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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Awards Night Reflections

Last night I attended the last of my three sons' high school Awards Nights. I was struck on how that event has evolved over time.

Nine years ago, my first son was a dedicated scholar--he worked every day until late hours in the night on his studies, achieved good grades, and learned a lot. He was similarly involved in a number of school activities and was (and still is) an all around good kid. At his senior year awards night, he received no awards and we weren't invited to the event. Since he was my first son, I didn't know what to expect and didn't think too much about it. Later when I saw the Awards Night brochure, I was disappointed that a child who worked so hard didn't receive an award, but I also recognized that though he was a strong student, he wasn't the top student in any of his subjects, and I was also grateful that his scholarship had been rewarded with admission to a great university and countless opportunities related to that.

Four years later, my next son did receive a small award at the Awards Night ceremony, a ceremony that was held in the school's field house. It was a fairly simple ceremony with a number of awards, but not that many. We were grateful for my son's award, an award he earned by having good attendance for four years of high school. We were impressed with the many other awards students received that night especially awards related to exceptional scholarship and contribution. I was also happy to see so many of my former students receive awards. My second son, like my first, also had the award of being admitted to a great college that was a super fit for his learning interests and style as well as other acknowledgements related to his interests throughout the year that served to encourage him and lead him forward.

Then last night, I attended the Awards Night again. This time the event seemed to be transformed as it was held in the relatively new high school's theater and included beautiful music, a stage full of graduates, flowers, and awards, and an auditorium filled with family members, community members, some faculty and students too. There was a greater feeling of scholarship and celebration at this Awards Ceremony and there were far more students receiving awards this time than in times past. The awards also represented a greater scope of what it means today be a successful student and person with awards related to the arts, service, scholarship, and leadership--I really liked what seemed to be a more holistic awards ceremony that gave greater acknowledgement to a more comprehensive array of characteristics and accomplishments related to what it means to be successful. This was a positive experience.

As I looked out at the students, I was inspired by so many wonderful awards. I also found myself a bit sensitive to those that received no awards as I had experienced that with my eldest son--a son who had been a good student throughout high school, yet one that didn't fall into any award category. I wondered how we continually coach students forward in ways that recognize their significant, individual contributions while still honoring those that excel in specific areas of school life. I suppose this is a perennial question in any learning sphere. In our school community there are many ways that students are regularly recognized and awarded, and I am thinking about how we do that at our grade level too. How can we work to inspire the best of each and every child at fifth grade?

I was grateful last night to the contribution of so many teachers, community members, and administrators that led to such a wonderful Awards Ceremony. Their scholarship and contribution shined. I was also happy to see what seemed to me to be a transformation of what was a more narrow ceremony in the past to a much more holistic and inclusive ceremony at present. I'm sure that the Awards Ceremony will continue to transform to reflect what it means to be a successful student and to inspire as many students as possible to future pursuits, success, and happiness. I was delighted to be apart of this event and grateful to the tremendous time and effort it took to foster such an event.

How Do You Measure Your Work and Effort?

Most of us are formally and informally evaluated at our places of work. Rarely, however, does the evaluation by another impact you as much as your own evaluation of yourself. I find that the times that I truly feel accomplishment are times when I meet my own standards for good work and effort--times when I reach goals that I've created for myself.

As I think about this and I think about both the days and goals ahead, I am wondering about the standards that will translate to achievement and good work for me. I've created a short list to lead my efforts. As I plan for the year ahead, I'll likely modify and enrich this list and also use it as a check-list for what to do and how to evaluate my own work. I am truly at the teaching/learning stage in my career where it's mostly about finesse--learning and working to deepen the essential elements and actions related to transformative teaching and learning, the kind of teaching and learning that truly uplifts and empowers lives.

Class Community

  • The students respect one another and show similar respect to all members of the school community.
    • We begin the year by explicitly discussing what it means to be respectful and what that looks like in the classroom, throughout the school, on the playground, and while attending off-site school events. 
  • The students demonstrate self worth, self advocacy, and self reflection in meaningful and purposeful ways.
    • Students regularly discuss what it means to lead your own learning and how they can better believe in themselves, advocate for what they need, and reflect on their efforts to date and what they need and will do in the future to better their personal success and happiness. 
  • There is regular time for class meetings and discussions, and during those exchanges students demonstrate care and attention to one another.
    • Regular time will be set aside during lessons and the weekly routine to focus on what it takes to build a strong classroom community. There will also be similar discussions and efforts added to the schedule as needed. 
  • The students are comfortable coming to me with concerns, interests, questions, and ideas in person and via notes, phone calls, and email.
    • Starting at the beginning of the year I will let students know that I work for them and that I am there to help them to have the best possible experience of school, an experience where they develop as successful, happy people who engage in meaningful, purposeful, engaging study and activity. 
  • Students help one another to learn and understand that success for each of us means greater success for all of us.
    • We explicitly learn about what it takes to be a successful collaborative learning team. We discuss the attributes and actions that lead to this and work to better our collaboration and care continually. 
  • Students know how to access and navigate classroom resources to assist their successful learning and experience of school. 
    • Students are explicitly introduced to classroom resources and given time to practice using those resources to assist their learning. Resources are easily accessible to all students most times. 
  • Students understand and work towards the attributes of good character including emotional intelligence, social emotional learning, and collaborative skill and success.
    • Explicit attention is given to the attributes of good character and categories of successful social emotional learning at the start of the year. Students will have a chance to reflect on that information and practice using the language and efforts related to what it means to be emotionally intelligent and a person of good character throughout the year.
  • The students follow school protocols and policies and work systematically to change any protocols or policies that they feel are unfair or inappropriate for them or the school. 
    • Students will explicitly study the school "constitution" or handbook to learn about school protocols and policies. When situations arise that a policy or protocol seems to be unnecessary or not positive for students' welfare and positive experience of school, students will systematically work for change with that protocol or policy. 
  • Educators will focus on community building and students' personal development regularly on their own and with each other in order to successfully support teacher students' social, emotional, and collaborative development.
    • Teachers meet regularly to review how students are doing individually and as a team, and as a result of those meetings, teachers continually coach students towards successful social, emotional, physical, and academic skills, abilities, and development.
Math
  • Students are engaged, active, reflective, collaborative, systematic learners.
    • Students are explicitly introduced to what it means to be a successful learner--they understand the role that engagement, activity, reflection, collaboration, and systematic thinking/doing has on successful living and learning. Students have regular learning experiences that integrate these attributes to better and develop students' math learning. 
  • Students understand, study, and work for mastery with every math standard and practice.
    • Students are explicitly introduced to each standard/practice and the rationale for learning that standard. Students work with the teacher to create and define multimodal learning paths for each standard--they will know what it takes to learn that standard with success. Students will have multiple, differentiated opportunities to practice and eventually review, master, and/or enrich their understanding of each standard. 
  • Students review learning errors with care and make appropriate corrections and revisions.
    • Students will have the opportunity to review, reflect, and better their work regularly in order to build their accuracy, clarity, and communication of math standards. 
  • Students understand what it means to be a successful learner and apply knowledge of cognition, good study habits, analysis, reflection, and goal setting to support their successful learning.
    • Students will begin the year with lessons related to how the brain works. They will also explicitly discuss and learn from the teacher and each other what it means to be a successful learner. Throughout the year they will revisit these discussions as they continually develop their capacity for successful learning. 
  • Students learn about multiple tools and activities that support math learning, and they increasing learn to access and use those resources to promote successful math learning.
    • All classroom tools and resources will be explicitly introduced and practiced  to help students understand the resources available and how to use those resources to strengthen their learning. 
  • Students increasing learn how to apply their math learning to real-life relevant and meaningful problems and projects with accuracy. 
    • With each unit students will have the opportunity to apply the unit's main standards, practices, and big ideas to real world relevant and meaningful problems and projects using a process of creation, revision, and presentation. 
  • Students successfully demonstrate their knowledge on assessments and project/problem based learning events. 
    • Problem and project-based learning events tied to each unit will allow students to apply and communicate their learning in meaningful ways. 
  • Students receive regular response to their math learning and study efforts. 
    • Students will regularly respond to their math learning via a math reflection journal. Teachers will regularly respond to students' learning via that journal as well as responses via assessments, meetings, coaching, and project/problem rubrics. 

    Science/STEAM

    • Students are engaged, purposeful, curious, collaborative, systematic learners.
      • Science activities will be designed and promoted in ways that foster students' engagement, sense of purpose, curiosity, collaboration, and systematic thinking/doing. 
    • Students understand the scientific process and engineering design process. They practice the steps of these processes with multiple hands-on projects, explorations, and experiments.
      • Explicit teaching, review, and signage will develop students understanding of the scientific process as well as the engineering design process. 
    • Students study and learn the expected science standards and practices.
      • Students will study each science standard using one or more of the scientific practices. Standards and practices will be explicitly relayed, studies, practiced and applied by students. 
    • Students apply their knowledge to real-world, relevant, meaningful problems and situations.
      • As much as possible via all scientific study will be promoted with real-world, relevant, and meaningful context and impact. 
    • Students successfully demonstrate their knowledge on assessments and project/problem based learning events. 
      • Students will have regular opportunities to demonstrate and share their learning and questions. 
    • Students read about science topics and respond to and share that information in multiple ways.
      • A classroom science/math library will be available for student reading and exploration. Further science learning will be integrated with ELA via the creation of science slide shows, reading/study of science texts, and reading and responding to informational articles and information. 
    • Students learn to read and complete lab reports. Students receive regular response to their scientific exploration and lab reports. 
      • Science activities will be regularly matched with lab reports, and completed lab reports will be collected, reviewed, and responded to by the teacher.
    • Students learn about science in the field especially science related to the local environment including the local rivers, gardens, wetlands, schoolyard, and nature preserves. 
      • Teachers and students will learn many science standards via the environment that surrounds them and in conjunction with a partnership with Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and The National Wild and Scenic River System. 

    Wednesday, May 30, 2018

    Special Events

    Soon the class will embark on a special event. It's critical that I'm totally present and aware throughout the event so that children are safe, polite, learning a lot, and enjoying the event too.

    I'll start the event with an overview about manners and proper behavior. We'll make sure that everyone has a lunch and water for the event, and then we'll embark on our journey--the first of many special events in the days to come.

    I'm sure this event and the ones that follow will make an impact on students and inspire greater related learning. We sponsor events like this because they help to make the school year more enjoyable, memorable, and impactful. Onward.

    Overrides and Levels

    In our system, students are placed in math levels at sixth grade. There are both positive and questionable attributes related to this.

    On the positive side, there are a number of good reasons for doing this. First of all for students who are devoted to their math study and substantially ahead of the others, the leveling gives them a group of peers who share similar interests and pacing when it comes to math learning. These quick, math-directed learners sometimes don't get the attention they deserve in big, heterogeneous classes. These students often don't fit the mainstream social profile either since many of these students prefer their studies to the playful banter and games on the playground. So in a sense, being able to learn in a fast-paced, enrichment level provides a kind of scholarly haven for those students. Similarly students who struggle greatly with math learning for a large number of reasons also find a haven-like quality to the extra-help level, a level with less students, more help, and greater attention to each child's individual learning style, needs, and supports. As for those placed in the typical grade-level group, these students do very well over time. They are typically students who learn well and will continue to receive a strong, holistic math program.

    On the questionable side of math grouping is that it's not a perfect science. Children develop in multiple ways at multiple times, and because a child is very strong at one point and less strong at another should not label them as enrichment, grade-level, or needing extra help. There are multiple factors that impact a child's learning development, and we want to make sure that we don't label students too soon so we want to be sensitive to this. Overall when taking a systemwide look, there's little evidence of students' losing positivity or feeling labeled since the students tend to change levels up and down throughout sixth to twelfth grade, and almost every students performs well in math by the end of high school thus pointing to the success of the system overall.

    With all of this in mind, the system does give parents the last word when it comes to math levels. Any parent can override the level proposed and choose a level they think is better. Parents typically override when their children fall on the border of one level and another--at times like these parents question what's best for their children and engage with teachers in that conversation. It's a case-by-case decision making process since no two children are the same and what's right for one may not be the right choice for another. Thankfully we have lots of formal and informal data to share with families as they consider the choice to override. I am never worried when a parent questions a child's level since I believe that parents know their children well and that children themselves have a good sense of whom they are and what they are willing to invest in. As a parent, I've overridden a teacher's leveling decision on a couple of occasions, and in both cases, I felt I made the right choice. My choices were based on who my children were and the level of support I could provide my children at the time in question.

    As we think of leveling and overrides, what's most important is that we're transparent about the issues related to the decision and that we have the best long term interests of a child in mind. It's also important to point out that in the scheme of things, this decision is a small matter and one that can be easily changed if it doesn't work out. Onward.


    Fertile Ground for Professional Growth: Let Ideas Simmer

    Jimmy Casas impressed me as an educational
    leader when I met him years ago. I look forward
    to reading his book this summer. 
    I like to let good ideas simmer, sift, and sort in my mind over time.

    I also like to play with ideas well before those ideas are embedded in my work.

    I find that entertaining and developing ideas in this way creates a lot of open spaces in my brain to take in, synthesize, and evaluate all the information related to those ideas over time.

    This summer I'll be playing with the following ideas. I find that the better I define those ideas, the more able I am to grow those ideas in ways that matter.

    Math Unit Development
    I am working to develop the math unit structure, process, and execution in ways that better teach the standards and engage students positively in the study of math.

    This effort will build on past successful efforts.

    Introduction and Rationale
    Each unit will begin with an introduction to the overarching theme of the unit and the rationale for learning that information. The rationale will be relayed through real-world stories, illustrations, and need. Essentially students will learn about the unit's main focus and why they will be stronger, better students and world citizens if they learn that information well.

    I know that Jo Boaler's new book will support the
    efforts I want to promote related to project/problem
    based learning in math next year. 
    Standards
    Next students will engage in a scaffolded deep study of each standard which includes explicit teaching, exploration with hands-on, tech, and paper/pencil activities, vocabulary exercises, practice packets, tech practice, at-home and in-school reflection, assessments, more practice, and a performance task. The performance task will give students a chance to apply what they've learned with problem solving and project work. The performance task will include the following steps:

    • introduction
    • collaborative work
    • individual presentation via writing, model making, film, slideshows, and/or other venues
    • editing with a teacher
    • revision
    • presentation to classmates, family members, other students in the room, and/or online
    Assessment
    Assessment will occur in an ongoing formal and informal way, however at the end of each unit students will take the systemwide assessment online and offline related to that unit. 

    This study will require fidelity to the schedule--to meet the standards expectations requires that we use our time well to support consistent, steady study in a welcoming, thoughtful learning environment.

    Science Exploration and Study
    Similar to math study there are clear guidelines from the system and state that support this study. The challenge is to meet these expectations in ways that engage students and teach them well.

    To do this better requires that I spend some time this summer re-reading the state standards and chosen systemwide curriculum. As I read, I'll reflect on the standards taught well and those that I can teach better next year. I'll also take a close look at the MCAS data when it is released to see what questions students did well on and where students demonstrated that they need more or better instruction. 

    In general, I want to improve the instruction in the following ways:
    • Ordering materials ahead of time so that I am ready for the multiple explorations students will engage in.
    • Reviewing the websites created to support students' study.
    • Developing a better approach to the lab report to support students' systematic study, reflection, and reporting. I want to use a simple report that I can respond to at the end of a lab -- I may place these reports together in one science notebook to support students' overall study and work.
    • Working with the local nature preserve, Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, to develop the environmental science study efforts.
    • Continuing our work with the Discovery Museum and Boston Science Museum to develop students' science interest, engagement, and study.
    We put a lot of time into this book, and I look
    forward to reading it again so that I can embed the
    ideas more successfully into the daily teaching
    and learning. 
    Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
    Successful efforts so far have included embedding SEL mini lessons into academic subjects. I want to re-read a book I co-authored with colleagues and demonstrate more fidelity to the ideas presented in the book in next year's curriculum as I know the language and exercises in the book will empower students ability to develop emotional intelligence and good collaboration skills which is most important to their overall success. 

    Similarly I want to think about how we will continue to embed these ideas into the first six weeks of the school year, a time when we establish routines and build class community. I suspect that we'll continue to utilize these activities:
    • parent/student surveys
    • happiness survey
    • character building discussion and activities
    • social emotional learning assessment and goal setting
    • review of school handbook (constitution) and noting which policies and protocols each of us follows with ease and which ones require more practice and support
    • creating signage to lead class efforts in this regard
    I also want to work with the class more to think about their role as the oldest students in the school and what that means for their school wide behavior. We'll look deeply at these questions:
    • What does it mean to be school leaders? How do we make that visible?
    • How can we help others in the school?
    • What kinds of words and behaviors will result in respect and good reputations in the school?
    • How can we help one another in kind and caring ways?
    Embedding the New Social Studies Standards
    Our team has begun to think about how we'll embed the new social studies standards. To begin this work, I'll make the time to study the new standards with depth and then work on how we'll embed the main themes of the standards and its focus on the constitution and government into our first six weeks of school as we build democratic classrooms. This will bring me back to study I did a long time ago related to similar content. I look forward to this effort as I believe that it's important for students to understand their history, rights, and government well. 

    These will be the four main areas of summer study and 2018-2019 school year improvement and development. I am excited about letting these ideas simmer, sift, and sort as I play with this progression and ready for the positive changes ahead.

    To make sure that I complete this work, I'll actually set aside a couple of days for each topic and dive into that work at a local library or other learning center during the summer months. 





    Doing Work that Matters: Many Levels of Intersection and Development in Education

    As educators we are pulled in multiple directions.

    It's good to navigate our learning/teaching efforts in directions that impact students with strength.

    To do this we often have to assess the teaching/learning landscape to notice what is needed and who is there to support our efforts to fulfill and enrich those needs.

    There are multiple levels of work we engage in with this in mind.

    Level one is that area of effort we have full control over--we make the decisions and lead those efforts with the resources, experience, and knowledge we have.

    Level two is the collaborative areas of teaching and learning at ready access. This is likely the work we do with our grade-level or subject-area colleagues as well as the parents and students we serve.

    Level three is broader team we work with--the team at the school- and system- levels. This is often the team you advocate to or with to foster new initiatives, make promising change, and help systems to evolve in ways that better the teaching and learning for all.

    Level four is that level that goes beyond the school- and system- and reaches out into the edusphere close to home and abroad. Often big ideas are shared and developed in this sphere and typically social media. coursework, conferences, reading, and research connects us to this broad area of study and effort.

    As educators we have to be cognizant of these multiple levels of communication and work, and what successful strategies work at each level.

    For level one, I suggest a good routine of daily work that empowers the work you do teach well. Finding a routine that works for your professional contribution, growth, and daily effort matters and this routine will differ from educator to educator.

    At level two, common goals, collective analysis, and shared project/problem-based work enriches the team collaboration. Frequent meetings and deep knowledge of one another's strengths, challenges, vision, and dreams supports positive collaboration and result. Building these teams truly elevates what we can do with and for families and students. Where there are good structures for collaboration such as shared teaching models, common planning periods, professional learning communities, and shared goals, there is good opportunity to build successful collaborative teams.

    Level three depends a lot on the structures in place, structures that organize and foster the voice,  choice, and activity of all stakeholders. If there are ready channels for communication, share, and development, then it's likely that this is a good level for building one's greater capacity to teach well and forward a positive evolution of ideas and practice. If structures at this level are compromised, then this level will be a more challenging level to navigate and might even serve as a wall to good change and development for individual educators and all stakeholders. It's important for educators who are interested in change to understand this level well in order to be able to promote new ideas at the system level--ideas that will develop what we can do for all students. I am one who supports the move to more distributive systems of leadership in order to entertain the good ideas of individual educators and educational teams to better what we can do with and for students and families. These distributive systems thrive if there are good idea systems, communication, professional learning, and open minds to continued growth and evolution to teach students well.

    Level four requires that you make time to interact with educators outside of your daily teaching/learning sphere. You might follow education-related social media threads and become active via your state teachers' union, education departments, and subject-area organizations. Similarly you may reach out to be active in formal national and international organizations and exchange and/or regularly consult social media threads that provide you with ready access to education change makers, researchers, and stars across the globe.

    How these levels of effort interact is fascinating to think about. Sometimes educators will be most inspired by national and international share via social media. Big ideas from the Twittersphere may powerfully impact what you do in the classroom each day. Other times it will be the close collaboration of grade-level or subject-area colleagues that fosters the best growth and development related to practice and students success. Sometimes it's simply a book you read or an idea you have that promotes positivity that matters, and it could be that a school- or system-wide focus provides the impact you desire. These levels intersect in many different ways to move schools and students ahead.

    As professional educators, it's critical that we are aware of these many levels and what it takes to gain capacity with each one, the kind of capacity that leads to your best effect with regard to the students and families you serve. Onward.

    Tuesday, May 29, 2018

    Developing the Math Unit for 2018-2019

    There's been considerable effort invested in developing our fifth grade math program over the past many years.

    I'm thinking about the components of each unit for the 2018-2019 year.

    What will they be?

    Learning to Learn Mini Lessons
    These lessons will be embedded regularly to support students ability to develop learning to learn behaviors such as self advocacy, growth mindset, brain knowledge, self knowledge, confidence, perseverance, and understanding of learning in general.

    Unit Overview and Essential Questions
    Each unit will begin with a big picture discussion of the unit topic and where that topic fits into the world we live in. We'll discuss the rationale for knowing the topic--why it's important to study, and back that discussion up with related images, videos, and stories.

    Specific Standards
    We'll dive into each standard with a variety of learning/teaching approaches including the following:

    • explicit modeling and instruction
    • model making with manipulatives, building, and drawing
    • practice
    • related tech games and exercises
    • problem/project based learning and an open ended performance assessment process
    • online/offline multiple choice and short answer assessments
    • discussions and debates
    • homework review and reflections
    Unit Standards Review and Connections
    Reviewing the standards of the current unit as well as standards from past units. Looking for connections.

    I will utilize the systemwide scope and sequence, unit packets, unit assessments, grade-level website, new and old research, and more to inform this work. 

    I'm looking forward to building on the past efforts that work to better what we can do in the year ahead. 

    The Fight

    He fought like a caged bull.
    Angry, relentless, loud, and brazen
    He showed his muscle
    Raged
    And loudly bellowed
    For Freedom
    Understanding
    Choice
    Voice
    Truth
    Acknowledgement
    Understanding
    Team
    Compassion
    Empathy
    Care
    Kindness

    Inside
    Like a furnace
    He burned
    He ached
    He churned
    He smoldered

    Again and again
    He consulted his soul
    Reviewed his situation
    Observed the landscape surrounding him
    Listened to the voices  around and within
    And for a long time
    He continued to stoke the fire
    That flamed his energy
    And angered his enemies

    Then late into his days
    Finally
    He was heard
    And rather than a rock-hard response
    Hits
    and
    Harm
    He was met with kindness
    Questioning
    An embrace
    And Interest

    Someone actually wanted
    To hear his story
    Look into his eyes
    Share his questions
    And see his truth

    Patiently
    With Time
    The raging fire turned to a warm hearth
    That glowed with light
    And warmed his heart and soul
    He knew then that what he felt and heard and knew
    Was truth
    That he held in isolation.
    Shared,
    this truth was now a promise
    A light
    A beacon to
    Lead him forward
    With others
    To make better

    The hard edged rock
    That cut and hurt
    Had smoothed its edges
    And become a warm bench
    For a tired soul
    Looking for a companion
    With whom to
    Unravel the twisted fates and falsehoods and ferocity
    Of the past
    Building good paths to the future

    He was so glad
    To arrive at this place
    And so happy to be there for
    Others who see a light, feel a passion, and know a dream
    Shared by few

    True Words of Encouragement and Critique Matter

    Recently something I put a lot of time into was noticed publicly and that meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to me because it was an initiative that I've researched, spent a lot of time on, and truly value. When work that you value is recognized, that puts a skip in your step and motivates even better work.

    Also recently another effort that I value and have spent considerable time on was noticed--that too has inspired my future work and effort. It's amazing how a few words that demonstrate someone really knows you and understands your work and value can inspire better work and effort.

    Similarly an area of need was recognized and noted to me. The area was not a surprise to me, but the way the issue was sensitively and accurately portrayed was helpful. I know that none of us have all gifts or strengths, and there's always more to work on when it comes to doing a job well done. I appreciated the critique and the fact that it was mostly shared with accuracy.

    When we work well together with empathy, compassion, understanding, and shared goals and direction, it becomes easy to discuss and work on both our strengths and our challenges. This kind of compassionate and understanding learning community is honest and works to better all members in ways that matter.

    I want to think about this as I work with students in the final days of the school year. While I'm pushing them quite a bit on their biography projects right now, I want to make sure that I make substantial time to notice their strength in this project and their efforts all around--I don't want to forget what a few words of honest, knowing encouragement and positivity can do to elevate a child's spirit, vision, effort, and belief in themselves.

    In so many ways our learning/teaching communities are communities of leading each other forward--we learn from our colleagues, our students, the families, administrators, and community members, and they learn from us. We're a community of mentors and mentees, leaders and followers, givers and receivers, teachers and students, and in the best of circumstances each of us plays every role at one time or another with the common denominator of leading each other forward towards mutually approved and supported individual and collective goals and vision.


    Deep Project Focus

    Today students will focus deeply on their biography projects. Students will also practice math with a number of tech sties. I'll coach this effort with a reminder of the biography project timeline and needed efforts to reach the biography presentation goals.

    Monday, May 28, 2018

    Walls Create Fear, Anxiety, and Tension

    I sat in my open backyard today and realized how much more free and relaxed I feel now that we took down the wall of weeds, trees, and an old shed. Instead, now, I can look out into the forested wetlands and I sensed a much greater feeling of relaxation and peace.

    I saw that feeling as a metaphor for the wall that Trump and his cronies want to erect between the United States and Mexico, and I realized once again that the answer is not a big, ugly wall as that wall will create greater divide, tension, and unrest. Instead we should work creatively with Mexico and perhaps Canada to to create ways of maximizing each country's great resources, beauty, and people to share in our collective wealth and opportunity--what can we do for each other that will translate into a more open, peaceful borders and harmony rather than an ugly wall that will create anxiety and not last as always what is more dignified and humane wins out in the end. A wall is a bad idea, working together for more peaceful, open borders and exchanges between the great people of North America is the best resolve.

    Led by the Least Amongst You

    Who is the least amongst you--the least in your community, school, family, state, country, or world?

    How do you define least?

    Long ago when I studied inclusion, I came to support the notion that when we pay attention to and meet the needs of the least amongst us, we lift everyone up.

    As I think about this and think about the days of teaching and learning ahead, I'm thinking about how I define "least," and how I can serve these individuals better.

    The least in school may be those that struggle the most--these are children that struggle with academic expectations, the school environment, relationships, or having their basic needs met. How might I do better with regard to these students?

    Some actions I want to pay better attention to include the following:

    • Basic Needs: Do these students have the food, sleep, shelter, health care, and support they need, and if not, how can we help out?
    • Academic Support: Do these students have access to apt academic support and resources so they are continuing to learn with strength and confidence?
    • Positive Relationships: Do these students have the opportunity, time, skills, and abilities to engage in positive relationships?
    At the start of the year, I want to listen carefully to what past teachers and administrators have to say about my incoming class, and then with regard to those who are labeled as struggling in any way, I want to think carefully about their home-school relationships/communication, learning resources, academic needs, and support schedules. I want to focus in on these students with depth as we create the weekly schedule and learning pattern. I want to think about how I can support these students more. 

    I do believe that when we begin our teaching/learning year with a focus on the least amongst us, we build capacity for all learners and this makes an important, positive difference. 

    Sunday, May 27, 2018

    Women's Paths

    I considered the paths of many women I know tonight.

    All of them are passionate women who have something to say, and women who have pushed ahead in their chosen fields of study, work, and contribution.

    Each of these women have been loving mothers who are dedicated to extended family, and each woman has made significant sacrifice too.

    I drew inspiration as I thought about their paths, the work they do, and the families they love.

    In so many ways our paths are the same, and in many ways our paths differ too.

    I will continue to watch, listen to, and be inspired by the women around me, and let their paths inform me too. We can support one another as we find our ways knowing that there's not one right direction or path, but instead many ways to travel life's journey.

    Choosing College Courses With My Son

    My son is attending a liberal arts college program next year.

    I remain a fan of this kind of education as I believe it broadens ones perspective of life and living.

    I also realize that not every child is directed in this way, and that's okay too. There are many ways to travel the life journey.

    Already the college has reached out to my son with magnificent study choices. There were a number of seminars he could choose from--seminars that will definitely change the way he looks at the world and the diversity of people who populate places near and far.

    The two of us discussed the options. He was immediately drawn to professors and courses that created an opportunity to work with small groups of students with intense multi-disciplinary study. I was delighted that he was directed in that way as I am looking forward to the discussions we'll have and what I'll learn too as he studies these amazing topics with skilled, experienced scholars.

    I also found it interesting to see what he was choosing versus what I would choose--we are different thinkers, and that's interesting too.

    When I was a high school graduate, I had little knowledge of college. When I received the college letter asking me to choose a major, I found myself looking up the titles in the dictionary and chose psychology because I was interested in people. When we lined up to choose our courses, I started with the requirements. Later as I became more knowledgeable about the campus and offerings, I chose courses based on interests and the quality of the professors. I found that a good professor, no matter what they taught, was a great avenue to good learning.

    There's so much to learn in this world, and to talk about this learning with our children, friends, and family is to develop everyone's ability to choose well and learn a lot.

    Saturday, May 26, 2018

    Treat The Immigration Crisis as the Cancer It Is

    The immigration crisis is a cancer that is waging war on humanity.

    A wall will not solve this problem just like a band-aid does not solve cancer.

    We have to look deeply at the roots of the crisis and work as a global community to solve the problem.

    I am not an immigration specialist, but I have some possible solutions.

    In general, I believe that most people like to live near family and friends. They enjoy the habitat that they grew up if they are able to live there with peace and opportunity. The reason immigration exists, in a large part, is the fact that people cannot live with peace or opportunity in their homelands. How do we solve this problem?

    Crimes Against Humanity
    As we see in Syria, grave crimes against humanity force people from their homelands. The world leaders have to work together to rid our world against crimes like these. I believe there are peaceful solutions to this problem, and those solutions arise from studying the money made and spent as well as the affiliations behind these grave crimes, and working to right the situation with as much peaceful process as possible. Without fear of oppression, criminal behavior, imprisonment, or death, many people would choose to stay in their homelands.

    Resource Protection and Management
    Another reason people leave their homelands is because the resources are not sufficient to sustain opportunity and good living. The world leaders can work on this problem by finding ways to manage, protect, and sustain the natural resources that enable good living--resources such as clean air, clean water, and fertile soil are integral to good living and I believe the world leadership can utilize resources to work on this problem with success.

    Education
    We know that when people are well educated, they lead their countries well. When only some have the opportunity to be educated, problems arise. Too many in the world are not allowed to be well educated or do not have access to that education. Girls particularly suffer from this. We should work to uplift education in every corner of the world in meaningful and powerful ways.

    Opportunity
    There is a natural curiosity amongst people to learn about one another, and by providing more comprehensive world exchanges, I believe we can provide opportunities for people to stay in their homelands and live well too. For example universities throughout the world can be encouraged to create satellite campuses in places where there are great resources, amazing history, wonderful geography, and good people--places where students would have the opportunity to learn with depth and interest. This would bring money, opportunities, and valuable exchanges to underserved communities around the world.

    Similarly world leaders could work together to legalize and manage the trade of goods, presently legal and illegal, to lessen crime and increase opportunity. For example could we dismantle the illegal drug trade by legitimizing that trade for prescription cures and scientific research. Is it cheaper to simply pay those who work in illegal trades now and train them for other fields of work than to spend the money on the kinds of law enforcement and espionage it takes to combat the illegal trades that create so much havoc in countries.

    Better world wide regulations about who makes money all over the world, how they spend that money, and the ways they treat workers will also help to better opportunity for people throughout the world. One reason immigration is a crisis now is because so many over time have reaped the benefits of oppression. Stories today even show that the President of the United States' family profits from the back breaking work of low wage earners around the globe--how do we better support people everywhere so they have the conditions of good living which means fair wages, safe and healthy living environments and standards, and opportunity?

    There are experts in every country that can work together to make change, but first we have to acknowledge that there is no place for the excessive greed that continues to feed the cycles of poverty, oppression, and crime that foster a need and desire to leave your homeland.

    Immigration Procedures
    As we see Donald Trump continually seek to solve the immigration crisis with inhumanity, we understand how ill-directed this attitude and actions are. It's a quick fix that will only back fire with greater hate, violence, and crime against the United States and its citizens. Since Trump can live in one of his namesake hotels almost anywhere in the world with substantial security, this probably does not worry him. He feeds off of oppression so it's not difficult to imagine why and how he does what he does.

    Instead though, perhaps we could deal with the crisis in the following ways:
    • Giving all current illegal immigrants a five-year window to become citizens and accessible avenues to citizenship. This would create jobs and opportunity for many. 
    • Changing the procedures at the border with a better intake process that truly looks at each immigrant with humanity and thinking about how to provide the opportunity they are seeking. Working with countries around the world to create avenues to that opportunity that are humane and that include paths to better living. 
    If world leaders work with one another with as much peace as possible to elevate opportunity for all the world's citizens we will find that we are making progress. This requires new perspectives including a shift from survival of the fittest to collaboration and care for all. This requires the acknowledgement that to love and care for one another with compassion, empathy, generosity, and opportunity lifts everyone up. This also requires that we look at power, power as money, power as time, power as connections, and power as resources, and decide how we can well share all that power amongst the world's people. We can definitely do better. 

    Our President is mired in images of success born out his nightly reading of Hitler's speeches, deal making in Atlantic City, New York City,  Long Island, and around the world,  the privilege and power of being a white, rich male in a culture that has esteemed white wealthy men over all others, and likely from a habit of watching television shows that narrowly report what's happening in the world rather than reading books, consulting experts, and reflecting on the broad, deep facts of matters and situations. 

    We have a quick fix President and his tribe of family members and cronies who appear to want the same power and privilege the President enjoys. We can certainly do better, and we have to do whatever we can to better our circumstances and the circumstances of all people in our world with humanity, empathy, creativity, intelligence, collaboration, and compassion.

    Immigration Will Always Exist
    Ideally I imagine a world with open borders where people are free to move around and live as they like where they like. The better we treat each other and afford everyone opportunities for good living, the less we will have to worry about immigration and the problems of humanity that often go hand-in-hand with the immigration crisis. 

    Community Improvement Scholarships: Shifting Perspectives

    It's time in the United States and abroad to shift our individual success perspectives to community growth and development perspectives. At this time of increasing population density, challenges with natural resources, and competition for good living, we can all profit from a shift to greater collaboration over individual pursuit.

    There are many ways that we can foster a collaborative spirit in schools and communities.

    The move to more distributive leadership and collaborative teams in schools versus the one-teacher-one-classroom and hierarchical approaches to leadership will build capacity as well as greater mentoring to students about what it means to work and lead with collaboration.

    Similarly efforts that bring school districts together and synthesize the objectives of multiple disciplines will serve to streamline and empower efforts that elevate good living. For example I am a proponent of letting students use their health plan cards to pay for increased health care at or near schools. By synthesizing education and health care for school-age students we have the potential to increase prevention and needed supports in accessible, beneficial ways.

    One more idea which I believe will make a significant difference for communities is to establish community improvement scholarships. At ninth grade students would be introduced to this initiative, an initiative which gives a student a substantial college scholarship with the premise that the student will focus on a community problem during his/her college study and then upon graduation, the student will work for the town or city for a specific amount of time to share his/her research and hopefully implement some good change.

    An example of this might be the following. A ninth grader lives in a neighborhood that suffers from inaccessible transportation, and this issue impacts good living in her neighborhood. During her junior year, she examines this issue with greater depth and writes a proposal as part of the scholarship process. In the senior year, she is awarded the scholarship. During college she studies transportation issues both specific to her community and in general. She continues to work on a solution and stays in touch with her local community agencies and leadership. Upon graduation, she begins working with the community transportation agency, shares her research, and works for positive change.

    The way many scholarship programs are created now are very limiting, and I believe a scholarship program like this would have a more powerful impact on the individual student as well as the community. Do you agree?

    Friday, May 25, 2018

    Responding to DESE's Draft Safe and Supportive Schools Short List

    At a Teachers Advisory Cabinet Meeting at DESE this week a draft of attributes of safe and supportive school environments was shared. I really liked the list, and am using it to assess my own learning environment with questions and follow-up actions:


    • Define and deepen understanding of the need for a safe and supportive learning environment for students and adults, and the need for a whole school approach that values the expertise and voices of educators, students, families, and partners.

    Many in our school have spent substantial effort on this. We have a school handbook that outlines expected behaviors. I want to focus on that with greater depth at the start of next year. I want to review each behavior with students and discuss the expectations with depth. I want to work more on respect, manners, and appropriate school behavior so that I am really helping students to be school leaders who respect and are respected. 


    • Support staff capacity to work together as a team with a sense of shared responsibility for every student, and caring for all team members.

    I believe our staff, in general, shares responsibility for every student. I want to develop our ability to "map services" for our most challenging to teach and serve students in more sensitive ways at the start of the year--I want to take a deep look at these students' IEPs, services, staffing, and home-school relations--to deeply serve these children in ways that matter elevates the learning potential and community success for all. 


    • Support student safety along four dimensions: physically, socially, emotionally, and academically.

    I want to make sure that we follow the many good protocols in place to foster this safety. With regard to physically, I want to take seriously a focus on healthy eating and drinking beginning with Curriculum Night and early year teaching/learning efforts. We will continue our tradition of recess a couple of times a day too and the ability for students to learn with activity, not just sitting all day. Socially, we will continue to have our class meetings related to social/emotional needs and abilities and we'll embed lessons related to this into the academic program. Of course, we will continue to focus on facilitating an engaging, meaningful, relevant, and standards-based teaching/learning program. 


    • Support students to develop academic and non-academic competencies and success.

    I want to make this effort more explicit. I want to target specific learning competencies with children and then notice students' development towards achieving those competencies in explicit ways. I think this kind of clarity will develop greater investment, effort, and confidence. I will work on this with regard to our new efforts related to math reflection journals, math writing process, science lab reports, and social emotional learning assessments and goals. 

    • Explicitly connect students to the school community.

    There are many ways to build students' leadership capacity including their overall behavior and attitude in the school house, their work with kindergarten buddies, their leadership at school assemblies, creation of helpful school signage, and their service learning work. I want to make an early start to these efforts with explicit introduction to the importance of this. 

    • Support positive relationships amongst all stakeholders: students, educators, administrators, families, community members, and community organizations and partners.

    There is great potential here too. I'd like to look for ways to elevate our grade-level collaboration with special educators and other service providers by spending more time at the start of the year deeply thinking about scheduling and service mapping/delivery. I also want to work with students more to build their leadership skills so they are seen as leaders in the school and so that they use good manners and respectful behavior in the whole school more. We'll continue our good professional relationship with many community organizations including SUASCO, WPSF, and the Wheelock Theater, and I hope we will form new collaborative relationships with other community members and organizations via expert presenters from the community, collegial collaboration, and positive home-school connections. 

    • Support students to manage and self regulate emotions and behaviors as well as self advocate for help when needed.

    Our school has been doing a lot of work with this using mindfulness, conversations about the size of the problem and matching reactions to the size of the problem, growth mindset, self-coaching, positive self talk, self advocacy, and more. I want to explicitly discuss this at the start of the year so we are using the school-wide language and visuals to support this effort. 

    • Support equitable access, opportunity and outcomes for all students.

    I want to notice where inequity occurs and work for betterment. I want to notice and act on ways that we can provide greater access, opportunity, and outcomes for all students. 

    • Build teacher and staff’s capacity to develop culturally responsive practices that dismantle implicit biases and systematic inequalities; leading to learning environments that welcome, include, and support all students to deeply learn, grow, and thrive.

    We explicitly teach about this at the start of the year. We establish language and attitudes that are welcoming and inclusive and advertise that via signage that stays up all year. We have instituted a new orientation effort to better welcome students to our school, particularly students who are new or distanced geographically from the school community. I will continue to think about how we can better these efforts. 

    • Anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of students, families, and the surrounding community.

    We have weekly student service meetings. These meetings focus in on the day-to-day efforts of serving all students well, and at these meetings we have the opportunity to anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of students, families, and the surrounding community. Also we have been noticing a need for greater parenting support for families who, for many reasons, are somewhat distanced from the services they may need and from connections in the community. We recently met with the town social worker to discuss issues like this.

    Next steps for this list include turning the desired efforts into scheduled lessons and activities so that we make this work visible at the start and throughout the school year.

    The Days Ahead

    I think a lot about the days ahead--I'm always weeding and pruning my life path so that I have good energy for positive direction. I find that I need this daily self-reflection and coaching to keep good energy and drive. Otherwise it's easy to miss the most important efforts and steps ahead.

    So today before I attend a special family event, I am thinking about the next five years and what will empower my path in ways that matter. In a sense, what you will read ahead is more of the same, yet I want to plant this path strongly in my effort and attitude so that I reach the vision I have, and will be satisfied with the work I do.

    A Welcoming Classroom and A Welcoming Home
    This means places with few items, good light, and the tools and objects we need to build warmth, welcome, and support. At home it means an open, peaceful, and positive place that's open to family members for celebrations, visits, and care. At school it means a warm home for the learning community--a place where we all have responsibility for one another, the learning tools/spaces, and peaceful, positive learning and teaching.

    Quality Instruction and Learning Experiences
    Digging into the details to teach with as much depth and strength as possible. This is a blended, multi-modal affair that requires daily attention, good coaching, and regular response, reflection, and revision. Quality instruction and learning experiences profit from a good teaching year routine as well as some summer study and planning.

    Health and Happiness
    If educators and family members are healthy and happy, they have more to give. This means that teachers need to strike a good balance and collaborate with one another so that they work well, take care of themselves, and have some time for play and recreation too.

    Advocacy and Contribution
    Society has potential to better support schools, families, and communities. We all need to find ways to contribute to this potential in ways that matter. This summer I'll attend the MTA Summer Conference to be schooled in ways that I can support the Massachusetts Fair Share initiative which is advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, greater support for schools, and better transportation within the state. I believe this initiative has potential to elevate individuals and families in our state. I want to learn more about this and advocate for better more in the days ahead as one way to contribute to the betterment possible.

    I will assess my efforts in the following ways:

    • Are children and family members happy?
    • Are students making positive growth with respect to learning standards, attitudes, and efforts?
    • Are the learning and living spaces welcoming? Are people comfortable, happy, and productive in these spaces?
    • Am I doing more to help create communities of care? Are my efforts successful? I will keep track of changes and development in this arena. 

    What Is Quality Instruction? How Do We Measure That?


    The commissioner of education emphasized the goal of quality instruction. Similarly the superintendent of schools also emphasized instructional quality. The superintendent mentioned it is both the what and how that matter--the content and the process.

    In Massachusetts our teaching is led by thoughtful standards documents. The documents help to give students a good foundation of knowledge, skill, and concept. We know this is important because as Willingham has stated, "knowledge begets knowledge."

    As I think about the work I'll do ahead, I'll be thinking of what quality instruction looks like and the processes connected to that instruction. As I think about and employ quality instruction, I'll emphasize the following:
    • Allegiance to the intent, meaning, and words of the standards documents
    • Using a variety of ways to teach the standards--pedagogy that is engaging, relevant, and memorable
    • Giving the students the tools to be lifelong learners, and as lifelong learners helping them access the opportunities to be creative, to enrich, and to access further learning experiences and opportunities.
    How will I do this?

    We'll begin the year with a heavy emphasis on creating a dynamic learning community with shared policies and protocols--policies and protocols that support a safe, supportive learning community. During this time students will engage in activities that build teamwork and good relationships. Students will also learn about their brains and behaviors, and the many ways they can support their own learning. We'll dispel myths too at the start of the year so that everyone recognizes that they are capable of learning and deserve acceptance, high expectations, and sensitive coaching and support.

    As I dive into the curriculum areas I will focus in on the specific standards' content and process. Via multiple methods including hands-on experiences, reading and writing, vocabulary focus, tech practice, problem solving and project work, assessments, the writing process, and reflection students will develop, apply, and present their learning in meaningful and relevant ways. 

    Together we'll help student to synthesize their learning via a number of field experiences and special events including the following:
    • Christa McAuliffe Challenger Center Mars Expedition
    • Sturbridge Village introduction to colonial America
    • Boston Museum of Science trip
    • Historic Boston Walking Tour
    • Great Meadows Rivers/Wetlands Living Science Exploration
    • Wheelock Family Theater Play related to building cultural proficiency and arts appreciation
    • Sudbury River Living Science and Stewardship Walk
    • Global Cardboard Challenge
    • Living History Presentations
    • The Fifth Grade Play
    • Global Changemakers Project
    • STEAM Days and Projects
    The learning environments we create as a grade level will be welcoming and student-run--we will make materials and spaces accessible to all students to assist with their learning choices and efforts.

    I believe overall that this program offers students quality instruction. Yet, how will we measure student success.

    We have many ways to assess student success including the following:
    • Happiness--we talk a lot about this. Are children happy, and if they are not happy what can we do to increase their happiness via home-school connections, meeting basic needs, providing social/emotional supports, greater attention, and academic support.
    • Assessments--we assess specific skills and learning in multiple ways.
    • Project Work-- I want to be more explicit about the ways I respond to this next year
    • Reflection and Writing--I want to support more regular "low stakes" writing and reflection in all content areas next year, and I want to regularly respond to that reflection and writing. I will do this via science lab reports and response and a math reflection journal completion and response.
    Last night I listened to two high school seniors describe their experiences in our K-12 system. Their words, questions, and ideas were music to my ears--the students were happy because they felt the learning was just right. They were also discerning as they had good ideas about continued development with regard to providing a positive education. They highlighted the fact that overall our teaching/learning community is a respectful community that acknowledges the gifts and interests of all students. 

    Our grade-level website title is "Everyone is Welcome Here." This is a good mantra and one that I want to continually work towards. There's still definitely room for growth and I look forward to this climb. Onward. 

    Thursday, May 24, 2018

    The Week Ahead: First Week of June 2018

    My school week ended early since I'll celebrate my lovely niece's graduation from college tomorrow. Then I'll spend most of the rest of the weekend preparing for my son's high school graduation celebration.

    Next week will mostly focus on helping students complete their written biography reports and Symphony Math tech expectations. We'll also spend some time with reading aloud Rump, practicing singing My Country Tis of Thee and reviewing the places we'll see on the Boston Walking Tour.

    Professionally I'll work on prepping for upcoming river study events and The Global Cardboard Challenge as well as continuing to complete end-of-year paperwork like cumulative cards, conference lists, and summer study folders. We also have the annual systemwide event to honor retiring staff and staff who have worked in the system for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35 years. I don't think there is anyone who has been in the system for 40 years, but there are many of us who have been there for 25 or more years--a community that values education, invested kind students, fair salaries, and good working conditions have kept us there.

    Personally we'll engage in a few pre-graduation events for my son too.

    It's another busy week, and a week with some good teaching and learning planned.


    Teachers Advisory Cabinet: Meeting Commissioner Riley

    It was a pleasure meeting and listening to Massachusetts’ new Commissioner of Education, Jeffrey Riley, during yesterday’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Teacher Advisory Cabinet’s meeting. Commissioner Riley shared many ideas and perspectives that I found to be positive, thought provoking, inspiring, and hopeful:
    • When Riley led Lawrence schools, he put money back in schools with less administrators and more people working with students.
    • He named four main objectives:
    1. High quality academics; quality instruction
    2. Enrichment and the arts
    3. Not using MCAS as a “test and punish” system, but instead a potential system for improving schools. He states that it isn’t all about test scores and beware of using test scores to label and blame.
    4. Holistic programs to help every child develop; finding ways to value the whole child
    • Look for ways to foster greater teacher leadership--teachers are the people in the field, the “heart and soul” of education. Find ways for teachers to develop and also stay in the role of teaching children.  
    • Rethinking professional development since existing professional development is often not valuable
    • Get back to supporting and celebrating teachers, bring back the joy and happiness to the art of teaching
    • Looking for ways to diversify our teaching
    • As a society, we have to spend more time and attention on our children. There are too many children living at the poverty line
    • There are ways to incentivize in order to attract a more diverse teaching population
    • Utilization of student support teams--outside/inside teams to make sure that students have everything they need to succeed when they get to the classroom. This will take community support such as local dentists, doctors, opticians, foundations, and more.
    • Potential use of super-regional schools to streamline some services, supports, and costs. It was noted that this may be done without district’s losing their culture and identity.
    • Decisions related to re-designing performance assessments to foster more holistic educational efforts.
    • Compliance can only get you so far. Enlisting people in the process will get you farther. Do things with people not to people.
    • This is a time of possibility; time to take a breath and reflect on where we are going. Speed and frequency of initiatives prevent quality.


    After meeting with the Commissioner, the Teachers Advisory Cabinet members talked about safe and supportive learning environments. I was introduced to an assessment that DESE has created that can help schools and districts assess their efforts in this regard: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sfs/safety/


    A draft list of attributes of safe and supportive schools was shared with us for discussion. I listed the attributes below with a few revisions that others and I discussed. I will follow this effort as I believe it is important for all schools to work to create safe and supportive schools that prioritize what’s most important for the students they teach and the context they teach in.
    1. Define and deepen understanding of the need for a safe and supportive learning environment for students and adults, and the need for a whole school approach that values the expertise and voices of educators, students, families, and partners.
    2. Support staff capacity to work together as a team with a sense of shared responsibility for every student, and caring for all team members.
    3. Support student safety along four dimensions: physically, socially, emotionally, and academically
    4. Support students to develop academic and non-academic competencies and success.
    5. Explicitly connect students to the school community.
    6. Support positive relationships amongst all stakeholders: students, educators, administrators, families, community members, and community organizations and partners.
    7. Support students to manage and self regulate emotions and behaviors as well as self advocate for help when needed.
    8. Support equitable access, opportunity and outcomes for all students.
    9. Build teacher and staff’s capacity to develop culturally responsive practices that dismantle implicit biases and systematic inequalities; leading to learning environments that welcome, include, and support all students to deeply learn, grow, and thrive.
    10. Anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of students, families, and the surrounding community.

    Digging In: The Biography Project

    The biography project demands that children dig into books and articles to find facts and stories about the global changemakers they are studying. The project demands good reading, thinking, questioning, and synthesis. For children who haven't lived long lives and don't always have the contextual information with which to understand an individual's life choices, struggles, and influences, the project demands lots of conversation and discussions about history and lives. In fact one day I found a group of about eight students in the corner of the room debating the merits of their global changemakers' life choices. It was exactly the kind of conversation that you hope a school project will inspire.

    So today I'll spend significant time sitting down with individuals as they work on their biography projects. I'll read the questions and answers they've crafted for their fictional interview, and look for areas where students could add more information or correct inaccuracies. The goal is for every child to craft an interview that provides a full look at the global changemaker's life including his/her struggles, influences, early life, adulthood, impact and reasons for fame. Like the children I also enjoy learning about these wonderful changemakers past and present.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2018

    Meeting with the Commissioner of Education

    Today I am honored to have the opportunity to join other members of the State's Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) in a meeting with the Commissioner of Education, Jeffrey C. Riley. We will discuss teacher diversity, social/emotional learning, teacher leadership, and potentially other areas of teaching and learning. As with all TAC meetings, the agenda is well formulated and led by Matt Holloway and other DESE staff members. I have been very impressed by this committee over my two-year commitment. Today is my last meeting.

    Ideas I am curious about when we meet with the commissioner are the following:

    Potential Teacher Exchange Programs Within Massachusetts and Amongst Other States
    I wonder if one way that we could spread ideas and gain greater diversity within Massachusetts is to start teacher-exchange programs where teachers from one district exchange with teachers from another district. In this plan, teachers would continue to be paid by their home district, but teach elsewhere. One year exchanges might create an opportunity to build capacity and diversity throughout the state.

    Using Health Plans to Fund In-School Health Care and Counseling
    Many of our at-risk students have trouble accessing adequate health care and counseling. Similarly short-staffed guidance departments have trouble serving all the children that need that support. I wonder if it would be a win-win if school systems and health plans joined forces to provide health care and counseling as part of the school program. This kind of synthesis has the potential to save dollars, elevate prevention, teach health and education more, and serve students better.

    Distributive Leadership
    Many articles I've read in the past few years have focused on distributive leadership. These articles have demonstrated the power of autonomy, mastery, and purpose related to employee success and the bringing forth the "collective genius" of organizations. I have also read a lot about the role in teacher leadership in these more modern, flattened organizations versus the old-time hierarchical structures. Modern structures also seem to lend more power to people from multiple cultures, backgrounds, geographical locations, and for women as well as men since these modern organizations put old time traditions aside and build from the ground up taking a good look at their employees strengths and needs. In a sense these organizations recognize that happy, fulfilled employees are better employees, and it's not always the hours on the clock that matter, but instead the way the time invested is used to uplift an organization. I want to know what DESE is doing in this regard and if they see potential in supporting more modern structures in schools around the state.

    Overall I've been very happy with DESE and the work done there to uplift schools in Massachusetts. Similarly I've been happy with our state's Massachusetts Teachers Association. Both groups have been forward-thinking, active, willing to debate, and looking at the research about what makes good schools for all stake holders. And as a result, Massachusetts schools are doing very well.

    There's still work to do, and I'll be interested in listening to the Commissioner's vision and plans today as well as the questions and ideas of the talented and committed educators from throughout the state that serve on the committee. If you are interested in becoming a TAC or PAC (Principals Advisory Council) member, I suggest you apply. It is a great experience that gives you a front row seat with regard to what's going on at the state level of education.

    Field Study and Grants Administration

    There's quite a bit of paperwork to complete when it comes to planning field studies. Today I'll focus in on that paperwork as we plan for a number of upcoming fifth grade events, events that take us into the field to learn about American history, rivers/wetlands, and to participate in athletic and celebratory events.

    Paperwork includes payments, chaperones, processing grants, checking online payment lists, CORI checks, and more.

    There's also some leg work to do to complete grants we've received. I'll have the students help me measure today so that when I order our new tables and cabinets, they will be the right size for fifth grade students.

    We'll want to prep a bit for the upcoming field trips, and that prep will including looking at maps, practicing singing My Country Tis of Thee, reading the life story of Lydia Maria Child, completing river packets, and participating in an introduction to the Wild and Scenic River System as well as how to be safe and healthy when learning outdoors.

    Thankfully online field trip fee collection, receiving grants, and teamwork has made these special events easier to plan and manage than in the past.