies in these situations and work for greater justice and freedom.

To put anyone down in ways that further oppress them is wrong, but instead to find ways to collaboratively fight injustice with good speak, honesty, and fair action is the way to end oppression and build a better community.

School Administration: Leading Teams Rather Than Individuals

It occurred to me today that if school administrators sought to lead teams rather than individuals, their work could be more targeted and successful.

For example to lead a building of 50 individuals and work with each of those individuals to set goals and evaluate each individual's efforts is a lot of disjointed work. On the other hand if those individuals were broken up into 10 teams, then you could lead and evaluate each team as well as encourage the members of each of those teams to lead each other forward. This is a model of distributive leadership that will be more efficient, targeted, and successful. It is also a model of distributive leadership that provides an example to students of what good teams do and how effective collaboration works--this kind of modeling is essential for the world they will live in.

Leading with an Eye on Growth and Development

How can one lead with an eye on growth and development?

First it's essential to know a person well. To understand his/her mission/vision and strengths/challenge.

Next it's important to thoughtfully work together to focus in on a few areas of growth--to choose together areas where growth will be meaningful and impactful. It's essential to work together to define those areas of growth and to set a path to attain that end.

Then it's integral to keep the conversation and efforts going related to that growth. To revisit those goals often with discussion, reflection, and revision. To think about these questions:
  • What gains are you making?
  • What do you need to better your development in this area?
  • What obstacles are you facing in this regard?
  • How can I help?
  • Is there room for some revision or greater detail in your development goals?
  • What professional learning events or actions will help you to achieve this?
As I think of this, I am thinking about my students next year. I am thinking about how I might make the process above more explicit and developmentally appropriate for the young students I teach and their parents.

I'm thinking that we might add this to our student/parent questionnaire with words such as What are the three most important goals you have for the year ahead?

To learn and achieve well, it's important to create and work towards specific goals. As an educator the number of goals we can embrace are limitless, and that's why it is very helpful to have responsive and dedicated colleagues or leaders to work with us in this process and to help us decide on goals that will truly impact the work we do and the people we serve. 

What/Whom Do You Support and Why?

No one can support all causes or endeavors?

Yet, we do need to make time to support initiatives, efforts, and endeavor that matter.

What engenders our support?

I am thinking about this today as I think of a large number of initiatives that I've been invited to support--initiatives in the educational, family, political, and community realms.

As I think of this, I recognize that I am eager to support initiatives and events that have the following attributes:
  • respectful communication and acknowledgement of my time and effort
  • shared mission and vision
  • lead time and inclusion of the effort's priorities, goals, and process
  • mission-driven leadership (rather than ambition-driven leadership)
  • a sense of camaraderie and needed time
  • accessibility
  • welcoming environment and attitudes
  • straight-forward communication and easy-to-understand goals, timelines, roles, and expectations
As I think more specifically about this, I am thinking about a number of events that I have not been involved in.

In one instance, time and place has made it difficult for me to attend--the event occurs too close to the end of school and to far away to get there in good time. The event also lasts too long for me to meet my family obligations. It's a great organization with welcoming, committed people and a terrific mission, but, in many ways, the events have been inaccessible to me due to family and work obligations.

In another instance, there is never room for teacher voice or choice. Teachers are not looked at as integral contributors in this organization and often the organization's events do not seem to serve the mission in meaningful ways. I don't want to support efforts where there is no good way to be heard and where the efforts are suspect with regard to the rationale.

In a third instance, it was simply the fact that the good organization and its terrific work was far from my best skill level or passion. I just didn't have the zeal or energy for the extra unpaid work in that realm.

Yet, as I think about the organizations where I am ready and willing to be involved, these are typically organizations or groups that fully support the work of public school teachers--they are there to help out, they value teacher voice and choice, and they contribute to programming and events that substantially uplift what we can do. Lately, the groups I am aligning myself with in this regard tend to be groups closer to the classroom such as my grade-level team and local union. 

As one who needs the support and camaraderie of peers and others to do my work well, I need to be cognizant of factors that engender support too, and as I think of that, I have to ask myself the questions below:
  • Do I leave room for the voice and choice of the colleagues, students, and families I work with?
  • Do I make time to listen and work together to set vision and goals?
  • Do I help others meet their goals and vision?
  • Do I plan events and meetings at times when people are able to come and in places that are close to their daily work and commutes?
  • Am I respectful and cognizant of colleagues' needs when it comes to good communication, collaboration, and care?
We all need support to do the good work possible, and it takes deliberate thought and action to gain that support. This is yet one more critical area of optimal teaching and learning. 

Am I Developing My Students in Ways that Matter

Are you developing your students in ways that matter?

Are your students better after spending a year in your charge?

How do you assess this?

As educators we are leaders to our students, and as leaders it is our job to help them grow with greater confidence, skill, knowledge, and capacity.

As I think about this, and I think about my work tomorrow and into the future, I am realizing that I want my students to develop the following while in my charge:

  • Belief in themselves
  • Ability to successfully advocate for what they need, want, and desire
  • Effective collaboration skills and abilities
  • Self knowledge
  • Pride in who they are, what they love, and what they want to do
  • Recognizing there are many paths to success
  • A strong skill, knowledge, and concept foundation
  • Knowledge that practice and effort matter--what you do is who you become
  • Problem solving/project skills and abilities
  • Tech skills and knowledge
  • Healthy, happy routines
I want to think more on this list as I think about my program efforts in the days ahead. I want to think about how I can help to develop healthy, happy, successful children while they are in my charge. 

Do We Explicitly Lead Each Other Forward

My colleagues lead me forward all the time. They bring tremendous skill, good attitude, vision, knowledge, and a will for excellence to our team. I learn by working with them and observing their excellent teaching and learning regularly. They help me to strengthen my weak areas and overcome my challenges. I feel so fortunate to work with these teacher-leaders every day.

I hope that I can lead as an educator too. I hope that I can bring my strengths to help lead my colleagues as well. This co-leadership is the kind of distributive leadership that I believe will enrich and develop schools in ways that matter.

Opposite of this co-leadership model is a model of rights or wrongs--a model that sees people as "good" or "not so good," and a model that elevates some while demeaning others. I believe that we all have value in an organization, and rather than focusing on some as gifted and others as without gifts or talents, we should look for each others' strengths and help one another with our weaknesses in an effort to achieve common goals, vision, and priorities.

What's important with a co-leadership model is that we focus on these questions with commitment:
  • What are our common goals, priorities, and vision?
  • How are we currently achieving those goals, and what more can we do?
  • What do each of us bring to these goals and this work? 
  • What more can each of us bring?
  • Where are our individual and collective challenges in this regard?
As I think about this with regard to my own teaching/learning teams, I have the following thoughts:
  • At the start of the school year we have to make sure that we have the kind of schedule and supports we need to do the job well.
  • We need to continue to make good time at the start of the year to know the students and families we are working with. 
  • We need to expect fidelity to service schedules and speak up if that does not occur since students deserve their services, and there needs to be fidelity to those service delivery schedules.
  • We need to work more strategically as an entire team looking deeply at where we are making good strides and where we can do better. We can continue to better our processes for this work. 
  • We need to be aware of the system-wide and school-wide goals and make our goals inline wth those.
  • We need to recognize each others' strengths and challenges, and use that knowledge to grow each other and be a successful team. For example I am thinking of an area where I am not as strong as my colleagues, and when it comes to that area, I need to rely on them more--they are really good at that, and I'm not so good at that. In other words we have to maximize each others' strengths and mitigate each others' challenges.
  • We have to help each other develop in ways that matter. To do this we need to be aware of each others' hopes for the future, and work to help each other achieve the teaching/learning goals we have.
Optimal organizations focus more on development than judgement. They see all members of the organization as people on a journey to do good work and make a significant impact. Rather than chastise, demean, tease, or ridicule, people in effective organizations work together with honesty, compassion, and empathy to forward the entire organization in important, valuable ways. In these organizations every member is both a leader and a follower, and they take both these roles very seriously. 

Idealistic vs. Realistic

I will admit, I'm not a pragmatist. I'm much more of a idealist which means that I sometimes choose the idea and forget about all the practical aspects of reaching that dream.

I work with a number of realists, pragmatists that help me to see the needed steps to reach the ideal. I also help those pragmatists to sometimes reach more than they would to try something different to reach an ideal. This is good collaboration and teaming.

As an idealist, I have to make sure that I make time to be realistic and think about the practical aspects of teaching and learning too. I have to remember that the road to new ideas is mostly a step-by-step path rather than a leap. I have to identify those steps to the ideal and then work at each one to lead us forward.

In the days ahead, I'm reaching for many ideals--and as I think of those ideals, I don't want to forget about the practical, realistic, necessary steps that reaching those ideals include, steps like the following:

  • Go hard on the problem, not the people. It takes time to work with others with care and respect to reach new ideas, dreams, and ideals
  • Make the time to visualize the process step-by-step, and then work to follow that process to meet the goals desired.
  • List the practical matters that have to be managed, matters such as student supervision, acquisition/management of supplies, costs, administrative support/help, available time, and more.
I'll be thinking more about this. I wish we could know and then immediately put that knowledge into place in consistent ways, but we all know that knowing and the related, consistent action that matches the knowing takes time. It takes time to embed new knowledge and ways into our work, and that effort takes time, thought, and dedication. 


Sometimes people act out because they feel trapped. Like caged animals, they see nowhere to go--their freedom of choice and access to needed supports have been challenged or eliminated.

As educators, we know that this is often how our students feel when they act out. They feel unheard and unsupported. They don't have what they need to succeed.

Children often give us a sign that they are feeling this way. They might arrive disheveled, angry, or unhappy. They might shout out or refuse to do a simple task. Also they sometimes write notes, draw pictures, or act in ways that signal their discontent, worry, frustration, and anger. As educators we have to pay attention to these signs, and we have to make the time to privately talk to students when this happens. We have to work with students to dissect their feelings and figure out what's going on and what they need.

A challenge for teachers is that they are often alone with large groups of students, and to leave many students to quietly talk to one can be very difficult given the multiple needs and complexity of class life. Recently this happened to me. A child presented with significant needs, yet I was tasked with taking care of a large group of students. I did not have the time or support to take care of the child's visible needs at that time. I watched carefully and was able, fortunately, to create a safe situation with the whole class and the child did settle in. Later in the morning, I had a moment to pull the child aside to have the needed conversation. Situations like this make me wonder if the one-teacher-multiple-children classrooms are no longer effective given the time teachers need to troubleshoot. Having a second adult in the room can make a big difference in this regard--should all elementary school classrooms have at least two adults at all times. I think there's good reason for this as then we could spell each other for restroom breaks, help one another with the multiple issues that occur, complete needed daily paperwork without interruption, and work together to set up and take down learning experiences too.

Teachers can also feel trapped from time to time. They can feel trapped or caged when they don't have the needed time, equipment, or support that they need. I felt a bit this way last week at the end of a science activity that resulted in the need to clean and store multiple pieces of equipment. I don't mind cleaning, and I'm happy to store the materials, but I don't have time in my schedule for an hour or so of regular dishwashing; I don't have a sink in my room which means traveling to a sink, and at that time, I didn't have the storage area for all the materials. Since then I've found some good storage space and I made time for students to help out with the dishwashing in a nearby teacher's room. I've also rethought the routine to make space for science activities like this that include time for students to help out with the needed washing and clean-up.

I also had a similar feeling when earlier in the week I needed support that was unavailable. Time was short, responsibilities were great, and the support was not available. I felt trapped. I got upset. I didn't expect this to happen. Now I know that in a similar situation, I can't expect support so I'll plan the events differently.

We will feel trapped from time to time, and our students will also feel trapped from time to time. It's essential that we dissect that feeling and make change to remedy the situation for ourselves and for our students. As much as possible we need to reach for and support schedules and supports that prevent that caged or trapped feeling for all members of our organizational teams. Onward.

Good Schools: Working Conditions and Good Decision Making Matter

When educators' working conditions are compromised, positive teaching and learning are compromised.

In talking with educators from multiple systems, one huge factor that is negatively impacting schools is the fact that schools are often underfunded and understaffed. It is essential that an audit of school needs is well done each year, and then that audit is used to see if schools have what they need to do the job expected.

Since the potential service and work in schools is limitless, it may be that the audit leads to tough choices. But it's better to make tough choices and decide what we can do well and what we can't do than to pretend that we can do it all without enough staff, supplies, or funding.

How can we do this?

First we have to think about safety--do we have the staffing needed to ensure that students have a safe experience at school? What does it mean to be safe at school? At elementary school this means that we have staffing that provides needed supervision and oversight, a nurse's office/services, staff for conflict/problem resolution, and personnel to keep the school clean and safe.

Next we have to make sure that we have the facilities and time to meet individual's personal needs. Are there sufficient restrooms, time for breaks/lunch, telephones, and spaces for privacy when needed--privacy to nurse, deal with significant problems and meetings, and places for quiet work.

After that, we have to attend to the laws that dictate what we have to do in schools. As I think of those laws, I am mostly thinking of laws that lead our services to students with special needs. We have to make sure we have the staffing we need to meet those requirements. When staffing is challenged in this area our efforts related to inclusion and good service to students is greatly challenged.

Then there are the expected, identified state and system-wide standards and program expectations. Do we have the time, materials, and support needed to meet those requirements?

After that are areas of enrichment--what will we choose for this? Where will we put our time and energy in this regard? Often educators and others give extra time to make these special events and initiatives happen--they do this as one way to develop and enrich students' school experiences.

When we try to stuff too much into the school schedule, we often diminish our ability to do the essential work well. Yet if we don't reach out at all, programs can be dull. So there's a good balance to be had here.

Good schools take the right equation of roles, schedules, structures, and resources carefully. They make difficult decisions with human dignity and support as the central feature of these decisions. In good schools they recognize that we can't do it all, and make time to prioritize about what we will do to serve students well and do the job we are required to do.

Rethinking the Daily Routine and Paperwork: April 2018

Every now and then you have to rethink the daily routine to make sure you are doing the teaching job well. That daily routine will change throughout the year dependent on the most important needs and priorities. As I think about the final weeks of the school year, weeks that require a bit different teaching due to tests, special projects, and celebrations, I'm recognizing that the daily routine needs to include the following:
  • Place the schedule on the white board
  • Make sure that children sign in and prep for the day as directed on the white board
  • The pledge and mindful moment as led from the office
  • Transitions begin - make time to prep for each new transition and to clean-up from the last transition
  • Include one, two, or three recesses dependent on the day's efforts and depth
  • Include quiet reading time and time to work with individual students who have 
  • End the day with a clean-up, pack-up and dismissal
The end-of-the-year requires a bit more paperwork as well including the following:
  • ordering supplies
  • report cards
  • portfolio completion
  • transition forms
  • evidence report for evaluation
  • end-of-year checklist
Attention to detail is always important, but at the end of the year it's more important as we prepare for the transition. It's also a time of year where patience is often challenged by challenged staffing and unexpected expectations and changes due to multiple reasons, so I have to remind myself of that too. Onward. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Creating the Co-Lab

Our local grant source, The Wayland Public Schools Foundation (WPSF), is providing the funding to create a grade-level co-lab, a place for interdisciplinary student project/problem solving collaboration. I am very excited about this as it will give me the environment and inspiration to foster more hands-on, relevant collaborative learning at fifth grade.

Since the WPSF did not fund the entire grant, I reached out to a local organization asking for the remaining dollars, we'll see if they are able to provide that. If not, I may reach out to other places. If you know of funding sources for this kind of donation, please let me know.

In the meantime, it's my job to restructure the classroom to make space for this new equipment. What do I need to do?
  • Arrange all classroom tools and equipment in existing storage units in easy-to-access and find ways. I want students to be able to acquire the tools they need when they need them to solve problems and complete projects.
  • Organize the room so that collaborative groups have wall space to use for design and organization. I have several existing white boards or bulletin boards, and I may need to acquire one more for the back wall.
  • Sort equipment and materials in meaningful ways. I'll likely have a chemistry corner, creativity space, environmental studies, informational books, book nook with fiction books, math tools, and everyday supplies including pens, paper, clips. . . area.
  • Move most desks out of the room.
  • Acquire more modern seating.
The key to this whole design will be to design it so students can be empowered to lead their learning in responsible, creative, systematic, and meaningful ways. With that said, it's clear that I'll need to engage the students in the design process as well. 

I welcome your ideas as I create this collaborative learning space. 

Hindsight is Better than Foresight

True that many don't like cliches, but I remain a fan. It's a quick way to package a feeling, truth, or experience, and I like that.

So today I'm thinking about a rough week and the fact the cliche, hindsight is better than foresight. I thought I was well prepped for the week ahead only to realize there were a number of factors I had not considered including the following:
  • We couldn't fully anticipate students' reactions to the state's tests.
  • Students are essentially exhausted after taking the tests so any teaching after those tests has to be mild and flexible.
  • We had not fully realized our need for breaks and lunch in light of these tests and the timing for transitions related to the tests.
  • The tests greatly impact schedules, routines, staffing, and time.
Essentially with every new year, we have to revisit the protocols and policies related to important curriculum/program initiatives. We tend to do that almost all the time, and it's important to do. With four more tests ahead in the next few weeks, I'll be mindful of these factors and plan accordingly.

I also realize now that when staffing is stretched so is the tenor of the building. In schools we rely heavily on our supports. That's why we're able to successfully employ inclusion, forward deep and engaging learning units, and collaborate well. However, when the supports are stretched, our efforts to do our good work are stretched too. This means at times like these, we have to change our expectations and plans to meet the challenges that exist. During the past week, I tried to teach with the same depth, but that wasn't a good idea.

In the week ahead, I want to learn from the past week with a focus on the following:
  • Good relationships is the number one priority when it comes to teaching well.
  • Focus on the key responsibilities is also very important--the daily teaching, supervision, safety, good communication, and positive, helpful response.
  • Teach as much as we can as well as we can in ways that include the students' voices, needs, interests, and challenges.
  • Make time for needed breaks, personal health, rest, planning and prep.
Teachers lead themselves and their students--they continually have to assess the situation and do what they can to teach well each and every day in landscape that is always changing. We have to work together, help one another, be compassionate, recognize we'll fail from time to time, and learn from our success and error. We have to coach ourselves, our colleagues, and our students and families ahead. Onward. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Friday Musings: Tests, Teamwork, and More

Our school is in the midst of the state tests.

The tests require a lot of coordination, and truly to do it well requires almost a full time person for several weeks since there's a lot of rules to follow, paperwork, tech needs, troubleshooting, and coordination of student services, computer equipment, and more. We are fortunate to have a dedicated individual who manages this and that person gives the job many hours of her time and talent.

One difficult aspect of the tests especially at the start is that you can't predict how your students will react to them. Every year, no matter how much prep and practice we do, students react with some variability, and that variability affects the testing and the rest of the day too.

I think the better we can support one another during this test season, the better everyone will do--the more systematic, organized, and straight forward the routine of test taking can be, the better this work will fit into these weeks in a positive way.

We are continuing our multiple science explorations, research, reading, and study--for the most part, students really enjoy this.

Next week students will choose photos and quotes of the person they are studying, and they'll use those for an art project that the art teacher is leading. They'll also continue their research and study.

We'll review multiple concepts next week with some hands-on and paper/pencil work.

I was delighted to see how well students attended to and enjoyed their reading this week after the tests. We'll continue to add lots of reading to the schedule in the weeks ahead.

Family Matters
Our family lost a dear relative yesterday and part of the week will be spent celebrating our beloved relative's life with lots of love and care.

Union Matters
The end of the week will find me at the MTA Annual Meeting. Union members will vote on a new president and vice-president. We'll also listen to multiple speeches and vote on other matters too. I'm looking forward to this event as I always learn a lot and see many people who inspire me and support the work of educators too.

The week ended with a good amount of time for teamwork and fun--we needed this and it was great. I watched as children enjoyed both new and old friendships as they played instruments, competed on computer games, planted seeds, helped clean up the science corner and drew pictures. We'll likely have other times like this in the weeks to come--time that's a good compliment to the hard work the tests demand.

If It Matters, Take It Seriously

There's nothing worse than the feeling you have when you don't give a serious matter the attention or time it deserves. When you're met with the final results, it leaves you feeling awful. If you face failure  in a situation when you did give it your best, that's a bad feeling, but not nearly as bad as the feeling you have when you don't give an important matter the time, energy, or focus it deserves.

Sometimes in the school house, issues that are seemingly less important, get lots of attention while issues of great import are not given much attention. More often, there's debate about priorities--some may think one issue is of greatest importance while others are moved by different issues. That's why having really good processes for collaboration and goal setting are critical to high functioning, successful organizations. Organizations without these processes can be seen as wishy washy or or mediocre.

When it comes to schools, prioritizing is not a simple process as there are many competing priorities, that's why having good process is essential and critical to developing good schools.

Sometimes what's deemed most important in writing, is far less important when it comes to action. For example, let's say a school prioritizes play yet only allows students a 10-minute recess each day. That 10-minute recess isn't evidence of their priority, but perhaps the school has a lot of other play-based events throughout the day. What you see isn't always a good indicator of what is really happening.

I'm a big fan of clear identification of goals and priorities. I like to this to be a ground-up process that's inclusive of all stakeholders including students, families, educators, administrators, and community members. Obviously there will be many priorities in a school or school system, and all of those priorities will get differing amounts of time, staffing, money, and attention. But, in the end, if it matters, then you have to give it the time and attention it deserves whatever the goal or priority it is.

Revisiting Servant Leadership

Years ago after a very tough year of teaching, I sought consult via the Internet. With lots of reading and exchanges, I embraced the management practice of servant leadership. Essentially with servant leadership you consider yourself a servant to those you lead or serve. Some educators prompted me to develop this more by adding the word partnership; and building more of a servant/partner relationship with the students and families I serve as an educator. Embracing servant/partnership leadership dramatically improved my teaching/learning abilities, and created a more successful classroom environment.

An increased focus on serving students and families, in some ways, created more conflict with some of my administrative relationships however since serving students well meant speaking up and advocating more for student/family needs. This kind of advocacy was often not well received, and I often didn't really know how to navigate the multiple layers of administration with needed finesse or skill. Since the early days of this advocacy, there has been positive change, and that change has been mainly due to the fact that multiple books and research have pointed to the fact that servant/partnership leadership works so more people are embracing that focus. Just yesterday a good HBS article gained traction on Twitter that relates to this and a recent, very expensive Google study about effective work places identified similar attributes of success. So there's value in servant/partner leadership.

I have tried to use this approach with those that lead me too and that has not been as easy since to serve your leaders often takes away your creativity, autonomy, and sense of worth--sometimes this service feels like the kind of servitude that diminishes the human spirit and makes one feel more like a robot than a valued employee. Yet to serve your leaders often creates greater success for individuals in an organization. I'm a big fan of distributive leadership models where people work together to prioritize, make decisions, maximize everyone's strengths, mitigate challenges/weaknesses, and achieve--in that kind of environment, servant/partnership leadership with those you serve and those that serve you would work well. I believe it's less easy in strictly hierarchical organizations; though that's something I have to think more about.

To apply servant leadership well demands that we revisit this focus often to make sure we are aligning our efforts, attitudes, and direction with what we value and believe in. As we move towards the end of the school year, it's a good time to reboot servant/partner leadership in the classroom. How can I do this:
  • Making more time to talk with students about what they need, want, and desire and responding to what they have to say.
  • Continuing to communicate and respond to families with helpful information and actions
  • Making more time to forward learning activities that engage, motivate, and inspire students
  • Making time for celebrations and fun
  • Listening 
I will continue to think about this today as I watch my students do their best on state tests--as I look out, I'll be thinking about how I can serve these students and their families better. Onward. 

Science Study Continues

Embedding a large number of new and revised science activities into the curriculum this year has been both positive and challenging.

On the positive side, the new learning has been engaging for all. The best part has been the sense of wonder displayed in children's eyes as they make multiple discoveries related to living systems, chemistry, Earth science, physics, and STEAM activities. What's also been positive is that last summer we came up with a good way to share the curriculum responsibility, created supporting websites, and acquired lots of good hands-on tools and materials with which to teach the curriculum.

Time, space, and skill have been the challenges. The time to set-up, clean-up, and prep the science lessons are extensive. With about an hour a day for prep and planning for all teaching, there simply isn't a lot of time to do this work. As far as space goes, to utilize the materials in child-friendly, organized ways demands space, and that means it's time to reorganize the classroom to make space for all those materials. Fortunately I will be getting some new storage units next year and will also use what I have this year to reorganize the set-up in the days ahead. And, of course, skill has been a challenge too--when you teach an activity for the first time it is difficult to anticipate the challenges that the activity will present, and once you've led an activity or learning experience multiple times, you gain greater skill with the activity, materials, and needed management/leadership. I'm expecting that my skills with the curriculum will be better next year which I will welcome as that will mean less chaos and more learning.

So in the days ahead, the big focus will include the following:
  • cleaning, organizing materials
  • leading a few more experiments
  • updating river/wetlands River Junior Ranger Packets/Teaching
  • working with colleagues to prep and plan for a couple of field experiences
  • readying for head starting frogs and toads
  • more planting
  • a water bottle STEAM activity
  • the Global Cardboard Challenge
The children's enthusiasm for the subject is the energy that motivates and inspires this work. Onward. 

Coaching Myself Forward: End-of-Year Realities

Yesterday was one of those unexpected tough days. There were a number of upsetting, unexpected events. I've replayed the day many times over, and have utilized what I learned to reorganize the days and weeks to come in ways that I hope will be more successful.

As I noted a few days ago, the end-of-the-school year brings with it unique challenges which means we have to reschedule our days and teach differently. While I thought I had done that, I had not made enough change, change in expectations and change in planning to meet the end-of-school-year reality.

What does this mean for the days ahead?
  • It means a renewed focus on what I can do on my own and with grade-level colleagues to teach and care for the colleagues.
  • It means no new plans, but instead prepping and executing the plans in place. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tomorrow: April 27, 2018

Tomorrow morning students will take another MCAS test.

It's difficult to plan the afternoon as I'm not quite sure about the effect the tests will have on the students' learning attitudes on a Friday afternoon.

I expect that many will go to their instrumental lesson while others have time for silent reading or finishing up their memory writing pieces. Then they have tech class. After that we'll clean up, have a short meeting, and enjoy some extra recess.

Next week will find us reviewing multiple math concepts, working on biography projects, and continuing our science study. The week will also be interrupted by an unexpected family event. Onward.

New Furniture Leads to Rethinking the Classroom and Teaching

Thanks to a generous WPSF grant one fifth grade room will be renovated to be a co-lab, a laboratory for collaborative learning. As we move towards the end weeks of the year, I'll be thinking about how this new furniture will inspire a new classroom set-up and new teaching.

As I set up the new room, I want to do as much of the following as possible:
  1. Store student tools and resources in easy-to-access and easy-to-put away places (everything in its place and a place for everything)
  2. Purchase common supply caddies to place on each table. 
  3. Create a "sunlight lab area" near the windows--this is a good place to watch plants grow, let water evaporate, and more.
  4. Place math/science books in a specific, easy to access area.
  5. Order the kinds of consumables that will support the program, consumables such as vinegar, baking soda, dirt pots, glue, sponges, teaspoons, plastic cups, pizza boxes, and more. 
As I think about the curriculum and new teaching, I want this new furniture to forward the following teaching/learning events:
  1. Significant attention to attributes of effective collaboration and teamwork upfront at the start of the school year
  2. More project/problem solving learning
  3. Greater attention to classroom routines and protocols to create a positive environment for teamwork, and an environment where there is plenty of time for meaningful teaching
  4. Plan the messiest activities for times when we can work outdoors as well as indoors
  5. Building good flexible teamwork structure so students get to work with a variety of classmates and so that teams are filled with students who encourage and inspire one another's best learning
During the testing days ahead, I'll spend a bit of time each day preparing for next year. I want to get this work done before the typical very hot days in late June--days when the students need you a lot and the room is simply too hot for thoughtful prep and paperwork. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Prepare for the End-of-Year Struggles

The end of the school year brings with it some predictable struggles including the following:
  • Reduced supports/staffing due to MCAS staffing and other end-of-year meetings and efforts
  • Extra work such as ordering, report cards, move-up day preparations, and classroom clean-up which are done on a teacher's own time
  • The end-of-year emotions some students express in multiple ways
  • A good dose of "spring fever"
In the best of circumstances we would not have to withstand these struggles, but they exist, and we have to deal with them.

What's a teacher to do?

First, you have to change your expectations. You simply can't expect the same level of teaching and learning when your supports are diminished.

Next, you have to make time for the extra work--it's best to get that work done before the days get too hot (note to self).

Making sure students have the play time they need to match the spring fever they feel.

Saving bigger, deeper issues and efforts for summer planning and fall conversations. 

This time of year is the time of year to take the MCAS tests and engage in a number of enjoyable collaborative learning endeavors. Onward. 

Homework: Accountability

Teachers discussed homework and accountability briefly. It's an issue I've thought a lot about for 32 years of teaching and still don't have a firm conclusion.

Here's the situation:
  • Research demonstrates that there is not a lot of value in homework, yet I continue to see that those who practice do better.
  • Families respond to homework in lots of different ways--some are able and willing to support homework, and others demonstrate less support or interest in homework.
  • Students respond to homework in multiple ways--some always do their homework, others rarely do their homework, and there's everything in between.
  • Making the time to check over homework is extensive and has little pay-back. For example when teachers correct homework, students often don't look over corrections. Teachers that look it over and then have students re-do incorrect problems probably get more pay-back, but even then that kind of response is very time consuming and challenging when you have a large, diverse class of learners--there typically isn't the time for a few to redo problems, and the feedback for many doesn't result in much gain. That being said, I do agree with the fact that checking homework supports accountability and good routines.
With this variation, what is a teacher to do.

As I think about this, I think I'll lean towards homework that the computer checks. That Quiz is a perfect practice site as students can practice specific skills and the computer can check it. The teacher can easily review who did their homework and who didn't do it, and perhaps have a homework make-up time for students who don't complete their homework.

Sometimes it's important for students, however, to complete paper/pencil practice. In cases like these, it might be good to couple the paper/pencil with a Google form as the google form can quickly correct who got the right answers and then a teacher could look at the papers of those who come up as not completing the problems correctly.

I'll give this more thought in the days to come as I do believe accountability is a good thing, and I also believe there needs to be room for personalization when it comes to homework completion and the many different attitudes and supports available related to this. 

The Third Time Around: The Volume Lesson

Last year when students took a math assessment, many could not visualize the volume problems they had to solve. Because of this I ordered a collection of cubes to better the lessons this year.

Yesterday I taught the lesson twice. During the lesson we explored the properties of cubes and rectangular prisms. Students built structures that matched drawings and we focused on the cubes you could see and then the cubes you could not see. Later, working with partners, they made as many different rectangular prisms as they could with 36 cubic units.

The first two times went well, but I clearly had to give the directions a bit better and partner the students with greater care. The third time around, I heeded those lessons and the activity went much better. In fact a good question arose which was how many different cubes can we make with these blocks and what are the dimensions of the cubes we can make. Of course once students started exploring this, they would quickly realize that the dimensions of a cube are equal and the bases are square numbers. We may do that exploration at another time.

Our next exploration will involve order of operations. A fun way to do this would be to give students sticky notes with each operation and four different numbers. Then students could arrange the sticky notes in many different ways to come up with expressions that equal more or less. We may do this. The satisfaction of a good lesson is great, and with regard to the two trial lessons yesterday, those events match a quote I heard that columnist Susan Wagner noted, a quote from her husband's family that bumps become boosts (or you can learn from your mistakes). Onward.

Summaries Matter: Big Picture Inspiration

I just listened to an interview with our school superintendent. The interviewer asked great questions which allowed the superintendent to provide a summary of the values and goals for our school system. I really like to listen to that big think and match my work with that. It's especially great to listen to it when you agree with the overall perspective which I did and when you find areas for development and growth which I was able to do.

I need that kind of inspiration and big picture think to do my work well. It's difficult for me to develop my work without a big picture perspective and well-researched, timely, and thoughtful goals. He laid those out.

So in keeping with the viewpoint he relayed, I will do the following:

  • Continue to work on making the classroom a warm welcoming learning environment that provides meaningful opportunities for all students.
  • Providing meaningful opportunities for students to apply what they learn in authentic, engaging ways.
  • Make space for success and failure and allow students to know that learning is a journey that has its ups and downs, and that together we can help one another in the pursuit of discovering who we are, what we want to do, and how to do that well. 
This is a good way to start the day. 

New Learning: Curriculum Changes

Changing and updating the curriculum takes time, energy, and attention.

Yesterday the students and I used a new material and lesson to explore volume. In all, the lesson was a success, but as I noted in yesterday's post, with hands-on explorations that involve a class of 25 or more, there needs to be explicit instructions about set-up, the learning process, and clean-up. You can't expect that students will naturally understand what needs to happen so that all 25 or 26 students can partake successfully with the activity. Once the explicit directions are given, then students have the freedom to explore, create, and problem solve--that's the fun part and the good learning.

Today I'll complete the same volume exploration with the third math class, and I'll lead another class with a couple of new science activities--activities that involve a fair amount of materials and the need for collaborative work. The project/problem solving work demands good collaboration, and that's a skill in progress throughout our lives and one where there's lots of potential for good coaching at fifth grade.

As I develop the curriculum program to better meet student engagement and new research, there are many new learning endeavors to lead, coach, and facilitate. With each of these endeavors, there's substantial new learning too. Also there's a fair amount of error since new learning is never perfect.

The local grant source has generously granted my team the money to turn my classroom into a co-lab, a collaborative lab for mainly math and science learning. I'm excited about the new tables and cabinets we'll receive to support this. I'm also excited to grow the kind of collaborative skills and project/problem solving learning that will go along with this.

New learning makes the job more interesting and successful, but it can also be challenging at times too. Onward.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lessons to Come: End of April

The days seem busier than ever right now.

Today was a beautiful day, and the students played happily during each recess.

We engaged in a hands-on math exploration which was mostly successful, but also reminded me of the fact that I have to be very explicit about the expectations for hands-on explorations from introduction to clean up.

Tomorrow students will engage in more hands-on explorations in math and science. Later we'll watch a Bill Nye video about wetlands and spend some time with some math tech practice.

Thursday and Friday students will take MCAS in the morning, and in the afternoons they'll work on their biography projects, planting, play practices, reading and more.  Onward.

Self Regulation and Creative Learning

Sometimes I wonder if children have had substantial opportunity to learn in self-driven, creative ways. I wonder this when we embark on creative endeavor as some have a difficult time focusing, staying on task, and persevering when the task is tough.

As we enter the season of more problem/project based learning, I have to remember to well set the parameters and expectations as this will help those that face challenge with issues related to self regulation. Note to self.

Teaching Well: Training and Self Discipline

There is an element of training when it comes to teaching, and in my opinion, it's not the best part of the job. Yet it's an important part of the job.

We know the teachers that are good "trainers" as they have students who typically are very polite, clean up after themselves, use quiet voices in the hall, heed directions well, and follow needed classroom routines.

The same is true for parents--we notice parents who train their children well. Those children are typically very helpful, use polite language, complete their assignments, and follow appropriate routines.

Of course when it comes to training there's a difference between training as teaching and training as commanding. The teachers who do this well spend the time up front at the start of the year and throughout the year reviewing directions and helping students to follow the routines well.

I can't say I'm the best trainer as a parent or a teacher. I have always been a fan of creativity, letting children run the show, and playful environments. Early in my career, I didn't think that training and creativity could go together, but the more I teach, the more I recognize that good training leads to good discipline and good discipline leads to good behavior and good behavior leads to classroom and home settings where there's room for greater creativity, playfulness, and children-centered/focused environments.

When children don't know the routines or how to behave, there is more chaos and when there is more chaos, there's less opportunity for creative, child-centered, engaging lessons.

So where does this leave me as a parent and a teacher?

As a parent, I am fortunate to have a spouse who grew up with a good dose of discipline and training. That's rubbed off on me and my children. In school I'm surrounded by educators who are good at developing students' sense of good behavior, manners, and self discipline.

While I rarely am without creative ideas or playful endeavor, I always have to work on the part of teaching that includes establishing positive routines, encouraging self-discipline, and working on good manners. I know that self discipline and creativity/playfulness need to go hand-in-hand in successful classrooms, and I also know that when children are both creative and well mannered/disciplined, doors open up for them in all kinds of situations.

As I always say, we are never without lessons to learn as teachers or parents. That's both the glory and the challenge of the job. Onward.

Direct Your Practice

Most teachers have to lead their own practice. They have to dig down deep every day to forward their efforts in ways that matter. They also have to continually advocate for what they believe to be right and good for children.

Of course, I'd like to see education organizations morph to organizations with greater distributive leadership and teamwork as I think that would create more inspiring places to teach and learn. That happens, in part, now, but I think greater dedication to that will continue to improve what we can do and how we do it.

New Day

Yesterday began with a terrific school assembly. My students led the assembly and I really enjoyed seeing their terrific leadership and sense of pride. School Assembly provides every fifth grader with a terrific opportunity to lead and speak in front of our student group of about 400. Assembly also gives them a chance to have lunch with the principal and plan the assembly script and presentation--they look forward to that too, and I appreciate the effort the principal puts into this bi-weekly event, an event that also helps us meet the teaching standards in a real-world way.

Later in the day there was time for recess, biography research, and math study. The lessons, overall, went well,  However, it's clear that the stress that MCAS puts on the schedule, computers, and educators is beginning to show a bit--when many educators are pulled to support MCAS accommodations, the continuity of teaching drops off somewhat simply because the teachers and some resources aren't available for their typical day-to-day support.

At the end of the day, I attended a meeting that mostly focused on the "size of the problem" and some good discussion about helping student to clearly define a problem and choose matching reactions. This is good work that mainly began with our school counselors. Today will be more of the same. I want to focus in a bit more on the needs of a few students who seemed to be slow to warm up to the after-vacation learning routine today as we stay the course. Onward.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The April 2018 Week Ahead: Math, Science, ELA Study and Exploration

To return after a vacation week demands enthusiasm--there are approximately ten big weeks of teaching ahead, and we want those weeks to be worthwhile and memorable.

What will the first week back bring?

Students will begin by getting organized with sharpened color pencils and then leading our school assembly--that will help everyone get back on track.

Then they'll have some time for recess, and after that we'll dive into fraction problem solving and model making. Throughout the rest of the day, I'll teach that fraction lesson a couple times more, meet with both grade-level and school-wide colleagues and give students some time to work on their biography project reading and research.

The rest of the week will find me working with students to problem solve utilizing concepts including order of operations and volume.

Students will also spend time studying science via a Bill Nye wetlands video, observing conservation of mass, and physical vs chemical change.  For conservation of mass we'll find the mass of ice and then see how that mass does not change when it melts to water. We'll also notice that this is a physical change since there was only a phase change not a property change. Students will create a graphic model to show that change and record the mass. To demonstrate the chemical change students will blow up balloons with water and vinegar. They'll find the mass of all objects before and after to show the conservation of mass. They'll also mix a variety of matter to create a physical change as they make bouncy balls too. They'll notice the property changes that occur during this change.

At the end of the week, I'll administer the ELA MCAS tests to students.

Professional learning will find me working on the science/math exploration prep as well as the Junior River Ranger booklet. As always, it will be a busy week, and the overall focus will be to support children with as much positive care and attention as possible.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Overcoming the Tough Times

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I've been through some tough times in the past. Times that found me returning home day after day upset, crying, frustrated, and hurt. Times have improved significantly thanks to the respectful and dignified leadership and friendship of many whose examples have showed me what it means to be a good leader, friend, confident, and mentor.

Looking back at those trying chapters in my life, I am glad that I met the chapters by seeking counsel and support always with my eyes on finding the truth of the matter and understanding what was really going on. Never did I give in to the struggle by giving up on my values or beliefs, however I did recognize truths that fostered positive change and development in me. As in all struggles, rarely is one to blame, but instead it is the conflagration of multiple shortcomings, past experiences, challenges, ambition, poor choices, ignorance, and more.

What did I learn in those tough times? I learned a lot including the following:
  • Empathy is essential
  • Err on the side of assuming positive motives and intent
  • Don't be quick to judge and also don't be quick to trust--sometimes peoples' motives are not well intended or directed
  • Focus on the mission of your work and endeavor 
  • When in doubt, ask questions
  • Keep a written record of events
  • Be respectful and considerate
  • You always can wait to respond or act--time is the friend of conflict resolution
  • You may not understand the root cause or rationale for struggle, it may take years ahead to fully understand what really happened
Bad times happen and we weather them when we approach those times with our best selves, support, and direction. During those tough years, I found strength and inspiration through the words and actions of many. I hope I can be a support to those who struggle too. 

Becoming a Teacher Naturalist

In a sense, I became a child naturalist at a young age as my dad brought us on one outdoor exploration after another. We were always hiking, swimming, biking, and exploring in the woods, at the ocean, and along mountain trails as children. These explorations brought us great joy and a sense of adventure.

Then when I became a teacher, I was drawn to the community where I teach, in part, by the natural beauty of the land. The community members have taken conservation and environmentalism seriously and have protected lots of natural land and water throughout the community. As a young mother, my husband and I explored many of those paths, trails, and waterways with our own children. Later my children continued to explore the land and waterways with countless local adventures such as canoeing to school, hiking to the area's highest peak (small as it may be), running through the outdoor trails, swimming in the local lakes and ponds, and biking from one town and nature sanctuary to another.

Where I live is Thoreau land and there is a deep commitment to the natural lands and water--and this deep commitment is visible via the countless environmental organizations that exist. As a teacher I have wanted to forward this sense of appreciation, understanding, and stewardship to my students, and over time I have participated in a number of activities to do this, but I must say I am not satisfied with what I've done and feel that I can do more. Many families and teachers in our school system have committed substantial time to composting, gardening, creating nature trails, and studying the local landscape with students. This has been wonderful, and I believe we can still do more. My part in this is to work with my grade-level colleagues to develop our river/wetlands environmental education with the local Audubon Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Wild and Scenic River System/Program. We are fortunate to be the recipients of a grant to support our efforts.

What does this mean for me as an educator?

In the weeks, months, and years ahead this means that I'll do the following:
  • Embed the state science, technology, and engineering standards into our Junior River Ranger booklet and program.
  • Tour the lands and waterways myself to explore and learn about natural habitat and to plan for students' trips and explorations.
  • Read books and information about the local lands and waterways.
  • Attend related events.
  • Develop our program with system leadership, families, students and colleagues.
  • Assess our efforts and develop our collective work and study.
This is an exciting aspect of my work as an educator because it is timely, engaging, meaningful, and well supported. There is much to do, and I look forward to the work ahead. I am also open to your thoughts and suggestions. 

Embedding Science Standards into Wetlands and River Studies

Our students are embarking on an environmental exploration of rivers and wetlands habitat with the support of Audubon's Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.

As I prepare for these explorations, I took a look at how we will integrate this work with the Massachusetts Science Technology and Engineering (STE) standards and practices, and this is what I came up with.

  • "Observe and potentially create a model that demonstrates the cycling of water through a watershed through evaporation, precipitation, absorption, surface runoff, and condensation." We will look carefully at this via video introductions, creation of hand-made models, and during our nature walks in the local habitat and elsewhere.
  • "Describe and graph the relative amounts of salt water in the ocean; fresh water in lakes, rivers, and groundwater, and fresh water frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps to provide evidence about the availability of fresh water in Earth's biosphere." We will make these graphs and look for information related to this topic that describes the habitat the students go to school in, a habitat that includes multiple wetlands areas, rivers, lakes and other waterways. 
  • "Obtain and combine information about ways communities reduce human impact on the Earth's resources and environment by changing an agricultural, industrial, or community practice or process. . .including treating sewage, reducing the amounts of materials used, capturing polluting emissions from factories or power plants, and preventing runoff from agricultural activities." We will likely seek out local environmental/landscape experts to discuss this topic with our students as a start.
  • "Test a simple system designed to filter particulates out of water and propose one change to the design to improve it." Students will notice that typical water bottles do not filter out particulates and result in clean water. They will use the engineering design process to create water bottles that also filter out particulates and cleanse water. Students will understand that "technology is any modification of the natural or designed world done to fulfill human needs or wants." Students will sketch design diagrams demonstrating how "each part of a product or device relates to other parts in the product or device."
  • "Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among producers, consumers, decomposers, and the air, water, and soil in the environment to (a) show that plants produce sugars and plant materials, (b) show that animals can eat plants and/or other animals for food, and (c) show that some organisms, including fungi and bacteria break down dead organisms and recycle some materials back to the air. . . emphasis is on how matter moves through the ecosystem." Students will look for evidence of this during our nature walks and collect evidence via photography, drawings, and notes in their Junior River Ranger booklets.
  • "Students will look at two designs for composting to determine which is most likely to encourage the decomposition of materials." Students will compare the classroom worm-composting to the school-wide container composting efforts and to natural composting that occurs. Students might create their own mini composting designs and compare those as well. 
  • Students will create maps of the nature habitats that we explore, and those maps will illustrate "simple landforms." Students will notice rock layers to notice change over time. 
  • Flow charts of food/energy cycles.
  • "Students will construct an argument with evidence that in a particular environment some organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive." Students will speculate about what plants and animals exist in the habitats we explore, and then during the exploration they will notice which species seem to survive well and why. Students will identify "variations. . . .that provide advantages. . . .survival and reproduction." Students will observe changes in the habitat and determine how those changes may have affected living species and the landforms.
  • Students will collect and interpret data.
  • Students will head start frogs, toads, and plant. They will detail the life cycle of these organisms in their Junior River Ranger books. Students will look for evidence of animal/plant life cycles during their naturalist expeditions. 
Science Practices
  • Design and build a simple design problem: create a mini composter, create a water filter. Determine success criteria, note constraints on material and time. 
  • Design a model to test cause and effect relationships.
  • Create graphical representations to demonstrate life cycles of plants and animals as well as wave features and particulate models of matter to describe phase changes.
  • Collect data and make predictions about what would happen if the variable changes - (physical science exploration of matter)
  • Measure and graph weights of substances before and after a chemical reaction (properties of matter- conservation of matter: physical science)
  • Use graphs and data to understand where water is and how much is available in the local habitat.
  • Use evidence to demonstrate how variation among individuals can provide advantages to survival and reproduction. 
  • Test and refine over time water filters, plant packets, solar ovens, composters.
  • Obtain and summarize information about the local habitat climate as well as renewable and nonrenewable energy sources. 

The Next Leg: MCAS Tests

The next leg of the school year is focused on MCAS tests. Fifth graders will take six tests--two in science, two in math, and two in English language arts. This test season will last for four weeks for the fifth graders, and we'll do all we can to support their best effort and test taking skill.

Whether you agree with the tests or not, it's our job to administer the state tests and prepare students for them. We've done the teaching, and now we'll focus on finesse, apt test strategy, and following the test directives during these weeks.

What does this entail?

Since I take the lead with the math teaching, I'll focus the last teaching days leading up to these tests on a number of problem solving activities that help students to revisit essential concepts with model making, calculations, and explanations. Students will also use old MCAS tests to practice and take an online practice test.

Test Taking Strategy
Since I've given these tests for years, I've noticed via score analysis a number of test taking strategies that work including the following:

  • Take your time, this isn't a timed test and those that rush typically don't do as well.
  • Do what you know first as that will warm up your brain, and then go back to the problems you are less sure about. 
  • If you don't know, make an educated guess--don't skip problems. 
  • Read carefully. Highlight key words and turn number words or complex words into digits, calculations, pictures or easy to understand synonyms.
  • To better understand word problems, change the name of the main person to your name--that will help you to step into the problem. 
  • Check over your work, sometimes students make careless errors
  • Be explicit with your answers--the people correcting the open response questions don't know you and they will be looking for right answers that are easy to read and clear.
  • Know multiple choice strategy: Before looking at the answer choices, figure out the answer yourself, then and only then look at the answer choices -- two answer choices will be far from right, one will be close, and one will be the right answer. If the answer choices include equations or expression--evaluate those and write the solutions on the paper before choosing the right answer(s).
  • Sometimes there will be more than one right answer to a question. 
  • Get plenty of rest during test weeks.
  • Bring nutritious snacks, when your brain does deep intellectual work, your body thinks you're running a marathon so you get very hungry. Bring good protein snacks and plenty of water to help you do your best.
  • Make time for play and fun after school and on the weekends as that frees up your brain for better learning and test taking.
  • Most of all use the test as a chance to show off all you know and do your best. If you don't know something and get something wrong it simply means that we have to teach it to you better and/or more--these tests also, in part, test our curriculum and programs.
Compliment Tests with Engaging Hands-On and Peaceful Activities
When students are not testing, we'll fill the time with engaging hands-on activities such as practicing for the play, completing science explorations, project work, and reading. This is a good compliment to the rigor that the tests demand.

On Monday, I'll tell students that the next four weeks are devoted to test prep and taking the tests. I'll tell them that it's best to do their best so that the tests do reflect what they can do and what they know related to the tests. I'll note that the more we know the truth about their learning, the better we can teach them and that it's always best in any endeavor to do your best because then you can look back and feel proud of who you are and what you did. 

Following test season as I've noted below the curriculum takes a plunge into lots of hands-on, collaborative, engaging learning endeavor such as the fifth grade play, the cardboard challenge, the global change makers project, environmental science explorations, Field Day, and end year celebrations which is a terrific way to bring a year of learning and teaching to a close. Onward. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Become a Local Habitat Expert

Should children become experts on their local habitat?

What advantages does his create?

Of course children should become experts on their local habitat as this expertise will allow them to safely navigate, enjoy, and protect that habitat.

How do we forward this activity?

It's best to clearly synthesize local habitat study with the expected standards and programs for each grade level. This makes learning real and meaningful.

Too often people are distanced from their local habitat. They don't fully understand what that habitat includes and how best to enjoy and navigate their surroundings. This lack of understanding leads to a lack of value and care which in turn leads to much less enjoyable and inviting habitats. It's possible to enrich learning opportunities for young children while also increasing their awareness, commitment, and pride in their local surroundings.

Beautiful, healthy, and inviting surroundings uplift people and the lives they live--this is a call that is ripe for our efforts near and far, effort that will better our communities and lives.

River Study: Junior River Rangers

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with Sarah Burskey, a ranger from the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Program and Robin Stuart, Education Coordinator from Mass Audubon's Drum Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. Both naturalists are helping our grade-level team coordinate a number of environmental education activities including the following:
  • Naturalist visit
  • Headstarting wood frogs and the spade foot toad
  • Vernal pool and river walks/exploration
  • River/wetlands study
As I collect and coordinate the information for this study, there's lots of good work to do which includes:
  • Personalizing the Junior River Ranger booklet and tasks
  • Coordinating a Junior River Ranger badge ceremony at the end of the school year
  • Planning the vernal pool/river hikes
  • Preparing the learning experiences which will teach children about the Sudbury River as well as the National Wild and Scenic River program and system
  • Contacting our high school environmental teacher to see if she wants to get involved
  • Synthesizing these efforts with our current science standards and life science efforts
When meeting with Sarah, I was excited when she noted that having a National Wild and Scenic River in your backyard is like having a National Park in your backyard. I'm looking forward to using her words to encourage students and their families to better understand, care for, and protect our school community's natural environment and resources. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Forward Movement: Energizing the Path Ahead

Writing helps to energize the paths we travel.

Thinking via writing gives our paths directions and strength.

So once again, I reflect via writing to energize that path--a path that is much like a river that is always flowing both changed by and changing the land that surrounds its edges.

The days, months, and years ahead will find me focused in this way:

Teaching Direction

Spring 2018
  • Math education
  • River study and stewardship
  • Science study
  • Community building, support, and celebrations
School Year 2018 on. . . 
  • Developing the math program
  • Developing the science and environmental education programs
  • Supporting students' literacy education
  • Continued social-emotional learning/teaching and community building/support
  • Reading, research, writing, community support and activity
  • Family care, attention, and culture
  • Travel and adventure
It's a good time to focus in on what's important and what I can do to better my own life and the lives of others in ways that matter. 

River Study; River Stewards

Rivers are dynamic, vital ecosystems.

As I drove through the streets of my hometown, I found myself moved with a mix of emotions. On one hand, I enjoyed the memories of so many good times in the city, and on the other hand, I found myself saddened by what seemed like a lack of care with regard to urban planning, upkeep, and design--it seemed like there had been little attention to the kinds of urban design and care that create warm and welcoming places. This isn't a problem in my hometown alone, but when you drive through many cities and small towns all over the world, you'll notice that many have not worked to design and modernize in ways that build a warm and welcoming culture. Place matters and without attention to place, we lose the opportunity to build a stronger, more cohesive culture.

As I think about that, I am also thinking about the children I teach and the place where I teach. How can we use schools and education to foster care, attention, and development of our cities, towns, and natural spaces--what can we do?

My care and interest in my hometown was fostered, in part, by my education there. During my grade school and junior high years, I learned a lot about the history of that city and the special events and places there. That education helped to build respect for the city's history, geography, and people. In schools today, we can do the same for our students--we can teach them about their city/town's history, the people, the natural spaces, and the potential--then those students can grow up to both protect and develop that which is special and important about the places where they live.

Where I teach, I'll forward this sentiment and education in multiple ways. We've written a grant to support the visit of a living history presenter who will present the history of the town through the perspective of one of the town's most famous women, Lydia Maria Child. We also wrote and received a grant from the SUASCO organization, an organization dedicated to protecting the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers and surrounding habitats. We'll use that grant to teach students about the Sudbury River's history and geography, and in doing this, we'll aim to develop students' sense of river stewardship, appreciation, and conservation.

Today I'll meet with a representative from the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to learn more about how I will utilize their resources to forward this learning event--the Sudbury River is part of this system, and I'll learn more about what this means and then relay that to students via a number of hands-on activities.

Further, I'll think about how I can continue to forward our national attention to the places where we live, work, and recreate since I know that beautiful, well designed, and well protected landscapes inspire the best of us, and when we let our surroundings, both human-made and natural, deteriorate, we hinder the promise and potential of the good life for all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Teach Children Well: The Re-Organization Begins

I have devoted my life's work to teaching and caring for children. As I consider the many perspectives I've embraced and entertained with that in mind, I recognize that I've amassed a fair number of posts (6,000+), processes, and learning experiences.  In the days ahead, I hope to organize these posts in a better way--a way that will be helpful and useful to educators, parents, and others who work with and care for children regularly. I have decided to put ads on my blog to support the time and effort it will take me to organize this body of work, a collection that I hope will serve to inform and inspire those who are engaged in childcare and teaching. As I work on this re-organization, I welcome your feedback, ideas, and questions. In the end, I hope that this will result in an online book that chronicles my journey while at the same time igniting and informing your work as well.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Problem and Challenge of Teaching Well

I must say that I LOVE the problem of teaching well. I truly enjoy the action of trying to fit all those pieces together into a successful student-friendly program where students both enjoy learning and are inspired to continue to learn throughout their lives.

I also enjoy working with children who are generally open minded, bright, honest, caring and compassionate.

Further it's a joy to work with a dedicated staff of individuals who are all committed to a positive endeavor--this synergy is uplifting.

Yes, there are tough days and the problem of teaching well is sometimes a reach--but nevertheless it's a problem that I've enjoyed engaging with for more than three decades, and a problem I'll continue to reach for in the years ahead.

As I have considered and toyed with many other aspects of the professional field of education, I have always been ricocheted right back into the classroom and teaching--that's where I am meant to be and that's where I'll put my energy and creativity now and into the future. Onward.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Children Who Challenge Us

Ultimately children who challenge us at home or at school are our greatest teachers--they teach us about situations in life that we don't know about. These challenging children can try our souls too because they demand our attention, time, flexibility, deep think, and change--they don't fit the status quo, they are change agents.

In my own family each of my children have been challenging from one time to another. I have struggled with their decisions, outlook, needs, and challenges, and I have been left with the question, "What do I do now?"

With my own children, I generally seek consult online or in real time by finding those who have dealt with similar issues and hearing what they have to say. It's the same at school. When children present new and challenging situations, I have to reach out to others and research to understand the situation to determine what I need to do. That doesn't mean I don't get frustrated in the meantime or try to ignore situations hoping that they'll go away, but in the long run, what I need to do is find out how to deal with the situation.

As a teacher one thing I've learned is that when a child begins to act out and demonstrate challenge early on, you have to pay attention. These kinds of actions almost never disappear, but instead become deeper and more troubling in time. Hence, it's best to pay attention right away and think about what the child needs and why the child is presenting the way he or she is presenting.

In general when children are getting the care, attention, and basic needs they need, they do well. It's typically when a child is missing something he/she needs that he/she acts out. That's when it is our job as educators to find out what that child needs to make things better and to meet that child's needs and challenges. This is challenging work whether you are a parent or a teacher, but it's a critical part of the teaching/learning role.

Strengthening Areas that Need Support

As students took the cumulative math assessment yesterday and the standardized system test earlier in the week, it was clear that there are areas were some or all need strengthening before they take the state's MCAS tests so after vacation we'll dig into the following areas with engaging standards-based exploration and performance assessments:
  1. Volume
  2. Geometry
  3. Measurement
  4. Making models that match fraction operations
  5. Line plots
  6. Fluency with fraction operations
  7. Algebraic thinking including order of operations and coordinate grids
Each exploration will have the following format:
  • similar ability small groups
  • scaffolded exploration from review through enrichment
  • hands-on work and problem solving
  • check-in points
When children arrive back from vacation, I'll explain the format, make the groups, and spend a few minutes each day explaining the exploration and then let students spend most of the time working together to complete the tasks. I'll use a number of resources to create the tasks and make them as meaningful and relevant to students' interests and day-to-day life and questions as possible.

We'll add a bit of test prep too. We've got eight days until MCAS  so we'll likely complete one exploration a day saving the last day, math RTI, and homework for some explicit MCAS practice. 

I think this will be an enjoyable way to review for the tests and solidify some concepts are that less strong at this point. Onward. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Considerations for Better Teaching

I'm too tired to dig into these topics right now, but in reference to a good lunchroom discussion and in analysis of recent assessments, I'm wondering if we would do a better job if we spent more time meeting with families for thoughtful academic discussions, strategizing, and goal setting throughout the year, and if we spent more time up front at the start of the year carefully mapping service delivery, setting goals, and creating teaching/learning strategy for every learner.

Right now time is short for upfront service delivery mapping, strategizing, and goal setting with colleagues, students, and family members, and I am wondering if a greater investment of time and attention to these areas would result in more successful teaching and learning. What do you think?

Systemwide Test Week Analysis

Students took a number of systemwide tests in the last couple of weeks, and tonight I analyzed the results to see how I might improve the program. I came up with the following list in order to meet systemwide and state expectations by the spring.
  1. Fidelity to the schedule matters
  2. Strategic timing of field studies matters too--we want field studies to inform curriculum, provide inspiration, create shared experiences, educate students, and act as a reprieve to the rigor. We don't want field studies to interrupt the flow of good learning.
  3. Fidelity to the curriculum program (I can imagine the curriculum directors nodding with a smile as I write this)
  4. Using the supports we currently use including online programs, unit packets, regular assessments as well as adding more project/problem based activities and math writing process.
  5. Mapping out service delivery at the start of the year with all educators
  6. Strategizing and goal setting with all educators and good formal and informal data at start of the year.
  7. Continued efforts to enlist family support to help every child learn

Daily Decision Making

As I read back past posts, I recognize that this blog illustrates the daily decision making and prep that is a big part of teaching--every day we have to think about the day's objective and how to meet that objective.

Today students will mostly work to finish the cumulative assessment math test. They started the test earlier in the week, and I hope all will finish that test tomorrow since I have to include that information in a district report at the start of May, a report that will take me some time to complete.

As students work, I'll remind them to "show what they know," take their time, and do their best. They'll work on this during their designated math time as well as during other periods if they are still not finished. It's a long test for fifth graders.

While they work, I'll attend to clarifying questions, recording the scores, reviewing results, and prepping the math exercises we'll work on after vacation--exercises that will take on more of a project/problem based approach. Onward.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Students' Test Assess the Teacher Too

I'm not a fan of teachers being assessed by students' standardized tests since I don't believe the assessment tell the important story of teaching and learning, however, I do believe that testing and assessments can be used to inform educators about program and teaching improvement and development.

Why Not Judge Educators by Test Scores?
First of all educators are often working without needed supports to teach well. Classes may have too many students. Students may not have the supports they need to learn well, and systems in general may have structures, roles, and programs that don't support good teaching or learning. Of course educators have to speak up for what they need, but often educators' voices are lost in politics, bureaucracies, and more. It's possible that one class can have lots of students who struggle with a number of factors simply because a teacher has a credential to serve those students or because a teacher is good with those students while a class next door could possibly have an "easier to teach" group for one reason or another. Test scores are the result of multiple, complex factors and many of those factors are out of a single teacher's reach so teachers should not be judged by their students' test scores.

Test Assessments Provide Helpful Information Related to Program Development and Improvement
From observing how students take a test to listening to their questions to assessing the results all provide a helpful lens with regard to student learning. As I watch students take a test, I can tell who is willing and able to show what they know, and who is reluctant or unable to figure it out. That helps me to assess who I need to continue to work with to build greater skill and capacity, and it also gives me ideas about where a child is struggling such as need for greater social emotional learning support, need for greater practice and repetition, or need for a different kind of learning and teaching.

Further, as I watch students take a test and listen to their questions, it helps me to understand where students gained good experience, teaching, and understanding, and where I have to revisit to think about how I might change the way I teach a particular concept, skill, or knowledge point. For example today students had many questions about a specific question, and as I assessed, my analysis pointed to the fact that students had not had enough independent practice with interpreting or making the kind of model asked for. I'll go back and teach that concept more in the days ahead.

As we look at the analysis of all the scores, we can determine who made adequate or even better progress and who could have made more progress. This kind of analysis helps us to look at our programs with greater specificity, and that look helps us to think ahead, do some research, and make good changes to better what we do.

So while I don't think scores should be used to rate individual teachers, I do think scores offer one important glimpse into the way we teach, the programs we use, and the development we need to further develop what we do for and with children.

Planning Science/Math Explorations/Performance Assessments

In the next ten weeks of the school year, students will engage in a large number of hands-on science and math explorations. As I prep the classroom for these explorations, I want to tease out the focus and materials prep that has to be done in the days ahead.

Plant Packets
Students will embark on this study with some explicit experiences with planting seeds in a number of ways, later they'll have the chance to design their own plant packets or health, productive plant environments.

Water Bottles
Students will re-engineer water bottles to meet the needs of needing a bottle that both holds and filters water for healthy hydration.

Heterogeneous Mixtures vs. Homogeneous Mixtures or Solutions
Students will have the opportunity to practice this in multiple fun ways. They'll also have the chance to take apart a mixture to see what it is made up of using a number of science tools.

Chemical vs Physical Reaction
Students have already been studying this in a variety of ways and we'll continue to review this concept.

Conservation of Mass and Energy
I'll mostly model this and then students will observe this through hands-on work.

Students will continue to build contraptions that demonstrate both kinetic and potential energy.

Life Cycles
Students will have the opportunity to watch tadpoles develop into frogs. They've studied and will continue to study life cycles of plants and other animals too.

River Habitats and Wetlands
Thanks to a SUASCO grant students will be able to study the animals, plants, and ecosystem of rivers and wetlands via hands-on explorations, field studies, visiting experts, and raising tadpoles.

Students will study volume through a number of hands-on math and science explorations.

Students will compare the mass of many objects and study mass in conjunction with learning about the conservation of mass too.

Fractions and Measurement
Students will apply the knowledge of fractions and measurement to real-life situations via scaffolded, collaborative project/problem based learning.

Students will review geometry via a number of hands-on exploration with tangrams, origami, and project/problem based learning.

Global Cardboard Challenge
We'll devote the large part of week at the end of the year to this amazing hands-on engineering project that will allow students to synthesize their learning throughout the year with a creative application.

Now that I've brainstormed the big ideas, it's time to add all the details project-by-project. . . to be continued.