Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lead Time is Critical to Good Work

Sometimes lead time is impossible, but in general, lead time leads to good work.

When issues of analysis and deep think are presented at the last minute and do not provide time for preview or review, the analysis and think is typically less good than when information is presented with time for thoughtful analysis and consideration.

With regard to the classroom, I try to give parents and students a heads-up about the learning to come. Often the team will share a number of resources ahead of a project to allow students time to preview, look at the information, and try out related experiments and learning projects. This generally translates into greater investment, enthusiasm, and engagement with the learning. I believe the same is true for educators when it comes to professional learning--the more we can share in advance, the better.

Last minute sharing often seems like a tactic of oppression. It seems this way because when you present information and expect a response all at the same time with limited time you limit the conversation, analysis, and thought, and you also mitigate the potential for good decision making. We see this kind of tactic used often in politics when one group wants it their way without consideration of the others sides' thoughts, opinions, needs, or interests.

Good learning, I believe, generally demands lead time. Lead time creates a prepared and open group of learning. Last minute share when there's little time to prepare creates stress, angst, and oppression which serves to frustrate and divide a learning community rather than build a strong, collaborative team. Do you agree?

Find Meaning

A friend told me about a person in his life that is lost--a person who can find no meaning. I found that hard to understand since as a teacher there is limitless opportunity for meaningful work and the greatest challenge is prioritizing those opportunities and choosing the best amongst them.

What holds my friend's friend back? Why is he stuck?

First of all this stuck man was not nurtured in ways that build a strong person. His early years and care-takers were misguided with regard to what really matters in life. They saw children as a thing apart and didn't put much time into their care. I think of Gladwell's book, Outliers, and the notion of concerted cultivation which is to really get to know who a child is and nurture that child holistically towards a good life. That was missing from the man I speak of.

Throughout the man's life he carried the weight of a childhood that was privileged but lacking in the elements of essential care and love--a heavy burden.

Also this man carries the weight of not easily fitting in to life's categories of acceptance. He's not the beautiful women, the strong man, the good leader, or the inspired poet, but instead he's a lost man who wears his losses like a detour sign that says, "Don't go here; don't know me; don't be my friend." Thus people are often repelled by this man. This lack of popularity also has created a wall to meaning for this man.

Yet the man if of high intelligence, keen vision, and magnificent desire. If he can find a way to invest those energies into meaningful work he will be found, discovered, able to live a good life. What could he do? He could tackle a big question the world holds and invest in that question. He could look for a lost people and nurture those people in ways that makes a difference. He could people something or write something that uses his past losses and new found energy and inspiration to move others.

To find meaning in life is essential--to make your days count is imperative. There are so many books that can help us find that path for me those books include Joseph Campbell's Pathways to Bliss,  and Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

It is essential that we find meaning in the work we do and that we follow paths we believe in, paths that have merit for our lives and the lives of others. In what ways is this true for you?

Focus on What Matters

In any organization bureaucracy can take over one's mind, one's attention, and one's direction. This is not what should happen. Instead the mission and vision of the work should lead one forward--what does that mean for me heading into the second month of school?

I will take the time to look over students' first unit of math study carefully--who achieved and who still needs more teaching and learning in this regard? After that analysis, I'll make plans about when and how I'll reteach and support students who missed some essential learning in that unit. I'll also head into the next unit with all students in ways that have been successful to students in the past. I'll also begin the teaching and learning related to physical science and STEAM study while embedding SEL lessons throughout the teaching and learning. To do that means taking care to thoughtfully plan our first multidisciplinary lesson related to our watershed study--this lesson will include both physical science, math standards.

System-Wide Decisions
Our school system leadership will meet with us to discuss changing school start times. I will listen carefully to the proposals and my colleagues questions and ideas. It's important that school start times are ideal for all students not just some, and my research to date points to the fact that the most positive change will cost the system extra money and I will likely choose along the lines of what's best for all students with regard to the research about student health and optimal learning/living.

Professional Learning
We have a systemwide professional learning event however we don't know what that will be or where it will be. I am a learner that likes to preview material and learning with good time, so I worry about learning that doesn't include good lead time or an introduction. However, I'll do as I'm asked to do--attend the learning event and cull what I can to develop my practice.

Student Service Meeting 
We had a very good nuts and bolts student service meeting last week. This week we'll likely go deeper to discuss practices we can embed to serve all students well. This is a positive weekly meeting.

ELA Data Meeting
We'll dive into scores and more related to reading instruction this week and make groups for RTI reading instruction where we help students to build fluency and comprehension skills in meaningful ways. This practice has resulted in positive reading and writing growth over the years. It's a lot of work, but work that's worth it.

Student Teacher
I'll continue to supervise the student teacher by reviewing the schedule of the week to come, helping her to plan, prepare, and teach lessons, and observing her work in action as she teaches a number of lessons this week. She's an excellent teacher so that's a joy.

Teaching in Nature
As noted in the previous post many lessons will revolve around standards-based environmental education this week including multidisciplinary background lessons about watersheds and river habitats, an introduction to the history, geography, and biology of the local habitat, a fun and games study of facts related to the SUASCO watershed, a hands-on model making event, and a class hike and hands-on exploration in nature. This effort will take care and attention to multiple learning points and with dedication will result in an awesome first week of study with our Drumlin farm naturalist coach, students, family members, and educators.

Student Response
In keeping with this year's goal, I'll collect this week's practice packet on Tuesday and review students' efforts Tuesday afternoon and evening. On Wednesday I'll review students' online work. I'll provide two mornings of extra help before school, and talk to students and contact families and educators with regard to students who are not keeping up with their practice to see how we might support those students more. My goal is to check in on all learners each week via these feedback loops to ensure that every child is having the opportunity for just-right practice and response on a weekly basis.

As you can see it will be a busy week ahead--one that demands I keep the focus. This is typically true for all educators wherever they teach. Onward.

Teaching and Learning in and about Nauture

Students will engage in a week of multidisciplinary environmental study this week. What does that mean?

This means that students will learn about life science through writing, the Earth and water cycle through reading, and physical science via math.

Via an introductory slideshow, students will also learn about the history of the land, the rationale for learning about our local river and wetland habitats, and how the past has affected the present and will impact the future.

Students will specifically study watersheds including the SUASCO watershed where we live. They will create three-dimensional watershed models with small groups and review specific facts and concepts related to our watershed as they complete Junior River Ranger workbooks, workbooks created by the National Wild and Scenic River System.

Children will also learn about the land's history, geography, and living organisms via exploration and discovery with maps, ponding, testing water, and observation during a day in nature at the end of the week.

How will we assess this effort and use that assessment to continue to build this standards-based year-long study of watersheds? Next week we'll assess the learning and related attitudes to date. We'll use the assessments to note what students have learned well, what we need to teach more and better, and where we'll take the study as we lead towards climate change education and student community action efforts.

This is a worthy and exciting curriculum to teach, one that comes to us, in part, via the generosity and commitment of Drumlin Farm educators/naturalists and a SUASCO grant.

The Educator's Role in System Issues

Too often educators are left out of systemwide decisions which I believe lessens the potential possible for good teaching and learning. After all educators are the people who work day-to-day and hour-to-hour with students and to leave them out of the decision making loop is to leave important voices, perspectives, and ideas out of those decisions.

As I think more about this, I think there has to be change in most school systems with regard to who has the time and place for decision making and the processes used to make those decisions. Mostly since educators are busy with students almost every minute of the day, those who make decisions are distanced from this work and often make decisions based on their own projections of what educators think rather than what educators truly think. To include educators in decision making systems have to change roles, schedules, places, and process.

How should they do this?

First, it's essential for systems to create a good short list of systemwide goals, and this shortlist has to be the result of good process with the voices of all stakeholders including students, families, educators, administrators, and community members. This shortlist has to acknowledge the system's overarching goal which I believe should be a whole child approach to good teaching and learning. When we are doing our jobs well together students are happy and they are learning the skills, concept, and knowledge that will give them a positive foundation to a good life and a good country. What are those essential skills, concepts, and knowledge?

The standards, I believe, are a good source of foundation knowledge skills, concepts, and knowledge--to teach the standards well is to give students a strong foundation for future learning. Also to make sure our programs regard social emotional learning with fidelity is also essential and to teach in ways that best meet current research and knowledge about how brains and bodies work is also essential. As Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey so clearly explain in their recent article, we need to be cognizant of the whole child as we design programs, teach, and forward our learning communities.

As I think of all of this and the programs I work with, I believe the we have a lot of good resources and components in place including a good schedule, adequate facilities, good resources, and highly qualified staff. What we are missing is a consistent and meaningful place at the decision-making table. Too often, decisions are made without our input and in oppressive ways. This is an area that needs to be considered carefully and changed to elevate our teaching/learning community more. To do this well, administrators would make more time and space for teacher voice with regard to decision making, managing our programs, and spending money--still much of this is decided by people distanced from students and teachers on a daily basis and this is an issue that needs greater attention. To do this well means that some administrators have to believe in this and spend time making it happen--they need to elevate teacher leadership in ways that matter.

With this in mind, I have to work with what exists and work for what I dream of at the same time. How do I do that.

With regard to the good resources, schedule, and colleagues that exist, I'll work with my team to forward a robust, student-centered, and results-oriented standards-based teaching/learning program. We take program design seriously and continue to read, research, and revise to create a dynamic program that puts students in the driver's seat of their education in meaningful, positive ways.

As far as teacher leadership, I'll continue to observe and analyze the situations that exist, situations where teachers are not included in the decision making. Currently teachers are often not consulted about major systemwide issues, professional learning time/events, scheduling of extra supports, money expenditures, and updating schools and playgrounds. All of these areas affect what we do and who we are at school, yet we have little voice in this regard.

If I had more voice/choice, I would consider these issues carefully with my colleagues, and as I consider these issues I would look for ways that we can elevate teacher leadership and add more time-on-task with students for all educators and administrators in our system.

  • co-coaching models with all coaches having essential responsibility for working with students
  • a change in building supervision/curriculum leadership models
  • service delivery start at the start of the school year for all service delivery to students rather than waiting a month or two into the school year for some services
  • a re-look at purchasing procedures and a greater ability for educators to order what they need in order to teach well rather than reaching into their own pockets to pay for needed materials.
  • a better and more inclusive process for program development
  • greater transparency with regard to decision making processes and the decisions considered and made
  • less top-down decision making and more collaborative decision making including all educators
I've been lobbying for greater teacher leadership for a long time, and while I've seen some growth, I have not seen the kind of modern changes I read about in articles about dynamic organizations, organizations that promote autonomy, mastery, and purpose as Pink's book, Drive, highlighted so long ago. There's great potential in building dynamic teaching/learning organizations, a potential we need to consider with depth and care as we move schools forward. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Goal Shift

I carefully outlined my goals in the spring of last year, and since then I've been refining and changing those goals. Similar to any natural system, life in schools is always changing and so are the goals I choose.

Yet, as the goals changed, there was also refinement. The more I know the students and the more the team works together, the better I understand what's needed. Hence when I present the goals this week, those goals will be more fine-tuned and responsive to the needs of the students as well as the betterment of my practice.

The first goal, the student teaching goal, will be a goal to provide sensitive, thoughtful, and encouraging student-centered, standards-based practice opportunities and response to all fifth grade math students each week. Specifically that will include the following:
  • Responding to students' practice packets with comments and points.
  • Reviewing students' online practice exercises and assessments.
Responding in class will include both verbal and written responses to students' in-class learning experience efforts. I will keep track of this effort with a record document that charts students' efforts and accomplishments in ways that I can analyze as the year moves along.

The second goal initially was to embed SEL into science/STEAM efforts, however in light of the work that's needed to fulfill the environmental education portion of our science program, I will change that goal to professional learning related to develop a standards-based, student-centered environmental education program for fifth graders. This is a meaningful, relevant goal for the work at hand.

I'm looking forward the goal-setting meeting I'll have this week with my evaluator and the work ahead to reach those goals.

Weekend Musings: Teaching Well

We seem to be busier than ever at school, but the busyness is mostly associated with great goals and really positive endeavor. What's taking our time?

First, I'm digging into my goal of improving student feedback loops to encourage better learning experiences. That means solidifying a routine that works for all students. Currently the routine includes a weekly review packet, online assessments and exercises, classroom coaching/teaching, and individualized support, enrichment, and modification.

In the week ahead, I want to think carefully about the following:
  • Reviewing students' packets for accuracy, precision, and positive learning goals/practice
  • Helping all students to understand and complete the learning routines
  • Providing more individualized support for those that need a different approach, reteaching, or enrichment in specific areas.
I'm also working with colleagues to embed multiple science standards using the 5 E's approach into our environmental study experiences. This involves preparing a number of learning experiences, charting our efforts, teaching and responding to the students, engaging in the efforts, then reflecting and building upon what we have done so far. Over the summer and in the past two weeks we started this effort by setting goals and communicating with Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Naturalist Educators about the focus of this study, engaging in related learning experiences, taking a nature hike as educators, working with the team to outline the study, and now working on all the related details. This is deep and rewarding work that will result in robust learning for students.

The year's start also involves supervising a talented student teacher and working as part of a dynamic teaching team. Our meetings have been long and worthwhile as we find ways to work with one another, support one another, and together meet the needs of all the fifth graders. This work takes a lot of good time each week and I expect that our efforts will result in very good attention and care for each and every fifth grade student.

There's a professional learning event coming up which has not been shared with us yet so I expect that I'll learn about that in the days to come. I find that good lead time for these events helps educators to be prepared and make the most of the learning. Often when the related information is last minute, the learning potential is compromised. That's why we try to stay ahead with communication to families with regard to the fifth grade program. With lead time, families can better support the program, ask related questions, and provide needed resources and other information to make the teaching and learning successful. 

Now it's time for more detail-related research and prep to support the learning for the week ahead, learning that will be apart of a robust, holistic program for all students. Onward. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

What Matters: New Learning Experiences

Today students will embark on a relatively new learning experience.

What's important.

First, safety matters. Bring the phones, the class lists, and safety gear.

Next, engagement and happiness will propel the experience in a positive way. Have a sense of adventure, positivity, and enthusiasm as we engage in the event.

After that, focus--look for evidence of the standards and concepts we'll be exploring all year and focus in on those experiences, events, and examples with care.

Finally, reflect with students about the learning that happened, the connections made, and the questions and inquiry we're left with. Onward.

Elevate Your School Community by Partnering with Local Colleges, Universities, and Education-Related Organizations

Our school has been working with two local universities with regard to hosting student teachers. The student teaching programs in Massachusetts have come a long way in years past. The expectations for student teachers and supervising teachers have been elevated in significant ways. There's more time involved and there's also more growth involved too.

Yesterday I met with the college professor who is supervising the wonderful student teacher in my room. Together we discussed the student teacher's excellent lesson. As I listened to the college professor talk, I found myself reflecting on my own teaching. Her points not only provided growth opportunities for the student teacher, but opportunities for my own growth too. It was a very positive meeting.

Essentially the college professor was pointing out the need for lessons to be tightly targeted in order to result in mastery learning. While she acknowledged the need for general lessons, I listened carefully to her ideas related to more tightly targeted lessons. I especially enjoyed the conversation since I often fall to the side of big-idea teach rather than discrete standard teaching.

Also as we talked, I acknowledged that I was happy that our school could be a satellite campus for the university--a teaching/learning school where university professors, student teachers, and practicing teachers work together to develop a positive, productive learning atmosphere for all students.

There's much to be gained by extending what happens in schools to the greater teaching/learning community including colleges, universities, and other education-related community organizations. For example, Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm has invited us into an environmental education grant this year focused on standards-based education about watersheds, climate change, and community action. Our initial meeting was terrific as Drumlin Farm educators and naturalists shared the research and background information related to the grant's focus with us. We learned a lot. Now, we're working with a naturalist coach throughout the year to deepen our efforts in this regard. This too is very positive.

When schools can connect and work with outside agencies, there is great potential for growth in meaningful ways. I look forward to continuing the efforts we're involved in now and other similar efforts in the future.

Teaching Well: Student Coaching

I scoured those MCAS scores again last night. I did an early year analysis of the scores this summer to determine my yearly goals and evaluate the teaching program. What did I notice?

I noticed that the following criteria matter:
  • Teaching each standard with depth
  • Student practice
  • Targeted individual support and help
  • Positivity
  • Optimal class size
  • Apt materials and resources
  • Qualified support
  • Good attendance
As I thought about these criteria, I thought about how I'll use this knowledge to impact this year's teaching/learning program.

First, I'll make sure that every child gets the practice they need--when students don't practice, they don't master the standards. This means I'll provide lots of in school and home study practice options and coach each student when it comes to supporting that practice with in-school help during the school day plus a couple of extra help support sessions each week. I'll also work with families, teaching assistants, and the team to support children's needed practice in multiple ways.

I'll also keep track of who is completing the assignments and how they are doing. I'll institute the use of learning menus and self-assessments to support student growth as well as multiple classroom lessons, projects, and problems to support their learning. 

I'll specifically teach the curriculum standard by standard weaving in MCAS problems when appropriate as well as other learning options including vocabulary and problem solving. Further I'll use tools and resources that I know have been successful in the past and try out new tools that colleagues point to as successful.

And, I'll advocate for systemwide supports that make a difference. For example a friend of mine in a school system other than mine had thirty students in her class last year. Many were disadvantages in a number of ways. She had little to no support. I looked at the MCAS scores from her school and they were dismal. My friend worked around the clock, but no matter how gifted, talented, or dedicated she is, no one can service thirty students with care--class size matters, and we're fooling ourselves if we don't pay attention to this. There is an equity quotient too when it comes to class size, and that equity quotient depends on the complexity and needs of a class. If a class, no matter what size it is, has great complexity that will affect the learning and needs to be considered with regard to supports.

Further, staffing and scheduling matters with regard to achievement--it's imperative that staff is qualified for the teaching expected and that scheduling creates a positive pattern of learning. 

While I work in a school system that has substantial support and very good achievement, I believe there's always more we can do to build greater success and worthy learning for each and every student. With that in mind, I'll work with the team to support that learning. Onward. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Haste Makes Waste: Teaching Lessons

We all know the adage, "Haste makes waste," is a truth, but we don't always abide by that lesson. That describes my day today. I rushed in at 7a.m. to make a 180 copies of study packets and information. Then I managed an early morning help session, taught two classes, observed the student teacher teaching a lesson, had lunch, met with the student teacher, copied the field trip permission slip, ran a student meeting, supervised student play, attended a student-service meeting, and ran home to cook dinner. . . .it was a busy day, but not as busy as the days when I was also caring for my young children.

Of course there were a few errors on the field trip permission form, thus "haste makes waste," and thanks to a kind parent, the mistakes were quickly corrected via email.

I say it again and again, teaching is a limitless job--there's always more we can do, and to reach is to sometimes make mistakes, do too much, and miss a detail or two.

What remains most important is doing all you can for the students you care for, minding those errors, making better, and moving forward. Onward.

Clarity Supports Trust

Clarity supports trust.

When colleagues, friends, and family members know what you are doing and why you are doing it, trust generally grows, however when what you are doing, why you do it, and how it goes is a mystery, trust typically wanes.

I thought about this recently as one program area I work with is mysterious. There's rarely any communication. The goals of the work are unclear and efforts questionable. There seems to be no structure, big think, or honest action with regard to the effort. I've inquired, made suggestions, and tried to understand this program, however, I rarely witness anything that makes me trusting or desiring to get involved. Yet the mission of the program is critical so I will continue to think about how I might embrace and engage with this valuable mission and program in honest, trusting, vauable ways.

On the other hand, there is another program that I work with that is almost entirely transparent. The roles, routines, and efforts are clear. The objective is transparent. The goal is worthy. There is good trust with regard to this program, and with greater openness and more modern process, this program will continue to grow with trust and good result.

As I think of the connection between clarity and trust, I am thinking about the programs that I am mostly devoted to--how do I make the efforts trustworthy and understandable. Presently I share the learning/teaching menu with all involved so they know what's coming up. The challenge is that the plan is constantly changing to meet students needs. I am trying to focus more transparently on patterns of service so that everyone knows what's going on and adding their expertise to the mix of student teaching, service, and support. Further I am working to see snags and problems in the teaching arena as opportunities for individual and shared growth as I seek the promise in problems while navigating the teaching/learning road towards betterment.

There's always more we can do to teach and learn well--to be clear is to invite trust. I will work towards that, and in the meantime, for those who don't value or subscribe to clarity, I'll tread gently routing my teaching/learning path in the direction of trust versus those confusing, mysterious, and questionable paths of practice and share.

Choose a Challenging Goal: Improving Craft and Practice

It is goal setting time in schools throughout Massachusetts. Teachers meet with evaluators to set and review goals, rationale, action plans, and success criteria.

I believe it's valuable to set challenging goals. Some shy away from setting challenging goals for a number of reasons. One of the greatest reasons, I believe, that people don't set challenging goals is that they work in environments that don't welcome risk, mistakes, and the needed efforts and teamwork that go hand-in-hand with challenging goals.

Fortunately I work in an environment that can support a challenging goal, and I enjoy a challenging goal because that kind of goal is intellectually stimulating and helps me to become a much better teacher.

So this year I've chosen two challenging goals. One is to improve feedback to students in ways that encourage and motivate greater academic success in math, and the other goal is to embed Social Emotional Learning into science and STEAM lessons. Both goals are born from worthy rationale. The better feedback goal originated with a deep analysis of MCAS scores and other measures of students' performance from last year, and the SEL goal came from a number of research/learning endeavors I've been involved in including writing the book, Integrating SEL into the Academic Program and Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's recent reports, Encouraging Social Emotional Learning in the Context of New Accountability and Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success.

I have already noticed that improving feedback has resulted in better performance and better relationships with children. Good feedback loops help educators to know the learners they are working with well. The challenge with good feedback lies in time and numbers--there are many children in a class and little time to provide quality feedback.  With this in mind, I am trying to create feedback loops that work. So far, I am using the following feedback loops:
  • Weekly homework packet: the packet includes a small amount of needed review and additional enrichment/bonus options. I pass out the packet on Wednesdays and collect and review the following Tuesday. The challenge is that the feedback takes about 6 hours after school, however the good understanding I receive from this feedback is invaluable. We know that many countries provide needed feedback time for educators, however that's typically not true in the United States. 
  • Online Learning Menu: I provide feedback by reviewing students' overall learning and creating a responsive learning menu that students can complete on their own or with peers in school or after school (if desired). Students' efforts are reported to my computer, and I can quickly assess who is learning the material and who needs more or different supports.
  • Math Workshop: During math workshop, I am able to readily respond to students as they engage in a large variety of learning experiences.
  • Tests, Quizzes, Exercises, and Assessments: These learning mechanisms help me to see who has mastered what skills, and I can use that information to better plan future learning experiences, small group support, and individual coaching. 
  • Parent/Teacher Conference Prep and Presentation: This process creates a back-and-forth effort to review learning to date, compose goals, rationale, and action plans, and work as a learning team to encourage and support student learning.
I am enthusiastic about the goal of strengthening student feedback loops as I know it will support greater, deeper, and better student learning. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this goal too as their efforts and feedback will inform my goal efforts too.

The second goal which is to embed SEL into STEAM and science lessons is a goal I'll complete learning experience by learning experience. The first challenge I've met with this goal is making the time to include this teaching as well as science and STEAM lessons--we often run out of time to meet the demands of a curriculum program that outweighs students' time/energy capacity as well as hours in the year. With that in mind, however, I will set aside time for this valuable teaching and learning. I'll chart my efforts beginning with next Monday's math/science lesson about carbon and its relationship to who we are, our environment, and what's important. 

Choosing a challenging goal keeps learners and teachers in the game of school. Goals with a just-right challenge rightly direct our energy, time, and effort leading us forward to improve and develop our craft while teaching all students well. What is your challenging goal this year? Why is this goal important to you and your students? How will you reach that goal and what kinds of supports are available to you in this regard. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dot your i's and cross your t's. . .

It's important to keep a log of efforts, events, and ideas.

Your log does not have to be elaborate, but it's best if it is time stamped, organized, and easy to refer to.

Logs like this can help you to look back to understand issues--to know what happened, and if mistakes happen, to understand where the mistake came from and how it might be remedied in the future.

Without a log, the past has a way of recreating itself--with a log, facts hold a higher place.

Coordinating Service Delivery

Schools fortunately are filled with multiple service providers including classroom teachers, special educators, occupational therapists, physical therapists, counselors, specialist teachers, teaching assistants, nurses, and more. This terrific array of service providers can be complicated by the need to coordinate those services both in time, intent, and delivery--how do we find time and work with each other in ways that best meet the needs of each and every student.

As I think about this issue, I believe the following points are integral:
  • prioritizing what's most important for each service delivery person
  • efficiency with time since there is little time for share 
  • effective scheduling
  • time-on-task with students
  • patterns of response
This week as I meet with a number of service delivery providers in a number of meetings to look deeply at service delivery priorities, intent, actions, and results, I'll be thinking of the best possible patterns of service delivery--patterns that ensure we are doing what we need to do to appropriate meet each child's needs and potential. 

Some years present little need for coordination since there are not as many services needed, and other years present a more complex situation. That's why it's important to look deeply at this situation early in the year to create best possible patterns of service delivery, effort, and effect. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Recalibrating Routines

Every new school year prompts the need to recalibrate routines. Once you begin to know the students and your own family's needs and schedules, it's time to create a routine you may follow each week to accomplish all that's integral to teaching and living well.

As I continue to think about optimal routines, I'm thinking about the need to do the following:
  • create optimal service delivery 
  • establish good feedback loops
  • spend time on healthful living
  • meet curriculum expectations
  • respond to student/family needs and interests
  • develop and grow my practice and the teaching/learning program
  • contribute to the greater good at school, at home, with the extended family, and in the the community 
None of us can do it all, but we all can contribute in ways that matter--matter to ourselves and matter to others. What's important here is a positive routine--what will our routine look like?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Learning: Forging Paths in the Forest

Images taken at Pennsylvania's beautiful Chanticleer Gardens

As children struggled to learn exponents, I explained that new learning is like forging a new path in the forest. I relayed a story about a recent time when I lost my way on a mountain hike. I started out on a weak trail and then found myself on a well-worn path. The well-worn path, however, was the wrong path, and then I had to find my way back to the less well-marked trail.

Similarly as students worked to evaluate exponents, they continued to move into the well-worn path of known math facts rather than the newly taught exponents. 4 to the power of 2 was often evaluated as 8 since 4 X 2 = 8 was ingrained in students' minds, while 4 to the power of 2 = 4 X 4 = 16 was still a weak path in their brains.

We discussed ways to make a weak path a strong path--students easily understood that a weak path becomes a strong path when we practice, make connections, and teach the information to others. Then they noted a large number of ways to practice, make connections, and teach information--ways that move knowledge from the confinements of short term memory to the depth and strength of long term memory.

As I teach this year, I am realizing that many students don't understand how learning works and what their brains do. They don't understand the reasons for learning or learning paths. They are more concerned with right and wrong rather than deep, meaningful, and transformative learning.

I will embed lessons about learning and how the brain works throughout the year. Lessons in the near future will include these questions:
  • What is mastery?
  • What is the difference between long term and short term memory?
  • How can we connect new learning to what we know already?
  • How do we make meaningful and productive learning paths?
  • What is energy management? How can they use this knowledge to strengthen their own learning? 
  • What is the difference between an exercise and assessment?
  • How can we use the multiple "intelligent assistants" around us to empower our learning and living?
I'm sure this list of questions will grow, and the challenge will be to relay this information in child-centered, meaningful, and developmentally appropriate ways. 

I welcome your feedback and thoughts on this post as I develop this endeavor. 

Embedding SEL into STEAM/Science Study

I am proposing that my professional learning goal this year will be to study and embed SEL into science and STEAM study in explicit and meaningful ways. I have chosen this goal for a number of reasons:
  • SEL is essential to teaching the whole child, and teaching the whole child spells successful learning as evidenced in Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's latest report, Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success
  • SEL is critical to successful science/STEAM study, learning, and meaningful application--to solve today's problems, we need to work together as people, communities, nation, and world with apt social/emotional skills and actions.
  • There is not a lot of time in school to teach SEL as a discrete subject so to embed that teaching/learning into all disciplines in meaningful ways is to teach SEL in a real-world, integrated, and meaningful way.
Now, it's easy to state a goal, but it's more difficult to achieve that goal. Achievement demands success criteria and a learning plan as John Hattie clearly demonstrates in his terrific book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning.

The success criteria for my goal will be that students learn about the essential points of SEL in developmental ways during science/STEAM lessons in 2018-2019. I will more clearly define those essential points as I move through the year, but essentially the points will include all areas of CASEL's SEL model

For specific lessons, I'll begin with a book I wrote with colleagues, Integrating SEL into the Academic Program. I will personalize and modify the lessons in the book to match the science/STEAM lessons I teach.

The learning path for this goal will include the following:
  • Learning experience-by-learning experience, reorganize to include the following:
    • A specific SEL goal
    • Visual image and explicit language that expresses the specific SEL goal on the learning experience lab sheet.
    • Short, engaging introduction via video, questioning, images, and experience
    • Short discussion about how we can make that goal explicit in the specific science/STEAM learning.
    • Science learning--typically including an introduction, active learning progression, and reflection/assessment.
    • SEL learning goal will be evaluated via observation, conversation, and an assessment and/or reflection question during each learning experience. 
  • Analyzing and reflecting on student responses, and using that information to better the SEL efforts in the next learning experience.
  • Inviting colleagues to share this goal with me.
  • Reviewing the goal and progress with my evaluator, administrators, team, and perhaps colleagues outside of the school.
  • Continued professional learning related to the goal including Pam Moran, Ira Socol, and Chad Ratliff's  new book, Timeless Learning.
I am very excited about this goal and where it will take the students and me with regard to meaningful learning and good living. 

Friday Musings: A Short, but Meaningful Week

Rainy days gave students a chance to make indoor recess choices.

It was a short, but meaningful week for TeamFive.

The main focus of the week included the following:

  • Practice using the online learning menu and homework routine
  • Study of numerical expressions and algebraic thinking
  • Practice using math tools 
  • An inspirational talk by Sam Drazin
  • Our first school assembly and related meetings about upcoming assemblies 
  • Continued reading about King Phillip's War and the colonial period in the United States
  • Picture Day
  • Reading, Writing, and more.
Next week is our first five-day week at school which will include four in-school teaching days and a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science. The big focus next week we'll be coordination of student services and response to individual and collective student needs and interests. As we get to know the students, we can better respond to the way they learn best and what they need with good learning design and coordination of service delivery. 

The year's off to a great start--may it continue. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Student Feedback: What Matters?

My student teaching goal for 2018-2019 has been morphing since last spring as I considered a number of topics. What finally rose to the top was student feedback with respect to math teaching/learning. Why did this rise to the top?

First of all, this goal responds to Jo Boaler's advice about homework which leads us to include less repetition of skill and more reflection and deeper thinking. I hope to embed this into students' expectations and then provide meaningful feedback to this kind of homework.

Next, when I assessed the students' MCAS scores last year, I felt that better feedback for some students would have translated into greater success. These were students that easily fell through the cracks because they were quiet, able to stay under the radar, and not always completing the learning expectations for many reasons. Already my new feedback loop has demonstrated to me a few students who could easily be missed this year without a good feedback loop.

Also, this goal meets the systemwide goal which is to notice all children and not to leave any children out of the teaching/learning activity.

Finally, I know that feedback matters. Our new superintendent has made it a practice to write a simple and positive note to teachers after he visits their classrooms. This feedback has created positivity at school and encouraged teachers to work well. Feedback matters to all of us and is a terrific way to inspire good work. When you receive feedback, you are noticed and you know that someone cares about your individual work and learning.

This goal begs the question, What is good feedback?

As I think of this, I am thinking of multiple types of feedback including the following:
  • Whole class comments about the learning team's efforts and needs.
  • Individual written and verbal comments that acknowledge specific accomplishment, need, ideas for growth and betterment, and clarifying questions.
  • Asking children to share their knowledge, teach others, clarify, and enrich.
  • Using student work as exemplars, and having students share their work with the class, school, or community.
  • Emails to students, family members, and school staff.
  • Badges that demonstrate the attributes of learning well done.
  • Video comments.
  • High fives, smiles, stickers, smiley faces, other emojis, teacher-student back-and-forth journals, conversations, grades, assessment scores, rubrics. . . 
I am going to think deeply about feedback this year and study it more. If you have stories about successful feedback, please share to help me broaden and deepen this learning. Thank you!

Nuts and Bolts: The Weekly Routine

This acts as a framework, but of course, when needed the schedule changes.
It's integral to establish a weekly routine when it comes to teaching and learning. The routine helps to set up parameters for healthy living and good teaching. What should you include in that routine?

The routine needs to include the following:
  • Teaching/Learning experiences with and for children--this will take up the majority of your time in school.
  • Extra support for students. Setting aside some time for this is helpful to students and the program overall.
  • Collegial meetings. Everyone is busy so if you can fit in a few team meetings a week to support collaboration, that's positive. Fortunately at our school we have two weekly meetings built in for this. One is a Professional Learning Community meeting (PLC) and another is a Student Service Meeting (SSM).
  • Room set-up, prep, xeroxing, and other details of learning experience design and implementation. Generally I do this work before and after school as well as during planning periods. 
  • Communication: responding to emails and other administrative tasks. I find that this work is best done before school or after hours in the quiet of my home where I can concentrate. 
  • Reflection, research, reading, and professional learning/share: a regular diet of learning makes teaching much more meaningful and successful. I generally do this before and after school as well as on the weekends. 
  • Committee work: I generally set aside one afternoon a week for this.
  • Student feedback: I set aside one block a week after school to do the lion's share of this work each week. I generally do this throughout the school day in a number of ways at home where I have a better opportunity to concentrate as I review students' written, online learning, and assessment efforts. 
Of course you need to fit in self-care, family/friend needs/time, and some fun too. Teaching makes for a busy life, but giving that busyness some parameters and structure can help you to make good decisions and do your work well. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Infraction: Own it, Learn from it, and Move on

I've noticed a few leaders in the public eye actually owning their past ineffective actions and moving on to better--that's a humbling, but necessary, action when it comes to growing older, wiser, and better.

As the world changes, we all have to reckon with past acts that we would be ashamed to admit to today. When those acts occurred, we thought little of them as they were probably acceptable in the public eye or at least in the eyes of our cronies and counterparts, but now with new light and understanding, we see those acts for what they were--negative, perhaps unethical, and even potentially illegal depending on what you are looking back on.

We are all probably doing things today that in ten years will seem reprehensible, but for now we don't have the wisdom or understanding to acknowledge that.

It's best that when new light and knowledge appear that we own our past bad acts, learn from them, and move on to better.

Specifically I remember a time when a person I knew acted in an inappropriate way towards me. I'm sure that person today is ashamed of that action, but I knew then that his actions were born out of a lack of knowing and poor support in that area of life. Fortunately I was able to counter the action with words and understanding and nothing too bad or dangerous came from it. I know that person today and I know he would not repeat that behavior. For me, I remember something I did way back that I am still very embarrassed about today. In fact, it's an action I've never shared with anyone since it caught me unaware, unknowing, and unkind. Fortunately it was nothing too bad or too dangerous, but nevertheless, an act that reflection, greater wisdom and knowledge afterward has led me not to repeat.

I don't think anyone exists who can't look back to the past and identify a number of actions they wouldn't repeat--that's part of being human. So when we think of our own past actions and those of others, we have to consider if we or they learned from that error and have worked to change their ways, and if that's the case, I think we need to forgive past infractions based on lack of knowledge, acceptance at the time the event happened, and poor support. Although, if these actions were illegal at the time, we may need to consider the events differently. Yet, if people don't own their behavior or if they continue to repeat the infractions, then we can't be as forgiving and must help and advocate for change--we can't accept what we know is wrong and hurtful, and we must work against it.

I tell this story as I think about moving towards betterment in education and schools--how can we move in the direction of what we know is right and good, a direction away from ways of old that we now understand as impediments to learning and living well.

Question Conjecture, Assumption, and Judgement

I recognized recently that a long-held conjecture, judgement, and assumption was not true. For a long time, I had been operating under this erroneous perception and acting accordingly, and to realize that is was a false assumption is to understand that time was wasted and potential diminished.

This abrupt revelation teaches me that we have to be careful about making assumptions, trusting conjecture, and judging too quickly. Instead we truly have to take the time to observe, listen, converse, and understand one another and the work each of us does. When we are too quick to judge, we often err.

I believe that one reason I reached this revelation is that all of a sudden it seems like I am surrounded by wise people--people who are deliberate in their approach, words, and decisions--people who have been well groomed and led for leadership, support roles, and education. Simply to be in the midst of these great leaders and teachers is to learn and to become better at what I do and how I do it. I am grateful for this experience.

Now the big job in front of me is to learn as much as I can and then translate that learning into worthy action and effort--the kind of action and effort that truly elevates what can happen in schools to empower, engage, and educate young children well. This is an exciting turn in the education road for me. Onward.

Identity Inclusive Teaching/Learning Environment

When I attended orientation activities at Georgetown University, I noticed that the presenters used gender inclusive language--they didn't refer to he or she, but used general words that included all and respected every student's identity.

Last year when students evaluated our program, some thought that we were sometimes unfair with regards to one gender or another. I thought a lot about that, and realized I needed to update my language and actions in this regard to respect every child's individual identity. Then the counselor shared a great article with us that is a good step in helping us with this goal.

Further in Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's wonderful recent report, Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success, they specifically discuss identity safety and the reasons why that is so important for a child's overall health and good learning/living.

As I move forward in the years of teaching ahead, I want to think deeply about creating an identity inclusive environment and what that means for elementary education. Onward.

Essential Efforts to Teaching Well

What does it mean to teach well? What do you do?

First, it is essential to know your learners well. Understand who they are, what they love to do, and what they want out of life. There are multiple ways to do find this out including conversation, collaborative projects, surveys, letter writing, class meetings and more.

Next, it's essential to know what it is you are tasked to teach, and then make that learning meaningful, accessible, and memorable. There are countless ways to design meaningful, memorable, accessible learning experiences with and for students.

After that comes assessment--how is the child doing with the learning tasks? Can he/she independently apply the learning in meaningful ways? The assessment should lead to needed next steps which may include revision, re-teaching, new learning, and/or meaningful share.

To teach well means that students are mostly active learners who are developing knowledge in meaningful ways on their own and with others--they are doing the note taking, questioning, navigation, decision making, and presentation--it is their targeted activity that leads to positive learning.

To foster this good learning, teachers can effectively use questions such as these:
  • Tell me what it is that you are learning here?
  • How do you find the appropriate materials, website, resources to learn this material?
  • What questions do you have about this learning?
  • What helps you to learn this best?
  • How can I help you?
  • What online and offline tools can you use to help you master this material?
  • Can you teach others this idea, knowledge, or concept?
  • Why do you think you are learning this--why is this important to you and your world today and tomorrow?
So at all times, educators need to be thinking about how they can let the child lead his/her learning in meaningful, productive, and memorable ways--how can students be in charge, and how can the educator be an "intelligent assistant" in this regard?

If you teach a child to learn, the child learns for their whole life, but if you give the child the answer or do the work, they only learn for the moment. Teaching children to learn is our essential job now as educators, and we have to help one another reach that goal in meaningful, targeted, and child-centered ways. This is a fundamental switch of priorities from content to learning-to-learn for many educators, and demands conversation in order to modernize education in ways that matter. 

Meeting the Needs of All Students

How do teachers meet the needs of all students? How do we use modern research, resources, and tools to help us teach every child well? These are essential questions for teachers today.

As I think of these questions, I realize that I try to integrate multiple online and offline processes and tools to meet the needs of all students. I also work to coordinate our efforts as a teaching team to meet these needs. Yesterday's math class provided a positive example of how this can work. Prior to the class, I coordinated the teaching targets with the special educator and student teacher. I also reviewed students' efforts to date and then revised the learning menu accordingly. So when the class started, everyone including teachers and students knew what to do. We all worked seamlessly for an hour moving from one learning/coaching task to another. Students readily asked questions and sought clarity when needed. The room was a buzz of positive activity and the score reports at the end of the session demonstrated that many were approaching mastery of the topic. This was a successful student-centered teaching time.

Not all successful learning experiences look like the one I describe above--that experience occurred about midway into a unit of study and was meant to focus on practice and re-teaching. Other times the learning experience will focus on introduction, debate, presentation, project/problem based learning and more. What's critical, however, is that everyone is engaged in a positive way with meaningful study--that's the bottom line.

Last year, after considerable thought, I created a feedback loop to ensure that I responded to each child's effort with a study review once a week. I designed this effort to make sure that no one falls through the cracks of the learning program and to help students learn successful learning routines from the start of the year. This morning I'll sit down and review the students' efforts. I'll notice the following:
  • who completed the task and who did not?
  • what common errors existed across the grade-level--these common errors will inform teaching to come.
  • what errors were specific to individual students--this will inform some re-teaching and extra support for those students.
  • what confusion did students experience with the routine and how can we make it more streamlined and easy to follow/
  • who did the bonus work and how did they perform with that?
I organized this feedback loop so that I would have good energy, time, and place to review students' work since that's an extra effort, one for which there is no time during the school day. One mismatch with the research and practice today is that teachers do not have adequate time to provide optimal feedback. I believe that re-looking at teaching roles, routines, and schedules will provide that kind of feedback for individual students, the kind of feedback that truly inspires more successful, meaningful, and positive learning. Now, however, most teachers have to give up their own time to provide this kind of feedback due to the numbers of students they teach and the time-on-task ratios in schools. But to see if I can embed this more successful routine, I decided to devote about eight extra hours after school to this endeavor each week--I want to embed what I've read to be right and good to see if it does make the difference I believe it will.

There are many ways to teach well, and it's essential that we continually work to find strategies and efforts that will meet the needs of all students, not just some. That's my aim as I work this morning. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Focus on the Good in Teaching and Learning

For a long time I've been a critical thinker who has wanted to work for, and contribute to, betterment. I often see the light of promise ahead and I am anxious to get there. That desire for change has impassioned multiple efforts to learn, reach, advocate, and promote change. Most of the time in the past, I just jumped in to make that change happen, and when it came to fostering innovation and change with children, jumping in has been a positive journey, however motivating change with adults has been a lot more challenging for many reasons.

First of all, most adults have their own agendas, ideas, and paths, and to suggest change interrupts what they are doing, and many people don't want to be interrupted particularly if they are happy with the way things are and the path they are on. While making change with adults can be a challenging process that doesn't mean it's a negative process since when adults come together to make change,  they bring their wisdom, experience, and differing vantage points which may help to foster thoughtful, dynamic change and development.

My vision for change has been strong, and my efforts to make that change come about have often been clumsy, zealous, single-minded, and driven, but as I get older, I am learning that while good change profits from great energy, good change also needs apt collaboration and cooperation.

With this in mind, where am I headed with regard to change.

First, I am delighted with the evolution of my classroom and teaching in the past many years. I am a much better teacher today than I was in the past. The reading, research, advocacy, and reach have resulted in betterment, and I see that betterment mainly in students' smiles, creativity, independence, learning, and friendship. Children are generally happy in my midst and children are learning. Today was a good example. I created a learning menu for students to practice and learn a few concepts. As students worked alone and together to master the skills, the results of their exercises were posted on my computer. I easily noticed who was catching on and who wasn't, and then I was able to pull the students over to help them learn--they were so happy to have the attention and so happy to be able to learn the concepts. Their learning was quicker due to the fact that they had done the preview activities and tried the tasks first. It was a successful learning event.

While I'm pleased with the evolution, I know that there is more that I can do, and I will continue to work for those goals. For example I've created a new feedback loop in order to provide more targeted and supportive feedback to individual student learners. This is a piece that I've been working on for years, and I believe I've found a successful strategy for this at last--a strategy that will help me to know and teach my students better.

I am also working to reroute my problem response to that of accepting that problems are a regular part of life, and the key to solving problems is to see the promise in the problems.

Further, I am thinking deeply about systems and schools, and where we can continue to change roles, schedules, and routines to better serve students. And I am thinking deeply about the fact that students need to learn-to-learn, problem solve, create, develop independence, and get along with one another to live and learn well.

I've probably devoted at least 50 hours a week to teaching well my entire career which is a total of 85,800 hours--that's a lot of hours devoted to a career. It has taken me a long time to trust myself, acknowledge the work I've done, and recognize that the light I see and promise I know exists are real and powerful. Only lately have I been able to see the positive results of my work in ways that give me the confidence to stand up for my ideas and speak well of my work.

This doesn't mean that I don't make mistakes or that I can be or do all things. All educators know that none of us can do it all or be it all in our field--it takes the good work of many in schools and outside of schools to nurture and educate students well, and an openness to that collaboration is essential in this regard. The collaboration to work well, however, has to be well intended, honest, and respectful. We can't be too quick to judge one another or demean one another. Instead, with empathy, we have to recognize each others' unique gifts and contributions as well as each others' weakness and struggles.

Finally, we have to focus on the good--the good work, the good change, the good people, the good initiatives. We have to steer our teaching/learning ships in that direction while heeding the negativity and challenges, but not letting those energy draining and destructive paths take us down and away from the good that's out there, the light we see, and the promise of the betterment that we know exists.

In the face of limitless jobs, create parameters

Teaching is a limitless job. There's always more you can do, but to be a healthy, happy individual and a good teacher you can't work around the clock. That's why educators have to create parameters.

When creating parameters what's important?

My parameters depend on the following:
  • at work, spending most time, with the exception of a lunch break, devoted to teaching children, organizing the classroom, responding to parent/colleague emails, planning and preparing lessons, and collegial work.
  • after work, there's still lots to do, and I use this time to offer extra help, continue planning/prepping lessons, responding to student work, emails, and other school matters, and acquiring and readying materials for teaching.
A healthy routine that meets the requirements of the job, allows learning and some extra contribution, and enables teachers to be healthy and happy is essential. It's important for every educator to create positive parameters that lead to good teaching and good living. Onward. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Launching the Math Year 2018-2019

Jo Boaler teaches these powerful tenets in her many books about teaching math. 
Launching the math year takes time and attention. It also requires the support of colleagues and family members. While not all families will be able or want to support students' daily math learning, all families can support the program by knowing what's going on and encouraging students' best efforts via questioning, use of intelligent assistants, following the program, and having a positive "I can do this" attitude.

That's why I wrote this note to family members and colleagues this morning:

The program began with a brief overview of the history of people clearly emphasizing that we all belong here--we're part of a dynamic learning team that will do best if we care for one another and help each other learn.

Then we made math t-shirts by figuring out our name-totals using a =1, b = 2, c = 3. . . z = 26. Students studied their numbers to determine whether those numbers were even or odd, composite or prime, or perfect. They found the numbers' multiples and factor pairs too. This was a good review of past learning.

Next, we reviewed and practiced initial vocabulary, homework routines, online venues, and learning menus. Students took a couple of assessments too. Now nine days later, students are ready to practice the learning routines and home study more. We'll engage in some team activities, review mindset, learning behaviors, and norms, and then begin our first unit of study: place value--a unit that will be completed in about a month's time by October 12.

The amazing math team "wearing" their number total t-shirts. 

Goal Setting and Effective Effort: Teach Well

Our school is fortunate to have instituted service delivery meetings which are meetings where teachers get together to discuss our inclusive, personalized, and targeted efforts to help every child learn well.

During these meetings, we often trouble shoot together as we think about students' interests and needs.

As I think of the terrific staff involved and the wonderful potential these meetings hold, I'm wondering how we can develop our efforts.

One way I believe we can grow our work is to embrace a practice I learned many years ago when I studied inclusion and that effort is to prioritize our goals and how we hope to get there.

As I think about this and prepare for the next meeting a week ahead, I'll review students' math, organization, and general goals, and begin to prioritize those goals. Then, working with the team, I'll look at ways that we can work individually and collectively to help children reach those goals. I believe that a more thoughtful, systematic, and deliberate approach will result in greater gains for the children and our team.

Climate Change and Impact on Teaching: Updating Environmental Education Efforts

Thanks to the forward thinking work of Massachusetts' Audubon's Drumlin Farm Sanctuary environmental educators, our grade-level team will spend a professional learning day Friday updating our standards-based environmental education efforts.

During the day, the environmental educators will share with us information about climate change and student advocacy. We'll work with them to design a year-long study that develops students' knowledge, stewardship, and impact on their local environment.

As I think ahead, I am thinking of the questions I am bringing to the professional learning event:
  • What is climate change? How can I relay that information effectively to young students?
  • What is student advocacy, and how is that advocacy inspired and supported in developmentally-appropriate, authentic ways?
  • How can we best embed the science/STEAM standards into this effort in inquiry/discovery-driven ways that inspire student conversation, collaboration, and mastery learning?
  • How can I integrate SEL teaching and goals into this study?
As I consider mastery and both the intent of the standards and specific standards, I hope that our year-long study will support the following:

Student Perspective
  • establish a systems lens that utilizes data about relationships and interactions among observable components of different systems including the cycling of water, human impact on the environment, interactions between plants and animals, and how energy cycles.
Student Actions:
  • develop skills necessary for a meaningful progression of development in order to engage in the scientific and technical reasoning so critical to success in civic life, post secondary education, and careers.
Learned Facts, Concept, and Skills:

Science Class

Life Science
  • use graphical representations to show differences in organisms' life cycles.
  • observe and describe animal adaptation and variation including internal and external structures and behavior that advantage survival.
  • understand the process by which plants use air, water, and energy from sunlight to produce sugars and plant materials needed for growth and reproduction.
  • develop a model to describe the movement of matter among producers, consumers, decomposers, and the air, water, and soil in the environment. 
  • emphasize the movement of matter throughout the ecosystem.
  • compare and create two designs for a composter.
  • Use a model to describe that the food animals digest contains energy that was once energy from the sun, and provides energy and nutrients for life processes including body repair, growth, motion, body warmth, and reproduction. (Where does your food come from, and what does it do for you and other animals?)

Earth Science
  • obtain and summarize information about the climate of different regions as well as renewable and nonrenewable energy sources. 
  • the sun's effect on Earth.
  • cycling of water through a watershed through evaporation, precipitation, absorption, surface runoff, and condensation.
  • support an argument with evidence that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed toward Earth's center. 
Physical Science
  • Define energy and energy cycles.
  • identify solid, liquids, and gasses in the environment.
  • describe the unique set of properties of substances/objects: color, hardness, reflectivity, electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, response to magnetic forces, and solubility.
STEAM/Environmental Focus
  • define a simple design problem including criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, and other factors--water filters and other projects, create and test a simple system designed to filter water
  • obtain and combine information about ways communities reduce human impact on the Earth's resources and environment by changing an agricultural, industrial, or community practice or process such as treating sewage, reducing amounts of materials used, capturing polluting emissions from factories or power plants, and preventing runoff from agriculture activities and others.
  • learn about improvements to existing technologies and the development of new technologies--recognize that technology is any modification of the natural or designed world done to fulfill human needs or wants. 
  • Use sketches or drawings to show how each part of a product or device relates to other parts of the product or device.
Math Class
  • use graphs and tables of weather data to describe and predict typical weather during a season. 
  • understand the relative amounts of salt water in the ocean; fresh water in lakes, rivers, and groundwater; and fresh water frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps to provide evidence about the availability of fresh water in Earth's biosphere. Math Connection

Effective Student Coaching: Teach Well 2018-2019

As I continue to consider Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's recent research about the success of a whole child approach to teaching and learning, I am using the information to outline how I might become a more effective student coach/teacher. What can I do?

These questions will lead my work:

My Teaching/Learning Behaviors
  • Do I have a positive teacher-student relationship with each child, a relationship characterized by trust, warmth, consistency, dependability, positivity, stability, and affirmation.
  • Am I modeling productive behaviors?
  • Do I have high expectations for all students?
  • Do I contribute to a positive teaching-learning environment?
  • Do I avoid attaching labels and maintain high expectations for all learners?
I will use these question to assess my daily efforts, use of language, and self-coaching/development.

Teaching/Learning Environment
  • Is the teaching environment a high support, low threat environment?
  • Do I consider both the psychological and physiological conditions for productive learning?
  • Are the learning and behavioral expectations clear?
  • Do I foster a growth mindset which demonstrates that every person is continually capable of learning new things. 
I will share these questions with colleagues and students, and enlist their ideas and support in the development of a positive, productive teaching/learning environment.

CollegialFamily Teamwork
  • Do I work effectively with colleagues to create strong, positive, and responsive collegial communities of teaching, service, and care?
  • Do I regularly and positively reach out to families via newsletters, response to questions, parent meetings, problem solving, and more?
I will increase my depth and efforts in this regard.

Student Coaching
  • Are mistakes and misbehavior treated with empathy and opportunities to learn and develop better ways of completing tasks and getting along with one another?
  • Do I engage in empathetic back-and-forth conversations with students on a regular basis?
  • Do I know each child well, and respond to that knowledge with personalized supports and learning plans that acknowledge students have different needs with regard to pacing, instruction, and healthy learning and development. 
  • Do I provide helpful feedback on a regular basis?
  • Do extended learning opportunities including homework help exist?
  • How do I support students' sense of purpose, self-confidence, advocacy, and collaboration with explicit teaching, learning experiences, and coaching?
  • Do I regularly relay positive, helpful, authentic comments and feedback in response to student efforts, behaviors, and ideas?
I will use these questions to assess my work with students individually, in small groups, and as an entire class/grade-level. I will also increase opportunity for positive, helpful feedback, student conversation, homework support, and explicit social-emotional/academic teaching. 

Learning Experiences Prep, Planning, and Design
  • Are the learning experiences relevant and robust including personally relevant topics, related to students' lived experiences, and made-up of rich resources and materials that inspire excitement and curiosity?
  • Do students have the opportunity to set goals, assess their work, create learning paths, revise as needed, and reach mastery?
  • Is the instruction active, organized, relevant, student-centered, inquiry/discovery-based, well-scaffolded, well-designed, relating to big ideas, and solutions-driven?
  • Do students have the opportunity to construct knowledge and exhibit learning regularly?
  • Is social emotional learning explicit and integrated throughout the academic program?
  • Is the teaching/learning culturally responsive, inclusive, and respectful?
  • Do students have sufficient, regular opportunities to exhibit and extend their learning?
  • Do I give regular low stakes, targeted diagnostic assessment to assess student learning, interest, and need?
  • Am I systematically developing students' social, emotional, and academic skills, habits, and mindsets?
I plan to dig into the learning design more to reach the intent of the questions above. I will embed social-emotional learning goals and explicit teaching into specific lessons beginning with science/STEAM lessons and I will use Jo Boaler's fifth grade math book to design more collaborative, differentiated, and culturally responsive learning experiences. Further, I'll update learning/teaching structures in the following ways:

Learning Menu: The menu will include a differentiated path with a number of engaging choices as well as self assessments.

Reflection Journal: The math reflection journal will include opportunities for practice, vocabulary building, and reflection related to specific mastery goals and the general math program.

Learning Experiences: I'll focus on designing experiences with and for students that are relevant, hands-on, and scaffolded. These experiences will include choice and opportunities for children to learn and exhibit that learning in multiple ways. 

Assessment/Design: I'll engage students in the conversations and efforts related to learning assessment and design regularly. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Teach Well 2018-2019: Classroom Choreography

Years ago a colleague and I created the poster above. I hang that poster outside of my classroom to remind me and others what positive teaching and learning looks like. As I worked to plan the week ahead and peered into Twitter now and then for inspiration from my dynamic PLN now and then, I was reminded about what good teachers do to teach and learn well. Good teachers contribute a great deal of time and attention beyond the school day to reading, researching, planning, and preparing for positive teaching.

For example, this morning I spent a lot of time crafting the week's plans for me and others related to my wonderful grade-level of approximately 65 students. I used a planning document like the one below to organize the plans and then prep the materials:

I share the plans with all that teach and learn with me, and then focus my attention on what it is I need to do to prepare for a terrific week ahead. This week the plans include the following:

  • Coaching students to practice using an online math learning menu, working as a team, and creating, writing about, and discussing patterns.
  • Introducing the story of the U.S. Constitution and The Declaration of Independence as we review our school handbook and our value and practice related to equity. This will help students connect new information related to U.S. History to information they know related to the values, practices, and rules of our school.
  • Guiding, helping, responding to, and learning from the student teacher as she teaches a science and reading lesson. 
  • Preparing students for school assembly with the school principal. 
  • Preparing students for Sam Drazin's talk and attending the talk with students.
  • Working with my grade-level team and naturalists and environmental educators at Audubon's Drumlin Farm to plan this year's standards-based watershed environmental study for students at a day-long professional learning day.
  • Using my day off to tutor a family member and care for other relatives.
  • Working on plans for the next week's teaching/learning agenda and plans.
Every week of school is a busy week--the better we plan and prep for the week's teaching with and for colleagues and students, the better the teaching occurs. As much as possible I try to stay a week ahead with plans and prep so that those I work with have lead time to make suggestions and let me know of changes and other important information. Lead time allows the plans to simmer and become richer, then the reflection at the end of the week lets me analyze how those plans went and use that analysis to positively impact the teaching and learning ahead.

What's your prep and planning process like? What strategies do you use that positively affect good teamwork, effective student learning, and parent/teacher communication? I'm curious. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Keep the Focus: Know Your Goals

School life can pull you in multiple directions, and it's important to have a clear focus on where you want and need to go so that you don't get lost in that sea of opportunity and activity.

As I think of this, I am reminded of my goals this year:
  • provide effective individual and collective feedback and student coaching in math.
  • integrating social-emotional learning into science and STEAM teaching.
I've chosen these goals for the following reasons. One way that I am able elevate students' math learning and success is to elevate my ability to positively coach each math learner with optimal coaching which includes effective feedback. I will use Darling-Hammond and Cook-Harvey's recent research article as my initial resource as to how to do this and where to go. As for integrating social-emotional learning into science and STEAM learning, I know that increased teamwork and social/emotional learning will empower students ability to learn the material, innovate, work with one another, and solve meaningful problems. I will use a number of resources including a book I wrote with colleagues, Integrating SEL into the Academic Program.

I'm looking forward to digging into these goals in the year ahead, and to do this well, I need to stay clear of the multiple pulls that don't contribute to this good work. Onward. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Teaching 2018-2019: Professional Learning Routines

As the year gets started, I'm thinking of my professional learning routines this year--what's taking priority.

First, I'll consult, review, and revise the year's goals as needed. I'll add evidence and commentary to this list throughout the year to keep me centered on the goals, goals I share with my evaluator and others who are interested.

Next, I'll continue to study and analyze Darling-Hammond's and Cook-Harvey's research article--an article that will help me to modernize and uplift the teaching/learning program.

I'll also focus in on Boaler's Mathematical Thinking book for fifth grade and the activities in the SEL book I wrote with colleagues. I will also read Pam Moran, Ira Socol, and Chad Ratliff's  recent book, Timeless Learning, How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools.

Further, I'll try to engage in at least one educator Twitter chat each week--chats like #edchat and #satchat open my eyes, introduce me to new resources and ideas, and engage me with wonderful educators throughout the world--this is a vital source of learning to teach well and improve your practice.

Finally I'll dig into the good curriculum programs we have and work to uplift those programs with greater attention to detail and worthy new resources that make the curriculum come alive in meaningful and memorable ways for students.