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Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday Musings: Last Day in November, 2018

Happy learning/teaching times are times
when children are engaged. 
Today was a good day.

Children began the day with math practice, recess, and reading. Later they played instruments, experimented with salt, water, and eggs, investigated topics of choice, listened to read aloud, and viewed a wonderful one-man play about Ben Franklin's life.

It was also a fruitful planning day as I prepped lots of materials for the rest of the multiplication unit and the volume project to come.

I ordered more comfy chairs--the cost was worth the fact that we'll have less arguments over who gets a comfy chair and the team made plans for meetings and teaching to come.

I really like working with the team to craft a robust program, and to evaluate that program as we move along. For example this summer we laid a foundation for the new social studies standards with a beginning past-present-future timeline project and writing class constitutions. Later we visited Sturbridge Village and today we learned from the Ben Franklin presentation. Next students will dig into the study with more reading and writing.

Finally I was able to reorganize the room to support the physical science study with better material management and a focused organization for science explorations including a pattern of introduction, review of lab report, prep, explore/experiment, work on lab sheets, clean up, and share. The more students follow those steps, the better they will get at the process.

So with lots of good science, math, and ELA teaching/learning ahead, it's time to start the weekend. Onward.

More of the same, but that's not a problem.

It's more of the same teaching and learning in the next few weeks of school, but that's not a problem since we're digging into significant teaching to strengthen the way we learn on our own and together as we master standards in math, science, reading, writing, and more.

The goals are clear:
  • Learning the standards of physical science with hands-on, engaging learning experiences, reading, video, and more. 
  • Learning about climate change and our ecosystem through hands-on activities, conversation, and advocacy.
  • Learning about the properties and behavior of numbers with a specific focus on multiplication and problem solving with a large variety of online and offline activities.
  • Building our social emotional learning repertoire via conversation, problem solving, reading, and more.
  • Reading lots with interest and depth with significant dedicated time for reading at home and in school.
  • Time for story writing and learning the craft of writing. 
  • Learning about the history of country via a number of learning experiences.
I want to caution myself not to overload the students or rush the curriculum. As it is we're trying to stuff twenty pounds into a ten-pound bag of school life. There's always the tension between the expectations, time, and students' readiness, pacing, and interest. We want to strike the right balance so that we have engaged, enthusiastic, and empowered students who enjoy learning and learn lots in engaging, natural, successful ways.

These posts day after day serve to coach me forward on the learning/teaching journey. As I write, I can see that re-looking at the schedule a bit more will buy more time for good work and results. Onward. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Pushing Forward: Teaching Well

The room reorganization is complete. Yeah!

The first two physical science lessons are planned and mostly organized. Yeah!

Math teaching/learning plans are ready for xeroxing and teaching. That's good too.

Next steps include deepening the way we learn together as students and teachers. What can we do to make our learning experiences better?

Onward.

Science Education Patterns

As I strive for better with regard to science teaching this year, I'm thinking about the pattern I'll use for each lesson. Having a pattern helps me to be more efficient and to cover more material in student-friendly ways--ways that students lead their learning.

The pattern I'll follow will include the following:

Introduction: At the introduction, I'll whet their appetite for the learning with a big idea, relevant story, or engaging question. I'll also connect that introduction to the objective of our study that day. I'd like the introduction to be no more than 10 minutes.

Plan and Prep: I'll have the materials ready. Student science partners will have one child use a tray to collect the materials needed for the activity. Students will review the activity steps on their own or with the class. This part of the learning experience will take about 5 minutes.

Activity: Students will follow the directions to engage in the activity. This will last about 20- 30 minutes.

Completing the Lab Sheet: Students will complete the lab sheet which will include the learning experience steps, observations, data collection, and conclusions/analysis. Lab sheets will be pasted into students' science journals. 10-15 minutes.

Share: The class will gather and student learning experiences will be shared in a number of ways. About 5 minutes.

Next week we'll start the new science rotations with a simple property identification exercise as we practice the steps above, steps we'll use in each physical science activity coming up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Professional Learning: Teacher's Choice

It may sound silly, but so often in the past professional learning days were relegated to the decision making of those distanced from teachers and the classroom. But today was different. Today educators were asked about what they wanted to study under the large umbrella topic of science education. I made my choice. My choice was honored, and I got a lot of good work done--work that prepares me well for the science teaching ahead.

Though it's taken time for us to get to this place, I am so happy that we are here. May it continue.

The Value of Shared Planning, Vision/Mission, and Good Communication

When my husband used to work for now Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, he was always inspired by Baker's weekly memo--a memo that inspired and moved the work community forward in ways that matter. I even read Baker's memo from time to time to gain inspiration for my own work. This was a critical component of good leadership.

As I think about teaching/learning organizations and my professional responsibilities, I find that I am similarly inspired by leadership that takes vision/mission, shared planning, and good communication seriously.

When leaders are willing to regularly share what we've done, what we are doing, and where we are going, I find that this communication helps me to do the good work that lines up with their words, vision, and direction. Leaders like this help to keep the organization moving forward in ways that matter, ways that inspire, and ways that invite a give-and-take ongoing conversation about what's working and what still needs to be done to best teach, lead, and care for the young children we teach as well as the many families we team with.

When leaders who impact the work I do and students I serve do not communicate regularly, there's lost potential. For example if a leader does not relay his/her goals for their department, the questions they are tackling, expectations, and vision, it's hard to anticipate the next steps, know what to do, or grow. These type of leaders inspire questioning, concern, and less teamwork than leaders who are good inclusive and open minded leaders.

When people understand the vision/mission of their colleagues and organization, the main priorities of their work, it helps people to work together more effectively. Without that kind of clear communication, it's more likely that some goals, students, and potential will be lost.

We can inspire better communication, vision/mission, and shared planning, but asking good questions so that we understand well our shared goals. In some cases, this questioning inspires better communication and teamwork. Unfortunately some leaders ignore such questioning and not knowing persists. This is the most challenging since the kind of leading-up required in these situations can be risky and possibly lead to negativity as well as lost potential.

In general the overarching vision/mission of my work is well defined by state and system standards--standards that are published for easy review. Also a number of weekly planning meetings help us to come together to discuss our specific plans, questions, and challenges related to shared goals, vision, and mission. These meetings help to strengthen teamwork, and get better all the time as we embrace better, streamlined, and effective processes of shared decision making, share, and creativity.

Effective organizations depend on shared planning, vision/mission, and good communication. These organizations also depend on people clearly understanding the expectations of their role and growth because if everyone is doing the job expected and working to better that job over time, generally organizations will meet the goals, vision, and mission set. Onward.

Personal-Professional Life: The Balancing Act

Almost everyone today balances their personal and professional lives. It's a constant challenge and one that profits from good strategy.

I returned to school after the Thanksgiving holiday happy that I was all planned and ready to go. The strategy of staying ahead with planning and prep is definitely a keeper when it comes to the professional-personal life balance.

I want to do the same as I look ahead to the December break. I want to return in January ready to go with regard to science lessons, the division unit, and reading/math RTI prep.

One challenge upon the return was the fact that I underestimated the holiday time I would have for work--family life took up all the time and there was simply no time to work. In the future, I don't want to expect to add work to family time, but instead get that wok done ahead of time when there's no holiday or special event. A good life means making time for family and making time to earn a living and do your professional work too.

I'm a fan of reasonable expectations at home and at work so people can live good, full lives. Finding a reasonable balance will look different for everyone due to their different personal and professional decisions and situations. This balance will also look different at different times in your life and we have to make room for that with our colleagues and in our work places. I found that the balance was particularly challenging when I was a mom of young children--a time when the home demands are exponential, but a time when you typically have a lot of good energy to give at home and at school.


Science Day: Naturalist Coach Visit

Thanks to a grant written by Massachusetts' Audubon's Drumlin Farm educators and naturalists, we have a naturalist coach that visits our classroom about once a month. The coach is using a standards-based approach to teaching students about the local environment, climate change, and stewardship of our natural lands and environment.

Today our naturalist coach, Ms. Flanzer, will visit again. Each class will rotate through her presentation, a presentation that teaches educators and students at the same time. Everyone enjoys, learns a lot, and looks forward to Ms. Flanzer's presentation.

Ms. Flanzer's visits means that we have a homeroom day to catch up on regular studies as well as to focus on related science standards and learnings. So today students will begin with our new "all stop and read" morning start, then we'll review a slide show related to the local environment, work on science booklets, attend Ms. Flanzer's lesson, have a recess, and work on other timely learning events. It will be a good day to come.

Professional Learning: Science Materials Management

In my relatively small classroom, I have hundreds of science materials to organize. If you read my blog, you know that working at material management has been a regular pursuit of teaching. This has been challenging for a large number of reasons including an ever changing curriculum, acquisition of new materials, the need to clean and store materials, and the desire to make materials easily accessible to students and teachers for set up, exploration, experiments, and project work.

Today my professional learning time will be spent on greater organization of materials. I've been working on making space for these materials for the past few months and today I'll give the effort a number of concentrated hours.

What's the plan?

First, I plan to get rid of all materials I no longer use. Then I hope to devote a shelf to each type of material including pitchers, cups, small science tools, exploration ingredients, table cloths, trays, and more.

I'm happy that our professional learning request for good time for this effort was honored today. I'll wear my clean up clothes and be ready to clean, sort, organize, and manage the materials for the many investigations ahead. Onward.

Optimal Practice Routines

We all know that to get better at anything requires good practice.

The challenge lies with the definition of good practice--what does that mean?

As I analyze the term, good practice, I am thinking about time, place, access, and the types of of exercises that help students master skills, concept, and knowledge.

I've established a typical Tuesday-to-Tuesday routine. I established this routine so that families and students who want to use weekend time for study are able to do that, but for those who do not want to use weekend time, that's okay too. I also established this routine because I can devote the four or more after hours of work it takes to check in on each students' practice each week on a weekday rather than a weekend day. This helps me to provide each child with personal response to their practice habits each weeks. This is one way to know my learners well.

I have been using all kinds of online and offline practice venues. The typical, expected practice is online or offline, simple, and not too long. The bonus practice offers a greater variety for those students who want more or different. Bonus is optional and open to any interested student.

We renewed these routines yesterday and I sent notes to families of students who are a bit behind on completing homework this morning. I also offer a couple of extra help sessions each week so that students can complete their work in school with teacher help.

I'm thinking about how I might better practice routines in the days and years ahead to support all students' achievement.

One idea is to better enlist the help of others. I can welcome special educators, title one, and special program educators to join me to help out during extra help sessions. Further our team is looking for ways to provide these extra-help sessions during the school day too as another way to provide tutoring-like help to all students, the kind of help that has recently been the focus of research studies that show this kind of traditional help as helpful.

Another idea is to work with colleagues to discuss what optimal practice looks like, how it is scheduled, access, and ways to assess student efforts in this regard. We can discuss how this practice fits into our overall program design and goals too--what is reasonable, what is helpful, what inspires and encourages students' natural desire to learn with depth and interest?

And of course, how do I respond to student practice is another important question? What kind of feedback and response supports students' best learning. For example, yesterday after reviewing student efforts, I noticed that a small number of students were mixed up with a couple of concepts. I asked a student teacher to work directly with those students to teach them the concept. It was a successful approach. I want students to understand that their practice efforts inform my teaching efforts. When they ask questions and complete their work with care, I can then use those efforts to inform next steps in the teaching/learning program. This give-and-take practice approach helps to lead every child forward in ways that matter.

Commitment to learners is an essential part of teaching well. How we demonstrate our commitment matters, and supporting students' optimal practice of identified learning standards is one way to demonstrate that commitment. How we do this matters and how we do this profits from open discussions with others about what they do and how they do it to support all students well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Next Steps: The Practice Goal

A good goal motivates good work. Today, I revisited my practice goal with the students telling them the rationale for my goal, what we had done together so far with regard to the goal, and the next steps planned. Next steps include new practice folders, a new practice folder response sheet, and a student reflection sheet.

Students heard me and responded. I'll continue my Tuesday night practice review sessions, email follow-ups for students who do not complete the work, before school extra help, and other kinds of extra help for students who need help to complete their practice or who are having trouble organizing their time to complete needed practice.

I also signed up to lead a math conversation about the merits of practice when it comes to math learning as well as what good math practice looks like. I want to hear what other math teachers have to say about that as well as share my experiences.

Further I wrote parents a summary email about the efforts to date to enlist their support and help as well.

I really like this year's goal. I enjoy working to meet this worthy pursuit, and I'll continue to chart my efforts along the way.

Revisiting the Practice Goal: Teaching Well

My overarching student learning goal this year is to encourage and support student practice. I will tell you that this is not an easy goal for many reasons.

First, it's tough to keep track of every student. For example students who are the toughest to keep track of with respect to supporting their study include the following:
  • Students who are absent often. These students miss important directions, teaching, and materials with respect to practice. 
  • Students without at-home academic support. These students are generally on their own and often forget to bring in their study materials, complete homework, or check lists and class information. 
  • Students whose families are unfamiliar with typical school traditions, routines, and information. In some cases, these may be students whose parents are recent immigrants or families distanced from school life for multiple reasons including health, geography, work expectations, and more. 
Next, it's difficult to find time to help students who struggle. For example, I have students who are very capable of learning, but because of multiple factors, they need extra help and that extra help is difficult to provide given bus schedules, my level of time-on-task responsibilities for multiple children at once, and needed extra help support. I believe that we can rethink some routines, staffing, and scheduling to do better in this arena. I will be thinking about how I can shift my own schedule and that of our team to provide better more and support for these students.

Time to learn is another factor. Some students for multiple reasons grasp the content quickly while others take a lot more repetitions to forge and strengthen the new brain paths needed to successfully learn the information. Students are busy learning a lot both in school and out of school, and student success depends a lot on where they devote that learning time. I encourage all students to give math learning the 60 minutes a day, 20 minutes at home each night, and the extra hour a week for RTI (Response to Intervention). Some students take extra math courses and work more at home while others find it difficult to keep up with the expected study time. This is a constant variation and challenge. 

Today I'll revisit the practice goal with students. They will complete a reflection sheet related to their current learning. They'll clean out their study drawers and review their study folders. Then they'll start a new folder for the next leg of the school year. In the meantime, I'll think about who needs more and different for the months ahead in order to gain greater math learning success. To well support each student takes a lot of dedicated time and support. I'll be thinking about how I will do better and also how the system might support my efforts to support students more. I think there's room for betterment here. 


Teaching Better: Student Study Review

Yesterday I was carrying a heavy load since I knew I needed about four good hours of concentrated, energized, quiet time to review students' recent tests. I know that a good, deep review of student work helps me to right the teaching program for each student in a positive direction. I also know that to review the work well, I have to be able to think deeply about each and every child's performance. As I review the work, I do the following:
  • determine if an answer is right or wrong
  • look carefully at the child's work to determine why an answer might be wrong
  • consider the depth of a child's explanation and how I might teach that child better to reach a more detailed, specific, and accurate explanation
  • look at the quality of work and think about how I might teach to help children complete their work with greater care and accuracy
  • think about the class as a whole, what did they learn well and what needs continued attention and more/better teaching
  • think about individual students who may fall far from the mean in either the remedial or enrichment levels and determine how I'll offer that support
  • Make specific plans and exercises for follow-up teaching
  • Communicate the results to children on their papers with comments and scores and to family members and colleagues via a summary email
This kind of work is both laborious and valuable, yet many teachers simply cannot complete this work because there is no real time to do this work during the work day. Typically for me to do this kind of work, I have to give up a weekend day or get up in the wee hours of the morning. This morning I got up at 2:54 a.m. to complete the work before the school day starts. This is not a healthy approach, but it seems to be the only way I can get the work done.

Now there's a part of me that resents this extraordinary effort that teachers of large classes are responsible for. There's also a part of me that thinks we can structure schedules and roles better so that there's not such a great divide between educators who have extensive after-hours work and those that may not have this kind of at-home work. In many countries where education is successful, educators have significantly more time to review and respond to student efforts than teachers in America. If teachers had more time to deeply look at student work, I do think students would learn more and better. In many private schools, class numbers are very low which enables educators to review and respond to student learning more and it's probable that the response is done with the students more given the low teacher-student ratios. 

Family members can help out too by carefully looking over student work and helping children to make corrections and study areas that they struggle with. I know however that this is not possible in every home given the extensive work schedules that many parents have and the fact that some families are not able to support their child's learning in math due to their own math experiences and background. For me, it was difficult to help my own children due to extensive work responsibilities so I am sensitive to this.

Overall I believe that schools have to be sensitive to the value of responding to students' work and the time that takes. Too often this important aspect of teaching and learning is overlooked and students' educations and success suffer from this neglect. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Be a good partner


Teamwork is a main focus of our fifth grade curriculum. As a teaching team, I believe we model this well for the fifth graders we teach. Now that the year's routines are solid and goals are clear, it's time to dig into students' ability to team and work together more. In order to deepen both science and math teaching, this is a critical focus.

After much consideration, I've decided to begin this focus on partnerships. Today students will think about what it takes to be a good working partner, then they'll practice those skills as they play Close to 100, a good math game for our new multiplication unit.

I'll use these same partnerships for December-February math/science exploration, problem solving, experiments, and other project work. Then we'll likely connect two partner groups to make teams for our science/math focus from after February break until April. I believe this will be a good way to build optimal SEL and teamwork too. I welcome your ideas.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Where does the tide take you?

If you think of your life as one that floats the tide on a rubber raft, where does that tide take you? In making decisions about time and energy, I always look around me, reflect, and listen, then follow the tide--the place that my heart, vision, values, research, energy, and longing take me. Typically I'm not surprised with the direction, but every once in a while there's a bend in the flow that surprises me and energizes my direction in ways I did not expect.

Recently that happened. At once I became energized in ways that I didn't expect, ways that reawakened interests I experienced with strength long ago, but not recently. It was a welcome return to a place that I had grown distant from, but a place that was close to my heart, beliefs, and desires. In a sense, it was like coming home after a long hiatus. I am ready to embrace this new call, a call I welcome.

Of course, a turn in one direction, means a turn away from other directions--directions that consumed me in the past ten years. I don't regret the travels of the past ten years since that journey brought me home again with renewed hope, investment, care, and strength. As is so often true, I tend to long for places, people, and events about ten years before they appear--it's a way of life for me to see a destination long before I arrive.

This return marks a quieter, deeper time of life--one where to be present is more important than to lead or voice my opinion. This destination marks a time of warmth, belonging, supporting, creating, and embracing rather than forging, pushing, remaking, leading.

The tides take our lives in good directions if we travel with our values, vision, and love as the compass that leads us ahead. Onward.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Slow it down; deepen instruction

The next four months will find me slowing down and deepening physical science instruction for our 65 fifth graders. This is our second year with the standards and I have high expectations for what we will do.

Teamwork, Partners
Rather than teams of four or five, the teams will be made up of two or three. I want to establish strong partnerships and threesomes for this leg of the science year. Student partners will work at specific places around the room. We'll begin the partner work by revisiting the note card challenge and learning about lab reports.

Learning the Tools
We'll make time to learn the tools too. Last year I believe I was too hasty with the tools, and this year I want to make more explicit time for students to explore and utilize the many science tools we'll use.

Science Notebooks
Students will have time to add to their science notebooks with care. We'll spend time on model making, labeling, notes, and reflection.

Science Process
We'll practice the processes of gathering materials, taking care of materials, and putting materials away carefully. There are multiple materials for this physical science unit and as much as students can manage the materials well, the better they'll be able to independently engage and reach with the science experiments and explorations.

Knowledge Building
By activity after activity, students will build their science knowledge with depth and interest.

I'm looking forward to this slower, deeper approach to the science curriculum this year. I think it will be more fulfilling and successful for students. Onward.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Teach Well: Main Objectives

I tweaked my goal picture a bit to reflect updates in my teaching/learning goals for the year. 

In the limitless profession of education, educators have to continually navigate directives, expectations, and the teaching/learning landscape around them to define priorities, goals, and vision. I find that this is a regular activity of teaching and learning since there are many challenges to staying the course and doing what's best. As I drill down on the main objectives of the teaching/learning year, I am reaching greater and greater definition of what to do and how to do it.

Math Teaching/Learning
Success Criteria: Students will master the standards with engaging, empowering, and deep math learning experiences.
  • Teach unit by unit, standard by standard
  • Embed a variety of learning experiences into each unit
  • Assess regularly
  • Review, reflect, revise, and refine regularly
Science Teaching/Learning
Success Criteria: Students will master the standards with engaging, empowering, collaborative science learning experiences. 
  • Build teamwork via introductory activities with a focus on partnerships
  • Start with revisiting notecard challenge w/focus on lab reports and good collaboration
  • Integrate math and science with balance activity
  • Focus on vocabulary with properties of matter activity
  • Integrate reading strategies and comprehension with Matter booklets
  • Integrate writing with lab reports, projects, and reflection activities
  • Teach standard by standard with engaging activities
  • Teach physical science December through the end of March
  • Teach STEAM activities in March and April
  • Review all K-5 standards in early April prior to MCAS
  • Deepen environmental education in spring after MCAS
Reading
Success Criteria: Students will read daily for about 20-40 minutes in school and 20 minutes or more at home. They will develop a greater love, interest, and ability in reading as part of a community of dedicated, invested, and engaged readers. 
  • Read every morning from 8:30-9:00
  • Check in regularly with readers
  • Create more ways for children to share book recommendations
  • Have a class reading list visible
  • Let students see me reading on my own, talking about books, and reading aloud regularly
  • Perhaps begin a page on the web page for book recommendations
  • Discuss other ideas with colleagues and students
SEL
Success Criteria: Students will deeply understand and exhibit the habits and benefits of optimal social emotional learning and practice. 
  • Continue to build in SEL teaching/learning activities throughout the curriculum
Local Union
Success Criteria: Educators will work collaboratively to increase their ability to lead their profession in ways that matter most with regard to teaching every child well. 
  • Update website
  • Organize meeting agendas and minutes
  • Attend and participate in regular meetings and activities

Professional Promise and Regrets

As a supervising practitioner I share both the good news and not so good news with my student teacher. Yesterday as I looked over my career, I shared a few professional regrets I have with the student teacher and told her, in hindsight, what I would do instead. In general, I think it's best if we are always professional in the work place. I also think it's important to keep some distance between one's personal life and professional life. While we can bring a family-like respect, kindness, and care to the work place, our work places are not our families, but instead the places where we come together to do work that matters as well as we can. I wish someone had given me this advice when I began my professional career. If I had received that advice, I don't think I would have some of the regrets I have. Onward.

You Can't Do It All

I write about this theme often because at times I make a decision not to do something that is highly encouraged. Why do I make this choice?

If an event creates too much personal emotion, represents values I don't agree with or support, or asks me to do something I question or am uncomfortable with. I may decide not to participate even if the event is popular, encouraged, and valuable to many.

Recently a colleague confided in me about an event outside of our school that the colleague was asked to take part in, an event that made the individual uncomfortable. I relayed my thinking about uncomfortable events and how I typically react.

If an event is personally uncomfortable, I may simply not attend, however if an event is offensive, disrespectful, or not in keeping with the values of an organization, family, or team, I typically speak up too. In cases like that, I want people to know why I believe the event is not appropriate, well intended, or rightly directed.

Bottom line is that we can't do it all. It's important that we reach to do all that we can with respect to what and who we value, but in cases where we are at a quandary or not supportive, we may choose to step back and not be apart of that event. None of us can do it all, and what's important is that we do what we can when we can. If everyone does that, we typically move alone and together in positive ways.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Teaching: The Days Ahead

Today our team will engage in a traditional yearly learning event. This event speaks to some students with strength and fills all of us with questions and excitement about the world of the future as we'll virtually explore the solar system.

Tomorrow we'll dig into our reading with a readathon. During the readathon we'll read as well as share stories, book recommendations, and ways to inspire each other towards more and better reading.

Then there will be time for family and after that time to review student progress and plans for the teaching/learning ahead. It's a busy time in the personal and professional year--time when there's lots of real-time activity and investment and not as much time for research and creativity. Onward.

School Committee Meeting

For some time, the town has been grappling with the research about adolescents and teens' need for adequate sleep and the need for just-right school start times. The discussions and debate about how to do this in ways that meet the needs of all students, educators, and families in the district continued over years. Last night, the school committee made a decision to change school start times to give teens and adolescents more time to sleep. The decision was met with mixed reviews since the decision will impact many since they will face schedule changes to current school, work, child care, and extra curricular activities.

Personally this decision will not affect me much. I will start school about an hour earlier and end about an hour earlier. The number of hours I teach a day will be similar. Colleagues with young children will be impacted the most since they will have to adjust childcare routines which may be challenging for them in time and dollars. Families with young children may also face the need for greater childcare too. Some children will be getting up very early which means their parent time in the evening may be limited if they get the hours of sleep they need. For some families this may be difficult, and for others it may not be a big issue. There's great variation in people's family and individual schedules, childcare needs, and finances so it's difficult to choose in ways that meet the needs of all.

My takeaway from this entire discussion is that we need to look for new and better ways to make inclusive decisions. Too often I believe that decisions that affect schools and students are not as well organized, modern, and inclusive as they could be. I believe that it's important for schools and all organizations to work with good vision and mission as their foundation for decision making, and it's important to review, revise, and refine mission and vision statements regularly to lead systems in ways that matter.

Many educators felt left out of this decision. While their points of view were included late in the process, I believe it would have been a better process if their points of view were invited and seriously considered earlier in the process. Often educators' and other integral stakeholders' points of view are left out of the decisions that affect their work and services which I believe is an issue that leaves school systems less strong and dynamic than they can be. I think we can do better in this regard by modernizing decision making processes and utilizing better vehicles of communication, debate, and discussion. As I noted at last night's meeting, many decision making processes that were in place when I began teaching 33 years ago remain, and some of those processes are now outdated and in need of change.

As many discussed, last night's decision was a complex decision. There were no easy answers. A decision has been made, and the next step is to move forward to meet that change with good work and continued advocacy for more inclusive, modern, and successful decision making processes and teamwork in learning communities. Similar to a number of financial issues tackled a few years back, this issue represents a need to rethink organizational structure and processes so that we elevate the ability for all stakeholders to work together with strength. The civility, empathy, and respect throughout the debate last night was a positive feature of the discussion, one that needs to continue as we move forward. Onward.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Natural Time for Reflection and Recallibration

There are natural times in the school year for reflection and recalibration. The Monday after Thanksgiving will be the perfect day for that this year. It's a perfect day since I'll be passing back homework packets and recent tests. It will also be the day before we begin a new unit of study and a new leg of the teaching/learning year.

To prepare for good reflection, review, and recalibration, I'll prep the following over the holiday weekend:
  • Good review of students' recent tests
  • Good review of students' home study efforts from September thru Thanksgiving
  • Review of online exercises 
  • Preparation of a reflection prompt
Then on the Monday after Thanksgiving, I'll pass back student work and ask students to complete reflections, share with me, and file those reflections and related papers into their showcase portfolios. This will be a good way to begin the next part of the teaching/learning year. Onward. 

Back on track

After a short hiatus from school to attend special family events, it's back to the routine today. I must say that while getting away offers a fresh perspective, it's always nice to come back to the typical routine and warmth of your own home. Getting away helps you appreciate what you have.

This week includes a number of special school events including a cultural enrichment performance, a field trip, and a readathon. Each event has a specific focus including enriching students' world view, teaching science, and inspiring lots of reading.

As we did a year ago at this time, educators will attend the school committee meeting to express concern about a planned decision and of course there's the preparations for Thanksgiving dinner including making pies and gift baskets. It's a busy, but welcome week of family and teaching ahead. Onward.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Fault Finder

We've all lived with or worked with someone who is a fault finder. Rather than focused on working with you to make better, these people enjoy finding and advertising your faults.

I know a person like this and whenever I have to be at a meeting or work with this person, I get an ache in my stomach as I ready myself to hear one fault after another. It's excruciating.

Soon I will meet with this fault finder again--what will I do?

First, I will listen and rather than react as I've done in the past, I'll simply write down the list of faults relayed to think about later on when I am calm and not near this person.

I'll listen to how others define and discuss these faults too. I want to know the truth of the faults, but I also want to be at ease since past history demonstrates that the fault finder sees only faults and never rarely to never any positive action or attributes that exist.

It's awful to be a fault finder and it's similarly awful to have to work with fault finders. I'm sure we can all be fault finders at one time or another as educators, parents, siblings, committee members, and friends, but for the most part, it's a role to steer clear of or replace with titles such as collaborator, supporter, inspirer, mentor and more that define how we can help and work together rather than simply point out the faults of others. Onward.

Paperwork and Progress

Due to a number of special family events, I've had a short hiatus from the day-to-day activities at school. Therefore when I get back, not only will I have the program to lead, but I'll also have a lot of paperwork to contend with. The paperwork mostly connects to my goal of apt student practice. I will look over a number of student assessments, study packets, and online efforts to notice who is keeping up and who needs more or different kinds of help. I'll update the tracking lists I've created and revise the program to make sure we're not missing anyone and every child is getting what he/she wants and needs with regard to an engaging, empowering education. Onward.

Unmet Potential

In my sphere of living and learning there is an area of unmet potential. For years I have tried to influence this area of teaching and learning with little impact--why?

This is the situation.

There is a small pocket of students who share similar characteristics that, in my opinion, don't succeed as well as they could. Programming related to these students has not changed significantly in years, yet these students' characteristics have changed quite a bit over time. The programming related to this group, in my opinion, lacks a transparent vision, good planning, and a researched direction. Instead the work appears to lack transparency, inclusion, communication, research, vision, and planning.

Unlike other pockets of teaching and learning that could be better, there is little statewide attention to this pocket too which makes advocacy here even more difficult. In multiple areas of need in Massachusetts where I teach the state has played a big role in promoting positive change.

There are a number of actions I have done and can do in response to this situation.

I have spoken up to those in charge, but my words did not work.

I could just go along and do what I can within the current structure, but because I believe the current structure is more detrimental than supportive, I can't do that. Yet some good colleagues, even with the knowledge that the programming could be better, have decided that supporting what exists is better than doing nothing and they give good time to these students. I have trouble supporting what appears to be detrimental programming, yet I know that to do nothing is not positive either. This is a quandary for me--one I am thinking about.

I think, in time, there will be change with regard to serving this pocket of students better with greater research and more modern and impactful efforts. As I assess the situation, I'll do what I can within my sphere for these students and speak up if there is an opportunity to do so via the union or through other channels. At this time, I won't support programming that I believe is ill-directed especially when I know we can do a much better job. I'll also continue to observe and listen to those who interact with this programming as I may be missing something. I may be blinded to aspects of the work at hand that is impactful, powerful, and transformative. I also may be able to follow the lead of good colleagues better in this regard.

In any organization there are going to be initiatives, efforts, and decisions that we fully support and those that we question and perhaps not support at all. It's important that in the face of this we stay true to ourselves and our abilities and contributions while also working to be open minded, reflective, and mindful of the other initiatives and needs that surround us.

Define your contribution

In education there's a impulse to do it all, but that rarely ends up positive since none of us can do all there is to do in the limitless position of educator. We have to define our contribution, and then work well to meet that aim.

As an educator I've traveled many paths, but the ones that remain the most important to me with regard to my contribution are the following:

Curriculum Facilitator, Guide, and Leader
I truly love to craft learning events with and for my students--events that challenge, engage, and teach in worthwhile ways. I spend a lot of time on this endeavor and find that for the most part the classroom runs well with interest and good learning.

Education Researcher
I love to read about what works in education and embed that knowledge into the work I do. The action of bettering the teaching/learning program, practice, and craft on my own and with colleagues, students, family members, and other stakeholders inspires me and moves me forward in the profession.

Education Writer and Advocate
I enjoy reflecting and writing about what I learn, see, believe in, and imagine is possible in education. I am energized to advocate for what is right and good in education and work for that cause. I believe deeply that a well educated populous leads to more loving, collaborative, enjoyable, and peaceful communities. This is a cause and direction I support.

To invest myself deeply into the areas above takes most of my time and means that I don't engage in other areas of teaching and leading that are equally important in the field.

Management is not my forte as an educator, I prefer the classroom to the management of buildings, paperwork, policies and more. I am thankful that there are good people drawn in this direction.

Similarly I am not as politically motivated as others. This sometimes stands in my way when I see the need for change, but am not really sure how to inspire others to see what I see or consider what I imagine to be a better policy or method of teaching well. This is an area I am continuing to think about since it's difficult to stay silent or to accept a lack of influence when you see room for positive change.

And while I enjoy sharing my knowledge with other educators, it's not my favorite activity to present. I do present now and then when I want to share in order to learn. I like to place myself in a room full of invested educators to share what I know and also hear what they know. Therefore when I share in the future, I will take the conversation route of sharing more than the teacher as presenter/speaker presentation road. It's the exchange of ideas that I look forward to as a presenter and educator.

Defining your professional contributions is important as it can help you to make a limitless job doable and successful. Matching your good energy with right contribution can help to elevate what you can do on your own and with others in the learning community.

The Challenge of New

I generally welcome new experiences, but like everyone else I face the challenge of new experiences and endeavor. When you are embarking on a new experience or event for the first time, you simply don't know what's expected, how to be ready, or what to do.

I experienced this during the week when I tried out a completely new lesson in the classroom. One student exclaimed, "I love this." while the challenge of the learning event brought tears to another. I was trying to manage the new event in ways that would support everyone's learning, but clearly there's room for betterment here even though overall the lesson is a keeper.

Similarly this weekend I've experienced a host of new places and new events each requiring me to be focused and learning the entire time. Questions about what to say, what to do, how to plan, and where to go have been constants as I've navigated events related to my sons' lives.

It's good to try something new now and then. First, as an educator, when we try something new, it helps us to build empathy for our students who are always being asked to engage in new efforts and terrain. Next, it broadens our ability to teach well and humbles us too.

There's a number of new events to come today and tomorrow too. The key, as in all things, is to have good energy, take your time, be positive, and do the best you can. The challenge of new ultimately keeps us fresh and growing which is important at any age. Onward.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

A valuable conversation with a chemical engineer

I had a good conversation about math education with a chemical engineer and university professor on my flight to Virginia recently. He affirmed a number of facts I've been reading about when it comes to math education including the following:
  • There is a great need for data visualization these days
  • The ability to manipulate numbers in your head and estimate is a critical skill
  • Even more than chemistry, the ability to analyze and utilize data is very important today
  • It's critical to be able to code, create and work with algorithms, and utilize technology in multiple, multi-dimensional ways
This conversation from someone in the field who is doing important work with regard to biology and health shows me that we need to build in greater data analysis and study, coding, and mental math into our math programs in order to help students be successful in the complex world they will live in. 

Controversy and Debate are Natural Parts of Life

We will all face controversy and debate, and when we do we need to remind ourselves of the following points and questions:
  • Where does this controversy and debate arise from?
  • Have I done what I can to learn the truth of the matter?
  • Have I done what I can to assess, analyze, and reflect on the situation?
  • Have I listened carefully to the other side(s) and considered their point of view with empathy, detail, and depth?
  • Do I have sound research, reading, and rationale and have I created a potential plan forward?
  • Am I going hard on the problem, but not the people?
  • What is my current success criteria for this situation?
  • What concessions am I willing to give to reach an optimal result?
  • How much am I willing to sacrifice to reach a positive resolve in this matter?
None of us should shy away from debate and controversy as it will always be apart of life. Similarly none of us should be criticized, demeaned, disrespected, or punished for having opinions, waging respectful debate, or forwarding our vision and beliefs. Many times, many people are shunned, ridiculed, and unfairly treated due to their point of view and will for different or better. I believe that oppressed groups face this more often than dominant groups in society. We all have to work against this and as we do we have to embrace and support good process for controversy and debate as it's the only way we'll move forward as a people and society. Onward. 

Efforts the Matter

What efforts in your midst matter? What efforts bring fulfillment, meaning, and betterment to your family, school, and community?

For each of us our answers will differ to these questions, yet these are good questions to consider as you move forward in your life.

For me, as I've written again and again, what matters most to me at school is the direct work I do with my team and the students. There are countless ways to deepen and better this work, efforts I am committed to and continue to work on.

As far as the family, my focus is on listening, being present, and supporting family members in the positive ways I am able to support them.

With regards to the community, I am honing my skills to do more in this regard--it's imperative that each of us is active and aware in our communities and that we contribute in ways that are beneficial to the current status of our communities as well as the future direction. I am most interested in elevating equity in the community in ways that provide opportunity for all community members to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Onward.

Show your solidarity; go hard on the problem, not the people

Many know the phrase "Go hard on the problem, not the people," a phrase made famous in the book, Getting to Yes. This phrase is particularly important when you work in a small community, a community where people rely on each other in multiple overlapping ways. For example many teachers who work in our school community also bring their children to our schools. Those same teachers coach alongside community members, play musical instruments together, attend celebrations, and work on teams and committees together too. In many ways, educators and community members have a common goal which is to teach and nurture children well, but in some ways, the goals differ when it comes to how schools are organized, led, and supported.

Recently members of the community forwarded an effort to change school start times, an effort that found many teachers and some community members on opposing sides. While some community members want to upset the current schedules and routines to meet relatively new research about the negative impact of too-early start times for teens, many educators feel the decisions made were not made with an inclusive process that resulted in a proposed positive changes for all students, families, and educators.

Our local union surveyed educators, and 2/3 expressed dismay at the final proposals for start time change--their dismay included factors such as too-early starts for elementary students which will compromise sleep patterns and child care arrangements. Too early starts mean that children will have to go to bed very early which may mean they miss out on important family time and early evening activities. Too-early start times mean that children will be coming home earlier in the day too which for many families will result in additional childcare payments and arrangements. The too early starts will compromise some educators' abilities to access early morning childcare and pay those fees too, thus potential increased costs and scheduling issues for the educators with young families. The later start for high school will compromise sports teams abilities to get to games on time and attend all their classes too. The later start for high school may also compromise some high school teachers ability to coach teams and run clubs as well.

The community members who support the change point to the research and the fact that change is difficult in this debate. The educators who support the change, support it because of the research and because for some it is a better personal schedule. The educators and community members who oppose the change worry that the plans made are incomplete and the process used was not inclusive and comprehensive enough--they worry that the plan is incomplete and does not attend to additional important research about the lives of young children and the many details related to this change, details that greatly impact a student's day and a student's ability to successfully achieve.

As a long time teacher in the school community, I agree with the majority of the teachers who feel the plan is too-rushed and incomplete. While I tend to be more of a big-picture person than a detail person, I highly regard my colleagues who have pointed out a long list of details that have not been considered in this decision--details that are important to the success of all students and of particular importance to our most vulnerable students, students who may be going home to empty houses early in the day and students whose families may be unable to support the new schedules in a healthy, positive way.

To me this issue represents a shift for our union and our educator-administration efforts. For too long, I believe that our system has not updated the processes to create a more inclusive, modern teaching/learning community that invites the voices and choices of all stakeholders to the table with honesty, respect, and an open mind. I don't believe this is the fault of any one person or group, but I believe, instead, it is the result of the natural evolution of organizations. Like many systems, I think that our system is mired in some outdated decision making processes that sometimes rely more on public relations and superficial change rather than deep study and long term vision. Thanks to technological advances as well as advances in organizational and leadership research as well as a number of new open minded and well educated educators and system/community leaders, I think this debate can actually work to lead educators, the school committee, and administration forward to new, inclusive ways to think about, discuss, and work towards positive change and development for a system that is already very successful and a system that is always looking for ways to be even better.

So when I wear orange next Monday and attend the school committee meeting to show solidarity to the many community members and educators looking for better processes and more inclusive decision making, I will think of this as a step towards betterment for all, a step towards modernizing our system in the inclusive, open minded ways possible. Onward.

There's no such thing as a team of one

I have many opportunities to join many teams. I also have many opportunities to stand with those teams, against those teams, or stay neutral. I have always realized that there is no such thing as a team of one, and have tried to do my part with regard to any team I am apart of. There's nothing worse than serving on a team that benefits many including some who rarely to never contribute, support, or take part in the team. That's why I try to contribute in ways that I can.

There are ways that we can all work to support teams, and there are ways that we cannot take part too. We have to be mindful of what we do and how we partake as a team member.

The Family Team
When a family loves and cares for one another, it's natural to desire to serve one another and be a vital part of that team. I believe that most people look for ways to loving commit to and care for the people in their family team. Family teams are not always those who are related to one another, but sometimes those you choose as your family--the people you love most and take care over.

Work Teams
Work teams vary considerably, and there's typically lots of opportunity to be apart of multiple teams of people at work. Often work places have recreational teams such as softball teams, bowling leagues, or Friday night dinners. Then there are teams of people who commit to specific jobs, causes, or initiatives. And there are teams you are required to be apart of, teams that are actually part of your job description.

Community Teams
People belong to all kinds of community teams too--community groups that make change, enjoy each others company, and share passions and interests. For some, there's plenty of time and interest to get involved in these groups, and for others, particularly working families, sometimes the time is short for these groups particularly if they don't involve your children's activities.

Team Considerations
The teams you commit to and what you do for those teams matter. There's lots to consider when joining a team. First, I always consider the mission of the team--is the mission well-founded, does it do what it intends to do, and is it an equitable, inclusive team. I shy away from teams that are more superficial in nature, teams that are formed with a mission in mind, but teams that don't use the kind of inclusive, equitable, honest process possible, the kind of process that invites voice, choice, collaboration, and positive development.

Good energy matters when you join a team too. At times, I've had to step down from teams simply because my interest or energy for that team has diminished--I don't have the good energy needed to be a good team member. Transportation and other life factors can limit your opportunity to serve on a team as well. If you have an old car, you may not be able to attend meetings far away or if your budget is strapped you may not have the money for long distance travel.

Team Contribution
Sometimes the team you belong to may forward a cause or effort that you are not passionate about, and you have to consider your role as a team member in that respect. Sometimes you simply decide to follow the lead of team members because your long history with those people demonstrate to you their commitment, care, and good decision making--you may not be passionate about a current objective, but you know that they've been there for you when you were forwarding something they were passionate about, so you lend them your support.

It's important to analyze your team memberships to make sure that you are contributing to the teams that support you. Do you pay the dues, attend the meetings, follow through with their requests, and contribute your skills and abilities or do you take, take, take instead.

What teams will you choose?
At this time the teams I am most committed to include my family/friend team, my amazing grade-level team, the school team, the union team, my PLN, and the democratic team. Most of my activity revolves around my grade-level team, family/friend team, and union team. As a democrat who actually is not a big fan of the two-party system, but instead a fan of the democratic ideals that support greater access to the rights and services that enable good living for all people, I play a small role of making contributions, sharing my opinion and support, and potentially serving on committees in the future. Similarly while I am a member of the school team, most of my activity in that regard is focused on the grade-level team I work with and our good mission of working towards a robust learning/teaching program for every child and family in that team.

Nurturing Teams and Teamwork
As I think of my part on teams, I am cognizant of my role in helping students be good team members too. There is lots of opportunity to help students work together to create, problem solve, and complete projects. This is a focus of my upcoming efforts in science and math teaching, efforts that will help students when we embark on our great STEAM projects and end-of-year events in the spring.

Time for New Teams
Sometimes teams stay around for a long time without recalibration, revision, or refinement. Those teams often lose their strength and focus. All teams require a time for reflection and efforts to re-look and revise the team mission, process, routine, and focus. For example, when team membership and efforts wane, it's integral for the team to re-look at its practices and assess if those practices are inclusive, modern, mission-based, valuable, and/or inviting. Does the teams' work result in greater solidarity, camaraderie, care, and good work going forward?

Team, like all integral aspects of life, requires reflection and revision now and then to stay dynamic and purposeful. Similarly, we have to revisit our own roles as team members to decide what we need to do to better our efforts, commitment, and care in this regard. Onward.






Wednesday, November 14, 2018

When you see more than you can do

A perennial challenge I face is that I can see far more than I can do. As I've written about before, there is a list of ideas and actions in my mind waiting for that just-right energy and time. As the ideas wait they shift, shape, and sort so all is not lost in the waiting line, yet there is the inevitable frustration of being able to see, but not do when time and energy stand in the way.

I'm particularly feeling this right now during these busy months of personal and professional efforts--a time when I'm very busy with the day-to-day action of running a classroom and supporting a family. The best way I can deal with this dilemma is to make a loose-tight plan to tackle the vision I have for so many areas of teaching, learning, and living.

Math
With regard to my main teaching/learning role as a math teacher, the daily lessons are planned well into the year as I introduce children to a fairly large number of skills, concepts, and knowledge points. There's lots to learn, practice, and review as children work to master fifth grade standards. The learning goes well beyond the standards themselves since students also need to develop optimal work habits, good questioning, collaboration and problem solving skill, and more. The focus is to learn math and also to learn how to learn successfully.

I can't wait to dig into the planning for a number of project/problem based learning (PBL) efforts in math. I know the students will love this, but there's lots to do to clear the path for these endeavors which take considerable time and collaboration effort and skill. We'll get there with rich standards-based PBL during the last week in December, and a couple of shorter PBL efforts before that which are focused on building strong teams for the December PBL.

Science
There's so much reading, research, and leg work to do to elevate the science teaching and learning. As I note above, I can see it, but I haven't been able to find that rich time to make it happen. Specifically there's lots of organization work to reach my vision for a student-friendly classroom lab where students are able to access materials with ease and respect.

The initial lessons I am planning are lessons that teach students how to use many of the materials we will be using in upcoming experiments. Then we'll dig into the experiments. So we'll take it step by step.

I also want to deepen my science teaching knowledge, and perhaps I'll use the voucher I'm earning for hosting a student teacher to take a good course with a quality instructor. Taking a course is a good way to make yourself attend to the topic, learn, and share multiple ideas. When the math standards were new, I took a great course about those standards, and that knowledge has served me well over time.

Deepening our Grade-Level Reading Culture
I'm really excited about our team efforts to deepen the grade-level reading culture. I'm looking forward to the pajama readathon kickoff next week, a time when we'll really get to talk to students regarding their ideas for elevating and deepening reading throughout the grade-level.

Teaching/Learning Repertoire
Timeless Learning is staring me in the face every day and I can't wait to find a good day to devote to reading that book. The authors are awesome and I know the book will move my teaching and learning ahead. I've also started a new reading list since many awesome articles and book recommendations have been coming my way and if I don't add them to the list right away, I lose sight of that valuable information and inspiration.

Healthy Balance
That healthy balance goal is always a reach as a teacher, but I know that this is essential because good energy and health is essential to teaching well.

I write about this again and again as I try to resist the many temptations to stray from most important aspects of my teaching/learning role right. Right now my goal is to dig in and do as much as I can to elevate the teaching learning program so that the program mirrors the latest research, students' interests and needs, SEL, brain-friendly programming, a dynamic student-educator-family team, and an overall robust program.

Success Criteria
The success criteria for the year includes the following:

  • Teaching all math and science standards
  • Supporting and building a robust teaching/learning program with my grade-level colleagues
  • Creating rich math and science learning experiences with and for students
  • A happy, healthy, and positive learning community. 
Time to keep on plugging. 



Professional Study: The Reading List 2018-2019

Every year I create a reading list. I generally create this list when questions arise that I don't have answers to and when the great articles and book recommendations shared begin to outweigh the time or mind I have in the day. Often I have snippets of time, but not that long stretch of energized time that it takes to deeply read an article or book and then embed what I've learned into the teaching/learning program.

Hence, the start of a 2018-2019 study list, a list I'll add to and pull from starting now and through the summer of 2019.

Science Study
How to teach science, what's important?

Podcasts
Optimal Student Behaviors

Analysis Matters

Met with a shortage, the manager made a quick decision. The quick decision allowed her to check the box, but the quick decision did not result in meaningful, deep, and purposeful work. Instead, one might describe the result of the quick fix as shoddy, half hearted, passionless, and potentially even negative.

We all fall into the trap of the "quick fix" as one way to respond to matters at hand, matters for which we may not have the needed time, resources, staffing, or energy to resolve the matter in a more substantial way. Sometimes the quick fix does the trick and is looked at as a short-term solution for a problem that will get more and better attention later on. Yet sometimes the quick fix becomes the final solution, and when that happens it can be harmful as the deeper, better, and more positive work is never considered and doesn't happen.

This is why it's essential to have multiple parallel efforts happening at once. In one strand, you're doing the important work you've prioritized and prepared. In another strand you're evaluating work done with your team and figuring out ways to make it better, and a third stream may be your research stream--a time when you consult the research, experts, and new information out there with regard to areas of interest or need.

Making decisions deliberately with essential lead time, research, teamwork, and investment will result in good work. As much as possible, it's best to steer clear of the quick fix. Onward.

Keep the mission of your work up front

Goals, vision, and mission can be lost if you don't keep it upfront in all that you do? It's easy to forget what you prioritized particularly if that priority spells change.

I'm thinking of that today as I consider my main goals of the year, and how I want to energize those paths and prioritize to meet the success criteria created.

Bettering the Regularity, Quality, and Response Related to Student Math Practice
The first goal was to develop students' regularity and quality of practice to support mastery of the math standards. So far students have mostly learned the typical routine of a weekly at-home study packet, weekly in-class study packet, an online learning menu, and online homework exercises. I've been working on the length, depth, and content of those study packets in an effort to make the practice useful, engaging, differentiated, and just right in length and time.

The next goal is to solidify the check-in and response routines. Since not all weeks are the same, a typical weekly routine is sometimes difficult to maintain. Also absences, student pull-out, and rate and fidelity to practice variability challenges the routine.

From now until the holiday break, I'll check in with students frequently to help them keep up with the routine and get the practice they need to master the standards. Then at the start of January, I'll have students assess their efforts to date, make new goals in this regard, and then start them on a new folder and renewed routine for the second half of the year. I'll assess my own efforts as well in late December to better the process and attainment of the goal set.

Developing a Standards-Based Environmental Education Program
The second big goal is to develop an engaging and informative standards-based environmental education program. We are fortunate to have the support of a naturalist coach from Mass Audubon's  Drumlin Farm to help us in this regard. There's work to do to reach this goal.

Students overall did not give our fall hike a glowing report so I want to learn more from them as to how we can improve our outdoor education efforts. While I know that some felt there was too much listening and not enough exploration, I want to learn more from them about how we can better this event, an event we'll do again in the spring.

Students have enjoyed the in-class environmental lessons which included making watershed models and playing a climate change game. We will continue to employ related lessons in the days ahead, lessons that include standards-based information and hands-on activities.

The classroom needs to be revised somewhat to support environmental education too. I need to make environmental education tools more accessible for student exploration, play, and study, and I need to update many science lessons to connect to this theme.

I'd like to read a good updated book and/or articles about teaching students in the environment as well. A first article I will attend to is this one.

There's work to do to meet these goals in the days ahead, and having a reflection list like this will help me to get there. Onward.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New People; New Worlds

Mainly my world revolves around a five mile radius, but lately my children's journeys have propelled me into worlds of new people and new places. As I embark on their journeys, I find myself readying to greet new people and places with an open mind. Who would have guessed that this later stage of life would be filled with so many new experiences. Onward.

Busy Days Ahead: Week of November 12

This week marks a number of significant professional and personal events.

Students will complete their coordinate grid study and take an assessment to determine what they've learned and what they can do on their own. The assessment will demonstrate to teachers what more needs to be taught and what has been mastered. We'll also have our fall safety talk and continue our RTI math and reading efforts.

I will attend to a number of personal events at week's end--celebratory events that have been a long time in coming, events that are special enough to request a couple days away from school.

Prepping the classroom and lessons for days away is always a big task for classroom teachers. We have to leave the materials and plans in place so those that take our place know exactly what to do.

The focus this week is to stay true to the plans set and be present for the wonderful teaching and family events to come. Onward.

Monday, November 12, 2018

It's Not Your Job to Think

As an educator, some, believe it or not, don't think it's my job to think.

Some don't typically respond to questions or ideas, and if they do, it's with a derogatory statement that essentially infers, "Don't Think!"

I believe everyone needs to be a thinker no matter what position they are in. I welcome the thinking of my students, colleagues, and their families. The most difficult ideas to accept are those that come with a negative attitude or accusatory statements, and even then I try to listen carefully and consider the point of view. Ideas with negative speak have served to caution me about the way I share ideas too. As they say, you get a lot further with sugar than vinegar.

So instead of getting frustrated at those who demean your ideas and don't respond to what you have to say, simply keep a file of the inaction or negative speak and mull over it. In time, their responses will make sense to you in some way and lead to actions as well.

It is your job to think no matter what you do, and if you think and use your ideas well, you'll typically protect yourself from deep injury or error--ongoing thought, analysis, and consultation usually leads to good ideas and the good work that results from those ideas. Onward.

When Someone is Not Doing Their Job

I've experienced situations here and there through life when people were simply not doing their jobs. When these situations arise from obstacles such as family tragedies or struggles, health problems, or other unexpected and unwanted events, I am empathetic. We all face situations that block our ability to do our jobs well from time to time.

The most difficult situation occurs when it comes to people who consistently disregard the potential their job holds for bettering lives and circumstances. Though rare, when I've seen situations like this it appears that people are putting their own ego and desires ahead of the job itself and there are few, if any, checks and balances to confront this kind of ego-driven, self-serving lethargy.

I have, from time to time, spoken up when I've seen this happen, but, in general, I have found people hesitant to do anything about these situations. In these cases, no one seems to care enough about the person's job or potential to make a difference so they just let it be. And there's probably a lot of underlying facts that I have no knowledge of in these situations thus leaving my lens incomplete.

One way we can work against this lost potential is to not join efforts run by these people. In general, keep your distance as a show of non-support for their lack of integrity and will to do the job at hand. Instead, use your energy to bolster, work with, and learn from the amazing people in your midst--the good people who do their job each day with depth and care. Typically there are lots of people to choose from in this regard.

And if we're going to be critical of some, we have to be critical of ourselves too ensuring that we do what it is we're expected to do, and do it with good time, attitude, and effort. You can't find fault in others if you're not going to do the job yourself. Onward.

Close Mindedness Creates Walls and Obstructs Opportunity

There's a special event in my life, one that some peers may enjoy, however some will not be invited due to their close minded commentary, attitudes, and actions. They'll miss out on an event that would be life enriching, fun, and positive.

I've been that closed minded individual before. I remember back when those close to me had multiple, awesome opportunities that I could have been apart of, but unwillingness to be open to the experiences obstructed my opportunities in that regard. Looking back now, I know that was a bad way to deal with the awesome opportunities and changes my friends and family members were experiencing.

I often tell my students at school and my own children, when you play the compare game, no one wins. I came to that conclusion as I thought about moments in my life when I was closed minded and regretted that I didn't have a more open attitude towards others' strengths, experiences, and opportunities. The truth of the matter is that none of us can be all things, we're all a discrete package of strengths and challenges, and the best way to broaden ourselves, our opportunities, and our experiences in life is to be open to the life call and experiences of others.

This Saturday night I watched an amazing Netflix show about the life of Armistead Maupin. I found his life journey fascinating, and I was inspired by his humane message about accepting and supporting people as they are. As I watched, I thought about his perspective of life as well as the perspectives of his friends and family members. It was a great opportunity to experience life through a lens both different and similar to my own. Maupin's lens differed with mine by age, gender, geography, and history, yet similar to mine and probably similar to most person's lenses, he told the story of what it was like to forge his journey ahead to be who he was and accept his interests, both mainstream and unique.

As we forge our journeys ahead, we are always dealing with the question of who we are and where we should be headed. Again and again we face turns in the road that challenge our choices, and we are open to those challenges, we generally gain greater insights on who we are and where we are meant to travel at that time.

So as I write today, I am encouraging myself to be open minded to the people, places, ideas, and experiences of the people around me. That's a good way to broaden my life, a life limited by who I am. Just think of the experiences I can have on my own and through the life choices of so many around me. It's incredible. With that, I plan to be more open minded in the days ahead, a good direction to go.

Process is the Problem

In most wayward decisions, the culprit is the process.

When decisions go awry, incomplete or outdated process is often to blame.

How do we modernize, deepen, and better our processes for decision making today? What structures can we rely on to make better decisions? What is often missing from good brain-friendly, results oriented decisions?

Introduce the Problem to All Stakeholders
The problem has to be introduced with care and detail to all stakeholders early in the process.

Problem Definition
Once the problem is introduced, there needs to be a period of reviewing the problem and defining it with greater detail including all stakeholders' voices and opinion. Problem definition is one of the most important steps in decision making. What problem are we hoping to solve? Do we understand this problem specifically?

Research Well
Many decisions sidestep good research. Good, current, modern, honest research is critical to making good decisions. Time and talent constraints often obstruct good research when it comes to optimal decision making, and conjecture, hearsay, and incomplete research then takes its place. To make really good decisions, you have to research well.

Research Presentation
Research needs to be welcomed into the process and reviewed with an open mind early in the decision making process. There needs to be a period when the research is questioned and deepened too. Then a final brief or paper needs to be created for all stakeholders to review--a paper that includes the essential research.

Simmer
Most problem solutions profit from a time of simmer--a time people are given to mull over the problem as well as the research. This simmering supports good decision making.

Decision Path Creation
Once all stakeholders have reviewed the vetted research, then it's time to create a path for decision making. The path has to include the problem as well as the success criteria. The path needs to be vetted by all stakeholders and roles need to be appointed. Throughout the path there needs to be reflection, revision, an refinement stops.

Decision Review
At the end of the path there should be a final decision making process that solves the problem named and meets the success criteria reviewed. Often the decision will start with a pilot or test to see how the decision works in real time.

Too often decisions are made without good process. This happens in government, organizations, businesses, and families. It's critical that we meet decisions with the care, time, and process they deserve. If we don't use good process, time is often wasted and the results much less than desired.

Good process leads to betterment. Good process nurtures strong teams. Good process better satisfies all stakeholders. Good process is evidence of a job well done. We can do better.

Thinker versus Doer and Organizational Change

What systems promote optimal teaching/learning communities?

Who are the thinkers and who are the doers in an organization?

My reading and research continually points me in the direction of flattening the hierarchy in schools while also synthesizing the roles of thinker and doer. From what I've read and what I've experienced, it's essential that educators are both thinkers and doers--they need to be the ones who research, read, analyze, create, and embed best practice to teach well.

My reading and research point me towards the belief that too tight hierarchical structures in education stagnate innovation and obstruct optimal teaching and learning. When the hierarchical structure obstructs educators' time to analyze, collaborate, and make decisions, innovation too is obstructed.

Not everyone agrees with my premise and still today many teaching/learning communities are tightly organized around hierarchical structures that prevent educators from decision making, leadership, and good collaborative analysis and share to innovate in ways that matter.

Also I wonder if the top-down, tight hierarchical structure remains in education because it's easy to replicate rather than positive to the learning and teaching? Does efficiency outweigh value? Do top-down hierarchies alleviate some from owning the work and decision making down at various levels? Is the reason these tight structures remain more about convenience than good, deep learning and teaching?

I will continue to think about the thinker-doer equation in education, and I welcome your thoughts and feedback on the issue?

Math Program Improvements: November 2018

After proposing a few presentations for NCTM's conference in Boston next fall, I am cognizant of the fact that I need to continue to update my math instruction for the benefit of all students. What does this mean?

Learning Menu Growth and Development
I utilize an online learning menu to support student learning. Recently, thanks to Jenifer Carline's great presentation at ATMIM (a presentation that is included on this presentation), I have a number of ways to work on perfecting this part of the math program. I already changed the headings, and now I want to embed a system of checking in with students about the new menu to gain their thoughts and ideas for bettering the process. I also want to use metrics to see who is completing the expected study and who is not. I want to think about how I can develop positive check-in and response routines to support ALL students development and growth with this venue.

Explicit Teaching
In general, I find that beginning the lessons with a big idea and relevant rationale invites investment and interest. I also find that keeping the explicit teaching targeted and inclusive helps out too. There is room for explicit teaching in the classroom, and choosing when and why this happens is important.

Assessments
Putting assessments online and providing both a hands-on copy and online copy has been successful. The fact that students receive their grades right away helps too as that spurs greater investment, reflection, and ownership of the activity. Working to better match the assessments to the expected standards and language will improve this practice.

Reflection
I want to build in more regular time for reflection. I want to make this a greater part of the home study routine as suggested by Jo Boaler. Our showcase portfolio is a great place to host reflections and then use those reflections for family member-teacher-student conversations about learning goals, directions, interests, and needs.

Hands-On Explorations
I want to continue to grow the use of hands-on explorations in the math classroom with more project/problem based learning. This has been difficult given the tight scope and sequence we're asked to follow, but I am going to try out some new ideas for this. This is the greatest area of needed growth for me right now. 

RTI
I am not completely unhappy or happy about our RTI efforts. I think our efforts in this regard could be better organized and time better used. I am thinking about this, and while I'm thinking I am trying to deepen the efforts in this regard within the current structure.

Brain-Friendly Learning
I have read a bit about brain-friendly learning and would like to learn more about this to deepen my ability to make a brain-friendly learning environment in math and relay to my students what they need to do to make their own learning brain-friendly. 

Classroom Organization and Material Acquisition
Our classroom mirrors a learning studio now that we have tables and drawers rather than desks. I want to better the organization and access to all learning materials in the weeks ahead to foster greater student independence and choice.

Math Talk
I want to build math talk in more efficient, student-centered ways too. The biggest challenge here is time and structure. I will be thinking more about this.

There are countless ways to grow and develop math teaching and learning. This is a shortlist of where I'll begin. What would you add to this list? 

Professional Learning and Growth: Teach Well

This morning I heard that NCTM is accepting proposals to speak at next year's fall conference in Boston. As I completed a number of proposals to speak, I found myself thinking about my professional career as an educator. While I've always had a loose-tight vision for where I am heading in education, I have not always taken my professional learning, voice, and direction as seriously as possible. I wish, from the start, I had thought of my professional efforts as building blocks towards greater skill and professional impact at school and beyond rather than seeing it more as one experience after another to strengthen and share classroom teaching.

If I were to advise professionals early in their career, this is what I would advise:

Create an Online ePortfolio
Create a vehicle where you will post your goals and professional efforts. After each event, add your professional effort title, the date, and a short description. Though you think you'll never forget all that you do, the truth is that educators are very busy and the multiple events we are engaged in do meld together so it's important to keep an accurate log and make updating that eportfolio a regular part of your professional work.

Reflect
It's essential to create a reflection vehicle too. The better you organize your reflection vehicle from the start, the better those reflections will serve you down the line. I suggest that the reflection vehicle utilize a blog or website format that can be private or not. The one advantage to publicizing your reflections is that you invite commentary and feedback. Also to publish elevates the seriousness you take when completing a task like that.

When setting up your reflection vehicle, good categories include the following:
  • Classroom Teaching
  • Professional Presentations
  • Systems Think
  • Reading and Research
You may want to break these categories down even more.

Professional Learning Network (PLN)
Take creating and nurturing a PLN seriously and treat members of that community whether it be online or off with respect and care. It's essential to create and nurture a strong PLN with regular connections, mutual support, and collective learning in an ongoing fashion. This PLN will turn out to be your greatest source of learning and learning opportunities. Vehicles such as Twitter, Voxer, Instagram, and association threads and memberships help to support a dynamic PLN.

Choose a Few Professional Organizations to Join
Try not to spread yourself too thin, but instead commit to two or three professional organizations with depth. Take time to try out many organizations and then pick a few that really support your work. Then, in turn, find ways to support and get involved in these organizations in ways that matter.

Grow Your Contribution and Value
Rather than doing more of the same, try to find a few paths of professional learning to deepen and grow. Challenge yourself by offering to present at conferences beginning with local events and building up to state, regional, and national events. In doing this, hone your skills along the way. Seek out support to develop your speaking voice, presentation skills, and the practice you are presenting. As a lifelong learner, make the work that you are presenting and your presentation skills stronger and stronger so that you are gaining a voice in the professional sphere, a voice that is honest, valued, and valuable to those who sign up to attend your workshops and presentations. 

Educators need to continually prune their paths of professional learning and development. They need to reach out, challenge themselves, read and research, and develop their practice in ways that matter. To stay at status quo in your learning community is to stagnate, but to reach out and challenge yourself is to grow in ways that matter. What would you add to this discussion?


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ideas in Fallow Fields and Developing Your Teaching/Learning Practice

I am leaving a lot of ideas in fallow fields right now. While I desire change in multiple areas of school life, I cannot forward all of those ideas for lots of reasons. Therefore I'll focus the final years of my career on the following ideas--ideas that I can certainly support with my time, energy, and team.

Teaching Life-Long Learners
I use the popular adage, "If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he eats for his whole life." Then I say that the same is true with learning, "If we teach learning points alone, children learn discrete knowledge, but if we teach children how to learn, then they are able to learn for their whole lives." Hence, I'll continue to build my knowledge about how the brain works and the best ways to learn, and then impart that knowledge to children as they work to master discrete knowledge, concepts, and skills.

This effort will include developing the following efforts we include in our weekly program:
  • showcase portfolios including student reflection and assessment
  • student-led conferences
  • learning menus
  • using the class website as a virtual classroom
  • embedding lessons about how the brain works, and how students' knowledge of the brain can support their optimal learning habits, attitudes, and actions.
Promoting a Robust Teaching/Learning Program and Routine
I will continue to work with my grade-level team to develop a robust teaching/learning program and routine. That program and routine will include the following:
  • lots of active hands-on learning
  • development of our knowledge as educators
  • working with organizations in and around the school
  • teaming with families, students, and colleagues to teach well
  • assessing our program efforts with the learning/teaching team in an effort to continually improve and develop that program
  • developing our field studies, STEAM projects, special events, and other engaging components of the teaching/learning program
Apt Assessment and Development of My Own Teaching/Learning Efforts
I want to continue to develop what I can do with and for students with the following actions:
  • Using an optimal weekly routine of reflection, assessment, and development on my own and with colleagues.
  • Reading, researching, and learning via conferences and other special events to continually develop my practice.
  • Taking critique seriously and responding with efforts that better the teaching/learning program.