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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Day Four: Successful Start of School

Typically I try to stay about one week ahead in terms of planning and prep. And even when I am prepared, I'll change the plans if I believe students need something different.

The first three days of school we'll focus on teamwork, reflection, and presentation. On the fourth day we'll focus more on getting to know one another with the following activities:
  1. Morning work: student/teacher word finds and funny name video.
  2. What is the United States Constitution and review of the school handbook.
  3. Recess
  4. Know Your Brain Activities: Mystery Science
  5. Lunch
  6. Library
  7. Inside/Outside Personal Collages
  8. Clean-Up
  9. End-Day Recess

Orientation: A Positive Start to the School Year

Last year in an effort to provide students an opportunity to casually learn about the school program and to reduce the geographical distance between school and home for students who live further from the school community, we hosted an orientation. It was a successful way to start the year for new students and students distanced geographically. Today we'll host a similar orientation.

The orientation begins with a shared breakfast and casual conversation with the teaching team and students. Later teachers will help their homeroom students set up their materials, and then students will help teachers set up the classroom. We plan to engage in some playful, creative activities too. This is a good, positive chance to listen to students, learn about their interests, welcome them, and answer their questions.

Colleges do such a good job welcoming and orienting students, and often times, K-12 schools don't spend enough time or attention on a positive orientation. While this effort requires extra effort from many, I believe it's a positive effort--one I hope will grow in the years ahead.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Teaching/Learning Focus 2018-2019

The 2018-2019 school year finds me with an overall focus on listening and synthesis--listening to the many wonderful leaders/educators around me and synthesizing the amazing learning I've bee involved in over the past three decades of teaching. The year also finds me thinking about how I'll record the work I'm doing this year in ways that I can easily reference and share in in the years ahead. I'll likely create a teaching/learning website that includes the lessons I use and emphases I employ as I teach students. I want to be intentional as I teach this year and as I move towards the multiple goals I've set for my own work and my students' efforts as they learn both discrete and general knowledge, skills, and concepts.

Second Day of School: Prep and Plans

Each day of the first weeks of school demands careful planning. Later the weeks will become a pattern of service delivery and care.

With the first day of school plans ready to go, it's time to look closely at day two--what will we do?

When students arrive, they'll pass in their word find homework papers and have a chance to reflect on the first day's tile pattern activity. Then we'll review names and routines. After that we'll discuss the first day's tile activity with a lesson about sharing your math learning led with the question: What's important when you share your learning with the rest of the class? We'll make a list of what is important and then I'll invite teams to get up in front of the class to share their tile pattern efforts and learning. Next, we'll watch Boaler's great TedTalk about learning math:


After students watch Boaler's Ted Talk, we'll discuss their takeaways about what Boaler had to say about learning math. Then we'll break for recess.

After recess, we'll revisit day one's discussion about teamwork. I'll ask students to share what worked well with regard to teamwork yesterday when they participated in the notecard challenge. We'll list those attributes of good teamwork. Then I'll introduce the lab report. I'll explain that a lab report helps scientists and engineers to keep track of their study, research, and experimentation. I'll tell them that they'll take a more scientific approach to the note card tower today and as they work, they'll complete the lab report. We'll review the lab report together and then students will work on the note card tower activity, an activity they did the day before, again.

Next students will attend recess and technology class, and after that, I'll introduce the timeline project so students can collect needed information at home, and then we'll continue our read aloud, James Printer, A Novel of Rebellion. 


Moved to Day Three:
I'll introduce the marshmallow-spaghetti challenge. Rather than jump into building, I'll ask students to think about the problem first and work with their teams to decide how they'll approach the task. I'll ask them to draw a plan as I review the design process and the varied possible goal of the tower including highest, widest, and most beautiful design. Then the next day, students will build their towers, reflect on the process, and share their work with the class.

Reading and Charting IEPs: Individualized Education Plans

The IEPs are piled on my desk at home awaiting my reading and analysis. I resist this task because the documents are not reader-friendly. Instead the plans are complex to read and understand. Yet, I know that I have to read those IEPs if I plan to advocate for students' fair and legal service delivery.

I was a student before the IEP and I saw what happened to students with unidentified and unsupported learning disabilities--those students suffered in school, and many later suffered and struggled in life. School was a nightmare for many of those children--children who were labeled as dumb, behavioral problems, and unable to learn. I am thankful for laws and processes which aim to serve every child in school well--laws and rules that prompt educators to think deeply about who a child is and what he or she needs to learn well.

As I read through the IEPs, I'll chart each students' goals, expected services, and service delivery time. I'll also make a list of ways that I'll personalize the teaching/learning program for those students throughout the year. I'll bring my lists to our scheduling meeting to make sure that children get the time and attention they are required to get, and I'll carefully work with special educators to schedule their support time at the best possible learning/teaching times--times that will serve those students well.

Jose Vilson tweeted this morning that every teacher needs to be a special educator. I believe that is true, and the state of Massachusetts embraces that notion too since every Massachusetts' educator has to have professional development points in special education to recertify--they are moving teachers in the direction of understanding special education in order to best promote inclusive, successful learning/teaching environments for all students.

With the onset of wonderful technology, it's time for us to rethink how we promote inclusion and serve all students including special education students. It's time to remake the special education path to better serve students utilizing the many intelligent assistants available via staffing, technology, new research, and more. The walls that prevented students from learning well in the past have mostly been taken down thanks to the terrific abilities of technology, and it's our job as teachers to use that technology in ways that empower students in ways that help them learn and succeed in meaningful, relevant, satisfying ways.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Teaching: Year 33

Today I begin year 33 of my teaching career.

As I move from a summer of study, family, and fun to a year of busy teaching and learning with more than 60 fifth graders and multiple colleagues, I want to reach for the essence of my work--the reason why I teach and learn each day.

I teach for many reasons.

I teach because I love to learn, and I especially love to learn with bright, open-minded, kind, and caring children--children are natural learners whose spirit and enthusiasm for what is right and good is contagious. They are good people to spend time with each and every day.

I teach because I believe that a well educated people are a more peaceful and happy people. Education is a vital path to good living, and I am happy to be apart of this positive movement and effect.

I teach because I believe in the potential each and every child holds for a happy, successful life. I believe that all of us can find happiness and live good lives, and I want to help move children in that direction.

I teach because it is a job that doesn't challenge my ethics and it's a job that does challenge me to be the best I can be each and every day, a job that's never done and a job where I can always get better. In summary, teaching is a positively challenging job.

I teach because it is a creative endeavor--I am always trying to figure out how to synthesize multiple approaches, resources, people, and tools to help children learn well with meaning, depth, and positive impact and result.

I teach because it is a joyful endeavor. There is great satisfaction and joy when children discover, create, collaborate, play, and learn.

Teaching is a demanding profession, one that requires daily inspiration, good health, positive energy, and a will to work hard each and every day. I believe that year 33 will be my best teaching year to date--it will be a good year because I've learned a lot about how to teach over the past three decades.

It will be a good year because I work in an amazing school system with extraordinary colleagues.

It will be a good year because the families and students I teach and learn with are committed, dedicated, and loving people.

It will be a good year because no matter what happens, I'll look for the promise in the problem and the potential that situations hold to best serve each and every child. Onward.

Coaching, Serving, and Learning From Parents: Teach Well

Parents represent multiple viewpoints about what's most important when it comes to their children's teaching and learning. And as educators, we know that good teaching and learning is not a one-way street, but instead a path that profits from multiple perspectives and opportunities. So as I anticipate a wide-range of parenting styles, I am thinking about how to best serve each and every family.

"Helicopter" parents
I actually hate this term as I believe it sheds a negative light on parents who care and parents who are willing to make and take the time to care well for their children. To serve these highly committed and caring families well, I try to make sure they have lead time with regard to all information related to the classroom program--I want to partner with these parents as we work together to support their children's best learning and living.

Reticent parents
Some parents stay far in the background and don't get involved in their children's education. I try to reach out to these parents and engage their involvement in the most important matters. In the past, I've mistakenly not reached out to these parents enough, but in recent years, I've learned that it's better to reach out sooner than later, and then these reticent parents tend to get more involved.

Angry parents
Some parents are angry--their anger may arise from all kinds of situations. With parents like these it's important to listen and respond to their needs. It's important to try to figure out where the anger is coming from and defuse that anger with positive service to family and student.

Unsupportive parents
Some parents don't follow through wth teaching/learning requests or needs. There's usually a good reason for this. I try not to over expect parents' involvement. Instead I try to find ways that parents can support their child and the school in ways that match the family's interests, resources, and abilities by reaching out to families with a large range of opportunities to get involved and help out.

Parents without knowledge of child psychology and development
Some parents don't understand the science of child psychology and development--they don't know some of the current information that leads to a child's success. For example, this summer I watched a dad berate a child who was clearly a highly sensitive child. The child was tearful and worried, and rather than listening to the child, hearing his fears, and responding with support, the dad was yelling at the child which made the child even more upset. After working with children for the larger part of my life, I do understand a lot about child development and if I notice that a parent may not know some essential, more current facts about that, I'll gently relay the information in hopes that the child will be better served.

Multicultural parents
I am excited to work in community that represents multiple cultures, and I know that with that variety of cultures comes a variety of priorities and parenting styles. I respect that diversity and learn a lot from it. I don't believe there is one good way to parent, so I remain open minded to parents' multiple ways of parenting and share what's working amongst our learning/teaching team.

Unhealthy parents
Some parents are unhealthy and unable to support their children. These parents may struggle with a severe mental or physical illness or addiction. I try to work with these parents with as much compassion and care as I can. I also keep an eye open to make sure these parents are able to parent in healthy, appropriate ways. As mandated reporters, teachers sometimes have to make that difficult call to authorities if we suspect that a child is being mistreated and abused. While these calls are difficult to make, they often result in families getting the help they need to parent and care for one another well.

Parents generally know and love their children well. As a parent myself, I know it's not easy to parent as parenting calls us to be our very best selves and challenges our weakest traits and attributes. There is always more that any parent can do, and this limitless potential of parenting can be daunting and frustrating. Teachers share this limitless potential and the great need to prioritize in order to serve children well. Teachers do best when they team with parents, learn from them, and focus carefully on the needs and potential of their common denominator--the children.

Slow Start: School Year 2018-2019

The late arrival of new furniture is slowing down my school year start, and this isn't a bad thing. Similar to the slow food movement, a slow start will translate into a more intentional start--a start where I focus on what is most important.

I'll use the old furniture to make a good set up that will easily be replaced by the new furniture. I'll also place boards and other materials that need the custodian's attention in their rightful places and wait until the custodian has time to hang them up with the proper tools.

In the meantime, I'll first focus on teamwork, organization, and routines. This will ready all of us for a deep and meaningful year of teaching and learning ahead.

Positivity Matters

As one who is a critical thinker, I can err on the side of looking at the problems more than the positive aspects of any environment. And while I believe we have to take problems seriously and continuously work for better, I also know that having a positive attitude and outlook is the way to go for multiple reasons. As I think of this, I am thinking of the following mantras to lead the school year.

Students and grade-level learning community
My focus this year is wholly focused on the students and grade-level team.

See the promise in the problem
Problems will happen and the focus needs to be on seeing the promise in the problem--what does the problem alert us to, and how does the problem help us to positively change and develop?

Prioritize
Decide which issues truly matter and which do not. For example, our main focus is to teach so issues that compromise the teaching matter while other issues less related to the teaching and learning don't matter as much.

Compromise
Schools are filled with many people who see teaching and learning from many perspectives. We won't always agree, and there will be times when compromise is necessary.

Advocate
It's possible to be a positive advocate for betterment and good service to children. To stay passive in the face of issues where we can do better is not to serve children well, but to positively advocate for what is right and good is to serve children well.

Dedicate
Dedicating good time and routine to the essential work of teaching and learning matters, and with this dedication children are served well.

Day One: The Details

While summer is the time for big think, the school year is time for the teaching/learning details. Today as I set up the classroom, I'll be thinking carefully about day one.

Earlier in the summer, I listed all of the start-of-school year events, but now with the start right around the corner, I'm adding greater detail to those days and shifting activities in order to make a good mix of active, playful, relaxed learning which for the first day includes the following events:


Day One Activities and Prep
  • Find your table, unload your supplies.
Have a space to collect tissue boxes, wipes, and duct tape.
  • Meet at the gathering area. What's your name? Read name list. Take lunch count. Announce leader of the day.
Set up the audio visual/presentation area. Set up gathering area. 
  • Music Class. 
Review good transitions and practice on the way to music.  Line up in number order with the exception of leader of the day who will lead the line. Place a copy of the schedule for all students to see in front of the classroom.
  • Recess.
Check in with students at recess--notice who seems comfortable and who needs a bit of extra support. 
  • Meet at gathering space. Review room set up, assign studio stations and discuss set-up, expectations, and share. Focus on What is a team? What makes a team strong? Introduce notecard tower activity. Students work with team to create note card towers. 
Review what makes a team. Have poster board ready for to write down student ideas. Take pictures of the teams.
  • Review and practice transition, lunch, and music ensemble routines. Review schedule.
Review rationale for quiet lines and seamless routines. Practice. 
  • Math RTI: Work on tile pattern activity at tables. 
Prep tiles, activity sheets. 
  • Review end-day routine, pack-up, stack and gather for read aloud. Begin read aloud. Visualization and Empathy to understand historic context and roles as we read the historic fiction text, James Printer, a Novel of RebellionReview homework: make a word find of classmates' and teachers' names by hand on graph papers so every child gets to see and read each others names. 
Set up comfy fair chair list, prep pass-out materials. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Strong Mind, Strong Body, Strong Collaboration

As an educator, I want to do all I can to support the development of happy and strong children. I want my students to develop strong minds, strong bodies, and a strong ability to collaborate and work with one another to contribute to betterment in their own lives and the lives of others.

I'm excited about setting up the room tomorrow as I ready to meet many enthusiastic children, and after that I'll make time to prep and then lead the many activities and efforts planned.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Keep the Focus

Much of what it takes to teach or parent well has to do with focus--when you establish a good focus and then stick to it, you typically do well by your children and students.

Keeping the focus is not all fun and games. To keep the focus, to a large degree, means staying true to your goals even when the work is cumbersome and laborious. Yet, with every pursuit there is going to be elements of drudgery, and if you don't attend to those challenging tasks, you won't achieve.

So with the school year upon us, the to-do list carefully crafted, and a loose-tight curriculum map created, it's time to stay the course.

What does this mean in real-time action?

The Daily Routine
A positive routine of greeting students, completing early-day chores, teaching the curriculum, responding to students' needs, following established protocols, planning, prep, reading, and research.

Learning from Each Other
A collaborative approach towards teaching each child, developing pedagogy and the curriculum program, and maintaining an enthusiastic and respectful teaching/learning community.

Prioritizing
Knowing when to ignore and when to pay attention. Prioritizing elements of the essential goals and letting issues related to other matters go. No one can do it all, and everyone has to prioritize.

People First
Making the time to respond well to people first--go hard on problems, not people.

Healthy Routine
Healthy snacks, meals, healthy activity, and adequate sleep.

Helping One Another
Teaching well profits from positive, helpful collaboration.

Take Your Time
There's always an underlying temptation to rush to fit it all in, but children do better when you slow it down enough to pay good attention to every learner.

Make Mistakes
Mistakes will occur, accept that and learn from it.

Plan Ahead
Do what you can when you can as that keeps you organized and ready no matter what comes up.

Do Your Best
No one can do all or be all, but we can all do our best.



Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Recallibration


The new year of school is a good time to recallibrate. It is a time to think about who you are and what you do. As I prepared for the new school year, I found myself rifling through a box of old photos--photos that reminded me of so many good times and good choices. So as I think of recallibration today, I am thinking of these questions:
  • Do the people I surround myself with help me to be the best person, parent, and teacher that I can be?
  • Does the way I use time translate into good living?
  • Does the way I spend money support what I believe to be good parenting, teaching, and living?
  • How do I use words in ways that demonstrate who I am and what I believe in?
  • Do I make time to demonstrate respect for those I live and work with as well as those I support and look to for leadership and learning in the greater community?
To live intentionally with good values and good vision is worth our time and thought. Today in the news we saw great sadness and troubles related to many who made bad, self-serving choices--choices that brought their lives down and also negatively affected so many lives around them. While none of us are perfect and not without our shortcomings, most of us try to live good lives that are mindful of the people and places we impact every day.

As I think more on this, I realize I want to foster more meaningful and enjoyable family times. I want to do what I can to create a happy, positive, and productive learning environment for my students and colleagues, and I want to contribute to the greater community in ways that I'm able to.

With regard to the problems and challenges that arise, I want to look for the promise in those problems. For example recently an issue with negative impact arose in the professional sphere--it wasn't an issue, I believe, that was intentional, but instead an issue that was never truly looked at with the respect and depth it deserved. Hence rather than chastise or demean those involved, I believe we can look to deal with the situation with better process. We need to step back, re-look at the way we approach the situation, and make better. 

So as I recallibrate for a positive year ahead, I'm thinking of the ways that I can be positively intentional about the people I live and work with, the initiatives I get involved in, the work I do, and the special, enjoyable events I'm involved in. Onward. 



Monday, August 20, 2018

Math Teaching/Learning Start: Details

We'll play How Close to 100 in the early days of the school year. 
Now with school starting a few days away, I'm planning the very specific details--the day by day lessons. While scope and sequences maintain an early start for standards-based study, it's important to spend time up front building a strong math teaching/learning community.

The weekly math routine will include the following:

Core Program:
  • Monday: Teaching/learning activities - taught in math block. 
  • Tuesday: Collect homework, review That Quiz practice, continue w/core program - taught in math block.
  • Wednesday: Pass back homework, assign new homework, continue w/core program - taught in math block.
  • Thursday: Teaching/Learning activities - taught in math block.
  • Friday: Students begin with math tech menu, complete w/teacher check-in review with individuals and/or whole class. Taught by all fifth grade teachers.
RTI
  • Year starts with a focus on jump starting Symphony Math Activities and Assessments
  • Then the year follows the RTI protocol as determined by the math team
Homework/Classwork
  • Homework packets assigned on Wednesdays
  • Homework collected and passed back on Tuesdays
Kindergarten/First Grade Buddy Math
  • Fifth graders engage buddies in hands-on math activities related to the a unit of study the fifth grade is studying at a kindergarten/first grade level. This gives fifth graders an opportunity to be math teachers.

The math lessons to come include the following starting on the first transition day:

  • Thursday, September 6: Names, collecting summer homework, Create math class norms, math study spaces/groups and routines for the math classroom. 
  • Friday, September 7: History of people: introduction to timelines. History of people, skin shade, timeline - "The past affects the future." video
  • Monday, September 10: No school
  • Tuesday, September 11: Review norms, introduce and begin Name Value activity
  • Wednesday, September 12: Introduce Math Reflection Journal (in 3-prong folder). Complete part of the assignment together and assign the rest due Tuesday 9/17. Work on Name Value activity.
  • Thursday, September 13: Complete What's Your Name name value activity. Students who are done work on Symphony Math. 
  • Friday, September 14: Symphony Math practice, follow-up goal setting with Symphony Math.
  • Monday, September 17: Systemwide Assessment if ready. Possible facts assessment.
  • Tuesday, September 18: Collect Homework. Review That Quiz and let students practice.
  • Wednesday, September 19th: No School
  • Thursday, September 20th: Pattern exercise. Pass out next week's homework, pass back last week's homework.
  • Friday, September 21st: Boaler "Everyone can learn math" Ted Talk. Making Mini posters about a positive math mindset. (Teacher professional day)
  • Monday, September 24: warm-up on facts and arrays: playing a math game
  • Tuesday, September 25: Review order of operations with "How Many Ways Can We Make 48?" Pick up/pass back homework.
  • Wednesday, September 26: Introduce new homework. Introduce unit one: Place Value
  • Thursday, Place Unit continues
  • Friday, September 27th: Field Trip
  • Follow Standards-Based Scope and Sequence in days ahead using systemwide scope and sequence, unit guides, Boaler's grade five book, and other resources.


Kindergarten-Buddy Math
  • Sunflower Glyphs
  • Time Line 1-11; interview and make 1-6 timelines with kindergartners
  • Place value finger activity

Sunday, August 19, 2018

School Starts Next Week: Final Plans

The school year begins in one week when teachers get together to set up classrooms, schedules, and lessons.

There's a lot of positive anticipation and plans for a wonderful year.

For the most part, the year is planned and ready to go. All the essential information is listed on our website for families, students, and colleagues to review.

Next steps include the following:

  • Set up the classroom with the student teacher.
  • Attend the first-day-of-school teacher system, union, and school meetings--listen carefully to the goals and events set and embed those goals and events into the classroom plans.
  • Share a favorite book with colleagues, have my picture taken.
  • Conduct an orientation for students who live far away from the school and new students.
  • Meet to schedule specialist services.
  • Prep first day of school lessons.
  • Prep exemplar for inside/outside window activity.
  • Complete forms for fall field trips and professional learning days.
  • Review the planning and prep post to make sure we've done all that's needed.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

It's Not All About the Tests

I cull important data from the results of standardized tests. I notice who achieves well on those tests and who does not. I match what I see with what we did as educators and then tweak the schedule, routine, curriculum, and approaches to gain greater success for all students with the standardized tests.

After many years of analyzing test results, I've noted the following important ingredients to doing well on class size:

  • Teachable class sizes and make-up--the right amount of students and complexity for good teaching. Too many students and too much complexity with too little support will not result in good test scores or good teaching.
  • A solid standards-based curriculum program that allows children to learn with voice, choice, enthusiasm, leadership, advocacy, and happiness. Teach all the standards with good depth, reach, and a variety of methods.
  • Educators who understand the standards with depth and ability.
  • Positive routines, protocols, and expectations for behavior, collaboration, and attitude in the classroom.
  • Meeting Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) with fidelity and strength--we can't overload special educators with too many students and too little time and expect good results--they need the right number of students and adequate time to teach well.
  • Good scheduling so that students have a positive routine of daily study in the areas that matter most.
  • An emphasis on developing positive relationships amongst teachers, students, and families. 
I really like getting the test data as it points out where we do well and where we have room for improvement. For example there are some students who still don't do well on tests, and I think we can better support these students' test-related learning by using more deep one-to-one support, hiring different types of teachers with different kinds of experience, re-looking at the way we staff and schedule support programs, re-considering class make up with regard to numbers and complexity, and re-thinking family-school connections as well as social supports to see how we might help these students more. 

So while I remain a fan of streamlined standardized tests that do not use all the school system's money with a test-only focus, I also know that we need a rich and full curriculum program that develops students ability to problem solve, engage with others, learn with depth, and be exposed to the wonder that learning is in all kinds of realms. That's why in addition to streamlined standardized testing, I'm also a fan of the following elements of a solid teaching/learning program:
  • project/problem based learning
  • social-emotional learning
  • field studies, expert visitors, and special events
  • service learning 
  • teamwork and collaboration
  • passion/interest/need-driven learning that meets a child where he/she is and helps them to create rich learning paths related to their needs, interests, and passions.
When we look out into the world, we know that students who learn the content well and are able to succeed on tests have a solid knowledge foundation, but that's not all students need to succeed. Students need to be able to solve problems, collaborate with others, utilize good emotional intelligence, think creatively, and passionately create and engage in worthy learning paths that help self and others. 

So as I think of the learning program we create and recent test scores, I am looking at ways to deepen and strengthen our test-related efforts, ways that provide rich teaching/learning opportunities, regular meaningful response, and a consistent schedule of time-on-task learning in beneficial ways--ways that stick.

I am also thinking about the program in general and how we inspire confident, enthusiastic, broad-minded students, the kind that are ready for the next grade, school, and future pursuits and the kind that introduces them to the wonder and potential that learning holds. 

There is much we can do to empower our learners in ways that matter, and I look forward to taking my analysis into discussions with others as we think about ways to develop our teaching/learning more in the days to come. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Rivers Team: Environmental Education

We had a wonderful opportunity to kick-start our Rivers Team Collaboration
at Drumlin Farm's New Learning Center today.
Today our team met with environmental educators and leaders, Robin Stuart, Jennifer Feller, and Kim Flanzer, from Massachusetts Audubon's Drumlin Farm. They introduced us to a grant they are forwarding with our school, Happy Hollow, and the Curtis Middle School to deepen students' environmental education, service, and advocacy.

There are many exciting features to the grant including the following:
  • a multidisciplinary approach
  • an effort to marry social studies and science with a focus on civics education
  • connections to the River Stewardship Council which includes the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Program, OARS, Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT), and SUASCO.
  • a focus on youth-led environmental action
  • the support of a naturalist coach, Kim Flanzer
The grant will encompass the following activities:
  • watershed education
  • education about climate change
  • a close look at how climate change is impacting the local watershed
  • student service learning and advocacy related to their study and the environmental needs they identify
The meeting led to a number of details related to the teaching and learning ahead:
  • students will visit the Greenways, local conservation land that abuts the river, in the fall, spring, and perhaps other times throughout the year.
  • educators will meet with Drumlin Farm leaders and educators early in the year to study and prepare for the student program ahead.
  • Kim will support teachers with lessons on the watershed, global warming, and environmental advocacy.
  • we would potentially like to match students' service learning, advocacy, and presentation with spring River Days, days that celebrate the National Wild and Scenic Sudbury, Concord and Asset Rivers in our area.
  • The efforts will focus on hands-on, project based learning that happens outdoors as much as possible.
  • Include community members in our study, particularly citizens who have shared environmental focus and information with us in the past. 
  • Help students to earn their Junior River Badges.
We also talked about setting the stage for naturalist/environmental teaching and learning with these protocols, resources, and routines:
  • Set norms with students related to science study and the question: What do scientists do? Emphasize science practices such as scientists are curious, ask questions, take notes, analyze data, observe, draw conclusions, work together, and listen to each other. Scientists also take a serious attitude towards the materials they use and know the difference between simply playing outdoors and working as scientists in the outdoors. 
  • Bring to mind myths about science at the start of the year and through activities dispel the myths and develop a strong sense of who scientists are and what they do.
  • Develop observation skills with the statements: I notice, I wonder, It reminds me of. 
  • Access BEETLE outdoor education resources
  • Emphasize scientific processes and explicitly demonstrate the differences between content and process. 
Today marked the next chapter of good collaboration which will result in allowing students to experience and learn from nature in ways that matter. 



Developing Environmental Stewards: The Program Continues

Today the fifth grade team of classroom teachers will meet with the Drumlin Farm education team to plan for the environmental science year ahead. Drumlin Farm has invited us to work on a grant they received, a grant to elevate environmental education for children. We're excited about this opportunity.

As I think of our work today, I am thinking about where I see our efforts moving.

First, there have been many positives related to our environmental education efforts in the past many years, positives including the following:
  • embedding science standards, STEAM activities, and SEL into local environmental education
  • giving students substantial time to explore and enjoy nature 
  • providing opportunities for students to be environmental stewards
  • sharing our work with colleagues, administrators, and the community to build greater awareness about the need to protect, preserve, and enjoy the environment around us.
When we meet today, I'll be interested in learning about Drumlin Farm's overarching focus and direction with their grant--what specifically do they want the grant work to result in. 

I am also interested in pursuing the following activities with regard to the grant and our science/STEAM teaching/learning:
  • more recess-time naturalist, environmental play and learning activities
  • a greater multi disciplinary approach to environmental education--more reading, composition, and presentation.
  • building and deepening students' naturalist mindsets and behaviors
  • greater integration with community efforts and events such as River Days
  • greater focus on problem solving methods, routines, and result with regard to local environmental issues and opportunities.
It is always an exciting opportunity to develop programming and efforts to best serve students, families, and the community, and today marks one of those opportunities. 

School Year 2018-2019: Gratitude

It is with gratitude that I begin the collaboration and efforts to launch school year 2018-2019. There is much to be grateful for as the year begins.

First, I am grateful to work with an amazing grade-level team--teachers who are dedicated to the students and families, collaboration, and building a wonderful teaching/learning program with and for students. Together we are much more than our individual strengths and this is what makes our grade level team such a pleasure to work with.

I am also grateful that I work in a community that values education. Many, many community members contribute time and care to the schools, and this is clearly demonstrated in the terrific success students experience.

Further I am grateful that I have wonderful resources to use as I teach. While our buildings are a bit outdated, we still have the furniture, technology, books, manipulatives, and playground that create a positive, happy place for students to learn.

There are many community organizations that contribute to our strength as well. These community organizations provide field experiences, consultation, and resources to support the teaching/learning that happens.

And I am grateful that we have a strong national, state, and local union that prioritizes work conditions, fair salaries, and what we can do for students and families. The union lobbies for our needs, and when our needs for optimal work conditions, fair salaries, financial support, and professional learning are met, we are able to do our best by students and families.

I am also grateful that I chose a profession that I feel passionate about, a job that I truly enjoy and look forward to. I often say to the students, when you succeed it's better than handing me a million dollars, and I mean that. You can't replicate the feeling of satisfaction a teacher gets when the efforts at play result in a child's success, growth, and/or transformation. To support children's optimal development is a wonderful pursuit and life's work, one that continues to energize me.

It will be difficult to put aside the do-what-you-want-when-you-want summer days, but it will also be exciting to work with colleagues, students, and families to present and develop a strong program of teaching and learning in the year ahead, one that begins with a great deal of gratitude.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Reviewing Class Stats Prior to the School Year


Like most educators, I want to get better, better, better, and although the lyrics in the song above have a lot more to do with interpersonal relationships, the refrain focuses on betterment with the same enthusiasm and angst that most teachers experience.

Last night I took a look at the resulting class stats from last year's students and the stats related to this year's students. Stats gathered from class data related to reports, standardized tests, and other available data help me to think about the teaching/learning ahead. The stats, in part, help me to see where we made gains last year and where we may direct our attention this year.

Overall I noticed some factors that are not surprising, but important to consider. Those factors include the following:
  • We need to continue to think about how we teach our students who are the furthest from the grade-level expectations. We have to think about what we hope for with regard to these students. How do we utilize the resources we have to make significant progress with every one of these students? How do we create supports for these students that are researched-based, student-centered, positive, consistent, and lead to good academic progress and growth. 
  • We have to think deeply about students who face behavioral challenges and other impactful life events--how do we set up a classroom program that helps each of these students to learn well during the school day? Keeping the routine, protocols, expectations, and supports consistent, dependable, and streamlined will help students with complexity that impacts their learning. 
  • We need to think about the "intelligent assistants" we use. Freedman labels technology and other supports as "intelligent assistants" in his book, Thank You for Being Late, and tells us that we have to utilize intelligent assistants help us get ahead in positive ways. It's critical to teach students how to access these "intelligent assistants" and use them to support their learning. Intelligent assistants may include tech programs, teacher availability, extra-help sessions, homework clubs, websites, class resources, and more. 
  • Time on task matters--it's critical to give important goals the time that's needed to succeed. Creating an optimal weekly routine and staying faithful to that routine matters when it comes to learning. 
  • Follow-up and response matters particularly for students who are easily missed and who do not follow through with assignments and other expectations. You have to set aside time to support those children who are easily missed and who generally do not meet classroom expectations for completing assignments, attending to lessons, attendance, punctuality, and positive attitudes. If you think someone is slipping through the cracks of the program, they probably are and you have to make change. 
  • Relationships matter. Year after year students who enjoy positive relationships with educators and others tend to make the best gains. If a child is unhappy at school and feels like he/she does not belong, they won't do well. It is essential to have a positive helpful relationship with every student. 
  • Perseverance matters--students who are steadfast, hard working, and focused on doing the assigned tasks well, achieve. There is no way around this--students who invest good energy into learning, do better. 
  • Class size and supports matter. Classes that are too big and too complex make it difficult for educators to met the expected goals simply because there is not enough of them to go around. We need to make sure that teacher-student ratios in the classroom and with regard to special needs and other supports are positive. When studying these ratios, you have to look at the equity quotient which considers the complexity of needs as well as numbers alone. 
  • Parent, guardian, and family support is invaluable--children whose families collaborate with the school and support school assignments/efforts outperform those whose families are distanced and less supportive in general. We need to think carefully about how we welcome families' collaboration as part of the learning team and how we keep families involved and integrated in their child's overall learning/teaching program throughout the year. 
As I've noted many times, I am still a fan of streamlined standardized tests. I believe that standardized tests can demonstrate data that points to important changes. Before standardized tests, students who were not achieving were often ignored and passed along without significant attention. The tests, in part in systems that respond to the data, have been a wake-up call to do better for students like that. On the other hand, sometimes standardized tests scores are used to punish and demean teachers and schools--in these cases, the data is misused and not analyzed effectively. The tests should be used to demonstrate where needs exists, and then there should be efforts to remedy the situations in ways that help all children learn well.

Overall the stats reviewed that we are well directed overall with the curriculum program and in situations when the numbers and supports are positive, students do well. As an educator, this review tells me what most teachers know:
  • Establish positive relationships with all students and families
  • Stay on task with regard to program expectations
  • Work with colleagues to look for ways to shore up more challenged areas
  • Make sure we teach all standards well
  • Keep a good daily and weekly schedule that provides students with the right environment, pattern, and support to succeed.
  • Continue to advocate for and use "intelligent assistants" that support students deep learning and success.
I believe it is advantageous for educators to review both informal and formal data sets prior to the start of the year in order to prepare the path for teaching every child well. These data sets include the following:
  • exchange of information with previous teachers
  • exchange of information with families and students
  • review of standardized test sets
  • review of educational plans
  • review of other information available
  • early-year informal observation, conversation, and assessments
As the song on the top suggests, we can get better, better, better as we teach and learn. I look forward to sharing this betterment journey with colleagues, students, families, administrators, and the extended teaching/learning community in the year ahead. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

A New Chapter Begins

In so many ways this week marks the start of a new chapter.

A chapter that includes a young son going off to his freshman year of college.

A chapter that marks new mother-daughter-relative adventures that find us discovering all kinds of interesting places to visit and spend good times together.

A chapter that marks my continued quest to make my home as simple as possible so that I live up to the statement, less things more time.

A chapter that finds me following my sons' lead more than leading them.

A chapter that takes me a few steps back in some arenas so that I can move forward towards other destinations.

The key is to keep the focus and meet the requirements of this new chapter--requirements that include a focus on:
  • optimal student-teacher-colleague-family collaboration in my professional sphere
  • digging deep into STEAM teaching
  • the latest brain research related to teaching and learning well
  • embedding SEL into the curriculum
  • apt political contribution, research, and efforts to work for a better America, one that provides life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all, not some.
It's an exciting chapter, and this week marks an important start. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Leave politics at home

As I think about the new school year, I am thinking that I will leave politics at home.

During the school day I will focus on my students' needs, challenges, and potential as I work on my own and with colleagues to do what we can to teach well.

The day is busy and when we get involved with issues outside of our day-to-day realm and a few other sundry thoughts and share, we lose focus with regard to what's most important.

While I believe teachers do have to be political to forward what we can do with and for students and families, I believe that politics don't belong in the elementary school house.

We teach political processes, government, and social studies in ways that exemplifies the truth of the matter and with the best possible ideals. This helps students to understand our government and country's history, and sets the stage for their political activity and contribution as active citizens later on.

Thinking Big: What's on the horizon?

I made a few tough decisions this summer that moved my path in a different direction. After analyzing a number of routines and investments, I realized that there were some glaring areas of neglect that were holding me back--holding me back in happiness, holding me back in meeting my vision, holding me back in strength.

While the decisions were tough, they are probably unnoticeable to most since the decisions are deeply private having a lot to do with my inner self rather than my outer self. I made the decisions with the help of numerous conversations, lots of reading, and mentors near and far online and off line.

It's yet another turning point in my life--an important and welcome turning point.

As I embark this revised path, I am thinking big this morning--thinking about the amazing potential that exists all around me including the bright and talented educators I work with, many kind, empathetic, and invested leaders, a loving family, good neighbors, committed student, and strong communities.

I want to work hard at traveling this path I've made and I want to encourage others to travel their paths with as much love, good thought, investment, intelligence, and care as they can find. Good living is possible for all people, and it's in everyone's best interest to work for a world that promotes this good living and reaches for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Rules: Tight or Lose?

I had a debate with a friend who is also a teacher this morning. That friend favors tighter rules than me--I don't like schools to look or feel like military academies and prefer a more open culture. My friend prefers a tighter culture and more rules. I believe my friend is a great teacher. She doesn't work in my school system and she shares stories of notes she receives from parents, students, and administrators regularly that value her work. Her school environment--the town, students, and community-at-large, is demographically different from where I teach, and I don't believe we can set one-size-fits-all-rules for all schools as learning communities have to respond to the children they teach and those children's needs and interests.

That being said, the conversation left me wondering about rules that are too tight or too lose. My reading has showed me that when we're more relaxed and we give students behavioral parameters that are realistic, those students perform better. Yet, on the other hand, if students' behavior is unruly and out of control that can lead to safety issues and disrupt good learning. There's definitely a fine balance between rules that are too tight and rules that are too lose.

Also as I think about this, I think about time and capacity. If you spend lots and lots of time enforcing tight rules, you may build an antagonistic environment where it seems like the rules are most important and where capacity wanes since the focus is not dull rules. On the other hand though, if you don't focus on rules at all, you can create an undisciplined environment that does not set the stage for good learning and teaching.

So as I think of rules and whether those rules are too tight or too lose, I realize that we have to strike a good balance where we foster and teach routines that lead to a safe, supportive, positive, and ripe learning environment and also give some elasticity to the rules we make so that we can stretch those rules to fit the students, priorities, and overarching focus of what we do.

None of us in a school will probably wholly agree on all rules since we all see the school culture and environment through the lenses of our positions, teaching spaces, and expectations, but we can strike a good balance between too tight and too lose rules, the kind of rules that set the stage for optimal learning, teamwork, and support for one another.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Collaborating with a stellar staff

Thanks to terrific community, state, and union support, I work in a school that has amazing resources and terrific educators. It is a dynamic environment for teaching and learning--the kind of environment that offers educators fair salaries, good working conditions, and the resources to do a great job.

As a child of working class parents who valued education greatly, I sometimes feel guilty working in such a privileged setting as I wonder if I should be working in a school similar to the one I attended as a young girl--a great school with great teachers in a community where many parents had not attended college.

Yet, I realized a while ago, that I can use my situation to work at creating an atmosphere that is exemplar--a situation that others can look to as an example of what we can do when schools are well funded and supported. That is the promise of schools like mine; we can demonstrate what a top notch public school can be.

So that's what I'm working for, I'm working to create a top notch public school experience for each and every one of my students. There's lots of work to do as there are challenges that call us to do more and do better. Fortunately almost everyone who works at the school is interested in overcoming those challenges.

With such an invested staff, there's the problem of the challenges we prioritize since everyone sees things a bit differently. There's also the challenge of finding the right time and right processes to prioritize and then to plan how we'll meet a challenge. And there's a problem of apt collaboration since there are so many people who have extensive experience and good vision, and while this is awesome, it can make collaboration tough at times. This article will shed more light on that for me.

So as I think more on the year ahead and my overarching goal to listen more and better, I want to be cognizant that I work with a stellar team, and with that knowledge, I want to listen to the brilliance they share, think about how I might contribute, and think about the processes that will help us to do the best we can to teach every child well and develop the work we do in ways that matter.

Setting the stage for teaching new social studies standards

Reference

Massachusetts' educators will begin teaching new social studies standards in the year ahead. Colleagues and I have reviewed the standards and figured out ways to set the stage for these new standards at the start of the year with a focus on the main points of fifth grade. Our efforts will include the following activities:
  • Past, Present, Future Personal Timelines
  • Reviewing the United States Constitution and creating class constitutions.
  • Looking at context and meaning with the famous phrase, "All men are created equal."
  • A read aloud that takes place where we live and tells about the King Philip's War
These activities will help to connect students to the social studies standards by connecting these standards to their own lives and present time.

Today I focused in on the Past, Present, Future Timeline Project. The focus of this project is to engage students in creating timelines and thinking about time periods in their own lives. Also we'll use these timelines to engage in an initial conversation about how the past impacts the present and future. We'll hang these timelines up and reference them throughout the year as we study the time periods and significant events of early American history included in the standards for fifth grade. 

As I worked on the project today, I found the activity to be a good one--I could feel my brain at work as I chose a number of significant events from the past, the present, and what I hope to be the future. I used a similar timeline strategy that our tech teacher used last year which is outlined in the video below:


I used a combination of collected images and images from a Google search to complete the timeline. It took me a good two hours to complete this first draft so I expect it will take students about 4-6 hours to complete their copies. Fortunately the tech teacher has agreed to collaborate with us and work on the project in tech class. We'll support the efforts in the classroom too with this timeline prep and giving students time to work on their projects here and there during classroom time.  

This is a worthy start-of-school project for many reasons. First, the project provides students with the chance to tell their story and discuss who they are and what they've experienced with each other. Also, the projects prompts students to think about what's important in their past, present, and future. Further the project, as noted before, sets the stage for one of the main themes in the new Massachusetts social studies' standards which is that the past impacts the present.

I'm sure I'll update my project exemplar and the project prep in the days to come on my own and with colleagues. Also if you have any suggestions, please share. Thank you!



Monday, August 06, 2018

First Days of School: Developing a Dynamic Teaching/Learning Team


What we do in the first days of school sets the stage for the entire year.

I like to use the first days to initiate positive relationships, build team, assess needs, interests, and passions, and begin to teach the standards-based curriculum set.

This plan requires attention to detail, preparation, and the ability to flexibly fit the lessons and efforts to the the needs and interests of students, colleagues, and system-wide initiatives.

To do this well, I create and prepare a number of early year lessons, and then prioritize and embed those lessons into the start-of-the-school year.

Right now the lessons I've created and will foster include the following:

Homeroom Team Building, Social Studies, and Science Lessons

Day One

  1. What's your name? Read name list. Discuss importance of names. Show funny name video.
  2. Review sign in, lunch count, and class jobs procedures.
  3. Review supply list. Make sure that every child has supplies he/she needs. Organize and store supplies. Collect summer math study packets (review in evening).
  4. Review room set up, assign studio stations and discuss set-up, expectations, and share.
  5. Review recess rules, recess.
  6. Focus on What is a team? What makes a team strong? Introduce notecard tower activity. Students work with team to create note card towers. Students complete lab reports, meet and share. 
  7. Review and practice transition and lunch routines. Review schedule.
  8. Begin read aloud. Visualization and Empathy to understand historic context and roles as we read historic texts including James Printer, a Novel of Rebellion
  9. Review homework: make a word find of classmates' and teachers' names by hand on graph papers so every child get to see and read each others names. 
  10. Review end-of-day routine and recess.
Day Two

  1. Collect homework. Review names, jobs, needed forms, news board, and routines again. Just Breathe: Making the most of the mindful moment and other morning routines. 
  2. Tell the story of our United States Constitution, and review school handbook which is like a constitution for our school. What makes our school handbook similar or dissimilar to the United States constitution? Active Reading: The Student Handbook: What do we do well and what can we get better at--how can we shortlist the handbook rules and protocols to a memorable phrase, sign, poem, or acronym? How can we make these rules and protocols are own?
  3. Work in teams to determine our class government? Share ideas. Work on using handbook and class government ideas to write a class constitution. 
  4. Review transition, recess, and lunch routines. Recess
  5. Work with folders to create window collages of what everyone sees and knows about you (outside of folder) and parts of you that people might not know and that you want to share in this activity. (Integrating SEL chapter 6)
  6. Review homework: Parent/Guardian timeline interview
  7. Read Aloud
  8. Recess
Day Three
  1. Review names, jobs, and routines again.
  2. What is the Declaration of Independence? 
  3. What was the context of time, place, and experience that led Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and what does the phrase "All men are created equal" mean today? How can we rephrase this for our classroom?
  4. Read the Declaration of Independence together. Discuss history of "All men are created equal" and if that stands the test of time? How can we rephrase that statement for modern times and for our grade-level team?
  5. Review transition, recess, lunch routines. Recess
  6. Review timeline project. 
  7. Time Line Prep: parent interview, template, Dream Me activity, and ImportantChanges (Integrating SEL p. 82-84) Coordinate with tech teacher. Prepare for the project which will be completed in tech class. Self Awareness with Timelines: Students will create a time line that includes a parent or guardian's main event before they were born from birth onward, their own main events, and 4-5 events they imagine for their future. This will be done in technology class. Prepare for this activity with early-year homework and classwork including "Dream Me" activity from chapter 6 in Integrating SEL. 
  8. Read Aloud
Many early year activities
come from this book. 
Days Ahead in Homeroom
  • Review TeamFive website together. Introduce computer use, protocols, safety, digital citizenship. 
  • Marshmallow-Spaghetti Towers
  • Team Talk: What is a learning community? What makes a learning community successful? What matters when it comes to being a successful learner? What matters when it comes to being a positive learning community member?
  • Complete class constitution, sign, and hang up for all to see. 
  • Set up showcase portfolios and complete Happiness Surveys at start of year. Review this with colleagues -- front page cover ideas and back cover potentially "one word posters."
  • Your one word project and Video with Students. Teach/Review Google Draw.
  • Personal Assessment: Godilocks Games (p. 94-95) is a good activity for children to do an early assessment of themselves. This will provide good information for teachers and family members as they goal set with and for students.  (SEL book)
  • What is a Hero? Who are your heroes? Identifying honorable characteristics, finding people to look up to, learn from,  and follow in real time, history, and literature, sharing the story of Malala.
  • What is your point of view or perception? The birds story, a discussion on classroom needs, wants, and desires.
  • Peer Pressure: Do I Dare Do It (Integrating SEL p. 84-86)
  • Study Skills: What do you really think? (Integrating SEL - chapter 6, Socratic Method)
  • Humor Helps: Integrating SEL p.89-90. I'd like to turn this into an activity where students can create a cartoon, write a paragraph, or write and act out a script. I may integrate this with the writing, art, and/or tech teacher. Students love the integration of humor into the classroom and as one who is very serious, I can see how helpful this would be. 
  • Behaviors at School: To get a head start on conflict resolution and language related to bullying behaviors, students and teachers will use the pyramid on top of the page to discuss the kinds of behaviors that can happen at school, and the appropriate ways to prevent and if needed respond to those behaviors in an effort to build a more caring and helpful classroom community. 
  • STEAM TeamworkCrossing the peanut butter pit (Integrating SEL - chapter 5), Alphabet Actors (p. 94), Can-moving activity (p. 102) and similar activities such as note card towers (p. 108) and marshmallow or gumdrop structures.
  • Where do you want to live? Introduction to environmental education (Integrating SEL - chapter 6)
  • Solar Ovens STEAM activity - embed SEL questioning and activities from Integrating SEL, chapter 6 egg drop activity.
  • Resilience/Grit Activity. Integrating SEL p. 86-87
  • Curiosity: A Critical ElementUse this lesson from Integrating SEL, Chapter 6 as introduction to current events learning/teaching.
  • Think Positive activities and study Note that several of these activities can be integrated with physical education and music class too. 
  • Self Control Lessons (Integrating SEL chapter 5)
  • The Conflict Within (p.106) - this might fit nicely with the writing program
  • Trust Walk (p. 104-105)
  • Difficult Choices (p. 105-106)
  • Deserted Island (p. 107)
  • Reflection (p. 109-110)

Days Ahead in Math Class
  • History of people, skin shade, timeline - "The past affects the future." video
  • Pattern exercise
  • Boaler "Everyone can learn math" Ted Talk
  • Create math class norms, math study spaces/groups and routines for the math classroom. 
  • What's your number?
  • Review summer study, warm-up on facts while learning about equations, expressions, signs using Google draw, games, and more.
  • Introduce and set up reflection journal
  • Symphony Math introduction, practice during RTI blocks
  • Early year assessments.
  • Establish Math Routines, Teach Tools:
  • How to use math tools: rulers, calculators, tiles. . . .Using visualization in math and science as we learn about and practice with essential tools: color continuum, number lines, rulers, thermometers, place value chart.
  • Equations and Expressions: Using self control and choice to assist your learning and performance (Integrating SEL. . .p. 62-68)
  • Math reflection/metacognition - the math journal
  • Begin First Unit: Place Value

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Take a Thoughtful Approach to Unexpected Twists and Turns

Life is filled with unexpected twists and turns. You can plan on one event, but then something gets in the way and you have to change your plans. That happens.

As much as possible I try to stick to the plans set, but at times life has a way of pulling you in a different direction. So rather than attend the MTA Conference as planned, I'll attend to a number of personal needs and issues instead. This was unexpected, but it's the right thing to do.

Every chapter in life has its pushes and pulls. I always look back on a time early in my career when an older colleague had expectations for me that I could not fulfill. At that time I was consumed with my classroom efforts and my busy home life with young children. Then there was a period when I could devote lots and lots of time to extra education events as well as family and the classroom, and now I find a number of family needs pulling me in a new direction.

I think it's important to listen to the calls that life makes for you--it's important to read the signs and symbols both overt and subtle around you as you decide how and where to spend your time and energy. For example, I am happy that during my children's early years, I did make room for them and my most important professional responsibilities--it was a choice that was important to me and a choice that laid a good foundation for them. I'm similarly happy that I was able to invest considerable effort and time into deepening and growing my professional repertoire in the last twenty years as that has provided me with a strong foundation as I teach and work with colleagues in and outside of school with respect to teaching well and supporting the profession. And now, life is calling me in different ways--ways that find me focusing on the day-to-day needs for my close and extended family as well as for the students I teach and colleagues I work with.

Life throws all of us unexpected twists and turns, and what's important is that we take a thoughtful approach to those unexpected events and make decisions that help us to stay true to ourselves and the directions we deem most important. Onward.




Friday, August 03, 2018

Run Your Numbers; Save for a Rainy Day

As I readied to pay a hefty college bill today, I ran my numbers.

I found myself thankful to an older, wiser colleague who encouraged me to open up a 403B retirement account years ago.

To put a bit of money aside every pay check into one of these accounts is hardly noticeable, and it does add up. That helps later on in life in retirement or when big expenses hit.

I was never too savvy when it come to money. I have always been so busy in life working and taking care of children that I hardly stopped to run the numbers with regard to the money we earn, the taxes we pay, the interest we accrue on loans and our daily/weekly expenses.

Yet, it pays to make the time to pay attention to this as it can help you and your family.

What should you do?

It may sound silly, but no one ever gave me this advice.

First, make a chart of what you make and what you spend each month. You can easily do this by recording your big bills and reviewing your credit card statements and other receipts.

Analyze your expenditures--where do you spend too much and where can you save more?

Think about what you put away, and if you can increase that. Figure out how that will affect your paycheck and your taxes.

Make a long term plan that includes earnings and savings--see where you can possibly make more and save more over time.

As educators it pays to get as high up in on your salary charts as soon as possible--the quicker you get there, the more you'll make.

It's also important to assess how much you spend on the classroom each year, and possibly find other ways to support classroom supplies via grants, advocating for district/taxpayer support, and more.

Many people hire outside agents to help them with this and that can be helpful too.

However you choose to save and take charge of your finances is your decision, but it's best to make time to do this rather than experience financial troubles later on.

What will you do?

Many outwardly and privately think me foolish to write so much about he threatening and dangerous words and actions of Trump, his family members, cronies, and fans. Yet having been witness via reading and elsewhere of the destruction that hate, destruction and crime can bring to lives, as well as the knowledge that to stay passive is to give the green light to this kind of activity, I know that to speak up and stay alert is the right thing to do today.

Yet to write from home day after day and intersect with social media alone is not sufficient. Yes, getting your words and viewpoint out there may have some impact, but you have to act too--you have to direct your actions in ways that positively influence and inform others.

So what will I do--what actions will match my words?

First, I believe that service starts at home. So as I've tried to do all my life, I will do what I can to support my family and loved ones to live well and reach their dreams.

Next, I chose to teach, and I believe good teaching matters. Hence, a considerable amount of my time will be spent reaching to meet the both individual and collective teaching/learning goals to help every child succeed at school with happiness--I want our students to develop the capacity to live good lives, to help one another, and to contribute to the communities they live in and belong to.

After that I'll continue daily reading, research, writing and advocacy. I'll learn what I can and do what I can to forward the following:

  • laws and policies that support environmental protection, 
  • personal and collective rights and freedoms, 
  • no prejudice, 
  • a healthy balance between collaboration and competition, 
  • good laws that sustain order and good living for all
I'll dig into what these main areas of life specifically mean in terms of time and activity more in the days to come, but for now, I've got a good shortlist to follow. Onward. 

Our lives spiral

I believe lives spiral in all directions. Our experiences make those spirals broaden and narrow as well as intersect throughout time. We spiral between past and present, one idea and the next, multiple experiences, and numerous places. We take what we know with us and the spirals gain traction from the energy of our experiences, dreams, and people and places around us.

As our lives spiral, I believe we need to think about where we are going, where we have been, and what we desire. We have to take note of the intersections and the limitations too, intersections and limitations which give the spirals shape. d