Friday, June 29, 2018

Look Ahead, Not Back

Now that summer is settling in, it's time to look ahead not back. There have been many, many lessons over the years, and the key is to apply that learning to the even better days ahead. Onward.

Revisiting Focus and Need: School Year 2018-2019

2018-2019 Goals
I keep thinking about the next school year. Many advise me to put school aside during the summer, and not think this way, but others advise me to listen to that voice inside and follow what it is saying. That voice is prompting me to think about the year ahead so that I can meet my teaching/learning goals and gain that sense of satisfaction that makes me proud of who I am as an educator.

My assessment does not come from a place of frustration with the past years of teaching, but instead with a vision that I'm reaching for, a vision that will empower my work and effort so that at the end of 2018-2019, I will feel that I've made good progress.

I've clearly outlined my goals in the picture and word at the top of the page. I've written about the challenges that will occur as I reach for these goals and the work I need to do to reach the goals. Since I am essentially leading myself forward, to reach these goals does take a very detailed approach that is supported by specific efforts--efforts I continue to think about as I lay a path ahead to doing this good work.

So as I think more specifically, I want to begin with the strengths. What is it about the current teaching/learning program that is working. As I think about this, I would say the following efforts have been successful:
  • super teamwork amongst the grade-level team--teamwork that has helped us to teach every child well
  • positive, regular, and helpful communication with the greater teaching team including families, students, and colleagues--we write a weekly newsletter and maintain a grade-level website that has all needed information. We also host twice-a-year family/student conferences and readily respond to emails and other requests regarding the teaching. We also share regular data reports with families and promote students' showcase portfolio efforts as avenues for reflection, goal setting, and program design. 
  • teaching all standards and following district curriculum expectations--we met the district's expectations and taught all standards
  • happy students and families--in general we get few to no family/student complaints as a grade-level, students and families are happy overall with our teaching/learning program
  • welcoming learning environments--our classrooms invite students into the learning with comfortable seating and lots of teaching/learning resources
  • collegial collaboration--in many instances we have experienced and contributed to terrific collegial collaboration as evidenced in our efforts with the fifth grade play
  • program development--we have sought out professional learning events and grants to develop the teaching/learning program related to our collegial collaboration, science teaching and learning, the global changemakers project and classroom environments. We also make the time each summer to map the curriculum program and add a significant number of special, engaging learning events and activities.
  • positive results--overall our informal and formal assessments demonstrate positive grade-level results.
There is definitely room for growth however, growth I desire as I dig into the details of teaching well. In many ways, I feel like my role in education is to be an example of what education can be--an example of successful teaching and learning, teaching and learning that embeds valuable research and practice into students' daily learning. What more can I do in this regard.
  • listen with greater discernment. I receive lots of direction from many who lead my work--sometimes that direction is well researched and valuable and other times that direction seems to be less research/experienced-based. I want to listen carefully to the many directives I get and meet those directives with respectful, yet discerning, questioning and response. I don't want to follow advice and directives that may not be based in good research and practice, but I do want to follow those directives that are based on well-researched decision making and process. In the past, directive based on less research/experience have upset me, and in the future, I want to recognize that those directives will continue and it's best to respond with respectful questioning rather than frustration at what seems like disrespectful directives. 
  • create a more welcoming, positive, collaborative teaching/learning environment. Throughout my career this has been a goal since I continue to change the way I teach and the environment I create for teaching and learning. This year I am receiving new furniture which will help me to create the collaborative learning environment I desire. I want to continue to follow the motto, "everything in its place and a place for everything" to help me meet my vision for the student-centered, hands-on learning/teaching environment.
  • less is more will direct my teaching/learning efforts. I can be blamed for trying to do too much, and that's why I've created my goals poster early--the goals poster points to my main areas of focus for the year ahead, areas which are supported by district leadership and goals. I will work within those boundaries, boundaries which I feel are positive for students' current and future success. 
  • stay classroom/team-focused. As a big thinker, I often find myself trying to solve the bigger problems in the district where I teach and in education in general. This year I hope to take a back step in this respect and focus in more on what I can do in the classroom and at the grade level.
  • fostering a polite, kind, and respectful classroom. Too often I don't take the time needed to carefully review the protocols, policies, and manners that lead a respectful, kind classroom. In part I do this because there is lots of pressure to begin the standards-based teaching I'm expected to do right away. Yet when we rush the integral early year review and practice of respectful policies and protocols, we don't do what we can to create a respectful, kind, and well-mannered class of students. This year I will make more time for this in order to help my students be the empathetic, compassionate, and kind school leaders that they can be. 
  • teach the standards with greater rigor, depth, and engagement. While I believe this has been a strength in my work, I also know that there's more I can do in this regard. To do this well requires that I read a number of books this summer to deepen my standards-based teaching/learning efforts. The books are piled on my bookstand and I look forward to deepening my efforts in this regard.
  • develop deeper and better student service schedule and routine with all service providers. There is a desire amongst many team members to re-look at the way we schedule and provide service delivery. To do this well means that we have to pay careful attention to students Individualized Education Plans, needs, and services. We also have to prioritize what services are most important to students' success, and then set up a weekly pattern where students' services will rarely be interrupted and will result in lots of targeted, research-based, successful service delivery. 
  • health and happiness. It's essential that educators take good care of themselves so they have the energy, health, and happiness to teach well. This requires a healthy weekly routine and self-care practices such as healthy lunches, drinking water, and completing personal tasks which gives educators the kind of time, health, and happiness they need to teach well. 
No one is the best teacher. We all have areas of our practice that are successful and areas that we can continue to improve. I'm thankful to have time this summer to commit to the vision I hold to teach well. Onward. 

When decisions don't match your beliefs

It's discouraging to open up the news and see article and article from leaders that you don't agree with. This morning I read Devos' plea for more privatization of our country's schools--her argument is discouraging since she visited a few schools and systems that match her beliefs and then use those schools to prove her point. She doesn't do extensive research, consult the experts, or go deep with the problem, but instead looks for a few examples to match her view, a view I believe serves only a few rather than the many in the United States.

Then there is the Janus Supreme Court decision that lessens the strength of unions in the country. I believe in unions and what unions can do for individuals' rights, fair pay, and work conditions. I think that busy, regular people in our country need unions to help support what they need to live and work well.

Of course there's the President's speak and actions that rarely to never support the kind of country I believe in, a country that seeks life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens, not just a small percentage of wealthy Americans as Trump's policies seem to support.

Thankfully at home in Massachusetts, there are many policies and actions I believe in. Our well supported public schools led by both the unions and the state are doing well, and I believe there is momentum to do even better. I am proud to be a teacher in Massachusetts. I know there is always more that we can do, and I hope to be apart of doing more and better.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Early Days of Summer: Give into the need for rest and relaxation

If you give it your all the last month of school, then you have to give into the need for some rest and relaxation at the start of summer.

When Facing Challenges Ethics Matter

In all professional and personal spheres we will face challenges, and it's important to think about how you might face that challenge before it happens.

This year I faced a challenge when someone asked me to do something I felt was illegal. It was not a big deal, but the fact that it was illegal and unethical made me uncomfortable. It was a tense situation, and in the end I was happy with how I reacted which was to say that the request made me uncomfortable and I wanted to research more before following through with the request. The individual was not happy with me, and when I did research the situation, I found a way to comply that satisfied the individual and was legal too. Again, this was not a big and dangerous request, but it was a request that challenged my ethics.

In every work place and personal sphere, there will be legal and ethical challenges, and how we face those challenges matters a lot. There are ways to handle this well including the following:
  • Be aware of the protocols, laws, and ethics that lead your professional work and personal life--know what is expected and what is right.
  • When your ethics are challenged, you can always say, "I am uncomfortable with this. I need to do some research to understand this better." Then do the research and find out what is legal, ethical, and right.
  • Though questioning is often not welcome, you have to question when you don't understand. For example I faced a problematic situation which I felt was unethical and potentially illegal. I reached out with questions. The questions were not welcome, and I have still not heard the answers, but I am happy that I asked since I don't understand why the situation was acceptable or allowed to happen. I may not understand the full scope of the situation, and when my questions are answered, it's likely I'll understand the situation better and be able to judge with greater clarity and understanding. 
  • When we question potentially unethical and illegal activity, we don't only help ourselves to do what is right, but we help others too. In every family and organization, it's imperative that we help each other to do what is right and good. 
It is important to do your work and live your life within the legal, ethical, and humane boundaries of what it is that you do. Sometimes this is very easy to do as the boundaries are clear to all, and sometimes this is more difficult when the boundaries are interpreted differently.

Recently a friend told me about a situation where she faced an ethical dilemma. The people who she was working with deviated from the job into a discussion that was dehumanizing and unprofessional. My friend spoke up, and her words were heard. She not only made an uncomfortable and unethical discussion become comfortable and ethical, but she also was able to teach several colleagues about what was ethical and right in the situation in a non threatening, positive, and profitable way. It wasn't that the colleagues were trying to be dehumanizing, but it was that they didn't know better.

We will continually face challenges in our professional and personal lives, challenges that make us think deeply about who we are, what we believe in, and what is ethical behavior. Sometimes when we choose the right path, we will be demeaned and ridiculed as others may not see it with the experience or knowledge that we see the situation with. There will be times when we are the ones that don't understand too, and that's why it's important that we welcome conversation, discussion, and debate about what is right and wrong. That helps all of us to learn, do good work, and live well together.

Challenges wake us up. Challenges make us think deeply and carefully about who we are and what we do. Challenges when embraced help us to grow and do better in both our professional and personal lives. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Be Ready for Challenging Situations

I am anticipating a number of challenging situations in the new year, situations related to desired change and advocacy. How will I react when faced with these challenges?

Disrespectful Speak
Recently I was met with a disrespectful response from a new administrator. His response surprised me. He spoke in a joking manner, but the words were not a joke. I responded with the phrase, "That's not funny." I don't know this person at all. It was my first time meeting him. So if I encounter this individual in the future, I will listen more than speak. I want to hear what he has to say, and if he continues to respond with disrespect, I will speak up. For now though, it's possible that he did mean his words as a joke.

I want to stand up to disrespectful phrases sooner than later, and similarly I want to watch my own speak too. Recently I was close to a conversation that was very disrespectful. I listened and heard how hurtful the speakers' words were. It was a good reminder to me that we all have to be careful about the way we talk to and about each other.

Divergent Perspectives
Many have ideas about how to improve our collective practice, yet there are few good processes when it comes to sharing those ideas and understanding each others' experience, knowledge, and practice. Without good process, people tend to talk at each other rather than with each other. When this happens the work we do together lacks strength and promise. In the year ahead, I'm going to listen carefully to the words people say--I am going to listen for the evidence they provide, evidence which makes their words and ideas meaningful and promising. Like almost everyone I work with, I look forward to good collaborative work that leads to betterment with what we can do with and for families and students. To reach that betterment we need to speak with each other with sensitivity and words that matter. We also need to use processes that matter and lead us ahead.

Though questions are not always welcome, it's better to ask a question than to proceed without clarity or understanding. Also questioning is a powerful approach when you are unsure about the effect or purpose of a directive or decision. I will continue to question, and think about how to best question in order to understand and work well together.

Repetition and Redundancy
At my stage as a 32-year veteran teacher, there will be a good amount of repetition and redundancy when it comes to systematic efforts. I need to be patient with this and leave room for the enthusiasm, learning, and collaboration of new educators.

Open Minded
I work in an atmosphere with many committed and talented educators. There are always many, many ideas about how to teach better. I want to be open minded to these ideas as there is always room for growth. I also want to be discerning about new ideas since I have learned a lot over 32 years of teaching too.

While I'm a big fan of teacher leadership, I also am aware that I have a discrete role in the teaching/learning organization where I work. I want to focus in on that role and those expectations as my first priority in the year ahead. I've outlined those goals specifically and will follow that outline.

It's taking some time to retire the past year of teaching and ready my mindset and efforts for the new year ahead. I believe this reflection is worthwhile and positive as it will lead to better work.
My overarching goals for the year ahead.

New Challenges Bring Past Challenges to Mind

As I consider a recent challenge, I am thinking about the many challenges I've faced in life.

We all face challenges, and it's how we meet those challenges that matter.

As I think of my gravest life challenge, which is small compared to what so many face, I am thinking about what happened.

At the moment, I felt oppressed. I felt voiceless and disregarded in the situation. I became angry and raised my voice because no one was listening, responding, or regarding me or my opinion in the situation. No one could see what I could see, and no one cared about what I cared about.

It was wrong to raise my voice, yet it's understandable that I became very frustrated given the injustice that existed at the time.

I faced harsh circumstances for raising my voice, yet despite the hurtful response, I remained confident that my advocacy was well directed and my feelings of oppression and experience of injustice true. I learned a valuable lesson about raising my voice in the face of troubling circumstances and I also became rightfully less trusting of those who do not speak up and stand up for what is right and good--those that go along with what's convenient and helpful to them with little regard for others.

As I face a new challenge, a small challenge with respect to the significant challenges that exist in our world, I am thinking about the grave and hurtful challenge of the past. I am thinking about what I learned and what's important.

It's important not to raise your voice.

It's important to consider all sides of the situation and work with others for resolve.

It's important to keep the mission of what we do and who we are center stage.

It's important to act with empathy, love, truth, and care--none of us are above reproach and none of us have all the answers or no answers.

When challenge strikes, we have to do our best and act with our best knowledge, camaraderie, and skill--we have to experience the challenge, learn from it, and recognize that this is part of life.

In the end, it's best to know your truth and do what is right and good to the best of your ability and knowledge. That is the path I will take.

Embrace the Struggle

It will be uncomfortable to do what is right sometimes.

It will be painful to stand up for you believe.

It will be challenging to own your shortcomings and to move ahead.

It's important to embrace the important struggles in life to do what is right and good.


There was an invitation to collaborate?

Yet, upon arrival at the event, it was clear that one's ideas were not welcome and rather than collaboration, it was an invitation to complete a task that was already outlined, chosen, dictated, and prescribed. One's ideas, interests, experiences, and knowledge were not welcome--it was not a collaborative event, but instead a secretarial prescription.

When thinking about teacher voice, choice, and leadership, it's essential that we understand what it means to collaborate. Collaboration welcomes the voices of all in a team and invites the kind of teamwork where those involved define the purpose and set the course together.

Good Change Takes Common Speak

The author discussed a situation when she was having a conversation thinking that everyone understood, but few knew what she was talking about.

That can often happen in any organization, and it's important to note this as we think of ways to do better and make good change.

The first step is to make sure that we have common speak and understanding: What is it that we want to achieve? Is everyone on the same page using similar language and understanding?

As I think ahead to good work and right paths, I recognize that this is a first and important consideration.


She could see better.

She knew what was possible.

Yet, the those in her organization were not open to change--they liked things the way they were.

Yet, betterment, she knew, would improve lives and make their collective work more meaningful and impactful. Betterment would help others.

She persisted.


I like to consider issues with fictional stories which take me away from the details, places, and people related to a specific situation, and instead look at it with a bigger lens--a faraway perspective that helps the truth to shine through.


With short time and good intentions, the individual made a choice.

The choice turned out to be a poor decision, one that resulted in a backlash of negativity and hurt.

How could he/she have made that choice? the individual wondered. What caused him/her to act without any inkling that his/her actions would result in such criticism and pain?

Did he/she act quickly because he/she was short of time?

Was it his/her ego that fueled the decision?

Did the individual think he/she had all the answers and didn't need to consult the team?

Was he/she confused and too afraid to share the confusion with others to seek the truth?

Bottom line is that he/she made a choice that resulted in a strong and negative response.

What would he/she do?

The individual had a few choices.

The individual could simply stand up for his/her decision and blame those who responded negatively.

He/She could welcome the negativity and make time to speak to those who responded that way, hear their words, and figure out what happened.

He/She could apologize citing haste, error, and narrow perspective.

He/She could publicly renounce his/her decision and do it over in a better way.

Yes, the individual felt cornered. His/Her first instinct was to lash out to protect himself/herself and the decision made, but in the end, the individual knew that his/her decision was not the right one--he/she erred. The individual owned his/her error and worked with others to make better. They were compassionate as they understood that error happens, and what's important is to own it and move on to better.

What was troubling turned out as promising in the end.

Tough Choices: The Fork in the Road

Sometimes I like to look at tough situations from then point of view of a simple story. Long ago I did that with this mouse story, and now I'll do it with this fork in the road story. To look at the big picture of a situation sometimes helps us to drill down to the important details of a specific event or situation. That can shed light on what you are experiencing or what you should do.

There was a fork in the road.

One path was grassy, sunny, and full of flowers. It was a beautiful and peaceful path, but to follow you had to agree not to discuss a troubling situation.

The other path was rocky, gray, and challenging, but to travel that path you were welcome to discuss what seemed like challenging news.

At the fork, it was very attractive to turn a blind eye to words that were hurtful and harmful to others especially since the words didn't involved you. "Hey that's their problem," the walker thought as she contemplated taking the less arduous, more beautiful path. "Why do I have to defend others, I'm doing fine," she assured herself.

But then as she surveyed the routes, she imagined the route far beyond what she could see. Holding in hurtful information for a long time would interfere with her walk eventually--hurtful news doesn't stay silent over time, eventually that news rises and comes into the open. Plus to discuss challenging information earlier than later serves to solve problems rather than make those problems greater. And wouldn't she want others to stand by her if she was the focus of the challenging news and information?

That's when she knew she had to take the more difficult path and endure the current disdain, pain and suffering related to discussing the challenging information. It's not easy to speak up, question, and discuss challenging information. It's far easier to bury that which is uncomfortable and not related to one's self and move down the pretty path, but in the long run, doing what's right matters.

As she took the first difficult step on the rocky path, she wondered if she took the right path--who was she to think that she could endure the harsh consequences of this open difficult path. Was she right in her decision--a decision that few others were taking as most were headed down the sunny path gleefully laughing together, happy not to bear the burden of the challenging events.

The more she walked, the more she wondered and asked these questions:
  • How could people think it was okay not to discuss the challenging facts and information?
  • Where did the information come from in the first place?
  • How could people turn a blind eye to the information?
  • Was she the only one who interpreted the words as troubling, hurtful, and inappropriate--did others truly think it was okay to share such information without discussion and follow-up actions?
  • Was she missing something?
The route was lonely and dark. The steps difficult and hurtful. She thought more and more remembering times in the past when she had spoken her truth and received similar treatment. There was a family matter once long ago that she had spoken about only to receive a difficult response, however now, far beyond that event, there were no regrets for speaking up. The only regret is that she didn't speak up more and with greater strength and action. 

Similarly there was the time she fretted over advocating for a student--she knew that her advocacy would result in harsh treatment, but she knew it was the right thing to speak up and she did. The change wasn't all that she wished for, but at least there was change, change that was better than if she had stayed silent.

She remembered a number of times when people had spoken up to her too--times when their words had a dramatic impact on her actions resulting in positive discourse and change.

It's often a lonely, arduous path to speak up for what you believe is right and good. Many turn a blind eye and deaf ear when troubling events happen if those events don't impact their lives right away--they don't stand up and speak up for others and they don't realize that next time, they might be the ones who are disregarded, demeaned, or disrespected. Who will speak up in defense of their rights and reputation if that happens?

In the best of circumstances there is an open environment and avenues for talking about the tough decisions and situations--a welcome platform for entertaining the good as well as the challenging with the focus on betterment, collaboration, doing what's best with the mission of a family, organization, or team in mind.

There will always be forks in the road, and the decisions you make when you reach those forks will always matter.

Have you ever stood at the fork in the road? What did you choose and why did you make that choice? What were the results like? 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

We Share a Common Denominator

Kindly caring for children and teaching them well is our common denominator in schools. The more we can keep that common purpose center stage, the better we will do as a community of educators committed to the children and families we serve.

The Elephant in the Room Takes Up Too Much Space

I am generally a fan of discussing the elephant in the room. When challenging situations happen, I think it's best to sensitively and kindly dissect the issue openly in order to better the situation. I realize that this does not always happen for multiple reasons, but when these elephants are left in the room, they take up a lot of space, space that could be better used for positive and promising efforts and contribution. What also can make situations like this worse is to address the situation with rumors, conjecture, and hearsay--the kind of talk that seems to grow when elephants aren't addressed specifically and factually. Conjecture, rumors, and hearsay cloud the truth and make good effort less attainable.

As I think of this situation, I am thinking about elephants in the room in my own life--the kinds of issues that are ignored and left for conjecture instead of truth. For the most part, I value openness even when it is uncomfortable and the friends and family members I surround myself with are comfortable with this too so there's few to none elephants that I can think of at this moment.

When we address situations openly with honesty and sensitivity at the start, we don't make room for elephants, but instead keep the room clear for the good work, transparency, and contribution to come.

No Response is a Response

When emails, notes, and messages are ignored, the message is clear that there is little interest in your or the work you do. No response sends a strong response.

Even if you disagree with an individual or find fault with their work and effort, it's important to respond when you share in the journey and have an investment in the effort forwarded.

Recognition is Important

I don't believe we should work for recognition. Instead I believe we should work to meet the common goals and focus we've created together, and then we should recognize that which we've done well and that which we can do better via honorable and helpful process.

It is important to take time to meaningfully recognize that which we are doing well--the small wins each and every day that create positive and progressive programs, and in a similar respect it's important to recognize with respect, humility, and care that which we do that needs revision or strengthening, and we to understand why that work did not go as well as planned.

In all of this we have to be mindful and not cavalier--the time we devote to our work and the care we invest matters, and not to recognize that with detail and intent is to demean that work and those that do it.

Recognition is one important part of the overall work we do as educators--recognition of that which has gone well and that which can be better too.

Common Focus Matters

Some disdain efforts to work towards common goals and focus--they think the work is meaningless and unnecessary, yet when we truly make time to think about what we do and why we do it together we build our collective capacity to do good work. Giving goal setting processes little or no attention does nothing to strengthen an organization, yet when we do give goal setting the attention deserved we create a path to betterment that makes a difference for the children we teach and colleagues and families we partner with.

Math Teaching and Learning

Since teaching math well is one of my main objectives for 2018-2019, I've been thinking a lot about what that means.

My thinking comes from my experience of teaching and studying math for 32 years with close to 1,000 elementary school students.

Attributes that have been successful with regard to my math teaching include the following:
  • using meaningful numbers and problems 
  • providing the real world rationale and connections related to each math standard, concept, and skill
  • lots of one-to-one conversation with students about math
  • targeted practice
  • using formal and informal assessments to inform the program
  • focus on vocabulary
  • hands-on projects, problem solving, creation and presentation
Challenges that I'm working on with regard to the math program include the following:
  • just-right scaffolding so that the learning experiences are not overwhelming but continue to teach the standards and provide reach for every child that's ready for it
  • fitting it all in in meaningful ways
  • coordinating my efforts with multiple leaders and specialists who advise me and who sometimes work with children
As I think ahead to the math year, I will do the following:
  • Begin the year with an introduction to the year's main math concepts, tools, routines, and procedures in ways that help me get to know the students and build a strong, collaborative math team.
  • Teach unit by unit in the following ways:
    • Provide the big picture introduction and rationale for the unit
    • Teach standard-by-standard including explicit introductions, time for exploration, practice, projects, problem solving, debate/presentations with pictures, models, numbers, and words, assessment
  • Home study that includes vocabulary review, model making, reflection, and practice.
  • Scaffolded learning experiences that take on a 1-2-3 approach with 1 as review, 2 as the grade level learning, and 3 as enrichment
We'll begin the year with collegial efforts to determine an apt schedule for supports and intervention.

Early year Response to Intervention will find us giving students assessments with proper supports and teaching students how to use our tech assistants including TenMarks and Symphony Math. Together the collegial team will work to determine our roles, collaborative routines, focus, and goals. 

Students will collect their main efforts online and offline in reflection notebooks. At parent conferences students, family members, and I will meet to discuss students' efforts, learning stats, needs, and goals. 

I'm excited about this work as I love to teach math and I am truly invested in helping every child learn in ways that will help them develop their mathematical thinking so that they can be successful creators, problem solvers, and decision makers in the future. 

Building Capacity

At times capacity is hindered by lack of communication, dishonesty, secrecy, and disrespect. When people don't feel like they are valued or respected members of a team, capacity wanes and collaboration suffers. On the other hand there is a lot we can do to build capacity in our organizations, teams, and efforts. That good capacity relies on the following attributes:
  • Timely, meaningful share. For example when all members of the team are aware of the goals, avenues for share/exploration, and the data and statistics related to their individual and collected work, capacity grows.
  • Shared questions and goals. It's important that everyone on the team knows what the shared goals are and the questions that relate to those goals are.
  • Timelines. Similarly it's imperative that everyone understands the timelines the team and organization are working with.
  • Autonomy, mastery, and purpose. There has to be respectful open lines of communication that respects each member's perspective, experience, questions, and direction. 
When systems are too tight leaving little room for voice, choice, creativity, or leadership, capacity suffers, on the other hand, when all team members are respected and included in the integral work of a team or organization, capacity grows and positively impacts the work and contribution possible. 

Speaking Up

To make change takes many voices.

Often people are afraid to speak up or they simply choose not to use their time or energy for this kind of activity.

To me that's troubling as we can't expect to create good change if people are unwilling to speak up.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Different Lenses

Often we see things with different lenses than one another. This does not mean there is a right or wrong way, but simply that there is variation with perception.

Significance: Decisions that Matter

These are great questions to lead your good work as a teacher.
There are always multiple avenues to consider, and we all need filters when it comes to these considerations--what are we going to focus on and what will we dismiss. To do this well we may want to think about significance--what is significant?

As I think ahead to 2018-2019, I continue to try to refine my focus to teaching that is significant, teaching that will result in the following success criteria:
  • happy, engaged students
  • good progress with all expected academic and SEL standards and goals
  • students who set goals, track their progress towards goals, and revise, modify, and enrich those goals as needed
  • engaging standards-based learning experiences that include a just-right challenge for every student
To do this well means that it will be important that I focus on these significant efforts:
  • scaffolded, collaborative standards-based project/problem based math activities that embed the math practices as students explore, problem solve, explain with pictures, numbers, and words, self-edit, peer-edit, teacher-edit, revise and present. This effort essentially means taking the good lessons that exist and making sure they are scaffolded, include hands-on activities, are led by a question/problem, and require a solution that includes a picture/photo/model-written-numbered solution which is edited, revised, published, and shared. 
  • standards-based science, STEAM, and environmental education lab reports that both lead, teach, and aptly promote students' academic and SEL learning efforts with opportunities for teacher/student explanations, feedback, and response. 
  • math reflection journals which require students to regularly reflect on their math learning with key vocabulary, math models, related expressions and equations, and explanations. 
  • formal and informal assessment to determine progress and needs on a regular basis.
  • a kind, collaborative, and compassionate classroom community that invites positive learning and caring relationships. 
  • positive, healthy routine of meaningful learning experiences, time for feedback/analysis, class meetings, explicit focus, adequate rest and care. 
As I zero in on these goals, I realize that the key will be to stick to these main teaching/learning events with care to help students learn in engaging ways as active leaders of their own learning. In this way they will know where they are related to learning/teaching goals and where they need or want to be. As their teacher and coach, I will help them achieve the goals set. 

Many, many decisions are made in schools everyday. There's no way that one teacher can be apart of all of these decisions, and that's why it's important to zero in on where you can have the best effect and where you can make an impact that matters.

This one word capsulated my teaching focus for 2018-2019

Essentials and Extras

As I await our end-of-the-year meeting, I am thinking about my career over the past 32 years. I am thinking about the highs and lows and all the in between events and actions. As I've noted continuously teaching well is a limitless proposition. We can always get better and there is always more we can do. No one is the best or the worst, but many display amazing talent, commitment, and drive when it comes to a job well done.

As I think more about this, I realize there are essentials and extras when it comes to teaching well--the essentials are the have-to's and the extras are often the want-to's. The right balance of both leads to teaching well.

What are the essentials?

Though not complete, I would say the essentials list includes the following:

  • Know the expectations of your job--what is it that you are expected to do?
  • Understand the structure that you work with--whose in charge or what and who can you rely on to help out, collaborate, and support your efforts?
  • Know the rules--what time are you expected to work, where are you expected to work, and what specific rules guide your practice?
  • Create a professional environment that includes what you need to do the job well--make time to create a positive, supportive work environment.
  • Read and research related to your job--know what your expectations entail and stay abreast of the research and information related to that.
  • Establish a positive weekly routine that helps you to care for yourself and loved ones as well as to do the job well.
  • Keep track of your accomplishments and challenges--a log, journal, website, blog, or notebook can guide your efforts.
  • Know the golden rules of professional conduct and follow those rules as you do your work. 
  • Establish positive, professional relationships with those you work with. Yes, you may make friends at work, but in most cases you will enjoy professional relationships with those you work with and it's often healthy to keep a bit of a divide between your professional and private lives.
As for extras, those are the acts you don't have to do, but what you want to do to establish professional success. Extras might include the following:
  • Make time to recognize the special celebrations, trials, support, and accomplishments of colleagues.
  • Help others when you can.
  • Look outside of the organization for extra supports and learning opportunities to boost your knowledge and contribution.
  • Write grant proposals and bring in extra support for the organization.
  • Give extra in what you do.
  • Volunteer for extra committee or professional work when possible.

Professional Conduct and Leading Your Practice

I remember a discussion I had with a friend about a social event. The bottom line of the conversation was that there is a reason for the rules of etiquette--those rules helps us to socialize with good manners, respect, and care for one another.

The same is true for professional conduct. As I think of the hundreds of pages we have to read at the start of the year every year to guide our professional practice and efforts, I realize that a simple list of professional behaviors would probably be more important. What are the golden rules of professional behavior and conduct. I searched for this short list and found one that emphasized the following rules.
  • Always strive for excellence
  • Be trustworthy
  • Be courteous and respectful
  • Be honest, open, and transparent
  • Be competent and improve continually
  • Always be ethical
  • Always be honorable and act with integrity
  • Be respectful of confidentiality
  • Set good examples
As I think of these golden rules, I think it's probably true that all of us see areas of strength and areas where we can improve. I also think this is a good list to share with our own children as they embark on their professional careers--having this article and short list readily available will support their good work and success into the future.

Sometimes professional organizations can be difficult to navigate and we can get pulled in directions that are not the best professional paths, but that doesn't mean we can't strive to do better using these golden rules as a road map. 

Last Official Day 2017-2018 Teaching Year

Today's the last official teacher day. There's a lot to do.

Room Clean-Up
I did a big clean-up and purge on Saturday. I got rid of all old, damaged, and dirty shelves and containers and made space for the new furniture.

New Furniture
I'm still hitting a few snags with regard to ordering new furniture as I need to measure existing chairs and check prices to see what I can get with the grant amount approved.

Taking Down Sticky Tape
Some room efforts simply don't work out like the big coordinate grid I made--that will take some time to take down as it's made with very sticky and breakable tape.

Cleaning Computers
Usually students do this, but we simply ran out of time at the end of the year for this kind of clean-up so I'll wipe the computers down this morning.

Staff Meeting
We'll have our final meeting of the year.

The earlier I start, the earlier I'll finish and then be ready for summer's restful time of fun and study. Onward.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

End of the this year's learning/teaching book

Another book in the series of a lifetime of teaching is complete. The children are hopefully starting summer adventures and playful days at home.

I spent yesterday working on the big room clean-up and although it's not one of my favorite tasks, I found it to be a terrific opportunity to think about the year past and the year ahead. The big clean up inspired me to finish-up school year reports, furniture orders, and assessments of the year in general.

Tomorrow I'll have the chance to hear the school leaders' closing messages and do a few last tasks to close out the year--a year which I believe was an overall success.

In the new year, I want to be sensitive to my position as a veteran teacher of 32 years. I want to be sensitive in ways that help me to listen to my younger colleagues and let them lead. I want to be sensitive in ways that help me to form positive, modern relationships with children and families, relationships that take into account the many socio-economic changes that have occurred throughout my tenure as a teacher. And I want to be sensitive to my growing practice and the work I've done to teach well--I enjoy what I do and have put substantial effort into that work, it's important that I recognize that and trust my instincts with that in mind.

The year, as I've written about many times, will find me digging deeply into all aspects of classroom life including the following:
  • Building strong relationships with students and families.
  • Getting to know students--what they love, what they want, what they need, what challenges them, who they hope to be, and what they hope to accomplish
  • To make the teaching/learning program an ongoing conversation about both individual and collective learning and goals
  • To work towards making learning events scaffolded, meaningful, relevant, engaging, and empowering
  • To make time to listen to the children regularly and to respond sensitively
  • To work with my colleagues to continue to build the wonderful fifth grade program we are committed to.
It takes time to end a year--a year that becomes one book of many in your career. It's important to give yourself that time to assess, reflect, and plan ahead.

Only then I am ready to embark on summer fun, family events, and personal aspirations. 

Sexism and Schools

In years past we didn't see women as well represented in the curriculum, and I was a teacher who worked at making that happen more.

Recently, however, a survey demonstrated that some felt that boys were unfairly treated in school. I've been thinking about that and why it may be true.

I've also been thinking about statistics that demonstrate that there are less boys in the country ready or interested in college than girls.

I think there might be a correlation between the first very small survey and comments and the other much greater results.

As I think more about this, I want to do the following:
  • Make more time to talk to boys about their education at fifth grade. Boys typically are less forthcoming when it comes to sharing their opinions about school, and I want to draw that out more and respond to them.
  • Make sure that the signage focus and quantity reflects boys as much as girls particularly with regard to positive messaging about learning.
  • Think about the ways I group children together making sure that there are lots of opportunities to learn in both single-gender and mixed gender groups.
  • Informally survey students throughout the year to gain their attitudes in safe ways to inform the program.
While there was a bit of alarm at the small studies responses, there is also an open door to do better and think deeper about how we teach all students. Onward. 

Why data matters?

What you see or think is not always what is true?

That's why data matters.

For example, if you had to guess which of the following field trips was the favorite for most fifth grade students, which field study would you choose?
  • Outdoor hike
  • Boston Museum of Science
  • Harvard Peabody Museum
  • In the Heights Musical
  • Stewardship Hike
  • Challenger Space Center
  • Boston Historic Walking tour
Although most students said that every field trip listed was worth including as part of our fifth grade program, the favorite field trip by almost 50% of the 69 out of 76 students who responded was the In the Heights Musical. 

I would not have guessed that, and I wonder how many of you guessed that.

What you see or think is not always true?

This is one reason that I'm thankful for standardized tests in part. It's easy to conjecture about who is the best student or what teacher does the best job, and although there really isn't a best student or teacher overall since each of us brings our unique gifts and talents as well as struggles and weaknesses to the job, data, in part, clearly identifies "best" in particular realms and I must say that the data often surprises and informs me--it's not what I might have guessed.

For example if you were to visit the fifth grade at our school, I bet you would never pick out one of our top math students. She was quiet and unassuming, yet her scores and performance were amazing. When I told my colleagues about this girl's work, they were surprised--they never guessed that she was a top performer in math, however, the data demonstrated that clearly.

Now we all know that data can be skewed, misused, and manipulated greatly so when we do collect those stats it's important to collect and analyze those stats carefully and using a holistic lens. 

That's why I remain a fan of streamlined standardized testing that's used to better our programs. I'm not a fan of standardized testing as a single determinant of student success or program decision making--I see it as one valuable part of the whole program when used well.

Our system will be looking more carefully at how we use data to promote good teaching and learning in the days ahead. I look forward to this focus and will join the efforts to better my practice too. 

Meeting Lydia Maria Child

I have always been impressed by the stories of Lydia Maria Child, an abolitionist, human rights activist, and author, who lived in the town where I teach, Wayland. Inspired by Child's activism and our students' yearly deep dive into the biographies of global change makers, our team wrote a grant proposal to the local Wayland Public School Foundation (WPSF) to fund a visit from a living history artist, Laura Duggan, who portrays Child's life.

Thanks to the generosity of the high school's history department chair, Kevin Delaney, and Principal Mizoguchi, Ms. Duggan performed in the high school's lecture hall. One high school history class and a number of high school social studies teachers also joined the presentation. Via a survey and the looks on students' faces, it's clear that the presentation was valuable for many including the teachers as we learned more about Child's life and impact.

Many students reacted favorably to the presentation.

Community Partnerships: River/Wetlands Study and Stewardship

What are the best ways to connect young students to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program?
Thanks to a grant from SUASCO, fifth graders at Happy Hollow School were able to learn a lot about river/wetlands study and stewardship.

Our grant is complete and here is what we did and what we hope to do in the future.

Wayland citizens supported our grant. In particular, Tom Sciacca advertised the grant funding via email and at school committee meetings. He has been an ardent supporter of environmental study especially study connected to Wayland's historic, scenic, and recreational Sudbury River which is a National Wild and Scenic River.

The first step to completing the grant included meetings with Sarah Bursky, National Wild and Scenic Rivers Community Planner and Rivers Manager, and Robin Stuart, Drumlin Farm’s Education Coordinator. Both environmentalists provided terrific resources, information, and consult related to meeting the grant’s proposed goal to engage children in river and wetlands related study so that they will become knowledgeable and enthusiastic stewards of wetlands and rivers beginning right away at their intermediate stage of elementary school.
Drumlin Farm Naturalist teaches students.

Education and Exploration
We began reaching our goal by teaching children about wetlands and river habitats via classroom science study which included showing Bill Nye’s Wetlands video, a visit from a Drumlin Farm naturalist, headstarting wood frogs as part of the Drumlin Farm/Grassroots Wildlife Conservation Program: Heastarting Native Frogs: Life Cycles and Conservation Science in the Classroom, and teaching the state’s fifth grade life science standards. Student were enthusiastic about this study as noted in these survey results:

To learn more, students worked on a standards-based River and Wetlands Stewardship Study packet, a Jr. River Ranger Activity Book and Guide provided by OARS, and a Great Meadows Field Trip Packet. They also viewed an introductory slideshow which further introduced them to the National Wild and Scenic River system as well as the Great Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary Field Study.

Great Meadows Naturalist Exploration

The Great Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary field study allowed students to explore the rivers/wetlands habitat in small groups led by parent chaperones and teachers. The students moved throughout eight stations, two of which were led by Drumlin Farm naturalists. The naturalists led students in ponding activities and water quality testing and study. The remaining stations introduced students to the wetlands including the animals, plants, and naturalist skills and perspective.


The final activity included a stewardship hike from Happy Hollow School to the Sudbury River. A local environmental activist and former Wayland Public Schools teacher, Pat Conaway, led the students in a hike to clean up the roadway and riverway leading up to and around the Old Stone Bridge which lies at the Sudbury River’s Framingham/Wayland border. Pat brought 60 grabbers, landscaping sheers, and containers to support students’ efforts to clean up the area. He also introduced students to what it means to be stewards of the environment and the detrimental effects of invasive species. Two students wrote a news article about our stewardship hike. We sent the article into the newspaper and hope to get it published soon. Again students' survey results demonstrate that this was a successful learning event.

Students earned Jr. River Ranger badges for their efforts. They were proud to receive the badges as illustrated in the pictures below.

Jr. River
Ranger Badge
Memory Book

June 21, 2018

We shared all information related to the events with school administration and parents through newsletters and these photo albums: Sudbury River Stewardship Hike, Great Meadows Naturalist Exploration, and Naturalist Visit. We also sent the news article written by two students into the local newspaper which we hope will be published. We had hoped to include the high school students, however we ran out of time to do coordinate that.

We believe that the grant funding positively supported river/wetlands student education and stewardship. We hope to continue similar efforts next year and have already been invited to partake in a grant obtained by Drumlin Farm to promote greater environmental stewardship and education.

As we develop the program, we hope to do the following:
  • Analyze the informal and formal assessments of the events and think about how we might improve the programming to gain even better results.
  • Look at ways to stretch out the events throughout the year.
  • Revisit the Great Meadows Field Trip to see how we might even make it better.
  • Consider a field trip to the Greenways Conservation Area in Wayland
  • Consider more ways to embed our standards-based science and STEAM study into our local habitat and classroom efforts
  • Invite Pat Conaway back to lead another stewardship hike
  • Continue the Jr. River Ranger efforts to build awareness, education, and stewardship related to the National Wild and Scenic River System

Next Steps
I will collect a number of links to help us build our efforts in the days ahead: